by Rafael Domingo Oslé & Gonzalo Rodríguez-Fraile Díaz
Review by Mónica García-Salmones
After the spiritualism of the Middle Ages and the humanism of the Renaissance, rationalism conquered a large number of Europe’s intellectuals. For rationalists, the separation of God and reason was the only guarantee that would enable humans to occupy the place they considered to be deserved in the world: that of lord of nature and producer of the New Science. In the 19th century, Nietzsche argued that if human beings wanted to find meaning in the world and stop searching for it in vain outside the world, they ought to go beyond the Enlightenment. It was not enough to distance from God, and hence the German philosopher announced the death of God. In a world without God, posthumanism conceives the human being to be an element of the material world – though an important one – and antihumanism deals with a human being that continues to be disoriented. In its most materialist presentations, antihumanism even proposes the death of the human being as a last resort, attacking the last traces of humanism to find, in pure matter, the meaning and direction of human beings on Earth. Despite its evident lack of appeal, ideological antihumanism enjoys political and cultural influence nowadays: it has been argued, e.g., that human-object relationships ought to be a matter of public administration, or that the human mind works as a typewriter in which the desired results will follow from pressing the right keys. Thus, imagined cyborgs, and real drones and metadata manipulating emotions, opinions, and, ultimately, freedom have become a matter of attention. In this context, the book Spiritualizing Humanity, with its intellectually serious proposal of renewed spiritualization, personal and, for humanity overall, is certainly uncompromisingly honest, or perhaps even revolutionary. Appropriately, the book is dedicated to Pope Francis.
Its argument is simple. The secret to living in peace and generating peace, wellbeing and love around us is to accept and, in a certain sense, to love the fact that God takes care of the world and is the Spirit that rules over matter. Unfortunately, this topic could not be more topical. Beginning in the spring of 2022, a war at the heart of Europe is threatening to become a world conflict. This indicates that the superpowers have not yet learned how to make ruling an act of service and instead seek to govern the world by means of excessive ego.
The authors present the opposite historiographical journey described above, dusting off classic spiritual writers such as Basil of Caesarea, Bonaventura, Therese of Avila, Alfonso Mary of Ligorio and Therese of the Cross (Edith Stein). However, they also keep in mind the lessons of Freudian psychoanalysis, which explain that, though useful to a certain extent, a mere scrutiny of one’s instincts, passions and (family) experiences is by no means sufficient to achieve personal peace. Moreover, as Eva Illouz notes in Saving the Modern Soul: Therapy, Emotions and the Culture of Self-Help, eventually someone will take control of that process: one’s narcissistic ego, one’s current psychoanalyst, or capitalist policies that aim to turn all of us into efficient, productive individuals with a corresponding emotional design. The capitalist dream of a completely programmed future also belongs to this trend. The first and wonderful paradox of Spiritualizing Humanity is that its approach, characterized as (holy) abandonment, better reflects the desire for freedom and autonomy, which is so characteristic of the younger generation in the 21st century. Without understanding God, the authors sagaciously argue, one cannot understand the human being.
In practical terms, this book proposes “a spiritual understanding that enables me to accept and surrender fully to the will of God” (p. 19). Following Thomas Aquinas (ST, Prima, 82. a.3.) in the context of moral life, this premise, understood in a broad sense, puts reason first. Freely embracing the truth that everything, both good and bad, forms a part of God’s loving plan and directing one’s efforts to accepting that is only possible in practice when an individual is able to understand that truth. In fact, the authors write it is “also the most intelligent way of living life in practice” (p. 22). Together with a theory on the unity of reality, the core of this book is a complex and rich concept of reason (conscience, mind and brain), which mostly benefits from a long, theological and mystical Christian tradition. Furthermore, it also contains elements of other traditions: new North American spiritualities, psychoanalysis, Hinduism and other Eastern religions. The most innovative aspect of Spiritualizing Humanity is probably its methodological syncretism, which is also its most risky and fruitful bet. The book provides both Christians and those more inclined to Eastern spiritualities deep theological reflections and sophisticated tools for personal introspection, which the authors term “spiritual psychology.”
Faith is naturally a prerequisite for all this and, in a religiously fragmented world, the question of which faith is needed arises. In this regard the authors adopt an inclusive attitude, underlining a conception of God “accepted by the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), other forms of transcendent monotheism (for example, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Baha’i faith), theistic Hinduism of the Advaita Vedanta school, and some types of deism” (p. 38). At the same time the authors do suggest that, for this spiritual journey, it is more helpful to accept a God to which one can say “You” rather than a God to which one cannot.
Rafael Domingo, Chair of Roman Law and currently Spruill Professor of Law and Religion at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, and Gonzalo Rodriguez-Fraile, businessman and President of the Conscience Development Foundation, form an unusual, though competent, team with expertise in law, natural law and spirituality. On the one hand, strictly speaking, their book is a legal project, since it is framed in accordance with four laws: the law of love, the law of spiritual growth, the law of harmony and the law of nature. On the other, the notion of conscience they employ could be defined as a metaphysical term with the ambition of encompassing all reality. “In the end,” they write, “what is at stake is whether matter creates spirit or spirit creates matter” (p. 66). This indicates that it is the Spirit, without further specification, that creates and sustains all matter and in particular every human being.
