IFS, Spirituality, and Atheism

I am an Atheist. If you didn’t already figure that out, there it is for you.

IFS borders, and sometimes blurs the borders of, spirituality. Dick Schwartz has found evidence for his explanation of how our inner system works in every major religion. I have no doubt he has. Most religious books are written vaguely enough that you can find nearly anything you want.

My experience studying religion is that they do have a lot in common. Outside, even, their desire to dominate the lives of their followers. If you read through them (well, most of them, there is one that was just straight up pro-violence–no, it’s not Islam) you can find things that ordinary people find important. There are ideals for families, making peace, and other teachings that, if followed, their writers hope will bring contentment to the lives of their followers. The promise of happy families, peaceful and contented lives, is what draws most people to religion.

While I spent most of my life in religion, I struggled in those years to feel what other people told me I was supposed to feel. When I left religion, I did not become one of those Atheists who very honestly says they miss the spirituality of religion. That might be because I didn’t leave until I started an honest investigation of its truth claims. Whatever the reason, I am still not a spiritual person.

There is a lot of talk in IFS about spirituality. One of the reasons is, as Schwartz has explained multiple times, there is not a solid explanation in science for what goes on inside our heads, but there seems to be in most religions. The other is that the vast majority of people have some sort of spiritual component in their genetic make up that seems to make them seek out that sort of thing.

That spiritual ideas are used by some in IFS is something I struggled with at first. I’m not the kind of scientific minded person who says, “Well, if there’s no scientific explanation right now, this idea/notion/whatever obviously doesn’t exist.” I just figure if science doesn’t know now, it’s because we haven’t been able to achieve that level of knowledge yet. Lack of current knowledge doesn’t confound me or bother me. I’ve read enough science history to know that just because we don’t understand now, doesn’t mean we will never will.

I know, however, that many people are not comfortable with that. They want answers now. To me, religion is a place for people who have no patience to wait for the truth, so it is natural for people who demand immediate answers to turn to it. When I hear Schwartz make reference to religion, that causes me to consider how he is referencing it. Is it truly a rush for an explanation, like it sounds at first blush? I asked, for example, is he shifting the narrative of the therapy to be more in line with religion? Also, because his main focus seems to be Buddhism, is he changing the nature of IFS to bring it in line with all of the beliefs of Buddhism?

So far I cannot see that he has done that at all. I have read through some Buddhist texts and found it as victim blaming as all other religions. I also found it as dismissive of earthly suffering as all the others. IFS is the complete opposite of those religious ideals. Schwartz has not changed the non-pathologizing nature of IFS, which would have to be done to bring it in line with most religions. He has not changed the idea that all parts are good and necessary. That also would have to be changed if he was trying to make it truly compatible, even with many liberal religions.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, he is simply doing what almost everyone does, trying to understand his experiences and finding answers in more than one area. I don’t see this as a problem. There are things in almost each religion that are true. We should love others and be kind to them, we should care about the earth, we should respect the beliefs of others. Those can be found throughout various religious texts and they are good ideas. To me that does not indicate that they are sole arbiters of truth, only that human beings wrote them to reflect human ideals.

From my experience in both religion and science, I am confident in the knowledge that at some point in the future, science will discover the exact reason IFS works. Religion, as always, will be forced to conform to those facts, or it will be forced to isolate itself from reality in the way that Fundamentalists always do in all religions.

That many people in IFS are able to conform their religion to fit the facts of IFS does not trouble me at all. It’s how the human mind generally works–trying to fit the world around us into what we already believe is true. It’s actually, when you think about it, more proof that science is right.