Book: Sceptical Spirituality
The ‘intellect’ (our capacity to think) as a spiritual means
(This is just a sketch — we couldn’t possibly do justice to a subject as crucial as this in a short article.)
Why is this? Why is the intellect the only spiritual implement/instrument/agent/vehicle we have? Surely that’s too extreme? Surely we can also pray and meditate, be mindful, be full of love and human goodness, and bow down and worship, and all the rest of it? Won’t that work?
Well, ‘yes’, perhaps; but unfortunately a resounding ‘no’.
Let’s start by being sure we know exactly what we are talking about. The ‘intellect’ is our ordinary, front-of-the-house, very familiar everyday ‘thinking capacity’ that we employ in day-to-day life to think about things, reflect on things, and analyse things in an objective, impartial, unbiased and non-partisan way. We are ordinarily able to ‘use our intellects’ to get to grips with a problem in much the same conscious, deliberate, intentional way we are able to use our hands to perform a simple physical task. And in a relatively straightforward way, an educated, mature and developed intellect is able to tell the difference between objective and biased thinking, and the difference between what I might ‘want’ to be the case, and what exactly ‘is’ the case. We can tell this difference even when we can’t stop ourselves from deciding on something which is heavily biased in our favour; but mental bias is not something we need to go into right now.
The important thing to make clear at this stage is that when it comes to searching for spiritual/metaphysical insight, the only capacity we have to turn deliberately/intentionally/consciously/knowingly/wilfully to our advantage is our capacity ‘to think’. There is nothing else we can ‘do’ which is more elemental, objective and clarifying than our ability to work through a problem or an issue in thought. Everything else we do is dependent — one way or another — on our ability to think. Even if we try to ‘emote’ our way to liberation — by worship, loving, or whatever — we depend on our thinking capacity to point us in the right direction, and to identify the key elements of our supposedly…