Most of us connect to our spirituality through our emotions (see previous posting). A second way we connect is cognitively or intellectually. For many this hearkens back to “Sunday School” days and the drilling of questions and answers. Not necessarily a favorite activity for 10 year-olds! Nonetheless, many people’s spiritualities took root through the content of faith they received as a child.
Cognitive input usually involves concepts such as dogma (the ‘correct’ opinion) and doctrine (general teaching). It also includes ethical/moral teachings (the application of dogma and doctrine to human behavior) and usually is rooted in ancient scriptures which are considered either divinely inspired or venerable strains of teachings passed down through the generations from well-known sages. Lumped with this is a whole body of tradition that takes the form of beliefs and practices held by part of or all of the adherents.
Still with me? I hope so!
Almost all major religious and spiritual traditions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism—have close associations with these elements. Christians have a myriad of theological strains and monastic spiritual traditions rooted in the teachings of Jesus as found in the New Testament, as well as the Old. Jews rely on their long-standing scriptures and the study of the Talmud, a central text of Rabbinic Judaism, considered second only to the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish Scriptures traditionally given by God to Moses). Islam has its Koran, passed down by the prophet Mohammed. Buddhists (who consider their teachings in the realm of philosophy and not religion) trace back their practices for centuries to many strains founded by a number of venerated teachers and ultimately by the Buddha. And so on.
The focus of most spiritual traditions is usually a deity, entity, or teacher. In this paradigm, the “higher power” reveals information about the universe to humanity by various means. In most cases, humanity is thus motivated to love and serve the higher power and one another and to seek justice and charity. By reflecting on what the higher power reveals, humanity can attain the deeper significance of life and death, often including some kind of after-life. This can generate an emotional response and thus deepen our sense of spiritual connectedness—or maybe not!
The emotional response is the tricky piece. It can lead us closer to each other or tear us apart. A lot of world conflict over the millennia has centered on righteously spiritual people insisting their way is the right and only way. These exchanges have been exacerbated by governments using religion to their own ends. Thus political disputes, fueled by religious zealotry, have allowed civil authorities to persecute, oppress, imprison, murder, and “cleanse” in the name of “God.”
But admittedly, the emotional response in spirituality has also had the opposite effect. The practice of charity in service and love has been a hallmark of the very same religious and spiritual traditions that have been at loggerheads with each other. Today’s charitable organizations, health care, music, science, theology, mathematics, education, government, architecture, and much more, owe their early nurturing to spiritually motivated Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
How has your spirituality depended on the cognitive or intellectual content you received in formal training? Is this religious or moral content relevant for you today? Have you set aside the faith or religion of your youth for something else that serves your needs better? How have you reconciled the intellectual and emotional in your spiritual development?
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