Spiritualizing the Unknown

Louis Hoffman & Steve Fehl. Miracles: God, Science, and Psychology in the Paranormal. Editor: J Harold Ellens. Volume 2: Medical and Therapeutic Events. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2008.

Awe is not a very comfortable standpoint for many people … Hence, all about us today, we see avoidance of awe—by burying ourselves in materialist science … or in absolutist religion positions; or by locking ourselves into systems, whether corporate, familial, or consumerist; or by stupefying ourselves with drugs.
~ Kirk J. Schneider, Rediscovery of Awe: Splendor, Mystery, and the Fluid Center of Life

In all the major world religions, the deepest wisdom and most powerful lessons come in the form of parables, difficult stories, and abstract statements. Yet we continue to pursue certainty and concrete knowledge. Rarely has a great religious teacher taught primarily in simple truths. These leaders seemed to be in touch with a deeper wisdom. Rollo May once pointed out that those things that are simple and quickly understood have little impact upon people; however, the truths that at first elude understanding often have great impact. This, in part, is the way the human unconscious works. The unconscious continues to ponder that which was not understood while that which is quickly grasped is no longer considered.

That is one of the reasons humans need miracles and believe they see them happening in their own experiences. Miracles symbolically represent a world of the unknown, and even when a given miracle can be described or even explained, it leaves us with a haunting sense of awe and wonder at having encountered the apparently wide and mysterious transcendental world of God and his infinite unknown. The greatest lessons of religious teachers are as much in the process as the content. Those teachers seem to be teaching us not to have too much confidence in our ability to know. They continue to entice us into a spirituality of the journey and the unknown and the paranormal, while only giving passing interest to the content of the known.

We wish to explore the connection between the unknown and spirituality as experiences in what may be called the paranormal range of human experience; and compare this with the known and religion. In many ways this is a false distinction. David Wulff, one of the most important influences in the history of the psychology of religion, demonstrates that the distinction between religion and spirituality is a contemporary development that would not have made much sense a century ago. Today, however, this distinction is quite essential for many people who have become disillusioned with organized religion but seek to maintain a connection to the underlying meaning system.

It is unfair, however, to place the known and the unknown in an absolute dichotomy. Part of this is because truth and the basic nature of the known have become much more complex over the past 50 years as Western culture transitioned into postmodern times. The known and the unknown often coexist in the same place. Knowledge cannot be simplified into the simple categories of what we know and what we do not know. Instead, all realms of knowledge contain at least a degree of the unknown.

Paradoxes In Knowing and the Unknown In Religious and Intellectual History

The distinction between religion and spirituality deserves some clarification. The division of religion and spirituality is a fairly new development. Over the past century the terminology has evolved so that religion tends to refer to content and structure of belief while spirituality refers to the personal and relational aspects of belief. As such, organized religion has remained in the world of religion, often thought of as distinct from spirituality. In accordance with this distinction, religion is often associated with religious knowing while spirituality is associated with unknowing or not knowing. Spirituality is more mysterious, awe-based, and mystical; religion is more concrete and clear. The tension between these two approaches has long existed.

The various psychological and social influences on preference for the known or unknown, for religion or spirituality, are fairly well established in the psychological literature. For example, attachment is a good predictor of religious conversion and preferences for charismatic or emotional religious experience.5 Often intense religious experiences combine a more mystical experience with the belief that one has directly or concretely communicated with God.

Richardson developed a basis for understanding one’s preferred approach to religion and spirituality based upon the Myers-Briggs Personality Typology. In this, it is purported that personality plays an important role in the preference for certain aspects of religion, including a preference for more concrete or abstract views of religious belief. In other words, an individual’s personality impacts one’s way of being religious, just as it impacts many other aspects of his or her life.

