My fiancee' and I frequent a restaurant in L.A. called Real Food Daily. The concept behind the name is that their food -- which is unprocessed, abundantly nutritious, and lovingly prepared -- is more authentic, more "real," than most other food. This claim is at once silly and wise. Silly because philosophers have argued about the true nature of "reality" for centuries. Wise because it's an admissible philosophy that the closer something is to its source, the more "real" it is.
This principle has universal applications. Original paintings are deemed more "real" than prints. Linguistically inventive people are deemed more "real" than those who repeat one-liners from TV. A head of lettuce is more "real" than a hot dog. My interest here is to compare organized spirituality to improvised spirituality. Is either one more real?
Needless to say, comparing these two entities is trickier (and more controversial) than comparing paintings and prints. Every moment of every day, a gentle battle occurs between those that attend religious ceremonies and those that just "believe in something."
How many people do you know that just "believe in something"? I've met far too many to keep count (and I myself belong, for the most part, to this group). They're a raw and ragtag bunch that's curious enough for exploration but too impatient for formalities. Which begs the question: do formalities enhance "real spirituality" or detract from it?
Let's cast aside our existential leanings (if any) and assume that there is in fact -- for lack of a more evocative term -- a spirit world. If this is the case, then all of us are intrinsically connected to it, which means that accessing the spirit world (via prayer, visualization, intuition, etc.) requires no special passkeys. No torahs or rosary beads. No church walls or bemas. By this standard, we can kneel before garden hoses and find God in the pages of a phone directory.
Many of those that just "believe in something" like the sound of this. They tend to scoff in the face of organized religion. For them, all formally religious chants, prayers, rituals, and clothing are empty ornaments standing between the plain flesh of humanity and the sparkling blue rivers of eternity. I steer clear of such thinking.
To my mind, such formalities do not detract from real spirituality. Nor do they enhance it. Whereas the concept behind Real Food Daily is both silly and wise, the concept of Real Spirituality is just plain silly. All spirituality -- be it improvised, half-assed, or out of focus -- is authentic. Assuming, of course, that there is a spirit world.
Consider the realm of the spirit as a house with many doors. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islamism are widely practiced, so perhaps they enter through the front door. Modes like Scientology and Wicca are less conventional, so perhaps they enter through the side. And as for those of us that just "believe in something," we may lack a formal name, and we may enter through the back, but I've no doubt that we reach the same place.
Eric Shapiro is the author of "Short of a Picnic," a collection of fiction about people living with mental disorders. He is at work on his first novel.