Is naturalist or humanist spirituality an oxymoron?
Tom Flynn seems to think so. And since he happens to be the new director of the Council for Secular Humanism, his opinion is of some moment.
[Christopher] Orlet seems to find sincere, full-bore irreligiosity – the absence of any sense of a supra-natural aspect to life – almost incomprehensible, something there’s barely even a label for. Actually there are a couple of perfectly good labels for people who abstain from religion and spirituality. I’ve used one already: “scientific naturalist.” For another, I look no farther than my business card: “secular humanist.”
The way I read this passage, it seems he is equating “full-bore irreligiosity” with “[abstention] from religion and spirituality,” thereby suggesting spirituality is necessarily religious, or at least supernaturalistic.
This is rather like the question of whether you can be a religious atheist. Both “religion” and “spirituality” are associated with supernaturalism, and yet both have their godless proponents who want to see the terms reclaimed – for example, Felix Adler (founder of the religion Ethical Culture) and André Comte-Sponville (author of The Little Atheist Book of Spirituality).
I disagree with the first quest. It seems quixotic to say the least, and I’m not sure the word “religion” is worth reclaiming even if it were possible – it has negative connotations even for many religious people. But I agree with the second.
Because “spirituality” seems like a truly useful collective term for one’s emotional, social, ethical, and even cognitive functioning as subjectively experienced. At the retreat on nontheism among Quakers this weekend, the most common description of spirituality was “connection” – feeling connected to other people and to the natural environment, along with being attentive to the present moment. I see nothing objectively mysterious or supernatural about any of these things, as mysterious as they might feel subjectively.
And yet – one should use the word sparingly.
To quote James Riemermann again, writing on a different but related subject, “the word feels so terribly imprecise, and I can almost always find better ways to express myself.” If you’re about to say “spiritual” but you really just mean “ethical” or “emotional,” why not be specific?