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Spirituality Compatibility of spirituality and atheism?

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
Can an atheist experience spirituality? Can we have spirituality without belief in a god or the supernatural?

If you're an atheist, how / when do you experience or practice 'spirituality' (or similar phenomena)?
 

Tom

Addicted Poster
Location
Upstate New York
As I understand it, at least some Buddhists might be this way. There is certainly a spiritual element in Buddhism, but although I don't think Buddha actually denied a Creator exists, neither did he give any teachings about the subject. He taught about how to be free of insatiable desires, and how to transcend the limitations of "self", as well as many excellent ethical teachings. (I'm not a Buddhist, so I might be mistaken about some of this... and it's been quite some time since I investigated it.)
 

MadamSarcastra

MadamSarcastra, over & out.
Location
Mid-Michigan
I consider myself an atheist and a "recovering Catholic" (I like science!).... But I firmly believe there is a huge difference between a religious person and a spiritual being.... The two are are not commensurate in my mind.
 

Val

Extraterrestrial
As I understand it, at least some Buddhists might be this way. There is certainly a spiritual element in Buddhism, but although I don't think Buddha actually denied a Creator exists, neither did he give any teachings about the subject. He taught about how to be free of insatiable desires, and how to transcend the limitations of "self", as well as many excellent ethical teachings. (I'm not a Buddhist, so I might be mistaken about some of this... and it's been quite some time since I investigated it.)
Somedays i was so unhappy and disappointed in everything, that i was about, as they say, to "take a refuge in Buddhism", but i couldn't imagine myself having a teacher and going to datsan, as i'm a rebel inside.:D
 

KLS52

“SnarkMaster”
The question made me ask, just what is spirituality and how do you define it, leading me to do a google search.

This is a cool article.

What Is Spirituality?

“You don't have to be like people who equate spirituality with a religion they decide is false, then abandon. It is possible to look at spirituality another way, as something free of institutional structures and hierarchies, not so much about dogma and beliefs as about attitudes, values and practices, about what motivates you (us) at the deepest level, influencing how you think and behave, helping you find a true and useful place in your community, culture and in the world.”

“Spirituality cannot be explored using scientific methods because it involves deeply personal, subjective experiences, and in this it differs from the over-riding ambition of science: to be objective. Both are necessary and appropriate, complementary formulas for discovering ourselves, each other, our environment, the universe... and especially an enduring sense of purpose and meaning.”
 

KLS52

“SnarkMaster”
I like this one better.

Are There Any Spiritual Atheists?

This is not, however, the only way the concept of "spirituality" can be used. For some people, it involves a variety of very personal things like self-realization, philosophical searching, etc. For many others, it is something like a very deep and strong emotional reaction to "wonders" of life — for example, gazing out at the universe on a clear night, seeing a newborn child, etc.


All of these and similar senses of "spirituality" are entirely compatible with atheism. There is nothing about atheism which prevents a person from having such experiences or quests. Indeed, for many atheists, their atheism is a direct result of such philosophical searching and religious questioning — thus, one might argue that their atheism is an integral component of their "spirituality" and their ongoing search for meaning in life.
 

Tom

Addicted Poster
Location
Upstate New York
Somedays i was so unhappy and disappointed in everything, that i was about, as they say, to "take a refuge in Buddhism", but i couldn't imagine myself having a teacher and going to datsan, as i'm a rebel inside.:D
Interesting! I didn't know you had to go to datsan to be Buddhist... but I suppose I should have grasped that. I know the full statement one recites when formally embracing Buddhism is: "I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha."... with "Sangha" meaning the fellowship of believers... which implies that one normally doesn't become a solitary Buddhist.

About having a teacher or having rebellious tendencies: There was a Tibetan Buddhist congregation in my area quite some time ago. I attended a session welcoming beginners once... and just didn't "get it". For instance, they were teaching us some chants, honoring some of the great teachers who came after Buddha (such as Milarepa), but there was no explanation about why these teachers were revered or what they taught. I thought it was kind of dogmatic... maybe even fundamentalist?... telling us that this is The Truth or The Way, instead of giving any explanation. I really didn't think the Buddhist attitude was supposed to be at all like that. I wasn't disrespectful or argumentative; I just wanted to know the rationale before I started chanting along with them. Maybe I misunderstood them.
 

