“Spirituality” in one of its many definitions is a human experience of intensity and meaning. This is the definition I’m using. The nature of the spiritual is inexhaustible BECAUSE human perception is not big enough to solve it, no matter how big the atom smasher or how cleverly nicknamed the boson or how many bytes the computer. We wander the labyrinths of knowledge (think of bookshelves if you like) and NEVER know more than a part. Never will. BUT we can BE part of it.
This is accepted by professional theologians, who speak of masks and metaphors, mostly the part-for-the-whole (metonymy). It is a grandiose narcissism for any person or institution to claim that they know the ultimate spirituality of life in any way beyond feeling it. We can feel it as an experience, but not define it in any complete or privileged way. A pretty good system for accessing experience, one that really works, might be devised, but that’s about as far as any human mind can go. Sometimes such a system works well enough to trigger spiritual feelings, but it generally depends on one specific ecological context, the one in which it was devised, BECAUSE neurological access depends on the sensory nature of that context since the senses provide the filing system for memory. Of course, at the moment of impact, one is making new memories, not remembering, so it’s awareness that counts.
To challenge someone’s ability to define their intense experience of spirituality -- as I am here -- does two things: threatens the person’s feeling of value that protects them from dreading death, and arouses the need to defend the meaningfulness of the group with which they identify. Therefore, the outrage, the threats, the murderous violence. It is a fight for survival, both mentally and physically. In places where there is no rule of law, this is all too literal, quite political, and murderous.
I am pushing aside institutions, theories, history, and affiliations based on gender, ethnicity, education, status, and all that. I want to talk about intense personal (individual) experience and whether there is a way to access it or at least make access possible. I might be wrong. Many people who write about spiritual experience in the context of “religion” (which has to do with historical institutions), call it “liturgy” or “ritual” or “worship” and offer the etymological roots of those words as justification. I have my own “root word” analysis. I hope to shock you into new thinking.
God and church are metaphorical ideas that the brain makes into “objects.” In Damasio’s neurological terms an idea can be treated by the brain as though it were a concrete sensory object, and therefore be remembered and valorized (given meaning). God and church hope to be spiritual paraphilias. Literally, paraphilia means “loving beside.” It was a term invented like so many other 19th century terms (like biological categories) from Latin fragments. So when Grimes spoke of “parashamans” he meant something “alongside” but not “core” shaman.
In the original word invention “paraphilia” was meant to -- and has continued to -- refer to intense sexual response to things that aren’t genital: getting turned on by gloves or shoes and the like. Metaphors, metonyms, fetishes. I’m suggesting that church and God are non-spiritual institutions and concepts that try to attach themselves to intense spiritual experiences of meaning in the way ordinary personal objects get attached to the intense meanings of copulation.
The mechanisms of sex and spirituality are the same in the sense that they both valorize the sensory into something very intense and “real.” They become invested with memory and hope. Sex and spirituality can become deeply entangled with each other which is part of the reason religious institutions get so riled up about sexual morality. Individual experiences confuse the two and sometimes that becomes institutional. (Marriage.) Deepak Chopra: “Tantra believes sexual and spiritual energy are the same because they’re the universe’s creative energy. They can be used for passionate lovemaking or art, poetry, music, and be channeled for transformation and manifestation.”
The mechanisms for accessing sexual experience can’t be that different from accessing spiritual experience. (Seducing the Holy Ghost?) Indeed, our present so-called civilization has mostly succeeded in replacing the goal of spiritual experience with sexual experience -- which marketeers try to convince us is a matter of buying certain things. Some people are pretty good at selling spiritual experience as well. For them the point is to convert human capacties and yearnings into profit.
So here’s my definition reformation. Returning to paraphilia, notice that it is not paraeroticism, relating to genital sex -- in plain Anglo Saxon, fucking. In the way that paraphlia is often used, it is a misnomer. Philia is attachment based on identity and expressed in the physiological systems that evolved together from the endothelium: the skin, the gut and the brain. This is an ancient system with roots in survival of the individual. It describes fondness, attachment, bonding, but NOT fucking. Some might call it intimacy.
Eros doesn’t arise (ahem) until cells become generative, eukaryotes reproducing by merging genetic information and therefore becoming capable of evolution in some way besides mutation. (Reproduction by splitting or budding only produces clones.) Eros is good for the group but might not be good for the individual because giving birth is physically dangerous. Erotic sex can be violent, hostile, destructive to the point of destroying the inseminated individual needed to carry the conceptus to term. But it gets those sperms out there (or rather IN there) and if enough survive as babies, even war rape will make sure the group survives by sacrificing a percentage of individuals who don’t.
Paraerotics is what people mean when they talk about genital sexual response to something other than actual genital sex, like “coming” over gloves or shoes. It shouldn’t be called paraphilia, which is being attached and bonded -- not fucking. A person can be merely fond of a pair of gloves without making them a fetish. But this confusion seems to be crawling over our whole lives, our Walmart attitude towards life.
To be plain, pedoerotics, the genital erotic use of children, is debris, human evil arising from psychosis and overpopulation, where children become puppies and bunnies with no human content, disposable toys. It sacrifices babies in a direct way instead of the bureaucratic ways of neglect, nonfunding, institutionalizing and so on. Our culture supports both -- openly or covertly -- all the while protesting that we don’t, that we’re horrified. There is no way fucking a child can create a new individual, nurture the individual child, or create a surviving culture. It can only destroy.
Pedophilia OUGHT to mean the protective love of children that is based on cradling, stroking, rocking, singing, feeding, talking and nurturing. The great irony is that institutions meant to protect children are usually so overburdened that they have no time for this kind of human-confirming literal pedophilia. They are lucky if they keep the children fed, clean, clothed, going to school, going to sleep. America simply lets them go live on the street like raccoons and pigeons. They are NOT rats.
But that’s a digression. Put aside sex for a moment. It was only a metaphor. How do we help people achieve intense spiritual feelings in their lives? What moves their consciousness over the threshold into an inner state (place) where they are open to the feeling of fusion with something much greater than any person or human construct? The one thing I know so far is that it will be triggered by sensory cues, because that’s how the brain sorts information, whether it is a memory of something that really happened or a concept that has been valorized into what feels real.
Spiritual philia is the reassuring and warm feeling of relationship with a group, even if the group happens to include the planet. (“We are the world!”) Spiritual eros will knock you to your knees and possibly change the planet. I’ve never experienced it. Very few do, at least at full intensity. I’m not sure a person should want to.