On Spirituality

One way to approach understanding the role of spirituality in life is by understanding how spirituality and worldviews overlap in orienting our actions by our aspirations. 

Let’s begin by focusing first on the nature of worldviews. A worldview is not simply a scientific description of current states of existence. On the contrary, worldviews also implicitly contain normative dimensions that serve orientational functions of directing behaviour towards particular values and goals.

Koltko-Rivera (2004) explains, “A worldview is a way of describing the universe and life within it, both in terms of what is and what ought to be. A given worldview is a set of beliefs that includes … what objects or experiences are good or bad, and what objectives, behaviors, and relationships are desirable or undesirable… In addition to defining what goals can be sought in life, a worldview defines what goals should be pursued.” Thus, worldviews contain implicit normative dimensions of how life “ought to be” that orient our actions by our aspirations.

“Heaven” and “hell” are great examples of this normative dimension present in some religious worldviews. Setting the ontological debates aside, the “spiritual geography” of heaven and hell is thoroughly infused with normative and navigational significance. Heaven, in this scheme, corresponds with the best possible state of existence towards which human activities should be oriented, while hell corresponds with the worst possible state of existence from which humans should actively move away. In motivational terms, heaven should be approached and hell should be avoided.


So regardless of whether heaven and hell exist as actual or possible states of reality, they nevertheless serve functional purposes in religious worldviews of orienting adherents in navigating through life according to their implicit ethical norms, values, and goals. A nonreligious version that serves a similar navigational function would be orienting your behaviour towards pursuing some vision of “the good life” or some deeply felt sense of how things should be, whether packaged in forms of secular humanism, activism, politics, or something else. 

Whether religious or nonreligious, the superordinate and future-oriented normative dimensions of our worldviews represent our highest spiritual aspirations. And the dynamic activity of orienting ourselves towards practically living out these aspirational visions is what human spirituality is all about.


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