The Jewel of Reality: Spirituality 2.0.

Via Julian Walker
on Jul 12, 2012
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There comes a point at which living in reality is the spiritual prerogative.

Actually, this has been the gradual process of human progress in general. The “Enlightenment” era or Age of Reason in the 18th century was a radical shift away from monarchy, religious tyranny, and their roots in irrational superstition.

No, God did not decree that your rich royal family should rule over the peasants in perpetuity.

No, you do not get to legislate from the pulpit and rule your country based on the authority of wild and wooly scriptures written two thousand years ago by hallucinating desert nomads who thought they were chosen by God.

Nor do you get to torture people in the most inventive and grotesque ways for the sin of not professing belief in your doctrine or for making evidence-based claims that contradict it.

What most Americans fail to appreciate —because it is not sufficiently emphasized in the education system, is that the seeds of American democracy, the constitution and bill of rights were sown in this radical step away from religious power and toward a system of rule based in a philosophy of equality and reason. Sure —there was still slavery and colonialism and inequality for women, but the spirit of the enlightenment kept moving us in the direction of these freedoms emerging as it continued unfolding.

Problem is we have had a massive backlash: the religious right has revised history to make it seem as if the founding fathers desperately wanted the United States to be a “Christian nation,” in which everyone is armed to the teeth, the poor have to fend for themselves and the invisible hand of the free market belongs to a prosperity-gospel Jesus.

For our part, the liberal spiritual community has bought into its own revision of history, in which enlightenment values ushered in the tragic loss of magical reality. The story is basically that before we got all white-man-sciencey people lived in harmony with the Earth and one-another and had access to psychic powers, visits from angels and a connection to our true nature —which of course is pure light and love.

The only problem is that this time never existed.

Pre-Enlightenment Europe was a religious chess board upon which the power players moved the pawns of scientists, philosophers and ordinary people from one torture chamber to another while ordering holy wars and bathing in wildly disproportionate wealth. These same figures were busily colonizing the rest of the world in the name of Christianity, slavery and empire.

Similarly, the situation for indigenous cultures pre—Enlightenment (and even pre-15th century colonialization) was hardly Utopian. Tribal life ruled by superstitious beliefs is, as it turns out, a brutal affair. Rigid gender roles, authoritarian hierarchy, sacrificial ritual, harsh initiation rites, wars with other tribes and a social system based in violent enforcement.

Any doubts about this, check out Steven Pinker’s analysis of the steady decline of violence in human history leading to what is in fact the most peaceful era in our existence:




Of course the Enlightenment brought with it a fresh round of violence, exemplified most bloodily by the French Revolution —but the key difference between the Western democracies and say, the Middle East lies in this powerful transition that forever changed the West and has yet to happen elsewhere.

Islamic jihad is an explicit rejection of Enlightenment era values. We will rule our land (and would like to rule the whole world) based on our stone-age religious text. We will have governments controlled by religious clerics. Life is about a supernatural order and how God decrees we should live. The West is completely lacking in morality because it does not follow the fundamentalist letter of our scriptures. The West is in allegiance with Satan because of its liberal attitudes toward women, sexuality, education, science and art.

The Enlightenment never happened in the Middle East.

Theocracy, burkas, public hanging of gays, stoning of adulterers and holy war over who gets to control the sites where the anticipated arrival of the next messiah is prophesied bear witness to the stunted growth of these societies. Of course, American imperialism in the oil-rich region has done great harm and this should not be overlooked. Rapture-ready Christian groups pushing hawkish agendas to bring on the second coming by unleashing Revelation via WWIII have added fuel to the burning oil fields as well.

But, dear liberal spiritual friends—don’t forget why there is this huge cultural divide.

Don’t forget the values and freedoms that we take for granted and are woven into the fabric of Western history.

Don’t forget that separation of church and state, equal rights, freedom of speech, artistic freedom, respect for science even when it is at odds with scriptural revelation, democracy and sexual liberation are all massively positive steps forward.

Above all, don’t buy into the fallacy that to have a meaningful spiritual life you have to regress into superstitious mythic literalism or magical thinking and reject science, reason and the very Western freedoms that allow you to dabble in Eastern spirituality and idealize ancient cultures.

There comes a point at which living in reality is the spiritual prerogative. This is where psychology is a step forward from religion, where reasoned philosophy is a step forward from superstitious metaphysics and where scientific method is a step forward from supernatural beliefs.

It is a post-Enlightenment spiritual principle to value inquiry into what is actually true over wishful thinking. It is a post-Enlightenment spiritual principle to value reasoned critical thinking over buying into superstition. It is a still relatively new spiritual idea that the human being is sacred, that biology and physics are sources of awe and wonder and that the natural world is divine in-and-of-itself.

Let’s celebrate reality—it is far more rewarding than outdated fantasy and regressive romanticism. Let’s meditate on being more grounded, more integrated and more existentially honest, because the jewel of reality starts to shine with precious and poignant meaning the more we give up the plastic baubles that we think we can’t live without.

