Divorcing Spirituality

Divorcing Spirituality March 28, 2016

Editor’s Note: Clergy Project member Chris Highland suggests that his encounters with nature in his beloved San Francisco Bay area can be viewed as a vestige of the “spirituality” that he willingly relinquished. This essay is adapted from his book, Nature is Enough:  The End of Spirituality and Other Essays  (2013).


By Chris Highland

When it comes to trail encounters with newts and bees and slugs and just about anything that won’t fang my finger, I’m a toucher. I sense there is a need to make contact, if only for a brushing moment.  Yes, I understand that the oils and bacterias on the human skin can cause harm to some creatures.  I’m aware and try to be careful.  I acknowledge that this is my need and my curiosity and maybe it’s more play than I admit. But I don’t think so.  I think it is the contact and even a fleeting sense of “relation” and maybe “inter-dependence.”

toad - highland

Is this a vestige of my “spirituality?”  Exactly.  But this is so much better and fulfilling and, I say without hesitation, more wise and respectful and present, with so much more potential for learning just about anything I’ve had to learn.

Identifying and, in some sense, calling for a conclusion to what we’ve always referred to as “spirituality,” is asking for a divorce because there is no relationship remaining.  There is no life left, no health, no energy and no delight.  There is no real connection, no electric touch, no commitment and no will to love and learn and journey on together.  Honesty calls for an admission:  the wonder is gone.

The same goes for faith and god and religion and spirituality and supernatural hocus-pocus.  The otherworldly realm of “spirituality” offers, when you bend right down and touch it, nothing: no wonder, no joy, no hope, no actual touch at all. It leaves many of us disappointed, feeling jilted or depressed.  Then, the good part: liberation to move on and live on.

Recovering wonder can be like recovering sanity and stability after the trauma of addiction or a failure or loss of any kind.

It’s an audacious claim to announce “the end of spirituality.” But shouldn’t we at least “prayerfully” (for lack of a better word) consider it?  This claim isn’t really about some “Atheist agenda” or “Secular takeover” of the “Christian World” or “Christian Nation.”  Those are hot-button ways to agitate the masses and split us all up even more than we are.  The disturbing point is that the voice of reason is now going to be heard on a regular basis. The bells are ringing from someplace other than cross-crowned towers and the more those voices and those bells are heard, the more religious and spiritual claims to divine authority are going to be challenged and dragged into what John Burroughs called “the light of day.”  It’s not always pretty or fun, only essential, and so freeing.

It’s time–it’s always time–to touch the wildness of Nature, of our own nature, of what it means to be a wondering, wonder-full human being.  I will continue to touch because I would rather touch and feel more human, more alive, when I touch the snake and the bee and the newt and the spider, as well as another fellow homo sapiens.  They mean more than an imagined heaven above and beyond where the disconnect and the divorce are enthroned for eternity.  Here, we are gladly in the greatest garden of Eden imaginable where snakes are not feared, and can be touched, fruited and fed, shaded and sheltered by the ever-growing, ever-evolving tree of knowledge and life.  And it is a forest of trees.  It is good, isn’t it?  It’s so good.  It’s really very good.

**Editor’s Questions:  What do you think people mean by “Spiritual or “Spirituality” and how do YOU define those terms?


Chris Highland 2008Chris Highland served as an Interfaith Chaplain for 25 years. In 2001 he left his Christian ordination and “came out” as a non-theist freethinker.  He is a teacher, writer, housing manager and a member of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Secular Student Alliance. Chris is the author of ten books and host of Secular Chaplain.  Originally from Seattle, he lives in the SF Bay Area with his wife Carol, director of the Marin Interfaith Council.

>>>>>Photo credits – Chris Highland

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