The issue of spirituality again….
There seems to be a lot of people claiming that ‘materialism’ is the problem and ‘spirituality’ is the solution. It is not always clear what they mean by either of these terms, but these terms are binary, and define the other by what it is not. To the materialist the spirit is nothing, and to spiritualists matter is nothing. But both form a category based division of the world, which depends on each other for their meaning and sense of reality.
As I’ve discussed before binary and ‘mono-ary’ thinking are reductive. You seem to need at least three terms to start thinking non reductively, and even then it is difficult not to reduce one’s thought to the one or the two. You may always need a prime number of terms, to begin to avoid the reduction into binaries. A four term layout may easily reduce to two binaries and so on.
With the two terms, spirit and matter, we generate ‘opposites’ and ‘oppositions’, in which one term is valued more than the other, rather than complements, but you cannot have one without the other, even if they go as far as to deny or slancer the other to give themselves meaning.
James Hillman tries to broaden thinking and perceptions, by using the old Christian terms ‘soul’ (psyche), ‘spirit’ (pneuma) and ‘flesh’ (sarx or apparently sometimes soma although this latter could mark some further differentiation ). For a long time, it has seemed odd to me that this triadic distinction gets reduced to spirit and matter, especially if you hold that God is a Trinity, which was the official position….
In Western Culture, in a slightly modified use of Hillman’s terms, ‘spirit’ is the force of ascension – that which tries to leave the world and the flesh behind. It is that which is convinced its true habitation is elsewhere in spiritual clarity of pure mind and, at the extreme, sees the flesh as a prison, a tomb, or as unreal, by comparison with the freedom, might, power and reality of spirit. Often, with visions of the spirit, individuality, isolation, etc dies in the realisation of that spirit, in its “oneness”.
Soul, on the other hand, is that which seeks meaning in the dark, in the depths, of feeling, imagery and in recognition of our unconscious. It seeks the light of nature. It is the descent into and through the flesh into this world.
It could easily be suggested, that in these terms, pure spirituality is destructive of the flesh and the body. It is the parent of lack of care for the Earth, for the trope of abandoning the Earth or destroying the prison of the Earth. In its view ‘positivity’ overcomes everything, because the world and the flesh have no mind, no thought, no real being, they are at best obstacles for spirit which have to be overcome to reach our real home in immaterial spirit and God.
In other words, the problem with our world is not materialism, but the spirituality which generates materialism as an opposite, as part of its path of ascent away from matter. It, as a matter of course, generates ecological crisis, because it has no care for such things. Nature is irrelevant. We can gather in thousands to glorify the spirit in the midst of plague and no harm will befall us.
On the other hand, again in these terms, soul accepts the reality of the world and our literal attachment to the world. It accepts it is part of the flesh, and feels the flesh, and is the ‘salvation of the flesh’ perhaps through suffering. As love it is sensitive to the movements of matter and flesh, and the images that arise from matter and are transformed and recombined by the soul into its visions, and translate the unknown and unconscious into something it can intimate. The world has meaning through its synthesis with soul. The soul does not turn away from misery, but does its best to help, and its idea of help is not to increase their suffering so that they die into spirit, but for them to live with what is, and what can be improved and transformed as in alchemy. The soul sees the divine as here already, and not as about to leave. It may even produce the divine that is here. The soul sees the golden light and mind of matter. Soul tends ecologies because it expresses them and loves them as its basis.
If we wanted to, we could say that the approach of the soul does not create a barren materialism, like the approach of spirit, but a divine materialism in which the word is made flesh, and flesh becomes the word, and is alive.
Where we to go further, we could say that this triad is a model of continual circulation. That matter is ‘coarser’ spirit and spirit ‘refined ‘matter, but never separate, and the soul is a perspective on this dynamic procession.
We descend into the world and the flesh to find experience and to imagine, think, feel, pleasure and exist, and then move into the spirit bringing what we have learnt to learn again, and then return to the flesh, bringing what we have learnt to learn again. And this is not just ‘between lives’ for those who believe in reincarnation, but within the one life. The soul holds us together feeling and imagining all as we progress. But none of the three exist apart, and cannot exist apart without collapse. The procession is circular.
Separating the flesh and spirit, which the spirit does so easily is a form of death, recombining within soul is a form of enlivening, and thus the cycle continues and the earth is continually reborn, in reality and in our eyes.