This article originally appeared on


About Julian Walker

Julian Walker is the founder of where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian's writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on


17 Responses to “The Jewel of Reality: Spirituality 2.0.”

  1. @Suri_k8 says:

    Excellent! I love this !
    It's amazing how far we ve come in just a few centuries, I mean we spent 99% of our humman existence as a species believing in imaginary beings and dying of infected wounds and rotten teeth and then all of a sudden the enlightenment comes and the scientific revolution and….well the party is over for superstition and ignorance booo hooo! …And we have soft beds , and warm water in the shower, and electricity and pain killers…oh yes and telescopes and the international space station , no less. I think it is accurate to say that we, humans , had never been this pampered and spoiled before….which is a good thing too.

    We are indeed very lucky .. The only thing I find very scary is the fragility of all this progress , i dont see how this "golden age" will survive our worsening population+ environmental "situation" and all the economic and social issues that come with it.

  2. @Suri_k8 says:

    Forgot to say , a great complement to any of Pinker's books (specially The Blank Slate) is The Moral Animal by Robert Wright.

  3. Very well done, Julian. Bravo.

    The only big idea I would add is that many historians feel that the backward societies you mention are stunted in their development precisely because they were systematically plundered and exploited for centuries by the Western "enlightened" powers.

    Bob W. Associate Publisher
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    Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    Yes…celebrate reality! This is good so long as you see things my way. I question this idea that indigenous cultures lived in a cosmos based on superstition. I am not convinced that is the case and if they were practicing some cultural superstitions there really is no harm in that. The nature based tribes are difficult to understand mainly because the religious zealotry of conquering cultures demonized the culture of the tribe so our information is less than accurate. You seem to be a student of Joseph Campbell, does he not point out the practicality of many of these superstitions? Also, what is the goal of this thing you call "spirituality"? Do you have faith that a realistc view is wholly positive? If so, what would be the result of such a view? You are showing faith in understanding reality more "genuinely" which will give a positive result as in this thing you call "groundedness". What is the meaning of being "grounded"? So you are looking forward to a result which currently does not exist through faith in non existent results…this is different than superstition?

  5. @Suri_k8 says:

    "I am not convinced that is the case and if they were practicing some cultural superstitions there really is no harm in that."
    Well actally there is , from human sacrifice to cannibalism there were a lot of behaviours we would definitely call  harmful and even disgusting and brutal..many if not all of them were rooted in superstition …violence is not new ,  it  has  always  existed it is part of our human nature ….and yes indigenous peoples also pilllaged neighboring villages and killed all men and children , and stole all the women and then raped them …it is true and it was comonplace back then.
    There is no such thing as the "Noble Savage" ,the idea that in a state of nature humans are essentially good is incorrect.

  6. __MikeG__ says:

    Padma would have us believe superstitious beliefs cause no harm as stated in a post above.

    The problem with believing in superstition is that it gives the believer free "moral" reign to do whatever her/she wants. Let's remember that religion/superstition is always made up by people.

    So, people can make up a religion that Elves love us all. They also can make up a religion where Elves love us all but anyone who doesn't love the Elves back must be put to death.

    Why is it so important to some that that they must defend superstitious belief systems against all possible threats, such as this article?

    For me, making up a false layer of beliefs adds nothing of value.

    IMO, a good religion would have tenets such as "Don't hit people with sticks. Don't steal stuff. Don't kick kittens". A invisible man/woman/thing in the sky is not a requirement of that kind of religion.

    Bad religion would be "hit those people over there with sticks because they do not believe in the invisible person/people/things that we believe in". Superstitious beliefs encourage this kind of belief because it always happens that God hates the same people as his/her/it's worshipers do.

    Bad religion also was an excellent rock band. As the invisible Elves with sticks prophesied they would be.

  7. Freedom says:

    A most excellent piece Julian. Bravo!

  8. @Suri_k8 says:

    Ha ha, you are funny.

    Well, even "friendly" religions like Budhhism rely on guilt to coerce people into behaving "compasionately" …you can see  many examples of how people put this into practice here on elephant , typically when some person posts a comment that is kind of judgamental or not very nice …well the karma police steps in and the person is automatically lableled as an agresive asshole that is breaking the sacred rules of (even hipocritical) compassion and shit.

    Oh , and then there is the brain washing and reprograming that comes in the form of "sacred teachings" and "sacred scriptures".

  9. Thaddeus1 says:

    And don't forget all the arguments from assertions. Those are awesome too.

  10. Mark Ledbetter says:

    In defense of Julian, I would say that the one big idea Bob finds missing is clearly implied in two separate lines, the one with colonizing and the one with imperialism. I mean, this is a really tightly packed piece of history. To keep it tightly packed, i.e. short and sweet, you can't develop particular ideas at length.

    In defense of Bob, I would say that the rapaciousness that accompanied Enlightenment-engendered power over the physical world is worth an extra emphasis in the comments.

  11. Well put, Mark. I agree with both points. Thanks for commenting.


  12. @Suri_k8 says:

    I know, they are awesome!

  13. __MikeG__ says:

    No kicking kittens, remember?

  14. @Suri_k8 says:

    Hey , Mike check out the comments for this same post at yogabrains….the conversation actually gets interesting and the comments are way, way better….julians replies are interesting too.

    Hugz buddy

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