Many people have some degree of belief in a spiritual realm, such as a higher power or dimension.  Around the globe and throughout history there are an astonishing variety of expressions of spirituality.  Those who would discount the importance of spirituality in human nature would point to its diversity:  they would ask, “How could anything on which there is so much disagreement be truly significant as a human characteristic?”  Before addressing this question directly, let us look at what is common among the various expressions of spirituality.  Whether institutionalized into a religion, or simply held as a personal belief, two characteristics are of interest.

The first common thread among spiritual beliefs and practices is the acknowledgement of something beyond the self.  It could be a deity, divine providence, after-life, nature, the worth of all human life, or a state of ultimate peace.  Always the spiritual focus is on something other than the self.

The second common thread is that the spiritual focus is directed at something that is not material.  Although we sometimes encounter the worship of an actual person or object, these practices are not long-lived and are considered pathological.  Worship of a person is a cult and worship of an object is idolatry.  Instead, the spirituality considered here is that of the vast majority of beliefs and practices, whose focus is toward the intangible.

Let us gather the multitude forms of human spirituality into a rhetorical net and call it “the spiritual realm.”  I make no assertion that the spiritual realm is an actual place, but one must choose a word:  “realm” seems to carry the least baggage.


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