In our current era of holy terror, passionate faith has come to seem like a present danger. Writers such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens have been happy to throw the baby out with the bathwater and declare that the danger is in religion itself. God, Hitchens writes, is not great.
But man, according to George E. Vaillant, M.D., is great. In Spiritual Evolution , Dr. Vaillant lays out a brilliant defense not of organized religion but of man’s inherent spirituality. Our spirituality, he shows, resides in our uniquely human brain design and in our innate capacity for emotions like love, hope, joy, forgiveness, and compassion, which are selected for by evolution and located in a different part of the brain than dogmatic religious belief. Evolution has made us spiritual creatures over time, he argues, and we are destined to become even more so. Spiritual Evolution makes the scientific case for spirituality as a positive force in human evolution, and he predicts for our species an even more loving future.
Vaillant traces this positive force in three different kinds of “evolution”: the natural selection of genes over millennia, of course, but also the cultural evolution within recorded history of ideas about the value of human life, and the development of spirituality within the lifetime of each individual. For thirty-five years, Dr. Vaillant directed Harvard’s famous longitudinal study of adult development, which has followed hundreds of men over seven decades of life. The study has yielded important insights into human spirituality, and Dr. Vaillant has drawn on these and on a range of psychological research, behavioral studies, and neuroscience, and on history, anecdote, and quotation to produce a book that is at once a work of scientific argument and a lyrical meditation on what it means to be human.
Spiritual Evolution is a life’s work, and it will restore our belief in faith as an essential human striving.
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|Title of eBook: Spiritual Evolution|
|Release Date: 05-20-2008|
|Allowed Countries (hover)|
|Publisher: Crown Publishing Group|
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Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, let me sow forgiveness;…
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
Where there is despair, let me give hope…
Where there is sadness, let me give joy;
O Master, grant that I may not so much to seek
compassion but to give compassion.
—“The Peace Prayer of St. Francis” attributed to Father Esther Becquerel (1912)
Just as a prism separates white light into a spectrum of discrete colors, so this book separates spirituality into a broad spectrum of positive emotions. By focusing on the positive emotions, I wish to perform for spirituality what the science of nutrition has performed for the world's discordant diets. Just as nutrition identifies the vitamins and the four basic food groups that make other people’s peculiar ethnic diets nourishing, so neuroscience, cultural anthropology, and ethology identify the love, community building, and positive emotions that enduring religions have in common.
Here’s a true story told by Jack Kornfield, a clinical psychologist. Traveling by train from Washington to Philadelphia, Dr. Kornfield found himself seated next to the director of a rehabilitation program for juvenile offenders, particularly gang members who had committed homicide.
One fourteen–year-old boy in the program had shot and killed an innocent teenager to prove himself to his gang. At the trial, the victim’s mother sat impassively silent until the end, when the youth was convicted of the killing. After the verdict was announced, she stood up slowly and stared directly at him and stated, ...