Monday, January 01, 2007

Spiritual Atheism

For the non-religious person a scientific understanding of spirituality will be unlikely to make them religious, but it should confirm that spirituality is both part of the natural human condition and usually a positive experience for individuals.

In western society church attendance is in decline but people still identify some kind of spirituality in their life. For these people their spirituality without creed can be similar to either Deism or mysticism. The number of people who are to some extent spiritual atheists, muddies the waters in terms of where society is going in terms of religion. For the religious, these people are non-practicing believers. For non-believers they are Atheists. Many of these people choose not to define their beliefs in too much detail and are happy to have no label to attach to themselves.

The rationalist who accepts spiritual experience as part of a positive life, may believe it reflects a non-physical reality or he may accept that it is a by-product of man being a social animal. In other words, just as the religious come to many different conclusions, so too can Atheists.

For some, the revelations of organized religion are just not believable either as truth or metaphor. The possibility of spiritual reality exists but it is either unknowable or incapable of being described in human language. It could be argued that these people are Agnostics rather than Atheists, but this would only be partly true, as some people do believe in spiritual reality without believing in any God.

For the pure materialist, the world is made up of matter and nothing else. Life is a complex form of matter and consciousness is a product of that complex form, nothing more. However, even for the materialist, the universe and the laws that govern it are a source of wonder and awe. For the materialist, man and the universe are literally part of one entity. Man is the universe made conscious of itself and that is a thought no less uplifting for some than the notion of God. Indeed many scientists often use the term God as shorthand for the laws of nature rather than as an indication of a supernatural being.

When looked at from a distance, it is often language that separates people rather than the deeper meaning. Is a materialist who finds inspiration in nature and sees man as part of the universe really that different to the mystic who believes in a spiritual oneness?

Paths to spiritual experience exist for religious and non-religious alike. Some do not like the word spiritual, but the experience is the same regardless of the name. What is important is not the language used, but what the language is used for. Attached to a creed that preaches intolerance, spirituality is a negative force. Most religions have been intolerant and it is a recognition of this that makes so many people in free societies, quite rightly, suspicious of organized religion. This does not stop the Atheist seeking out spiritual experience in art, music, drama or in nature.

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