Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Interspirituality (Cultural Trends Part 3)

Originally posted on January 6, 2011

Interspirituality is a few steps beyond tolerance, which evolved into inter-faith dialogue. My understanding of this term is that it refers to a search for or at least an opening to an appreciation of those elements in all religions that speak to the same psychological and communal-ethical spirit. (This builds on a blog of July 25 last year, no. 38). The term I think was coined by Bro. Wayne Teasdale. There are whole organizations now aimed at promoting interspirituality.

In the olden days (20th century) people actually thought that it was possible to have a single one-right-way-and-the-others-are-all-wrong religion, and indeed, many if not most people believed this way. People would argue as to which one religion was right, and even within a given religion, people would argue as to which denomination or sect or interpretation of the source scriptures would get you admitted into heaven and the others could literally go to hell.

Many of these people, though, were more mellow and tolerant, and resonated with the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson, in his writing about religious freedom: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

This sentiment reveals a continuing evolution of religion from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law to the spirit, period. My favorite philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote a book, Religion in the Making, that suggested that religion evolves. It’s not even supposed to be a matter of one fixed truth for all beings for all times and never changing. Sure, the social organization of a given denomination can get fixed for a time, but in the long run there’ll be movement.

Now Ken Wilber’s excellent books on how spirituality is evolving—and with it, religious forms—offer good food for thought. (I’m not saying I agree with Wilber on everything he says, but on the whole his ideas are the most inclusive of the widest perspective and the most current technologies—so that makes him the philosopher whose ideas should function as the point of comparison with other current notions.)

In other words, spirituality, like mythology, is breaking free of its old meanings. The term “spirituality” used to be either reserved for occasional mystics or associated with the occult—with spiritual-ism—but actually, it has come to mean the activity of developing a deeper connectedness with the Greater Wholeness —whether that be named as God, Allah, Goddess, Tao, etc.,—and whether that Wholeness be imagined as a personal being or an impersonal general principle or field of energy.

People used to think that a unification in the content of belief was necessary to ensure social stability, but as we have become more aware of complexity, we have realized that even two people who attend the same church will differ in how they as individuals give weight to or interpret each element in their affirmations. This has to do with the growing appreciation of the complexity of things and the real implications of individuality, to be discussed later.

So one of the current trends has been a speeding up of the emergence of approaches that either synthesize elements from many religions or seek to go beyond those elements and discern underlying psychological, social, aesthetic, moral, or other philosophical principles. It will be interesting to see where that trend leads us.

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