I get emails about everyone’s “personal spiritual quest”

February 14, 2023 • 12:15 pm

Someone named “Chuck” sent what’s below as a prospective comment on my recent post, “Is Wokeism on the way out?“. I decided to put it as a standalone post so I can solicit readers’ takes and then send them to Chuck. As you can see, he claims that ancient religionists (presumably Jews and Christians) faced the same “atrocities of humankind” as do people today.  And the ancients solved it (and soothed their trouble souls) by turning to religion and the balm found in Scripture.

Chuck concludes that all the modern folks going around riddled with angst, seeking some kind of “personal spiritual question about life the universe and everything”, are wasting their time. The solution already exists, he argues—in religious writings and doctrine. He even hints that if we didn’t have Abrahamic religions, people riddled with angst would come up with the “exact same conclusions.” Does that mean the same stories about Jesus, Muhammad, or Moses, the same Biblical strictures and homilies—or what? Would there be convergent evolution towards modern religion and its claims? I doubt it!

Well, read this and see what you make of it.  Any errors in the text (including omission of the final parenthesis) are from Chuck.

My thought on wokism – you won’t like it, I’m not an evangelist but here it is – with the rise of science and the happy decline in the religious mentality (“God works in mysterious ways” Not any more! Almost anything that was an “act of God” are now mostly just reasonably explainable natural processes, we can even blame storm damages on Exxon now, yea!) — the historical atrocities of humankind are really bugging young people. One took me to task over the “Trail of Tears” and of course US slavery.

It occurs to me that most ancient sacred texts actually deal with the exact same problem – our ancestors did these awful things! SO: you can either try to somehow compensate for this hugely long list of all the bad things people did in the past to settle the score, make up for it – and of course we focus on slavery as it is front and center – but history is just chock a block full of atrocities, many documented in the ancient sacred texts.

I’m not even saying you have to worship the text – just that people long ago just as intelligent as yourself struggled with the exact same issues and came up with some balm that ease their minds and get on with life. Otherwise you are going to have generations of people wasting time going on a personal spiritual quest about life the universe and everything, and some will come to the exact same conclusions.

OR you can just wander lost thru the church of reason in eternal search for the answer (which is fine if that pays your bills), cause what you are applying now certainly is not working. It may not be ‘scientific’ but a tree is known by it’s fruit and if the fruit of your church of reason (That’s a Robert Pirsig phrase, from zen and motorcycles 🙂 is rotten, there you go.

If you have a message for Chuck, leave it below, and I’ll email him in a couple of days giving him this site and saying “here are some responses.”

31 thoughts on “I get emails about everyone’s “personal spiritual quest”

  1. Are we supposed to be on spiritual quests? I must have missed that email. I thought we were playing ‘whoever dies with the most stuff wins’.

  2. I am glad for the distraction.
    The commenter is making a false dichotomy by asserting that we face either secular angst or religious peace. Well, secular societies tend to be more peaceful and equitable than religious societies. Highly secular countries like Norway and even uber-woke New Zealand enjoy greater happiness, health, and personal well being than comparatively religious stew pots like the U.S. or Iran.

  3. Honestly, Chuck, I don’t get your point. Religion solved no ancient horrors and continues to fail to solve modern problems. Ancient folk were surely as intelligent as modern folk but they lacked tools and information available to your average eight year old today. There is no useful balm in Religious texts.

  4. Correct me if I’m wrong, but he actually seems to be saying that people in the past just “made it all up.” The “solutions” he touts weren’t handed down by some deity but rather, people simply invented (“came up with”) stories to “ease their minds.”

  5. Morality came first — people knew what’s right then, they still do now. Then people invented gods, and the gods’ ideas of morality matched what we already knew. Then people forgot they were the originators of morality, thought gods had come up with it all, and worshipped the gods. And then they tacked on a bunch of other junk to the “sacred texts” to grow the power and wealth of the believers — how to worship, how to get money and land, which infidels to murder.

    Anyone with compassion has a far better message already written in their minds. Ancient texts are the last place you want to look for anything.

  6. So he suggests just ignoring the problems and refuse to try and fix them and just give up and believe In childish fantasies. That is what quitters do. Refuse reality – a ridiculous philosophy.

