Category Religion & Spirituality

Religious neutrality and reconciliation

Religious neutrality and reconciliation

by Brian Bird. Originally published on Policy Options
March 3, 2017

Today it’s a given in Canada that institutional practice of religion in public schools is unacceptable. School prayer, for example, is a nonstarter. The journey to this destination began as a reaction to the practice of Christianity in public schools as Canada became more diverse and secular. A watershed moment occurred nearly three decades ago, when a group of parents in Sudbury won their court case seeking to end the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in Ontario’s public schools.

Given this firm commitment to the secular delivery of public education, what is the appropriate response, in 2017, to the introduction of Indigenous spirituality into the classroom? A new lawsuit in British Columbia raises this question.

Candice Servatius is the mother of two students at John Howitt Elementary School on Vancouver Island. She sued because of John Howitt’s decision to incorporate Indigenous spirituality by way of classroom cleansing rituals and the recitation of a prayer at a school assembly. She says her children were required — or at least given the distinct impression that they were required — to participate in these ceremonies.

State institutions — including public schools — must be neutral in religious matters. The Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed this duty when, in 2015, it ruled that a town council meeting could not begin with a Christian prayer. In the ruling, the Court referred to the Sudbury case in the 1980s. The state, in carrying out its functions, cannot favour or hinder a particular religion (or even an explicitly irreligious world view like atheism).

John Howitt Elementary argues that the ceremonies under scrutiny are not religious but cultural (and thus pose no risk to religious neutrality). This argument may fail due to the broad definition that Canadian courts have afforded to “religion” — a definition that probably captures practices that invoke a god or emphasize the links between body, spirit and creation.

The practices at John Howitt bear these features. The assembly prayer allegedly mentioned a “god.” A letter from the school to parents described the classroom cleansing ceremony as inspired by the belief that “everything is one; all is connected” and everything “has a spirit.” The letter also stated the ceremony would “cleanse” the classroom and students of negative energy as they hold a cedar branch while smoke is fanned over their “body and spirit.”

Even if John Howitt breached religious neutrality, some may argue that the practices should continue. These voices may be inspired by initiatives like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which outlined concrete steps toward reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. In this case, does the gain for reconciliation — if there is any — justify the loss for religious neutrality?

Reconciliation can and should be achieved without compromising the state’s duty of religious neutrality. This neutrality is a precondition for the meaningful exercise of freedom of conscience and religion protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As the Supreme Court stated in the 2015 case, this duty preserves a “neutral public space that is free of discrimination and in which true freedom to believe or not to believe is enjoyed by everyone equally, given that everyone is valued equally.”

We can balance reconciliation and religious neutrality by teaching (rather than practising) the content of Indigenous spirituality — along with other features of Indigenous cultures — in our schools. This knowledge could be added to existing courses or serve as the foundation for new ones. In fact, educational reform of this kind is currently under way. In response to recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadian law schools are modifying their curricula to deepen knowledge of Indigenous legal traditions. The law school at McGill University recently made these modifications in the classroom.

This approach is more conducive to reconciliation than imposing spirituality drawn from Indigenous cultures — even where, as in the case of John Howitt, there is seemingly no intent to indoctrinate. The state’s duty of religious neutrality is concerned with the imposition of religion (or irreligion) by the state, irrespective of such intent.

We must not forget that religious imposition within state-sponsored education is part of the dark history that led to the events explored by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the level of disconnection between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada today. If other schools follow the example of John Howitt, the reconciliation that we seek — that we need — may never be complete.

Photo: Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press

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This article first appeared on Policy Options and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Brian Bird

Why Ray Kurzweil Believes We Are Becoming More God-Like

Why Ray Kurzweil Believes We Are Becoming More God-Like

By Andrew J. O’Keefe II -Aug 18, 2016

People tend to ask Ray Kurzweil all manner of questions about technology and the future. But they also want to know about his own personal philosophy. In one session last summer, a questioner asked Kurzweil if he believes in God. Of course, many of us struggle with the question, he replied, and to him, it’s not unambiguous.

