Just Finished Reading: Spirituality for the Skeptic – The Thoughtful Love of Life by Robert C Solomon
I’m still not sure what to make of this book - which probably explains why I had to have two attempts at it. For months it has languished by the side of my bed half read and largely ignored. Only recently did I pick it up again to give it a second chance driven, largely, by the idea that I should really finish some of the books I’ve already started before embarking on any more.
I’ve read some of Robert Solomon’s scribblings before which prompted me to investigate this book. It probably helped that it had the word skeptic in the title – which actually is one of the things that confused me. The author, contrary to my previous readings and the title of the book didn’t seem all that sceptical about spirituality. Indeed it seemed to me that Solomon wanted his cake and then proceeded to eat it. It appeared, at least to me, that the author wanted the advantages of secular scepticism with all of the trappings of religion without the inconvenience of worship. In his attempted reconciliation of the philosophical with the religious (why I wonder would you want to do that?) he proceeded to not only bend over backwards to accommodate a type of spirituality in a seemingly (to my way of reading him) grey and lifeless universe but to tie himself in knots to reconcile the two. In his attempt to produce a sceptical spirituality he instead produced a meaningless mis-mash and mismatch of ideas that I frankly found largely incomprehensible.
What I think he was attempting to do, and singularly failed to do in my case, was to imbue various aspects of life with a spiritual essence in such a way that they would by-pass any of our normal sceptical guardians. In this attempt he cited passion, ‘cosmic trust’ and even rationality as spiritual aspects of life. In the synopsis on the back of the book it proposes that it “answers the need for a non-institutional, non-dogmatic spirituality that leads to personal fulfilment and satisfaction”. My question to this would be “”What need?” But beyond that I don’t think that Solomon answers his own question. By using (what I would consider) non-spiritual aspects of life or by extending them beyond their normal range of applicability he, in my mind, showed himself to be simply a drowning man in search of any non-religious lifebelts in a harshly secular ocean. He is a man desperately clutching at straws, a man who apparently sees his own secular beliefs as deeply lacking in some manner but one unwilling to abandon them completely forcing him to ‘bolt on’ aspects of spirituality that he finds acceptable. Although I don’t believe that his approach is dishonest I do think that his sceptical response (what I saw of it) was far too weak. From the way I read this book it seemed that Solomon was trying less to convince other sceptics of his case than his was trying to convince himself. Read as an exploration of one man’s need to square a particular circle it is an interesting case study. Read as a manifesto for spiritual scepticism it is, I’m afraid, an epic fail.