Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘atheist spirituality’

From The Book of Atheist Spirituality

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 12, 2010

I think the reviewer who suggested The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality should be read along with the current offerings from Dawkins, Dennet et al was right. It’s fairly erudite, as one would expect from a French philosopher, but also readable, especially if one has a basic grasp of this field. I think believers as well as atheists would find this book worthwhile.

I won’t consider here whether he makes a good case for his question Can There Be An Atheist Spirituality?, especially as I haven’t finished it yet. I did find his writing enjoyable and stimulating so before the book goes back to the library I’ll drop in a few quotes:

As shown in the first chapter, we are finite beings who open on to infinity. It can now be added: we are ephemeral beings who open on to eternity, and relative beings who open on to the absolute. This ‘openness’ is the spirit itself. Metaphysics means thinking about these things; spirituality means experiencing them, exercising them, living them.

night sky

This is what distinguishes spirituality from religion, which is merely one of its possible forms. … All religions involve spirituality, at least to some extent, but all forms of spirituality are not religious. Whether or not you believe in God, the supernatural or the sacred, you are confronted with the infinite, the eternal and the absolute – and with yourself. Nature suffices. The truth suffices. Our own transitory finiteness suffices. …

To be an atheist is not to deny the existence of the absolute; rather, it is to deny its transcendance, its spirituality, its personality. It is to deny that the absolute is God. But to be not-God is not to not be! Otherwise we ourselves and the world itself, would not be!

Does the word absolute bother you? I understand. I, too, long shied away from it. Indeed, nothing prevents you from replacing it with another. Being? Nature? Becoming? With or without a capital letter? Everyone is free to choose their own vocabulary and I know of none that are faultless.

If we decide to take the word spirituality in its more restricted sense, we shall need to go further and higher: at its utmost, spiritual life verges on mysticism.

Here again, it too me a long time to accept the latter word. To my suspicious ears, it had a religious or irrational ring to it. Eventually, however, I was forced to acknowledge that it was the only word that fitted.

~ Andre Comte-Sponville, quotes from pp 136 – 141

Read more by me on this topic here.

Some music to help you feel spiritual? Carbon Based Lifeforms:

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Posted in atheism, Philosophy, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Nature Was Sacred

Posted by spritzophrenia on May 14, 2010

Now, an atheist can not believe in the conventional religious gods of the culture and still feel a great sense of the sacred, even if you don’t call it sacred. And there are many people, great scientists, who feel this way.

When I was younger I was totally allergic to what I saw as religion: Judaism and even worse, Christianity—it was my enemy. But I loved nature, and for me nature was sacred. I didn’t use that word, but it made me quiet; it made me feel a sense of something greater than myself; it made me wish to serve something. So I was an atheist, but I recall it as spiritual—a spiritual atheism.

~ Jacob Needham on atheists feeling religious emotions.

Nature

More on Atheist Spirituality here.

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Posted in atheism, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Days of Nothing

Posted by spritzophrenia on April 16, 2010

I want to record how it is when there is just the material world. No spirituality, nothing spiritual. No God, no Krishna, nothing to connnect with when you meditate.

There are trees, sun, houses, cars, pavement, earth. Nothing more. No feeling. Nothing imparting these things with life, with transcendance. Nothing.

There is no happiness, no sadness, no meaning, no lack of meaning. Just nothing. The world exists, rolls on. I sit and observe. I’m not concerned or upset. It is what it is. (Without a person to give it meaning, is it anything?) There is a certain kind of detachment. Biology creeps across the hillsides. People walk alone in the late afternoon sun. And nothing.

Posted in agnostic, atheism | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Atheist Spirituality: Real Poetry?

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 5, 2010

A beautiful and moving vid for anyone, like me, with a background in or appreciation of Science. Or just of beauty.

I’m a regular reader of Santi Tafarella’s Prometheus Unbound. It’s relevant to my recent posts on atheist spirituality; I was going to partially quote, but I really can’t do better than

This Is What Atheist Spirituality Looks Like?

I kind of like the above video, but there’s also a part of me that feels the undercurrents of a hijack, not just of religion, but of poetry: scientists unweaving Keats’s rainbow and replacing it with, well, this. And notice the Christmasy church bell feel that starts the video is soon followed by the not so subtle anti-Platonic and anti-Kantian refrain of Richard Dawkins:

“There’s real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality.”

