Summary: Gentle Thinkers Debate #15 (Spirituality)

“Some people consider themselves to be ‘spiritual’. What does this really mean? Are we all in fact spiritual? Is this term a vague, redundant description?

Note: This summary is based and interpreted from notes taken during the debate and may contain errors. If you wish to correct, be attributed to or contribute content, please contact me or post a comment.

More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.


  • Reading list and introductory essay by Thor May

  • Spirituality is a term that has been used by some to define emotive responses to things that can’t be explained. Eg. Taking a walk and admiring the scenery around you.

  • Spiritualty has also been defined as a belief or connection to the spirit world, a disconnection from the material and a sensitivity to the unexplainable.

  • It has also been described as emotions that are beyond self-interest. Eg. Love and compassion.

  • Some of us have argued that we should clearly define what we are talking about in regards to spirituality (and other topics) so we don’t cloud conversation and help others understand our beliefs and thoughts.

  • Using words like “awe” or “wonder” are accurate adjectives that don’t have connotations like “spiritual”, “religious”, “sexist” or “politician”.

  • Using adjectives like “awe” do not detract from the profound experiences people have or have had. Some members of the group hope that you can explain them to us in a way that we can understand and empathise with.

  • Spirituality is not a personality trait, people should clearly define what they mean when they describe themselves or others as a “spiritual person”. Eg. “You mean he is a deep thinker, not spiritual”. (This statement has a rebuttal down in the comments below)

  • People who call themselves spiritual may not think others being capable of spiritual experiences. (This is not a claim, just an observation based on someone’s personal experience)

  • Any person is capable of having an experience that could be spiritual or awe-inspiring regardless of belief in spirituality.

  • Spirituality could be considered a subset of religion as the same kind of language is used when discussing both.

  • Spirituality is differentiated from religion by some as being an “individual” experience to the sacred  and one that doesn’t require a leader, community or religious building to experience (or arguably control) it.

  • Spirituality is a mental buffer that helps some people deal with reality and make life bearable.

  • Spiritualty (spiritual awareness) is believed by some to be innate and can be developed by the individual.

  • It is interesting that humans have something that drives them to seek spiritual experiences.

  • Humans are “spiritual” in the sense that we are programmed to act positively to particular things.

  • Humans seem to be programmed to find answers (good or bad) to questions they invent. Eg. “Why do I exist?”

  • Humans might be seen as conceited because we think we have the capacity to understand everything. (Arguably some religions would argue that we can’t know everything because it is divine knowledge and forbidden to humans).

  • There may be limit to our knowledge because there are things that can’t be explained. Humans may need a level of prior knowledge or comprehension to understand complex topics like the physics behind polarized light.

  • Some group members argued that scientific research works because there has to be a possibility that an idea/theory/hypothesis will work and an understanding of the data and theories that arise from the research. (See more on the scientific method below)

Interesting questions posed by the group:

–  Is the spiritual supernatural?

  • Could there be things in the universe that can’t be explained?

  • How can you prove your beliefs?

  • Why should a believer (spiritual or otherwise) provide evidence to a skeptic if that person is going to discount the information regardless of what is presented?

  • If spirituality is a personal experience, how can a spiritual person make another believe to same level as they?

  • Is spiritual awareness an advantage to the human condition?

  • Are we programmed to seek spiritual experiences?

  • Will humans reach a point where we can explain everything?

Additional content covered by the debate
Note: These are just links that may help you in gaining a basic understanding of these topics, your local or state library and the Internet will cover the rest as there is a lot of information out there.

Einstein’s cosmic spirituality [Wikipedia article] [Einstien on Religion and Science]

Baruch Spinoza’s “The Ethics” [Wikipedia article] [Project Gutenberg translation]

The Scientific Method [SciShow – YouTube video] [The Scientific Method – YouTube Video]

Religion for Atheists [TED Talk with Alain de Botton – Video] [The Sunday Assembly]

The power of religion and religious authority

Neuroplasticity [Big Think – YouTube video]


More summaries can be found via the Summary Index.

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2 thoughts on “Summary: Gentle Thinkers Debate #15 (Spirituality)

  1. Yena, this is a better than excellent summary. We hereby appoint you minutes secretary forever 😉 . One quibble: “Spirituality is not a personality trait…” . At least according to some psychologists, it seems that people who self-identify as spiritual (whatever that means to them) do tend to form a distinctive group. That is even testable. For example a large number of meetups seem to have a spiritual type of focus, broadly defined. If those people were profiled against the population we could see if they were somehow distinctive.

    I will link your summary to http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/SpiritualPeople.htm and add your references. – Thor

    • Thanks Thor, I’d be happy to take notes during the meetings I attend.

      I admit that the use of the term “personality trait” was my interpretation of what was said so it may have been flawed translation when I wrote my notes. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

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