Spiritual Atheism

Something that I have always struggled to convey to people, even those who know me well, is my attitude toward spirituality and atheism (more precisely, the combination of the two). It seems that the vast majority of individuals believe that they are incompatible. And I can understand why. On paper, atheism is a lack of belief while spirituality is having belief. But the world is never so black and white, and this is one gray area that I truly enjoy embracing. As such, it’s one of the primary philosophies in my book.

At the risk of shameless self-promotion, one of my favorite quotes from Island of Echoes states that “the organization of something as immaterial as spirituality is bound to fail.” But that does not mean that I frown upon concepts of spirituality. I simply don’t believe that organized religion has any real value in the world. In fact, as Richard Dawkins points out in his documentary, Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life, organized religion does a lot more harm to a person’s psychology than atheism.

I enjoyed the documentary and agreed with much of its content, but it annoyed me how often umbrella terms describing all atheists were used. Unlike Dawkins’ other films, this one was particularly aimed at discrediting ideas of sin, the afterlife, and the soul. People who believe in ideas beyond the tangible were ridiculed in no uncertain terms. I wish it was an isolated incident, but sadly I see the trend across many organizations, including humanistic ones. It saddens me to see atheism being portrayed as an “all or nothing” club.

A closed mind is a very unhealthy thing. It leads to radicalism and ignorance, two things that almost always end up with disaster. Now that our world is becoming more atheistic, and with more people discarding the tenets of organized religion, should we begin a dialogue about keeping an open mind from the other side of the coin?

Auras are a perfect example. For millennia, people have believed that our bodies give off a tangible field which is felt by others and which demonstrates our feelings. It was a ridiculed concept by scientists… until it wasn’t. What changed? Electricity. With the knowledge of electrical currents came the discovery that our bodies do produce a tangible electrical field, one that indeed does change in intensity and size depending on our emotions. Does that mean that science books now list auras as proven concept? No. But does it mean the ancients were completely wrong? Also no.

While it’s true that I do not believe in a deity of any kind, why should that discredit the idea of a soul or an afterlife? I’m not saying that I do, but I also don’t see why the concepts need to be tied together. At one point in Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life, Richard Dawkins discusses how energy never truly disappears. It simply transforms into something else. That’s a scientific fact. Our bodies produce energy. That is also a scientific fact. So why is it so far-fetched to say that the energy our bodies produce will transform into something else upon death?

Our universe is a wonderful place. I hate seeing religious people telling others what to believe, but it also bothers me when non-religious people tell others what they shouldn’t believe. So long as violence, hate, and oppression are not promoted, there’s no harm in belief beyond the tangible. There’s too much left for us to discover and explore to set the rigid boundaries which people have a tendency to do. I think it serves us well to keep an open mind about spiritual concepts and I’d love to see other atheists feel the same. At the end of the day, kindness and respect will do a lot more than forcing your viewpoint on someone else. There are many uncertainties out there… let’s embrace them together.