14 April 2006

And Now For Spirituality

This post may not be particularly coherent or organised. It is now 1:00 am and Mr Wang does want to switch off his computer soon and hop into bed. However, he also wants to continue from exactly where he left off in the preceding post. Which means that Mr Wang will now proceed to yak about spirituality.

Firstly, let me say something very obvious. Being spiritual is not the same as being religious. Being religious is not the same as being spiritual. The two are very different things. If you cannot instantly see that for yourself, I'm not going to explain it to you. Leave now, go evolve, and in your next life, try reading Mr Wang's blog again.

Oh. You're still here. Okay, you passed the basic test. Read on.

Since you agree that being spiritual and being religious are two different things, let us examine the implications:

1. You can be religious AND spiritual.
2. You can be religious but not spiritual.
3. You can be neither religious nor spiritual.

And finally -

4. You can be spiritual and NOT religious.

Today Mr Wang is going to walk you through Point 4. It has two levels of meaning.

Level 1 is obvious. Imagine for example a Catholic who never bothers to go to church; does use condoms; thinks that the Pope is not to be trusted; believes that homosexuality is just an amoral genetic disposition; and never bothered with the rosary. In other words, this Catholic is not religious. Despite all this, however, he carries on a constant inner dialogue with his God, prays a lot in private to Jesus, and has a very heightened awareness of His presence in his everyday life, and in fact believes completely that God is his source of strength. So he is spiritual.

The second level of meaning is less obvious. Imagine for example a person who is spiritual, but does not believe in any religion at all. Imagine for example a spiritual atheist.

Am I bending your mind yet? Hang on tight.

For the sake of discussion, let's make three assumptions:

1. God exists.
2. God is omnipotent.
3. God is omnipresent.

If God is omnipresent, this means He is present everywhere. If he is present everywhere, he must be present in all our lives. If he is present in all our lives, then he is present in the lives of believers AND non-believers.

It cannot be otherwise. For example, suppose God is present in a believer's life. This believer shares his life with a non-believer (for example, they are married). If God is present in the believer's life, then he must be present in the non-believer's life. If God is present in the believer's house, then He must be present in the non-believer's house.

It's the same house after all.

And after all, God is everywhere.

Now, if God is everywhere, the question is whether you can sense Him. For the sake of further discussion, let's adopt a simple working definition of "being spiritual". Let's say that being spiritual means you can sense the presence of God. And the more spiritual you are, the more easily you can sense the presence of God.

The thing is this - Mr Wang doesn't see any reason to believe that only believers can sense God, while non-believers are disqualified.

Let me explain. Firstly, be aware that we have moved out of the realm of intellectual constructs or formal beliefs, into the experiential realm.

For example, suppose that Tan knows what a sitar is, and Lim does not. Then suppose a sitar is playing softly somewhere in the background. Tan hears it and Lim hears it. Tan knows what it is, and Lim does not. BUT this does not mean that Lim did not hear it; he did hear it too.

In fact, if Tan's ears are not sharp, and Lim's ears are, it could well the case that Tan is the one who hears nothing, while Lim hears quite distinctly the sound of a sitar (even though he does not know what it is).

In the same way, a non-believer may well sense the presence of God, but simply not name it as such. In fact, the non-believer may well sense God's presence frequently, and easily, far more than many other believers, and he may even reach the stage of even being able to communicate and interact directly with the presence of God - without knowing that this is God, or believing in such a notion.

In other words, he would be a highly spiritual atheist.

Did Mr Wang just bend your mind? That's all for tonight.

Sleep tight, and good karma to you.


Anonymous said...

I distrust the monotheistic faiths or, more accurately, the Abrahamic religions. They're the cause of most modern troubles and politcal deadlocks, fighting all over the world in the name of -- gimmeabreak! -- God. If all these muthaf**kers have the same religion and places of worship, they wouldn't be trading insults, peeing at mosques, blowing up churches, and killing each other right now. I mean, right now it's like a Royal Rumble between the Christians, the Muslims, and the Jews. And the Middle East is where the ring is at. No referees. "My father can beat up your father silly anytime." That's what they're all saying to each other now.

