We've all heard about Harris' scathing criticisms of religions of all flavor, including Buddhism. In this 2-part talk at You Tube he defends meditation and contemplation and criticizes the atheist community for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In my atheistic mind this is indeed a step towards re-visioning the great traditions by nourishing the baby while also pulling the plug on the dirty bathwater.

Also of note is that he echoes kennilingus in claiming one must take up the injunction of meditation before one can criticize its phenomenal experience. He does qualify that one can certainly criticize based on reason alone the metaphysical accoutrements of those who have such experiences. Yet the experiences themselves cannot be refuted by reason alone. And that such experience must be translated into postmetaphysical terms shorn of religious dogma to be of pertinent use in today's world.

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Harris will be offering a lecture series and online course based on his upcoming book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. A couple of descriptive excerpts:

"I will discuss a range of psychological insights that have traditionally been considered 'spiritual.' Although they tell us nothing about the origins of the cosmos, these experiences confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and serenity, are teachable skills; and the way we think can profoundly influence our lives and the lives of others.

"There is no discrete 'I' or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. And the feeling that there is—the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from yourself—can be altered or entirely extinguished. Although such experiences of 'self-transcendence' are generally thought about in religious terms, there is nothing, in principle, irrational about them. From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view, they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are.

"A rational approach to spirituality seems to be what is missing from secularism—and from the lives of most people I meet. My goal in these talks, and in the online course, will be to offer a compelling and useful investigation of the human mind and to show how deepening our understanding of it can transform our experience of the world and our relationships with other human beings."

Also see his blog post on the new book called "the path between pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-science."

In the blog post pseudo-spirituality comes from conflating state experiences with "identity with the One Mind that gave birth to the cosmos," aka God. Granted his orientation is Buddhist, which doesn't posit a God per se, but in its metaphysical versions it's pretty much the same thing. See e.g. the Lingam's metaphysical Buddhist ramblings.

We also see this same kind of orientation from Thompson, a Buddhistically informed meditator and scientist who studies such states in the lab. This is what rational spirituality looks like. So-called post rational spirituality does not go backward from here, or reintroduce metaphyics. This forum provides ample examples of postmetaphysical spiritualities, i.e., Keller, Caputo, Levin, Freeman etc.

I'm a big fan of Harris.  His positions are more complex and more fair than many people assume.  And his attempts to explore toward toward non-sectarian, trans-rational spiritual practice make him a great ally of the present community.

Yet I am bothered by his persistent (and obviously marketable!) abuse of the conventional notions of Religion.  The popular notion of global warming does not adequately define the emerging climate realities.  The popular notion of evolution is inappropriate when talking with a biological scientists.  Even popular astrology is dismissed as bunk by "professional astrologers"!  So using the commonly debated referent of "religion" is extremely misleading and philosophically debased.

By taking the popular self-assertions of "religious people" as the definition of religion we end up with an unwarranted conflation of Organized Religion (in principle) with Mythic-Traditionalism and Pathological Pre-Rational Group Activity.  In actual fact if we want to be even minimally rational we need to robustly dissociate religious activity from both its primitive and pathological manifestations.

We need to assume responsibility for a proactive and generative stance toward terms.  There is something really ludicrous and pathetic about letting "them" define a word (to our great displeasure) and then going to work criticizing it.  That is reactive and self-limiting.  We already cede the battlefield to our opponents.  People we think are fools and villains get to keep religion and we retreat into the realm of "private spirituality" which is exactly where corporations would like to keep us -- alone with our preferences, not mobilized in socially-transformative collective spirituality.

The appropriate response to all antiquated and/or dysfunctional forms of religious organization is to actively deny them the right to call themselves "religious".  Religion must be defined to OUR satisfaction -- not theirs.  

So when Harris remarks that organized religion will be replaced by "everything and nothing" he is simply indicating the proper contemporary sphere where religious activity occurs today.  The entire species, the entire planet, all contemporary knowledge -- this is the background culture suitable for contemporary religion.  Sectarians are operating an inherited religious structure which may have been appropriate to a prior historical form of the implicit cultural background but that is simply no longer the case.  All real religion in the past simply did what real religion must do today.