But if science is the poetry of reality, then what is religion and poetry, well, good for? What are they the poetry of? The refrain would seem to suggest an either-or, not a both-and: you’re either a science-literate person enmeshed in the poetry of the real (material) world, or a muddle-head living in Don Quixote Land.

But is life really this simple and easy to coherently integrate? Is it just the perversity of the theist and poet that makes things seem more complicated than they really are? At one level, of course, science is the poetic map of the material world, revealing the contours of its poetry. But at another level a philosophical question must always linger behind the empirical: why should the material world show itself to have any poetic contours at all? Why, in other words, is the material world a cosmos and not Shakespeare’s sound and fury signifying nothing (that is, a chaos)?

Afterall, the universe signifies or it doesn’t. Which is it? Chance can’t signify. Chance means zip. So where is the space for atheist spirituality and feelings of wonder except in the sublimation of chance and the illusion (delusion?) that the universe answers the questions we put to it with harmony and significations? But the atheist universe is a text without an author, so how can anything that is not an author—or the product of an author—signify?

William Blake called the universe without the human imagination a desert. I agree. But the chance universe, actually devoid of independent significations, births intentional ghosts by the billions who are full of significations (that is, us). Isn’t that interesting? The poetry is not in the blind mechanisms of the stars, but in ourselves, Horatio. And, well, how did we get here? 

Maybe there’s still room for religion and poetry after all.

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Posted in atheism, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mystical Experience in a Godless Universe

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 12, 2010

I’ve always found something about deserts beautiful. When I was sixteen, two friends and I spent 5 days tramping around Tongariro National Park. Much of the landscape is volcanic desert and I still have a memory of walking out alone into the rocks and sand of the Oturere basin. The sense of loneliness, sadness and beauty in the evening sunset was profound.

Yesterday I wrote about atheist spirituality, which generated a reasonable amount of traffic and a few comments. From this I can deduce that a) Atheists find talking about their spirituality interesting or b) Non-atheists like atheists talking about their spirituality or c) Google’s finally found me (but Google doesn’t actually find a great deal) or d) It’s really kinda hard to interpret much from traffic stats. Anyway, I want to follow up on a few points.

For example, do atheists pray? Does this violate some kind of atheist code, is it the unforgiveable sin? There’s an old saying – which I’m sure many atheists hate – “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Well I’m not so sure that screaming “Fuuuuck!” in your head counts as prayer. Actually, it probably does – I rather like how Anne Lamott‘s prayers mostly go “Help!”, and she’s not an atheist so that makes her an expert. From my experience, many christians would agree with her.

As an open agnostic, I can pray. I just don’t know if anyone is out there to hear me. I guess atheists wouldn’t pray, it would be inconsistent, right? They might meditate, but if we meditate, it would need to be totally divorced from g0ds or the Buddha. I’ve already written about the common misperception in the West that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. One former Buddhist writes

Once inside Buddhism you find out that belief in afterlife (rebirth), karma as a moral retribution law, the omniscience of Buddha, miracles of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas, pure lands, complete obedience to one’s guru, sins (bad karma), gods (“devas”), supernatural powers, etc, are all seen as fundamental beliefs in Buddhism.

Perhaps we can turn to more naturalistic spiritual experiences? Viewing a nice sunset perhaps? Being caught up in the beauty of music? Comte-Sponville’s “mystical” experiences involving a sense of “infinite happiness”, an “eternal sense of peace”, and the “dazzling presence of the All” sound rather like drug experiences that can be had on MDMA (ecstasy) and certain hallucinogens. An ex who is a committed user of such drugs nevertheless insists that drugs are not a spiritual experience. But then, maybe she’s not defining spiritual experience very well? If spiritual experiences are really just intense emotional or mystical experiences and don’t require a g0d or spirit world then maybe these drug experiences are, in fact, spiritual experiences. This topic is one I’m planning some guest blogs and a little debate on.

Atheist Left Coast Librul writes: “Human beings are by their very nature spiritual. I wonder if theists would resist atheists quite so fervently if we were more willing to admit that simple fact.” Non-atheist Lou Kavar suggests some definitions of spirituality that doesn’t necessarily require a g0d, although the rest of his post probably goes beyond what most atheists would be comfortable with: “Spirituality is a dimension of life we each have. It is the dimension that enables to us to create, discover, or encounter something about meaning, purpose and value in life.”

Julian Baggini concludes his article on Spirituality for Atheists with “Personally, I’d like to banish the word ‘spiritual’. It misleads us into thinking that we need more than the world we live in as physical, organic beings. What we think of as ‘spiritual is simply those things – love, morality, values and meaning – that make us creatures with rich inner lives.” Sabio, a commentter on yesterday’s blog would also like to leave the word “spirit” out.

