17 September 2012
You might find this one to be a little controversial...read at your own risk.
Q. In a tweet a few days ago, you described yourself as "secular". Isn't that the same thing as an atheist? How can you be "secular" and say you give "spiritual guidance" with your readings?
A. Fair question. You make a good point.This is kind of hard to explain, so be patient with me for a few minutes.
As I see it, "spiritual" and "secular" aren't exact opposites. They don't cancel each other out, and you can have both happening at the same time. I haven't talked about any of that for a while, so someone new to the blog or the @modernoracle twitter feed might not have seen the older, spirituality-oriented posts.
The key is in the words "secular" and "spiritual".
Since we are going there, we might have to talk about the big emotional words "religion" and "atheist" too. They are all emotionally charged words, that carry a LOT of connotations, reflex reactions, defensiveness, fear, anger ...you name it. It is hard to talk about these things without emotions getting in the way, so I'm going to try and take this step by step, as logically as I can, ok?
To my way of thinking, "secular" simply means not-religion. It doesn't necessarily mean atheist. An atheist is someone who doesn't believe in any god. If you don't believe in a god, you don't need a religion, so atheists are, by definition, secular. But "secular" by itself doesn't say anything one way or the other about a belief in god or not. It is possible to believe in a god or gods, and not participate in religion - like the free-thinking Diests in the 1700s and the Age of Reason. Theism and religion, atheism and secularism seem to pair up most of the time, but they aren't the exact same thing. That's why I like the term secular...it is actually god/atheist neutral.
"Spiritual" is different from both religion and atheism as I use it. When I say "spiritual" I mean a person's individual understanding of how life works. Spirituality is an internal, individual relationship with the subtle, mysterious parts of life. It is our personal individual understanding of truth. It is how we, each alone, makes sense of life, the universe and everything (to borrow a phrase from Douglas Adams). It is based exclusively on our internal sense of truth, ethics, morality, philosophy and so on.
Religion on the other hand, is an outward, group, social construct. Religion is codified, external definitions of truth, morality, ethics, philosophy and so on. Religion is often expressed through rituals, writings, lifestyle, and is taught one generation to another in ways that personal spirituality often is not. Religion is external, a shared, group experience. Spirituality is internal, an individual experience.
For some people, their inward spirituality and their outward religion is the same thing. For others, like me, the two are entirely separate. I do not practice or teach any religion...so I'm secular.
Through tarot and such, I think about and interact with the intangible ideas in life. I share what I've learned, and how I've used tarot symbolism (among other things) to learn them...thus "spiritual guidance".
Tarot readings are spiritual, not theological in my experience. The ideas and symbols are helpful, no matter what your religion or beliefs might be.
Readings are all about one person coming to an individual, internal understanding of their situation. Readings are a way for an individual to navigate through a portion of life, and a tool to help with individual choices. Some people use their religion for that guidance. Others don't. Whether you use a religious or secular guidance-tool, the essence of this kind of guidance is internal, individual and spiritual.
From that point of view, religion offers spiritual guidance, but so does intuitive readings. It is all about how an individual uses the reading/religion, not the reading/religion itself.
Your question is a good example - it is essentially spiritual. We aren't primarily talking about religion...so this is mainly a secular post. We are talking about individual understanding, individual life-philosophy - so this is also a spiritual post.
There are even Tarot cards for this kind of conversation. The Pope or Hierophant card from the major arcana talks about the intersections of social convention, religion, and individuality. The Moon talks about our internal, intuitive, spiritual journey.
And before you even ask...I don't talk about whether I am atheist or not. I won't talk about religion except in very very general terms like this, and even then only when it is brought up by a question or a card. Like Bella said in Twilight..."I'm Switzerland". I'm a religion-neutral, religion-free zone. I'm secular, and I help people find spiritual guidance through tarot-symbolism and intuition-development. In my mind, "secular" and "spiritual" live side by side just fine.