There’s variability in how we describe God, but he thinks there are some commonalities. Shared traits include creativity, love, and intelligence—attributes we tend to also value in conscious beings. To Kurzweil, consciousness is the ultimate measure of spirituality. Much of our morality is based on whether an entity is conscious or not (even though it’s still hard to define).

“Everyone with very few outliers believes in the sacredness of a conscious person, and in fact, non-conscious things, like a machine or a diamond, are only important in so far as they affect the conscious experience of conscious beings.”

Evolution, he goes on, further enhances some of these valued traits, such as intelligence, love, and creativity, and in his view, this means we are approaching this shared image of God.

“What happens to entities as they evolve? We became more intelligent. We became more capable of higher level emotions, so we became more loving. We became more creative. We became more beautiful. And so we’re actually moving exponentially to have greater levels of the very properties we ascribe to God without limit.”

For years, Ray Kurzweil has been giving fireside chats at Singularity University. Now, some of his best questions and answers will be released every Thursday on Singularity University’s Ray K Q&A YouTube channel. Check back each week for the latest video.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

By Andrew J. O’Keefe II

This article originally appeared on Singularity Hub, a publication of Singularity University.

SOURCE: Andrew J. O’Keefe II



by Luke Miller Truth Theory

I think it’s safe to say that spirituality is indeed a good thing. The problem is that some people can enter the spiritual world with a pre conceived misconception that it is going to be an all-round positive experience.

Spirituality is not one thing and can be expressed in multiple ways. Some will find enlightenment through their work, others through religion, others through spiritual practice like mediation and yoga, others through the use of psychedelics and others by just expressing themselves in a positive way through kindness, compassion and love. No matter how you find the spirit within you, there is no right way of doing it.

What is spirituality? Spirituality is a very misunderstood term, some equate it to religion and while it can be related it is not an exclusively religious thing.

The spirit is the essence of a person, that elusive thing within us that makes us naturally behave in certain ways. When the mind is quite and all is peaceful all that’s left is the spirit.You have your 4 levels of health- the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. All but the spirit are easily defined, measurable and explainable, the spiritual side of things is a little more mystical and hard to explain in a short sentence. But it is still a real thing.

One thing that will be present in all spiritual practice is consciousness. Consciousness is hard to define as is spirituality because again it is not one thing, but to make things simple consciousness on an individual level is your awareness of a thing, even if that thing is nothing.

One of the problems that can arise as a result of expanding your consciousness or awareness is a hard slap around the face of reality. It’s almost like The Matrix’s when Morpheus offers Neo the red or blue pill. Once you take that red pill reality can be hard to comprehend.

Spiritual practice and the expansion of your consciousness is like dissolving a barrier that has been slowly put up throughout your childhood and adulthood- through education, society’s expectations and family and friends.

Once this barrier is down it opens up the floodgates for all the good there is, but also the darker side of the world.

Firstly if you look at the collective consciousness you will see a lot of disharmony between people. As you walk down the street you will see peoples pain and on a global scale you will see how terrible the wars and suffering are. That’s not to say you didn’t see some of this before but once awakened it can be hard to ignore.

The second thing is your individual consciousness, once activated this spiritual awareness is like the holding up of a mirror and while it will help us to see the good in ourselves and others it can also help us to see the mistakes we are making and where we are going wrong.

Spirituality makes you face your flaws, the pain you have caused and the negativity which lies within you. Sometimes it can make you question who you are and what you stand for. It will also help you to realise the pain you have locked away and at times this can be a lot to bear.

One of the things that is common to experience is an initial feeling of euphoria when you reach a certain level of spiritual development and while this euphoric feeling is great it can often set you up for unrealistic expectation of yourself and others.

For some it will manifest in an expectation of others to understand your process and while it is good to have people around you who are on a similar path, it is ultimately an individual journey.

Another misconception is that a spiritual awakening is the end goal, when in reality it is just the start, it’s a bit like capturing a wild lion and expecting it to be tame. You have to nurture your spirit and continue to ask questions. Sometimes you will not like the answers and at other times the answers will not always be clear, but if you persevere you will find what you are looking for.

Taking the road of spirituality can be both the most difficult and rewarding thing you will ever do and it’s important not to get attached to your current situation, you will usually find that the dots connect and nothing you have ever done has been pointless.

