ARE we human beings on a spiritual journey or spiritual beings on a human journey? The question has been mused upon by countless philosophers, religious observers and psychologists, and to explore it requires taking an insightful, inquisitive look at one’s own beliefs and ideas.

The question isn’t simply trying to probe the existence of spirituality, but to understand the nature of it and why it matters. French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, for example, believed that spirituality was embroidered into the fabric of life itself, writing: “There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter. No other substance but this could produce the human molecule.”

Others, of course, disagree. Many great philosophers have offered counter theories dismissing the notion of God or a supernatural existence, instead relying on logic and science to understand human nature.

The wonderful thing about these questions is that they makes philosophers of all of us. We have our own unique opinions and ideas about who and what we are, and whether anything beyond our current knowledge and understanding exists.

It was fascinating to see, this week, the results of a survey conducted on behalf of the Humanist Society Scotland. It found that many Scots (59 per cent) consider themselves to be unreligious, but that many still believe in supernatural beings like angels (29 per cent) and demons (25 per cent). There may be a decline in the observance of traditional religious ideas, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to full-blown atheism. I’d like to know more.

I’ve always felt that the exploration of this ground is a much more crucial thing for human development than it’s given credit for. Being raised in a religious environment doesn’t only involve soaking up knowledge about the religion itself: there’s a much more philosophical aspect which demands deep reflection on the self; the nature of good and bad; what motivates us to behave in the way we do versus what we should be motivated by; and the effect that our characters and personalities have on the world around us.

This by no means produces perfect societies, but it offers a grounding for the values they aspire to hold and live by. If we’re living in a world where organised religion – and by dint, the organised aspect of its moral interrogation – is of decreasing relevance to daily life, where do we take our moral lessons from? And when there’s a lack of strict religious observance reinforcing ideas of spirituality and the supernatural combined with an ever-developing understanding of the world around us which people in days of old relied on religion to explain, why is there still a persistent belief in the existence of things like angels and demons?

It could be purely for comfort, and a way for the unequipped human being to come to terms with its own inevitable demise, but I’ve often felt that it runs deeper than that. Just as humans are social beings who require regular interaction with other people in order to live healthy and fulfilling lives, perhaps it’s possible that we are also spiritual beings who need an ability to question our existence in a philosophical way in order to create a moral framework underpinned by something more emotive than just plain logic. While I love to read the writings of philosophers of old who grappled with ideas about God and spirituality, it feels comparatively uncool these days to do the same. There is a tone of mockery among some strands of atheism which ridicules those who understand the world through the lens of anything supernatural rather than scientific. For younger people, religion and spirituality simply seem boring and judgemental.

In yesterday’s Herald, religious studies scholar Dr Chris Cotter was quoted as saying that global crises often become prompts for a personal, moral re-examination: “There is a quite convincing line of argument that the less secure we are – financially, economically, socially, and so on – the more likely we are to look beyond what we can see and hear,” he said. “And with Brexit, Trump, etc this is unsurprising.”

However, how and where this contemplation takes place may be what requires the biggest shake-up. Traditional places of worship, like churches, don’t appear to be luring spiritual seekers back. On a social level, the bonds of community have been damaged by a double whammy of a decreasing number of public spaces as libraries and community centres have closed right across the country, and an obsession and addiction to technology and devices which encourage us to interact in ways that don’t truly satisfy our needs as social beings.

Spirituality, morality and religion, or discussion of these things at the very least, need a modern makeover. These are deep concepts, but they are also obvious ones for us to want to talk about. The dismissiveness with which they are sometimes treated, as well as a sneering denigration from some towards anyone with an interest, prevents us from re-establishing our morals in a world that badly needs them.