What makes up a human?

We can easily say the mind and body are the most distinctive features of a human being. However, I believe there are three components of a human: The mind, body and spirit.  

The mind controls the body and analyzes the world around us. The body is the vessel that makes this possible. The spirit can be described as our conscience, the part of our mind that forms judgements from the sensations it perceives and feels.

To keep a healthy and functional body we have to give it what it needs in the form of food, rest and exercise by pushing it past its comfortable limits. The mind must be exercised through learning and complex thought. We can distinguish an appetite for both — we feel when our body or mind needs something. Similarly, our bodies also have a spiritual appetite.

Spirituality can be defined as the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things. I believe this can be exercised in many forms, including the want for meaning in our actions, meditation, reflection on our place in the this world or acknowledgement of a higher power and what that means as a result. I believe these exercises are metaphysical in nature. Thus, in the case of mediation, it is not simply the act of sitting still and breathing, but where those actions take your mind and body.

For as long as humans have been around, religion has been the main mode of spiritual feeding. Recently however, the idea of being spiritual-but-not-religious is an increasing trend in millennials. What does this mean, and why is this happening? I seek to answer these questions and posit why I think religion, or as I understand religion as a Muslim, can be more beneficial to feeding your spiritual appetite.

The Pew Research Center revealed millennials are less attached to organized religion than their parents or grandparents were at the same age, with only about 40 percent saying religion is very important in their lives. However, the same survey said that about 80 percent of millennials believe in God, and increasing numbers identify with statements like “I feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and wellbeing” or “I experience a deep sense of wonder about the universe.”

So what explains the decline in religious affiliation? San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge said there is a cultural shift in America from the baby boomers era and before. Currently, individualism is the cultural system of America, which places more emphasis on the self and less on social values. Individualism can conflict with religion, as religion usually contains certain rules and is inherently built around individual AND communal care. Furthermore, a lot of it may have to do with the perceived political entanglement of religion, especially Christianity, associate religious studies professor Matthew Hedstrom at University of Virginia said. Since the 2000s, there has been a steep drop-off which he in part attributes to the debate of gay marriage.

Hedstrom also said that spirituality is what consumer capitalism does to religion. Consumer capitalism is defined by choice: You choose what you consume and it becomes part of your identity. Many aspects of our social interactions and values are formed on these consumptions. Advertising through ads or integrated in multiple media forms has told millennials, from birth, that these are things that matter and will give you fulfillment and satisfaction.

I make the claim that religion (in my case, Islam) has more benefits for your spirit on the basis that religion provides an essential component to life — namely, a philosophy of life, e.g. rituals that feed the spirit and an ethical framework. The philosophy of life outlines all components of what any person would agree to be good and just. It is also very important to not conflate how humans may use religion as a platform for injustice with what the religion actually preaches. This individualistic, consumerist society tells us to do as we desire, and we equate that to freedom. However, the reality is we don’t always have the self control and will power that we think we have, and when fulfillment of our desires is left unchecked, we can become enslaved to them. I have found that my religious beliefs give me more freedom as I am pushed toward higher self control and rational strength.

I don’t mean to downplay a person’s pursuit for spiritual fulfillment, as it is important and essential. I merely seek to point out that this process is not comprehensive, whereas a religion is a package deal. You get all the goodies for your spirit, mind and body. Religion ideally unifies a community because of the common moral and ethical philosophy. It also pushes for its followers to uphold social justice, were someone who is spiritual may have some or all of the aforementioned. Of course you have to jump through hoops to find a religion that makes sense, but that outcome will lead to a source of unlimited fulfillment and satisfaction.

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