Existential psychology and philosophy have long urged that religion can be used as a defense against anxiety. As anxiety is rooted in the unknown, religion can be seen as a defense against anxiety and the unknown. It is important to note that, contrary to popular misconceptions about existential theory, neither existential philosophy nor psychology suggests that religion is always a defense. There are many existential approaches that are highly religious and spiritual; however, even these existential approaches tend to be critical of certain ways of being religious and affirm the potentialfor religion to be a defense. In other words, from an existential perspective, religion can be authentic or inauthentic. When the primary mode or motivation for religion is to defend against the anxiety of the unknown, it is an inauthentic and a potentially destructive form of religion.

This existential understanding of religion can also be applied to science, accounting for the similarity of aspects of science and religion. Science, in its purest form, is rooted in the pursuit of knowledge more than the attainment of knowledge. The scientific method is designed to allow for discoveries to be continuously tested and retested in order to be refined by the process of verifiability and non-verifiability.

Through the modern period, science developed its version of fundamentalism: scientism. Although science is rarely called on the carpet for scientism, religion is often taken to task for fundamentalism. Both, however, are often rooted in a similar psychological process: the pursuit of the known and the removal of anxiety. This is not to say that all religious fundamentalists or those aligned with scientism do so out of a pathological process to avoid anxiety; indeed, many may come to these positions through genuine cognitive alignment or cognitive agreement with this approach. However, there are important distinctions between those clinging to scientism and fundamentalism as a defense, on the one hand, and aligning with them because of agreement, on the other.

When any belief system is used as a defense, it is rigidly, and often ferociously, defended. When a scientist aligns with scientism because of a genuine belief in its epistemological truth, then criticism and expression of differing perspectives are not threatening; there is no need to defend science. Similarly, when a religious person is rooted in genuine religious belief, he or she does not feel the need to protect God or his or her religious convictions.

A distinction between passion and coercive evangelizing, whether to religion or science, can be noted here. The genuine believer in science or religion may be passionate about the beliefs but allow the passion to be the tool to attract people to the belief system. Such folk recognize, if only on the intuitive level, that passion enlists people who share similar passions while coercion brings a different type of adherents, who may change the nature of the beliefs. Religious and scientific zealots feel the need to defend their positions, often because in doing so they are defending their own psychological security.

This may explain why the genuinely religious or scientific often feel ashamed of their more zealous fellow believers. They share the same content of belief, but they do not share the same belief or faith process. Herein lies the distinction between content and process, which, in contemporary language, is what transforms religion to spirituality. For the spiritual person, process is the essence of belief, while for the religious, content is essential. One may note the limitations and confusions in the language of religion and spirituality in this section of the paper. From this point forward, we will begin to distinguish those who are religious, namely, those whose faith is rooted in content, from those who are spiritual, namely, those whose faith is rooted in process.

There are at least two motivations for being religious: one genuine and one pathological. We think there is not an absolute distinction between the two. There can be both healthy and pathological reasons for specific beliefs existing within the same believer. It should also be noted that there are healthy and pathological reasons for being spiritual. Spirituality should not be idealized in such a way as to suggest it is always healthy. Just as there may be differing motivations for being religious, there can be differing motivations for being spiritual. Today one may encounter what may be called spiritual fundamentalists.

Spiritual fundamentalists, essentially a subcategory of postmodern fundamentalists, react strongly against anything known. They challenge any claims at knowledge or truth of almost any sort. This is done reactively, not reflectively, and is rooted in a fear of the known. Spiritual and postmodern fundamentalists do not want to commit to anything, and do not want to be tied down. They also may have a reflexive rebellion rooted in antagonism to any authority. This postmodern fundamentalism can also be seen in the realms of science, although the terminology is more distinct. It is rooted in a distrust of anything scientific.

The existential position, which we wish to develop here, is founded in paradox. Schneider understands paradox as central to the human condition, or central to human existence. In his view, paradox transcends simple dualism by seeing opposing poles as necessarily connected. The tension between these poles is not so much tension between polar opposites as an existential necessity. The tension between the known and the unknown is an existential reality that provides an answer to the extreme versions of postmodernism.

