How Atheists Are Also Often Spiritual

Can an athe­ist be spir­i­tu­al?

I posed this ques­tion on social media and the respons­es ranged from the resound­ing­ly affir­ma­tive to out­right neg­a­tive. Exam­ple of the affir­ma­tive:

Cer­tain­ly. I’m an athe­ist, but I spend more time think­ing about spir­i­tu­al things & read­ing reli­gious books than most the­ists I know.”

And the neg­a­tive:

The word spir­it embod­ies some­thing incor­po­re­al and athe­ists should not not have a prob­lem with it.”

I have vis­it­ed this ques­tion sev­er­al times over the years and have tend­ed towards the affir­ma­tive.

It seems the objec­tion to athe­ists being spir­i­tu­al comes from an assump­tion that all athe­ists are mate­ri­al­ists. Since “spir­it”, “soul”, etc. are imag­i­nary con­cepts with­out phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tions, an athe­ist should log­i­cal­ly reject them. But athe­ism does not log­i­cal­ly imply mate­ri­al­ism.

The root cause of the ambi­gu­i­ty sur­round­ing this issue is that spir­i­tu­al­i­ty has no uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed def­i­n­i­tion. When a con­cept remains unde­fined, sub­jec­tive inter­pre­ta­tions fol­low, lead­ing to con­tra­dic­to­ry opin­ions and dis­agree­ments.

Through­out his­to­ry, spir­i­tu­al­ism has been hijacked by reli­gion. After twen­ty one cen­turies of record­ed human exis­tence, one finds it dif­fi­cult to dis­cuss spir­i­tu­al­i­ty with­out being under the shad­ow of orga­nized reli­gion. That is sad and athe­ists are to blame. Which is why this post.

As an aside, also observe how the tra­di­tion­al age-old busi­ness of reli­gious gurus has now evolved to encom­pass the agnos­tics and athe­ists by the advent of spir­i­tu­al gurus.

I will not attempt at a def­i­n­i­tion of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but I will try to arrive at a mean­ing agree­able to most athe­ists, that helps the the­ists and agnos­tics under­stand how we athe­ists con­sid­er our­selves to be spir­i­tu­al.

Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is expe­ri­enc­ing a con­nec­tion between some­thing deep inside you and some­thing unknown in the out­side world, an expe­ri­ence in which your self dis­solves into noth­ing­ness and you are one with the uni­verse.

The usu­al word used for “some­thing deep inside you” is “soul” but I pur­pose­ly avoid­ed using it, since it can lead to fur­ther ambi­gu­i­ties. And yes, we athe­ists are com­fort­able with the fact that there are still lim­its to human knowl­edge, that we still need to refer to “some­thing” deep inside you, and that many things in this uni­verse are still unknown to us. We just don’t ascribe a God to them.

Some athe­ists expe­ri­ence this con­nec­tion dur­ing med­i­ta­tion. Some when play­ing a sport, when they lose their con­scious­ness and play sub­lime­ly. Some when gaz­ing at the Milky Way. Some when lis­ten­ing to some par­tic­u­lar music. Some when dri­ving a car on an emp­ty road. Some when intox­i­cat­ed. Some when play­ing chess. Some when hyp­no­tized. Some when watch­ing dis­tant galax­ies through a tele­scope. Some when read­ing. Some when hik­ing on a moun­tain trail. Some when writ­ing, as I am right now.

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