Atheist Spirituality?

Pondflight (Highland)
Pondflight (Highland)

A HUGE topic!  I keep cycling back to this question.  It’s like my walks around our local ponds:  circle back around, take deep breaths, listen, pay attention, and keep looking for new birds, or snakes!  Always beautiful surprises.  And maybe this is a good definition for the New Spirituality Beyond Spirituality, Religion Beyond Religion and God Beyond God:  Surprise!  Being startled.  Being filled with Wonder at the Beauty, Power and Question-filled Quest that we call Nature and Life and Natural Life.

I’m not sure.

I DO think that Carl Sagan‘s use of the term “Spirituality” or “Spirit” in its oldest sense as “Breath” and “Wind” makes sense.  Not that we NEED to keep using that word.  We don’t.

Naturalist John Burroughs nailed it, I think, when he wrote:

” [‘Religion’ is] not necessarily so much a definite creed or belief as an attraction and aspiration toward the Infinite, or a feeling of awe and reverence inspired by the contemplation of this wonderful and mysterious universe. . . .”

“Science tends more and more to reveal to us the unity that underlies the diversity of nature. . . . Amid all the diversity of creeds and sects we are coming more and more to see that religion is one, that verbal differences and ceremonies are unimportant, and that the fundamental agreements are alone significant. Religion as a key or passport to some other world has had its day; as a mere set of statements or dogmas about the Infinite mystery it has had its day. Science makes us more and more at home in this world.”

Earlier in Accepting the Universe, he says,

“The other world fades as this world brightens. Science has made this world so interesting and wonderful. . .thoughts of another world are becoming foreign to us. [We] feel at home on this planet.”

More at Beyond God

What are Your Thoughts?

Can there be a Non-Spiritual Spirituality?  An Atheist Spirituality?

If so, what does that look like?


7 thoughts on “Atheist Spirituality?

  1. I tend not to use the word spirituality because it’s got so many meanings. I do enjoy meditating. I enjoy working out and concentrating on the movements of my body. I enjoy nature. I suppose those can be seen as spiritual events, depending on the definition being used.

  2. I hear ya, Mike. Meditation has many meanings too, as you know, but I’m with you on the concentration and nature-connection. This is one reason my class on Wild Spirituality of Nature attracts believers and nonbelievers. I still find the words stimulate interesting and often fruitful dialogue. Thanks again for reading!

  3. Last Friday, my brother (a priest-new apostolic) and I met for lunch, we did a quick catch up. .. There was a lull in the conversation…

    Then he asked me about the “atheist” braai (South African bbq) that was happening on Sunday. So I explained we were just meeting up for a social, but probably some discussion will ensue on what we’d be doing in our group – like the charity work or supporting young atheists struggling to find their way. I mentioned this blog to him, and said that I learned a bit about chaplaincy and that we might use it as a guide post for some of our more ambitious support work.

    He looked at me quizzically, “isn’t chaplaincy religious work?”

    “No, it’s spiritual support. Like councilling”

    And then after a while he asked, “so, what is the atheist take on spirituality?”

    I explained that spirituality is a rather personal area and each atheist would be different. I told him my personal view on spirituality, that spirit is in effect the psyche of a person, and spirituality is what keeps that psyche together in some way.

    “So,” he said, “all the times you saw spirits and stuff, that was. .. What?”

    Now this is the actual reason I’ve typed this comment in story form, at that time my only answer was, “I believe that physic energy is real”. I do think there’s something there, even as an atheist and skeptic.

    He seemed satisfied with that sort of vague answer and then we parted ways for the day. I was not happy with my answer though.

    It took a rather random cringe from a woman I had a date with on Sunday, she shuddered while I told her about a building I had seen where the basement levels were flooded.

    “I can’t look at that, there might be spirits in the water”

    Thinking on her reaction, I figured out two things:
    -there is a massive disconnect between people’s understanding of spirituality
    -and through my childhood indoctrination, I had believed Some pretty sick crap that had caused stems of painful imagined experiences.

    I like the idea that atheists still have spirituality, in the form of joy and friendships which connects them.

    But spirits. .. They don’t exist in the way that the judeo-christian nutters would have us all believe.

    1. I’m glad some of the ideas presented here aided your conversation, Emil. I think we’re still on the cutting edge of discovery with much of this and it very well may be that we will need to let some of the (unhelpful?) language slip away eventually. I think maybe you meant “psychic energy”? Hmm. Certainly energy is fundamental to our universe. Maybe you could say more about what you are implying.

      1. Language is the best and worse invention of our species. We can communicate ideas, but sometimes the limitations become glaring. There is no way to communicate a thought in absolute terms through language. Language is interpreted, and that is an act of context, audience experience and language ability. At least we can try, and if we fail in the first instant, we can continue the conversation and reach a closer shared understanding of the subject.

        Yes Chris, I did mean “psychic energy”…I was typing on my lil phablet fingeee and have fat fingers 😛

        A friend and I have over the past few days actually been discussing ideas around telepathy, para-psychoactive(drugs that make you experience paranormal stuff – telepathy and that sort of stuff) and meta-phasic fields {sounds very Star Trek}. The ideas are interesting, mostly unexplored and seen as psuedo-science. But, I often remind people in discussions around fringe science and weird stuff, “The atom was once considered psuedo-science”. We had to create tools to have an actual look at it; we had create an entire new branch of science to understand it.

        I think that some people are more intuitive and sensitive to energy fields (EMF, quantum [insert field name here]), some to the point of being able to interpret those ‘sensations’/’senses’ into real visualisations from their origins. E.g. A clairvoyant picking up someone’s emotions or thoughts.

        As a sceptic, I keep an open, but questioning mind about such subjects. We are still learning more about the universe we live in, we may not have the tools to detect or analyse psychic fields; worse, no one really sees money in figuring out how or if such things work and exist.

        I’m hopeful that science will reveal how these experience work, if they are real at all.

  4. Ah yes, Emil. I guess this is where an “open skeptic” mind is useful. I think I would be more comfortable with “brain wave/energy” study and discussion rather than the “charged” term psychic which most often implies the supernatural. I agree though, there is a vast amount we do not know about the wonders of the universe (humble humans as we need to be). Speculation is one thing, theory is another thing, but woozy weird guesses are quite something else!

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