This existential postmodernism pulls back from the extremist tendency of postmodernism that, at times, implies that ultimate truth does not exist. Instead, it claims that there are always elements of the unknown in the known and vice versa. Truth always retains some mystery. This paradox is reflected in a quote from Paul Tillich in which he stated, “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”

This, too, reflects the paradox between process and content. Content apart from process is distorted and incomplete; however, process without content is often nonsensical. When content and process, the known and the unknown, are placed together in paradox, this creates the foundation of what Schneider speaks about as awe. Even in the paradox of the known and unknown, some mystery or awe remains necessary and can serve as a basis for avoiding the extremes of excessive trust in knowledge or the knowns; as well as avoiding the extremes of cynicism, hopelessness, and faithlessness. As Camus states in The Plague, “How hard it must be to live only with what one knows and what one remembers, cut off from what one hopes for! … There can be no peace without hope.”

Religious and Spiritual Rituals

Rituals are closely connected with both spirituality and religion; however, they are means to differenting ends. Many religious rituals are enacted symbols. According to Tillich, symbols “point to something beyond themselves” and they “participate[s] in that to which it [the symbol] points.” Religious rituals, then, are intended to point people toward something beyond themselves and provide opportunities to participate with God or our Ultimate Concern. Tillich says that symbols can often become idolatrous; this occurs when the symbol is thought to be truth or reality instead of pointing toward a truth beyond itself. In other words, concretizing symbols is a form of idolatry. Similarly, when ritual is made into a requirement of which its enactment is its main end, it has become idolatrous. Although Tillich uses Judeo-Christian language to express these ideas, the basic meaning can be extended beyond religions. Rituals often are used to deaden or escape, instead of to engage or incite participation. This is a misuse of rituals; however, this tendency can be seen in all religions. In Buddhism, when meditation practices are used simply to escape current pain, this is a misuse of the original intent of the ritual.

This problem is inherent in the commonplace applications of meditation and mindfulness in Western psychology. Meditation is often used as stress reduction or relaxation; the intended end is calmness. Mindfulness, which is a ritual used to attain deeper awareness of oneself, is often used for relapse-prevention or to increase awareness of thoughts that cause discomfort and increase the likelihood of acting out. Psychology takes the Buddhist ritual out of its context and uses it for immediate psychological gain. The end is in the ritual, not beyond.

When meditation and mindfulness are placed in their original Buddhist context, their aim is to connect with an ultimate reality beyond the illusion of oneself, and to produce nonattachment to the self, since it is an illusion. Western Buddhist approaches, as well as psychological approaches utilizing Buddhist rituals, often are excessively self-focused, even if they seek transcendent or transpersonal experiences. In Tillich’s language, these concretized rituals are a form of idolatry, and certainly they are a distortion of Buddhism. Religious rituals, as an end in themselves, tend to be such idolatrous substitutions for profound meditation and mindfulness; thus they miss the ritual’s deeper meaning: they merely fulfill a requirement, they create a desired state, or they distract or numb the individual from what is occurring outside the ritual in real life. Conversely, spiritual rituals, employed authentically, increase awareness in true meditation and mindfulness, broadening one’s experience, and going beyond what is immediate in the ritual itself. Religious rituals often serve to quell anxiety; spiritual rituals often deepen anxiety.

The anxiety triggered by spiritual rituals, however, is not a pathological anxiety and may not even be perceived as uncomfortable. It may be experienced as exhilarating, freeing, and expansive. Religious rituals often heighten the focus on the immediate situation or context. Their practice and intentions are concrete, short-focused, and often self-serving. Spiritual rituals are usually rooted in mystery, awe, and the unknown. Spiritual rituals also open one up to the inscrutable, as Schneider refers to it, which is the ultimate mystery beyond one’s self. Tillich would add to this that through the symbolic elements of the ritual, the individual participates in the inscrutable (Tillich, 61, 104-9, 129-33 143, 157, 242).