  7. “… he claims that ancient religionists (presumably Jews and Christians) faced the same “atrocities of humankind” as do people today.”

    Oh yes, excellent – I can see how that palpable (?) visceral (?) notion – like a thought goblin – would set people up to be victimized by religion. I’m pretty sure the thought crossed my mind at some point. Like a page out of the religion playbook.

  8. Its been reported that nearly 25% of all internet searches are pornography-related. Interestingly, there exists a correlation between these searches and religiosity (The states with the highest levels of religious belief–I’m looking at you Utah and the U.S. South–download and view the most porn per capita. This seems to suggest they’re still looking for answers to their angst, balm or no balm.

  9. One could as lief make a more persuasive argument than Chuck makes for religion and scripture for the use of intoxicants. Every culture that has been able to do so has found some way to forage or cultivate a substance they could brew or distill or smoke or eat or otherwise ingest to bring about altered states of consciousness. (Or, failing to have available such substances, by engaging in ritualized behavior such as sensory deprivation or overload.) And the reasons have been much the same — to seek a form of enlightenment, to sooth the troubled (metaphorical) soul, or merely to provide balm for the pain brought on by the vicissitudes of life.

    The desire to experience such altered states of consciousness is a drive as inherent to mankind as our drive for food or our drive for sex. That drive can be suppressed, of course, just as the sex drive can be suppressed by those who choose chastity or as the drive for food can be suppressed (at least temporarily) by fasting. But it is no less real for the suppressing.

  10. Chuck might benefit from reading Camus on “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The universe is indifferent to our suffering, and the futility of our efforts to impose reason on it means that life is absurd. But everyone else is experiencing the same absurdity that I am, and there is both comfort and joy in embracing that absurdity together in love & solidarity with each other.

  11. “… try to somehow compensate for this hugely long list of all the bad things people did in the past to settle the score, make up for it ”

    [ I understand this is the “either” part of a long “either/or” quote ]

    That’s like the inverse of holding a grudge – I’m not sure what, but in order to change, I think we have to leave the past behind – we aren’t time travelers, and none of those people will benefit. We _can’t_ make up for some things. Doesn’t mean we can’t look for a better approach.

  12. Hi Chuck, greetings from England.

    I don’t think there’s any evidence for the existence of ‘spirits’, so I’m not sure what you mean by ‘spiritual quest’. It seems to me that ‘spiritual’ can almost always be replaced by a more precise term.

    If you’re worried about the state of the world, well, join the club! Why not try to do something about it? Join a litter-pick group; volunteer at your local library; apply to become a school governor (or the US equivalent). Every little helps – it really does.

    And if you’re still suffering from ‘angst’, well, of course you must take your consolation where you can get it, even from religion. Just don’t expect anyone else to do so; and certainly don’t tell them they should do so. Believe it or not, some of us trust reason and evidence much more than we trust feelings, emotions and ancient texts. And we get more satisfying answers as well.

    1. The word “spiritual” has a number of senses including the non-supernatural. I recall Hitchens or Sam Harris expounding upon that – I recall it referring to a deep breath sort of feeling.

      1. The Latin root for spirit is the same as that for “respiration” (and “inspiration,” and plenty more). At any rate, yes, the sense of spirit as breath is a very old idea indeed.

  13. … and lastly, I’m a recovering Pirsig fan – so I get it, how great that story is – hits me right in the breadbasket. What can I say – I sorta admire him.

    But some of those ideas like the Church of Reason – as strongly illustrative as they are – are simply ideas in the marketplace of ideas (Mill).

  14. If I understand what Chuck is saying correctly, he is suggesting that “wokeism” is contemporary young people’s expression of moral horror at the ongoing bad consequences of historic injustices, in the absence of an ideology that allows bad consequences to be made meaningful for people by appeals to religion. “God works in mysterious ways” amounts to saying “your suffering may seem meaningless, but it really isn’t.” The alternatives he sees are (1) actually doing something about the bad consequences – “making up for it” – or (2) prolonging an eternal and pointless quest for the cause of people’s behaving badly, which they have done for as far back as we have historical records. That is, I think he implies that we’ll never figure out why people behave badly, so will never prevent it, but we can try to deal with the aftermath. These alternatives are before these young people because the “fruit of the church of reason” is just as morally rotten as the fruit of any church.