With regard to psychology, the book’s argument hinges on three central concepts: “ego,” “soul” (or “spirit”) and “peace.” Building on the premise that two possible ways of understanding reality exist for every human being – one founded on the Freudian ego and the other on the soul – the substance of the book is devoted to explaining why transferring all existential efforts from the ego to the spirit is worthwhile and how to do it. As an objective, peace is the consequence of a gradual renunciation of governing one’s life through the ego, a key source of conflict, in favour of an interior dialogue and ego’s deference towards the reality captured by one’s soul. The second paradox that results from reading this book is as fascinating as the first. Through the active search for peace, we consent to losing control of our everyday life. The vital outcomes will always be much more creative and impossible to imagine in advance than when, with our sole strength, we enter into a personal conflict to achieve certain ends. After all, the Spirit is also the Creator.
Nevertheless, Spiritualizing Humanity dwells little on the universal experience of conflict generated by conflict, or the resistance to accepting defeat, suffering and ultimately death. On the contrary, the human geographer Paul Harrison describes with some sympathy the paralysing tradition of “the loser” in the existential pessimism of continental origin. Harrison cites the work of the Romanian writer E.M. Cioran, The Trouble With Being Born: “only one thing matters: learning to be a loser”. Cioran’s work in that period reaped the exhaustion brought on by the profound disappointments of 20th century thinking following the utter failure of the promise held by liberalism and the concept of the superman. In the Christian context of spiritualization, however, the person who accepts defeat triumphs, thereby innovating and redeeming. That is the time that Jesus Christ inaugurates; however, it’s worth noting that this name is remarkably absent in Spiritualizing Humanity. Perhaps this absence also explains the book’s emphasis on the fact that, in common with non-rational animals, human beings are corporeal. Saint Albert the Great, the famous biologist-theologian, for instance, affirms that “nature is reason” and that reason penetrates the human body. He thus suggested that we are persons because our bodies are spiritualized; from which stems the great distance that exists between human and animal bodies.
Logically, we would be discussing another book if those ideas formed part of Spiritualizing Humanity’s argument. Therefore, the fact that they are not, does not diminish its value. However, it may be helpful to suggest them as potential developments in relation to what seems to be an important topic for our century.
It is not easy to categorize Spiritualizing Humanity. Perhaps one may say that it is a postmodern book – although, from the introduction, the authors do not seem to share this view. The book comprises a mixture of theology, morality of virtues, doctrine, mysticism and self-help that renders it accessible, useful and with great potential for divulgation. The postmodern feature is visible in the wish to start anew, leave neo-scholasticism behind and instead turn to the real, not through phenomena, but through the spirit. Interestingly, in Converts to the Real: Catholics and the Making of Continental Philosophy, Edward Baring suggests that, among the phenomenologists of the 20th century, “the real” has not been a guarantee of reaching God. Observed from this perspective, Spiritualizing Humanity is an important book.
Spiritualizing Humanity describes tremendously committed individuals engaged in an effort to adopt multiple decisions in a continuous process of detaching themselves from an issue, an event, a thought or an affection, until they have acquired a virtuous habit of abandonment. Far from fomenting passive pietism, this attitude of seeing the will of God in everything that happens does not annul the vital initiative of the individual, but rather the contrary. Only the most fundamental practice takes place in the soul or spirit, and – this is crucial – by means of acknowledging the Spirit (in capital letters). Maybe this is the reason why, above anything, Spiritualizing Humanity is a book that ought to be experienced. How will it be received? Will its argument resonate with the many Westerners whose education has inculcated them with an ultra-rationalist fear of the spiritual and with those that know the spiritual theory but lack the tools to put it into practice? The way in which this ambitious project of spiritualizing references the wealth of fields in the book – from social relations to international law, passing through couple relations and the institutions of the state and religion – represents another open project.
The knowledge that AI, high technologies and the world of (crypto) finances offer is a source of power that many desire. This book argues that the spiritualization of one’s life generates much more power than that: the power of living a more fulfilling and a more human life, a life of peace, and ultimately one whose horizon is Eternity. Without a doubt, Spiritualizing Humanity is a profound guide, tremendously useful in the search for personal peace, and one which offers, among the theories of the Anthropocene, an optimistic perspective. God is the most basic and relevant reality. Hence coordinating one’s life with divine reality is the secret of peace – one functions well, so to say, to the beat of one’s existential environment. ♦
Dr. Mónica García-Salmones is Senior Researcher at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law, University of Helsinki and Senior Fellow at the Alvaro d’Ors Chair of Global Law, University of Navarre. She is the author of The Project of Positivism in International Law (OUP, 2014) and ed. of International Law and Religion: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (OUP 2017), (with Martti Koskenniemi and Paolo Amorosa).
García-Salmones, Mónica. “The Creative Peace of Spiritualizing Humanity, by Rafael Domingo Oslé & Gonzalo Rodríguez-Fraile Díaz.” Canopy Forum, July 18, 2022. https://canopyforum.org/2022/07/18/the-creative-peace-of-spiritualizing-humanity-by-rafael-domingo-osle-gonzalo-rodriguez-fraile-diaz/