April 7, 2012, by Stephen Mumford

Spirit and Supernature

It’s the Easter vacation, which for Christians is one of the holiest times. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I don’t have a religious bone in my body. But I cannot deny the deep feelings of spirituality that many others have. Countless educated and rational people believe in a God, spirits and an afterlife.

The impact of religion on human civilisation is incalculable and continues, showing little sign of abating as we progress through the 21st century. Many world leaders profess belief in a God. It may be politically impossible to govern some nations without an allegiance to a religion. On a recent visit to Jerusalem, I saw three brands of religious fervour as Jew, Muslim and Christian from around the world gathered to praise their Gods. I could see on some of their faces a lifetime’s dream being satisfied.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that I’m missing. I do feel that I’m a spiritual person in a very broad sense. I love friendship and thought. I like to think I am not a materialist. I certainly don’t worship wealth or possessions. People count the most, love and art. But I’ve never felt that any of this has to go alongside belief in a transcendent deity. And even if a God existed, I’ve not seen that it automatically follows I should worship it. I find worship of anything distasteful.

Metaphysics is my area. Those who are religious must share my interest. For there is a deeply metaphysical conviction at the basis of religion. What is special about God, spirit and the mystical is that it is all supposed to be above and beyond our mundane world. I take it the view is that the natural world of space and time is not the total of reality. There must also be something more – a supernatural realm – that is distinct from and not bound by our natural laws. On some views, these two realms can causally interact. The supernatural God can cause events to happen in the natural world; and our prayers can be heard by that same God. The causal interaction can go both ways. While there are many varieties of religion, this metaphysical picture would seem to apply to a lot of them.

I don’t find this metaphysics appealing. Evidently, many others do. I wish them all peace. And for those who are Christians, a Happy Easter.

[I discussed the causal interaction of the natural and supernatural worlds in my article “Miracles: Metaphysics and Modality”, Religious Studies 37 (2001)]

Posted in Culture and Area StudiesMetaphysicsPhilosophyTheology and Religious Studies