Visions of Daniel

The Human Core of Spirituality
Basis for a Global Community


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A Paper Presented by Daniel Helminiak at

World's Religions after September 11: A Global Congress

Montréal, Québec , Canada September 14, 2006


The goal is to propose a basis for structuring a global community. Whereas in earlier times individual religions held together their separate and isolated societies, today the encounter of different religions leads to misunderstanding, animosity, and outright violence. Rather than being a solution to the fragmentation of the human race, intense religious commitment and even belief in “God” have often become the problem.

Nonetheless, today as in earlier times, only shared beliefs and common values could ultimately support community—and beliefs and values are spiritual. Thus, emphasis on some generic spirituality, not particularistic religion, must be the solution.

One approach to implementing this solution would be to start with the religions. Sorting out the generic spiritual aspects of the religions—such as the Golden Rule—from their particularistic dimensions would seem to provide a spiritual basis that transcends all religions and cultures. However, it is doubtful that a viable basis could derive from the religions themselves—because religions are many, their beliefs and values differ, they base even this-worldly claims on metaphysical ones, and, certainly as regards their metaphysical claims, it is impossible to adjudicate the differences. Besides, building on the religions would leave out non-religious people and secular institutions.

Therefore, that basis must be something that all religions, cultures, and peoples have in common. Such universal commonality could only lie in the very humanity that all people share. From the point of view of human attempts to structure a global community, the basis must be human, not divine, religious, or culturally specific. Appeal must be to the human spirit and its innate structures and exigencies. Only these could provide a common basis on which to structure a global community of the third millennium.

The challenge, then, is to elaborate the human spirit and to say exactly what spiritual and wholesome spirituality mean. Bernard Lonergan's analyses of intentional consciousness, or the human spirit, provide a remarkably rich elaboration. He was the late Canadian philosopher-theologian whom Time magazine called the Thomas Aquinas of the twentieth century. On the basis of "self-appropriation"—that is, attentiveness to the workings of one's own mind—Lonergan describes a dimension of the mind that is inherently self-transcending. It is an open-ended dynamism that expresses itself as wonder, questioning, reflection, and choice and that, in the ideal, would not rest until it understood everything about everything and in universal love affirmed all that is truly of value. Such an achievement could only result from openness, insight, honesty, and goodwill, for by their very nature close-mindedness, foolishness, dishonesty, and malice provide no basis for a secure and expanding future. The unfolding of the human spirit depends on unavoidable and inherent requirements. In Lonergan's words, four "transcendental precepts" define genuine or authentic humanity: "Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, Be responsible." These are the exigencies of the human spirit even as meanings and values—or beliefs and ethics, or understandings and commitments, or truth and love—are its products and its hallmarks.

Granted that the human spirit is of this kind, it would appear that spirituality regards, first and foremost, the on-going integration of the inherent human spiritual capacity into the structures of the personality. Spirituality is deliberate commitment to the self-transcending dimension of our minds, and its goal is increasing sensitivity and responsiveness to this same dimension. Further, it would appear that this human spiritual capacity is the source of knowledge about Transcendent Reality and the origin of society, culture, and organized religion. It would also appear that the role of religion is precisely to foster spirituality. Therefore, any religious beliefs or practices that curtain or prevent the unfolding of the human spirit would have to be judged inauthentic, spurious, misguided, wrong. Thus, emphasis on spirituality that is grounded in the make-up of the human being would seem to provide a universally valid basis for genuine human community and the criteria of genuine spiritual pursuit.

From other perspectives, others have arrived at a similar solution. The advantage of relying on Lonergan's analyses is their thorough-going rigor, exhaustive detail, and philosophical depth. Lonergan thematizes that very human "instrument" that generates cultures, religions, and systems of meaning and value. Thus, his position seems to be immune to post-modern criticism, which itself is an expression of the same human spiritual capacity that is focus of Lonergan's analyses.

