Spirituality for atheists

  • seven_deadly_...

    Posts: 104

    May 31, 2010 6:15 AM GMT
    I was raised as and consider myself an atheist. I don't believe in God or an afterlife and don't have any strong/well defined spiritual beliefs. I've often felt that I'm missing something - some spiritual component of life. I'm not talking about religion and have no desire to join an organzed religion, but at the same time I feel...unnourished in this area. It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.

    I'm wondering if there are any other atheists or agnostics who have felt this way and, if so, what they've done about it.
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    May 31, 2010 1:54 PM GMT
    Hey, Bill's an atheist. Here is a great article about atheism and spirituality.

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/Spirituality.htm


    -Doug

    PS I'm christian. This is my fav site,

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/statbelief.htm


    and I've linked to the site's statement of beliefs. Look at website's staff.

    "We are a multi-faith group. As of 2010-FEB, we consist of one Atheist, Agnostic, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist. Thus, the OCRT staff lack agreement on almost all theological matters, such as belief in a supreme being, the nature of God, interpretation of the Bible and other holy texts, whether life after death exists, what form the afterlife may take, etc.

    We do believe:
    In the inherent worth of every person. People are worthy of respect, support, and caring simply because they are human. Unfortunately, we have not reached a consensus on when human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person. On this matter, our lack of agreement on when personhood begins mirrors that of society at large.

    In working towards a culture that is relatively free of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, physical disability, age, body shape, etc.
    In the sanctity of the human person. We oppose the use of torture and cruel or unusual punishment including the death penalty. 1

    In the importance of democracy within religious, political and other structures.

    In the separation of religion and state; and the freedoms of speech, association, and expression. 2

    That the systems of truth that we have studied on the topics of morals, ethics, and religious belief are often considered absolute within various religions and secular belief systems. However, they are obviously relative because they vary greatly by culture, by religion, and over time. 3

    In the generally positive influence that most religions have had on their followers and on society. 4

    In the importance of individual believers determining evil influences and policies that currently exist within their chosen faith group, and strongly advocating for their correction. If change is impossible, they should consider withholding financial support or leaving the group.

    In the importance of education. We believe that people are not truly educated unless they have studied the world's major religions and ethical systems. They need to learn of both the good and evil impacts that each has had on society. 5"

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    May 31, 2010 2:21 PM GMT
    seven_deadly_monkeys saidI was raised as and consider myself an atheist. I don't believe in God or an afterlife and don't have any strong/well defined spiritual beliefs. I've often felt that I'm missing something - some spiritual component of life. I'm not talking about religion and have no desire to join an organzed religion, but at the same time I feel...unnourished in this area. It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.

    I'm wondering if there are any other atheists or agnostics who have felt this way and, if so, what they've done about it.


    i've come to believe more and more that "spirituality" is the mind's accounting for not knowing it all. it's like the mind generalizes all that it takes in through the senses, and because that brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, the mind then has to account for that "something else out there" that it is missing.

    you can either be afraid of the unknowing, which means you create a God to manage all that you don't know (and there is a LOT), or you accept it and accept the chaos in your life and your mind's inability to cope with uncertainty.

    i personally believe that it takes not only a ton of courage to take the latter step, but a certain amount of either naivete or a conscious effort to ignore that nagging feeling of not knowing...otherwise, it's too damned scary. it is the absolute opposite of what the mind is wired for. and so it falls into the "scary as hell" category and chases itself back into "sanity" by latching onto to a category it can account for...even if it is irrational. (we are crazy by definition).

    physics has begun to describe gravity, time, and the sub-atomic level that goes beyond atoms and nutrinos...but they still can't account for consciousness. that point alone is probably enough to chase most people into religion. again, there is so much the mind doesn't know, and when it is confronted with that, it freaks out and looks for some "answer" or "pattern" or "explanation" to make it feel better.

    montheism is dying along with tribalism. eventually we will all take the intermediate buddhist step which will be to acknowledge the bigness of all things, but side-step the unnecessary intermediary God-step. God is a middle man, an unnecessary relay between what we can ever know and what we can never know.

    chin up...you haven't lost anything. but you will have to reckon with your own unknowing...
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    May 31, 2010 2:40 PM GMT
    Of course you feel empty if you're looking for "spirituality" and you're an atheist! Atheism is a rejection of the supernatural. I think that you can find the kind of "spirituality" you are looking for by learning more about the incredible (godless) universe you live in. There is so much fascinating beauty and knowledge to be gained. If you have an interest in the beauty of life, read some of Richard Dawkins books on evolution and genetics; I recommend the classic "The Selfish Gene" and also "The Ancestors Tale" and if you are looking for a stronger and more supported atheism then read the much-hyped but very compelling "God Delusion". Books on geology and human history are always interesting as well.

