Spiritual Promiscuity

I wrote much of the following for another of my blogs, one I began a few years ago and have since abandoned.  I allowed it to languish after just one or two posts and have, until recently, paid little attention to what I wrote.  Since then, I’ve mellowed a tad and have become slightly more tolerant of views that diverge sharply from my own. Otherwise, I’m the same man.  Whether that’s good or bad depends on one’s perspective. Oh, and I revised the original post so that what appears here is almost unrecognizable. In fact, a significant portion of what appears below was written or revised on May 29, 2015. 

I read something on Christmas Day 2011 that helped me understand how I feel about the way “religion” influences the way I think.  I read a comment attributed to Annie Dillard, the writer, in which she described herself  as “spiritually promiscuous.”

Dillard comes by her spiritual promiscuity legitimately. She had years of religious and spiritual coaching and guidance and indoctrination before she called herself spiritually promiscuous.  Her curriculum vitae on her website classifies her religion affiliation as “none.”

I decided very early on, by age 14 or so and despite modest exposure to the religious teachings of the First United Methodist Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, there was no supreme being, no God, no spirit, no sacred path to follow, nothing outside our own uniquely human minds. Dillard’s use of the phrase may describe her incorporation of many religions into her own religious understanding.  I, on the other hand, do not presume to have any true foundation of religion; I can only describe what I have as a thirst to know the unknowable.

My early conclusion that there is no supreme being has not changed.  I still don’t believe there is one.  I don’t believe there ever was one.  I just don’t.  The “evidence” presented suggesting otherwise is, at best, flimsy and the arguments supporting the concept are so dependent on the immeasurable that I simply can’t buy them. The heartfelt requests made to me that I should simply “give yourself over to faith and just believe” do not fall on deaf ears; they just fall on ears that transmit the sound to a brain that relies on reason and logic, not on blind faith and belief in the unbelievable. That attitude, I realize, is not a hospitable one. For that, I am sorry. I want to be hospitable, but sometimes I find myself unable to accommodate people who see the world through different eyes than mine.

All of that does not mean I believe Jesus was a fictional figure, nor that the Buddha nor any number of other people who, stories tell us, had an enormous influence on how humanity has evolved intellectually and “spiritually” in the last few thousand years were fabrications. No doubt there were some highly charismatic people who had important ideas about justice and humanity and morality. There is no question in my mind their words were passed along from generation to generation in some form and have evolved into what today forms the foundation of a great deal of religious belief.  I don’t dispute there were people who had important things to say and who have some responsibility for some of the moral codes upon which today’s civilization rests. I simply dispute the “divinity” of those people.  They were, perhaps, gifted, brilliant, thought-provoking leaders, but I don’t believe they were divine nor magical.

To put it succinctly, not only do I not believe in God, I don’t believe there is a god. But, since I am a man of science, at least to some extent, I do not claim to have evidence of either perspective. I acknowledge, a bit begrudgingly, that the possibility exists that there is, indeed, a god. But I seriously doubt it.

How my “spiritual promiscuity” comes into play is this.  I believe humankind has the unique capacity to make conscious contributions to this world in which we live.  I believe we are innately “moral” in that we are conscious of the effects our actions have on others and that we feel empathy for others.   That empathy is natural.  It can be trained out of us, but I believe we’re hard-wired with it from the start because empathy reaps empathy, which can serve its own purposes.  And I believe we have the capacity to use that empathy for good, not only for our own generation, but for generations to come. We won’t be here for them.  They will never see us in “heaven.”  But we can plan our impact on the future.  And “we” can, as time goes by, recall and understand what those who have gone before us did for our benefit.  That, in my view, is spirituality.  Insomuch as the promiscuity comes into it, we want to do it.  We want to not only do for others we want to show it.

I’m probably not explaining it sufficiently.  Maybe I never will.  But someone will. Someone in the future will explain and persuade and convince the people of the world that there is no supreme being nor any need for one; we must depend on our own humanity to guide us. And people will come to understand the essential element of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” is not religious, at all, but simply human.

I wonder…I really wonder…if all the stories from the Bible and other religious texts that have been so hideously misconstrued as the literal word of God were simply parables, myths intended to give substance and character to the fundamental morality within us all? Perhaps the stories about magical and supernatural elements that today’s religious fanatics of every stripe claim as fact were just intended, originally, as stories to help simple-minded men and women understand and appreciate the morality of, for lack of a better term, “the golden rule.”

So, my spiritual promiscuity comes around to this: if my understanding of their content is correct (not having read any of them cover to cover), there are large portions of the teachings of the Bible and the Quran and other religious texts with which I heartily agree. I accept the morality described in much of religious doctrine.  The concepts of goodness are right there in the middle of me.  And so I talk about them.  I lure people into conversations about them.  I ask for discussions about these “spiritual” topics because I wonder how others see them.  I’m especially curious why some people seem to think the concepts can have no merit without the existence of a supreme being, why, without a supreme being, there is no reason for nor root of morality.

My sense is that, from the start, the “supreme being” has been ourselves, our own consciences. The stories helped some people better understand the concepts.  And they were contorted and bent and wrenched into shapes that changed them from myth to reality.  But the reality isn’t real.  At least not from my perspective.  But the original motives were probably good.

And so I am spiritually promiscuous.

I sincerely hope I am not castigated for my beliefs, or lack thereof. I can tolerate believers; I hope believers can tolerate me. Though I sometimes fall into the category of “mocking observer of people who believe in fairies,” I really do acknowledge the legitimacy of “belief.” I just don’t buy the premise.

All right, then. It’s eleven o’clock in the evening and I’ve been thinking and writing too long. I’ll post this and hope I don’t regret it in the morning.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Spiritual Promiscuity

  1. Thanks, Joyce. You’re very kind.

  2. Joyce says:

    We think alike. This one goes in my file folder marker “Swinburn Special” where I can re-read the ones that mean the most to me. Thanks, John

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