Just as a single humanity expresses itself in a variety of wholesome and colorful cultures, so, too, such "generic spirituality," grounded in a single humanity, could express itself in a range of religious diversity. Apart from concern for other-worldly or metaphysical possibilities but from the more urgent point of view of this-worldly living, the religions of the world and all people of good will, religious or not, could rally around this core spirituality. Thus, a shared set of beliefs and values, those that foster life, would provide the basis for a global community.

To the extent that the particularities of specific religions violated the core human beliefs and values, if attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible, the religions would have to acknowledge that their teaching was askew: If these teachings do not foster richer life and deeper spirituality in this world, how could they be of God or enhance a life to come? In light of an emerging global community and the encounter of differing religions, it is only to be expected that the religions would be led to adjust and purify their teachings and, thus, better serve their adherents. Any religion unwilling or unable to follow this course could hardly claim to be authentic either before humanity or before whatever Transcendent Power there might be.

This non-religious and non-theist understanding of spirituality applies to secular institutions, as well. It calls them to respect and foster the inherent spiritual dimension of humanity. They might do so under the urging of the united voices of religious agencies and individuals and of non-religious people of good will.

The appeal to a core spirituality provides a via media. It respects religious concerns in that it insists on spirituality, and it respects secular concerns in that it imposes no specific religious position. On such a basis, as in traditional societies, the religious and the secular could once again be healthily integrated, and the whole of society would be spiritual.

Appeal to the human spirit—not to revelation, tradition, culture, God, or religion—could provide a universally valid spiritual basis on which to structure a global community. Required for the successful deployment of this urgent project are only the honesty and good will of the religions, nations, businesses, corporations, agencies, and people in our world.

Major Resources on Bernard Lonergan

Lonergan, B. J. F. (1972). Method in theology. New York : Herder and Herder.

_____. (1990). Understanding and being: The Halifax lectures on Insight (E. A. Morelli & M. D. Morelli, Eds.). Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (Vol. 5). Toronto : University of Toronto Press. (original work published 1980)

_____. (1992). Insight: A study of human understanding. Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan (Vol. 3). Toronto : Toronto University Press. (original work published 1957)

McCarthy, M. (1997). Pluralism, invariance, and conflict. The Review of Metaphysics, 51, 3-23.

Application of Lonergan's Analyses to Generic Spirituality

Helminiak, D. A. (1987). Spiritual development: An interdisciplinary study. Chicago : Loyola University Press.

_____. (1996). The human core of spirituality: Mind as psyche and spirit. Albany: State University of New York Press.

_____. (1997). Killing for God's sake: The spiritual crisis in religion and society. Pastoral Psychology, 45, 365-374

_____. (1998). Religion and the human sciences: An approach via spirituality. Albany : State University of New York Press.

_____. (2005). A down-to-earth approach to the psychology of spirituality a century after James's Varieties. The Humanistic Psychologist, 33, 69-86

_____. (2005). Meditation without myth: What I wish they'd taught me in church about prayer, meditation, and the quest for peace. New York : Crossroad.

_____. (2006). The role of spirituality in formulating a theory of the psychology of religion. Zygon, 41, 197-224.

_____. (2006). Sex and the sacred: Gay identity and spiritual growth. New York: Harrington Park Press.

_____. (2006). Spirituality for a global community: Religion, pluralism, and secular society. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, in press.

Related Works of Similar Emphasis

Dalai Lama (1999). Ethics for the new millennium. New York : Riverhead Books.

Elkins, D. N. (1998) Beyond religion: A personal program for building a spiritual life outside the walls of traditional religion. Wheaton , IL : Quest Books.

Holloway, R. (1999). Godless morality: Keeping religion out of ethics. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Küng, H. (2001). Global responsibility: In search of a new world ethic. New York: Continuum.

Küng, H., & Schmidt, H. (Eds.). (1998). A global ethic and global responsibilities: Two declarations. London : SCM Press.

Kane, R. (1994). Through the moral maze: Searching for absolute values in a pluralistic world. New York : Paragon House.

Løgstrup, K. E. (1997). The ethical demand. Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press.

Mustakova-Possardt, E. (2003). Critical consciousness: A study of morality in global, historical context. London : Praeger.