Monthly Archives: March 2022

From Spirituality to Theology

Let us imagine that there is a Great Reality hiding behind the wonder and hope we feel when we are “spiritual.” Let us dare to imagine that the feeling, the enchantment of being “spiritual” is not folly, nor mere entertainment, nor the self-indulgence of willing ignorance. Let us imagine that there is indeed meaning and purpose here, a value like Beauty, as real as Truth and Goodness. Being “spiritual” is by no means a mistake; it is wonderful.

And then, let us imagine — or simply be willing to take the risk — that our rational nature, too, has value. What if then we wonder about our wonder? What if we dare to ask What — or Who — is this Beauty, this Source and Object of our wonder? Perhaps someone will say, “No, this we cannot do! For the mind of the mere human is much too small, too limited, to understand this Effulgence, this Glory. The finite, we must insist, can never grasp the Infinite!” And here, too, the speaker is not wrong.

And yet, let us observe two things. First, we might say that theological reasoning is never a matter of comprehending, as if “comprehending” could be comprehensive. No “grasping” or “understanding” need claim to be full and complete. Of course! But does the finitude of human knowledge limit all thought? Is the only alternative to total knowledge some kind of total silence? Let us admit our finitude and take risks with the power we have.

And second, let us note that even “negative theology,” the language of apophatic descriptors, is already theology. Let us admit that we claim to know something of the Ultimate Being, the Great Mystery, even when we speak of effulgence, glory, and infinity. Perhaps there is more theology in spirituality than we thought. Perhaps there is more theology in spirituality than we want.

The Theology of Spirituality

If we are content to think of “spirituality” as entirely and exclusively aesthetic, then we may perhaps stop short of adding thought to feeling. And thus our religious life is akin to any other form of entertainment: You might like Marvel or you might like DC, but there is no point of discussing further any value or merit in either. Entertainment, at its best. At worst it is another drug, and the drug of choice is a matter of taste. For Huxley, it was mescaline, for Carlos Castaneda it was some kind of mushroom, for Hugh Hefner it was Viagra.

But if we might choose to treat ourselves as rational beings as well as aesthetic beings, we might begin to try thinking about the spiritual experience. This does not require us to dismiss spirituality as such, does not presume some kind of logical positivism that would preclude the honest appreciation of spiritual experience. But it does ask us to take reason seriously and to wonder if the object of our experience is real, and, if so, what it is. And if we dare to start such a journey of thought, then we can begin thinking theologically. And if we begin to think theologically, we risk the possibility that it leads us to God.

No doubt some are not willing to take such a risk. And those choose to treat themselves with less dignity than they deserve.