Compassion and Love versus Obedience

It may be evident that our presentation of religion suggests that it is often connected to the immediate in a way that it loses sight of the vast context of the immediate. Religion focuses on immediate ends while talking continuously about future promises, on the now to get to the there (heaven; nonattachment), but often does not truly value the present or see the present as part of the there.

Spirituality, conversely, recognizes the interconnectedness of all things, including the interconnectedness of past, present, and future. This represents a different understanding of time. For religion, A is endured to get to B. In spirituality, A is part of B; they are one. Both the religious and spiritual tendencies can be seen in the various world religions. In Christianity, two views of Jesus’ ministry illustrate this point. Some followers of Jesus focus on Jesus’ commandments, connecting these to the future promise. Although the promise of the future is discussed, the focus is on the requirements of the present. Other Christians focus on replicating the faith and ministry of Jesus because it is its own end. They do not see living in the present as a requirement for blessings, but as a way of life that is a blessing.

Similar conceptions can be seen in Buddhism. Like Christianity and all the major world religions, compassion is an important aspect of Buddhism. When approached religiously, compassion is another requirement to be attained. When approached spiritually, compassion is a sought after way of life. A beautiful example of this can be seen in Barasch’s book Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A Search for the Soul of Kindness. As the title suggests, Barasch’s understanding of compassion is a pursuit of living a compassionate life; it is not a requirement, not something to be checked off, and not something attained. It is pursued.

As soon as concepts such as compassion and love are turned into requirements, their very nature is changed. They no longer reflect the nature of what they purport to be. Most individuals recognize when they are the recipient of love or compassion as a technique or as a requirement versus when it is given naturally, freely, and openly. When love and compassion are cultivated as a way of life, their expression is genuine, emanating from the individual. This type of love and compassion is healing and rewarding in an ultimate sense. It is an end in itself, but not an immediate end. It is a transcendent end, but not in the sense that once it is attained, it is forever attained. Rather, it is continuously pursued.

The Heresy of the Known

Whereas definable gods (such as those in the Old and New Testaments, ancient myth, and popular culture) polarize us—either containing and belittling us on the one hand, or inflating and exaggerating us on the other—the inscrutable fosters neither. That which the inscrutable does foster, by contrast, is wholeness—not puritan or absolute wholeness, but dynamic, paradoxical wholeness. The inscrutable evokes our humility and our possibility at the same time, but instead of dictating these conditions from on high, it inspires us to negotiate them, to find our way within them.

As Anselm thought that faith moves toward understanding and not vice versa; so Christians do not try to understand so that they may believe, but by believing they come to understand the word, way, and will of God. As the world wrestles with moving from a modernist to a postmodernist view of religion, spirituality, and psychology, much effort is being expended to hold on to the modernist notion that knowledge (science) enables and empowers faith (mystery or awe). Thus fundamentalist and evangelical Christians argue the creation of the world, something inherently mysterious, from a scientific perspective (intelligent design, creationism, or creation science) instead of from a belief system that is rooted in mystery and awe.

In the movie Simon Birch, Simon and his friend Joe are talking shortly after Joe’s mother has died. Simon is talking about his sense of destiny and being placed on earth for a purpose. Joe is uncomfortable with what Simon is saying and tells Simon he is talking nonsense. Simon responds to Joe, “That’s your problem, you have no faith.” Joe responds, “I have faith. I just need proof to back it up.” The need for proof, the need for tangible, verifiable evidence on which to base our faith or values, moves people further and further away from what they seek as human beings—a sense of awe of something greater than themselves at work in this world.