    Traveling as widely as possible to as varied locations as possible will teach you more about the planet and allow you to see some wonderful and sometimes frustrating other cultures. You will also have a chance to see what you have in common with people that you might have considered very different.

    To stir your soul (I omit quotation marks but hopefully you understand the metaphor) I would recommend spending more time with great art-- even religious art-- you do not need to be believe to be moved by it. Beautiful architecture; great paintings; music, especially classical if you give it time will all give you a sense of beauty and proportion that makes life more enjoyable.

    In short, live your life fully so that you don't feel empty!

    PS Does anyone else suspect this thread is a religious plant?
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    May 31, 2010 2:45 PM GMT
    " PS Does anyone else suspect this thread is a religious plant?"

    Good question....but no, I don't. I think he's quite genuine and is an atheist curious about agnostic perspective.

    -Doug
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    May 31, 2010 2:45 PM GMT
    Me too, altough I have dabbled in spirituality over the years. The closest thing I have found that is practical is Buddhism. An in truth it is more of a philosophy than a religion, based more on quantum physics than walking on water, virgin births, etc.

    I really do think that the whole meditative process brings positive energy and a little something extra. If you find yourself put off by the lore, just meditate.

  • seven_deadly_...

    Posts: 104

    May 31, 2010 3:25 PM GMT
    Hey all - thanks for the replies.

    Bill - thanks especially for the article. It helped me realize that I don't have an exact personal definition for spirituality. The sense of wonder inspired by the natural world resonates most strongly as what may work as my spirituality.

    That dovetails very neatly with srqhottie's recommendation to travel and learn more about the world, which I'm in complete agreement with

    I think rangard has a point, too. This feeling may be a result of the uncertainty inherent in life. I'm actually reading a book right now that talks about the courage it takes to live in uncertainty and the freedom available by doing the same.

    Finally, xuareb, I've thought about exploring Budhism, which seems pretty innocuous, but ultimately don't think I'd be comfortable operating within any kind of formalized religous structure.

    PS: I'm not a religous plant. I promise. icon_smile.gif

  • hawk_eagle

    Posts: 6

    May 31, 2010 4:08 PM GMT
    Meditation doesn't have anything to do with Buddhism. I'm a former buddhist and decided to meditate by myself. Actually we have a group of meditation in my city. For me, was the answer for spirituality. As a biologist I am always in touch with nature. With the meditation practice my comprehension and admiration about life was widened.

    That's my tip for you! icon_wink.gif
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 4:21 PM GMT
    seven_deadly_monkeys said It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.



    What does that mean, "spiritual self"?
  • seven_deadly_...

    Posts: 104

    May 31, 2010 4:35 PM GMT
    Delivis said
    seven_deadly_monkeys said It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.



    What does that mean, "spiritual self"?


    That's a great question. Part of the challenge is that I don't have a personal and clearly defined sense of spirituality.

    If pressed for a definition right now, I'd say it includes a sense of wonder at the beauty, complexity, and vastness of our universe; dealing with the uncertainty that comes from thinking of the same; and figuring out whether faith has any place in my life. Again, not religous faith or faith in God. More like faith in the inherent goodness of our fellow men and women. Or faith in the power of the human spirit. Or faith in love. I'm just kind of doing a stream of consciouness thing now...and I realize I've gotten a bit sappy. icon_smile.gif

    Hawk_Eagle - thanks for the tip! What kind of meditation do you practice?

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    May 31, 2010 4:39 PM GMT
    Delivis said
    seven_deadly_monkeys said It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.



    What does that mean, "spiritual self"?


    There's been a great many books on the topic of spirituality, coinciding with New Age "awakenings" by authors in the 60s and 70s. Once a term becomes a part of the lexicon ("spirituality is some fifth aspect of humans", etc.) often the concept goes unexamined.

    The concept of spirituality is not one typically embraced by atheists and agnostics, because it's generally viewed as a psychological construct, a yearning without words.
  • DrewT

    Posts: 1327

    May 31, 2010 5:12 PM GMT
    Spirituality and a connectedness to others is something we crave, I think. I don't prescribe to religion or organized religion because it doesn't work for me, it's all so buried under text.

