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Friday, 10.22.04: The Material Girl -2

Based on my entry yesterday, Fugai took the "How Spiritual Are You?" test and she writes:

I came off as a "practical empiricist." I found the whole thing so annoying. To me they're mostly testing for what I think of as dooh-dooh-dooh-dooh "Twilight Zone"/there's an angel on my shoulder/touchy-feely drug experiences. Who are the bozos who put this test together, anyway? So maybe it's a litmus test for what one thinks of as spirituality. I can't help but wonder that even the Dalai Lama or your average Zen monk might not score so high either. The people who I see as most spiritual are incredibly disciplined and pragmatic. How can you not be and meditate all those hours every day? I think those folk also have glimpses of something that the rest of us are missing, but gimme a break, the  Time test is about bubble-headedness. Now I have to ponder on why it pissed me off so much.

Fugai has a point. Haven't we all met spaced-out bubbleheads who make claims to be in tune with the universe? And does smoking pot -- groovy, man -- make you spiritual?

Fugai also makes me think about people who can truly make a claim to mysticism and self-transcendence -- Zen masters and those guys who can walk over hot coals and sleep on beds of nails and Catholic mystics. They are indeed disciplined. Hours, days, years, decades of work to transform distraction into focus. Fasting. Postures. Hair shirts. You can't even get a runner's high without being able to jog more than five miles. It's way too cut-to-the-chase American to think that spirituality is innate -- either you have it or you don't.

(See, this is what Fitzgerald meant when he said, "There are no second acts in American lives." We don't really believe in a difficult series of progressions in order to get to the payoff.)

But here I am analyzing this in a distinctly non-spiritual manner. Here I am making the argument that spirituality is not a gift but a skill. Or, like weight control, a few people may have the gift of slenderness but the rest of us struggle with it every day.

So back to the quiz...

The "How Spiritual Are You" test was adapted from the Temperament and Character Inventory, a 240-question personality test developed at Washington University in St. Louis. The "self-transcendence" sub-scale measures "what allows us to have the kind of experience described as religious ecstasy," says the developer Robert Cloninger. What a leap to go from personality traits (used to sort out factors associated with anorexia nervosa, alcoholism, etc.) to the result to a discipline. The fault may lie with Dean Hamer, the molecular biologist who wrote The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired in Our Genes. He's trying to correlate scores on a personality test with gene patterns and then Time Magazine simplifies it even further.

Maybe it's silly to get hung up on all this terminology, but it goes to the core of popular culture and muddy thinking. Look around at the political scene and you'll hear way too much loose talk about spiritual values (mine vs. yours) and so much of it is simply convoluted blah, blah, blah.




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