Tillich’s Faith as Ultimate Concern and God beyond God

In Tillich’s terminology, faith is the expression of ultimate concern and God is that in which people are grounded, or the ground of being. From a postmodern perspective, it is necessary to ask how one identifies his or her ultimate concern. Cooper states, “For Tillich, the key criterion for evaluating an ultimate concern is fairly simple: Does it indeed point toward that which is truly ultimate? Conversely, an ultimate concern which has a finite object becomes idolatry, or worse still, demonic.” Cooper goes on to say,

But the natural question most of us may want to ask is this: How does one “get” ultimately concerned? The answer again, is relatively simple: We are grasped by an ultimate concern. We don’t conjure it up, create it, or go searching for it. It “finds” us. Ultimate concerns cannot be tracked down or trapped. Nor can faith emerge from accumulating enough evidence. While faith presupposes reason, reason cannot “serve up” faith. Again, nothing finite, and this includes human reason, can produce faith. While faith had better not contradict reason, it always goes beyond reason. Faith is a gift.

Tillich’s perspective of faith is rooted in his Lutheran background, as well as Luther’s understanding that humans cannot will or cause themselves to have faith. In addition, Tillich saw faith, or ultimate concern, as something that involves an individual’s entire being. This all-consuming nature of ultimate concern, or faith, encompasses both the conscious and the unconscious for Tillich.

Just as Tillich’s view of faith as ultimate concern is grounded in existential thought, so is Tillich’s understanding of God as the ground of being, or God beyond God. For Tillich, the only way in which human beings can talk of God or describe God is through the language of symbols. Tillich contends that the Old Testament “conveys a basic relationship between humanity and God based on fear and a sense of awe” and that in the New Testament the Apostle Paul argues for a relationship with God “by which God declares us acceptable. This acceptance occurs in spite of our unrighteousness.” In each case, the relationship between humans and God is experience-based in story and symbols. In other words, as finite beings people are incapable of describing God to the fullest extent because people’s language and experience is limited and as such confines God.

Piety in the Unknown

Sometimes … a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice is saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace.

This quote from one of Tillich’s most famous sermons best describes his view of piety. Tillich believed that finite humans long for connection with something beyond themselves but are unable to make that connection via their own will. This lack of connection or separation is what Tillich saw as sin, a condition from which people are unable to free themselves. Tillich believed that being separated from the source or ground of being is the basis of anxiety. Because people are separated from that which grounds them, their sense of being is threatened by death, meaninglessness, and condemnation. Furthermore, according to Cooper, “Tillich argues that for our situation today, it is not guilt, but meaninglessness, which is the primary dilemma. Doubt has replaced guilt as our central problem.”

Doubt in and of the infinite only exacerbates the struggle with a sense of being, a sense of connection, and self-acceptance. According to Tillich, it is only when we realize and accept that we are unacceptable that we can truly begin to experience grace or the grounding of our being. Cooper quotes Tillich: “Accepting our acceptance is never based on moral qualities, achievements, intellectual abilities, or any other human strength. It is transforming only when we realize we are unacceptable. In fact, the experience of being accepted is life changing only when all our own attempts at self-acceptance have miserably failed.” For Tillich, true piety is acknowledging our separateness and the meaninglessness of our efforts to be acceptable, and simply accepting that we have been accepted—this is the ultimate act of belief. True belief also always encompasses doubt, a central idea for Tillich.

The Dangers of Knowing and the Truth

In discussing the concepts of “knowing” and “truth,” Hoffman, Hoffman, Robinson, and Lawrence articulate the difference between truth in the finite realm and truth in the infinite realm. Using an illustration from C. S. Lewis concerning miracles, Hoffman and colleagues delineate the difference between truth in small letters or finite truth and Truth in large letters or infinite truth: “According to Lewis, from God’s perspective the Truth of miracles is but a small Truth. However, from a human perspective, the Truth of miracles is a grand truth as it surpasses human understanding or explanation.” In other words, finite truth is that truth which humans are able to grasp or understand. The problem with finite truth is that it does not present the whole picture and is therefore incomplete, whereas infinite truth, or as in Lewis’s example of miracles—God’s truth—is complete and whole and is beyond the human ability to comprehend or clarify.