    I do chakra meditation and this makes me feel closer to the good out there, and connects me to the universe. It may not work for everyone, but it has worked for me. Here is a site that I used when I first started out.

    http://www.eclecticenergies.com/chakras/

    My personal philosophy is that if we neglect the self (body/mind/spirit) then that can lead to physical manifestations that aren't good.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 5:29 PM GMT
    mickeytopogigio said
    Delivis said
    seven_deadly_monkeys said It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.



    What does that mean, "spiritual self"?


    There's been a great many books on the topic of spirituality, coinciding with New Age "awakenings" by authors in the 60s and 70s. Once a term becomes a part of the lexicon ("spirituality is some fifth aspect of humans", etc.) often the concept goes unexamined.

    The concept of spirituality is not one typically embraced by atheists and agnostics, because it's generally viewed as a psychological construct, a yearning without words.


    Exactly. The term has become very nebulous. When someone says they are looking to improve their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being and I then ask them what they mean by spiritual, typically their answers reflect what is really a very important subset of the emotional realm.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 5:49 PM GMT
    seven_deadly_monkeys said
    Delivis said
    seven_deadly_monkeys said It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.



    What does that mean, "spiritual self"?


    That's a great question. Part of the challenge is that I don't have a personal and clearly defined sense of spirituality.

    If pressed for a definition right now, I'd say it includes a sense of wonder at the beauty, complexity, and vastness of our universe; dealing with the uncertainty that comes from thinking of the same; and figuring out whether faith has any place in my life. Again, not religous faith or faith in God. More like faith in the inherent goodness of our fellow men and women. Or faith in the power of the human spirit. Or faith in love. I'm just kind of doing a stream of consciouness thing now...and I realize I've gotten a bit sappy. icon_smile.gif



    Well, i think that is a good, honest answer. And most of that I would say i share as well, but I would not call it spirituality, perhaps partly because the word has inherited so much pseudoscientific baggage over the years.

    As someone who studies science and philosophy and is deeply fascinated by it, I certainly have a lot of awe and wonder when conteplating the objects of this universe. But the deep romanticism about science and nature that I feel is not something I call spiritual. If I were to call it spiritual then what I would mean by the word is simply the most profound parts of one's emotional experience.
  • seven_deadly_...

    Posts: 104

    May 31, 2010 5:51 PM GMT
    Delivis said
    mickeytopogigio said
    Delivis said
    seven_deadly_monkeys said It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.



    What does that mean, "spiritual self"?


    There's been a great many books on the topic of spirituality, coinciding with New Age "awakenings" by authors in the 60s and 70s. Once a term becomes a part of the lexicon ("spirituality is some fifth aspect of humans", etc.) often the concept goes unexamined.

    The concept of spirituality is not one typically embraced by atheists and agnostics, because it's generally viewed as a psychological construct, a yearning without words.


    Exactly. The term has become very nebulous. When someone says they are looking to improve their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being and I then ask them what they mean by spiritual, typically their answers reflect what is really a very important subset of the emotional realm.


    Perhaps you're right. I'm certainly having trouble coming up with a concrete definition of spirituality.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 5:55 PM GMT
    Simply_Drew saidSpirituality and a connectedness to others is something we crave, I think. I don't prescribe to religion or organized religion because it doesn't work for me, it's all so buried under text.

    I do chakra meditation and this makes me feel closer to the good out there, and connects me to the universe. It may not work for everyone, but it has worked for me. Here is a site that I used when I first started out.

    http://www.eclecticenergies.com/chakras/

    My personal philosophy is that if we neglect the self (body/mind/spirit) then that can lead to physical manifestations that aren't good.


    Here we have exhibit A in the trial of the word spiritual. This is why i shy away from using the word, because this kind of superstitious nonsense so often gets attached to it: chakras, meridial lines, psychics, chi, prana, qi, reiki and therapeutic touch and other forms of faith healing, past lives, channeling your previous self on Atlantis, and so on.

    If by spiritual we are to mean the most profound kinds of emotional experience we can can and want to have, let's not sully that concept with this kind of mumbo jumbo. There is nothing one has to believe on insufficient evidence to seek out the most meaningful and profound experiences that humans can have.
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    May 31, 2010 6:06 PM GMT

    Delivis, please read

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/Spirituality.htm


    -Bill, an atheist
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    May 31, 2010 6:30 PM GMT
    i think it was easier to be an atheist when newtonian/cartesian physics was at its height. you could be a materialist and believe in nothing more than what you saw in the physical realm around you. if you couldn't measure it, it didn't exist. god was not measurable and was therefore non-existent.

