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Can we be spiritual without religion?

You’d find it pretty difficult to mention one without the other, but spirituality and religion often go hand in hand. However according to a recent published report by the Pew Research Centre, up to 37 per cent of British people described themselves as “spiritual but not religious”.

Spirituality, according to celebrity atheist Sam Harris, is the realisation that the feeling of being a distinct self – “the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from you” – is an illusion, and can be altered, even extinguished.

For many, it is the awareness of a feeling that distinguishes you away from materialism and all physical form to connect you to something beyond yourself. Some recognise it as the destination of which meditation is sought, whilst some just see it as being happy, kind, or a moment when they briefly step out of the self into the present – akin to mindfulness.

Christians and Muslims alike will know that spiritual passion, sight, and affections fade and return. At times our sense of spiritual realities can be strong and vibrant; other times, our hearts feel like lead weights and we find ourselves longing for God’s visit again.

Harris argues that the problem with religion is not that its followers have spiritual experiences; rather, it’s the beliefs they form as a result. “If someone wakes up tomorrow feeling boundless love for an all living being”, the only groups to take him or her seriously will be religions or cults. Meditation, for example, need not be something thought of as some bizarre practice that stems from religion, but rather just a way to be present – in the moment.

Much of the appeal of religion is the promise of an afterlife filled with never-seen boundless pleasures and rewards, so long as you follow the divine teachings of the chosen messenger. But if the lure of eternal life were removed from the equation, can the teachings still have merit? As long as the practices spur one’s inner spirituality, the answer is yes.

If we think of spirituality in these terms, then it becomes merely a tool for a healthier life. Its essence, for many, is in the practice not the promise of an afterlife. However the essence of Harris’ argument still stands. In the meantime, embrace your inherent spirituality to improve not only yourself but the community around you.


TNT Spiritual Yasin Chinembiri

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