Tillich took the difference between finite truth and infinite truth a step further. Hoffman and colleagues observe that “For Tillich, if humans claim to have hold of ultimate truth, they claim to have truth in the realm of the infinite. In other words, to fully know the truth is to claim to be God.” The limitations of finite truth impact personal and cultural epistemologies or how we know what we know. These limitations determine how people interpret their life experiences and relationships. In the course of their lives, the limitations of finite truth cause people to question and doubt truths, values, or beliefs that they have held as essential to their existence. Under a modernist perspective such change is seen as a shaking of the foundations and is cause for reasserting fundamental understandings of such concepts as God, faith, patriotism, or self. However, a postmodern view would suggest that such changes, questions, and doubts are indications of a self that is more adaptable and fluid. In addition, postmodernism would emphasize that we have a variety of selves in which people function. From this perspective, the process of knowing, or knowing how we know what we know, focuses on understanding these various selves and what each persona contributes to being a whole person.

When our concepts of truth are held to rigidly, another danger emerges: the use of truth to oppress others. The absolute conviction of one’s beliefs, especially when these beliefs are used at least partially to quell anxiety, often can be forced upon others. In the less harmful examples, this may involve coercive approaches to recruiting others to one’s way of thinking. In more extreme examples, this can entail forcing others into similar beliefs through physical means. On a national level, this has contributed to many wars and countless deaths.

The Unknown’s Role in the Transition from Religion To Spirituality

The role of the unknown is both a product and a cause of the transition from religion to spirituality. The transition from premodern faith all the way through modernistic faith to postmodern faith was closely connected to the unknown. In each transition, the conflict between the known and unknown played a role, and in each period one or the other held the privileged placement.

Apologizing for Apologetics

In the premodern period, there was no need for a rational defense of faith; faith was the legitimate way of knowing. Faith was closely connected to direct divine revelation. However, when modernism surfaced, empirical science became the dominant paradigm and religion was forced to defend its place in the world of knowing. The power in knowing switched from the church to the academy.

Religious leaders, set on defending faith, developed what is known as apologetics, a rational defense of the faith. The result was a significant change in the very nature of faith and being religious. In premodern times, faith was connected with direct knowledge and knowing through stories or myths. This was not necessarily literal truth, but truth nonetheless. Apologetics put faith and religious belief in the realm of science. This required that faith and religion needed to defend themselves by the methodological standards of the academy. Through this process, religion lost its faith and became mere knowledge.

Tillich, as discussed, saw doubt as an essential part of faith and viewed faith more holistically than could be accounted for in reducing it to something known. From a premodern perspective, apologetics represents religion becoming something it is not. This could be conceived of as Western religion’s dark night of the soul.

Gerald May clarifies a common misperception of the dark night of the soul. Many Christians have understood the dark night as merely a form of suffering that Christians go through. Instead, May points out that St. John of the Cross’s initial conception of the dark night is much different. It reflected a transition in which many religious symbols and rituals, such as prayer, lost their significance.38 This is not a loss of faith, but rather a transformation into a different type of faith. The transformed faith is more mature, less dependent upon symbolism, and more reliant on what the religious symbolism was pointing toward. By the late premodern and early modern eras religion had aquired a significant amount of extraneous liturgical, doctrinal, and symbolic baggage. Faith turned into knowledge, and what it meant to be religious became increasingly narrow, rationalized, and rigid. There were too many symbols, too many requirements.

