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Can atheism and spirituality coexist?

Is it possible for an atheist to have a rich spiritual life? One of the things that religion can (in the best cases) provide is a sense of being part of something greater, and of having connection with that something. Atheism may allow that feeling of connection toward the material world (or the human race or something concrete like that), but it seems to lack the sense of mystery and paradox that accompanies what I would call a 'rich spiritual life’.

Posted: August 10th 2007

SmartLX www

Yes, but “spirituality” is a terrible word for it because it gets people thinking about their own concept of literal spirits.

I see nature from a high place, or I look up at the day or night sky, and I get a tremendous sense of the sublime or that something is so much greater than myself. I get the same feeling looking at a skyscraper, thinking of its relative size and the amount of work that went into it. Sends me all philosophical.

No religious belief is needed to delve into the self, meditate upon nothing to try to lose the self or to realise there are thoughts you have never thought, and possibly never can think. This feeling of transcendence or sense of the beyond is available to all.

Those two provide plenty of mystery. The sense of paradox you mention suggests thinking that something impossible is nevertheless true. I would substitute the realisation that something seemingly impossible has a grand, as yet unconceived explanation which we may one day find. That’s a rewarding feeling in itself.

“Spiritual” enough for you?

Posted: November 13th 2007

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logicel

Though I am an atheist, I have been told by several religious believers that I am very spiritual—some even went so far as to state more spiritual than many religious believers they know.

I get taken to task by atheists who balk at my 'spirituality.’ I strongly regard the monopolizing of spirituality by religionists to be a woeful situation. I agree wholeheartedly with Carl Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, that atheists need to embrace spirituality based on natural reality – and not upon the unproven, vague supernatural – with vigor and confidence.

The Glittering Muse describes the non-supernatural spirituality open to atheists superbly in this post.

Posted: August 26th 2007

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John Sargeant www

There is a sense of mystery about the natural world and the Universe. It drives some of us to get out of bed and find out how things are – I really do find the whole concept of existence awe inspiring and that the fact that science is queerer than we can suppose a humbling one.

So I would say that there is a sense of “mystery” there if you like, though perhaps I would say “discovery”.

I remember my mother having a Cliff Richard album that had a song that went “a million different questions fail to get an answer. I think that is why I will always believe”.

I do not think that is required – and the “god of the gaps” is the weakest argument a theist can come up with.

Spirituality to me too is about something more than the self. I would argue that this feeling can be done better outside of religion. You do not need a false premise to fulfill this feeling; there are better ways. That is the fun of being alive – you get to choose them.

Posted: August 26th 2007

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flagellant www

Well, it all depends what you mean by spiritual… I certainly feel part of, and a connection with, ‘something greater’. However, I do not consult ‘lifestyle gurus’, astrologers, seers, psychics or other peddlers of nonsense in pursuit of a greater spirituality. Instead, I marvel at the World around me: among many many other things, I love the smell of the air, the taste of wine, the sound of good music, the beauty of the countryside, and the feel of a warm breeze. With such experiences, that are quasi-religious to me, why should I miss ‘spirituality’?

Then, I have the thrill of knowing that humankind is adding to its knowledge-base at an ever-increasing rate. This doesn’t mean that I am not in awe at the mysteries that surround us. I look forward to hearing more e.g. about the origin of the Universe that will, I hope, be better understood in forthcoming attempts to replicate some of the conditions of the Big Bang. And the answer to, as yet unanswered, questions is: ‘I don’t know’ rather than any supernatural nonsense; there’s enough mystery and paradox in speculating and wondering about possible answers. The insignificant connection I have with the Universe, life, and humanity is sufficiently ‘richly spiritual’ for me.

I get better ‘spiritual’ feelings from listening to exquisite music, looking at fine art, reading good books, and from the very occasional excellent TV programme than I ever did from going to church.

Even in extremis, I feel no need of ‘spiritual’ support. For example, in 1995, I had heart surgery. It never crossed my mind to pray, consult a cleric, or consider that I might be going to another world – I simply resolved to survive by preparing meticulously. I planned how I wanted to waken, first to one of my favourite pieces of music, Mozart’s Requiem (how about that for lack of superstition?), then to see my friends round my bed. Everything went according to plan and now, every morning, I revel in the joy of being alive, again a richly spiritual experience.

But enough of my experience… If a potential atheist thinks that s/he would miss the spiritual aspect, this would suggest that there is room for a greater engagement with life. There is so much to be done, learnt, experienced – yes, and wondered at – and so little time.

Posted: August 14th 2007

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