It is only Religion if it operates to integrate, stylize & deify the total cultural realm which YOU and YOUR TIME/PLACE are experiencing.  The idea that "they" have religion (in opposition to us) is a complete mistake of the concept of religious organization.

Anything which does cultural approximate "spiritual integration" relative to the current human social background (or persists in doing it in outdated ways) is quite simply NOT religion today. 

Friggin' A plus Mr. Pascal!  I would like you to expand on your last two paragraphs, though, as I am not certain about what you are implying there. 

As a fellow atheist on this particular thread I could criticize Mr. Harris for the way he frames the notion of religion. I find his framing unfair and somewhat irrational considering we are homo-religioso by nature. Todays religion is Ka$h! Nonetheless, we should, imo, be able to distinguish between healthy and toxic forms of religion as basic starting points for discussion. Not all humans are serial killers because some are and that particular framing is poor logic, indeed! The secondary question goes to the nature of reality and that framing also should be discussed in a way that is open and not closed to possibilities. At this point in time--with all the experience and knowledge I've gained-- I believe at the moment the best explanation to explain reality is___________________. Dismissing all knowledge from the pre-rational epoch as that is unfair and irrational; the same goes for the mythic era, and Hedges is quite correctly pointing out the myths surrounding technology today. Nothing is 100 percent clear and certain here on this old rock.

LP, in your last sentence, did you mean to say:  "Anything which does not culturally approximate 'spiritual integration' relative to the current human social background (or persists in doing it in outdated ways) is quite simply NOT religion today"?

Oh, and another issue that I think is important here is the effect of spiritual notions on society in general. Because, within this field of inquiry, pretty well everyone claims about pretty much everything with not much data to back all the various claims; so in light of that fact, it would behoove society to use some litmus tests as a means to judge the effects of beliefs on society. Are ones beliefs being used to exploit others unfairly? Are ones beliefs manipulative of others( especially sexually and emotionally)? Are ones beliefs destructive to the biosphere ? Does one exploit others for undue profit with various claims to invisibility? If all these claims are answered in the negative then perhaps we have a functional non-toxic positing of spirituality. 

I could probably add these too: does ones spirituality promote ethnocentric exclusivism? Does ones spirituality promote unhealthy allegiance to negative forms of hierarchy? Does ones spirituality compel by force or coercion obedience to human institutional structures? Does ones spirituality promote privileged knowledge to a chosen few? Again, when answered in the negative-we start to see possible frameworks for healthy interaction within spiritual communities. 

We also should not underestimate the negative effects and manipulations of secular economics (neoliberalism) on numerous traditional religious communities; these negative manipulations are a continued extension of the colonial imperialistic mindset. Whether such manipulations were the devastation of aboriginal peoples or manipulations of Islam and Christians to gain support for resource (oil) control, such behaviour obscures truth and makes already murky waters much more difficult to navigate. So no, secularism should not be given a free pass and must also pass the previous mentioned parameters.

I might also add that secularism is breeding an ' I don't give a !#$% mentality', amongst many of its populations. This is something I've also polled people on over time and the answers i get are not all that reassuring for the future. I'm certainly happy that there are secularists who do care but believe me when i tell you there are many who don't! And don't get me started on the amoral atheists running the planet!

Balder, perhaps you can tell us why you chose the word 'spirituality' for the forum instead of 'religion'?

As for Harris shunning the word religion while favoring spirituality, it seems he equates religion with those who believe in a supernatural agency. Granted one doesn't have to, but there is no doubt that most religious people accept this tenet. Even those who are quite rational in other respects. The example of religious folk who do not is miniscule, and Harris does acknowledge them, but under the rubric of spirituality.

Earlier in the thread kela noted that this is the difference between esoteric and exoteric religion. In the former one can directly attain to some form of knowledge of 'It,' what it is. In the latter one must slog through all the dogma and supernatural nonsense. I will also grant that even exoteric religion might develop a healthy dogma and ritual within which to practice, and it is a goal of some integralists. But it will no doubt be a very elite affair of the creamy 1%, not likely to be generally accepted.