Saving Religion through Spirituality

As extraneous religious baggage increased, religious organizations also developed a bad reputation through abusing their power and trust. This continued through the modern period into postmodernism, and religious people were losing their trust in religion. Because religion had become essentially connected to the church and organized religion, for many this meant abandoning religious institutions altogether. The separation of spirituality from religion, in a sense, represents a way in which people were able to save the essentials of faith, while abandoning what they could no longer believe in or tolerate in the abuses of institutional religion. In separating off, many were able to remain spiritual, but not religious. In doing so, religion was saved by a linguistic evolution in which genuine or personal religion became spirituality, and this new emphasis upon spirituality evolved into the organized and structured aspects of a new kind of religion. Spirituality acquired the unknown, mysterious, and awe-based aspects of religion, while religion retained the known portions.

Dangers in separating spirituality and religion still exist. First and foremost, religion retained the ritual and communal aspects of faith, leaving spirituality excessively personal and individualistic. Although many spiritual individuals have found ways to reincorporate relationships into ritual and community, the danger and tendency to separate spirituality from religion remains. Second, when spirituality was personalized, it allowed for the possibility of extremist relativism in which all faiths are considered equally valid. Although few people take spirituality to this extreme, the danger remains for doing so.

Faith, Spirituality, and Moral Development and the Unknown

Just as religion went through a developmental process, individuals also go through a transformation that moves toward the unknown. In Christianity, this is represented in the progression of the Bible from the Old Testament to the Gospels. In the Old Testament, God makes a concession in giving the Israelites the written Ten Commandments because the Israelites were unable to follow the law written on their hearts. In the Gospels, Jesus began to clarify the placement of the Old Testament laws and summarized them all into two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself, or simply love. All the other commandments, rules, and requirements are simply commentary on these two commandments. Humans absolutized those other laws, not God.

This basic truth is easily recognizable in many of the theories of faith and moral development today, such as Fowler’s stages of faith and Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. There is a notable bias in these theories for the abstract, the contextual, and the unknown. Known and absolutized perspectives on faith and morality are placed in the early stages of development. The higher levels of development are increasingly abstract and unclear. The lack of clarity is not because of poor articulation or development in the theory, but rather the theory explicitly states that these higher levels of development entail more abstraction and less clarity, and with them more unknowns.

There is a certain logic to this represented in the biblical idiom about spiritual milk and spiritual meat (Heb 5: 12-14). The immature live on spiritual milk, which is easy to digest and understand; however, the higher calling is to spiritual meat, which is tougher and more difficult to process. This places the known and the unknown on a continuum in which all people need spiritual milk (the known) early in their development, but hopefully move on to spiritual meat (the unknown). Again, this returns to paradox, suggesting that different levels of tension are more appropriate at different points of development.

A parallel to this can be seen in Buddhism. According to Buddhism, the self is an illusion, and spiritual development entails a process in which one gradually lets go of attachment to the self, recognizing one’s true nature. However, as Epstein points out, this does not mean that one should seek to go directly to the end of no self. Instead, this is a developmental process in which one must first recognize the self in order to move toward the recognition of no self. There are no shortcuts. Again, one moves gradually toward the unknown, which represents a more mature faith.


Spirituality is rooted in the unknown and hence paranormal. The known is not only not spirituality, it is often a barrier to attaining true spirituality. Healthy spirituality incorporates the unknowns, awe, mystery, doubt, and anxiety. This is part of what makes spirituality holistic. Religion, as it has come to be defined over time, is primarily about behavior and knowledge. If individuals stop at this type of religion, both their religion and their spirituality are left very incomplete.

Religion and spirituality are not enemies, and the boundary between them is highly permeable. When we fail to discern or acknowledge that, we truncate the function of both severely, and to our own detriment. Instead, religion is at its best when rooted in and the expression of profound personal spirituality, and spirituality is amorphous until it is expressed in the forms and rituals of religion. However, in the end, if some degree of the unknown and doubt is not included, that is, if the paranormal is not accorded ample potential play in our experience and ritual, a stale religiosity will likely emerge. If, on the other hand, the miraculous of the paranormal (the unknown) and its accompanying anxiety can be valued, an invigorating spirituality is likely to be the result.