Posts tagged ‘spirituality’
I would like to take a quick moment to say hello to everyone. It has been a while since I have posted on the blog as I have been quite busy over the past few months. I hope that the regulars that come here are doing well…if you’re a first timer, then welcome and enjoy the great posts written by some very intelligent people – that being said, let’s continue with the post.
I got the urge to write on this after remember something I read on this blog many months ago. It wasn’t necessarily a post, but a comment by a visitor stating that he (or she, I can’t really remember), was not spiritual and that it was impossible to be so (spiritual that is). I am here to shed some light for the open-minded: Yes, even an atheist can be spiritual.
Take a moment and forget everything you think spirituality is… whatever connotations you have with the word, rise above them for the time being. The thing about spirituality is that it takes practice, but it isn’t necessarily hard. Many atheists are just lacking practice, but don’t worry, I have a few suggestions.
You see, spirituality isn’t that complicated, and for many people, it doesn’t involve a big white light or booming voice from above. No instead, it is an elevation of human thought; a supreme awareness that every human on this earth has the ability to tap. Like our physical bodies, our spiritual muscle can become stronger the more we work it out…
I change my mind a lot. For most of my life I have been on an involuntary spiritual journey that has led me into and out of Christianity, through explorations of Buddhism, through agnosticism and into atheism. And now I am not sure where I am heading.
This year I’ve decided that I’m not sure I want to be called an atheist anymore, even though I don’t believe in god(s). I know according to the dictionary that I am an atheist, but I’ve become disillusioned with the atheist movement, which largely seems to thrive on making fun of believers and ignoring the desire for spiritual fulfillment that most people feel.
Although I have some Christian friends in America, over the past years, I have found myself viewing all religious people as some sort of monolithic negative stereotype, hell bent on controlling everything and everyone, and teetering on the edge of insanity. I spent the summer in Lithuania where I met people from all over the world, I found that I’d made new friends who were Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, Buddhist, agnostic, and “just spiritual.” Although we didn’t talk very much about religion, we engaged in meaningful and interesting conversations about many different topics. I found myself rethinking the stereotypes I’d come to accept, and wanting to engage more fully with people of differing backgrounds and philosophies. I want to be open to see where my own spiritual journey will take me next, and I am not willing to be pegged down by labels or stereotypes, even those of my own invention…
In my previous blog, Can an Atheist be Spiritual?, I showed how we non-theists can borrow, from religious liberals, what I think is a beautiful and evocative language to talk about spirituality – without buying into the ontology that is tacked on to it. For my part, I consider myself a religious naturalist, meaning I do not believe in any supernatural being, but I nevertheless find religious language uniquely suited to capture and evoke that wonder and beauty and goodness – there is no better word than “holiness” – that I find in the world. In this post, let me briefly elaborate on my own experience (as the case study I personally know the best) about non-theistic spirituality.
When I left Christianity, I found I suddenly had to face the world without all the comforting illusions evangelical Christianity had provided for me. I was no longer “special” in that Christian sense – no longer one of the elect, who “got” the world as no other group did, who was destined for eternal glory. Moreover, I could no longer expect rescue or protection from life’s most painful truths: we are finite and vulnerable, we all die, we are all alone in the world, we are responsible for our own lives with no one to blame, that we must find our own meaning in life.
Yet it was exactly in that encounter with these existential “givens” in life – with the tenuousness and frailty of human life – that I, for the first time, saw its true value. For the first time I could see just how infinitely precious human life really is…
Can an atheist be spiritual? This question comes up a lot, and I think it is a fair and natural one. As one of the many who has traversed the difficult road out of Protestant Christian fundamentalism, I would like to offer my own answer to this question. In short: absolutely yes…. but it is important to understand just what a non-theist might mean by “spiritual”. Let me start by looking at how the word “spiritual” is usually understood.
For conservative religionists, “spirituality”, to the extent that they use the term at all, has to do with participation in a supernatural orthodoxy – things like adherence to official doctrine, official sacraments and rituals, being “saved”, revivals/worship, singing hymns, reading the Bible, one’s “walk with God”. Their spirituality is revelation-based. For them, it is God Himself who instructs us how to relate to him, and that is the only avenue seen as open to humans for “spirituality.” God, in short, tells you what the rules are; you either do it or you don’t.
Religious liberals (and, to some extent, moderates), by contrast, are relatively less sure about the next world and more sure about this one. Liberals generally feel that whatever we might know about “God” (however they understand that term) is necessarily filtered through human interpretation and thus, human experience. Thus they tend to accept the methods and findings of both science and the historical-critical approach to religious texts, and will likely see our views about God as at least somewhat (if not entirely) culturally-dependent. They usually have no problem seeing religious myth as myth – i.e., not tied to literal, historical fact – and can find it illuminating and valuable nonetheless…
I’ve enjoyed reading through the comments on Karen’s recent post “Are de-converts doomed to live in the pit of existentialist despair?” I do appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this topic.
Discovering the meaning of life was my biggest, baddest bugaboo upon de-conversion. Life seemed drained of color without God. It was more than just no longer having a sweeping trans-historical drama in which to play a part. It was, for me, that the universe no longer seemed like a home. It was no longer warm and friendly. Instead, it was harsh, alien, bare, and empty. Working through meaning was my biggest challenge.
Here’s how it went for me. Christianity teaches, in essence, that all the sorrows of life are destined to end. All the “existential givens” such as loneliness and isolation, the responsibility to create one’s own life, the thirst for larger meaning and purpose, even death itself — all these problems are solved, for the Christian. C.S. Lewis quite explicitly teaches that all you have ever desired is destined for ultimate satisfaction in heaven. You will not die. You will not be alone. Your responsibility is only to obey. Your meaning is given to you.
Losing God for me was like that moment in all of our lives when we realize, really realize, that our parents are not really larger than life…
Oftentimes, those of us who have left religion behind are asked to define what keeps us going, what motivates us, what rescues us from the pit of existentialist despair now that we no longer believe in god. Some of us do not seem to have much of a positive belief system, others have adopted skepticism or humanism, others excavate their own philosophies of life.
A new member of an ex-fundy support group I help moderate addressed this topic recently and his answer was so interesting that I asked him if I could re-post it to this group and he graciously consented.
I wanted to share an epiphany I’ve had after many years of wandering a post-fundamentalist wasteland. Maybe it will have meaning for some of you.
My Southern Baptist fundamentalist belief began disintegrating right around the time I went off to college. This was very painful for me (as I’m sure comes as no surprise to most of you). I fought it every step of the way as my faith slowly bled from me — my belief in Christ had formed the core of my self image, and my view of myself collapsed along with the elaborate theological construction that had undergirded it…