    once quantum physics started blowing up the newtonian idea of the world, things got rough for atheists. this doesn't mean they had to become christians or even believers in a monotheistic god...but what it did do was to begin to shine a healthy amount of doubt on knowing anything at all with any certainty.

    not only is your mind limited to what it can focus on and process (we ignore HUGE parts of what happens all around us all the time) but there is also the quantum idea that the observer changes the outcomes...in other words, what you see is what you bring into existence, into "reality" itself. you are literally the creator of your own reality.

    this subjectivism in what is real was the death blow for classic materialistic atheism, IMHO. not only does it mean christians can't speak dogmatically about the existence of a god, but now atheists can't speak dogmatically about the absence of one either...especially if that god exists in themselves.

    no one can know anything apart from their own experience...and that experience is fluid. there can be no materialism any more.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 7:47 PM GMT
    rangard saidi think it was easier to be an atheist when newtonian/cartesian physics was at its height. you could be a materialist and believe in nothing more than what you saw in the physical realm around you. if you couldn't measure it, it didn't exist. god was not measurable and was therefore non-existent.

    once quantum physics started blowing up the newtonian idea of the world, things got rough for atheists. this doesn't mean they had to become christians or even believers in a monotheistic god...but what it did do was to begin to shine a healthy amount of doubt on knowing anything at all with any certainty.

    not only is your mind limited to what it can focus on and process (we ignore HUGE parts of what happens all around us all the time) but there is also the quantum idea that the observer changes the outcomes...in other words, what you see is what you bring into existence, into "reality" itself. you are literally the creator of your own reality.

    this subjectivism in what is real was the death blow for classic materialistic atheism, IMHO. not only does it mean christians can't speak dogmatically about the existence of a god, but now atheists can't speak dogmatically about the absence of one either...especially if that god exists in themselves.

    no one can know anything apart from their own experience...and that experience is fluid. there can be no materialism any more.


    Oh by the gods, not this quantum woo woo nonsense again. Someone has been heavily overdosing on the Deepak Chopra koolaid. Oh where oh where is TigerTim or one of our resident physics PhDs to do a detailed deconstruction of this silliness?
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 7:51 PM GMT
    meninlove said
    Delivis, please read

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheismquestions/a/Spirituality.htm


    -Bill, an atheist


    The writer of that article and I are pretty much in agreement on the fuzziness of the term and it's usage.
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    May 31, 2010 8:04 PM GMT
    rangard said
    seven_deadly_monkeys saidI was raised as and consider myself an atheist. I don't believe in God or an afterlife and don't have any strong/well defined spiritual beliefs. I've often felt that I'm missing something - some spiritual component of life. I'm not talking about religion and have no desire to join an organzed religion, but at the same time I feel...unnourished in this area. It's easy for me to see how to fulfill and evolve my physical, mental, and emotional self, but I can't see how to do that for my spiritual self.

    I'm wondering if there are any other atheists or agnostics who have felt this way and, if so, what they've done about it.


    i've come to believe more and more that "spirituality" is the mind's accounting for not knowing it all. it's like the mind generalizes all that it takes in through the senses, and because that brings with it a certain amount of uncertainty, the mind then has to account for that "something else out there" that it is missing.

    you can either be afraid of the unknowing, which means you create a God to manage all that you don't know (and there is a LOT), or you accept it and accept the chaos in your life and your mind's inability to cope with uncertainty.

    i personally believe that it takes not only a ton of courage to take the latter step, but a certain amount of either naivete or a conscious effort to ignore that nagging feeling of not knowing...otherwise, it's too damned scary. it is the absolute opposite of what the mind is wired for. and so it falls into the "scary as hell" category and chases itself back into "sanity" by latching onto to a category it can account for...even if it is irrational. (we are crazy by definition).

    physics has begun to describe gravity, time, and the sub-atomic level that goes beyond atoms and nutrinos...but they still can't account for consciousness. that point alone is probably enough to chase most people into religion. again, there is so much the mind doesn't know, and when it is confronted with that, it freaks out and looks for some "answer" or "pattern" or "explanation" to make it feel better.

    montheism is dying along with tribalism. eventually we will all take the intermediate buddhist step which will be to acknowledge the bigness of all things, but side-step the unnecessary intermediary God-step. God is a middle man, an unnecessary relay between what we can ever know and what we can never know.

    chin up...you haven't lost anything. but you will have to reckon with your own unknowing...


