On Spirituality

We humans are unique. We are spiritual animals. Although we share many ancient brain structures in common with other animals, our human brains have evolved additional structures—in particular, our cerebral cortex—that enable us to engage in abstract rationality, self-transcendence, and spirituality.

Instead of being exclusively concerned with lower-level immediate impulses and short-range goals, we also concern ourselves with higher-level, longer-range, abstract values and goals, such as ideal future states we wish to pursue and regulate our present behaviour by. This means we are not only motivated by immediate instincts to survive and reproduce—eat, sleep, have sex, raise children, collect resources, stay safe. We are also motivated to actively seek and regulate our behaviour in reference to spiritual ideals, values, goals, solutions, and futures.

Referencing Evelyn Underhill’s work, Philip Sheldrake suggests that “human beings are vision-creating beings rather than merely tool-making animals. In other words, ‘spirituality’ expresses a sense that human life involves more than biology. As human beings, we are naturally driven by goals beyond physical satisfaction or mental supremacy to seek a deeper level of meaning and fulfillment.” As human beings, we therefore engage with physical objects and natural objectives (such as seeking food, shelter, and sexual partners) as well as metaphysical objects and supernatural objectives (such as seeking spiritual values, goals, ideals, and futures). We hunger for food and we hunger for God. For “man does not live by bread alone.”

brain

Spirituality is such an intrinsic feature of our makeup that a person who strictly concerns himself with seeking the most immediate short-term pleasures at the expense of pursuing any higher-level, longer-range purposes would generally be viewed as living a subhuman way of life. Because we human beings are not simply animals of instinct. At our best, we are also spiritual animals.

We are a composition of heaven and earth, a union of dust of the ground infused with the breath of God. We have evolved another brain, a higher mind, built on top of our lower, more ancient brain structures. We rationally form abstract models, symbols, ideas, and ideals about the world and consciously imagine better futures worth orienting ourselves towards pursuing. As a result, we inhabit an experiential world composed of natural and supernatural orders in dynamic interaction.

Our cerebral cortex distinguishes us as intelligent, spiritual creatures who can transcend beyond lower instinctual pursuits of our animal natures, and also pursue higher values, futures, and ends according to our uniquely developed spiritual natures.

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