There are plenty of esoteric Buddhists, for example, who do the meditative or contemplative practices, achieve stable subtle and causal states,* yet still have magical and mythical belief systems and practices. To have the former and transform that latter is again a herculean task and one that will always contain about 1%. Unless and until societal structures change enough for that grand shift for many, and I don't foresee that anytime soon, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years into the future.

If we can survive as a species, that is. That is not at all certain, due largely to those regressive religionists in political power that deny climate change and want to see poor people starve because it's God's will. I wholeheartedly sympathize with Harris on his war on religion due to this obvious, odious and indisputable reality.

On the other hand, I do see Harris' emphasis on 'rational' spirituality as something achievable, since in developed countries rationality has become at least the stated norm. And if we can raise religion to this rational level that might indeed prevent global climate catastrophe. To do so may very well require a cleansing apocalypse of most all dogma and ritual, not to mention meeting the Buddha or God on the road and killing him. From those ashes perhaps a transrational religion can grow, but not likely until.

Btw, I see such rational Buddhism in the likes of Batchelor, and in the secular Buddhist movement generally, which is taking hold in rational westerners. This trend needs to be extended to the other religions to achieve the overall goal per above if we are literally to survive.

* I didn't include the nondual here because I'm not at all convinced it is a state experience.

I.e., perhaps the best way toward an integral or transrational religion might be to first get it up to rational standards? If we accept that stages cannot be skipped why are we attempting to jump past this necessary goal? It's very much akin to thinking we can jump the P2P economic phase into some kind of integral economy. We end up ignoring the very real transition happening now on the ground (see Rifkin) and end up conflating an integral economy with conscious capitalism (see Wilber), since we skipped a stage. If there is such a chimera as an integral economy it 1) isn't conscious capitalism and 2) requires what it calls the green economy first. Same with rational religion. We need to focus our energies on the tasks at hand instead of dreaming of what might be and missing the obvious in front of our giant (and obstructive) integral noses.

Yes, there's a missing "not" in there -- or not in there as the case may be...

Balder said:

LP, in your last sentence, did you mean to say:  "Anything which does not culturally approximate 'spiritual integration' relative to the current human social background (or persists in doing it in outdated ways) is quite simply NOT religion today"?

Spirituality (by my definition) is the creation of surplus inner resonance, coherence and meaningfulness attained by the integration of energies, states and sub-selves within an individual

Religion is the creation of cultural surplus resonance, coherence and meaningfulness attained by the integration of energies, types and genres of social and personal activity within the generally understood cultural background.

Dogma and Supernatural Nonsense have no particular logical relation to even "exoteric" religion.  They are characteristic of Amber-level religion only (and often pathological or retarded variants of Amber religion).  

When either one goes on among rationalists it integrates rationality.  When either goes on among pre-rationalists it does not integrate rationality.  Under the auspices of a general cultural background which evokes the rational-humanist-individualist-planetary frame then pre-rationalists are, at least partly, making a choice to NOT be religious.  Many are in recoil or participants in "religions museums" which upkeep the memory of religious activity from previous epochs and other cultures.  

There is no question of skipping stages.  Nor does this have much to do with "raising the level" of people who currently consider themselves to belong to religious organizations.  That may or may not happen.  It should happen.  We should assist it to happen. BUT it is not of the essence of religion.  Wherever cultural activity begins to become convergent, folding in multiple genres (including, esp. esoteric spirituality) that edify each other, we are generating religion at our level.  If we are rational or transrational then that will be included. 

Harris keeps the very normal use of the word "religion" which is affirmed by both common critics and common proponents.  That is fine and dandy in order to keep himself within the normal range of discussion.  There is a practicality to that.  And a huge audience of people who are reticent about religion and eager to affirm the apparently easier task of rational spirituality.  However it is this normal notion of religion which inhibits cultural renaissance and blocks a postmetaphysical approach.  

Frankly it is RIDICULOUS to keep letting THEM have a basic human term simply because there appear to be a lot of them.  The "few and far between" of counter-examples is irrelevant to establishing a functional postmetaphysical definition of religion.  



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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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