So really I think it's all that Gabriel's fault, appearing to three different groups of people at different times (Like where the fuck was he in between all those BCs and ADs? Jerking off?) and confusing them with his poetic rhetoric. Didn't he know those people were uneducated barbarians? And I thought God and his angels were supposed to be smart, no? After all, the Abrahamic faithful probably worship the same God, but have different special books, puntunations and pronounciations. It's like three couch potatoes subscribing to the same cable provider watching the same telly, but fighting over the remote and which channels to watch. Not to mention their different interpretations of the absurdity in their special books: The Christians would save a fetus and sacrfice an entire family in the name of God. The Muslims would blow them up, or hang anyone who's looking to switch channels in the name of God. And in the midst of all that, the Jews take everyone's money and run -- because God, apparently, wants his "chosen people" to be rich.

Alright, I made that last one up. Haha.

Me, I'm an Agnostic, wouldn't subscribe to any religion. Well, maybe except Buddhism. Buddhists are spiritual in every sense of the word. When the Taliban blew up the 1,500 yr-old Bamiyan Buddhas, the Buddhists weren't baying for blood, were they? But of course, you bet the Muslims (maybe the extremist ones) would love to hang the Danes for caricaturing their prophet. And blow them up for good measure.

So tell me, if you have a spiritual experience, Mr Wang. Maybe my ears are just not sharp enough. Or maybe my ears are too foreign.

feeblechicken said...

Hmm.. so is being spiritual about experiencing a non-being or God? So what are other possible assumptions other than experiencing a God or gods?

Anonymous said...

ah yo, spouting from philo textbooks ... and claiming it as your own...

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Nope. I worked this out by myself last night (or rather early this morning). But if this has been covered in some philosophy book somewhere - do let me know. I would be interested to read it and see that person's view.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"So tell me, if you have a spiritual experience, Mr Wang."

I believe that we all have, Alex. But I also believe our spiritual experiences come in a great variety of forms - some of them are brief, some of them are sublime, some are intense, some are subtle, some are unmistakeable, some are very mistakeable ...

some of us have spiritual experiences very infrequently, and even when we have them, may not recognise them for what they are ....

and possibly for a few of us, spiritual experience is ongoing, constant, 24/7.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone wonder how Jews, after being uproot from their land, can return after close to 2000yrs? Doesn't it says something about them?

Mike Wang

Anonymous said...

Try reading matreials on Metaphysics. Load of literature of it, right to the time of Plato if my memory serves me well. For a quick dummy's guide, try Wikipedia.

lbandit said...

Following a strict definition of aethism, "a lack of belief in any gods"; Buddhism is an atheistic religion.

Anonymous said...

'atheistic religion'....absolutely oxymoronic

Blank Doll said...

Mr. Wang, have you read up on the Greek's Logos? I think it's something like this. Oh and you may want to read Raymond Welsh's Conversation with God. He makes some very good points about a God with no religion.

Erm, if I may add a point about the omnipresence of God. I think God isn't divinity personified like those we see in religions, especially if God is seen through Manichaean glasses. Why can God not be a supra-entity of which we are all but components of it?
If we see that God encompasses everything because everything is God, then that raises the issue of why evil exist and why we can't all fly and move mountains.

How about if there is no good and evil. That God is not the supreme judge but the supreme being, being here as a verb because God is the act of everything existing at once. In this sense, everything is but an added experience to the the entirety of God. So while I cannot explain a murder, I guess a murder can be accepted even if it
happened to my closest kin because it was meant to happen not because of karma or anything but because the act of murder was necessary.

The Christians call it forgiveness but I think forgiveness doesn't exist because the concept of sin is a human one.