One of the most important things you can do to minimise stress and anxiety, is to trust the process and know that if you continue to move towards your goals the only thing that can stand in the way is time or if you decide to give up.

When you can separate the darkness which we all have from the light and understand that both are normal and necessary it will make the road a lot less bumpy. Different states of mind serve different purposes and when you get to know your own emotional cycles and how they affect you, you can use these states to perform at your peak.

Ultimately making a conscious effort to grow spiritually is the best decision anyone can make. Spirituality will inform you of the truth, positive or negative and once you can face that truth in your own life growth will be inevitable!

Thanks for reading this article, let me know where you are on your spiritual journey by leaving me a comment below.


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When the Spirit Moves You… in Later Life

When the Spirit Moves You… in Later Life

by Matt Perry, California Health Report
June 22, 2014

Sex scandals in the Catholic Church. Nativity scenes nixed during Christmas holidays. God kicked out of schools.

In American culture, God is taking one hell of a beating.

At the same time, the nation’s hunger for divine connection – especially among older adults – has never been higher. With advancing age, the soul’s gnawing desire for spiritual attachment often grows, and many older adults long to discuss both meaning and mortality.

“There is a yearning (for) sharing the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of aging,” says Kathleen Erickson-Freeman, elder education program manager at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, headquartered in Petaluma.

Around California, various programs are sprouting to meet this need – and to train spiritual facilitators.

“The Tender Art of Growing Older,” spawned by the mindfulness meditation group Insight LA, meets twice monthly in Santa Monica. Facilitated by former NPR science correspondent Wendy Schmelzer, group members discuss the trials and joys of aging and meditate for 30 minutes.

“It takes courage and heart to meet the myriad changes and challenges that late life brings,” says Schmelzer, a psychotherapist and counselor specializing in aging and end of life issues. “The loss of loved ones and friends, health declines, and retirement from work that not only provided income but often community and a sense of purpose.”

At the epicenter of this divine exploration is the Baby Boom generation – with between 8,000-10,000 of them reaching 65 every day.

In the 1960’s, scholars Alan Watts and Ram Dass (formerly Richard Alpert of Harvard) imported spiritual wisdom from India and the Far East, opening a divine window to the rest of the world for Boomers skeptical of traditional religious authority.

“Baby Boomers were the first to reject standardized religion,” says Anne Huffman, associate director of the Spiritual Guidance program at Sofia University in Palo Alto. “They were the first to go off on a spiritual quest.”

Since that time, spirituality has gained momentum as physical, emotional and psychological soul food.

“It gives them a chance to frame their life in a way that makes sense,” says Huffman, who also consults privately. “It can really provide a lot of sustenance and comfort.”

Huffman cites the experience of a lesbian client, once married, who divorced and approached her 70’s with no children or partner. Feeling outcast from the Catholic church and its disapproval of homosexuality, she nevertheless felt an intense desire to reconnect with her faith.

A breakthrough occurred “once we uncoupled Jesus from the Catholic church” says Huffman. “It was really moving to witness that shift in her.”

During research for his dissertation at Walden University, Sacramento-based wellness consultant Marco Zollo found that older adults regularly credit prayer and meditation for mitigating chronic diseases, reducing prescription drug use, and improving overall health.

In a country overwhelmingly Christian – at nearly 75%, with another 10% aligning themselves with other faiths – why isn’t spirituality discussed more openly?

Experts say the painful truth is that many American institutions – including churches and long-term care facilities – often fail to meet the basic spiritual needs of older adults.

While churches may foster greater community, they are often least effective in meeting the spiritual needs of parishioners, says Nancy Gordon, who heads the Center for Spirituality and Aging in Anaheim.

“We don’t teach prayer very much,” she admits. “Or different forms of prayer.”

Gordon also works with the southern California long-term care provider Front Porch, which surveyed its elder residents, asking whether their spiritual needs were being met.

“They were having an overwhelming number of their residents say ‘no,’” says Gordon.

“A lot of older adults, as they get older, have spiritual awakenings, but may not have anyone to talk to, especially if they’re in assisted living facilities,” says Huffman. “There just isn’t anyone to service them. The only person coming (at home) is Meals on Wheels.”