Agnostic Pentecostal, commented yesterday and asks of atheist spirituality

how it’s possible? In my mind, even a pantheistic-type (or panentheistic) “other” is still representative of something/one beyond. To me, this is a “theos,” regardless of the nature we ascribe it, whether we call that Eywa, great spirit, Nature, Universe, or God…even if it has a lowercase “g.” I like the idea of atheistic spirituality but in my mind, whatever you replace “God” with is still a God.

Of the two friends I shared my desert spirituality experience, both were atheists. Ross blew his brains out with a shotgun several years ago. Tony, who argued vehemently with me over theism in his late teens moved to England, got married and is now a christian. Me, I prefer just being alone in the desert. I think it’s about time I went camping there again with my son. Perhaps if g0d is real she might choose to meet me there.

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listening to Blue Oyster Cult | Don’t Fear the Reaper
Today’s Fun Unrelated Link Cool! Stop-motion animated T-Shirt Fight

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Posted in atheism, Mysticism, personal, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Atheist Spirituality

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 11, 2010

Can you be an atheist and be spiritual? I came across philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville’s Book of Atheist Spirituality in Unity books yesterday. I haven’t read it yet, but I’d like to. [Edit: I’ve now read more, see this post]

Comte-Sponville is not the only atheist using words that we might expect of a religious devotee. As I wrote previously, Christopher Hitchens uses the word ‘numinous’ about certain experiences. Also see The O Project’s Spirituality for Atheists. I recall the sense of wonder Carl Sagan used to evoke in me as a youngster with his excellent Cosmos television series, and I’ve speculated on the non-theistic spirituality of Avatar.

Author Comte-Sponville has had a number of “spiritual” or “mystical” experiences involving a sense of “infinite happiness”, an “eternal sense of peace”, and the “dazzling presence of the All”. These experiences apparently lasted for only a few seconds but they were the “most beautiful moments of his life”. Is it valid to describe such experiences as “spiritual” or “mystical”? Comte-Sponville also writes about being so absorbed in an activity that we lose all sense of self or ego, and that this is a kind of ecstasy.

An amazon review writes

He considers matters of emotion, like the “oceanic feeling” and our response to the immensity of the Universe. These are often taken to be religious feelings, but Comte-Sponville show how they can be better and more coherently understood, and enjoyed, from an atheist viewpoint. He brings in Western philosophers, like Spinoza and Nietzsche, and Eastern philosophers, like Nagarjuna and Lao-Tzu, to bolster his arguments for an atheist approach to spiritual concepts and feelings like simplicity, unity, silence, eternity, serenity, acceptance, and eternity. He certainly left me feeling more serene, and with a more unified idea of what spirituality might mean for an atheist. His argument that religious spirituality involves a temporality that is not needed in an atheist spirituality is particularly strong, and there are many other arguments that reveal the depth and subtlety of his thinking.

Daylight Atheism commends “its approachable, open tone. Comte-Sponville defends atheism firmly, but gently. At times, as I said, I found him almost too conciliatory; but I think a believer would find this book very non-threatening, and might be led to read it and gain a better understanding of the atheist viewpoint.” Several commenters on other sites praise the book highly, one suggesting it should be read along with current works by Richard Dawkins, David Dennet et al.

I’m not convinced speaking of spirituality is useful in this context. By “spiritual” experience are we merely meaning something that is profoundly moving or perhaps emotional? Is this part of a cunning atheist plot ™ to appropriate spirituality from the religious domain? “Look, not only does your position not hold water, but we can also mimic the experiences you supposedly hold the key to”.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali wrote, “Andre Comte-Sponville has written a truly inspiring essay. Using logic that is thoughtful and profound, he makes it possible to see that human goodness need not be divinely inspired to be beautiful, and that the meaning of life comes from life itself. Many will find comfort in his assertion that love, trust and ethical behavior are possible without belief in the supernatural. This is an uplifting and timely tribute to Godless spirituality.”

I suppose spirituality could refer to anything ‘supernatural’ that doesn’t involve a god. I once knew an atheist who was a fervent believer in astrology, a system that I find rather absurd.

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If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Mystical Experience in a Godless Universe, Nature Was Sacred and Atheist Spirituality : Real Poetry?

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Posted in agnostic, atheism, Christianity, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

 
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