    If anything has been been dispelled in recent sociology studies on religion, it's the secularization hypothesis. Theism in general, and monotheism in particular, is not dying. It's finding new life in different latitudes and longitudes: Africa and East Asia. It has always been prominent in the Middle East, of course. What you describe is the "God of the gaps" and he is alive and well.
  • Delivis

    Posts: 2332

    May 31, 2010 8:18 PM GMT
    redheadedryan said

    If anything has been been dispelled in recent sociology studies on religion, it's the secularization hypothesis. Theism in general, and monotheism in particular, is not dying. It's finding new life in different latitudes and longitudes: Africa and East Asia. It has always been prominent in the Middle East, of course. What you describe is the "God of the gaps" and he is alive and well.


    I wouldnt quite agree with that. The secularization hypothesis has certainly had to be modified in the past decade or two but in it's modified form(s) it is alive and well. But that is really tangential to this discussion, we can get into the sociology of religion on our own over IMs sometime, hehe.
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    May 31, 2010 8:19 PM GMT
    srqhottie saidOf course you feel empty if you're looking for "spirituality" and you're an atheist! Atheism is a rejection of the supernatural. I think that you can find the kind of "spirituality" you are looking for by learning more about the incredible (godless) universe you live in. There is so much fascinating beauty and knowledge to be gained. If you have an interest in the beauty of life, read some of Richard Dawkins books on evolution and genetics; I recommend the classic "The Selfish Gene" and also "The Ancestors Tale" and if you are looking for a stronger and more supported atheism then read the much-hyped but very compelling "God Delusion". Books on geology and human history are always interesting as well.

    Traveling as widely as possible to as varied locations as possible will teach you more about the planet and allow you to see some wonderful and sometimes frustrating other cultures. You will also have a chance to see what you have in common with people that you might have considered very different.

    To stir your soul (I omit quotation marks but hopefully you understand the metaphor) I would recommend spending more time with great art-- even religious art-- you do not need to be believe to be moved by it. Beautiful architecture; great paintings; music, especially classical if you give it time will all give you a sense of beauty and proportion that makes life more enjoyable.

    In short, live your life fully so that you don't feel empty!

    PS Does anyone else suspect this thread is a religious plant?


    I think that the thing scientific materialism singularly does not ask--by proper design, some would argue--is why. Humanism, philosophy, theology, religion, ask why. Science attempts to answer what or how. They operate on two different epistemological foundations. And, there are no system-external arbiters that tell us which system is superior: it is empirically impossible to prove that rigid scientific empiricism is the exclusively correct epistemology to adopt. In the end, scientists use humanistic methods to support or refute any epistemological system, because there is no other arsenal to employ.

    Note here I am not condoning free-for-all relativism. I just wish to temper some peoples commitment to philospihical materialism and Comtean Empricism with an epistemologically grounded humility.

    I don't believe the empiricist and humanist approaches are intrinsically orthogonal, either; it may prove to be that we simply are not smart enough yet to finally approach the unity of why and what/how (and I admit that its eventual discovery may prove that there is no why to begin with).
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    May 31, 2010 10:17 PM GMT
    Delivis said
    Simply_Drew saidSpirituality and a connectedness to others is something we crave, I think. I don't prescribe to religion or organized religion because it doesn't work for me, it's all so buried under text.

    I do chakra meditation and this makes me feel closer to the good out there, and connects me to the universe. It may not work for everyone, but it has worked for me. Here is a site that I used when I first started out.

    http://www.eclecticenergies.com/chakras/

    My personal philosophy is that if we neglect the self (body/mind/spirit) then that can lead to physical manifestations that aren't good.


    Here we have exhibit A in the trial of the word spiritual. This is why i shy away from using the word, because this kind of superstitious nonsense so often gets attached to it: chakras, meridial lines, psychics, chi, prana, qi, reiki and therapeutic touch and other forms of faith healing, past lives, channeling your previous self on Atlantis, and so on.

    If by spiritual we are to mean the most profound kinds of emotional experience we can can and want to have, let's not sully that concept with this kind of mumbo jumbo. There is nothing one has to believe on insufficient evidence to seek out the most meaningful and profound experiences that humans can have.


    Anyone interested in the concept of "profound experiences" should look into the philosophical discourses of the Sublime.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sublime_(philosophy)

    **I tried the tags, but they didn't work. Perhaps due to odd characters in the url?
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    May 31, 2010 10:23 PM GMT
    My own form of spirituality is about having the humility to see myself as a very VERY small part of a very VERY large whole--one much bigger and more expansive than I can possibly fathom. I call that larger whole "God" just because I don't know what else to call it. It has nothing to do with an old white guy on a cloud with a long beard.

    How's that?