Another professional arena that often neglects spirituality is the field of psychotherapy, says Cassandra Vieten, president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS).

“There’s this whole aspect of human experience that’s being ignored in the psychological community,” says Vieten. “A very large proportion of them never got any training in religion or spirituality or consciousness… that are really at the root of meaning in the world.”

While therapists typically receive training in sexual and cultural differences, Vieten says it’s time for additional training: in spiritual competence.

IONS recently surveyed 350 psychologists about including spirituality within the therapeutic realm.

“What our survey shows is that psychologists do think it should be included,” says Vieten. “And they received no training in it whatsoever.”

Vieten sees a hopeful future for IONS’s 16 proposed spiritual competencies.

“Let’s work towards breaking down the divide between psychology and spirituality,” she says.

Around the country – and the world – a new spiritual momentum is growing.

Sofia University – formerly the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology – has offered a master’s degree in spiritual guidance since 2010, its 10 graduates a younger generation of spiritual counselors with “psycho-spiritual counseling skills,” says Huffman.

Four years ago, IONS began its Conscious Aging curriculum “for anyone who was grappling with the aging process,” says Erickson-Freeman.

Earlier this year, the institute also began offering an eight-week workshop for those interested in becoming facilitators for aging and spirituality. So far, over 200 IONS members have purchased the $195 self-study program.

Meanwhile, at each of its facilities, Front Porch now has personnel to guide the spiritual growth of its residents.

Overseas, Swedish gerontologist Lars Tornstam has coined the term “gerotranscendence” to explore the marked simplicity and deeper appreciation of later life.

In the U.S., there’s an opportunity to discuss the dying and grieving processes in a salon setting at Death Cafes.

Erickson-Freeman says the aging process offers a unique opportunity for reflection.

“Time is lived forward, but it’s made sense of in reverse.”

Note. This story was edited after publication to correct the spelling of Cassandra Vieten’s last name, and to update the number of IONS members who have purchased a self-study program.

This article first appeared on California Health Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Matt Perry

How scientists negotiate the boundaries between religion and science

How scientists negotiate the boundaries between religion and science

by Rozanne Larsen, The Journalist’s Resource
September 27, 2011

Science and religion have a long history of conflict, but also of mutual study and profound debate. A 2011 study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, “Scientists Negotiate Boundaries Between Religion and Science,” examined interviews with 275 natural and social scientists — from disciplines such as physics and chemistry to political science and psychology — to look at their views on reconciling science with religious belief.

Past research efforts have defined religious believers by such data as church or synagogue membership. This study, written by researchers at Rice and Baylor Universities, takes into account the wide range of religious beliefs that the interview subjects might have, whether or not they are actively affiliated with religious institutions.

The study’s findings include:

  • Among the scientists interviewed, 15% felt that religion and science were in permanent conflict, 15% thought they were never in conflict, and the remainder “gave specific contexts in which religion and science are in conflict and others where they are not.”
  • A majority of those who said religion and science were always in conflict said religion’s role was “a way to distinguish what science is and what it is not; this group believed scientific knowledge trumps all religious knowledge.”
  • Among those who said the two categories were never in conflict viewed religion and science, for various reasons, as being “so irrelevant to one another that they were not even in conflict.”
  • The largest group — the 70% whose views were more fluid — “understood the boundaries between religion and science as largely porous, with the possibility of either one influencing the other.” Furthermore, for many, “religion was often personally important, and it shared with science some similar knowledge parameters.”
  • Distinguishing between religiosity and spirituality helps account for the fluid views of the 70% that saw less conflict between religion and science, with 68% of those surveyed considered themselves “spiritual.”

“When religion is defined as evangelicalism or fundamentalism the boundaries between religion and science — unsurprisingly, given current public debates at the time these data were collected — are strong,” the researchers state. “In contrast, however, a significant group of scientists think that religion and science are sometimes in conflict and sometimes not in conflict. In particular, these natural and social scientists view science differently when held in contrast to religion compared to the way they view science when held in contrast to spirituality. When religion is redefined as spirituality it has the potential to flow from as well as into science.”

Keywords: religion, science

This article first appeared on The Journalist’s Resource and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

SOURCE: Rozanne Larsen