And the moving mountains bit, if we're all part of God then the fact that collectively, we may move mountains say something. You and I can't move a mountain but seismic forces certainly can, and that's part of God. Similarly, you and I can breathe but rocks can't.

Does that make sense? So if all of us are part of God, then all of us may partake in God and God is simply with us all the time because we are truly a part of God.

Anonymous said...

There are many Alex K's in this world. When disaster comes into their lives; first question they ask; "God, why me?" Before long,you see them carrying their bible everywhere.

斯铿 said...

forgive me i'm not so deep. but i did tink tt Catholics believe in Mary while Christians in Jesus?

Don't shoot me. haha.

oh n do take care not to type anything tt could b considered seditious k? i dun hope any one of u gets charged. *peace*

Anonymous said...

There are many Alex K's in this world. When disaster comes into their lives; first question they ask; "God, why me?" Before long,you see them carrying their bible everywhere.

Don't give me that BS. Mishaps has came and gone, and never once did I feel the need to resort to a fabrication to feel better.

If you have to ask that kind of question and you don't get an answer, maybe it is just because God doesn't exists and He can't help you. That, or you'd just detest the notion of a Supreme Being more.

But yeah, go ahead, indulge in your special book if it makes you feel better.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang:

Thus, it is your opinion that religiousity is adherence to rituals and practices of a belief, while spirituality is an interaction with the Highest Being?

There was no mention of right (or good) behaviour in your spirituality, only communication and interact. Should it be thus taken that a spiritual person may not actually behave in a manner that is considered by most people upright and honourable?

This applies particularly to one without a religion, for religous groups do have rules considered by them as morals.

Of course, that does not preclude atheists as upright and honourable people, just that their code is less transparent.

Just a thought.

moomooman said...

Reading this post really poses alot of questions in my mind... it kinda bend it for a while...

In fact, my biggest burning question after reading your post is...

What is Sitar?

Anthony said...

A sitar is a kind of stringed instrument, made famous by the movie "Moulin Rouge".

lbandit said...

twolegs: " 'atheistic religion'....absolutely oxymoronic"
Not all religions have a belief in a god. Such religions, are atheistic in nature.

prayingbudda said...

to Keng who said "Catholics believe in Mary while Christians in Jesus".

Catholicsm was the first and only denomination when Christianity first began. since that is the case, it is impossible that they believe in Mother Mary and not Jesus because if that's the case, then they'd be called "Maryians" and not "Christians". they also do not worship Mother Mary, they merely ask her to pray to God for them.

so yeah. Catholics believe in Jesus and Catholics are Christians as well.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Hi lbandit

You were most likely thinking of Buddhism? I think it is actually non-theistic, rather than atheistic in nature - its beliefs do not include a belief in the existence of God, but do not necessarily preclude it either.

Anonymous said...

Religion is not about dabbling with the supernatural, or spiritual forces beyond the human realm. Religion is about acknowledging a higher authority in God, and abiding by his commands. It is acknowledging that man is not an accident of nature, evolved from protoplasm or any scientific live form, but the divine creation of God. The difficulty for Man is to discover God; some will decide to worship something more tangible, like the guy who promises stuff about lift upgrades. Finally, religion is a personal experience, no one can tell you if you are a God fearing person except yourself. But when you walk with God, the world can and will see the difference in your relations with fellowmen, whether religious or agnostics.

Anonymous said...

Alex K appears to be very fond of using strong language on people he dislikes; e.g. "muthaf**kers" "uneducated barbarians","BS" (although his spelling needs improvement). Hope he doesn't get Mr Wang into trouble with the authorities.

Anyway, let me share with him one strong word from the book I indulge in: "The fool has said in his heart there is no god".

Anonymous said...

I read a book that quoted the current Dalai Lama saying that he considers spirituality more important than religion. In his opinion, a spiritual person is one who displays kindness, compassion, charity, etc.

