This was just published at Global Brief. Click the link to read the rest.
But the triumph of spirit today seems paradoxically spiritless. The Christian God has been dead, or at least moribund, since the mid-19th century, when Nietzsche pronounced the obsequies. Liberal political philosophy has progressively eliminated spirit from state and statecraft. Science has eliminated spirit from matter. And economics has eliminated spirit from the market.
Spirit seems to linger in the vociferous, but often derided religious rearguard actions of so-called fundamentalist movements (they seem to exist in every religion). But even the phrase ‘human spirit’ used in conversation is a marker for the naïve and passé. And humanism, without spirit, is derided as just another system of oppression. No longer can we wax romantically elegiac about the residuum of immaterial essence that we feel to be part of our existence.
The old arguments from spirit that every human life is infinitely valuable has led to planetary crowding, the exhaustion of resources, the advent of government-sanctioned abortion, assisted suicide, and various forms of medical rationing (when poor people cannot pay for health care, that is a form of rationing). Spirit has turned on spirit, per force, because species survival depends on it. In the end, our human desire to separate ourselves from nature has had the paradoxical effect of proving that we are nothing but nature.
DG—great piece thanks for sharing. It’s certainly oozing with spirit—a lucidly poignant, challenging, philosophically furious spirit that primes the pumps of intellectual engagement while simultaneously smothering potential nihilistic tendencies. I can’t help but wonder what sparked this commentary? General disappointment, fractured hope, a compounded frustration with the state of everything?
Maybe the eradicated, beaten down, neutralized, negated spirit you site is necessary—perhaps the slate need be wiped clean to make room for the [new] global 21st Century consciousness?
On a side note, ever notice how the so called “normal” religious types often define their spirit and beliefs in relation to the “fanatics?” How many times have you heard, “I mean, I’m religious, but not like [fill in the blank].” Aren’t we only defined by our extremes? If so, a loss of spirit, in all its various forms, factions, and degrees, is ultimately a loss of our selves. I suppose we need our worst to illuminate our best. I suppose we must lose everything before we will begin to want it back.
Thanks, Martin. Nothing in particular “sparked” this—just the general trend of my thoughts and the state of things.
“Spirit is purposeful” is my favorite phrase, and perhaps the key.
Slouching towards Bethlehem. . .
Interesting piece, thank you. I am way out of my league to challenge you in this realm, but I must. I know you will understand. And I trust in your serotonin (love & generosity).
“Science has eliminated spirit from matter.” Surely not! The deeper one goes in any direction the more mysterious and spirit-filled it all becomes. I would suggest that Science right here, right now is offering humanity the greatest opportunity for spirituality that has ever existed in the history of life on earth.
“Now, of course, our innermost impulses derive from the leftover reptile in us – the limbic brain – and scientists can track generosity and love by the ebb and flow of serotonin showers. Where is the unique and absolute value in that?”
The unique and absolute value in that is that you, specifically self-aware you, exist against preposterous odds. Understanding serotonin (and we are a long way from understanding generosity and love) simply pushes the question back further. It does not begin to go away, but it does get deeper and more interesting.
“The Protestant Reformation …. Is it possible that something similar will follow hard upon the heels of our current miasma?”
My greatest dream is that humanity will embrace Science – the deep mysteries of our Universe(s). Find awe in the sub-sub atomic and the vastness of the universe. Recognize and feel gratitude for the deep relatedness of all life on earth. Yes, love your inner reptile.
The dream does feel impossibly naive in a world with realities like Qaddafi, but it does offer something more than Not-Qaddafi.
What am I missing?
My question is what would be the basis of that transformation and what language might be used. Religion and science will probably be out. I’d make an appeal for art and metaphor–if the modern critics haven’t stripped the former of the latter.
What of honour, duty, hospitality, mercy and love? Why can we no longer speak meaningfully of such things?
That says it for me, dg.
@Lynne, Funny you should mention the man whose name cannot be spelled, the anti-Yahweh. Even Moammar is said to be unable to spell his own name. There is something so odd about this for me; in addition to his obvious madness.
Did he just suddenly become mad? I don’t think so.
I view this dark, violent, nameless man and his ravings against the ideas of someone like Martin Luther King whose spirit outlives the violence that took him from this world. The words of people like MLK (and a few others) are as relative and brilliant today as they were when he first spoke them. For me that is spirit.
Still a generation can forget this sort of light when the darkness is seemingly impenetrable.
I think also of this quote from Micah 6:8: He has shown you/O man, what is good./And what doth the Lord require of you?/ to act justly and to love mercy/and to walk humbly with thy God.
MLK & Micah. Amen. Thanks, Meg!
Thank you, everyone, for your responses. Lynne, I think in broad philosophical terms science has helped finish off the old ideas of spirit. Galileo, Newton and Darwin all had their roles to play in this drama. I don’t disagree that science does lead some scientists to a sense of mystery, but that sense of mystery hasn’t been transformed into a driving cultural paradigm as yet.
Thank you, this helps. Working to transform science-induced spirituality into a driving cultural paradigm is a project I could get into.
I don’t know you, Lynne, but from what I’ve seen you’d be up for the task.
Here is one small example of a brilliant mind taking a stab at this project. I’ll be grateful to any NC readers who spend the 10 minutes to watch this and provide a little feedback. I am serious about digging into this project and would love to hear your thoughts.
Lynne, Thanks for this. I’m sure you’ve noticed Adam’s post on science, art and nature writing. Seems like we have a conversation started.
“Spirit” is a meaningless term scientifically. As a metaphor, however it is quite intriguing and holds much potential.
Click the image now in my 3D post to show a contrast in the change of perspective dg talks about.
DG says – “science does lead some scientists to a sense of mystery, but that sense of mystery hasn’t been transformed into a driving cultural paradigm as yet”.
Why is that? That is my question… I think it is a BIG question. Am I alone?
Hm. I guess I’m not at all sure what you’re meaning by “spirit” here, DG. This idea of the animating breath — surely it’s behind the events in Egypt and Libya, surely it’s behind what brings the artist to her canvas every day to make marks against the blankness. The head of the ruined Christchurch cathedral said an earthquake is not an act of God, but what one human being does to help another is. So surely it’s spriit — this divine breath, this sense of seeking what is the best in oneself — is at work in the clean-up in Christchurch. I would say the history of humankind is the history of the best in ourselves struggling with the worst in ourselves. And it’s a fairly even match, I’d say. Of course, “spirit” is also from the Old Norse to break wind. So there we are…