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Spiritual Autism

Spiritual Autism
August 13, 2012, 06:35:04 PM

Building from this, I've noticed at least two distinct forms of religious feeling. There's an outward or interpersonal expression of it, and an inwardly directed, personal form. As an example of the first, it is currently Ramadan. I am fasting, as I have for years, for the mandated 29 or 30 days. After the month of Ramadan is over is the Muslim holy day of Eid. One of the things done on Eid throughout the Muslim world is a special, communal ritual prayer performed usually in wide fields or larger mosques. While travelling (preferably walking) to the site of the prayer, a Muslim must recite a certain platitude to Allah repeatedly. The atmostphere on this day is filled with a sense of power, an electricity in the very air. You feel a more intense love for people and for the world around you. Everything seems brighter, more vibrant and one is filled with joy.

An additional example in my experience is circumambulation and praying around the Kaaba. Discarding your usual modern dress to don a plain garment of tradition and engage in this group religious practice satisfies a part of the soul that I did not even know existed. Many other people have spoken of similar experiences during the Pilgrimage. Malcolm X's account is a particularly good one (his pilgrimage to Mecca was the primary cause of his conversion from the ideology of the Nation of Islam to Sunni Islam).

The inward element of it can be seen in the Sufis of Islam. Being drunk with religious ecstasy, discarding all worldly possessions or losing their senses for days in fits of transcendent experience, Muslim hagiography is full of such examples. Neuroimaging studies on 7th Day Adventists is another example of this potency of religious feeling, though it is also communal. Somewhat similar is the modern Mevlevi Sufi order in Turkey, those funny twirling guys in hats and skirts in Istanbul. However, that like most modern things is a (Kemalist) perversion of the actual truth.

Examples abound amongst Christian Saints and Mystics and in Christian practices. Self-Flagellation in religious ecstasy is a related occurance.

My point is that this is an oft-overlooked aspect of the fabric of society. If not most, then at least a significant minority of people are not only capable of feeling these sensations but I believe they require them for "spiritual" (you can consider it some biological impulse if you wish, it does not change the effect) nourishment. This has been torn from its root in Western nations and the effects of it are gradually becoming apparent (slowly, over the course of hundreds of years). Any competing ideology or system needs to be able to instill in its adherents a similar form of truth of feeling. If its depth is in any doubt, religious art and architecture should provide some evidence of it even to those who have never had a spiritual experience. I don't really find this in  "Nihilism" or "Traditionalism". Perhaps I misunderstand, but an awe of nature, a joy for life and an understanding of the world is just not enough to truly bind people together. Culture and Ethny are surely important, but this is vital. Muslims would vastly prefer the West to be Christian over Liberal/Atheist, we would rather deal with whole people, even if the spiritually dead have a certain dark genius or allure.

Recommended Reading:

Muslim Saints and Mystics: Translated from a Persian work on Sufi Hagiography.
Nihilism: By Father Seraphim Rose. An American Hieromonk who left the world this impressive summary of modern history.
Jonathan Haidt's A Righteous Mind: This should not be new to readers of the forum I think. Linked for chapters relating to how sacred systems bind people and an apt metaphor about how humans share some things with bees more than apes.


Re: Spiritual Autism
August 14, 2012, 07:56:37 PM
Thank you for sharing. I have difficulty understanding how you can do it all for a certain level of sensation or feeling of love or community or connectedness... for me it's all about the awareness and knowledge, and admittedly the stillness and silence too, but they are inextricably linked in terms of a type of state of awareness... I am left-hand path.

Re: Spiritual Autism
August 17, 2012, 02:57:08 AM
thanks for the links, fallot.

An interesting mix of spirituality and good science! That's the way.

I hadn't heard of 'Seraphim Rose', and will read his chapter on Nihilism you have posted.

I've read a bit of Haidts work on moral psychology. Does he think religion is more hardwired or a product of cultural accumulation?

I'm a science minded person, and I enjoy reading about both the evolutionary, cognitive underpinnings of religion and it's phenomenalogical aspect. I think the religion most science minded people are exposed to is stupid christians confabulating in the media abotu why abortion and euthenasia is evil and why Africans shouldn't wear condoms, which is only making the split between science, naturalism and religion worse. This is stuff that, really, has nothing to do with those aspects of spirituality we might find admirable, and can be shot out to sea. Thus religious folk need to wake up and realise what is good about spirituality and what is merely cultural baggage that they cling to because it's a symbol for their way of life.

Whatever the naturalistic basis for spirituality, I'm convinced it can be more admirable than this. Less concerned with the here and now, like petty moral issues, and more reverent and holistic. It should be naturalistic. It has no choice now with all we know about the world. But this isn't a tragedy by any means as the universe is a process worthy of transendental admiration. It is a process of evolution (even non-biologically - cosmologically), after all. (This is why i feel more warmly towards proud commentators who talk about 'the ascent of man' as oppsoed to winy unhappy people who preech post modernist relativism). There has been progress, but we need to inject a higher meaninig into it. We can celebrate nature, while highlighting that man's natural course has been to strive for the unnatural, in some sense which is hard to state clearly. We can celebrate naturalism without having to celebrate an anti-ascetic, hedonistic slide into the subconscious and subpersonal.

Also, there needs to be more emphasis put on the benefits of spirituality, even from the point of view of atheism. Alan de benois's book might be a good starting point (though I haven't read it).

Re: Spiritual Autism
August 17, 2012, 09:47:51 AM
I've read a bit of Haidts work on moral psychology. Does he think religion is more hardwired or a product of cultural accumulation?

He's not firm about it but definitely suggests both, culture stemming from biology. His moral foundations are presented as being explicitly biological (therefore universal, human nature). The impression I got is that he thinks religion is hardwired. I agree with that, anyone who agrees with some form of perennialism (even divorced from spirituality, totally empirical) should find it plausible.

Thank you for reminding me of de Benoist BillHopkins, I need to explore his works as well. Which book are you talking about? Here's Haidt's book in epub format if you need a link. Fairly short and he has a good conversational style that isn't profound but quite enjoyable.

Transcix I'm only familiar with Left Hand Path Hinduism (Vamachara) and that certainly is not bereft of the religious experience I'm talking about. Then again, I don't really know much about your path. I don't think what I mention in the first post is necessary for everyone. It is probably much more important for extrovert social types (~75% of the population) who explicitly require transcendant belief and experience while the more inward-looking can maybe manage.

Any belief that cannot be resolved with the world around us, that is not naturalistic, cannot survive for long anyway. I find in religion systems and ways of life that fit well with a human nature. When people try to come up with replacements, in my opinion they frequently moralize unconsciously and are irrational; paradoxically enough. The worst, most extreme form of this is liberalism but there's no dearth of less horrible examples (Legalism and Fascism for instance, though I am far more partial to them).

Re: Spiritual Autism
August 17, 2012, 01:37:07 PM
Spiritual, shmiritual.
I'm starting to decide that anyone who even uses that word really has no clue as to what it is.
My rabbit, for example, has never uttered such a word.
Not that this means anything in particular.

Re: Spiritual Autism
August 19, 2012, 12:49:46 PM
Nihilism: By Father Seraphim Rose. An American Hieromonk who left the world this impressive summary of modern history.
More ominous than the new Demoncy album.