“Thou Shalt Have No Other God But Me”

SPIRITUALITY WAS CAPTURED by orthodox monotheistic religion. After the many Gods, or polytheistic, believing ancient Greeks – this multi-faceted view of spirituality was driven underground. The “Thou shalt have no other God but me” patriarchal monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and the Church took over the concept of spirituality. Hence spirituality in the West was for many centuries equated with ‘religion’ – the ‘spiritual teachings’, the ‘spiritual life’, the ‘devout life’, the ‘interior life’ or the ‘piety’ within a particular religious faith. Spirituality was further equated with particular dogmatic and spiritual referents – Judaic spirituality, Christian spirituality, Islamic spirituality, Catholic spirituality, Protestant spirituality. Christianity brought about new norms for all thinking in the West – and part of its impact was a distinctive conception of the spiritual reflected in a new use of the word pneuma.[i] Indeed, both Christians and Jews saw divine pneuma as a benefit available to them by virtue of their membership in religious communities. The writings of St Paul, for example, show the ‘pneuma’ of the faithful must be distinguished from the unholy ‘spirits’ (of the Pagans).[ii] For Paul, ‘spiritual reality’ is imperishable and is separated from worldly reality.[iii]

Following the work of the Early Church Fathers – philosophers such as Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marcel, Ebner and Buber, have further added to the discourse on spirituality. While less tied to the Christian and Jewish religious doctrines and orthodoxy of their times, they were nevertheless still influenced by them. They also introduced new elements into the dialogue, for example a relational view of spirituality, which remain with us today.

[i] Steven G. Smith (1988) The Concept of the Spiritual, 21-22.

[ii] Ibid, 22

[iii] Ibid, 23.

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