Val

Extraterrestrial
I really didn't think the Buddhist attitude was supposed to be at all like that.
Exactly! IMO, the moment when beliefs and faith become a religious denomination (with its dogmas, rules and hostile attitude towards everything that doesn't fit this concept), they lose their initial sacred meaning and connection with nature and god.:sigh:
 

Katrina

Deity
Location
Canada
I don't know how to label myself. I believe in something bigger than myself, something that all humans can connect with if they so choose. I don't believe this "something" is sentient or even a living being. I see gods/goddesses as symbols of this "something." Some people might call this God. I don't feel comfortable calling it that, since I'm not a huge fan of the Christian concept of God. In fact, I don't feel comfortable with any monotheist religions. Polytheistic religions make more sense, but I'm not interested in joining them. Does that make me an atheist? I don't know. I'm spiritual, but I'm not quite an atheist or even agnostic. Pagan, maybe? I'm not sure.
 

Indian Summer

Cult Leader
Administrator
I don't believe in a god or anything supernatural, but I also think a purely materialistic view of the world is missing something very important.

Being a human means being part of the fellowship of humans. We instinctively feel a connection with others of our species. Also, we are a social species, and we instinctively want fairness amongst members of this group. We feel compassion for others of our kind.

However, we are also part of the fellowship of animals, and we feel a connection to other animal species. Many of us feel compassion also for these other species, perhaps especially for those closest to us.

And finally, we feel a connection of sorts with life and nature in general. We enjoy the beauty of nature. We feel awe when we look at natural beauty, and we feel peace of mind when we spend time in the great outdoors.

I think it's when I feel all this connectedness, awe and greater perspective the most acutely that I feel the most 'spiritual'. We live on a small, but very beautiful planet, just right for us, surrounded by emptiness and inhospitable worlds. We need to take good care of it. There is nowhere else to go.
 

PTree15

Beach bum
Location
Connecticut
I like this one better.

Are There Any Spiritual Atheists?

This is not, however, the only way the concept of "spirituality" can be used. For some people, it involves a variety of very personal things like self-realization, philosophical searching, etc. For many others, it is something like a very deep and strong emotional reaction to "wonders" of life — for example, gazing out at the universe on a clear night, seeing a newborn child, etc.


All of these and similar senses of "spirituality" are entirely compatible with atheism. There is nothing about atheism which prevents a person from having such experiences or quests. Indeed, for many atheists, their atheism is a direct result of such philosophical searching and religious questioning — thus, one might argue that their atheism is an integral component of their "spirituality" and their ongoing search for meaning in life.
That bolded part is where I mostly fall, though, like Katrina, I wonder whether there is something bigger than ourselves, just not some all-powerful being in the religious sense. I also consider what is called the power of God to be more inside ourselves, untapped potential, if you will, to dig deep and think/exist on a higher level. I'm not sure what that is. I was raised Catholic, but I began questioning the logic of organized religion pretty early in life. So many things didn't make sense to me, so I pretty much gave it up after high school. My mother was very religious, so we were kind of required to follow along while we lived under my parents' roof.
 

Katrina

Deity
Location
Canada
I also consider what is called the power of God to be more inside ourselves, untapped potential, if you will, to dig deep and think/exist on a higher level.
That's how I see it, too. Religion/spirituality made no sense to me until I learned about Jungian archetypes. For those not familiar with it, Carl Jung came up with the idea that humans have a collective unconscious, which consists of archetypes: the hero, the trickster, the mother, the wise old man or woman at the edge of the woods, etc. I think the closest way to connect with "god" is connecting with these deeper parts of ourselves. And certain things serve as pathways: music, nature, beauty, etc, like Indian Summer and KLS mentioned.

Oh, and the Shadow is one of the most important archetypes. Confronting the shadow is the key to self acceptance and self development.
 
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Brian

Mad Bard
Location
Gothenburg
Although I am a christian, I read with interest a really good book by Colin Wilson called "New Pathways In Psychology" which talks about the psychologist Abraham Maslow and his studies of "Peak Experiences" It seems the mechanism for experiencing "spirituality" is present in the physical brain, and can be triggered without a particular set of beliefs.
 

Peter

Famous Member
Location
UK or Spain
Having considered myself an atheist for many years, I always look for a rational explanation for any phenomenon I cannot understand. I must however admit to a sudden rush of religiosity whenever the plane is crossing an area of turbulence.
 
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