Within NeoPaganism, and within the majority of world religions, major or no, emphasis is placed on the desirability of cultivating and developing the “spiritual self”, irrespective of whether this is referred to as the soul, atman, spirit, higher self, etc. Obviously this is a large part of most religions, as religion (as opposed to a belief system or world view, e.g. secular humanism) by definition incorporates “a belief in a transcendent and/or supernatural dimension to existence.”
However, a major issue that I have with this is that it proposes the furtherment over this spiritual self, often at the expense of the physical self, or in the immediate world. Consider, if you will, the perspectives of a Christian (for simplicity’s sake I’m using it as a generic term) monk and a Buddhist (particularly Zen or Mahayan) monk:
The Christian monk focuses on spiritual development for the prospect of the life after the one on earth, and therefore sequesters themselves in a monastery, focusing their energy entirely on the spiritual/mental plane, rather than their current physical actions (except where those actions facilitate the aforementioned).
By contrast, the Buddhist monk (in the Zen school particularly) focuses on the immediate incarnation – the philosophy is, to express it in an extremely simplified manner, effectively “don’t concern yourself with what was or what might be, but only with what is.” As such, they place large emphasis on what is referred to in the dharma as “right actions”, “right words”, etc.
I’m of the belief that both of these approaches to religious living have arguments for and against them, but personally I think that a truly spiritual life is created through the syncretisation of the above. That is, yes, spiritual development in preparation for the afterlife is important, but that should also be manifested on earth, in this incarnation, through your words, deeds, thoughts, etc. After all, that is really do the Gods’ work, to my mind.
Of course, as someone who believes in reincarnation as the process by which we develop as a spiritual individual, it’s logical that this progression occurs when we demonstrate our development and growth in a tangible manner; try to be a good person in this life, and it has an impact on the spiritual plane too.
Just a thought.