He also says that given there are so many people with so many dispositions in the world, it isn't surprising that there should be so many religions - we should all find the religion that best suits our disposition.

The important question I feel is: Has your religion, or lack of one, made you a more useful person to society? It's unfortunate that ppl are fighting wars over religion, choosing to see only the differences and not the similarities - which is the creation of a better human being and a better society.

lbandit said...

Mr Wang,

Atheism is not a belief that there are no gods. It is a mere lack of belief in any Gods. The two are actually quite different. Atheism, is in your words, Non-Theism. It doesn't actually take very much to be an atheist.

Atheists, however, can have any number of beliefs too. Some of them believe in faries and unicorns, some of then believe that there are no gods, some believe in spiritual entities like ghosts.

The qualification for atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods.

Michael McClung said...

can one be a spiritual agnostic? or is one by definition required to be spiritual if one is down the path far enough to be considered agnostic?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

*Mr Wang enters spiritual mode*

These are names. These are labels. These are categories invented for the comfort of minds which require definitions.

What is, simply is. You are made of the same stuff that makes the greatest stars, the smallest atoms.

Why define yourself? Simply be. You have always been here.

*Mr Wang exits spiritual mode and returns to drafting cross-currency swaps for structured finance*

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Mr Wang. Maybe you read the book, God's Debris, too?


7-8 said...

I guess somebody has already made the distinction between spirituality and religion.

To me, one aspect of spirituality is that it gives you mental strength in times of duress. For Alex K to say that he's never had to believe in a God in order to tide him through his personal shit, this tells me he is either very macho, or that he's never been in enough shit for that to happen. (In other words I accept lcs' critique of Alex K.)

The other aspect of spirituality is more social in nature, it deals with our behaviour in society. You want to believe in some greater spiritual being, and it informs your actions and makes you a better person.

But when we get along in society, how do we deal with the fact that each one of us are clouds of spirituality? How do we have a common platform on which to express our spirituality? How do we reconcile our public lives in society with our personal spirituality?

This to me is the basis of religion. It is the reconciliation between the private spirituality with the how you behave in society.

I don't think it's feasible for everybody in the world to separate religiosity with spirituality. You cannot keep your spiritual life entirely private, which is why we are having this discussion now. Unless you go to a mountain and become a hermit. (Which is why many monks of various religions do that, because it simplifies things and makes the practice of religion easier for them, so that they may be the "spirituality experts" of society.)

That's why I think that whatever line you draw between religion and spirituality will be fuzzy in nature. For me the distinction between spirituality and religion is merely the distinction between private and public. Therefore your acceptance of spirituality and distrust of religion is to me an extension of your distrust as to how people relate to each other in society.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...


Well, well. You might be right. But another way to look at it, which makes more sense to me, is that spirituality is about your direct connection to the ineffable divine. Religion is when thirty-five people stand in your way, attempting to act as your intermediary, messenger boy, medium, telephone operator. You get the old problem of a broken telephone, when really there are some things which you ought to hear for yourself.

7-8 said...

I think that should be it.

The problem is that you have 4 major 2000 odd year old incumbents in the religion. (Christianity Islam Buddhism Hinduism) You are not using a telephone because these 4 religions all came before Alexander Graham Bell. We follow traditions that have nothing to do with our day and age, but the really big major ones are so entrenched that you can reform them (Actually Christianity was reformed literally but that was 500 + yrs back)

I think whatever it is people will always need spirituality. Which is only one small step away from saying they need religion.

I read a little bit of the Bible. The arguments in there are fairly complex and really not for the layman. I'll be damned if in a community of people you'd have enough people who understand the thing. No wonder we have all sorts of crap happening because people don't know how to read. I am not a sheep and I don't need a shepard but I cannot vouch for up to 50% of humanity. But they will still need their spirituality and they will still need help. It's a thankless job leading people to salvation and no wonder that whas his name ended up on a cross.