    If I have understood Chuck correctly, I would agree that yes, doing something practical to make up for historic injustices, perhaps by working to redress their ongoing bad consequences, does seem like a better idea than spending too much time on Twitter complaining about them.

    1. That was a well-reasoned and compassionate answer, and, icing on the cake, focused on the big picture of the struggle over “wokeism”. I usually lose sight of the forest while focusing on a tree or two, so, note to self, here.

    2. I don’t know, I think you give him (Chuck) too much credit here. He is basically upset about the concept of inherited sin, then propose a cure, by refering to ancient texts which are the biggest proponents of such concepts. Framing it as a spiritual struggle, when in practice, wokeness is a social exercise, much more to the likeness of a religion, which are on a crusade against the current secular society.

      His remarks are especially wierd since our host (Coyne) is a perfect example of; when Chucks tesis is not true. Considering the coverage of ”the woke” on this site.

      1. I read “our ancestors did these awful things” less as a reference to “inherited sin” and more as an acknowledgement that awful things have been happening for a long time.

        The core of his first sentence is “with the rise of science and the happy decline in the religious mentality, … the historical atrocities of humankind are really bugging young people.” This seems to be the explanation for “wokeism” – young people’s inability to deal with the knowledge of historical atrocity.

        It is not at all clear to me that Chuck is promoting religion. He calls the decline of religion “happy.” The only advantage he cites for ancient religion is that it soothed people’s horror or regret sufficiently that they could “get on with life” – presumably without lecturing the adults around them on the as-yet-unmitigated evils of things like the Trail of Tears and slavery. He sees “wokeism,” it seems to me, as a secular effort to do the same.

        Chuck would not be the first to identify “wokeism” as a contemporary, secular, substitute for “religion.” He does, however, seem to be saying it is not a very effective one.

  15. Chucks email feels like a fumble, that is later ruled an incomplete catch after review.
    (Sry, Superbowl still too close in mind)

    Just the idea of connecting ”wokeism” with a ”church of reason”, seems like a very long stretch, considering that enlightment and secular thought is waaay older than modern american wokism (especially wierd when you are outside america).

    Also, ”wokeism” feels and behaves more like a religion, thus, and according to Chucks own thesis, it would soon, through its ”spiritual quest”; morph into something similar of the abrahamic religion, anyways? So I don’t get his beef with it? Its basically a mirror image, considering cognitivity, and how much both have abandoned reason.

    Either way, spirituality in a true secular sense, has nothing to do with reason or science, it simply makes it a private matter, rather than a public commitment.

    Where spiritual ideas are not forbidden, but rather, exists in many shapes and forms. Free for those who wish to engage with them, and never forced upon anyone else.

    And it just happens that religion in such settings, end up being a collection of arbitary social rules, grouping people up against eachother. Where policing and enforcing its own rules, seems more important than any of its philosophy. And whatever is left of any claim on spirituality, is very negligible.

    Whatever makes a tranquil mind, would do as good as any other claim to spirituality. That’s my motto.

  16. I struggle to find your point. You suggest that kids today are woke because they have read about past injustices. Probably some truth there. Further you suggest that reading ancient texts and discovering that the ancients were also troubled by past injustices would calm their souls. I don’t see the basis for that. Also, who are these troubled people in the ancient texts? I don’t remember Jesus saying “Hey everybody, remember my Dad ordering his Chosen People to execute all those defenseless women and children? That was really bad. It really bothers me/him/us”.

    As far as walking in the Church of Reason, well personally I live my life trying to understand what is true and reject what is false (h/t to Matt D.). I can still admire a sunset and ponder all the things I and humanity will never know and feel just fine.

  17. …people long ago just as intelligent as yourself struggled with the exact same issues and came up with some balm that ease their minds and get on with life.

    There are numerous supernatural “balms” which can ease our minds against past & present sufferings and injustices, with no way to point to any of them as more reasonable than any other because we’re not dealing with reason, but with faith.

    “It happened for some good reason we’ll never know.”

    “It happened because we did something to anger God.”

    “It happened because YOU did something to anger God.”

    “It happened because THEY did something to anger God.”

