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.