Spirituality, religion and the ‘God-shaped void’

Our species is universally blessed with a capacity for transcendence, and cursed with the corresponding appetite. Such is the human condition. And such is the nub of that singularly human concern that we call ‘spirituality’.

This claim is admittedly problematic. There was a time when people spoke without too much reserve of such things, of ‘self-evident truths’, ‘universal principles’ and ‘the human condition’. Amid the settling dust of the post-modern turn, though, the reticence of thoughtful people to talk thus – beyond a nod to the ‘universal declaration of human rights’, perhaps – is understandable. We in democratic, secular and pluralist societies are learning, belatedly and all too often reluctantly, to cultivate an awareness of the limits of our own culturally determined perspectives and to keep in check the temptation to declare this or that to be true for the whole world. None of us, we are slowly realizing, has title to the real estate from which to pronounce on such matters.

As a relatively thoughtful person, I share this postmodern reticence and find myself increasingly aware and respectful of difference, of particularity. And yet I stand by my opening statement. For, the more I learn of the fundamental social, cultural, historical and religious particularities of various human communities, the more I see an even more fundamental commonality among us. I remain convinced that the quest for ultimate meaning, for spiritual connectedness, for transcendence is, if not in our DNA, at least as basic to our humanity as our DNA. Continue reading “Spirituality, religion and the ‘God-shaped void’”