    “It happened because God told us to do it and we did it.”

    “And now God wants us to do it again.”

    “No, God told us He never said that.”

    “Yes He did.”

    When different “spiritual quests” come up with similar bits of wisdom regarding forgiveness, resignation, equanimity, patience, gratitude, etc. there are always analogous bits of secular wisdom. That’s because what makes good sense doesn’t need cosmic authority, just human authority. Cosmic authority is needed by those bits above which don’t make sense without it.

    1. If there was a god, I would like to do something to anger it, just for shits and giggles. The fact that the Abrahamic God feels anger (and acts upon it) is all you need to know about who invented this version of a god.

  18. Chuck is mistaken. The world can be a cruel and vicious place. Nature certainly is and God, if he exists, is also (by creating oh so unnecessary chilhood leukemia to torture the innocent and tsunamis to reliably and indiscriminantly victimize humans from time to time). The only antidote to the cruelty and indifference of the world is our innate human compassion and capacity for empathy. Like our animal relatives, humans aren’t guaranteed a pain-free life and I would suggest that the anxiety we all feel is a prerequisite for caring about other people and expressing concern for their well-being which is a necessary first step before taking action to help them. Thousands of people are trying to help those unfortunate people buried beneath the rubble of another one of God’s earthquake tantrums because they care enough to help even strangers. Even wokeness is a misplaced attempt at empathy.

    I think of what bugs me the most about Christians and it’s probably their typical cavalier attitude in the face of adversity, with that slow blinking ‘everything is fine with Jesus at your back,’ air of insincere, carefree happiness. It’s a facade. Again, one must engage with tragedy to try to remedy it. What is the Christian solution? Fatalism. Fatalism with an overdose of breathtaking denial. Like when Christians by the 10,000s ignored masking and avoided vaccination only to contract COVID. It was heartbreaking to see their regret as the gravity of their situation took hold. Then came the impotent Christian platitudes: “It’s in God’s hands now.” “Maybe it’s just your time.” “You’ll soon be with the Lord.” “Who can question God’s will?” Obstinate fatalism and faith in the face of an almost totally preventable demise. Their prayers were not answered. They let Jesus take the wheel and he drove it into a ditch and totalled it. But it’s all OK in the theme park of JesusLand with the plastic ventriloquist dummy smiles and eternal optimism.

    I’ll take my pain and angst, thanks, and use it as motivation to paint over God’s negligent incompetence to bring some relief to those who suffer and deserve better. You can carry on with the general anesthesia of faith and that prickly feeling of numbness that masquerades as pain-free contentment.

  19. I feel Chuck is suspiciously conveniently missing one of the important aspects of religiosity (perhaps his eyes gloss over certain passages of his scripture ; or maybe he uses a heavily redacted edited edition of those scriptures) when he says

    It occurs to me that most ancient sacred texts actually deal with the exact same problem – our ancestors did these awful things!

    Of course, many of those awful things – the wholesale slaughter of civilians ; the selling of women and children into slavery on a whole-city scale ; the massacres of innocent people who had never been exposed to “the word of the Lord” (such as at the Passover – a real “high” point of monotheistic chest-beating) ; ordering an adult male to murder his child in cold blood – were done by humans expressly obeying the unambiguous orders of their misogynistic, bigoted, murderous, sadistic psychopathic god.
    It’s either that, or he’s a conscious hypocrite. Which is also a common strategy for god-followers trying to cope with worshipping a psychopath. It’s not like he’s inventing anything new here. Within organised religion, inventiveness has, of course, a negative correlation with survival. I doubt “Chuck” would appreciate the humour of him demonstrating the power of evolution. “worlds-tiniest-violin.gif”

  20. Centuries of religion has not solved our unlimited supply of problems. Certainly we would have very little idea of how the universe and how we work if not for science and the scientific method of error correction.
    We now know that we are responsible for our own destination. A failed hypothesis, that is religion, has wasted more time, wealth, resources, lives, that an intelligent sentinel being should feel at ease with. We need to grow up and leave it behind.
    A personal reflection: knowing the truth of how the universe works is a relief from having to live a life immersed in a fantasy made up that explains nothing, with the absurd notion of an after life, belittling the life you are now living.

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