While I am laying down the law regarding the proper usage of controversial words, allow me to express a few thoughts about spirituality.
P.Z. Myers gave this post, in which he comments on the awarding of the Templeton Prize, the following title: “Spirituality?” Another Word for Lies and Empty Noise.
Mark Chu-Carroll took a different view, in this post:
So what do I mean when I say spirituality? There’s something more to my life than just a bunch of chemical reactions. I love my wife. I care about other people. I core about the way the world is, and work for things that I think will make it a better place. These things – these emotions, desires, concerns – they may well be nothing more than emergent phenomena resulting from the basic physical and chemical processes that I am a part of. But for my own experience of my life, even if they are nothing more than an illusion, they seem real – as real as other abstractions like free will, morality, and other such things.
Mike Dunford expresses similar thoughts in this post:
For me, the word “spirituality” includes that special sense of wonder and awe that arrives at unpredictable moments. I can’t come within a country mile of an adequate description of the feeling, but I suspect that I’m not the only one who has experienced something like it.
Awe and wonder are not really things I feel very much, so I don’t have much of an opinion on Mike’s view of the matter. I recognize myself in Mark’s description (well, I’m not married, but you get the idea). On the other hand, I would not describe an awareness of such feelings as “spirituality.”
I tend to agree with several of Mark’s commenters that this is really a definitional issue. If Mike and Mark want to define spirituality the way they do, they are welcome to do so. Personally I tend to see things pretty much the way P.Z. does. There are uses of the word that are measured and sensible, but most of the time when the word comes up you should be on your guard.
For example, my local bookstore has a Spirituality section. The books shelved there are wall-to-wall nonsense. For me what comes to mind when I hear the word is some sort of vague, watered-down pseudoreligion along the lines of Deepak Chopra. It probably involves a lot of praise for quantum mechanics and a lot of criticism for ignorant materialist atheist types.
Allow me to close with an anecdote. A few years ago I was sitting in Palmer Square in Princeton, NJ. In one hand I had a sub from Hoagie Haven, which for my non-Princeton based readers means it was a very good sub indeed. In the other hand was a copy of the new issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. There was an icy cold bottle of Stewart’s Root Beer on the table in front of me. The Sun was shining, the birds were chirping. Life was good.
Then I noticed two gentlemen approaching the group of tables where I was sitting. One was carrying a large camera, the other looked like a reporter of some kind. They were going from table to table, talking to the people sitting there for a few minutes and then moving on to the next one. From the way the tables were laid out it was clear I would be the last one they would come to.
Finally they worked there way over to me. Reporter guy sat down and gave me a brethtakingly serious look. He explained that he was working on a special for an obscure cable channel called Odyssey. Then he said, “I’d like to talk to you about a subject that many people find difficult to discuss.” I was intrigued, but said nothing. “I want to talk about spirituality.”
“Okay,” I replied, scarfing another bite of that most excellent sandwich. His look growing, if possible, even more serious, he said, “Do you consider yourself a spiritual person.”
“No,” I replied.
He seemed a bit taken back of the bluntness of, and lack of hesitation in, my answer.
“Really,” he said, sounding surprised. “Why not?”
I said, “Well, I’ve never seen any evidence that would lead me to believe that there is anything beyond the material world we see around us. I don’t see any particular reason to think that God exists or that any particular relgion has much to offer in terms of understanding the world.”
Then he pounced. “Ah! I didn’t say religion. I asked about spirituality.”
“Then you’ll have to explain to me what you have in mind,” I said. “To me spirituality and religion are very similar.”
“I mean things like feeling one with nature, or having a mystical experience.”
“Well,” I said. “I think those are really just nonsense phrases people use but that don’t really mean anything.”
He laughed at that and we chatted for a few more moments. Then he moved on. My views on the matter haven’t changed since that interview was done.
And I never found it if my remarks made it into the final cut.