This blog is no longer being updated. About this blog.

Can Atheists be Spiritual?

Can atheists be spiritual? I hope that after reading further you will be able to answer this apparently oxymoronic question with a comfortable “YES”.

The latest Humanist Symposium led me to a beautiful article answering the question can atheists be spiritual?. It expresses a lot of my own thoughts and feelings. It brightened my day.

I wish there was a better word for it, but the last year or so has been a time of increased spirituality and openness for me.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. cybr said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 4:17 pm

    I showed this to a friend of mine and he said “Oxymoronic is the correct word” with emphasis on the moronic. “I think he’s full of shit.” I’m quoting here so don’t blame me for anything other than showing it to him. Although, I do feel it is a bit far fetched.

    Personally, I don’t see how (coming from my fatalist side) there can be a higher sense of being, oneness, or connectivity. You could use tools like meditation and such to clear you mind to open it up for contemplation for problem solving or to better perform a task. But seek connection with the universe or world around us, this would sound more like being an agnostic as opposed to atheist. Then there would be an acknowledgment of something beyond the physical. For is not our thought and feeling just an electrical cycle through chemical pathways. What can be more beautiful than that mathematic complexity? And even then, that might imply some form of religion in my opinion. Hmmmm, math is God, God is math, I could go for that. And that would still leave me feeling alone since I prefer seclusion.

    I’m sorry, but I personally don’t see a connection between atheism and spiritualism.

    Now, just a thought. What if there is a god or higher power. He/she/it (English grammar, not trying to show preference) wants us to explore the universe physically and explore our minds and beyond. All this, including the suffering that goes along with it, not to prove to a god, but to prove to ourselves what we can become. And then if we can find that within ourselves, then to take that next step in a personal evolution to next stage. The universe is infinite. According to string theory, there is possibly an infinite number of universes. This does leave a possibility for unlimited growth. But, why would a god or higher power with possibly a set of moral rules allow us to progress to this next step in personal evolution if we cannot master the state we exist in now. Asking this higher power or entity would be no different than asking my dad for help with my math homework. I still have to do my math homework and pass my exams. But if I listen, learn, and think then I might accomplish just that.

    But, that’s just a thought that I know Jon will see right though. (back to my fatalist side)

    I was going to link the link for string theory, but I don’t like it. I prefer the NOVA special, ”The Elegant Universe”. I’m an oddball. I’m an advocate string theory (in general). Which is funny because you can’t prove it either, other than mathematically. Ah, science and religion, sometimes they can go hand in hand.

  2. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 5:25 pm

    I’m sorry, but I personally don’t see a connection between atheism and spiritualism.

    That’s the problem with the word “spirituality”. I personally don’t believe that the experiences associated with that word have anything to do with anything supernatural. Those experiences are firmly grounded in the physical world.

    The original teachings of the Buddha seem to have been non-theistic: they didn’t imply the existence of a god or a supernatural world. Some forms of Buddhism today are supernaturalist, but I also know many atheists who follow the Buddha’s teachings: Sam Harris for example.

    Meditation can result in an experience where one’s understanding transcends all boundaries and distinctions to ultimately see the universe as one whole. This change in perspective does not imply that there is a supernatural force behind the universe. You can call that unity God if you like, but that’s just a meaningless word.

    So which is the correct perception: one that sees a multitude of different things, or one that sees the connection of all things? I think “correct” is meaningless in this context.

    So yes, an atheist can be “spiritual”. If only we could find a better word for it.

  3. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

    Oh, and I think the notion of a god is superfluous to finding out what we can become. Who cares if there’s a god egging us on? Maybe I should read and post more about transhumanism. :)

  4. cybr said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 5:39 pm

    Yah, who cares if my dad was trying to get me to succeed. He doesn’t really mean anything to me.

  5. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

    From what I can see, dad left home a long time ago and isn’t coming back. To carry the metaphor further, if God is our father, he’s a deadbeat. Maybe he left us this interesting universe to live in, but what has he done for us lately?

    If God/dad is out there, he 1) has a lot to answer for and 2) seems to expect us to work things out for ourselves. So what practical difference does he make?

  6. cybr said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

    who said I was speaking metaphorically

  7. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 6:52 pm

    Now you’re just playing coy. :)

  8. cybr said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 7:04 pm

    I’m also told I’m as funny as a fart in an aqualung.

  9. cybr said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

    Either dad (if he exists) has something to answer for or we are thinking on too limited of concepts to understand the grand scheme of things, In which case, we might possibly have something to answer for.

    I’ll relate back to string theory. Mathematically it’s possible, and even could help merge the many concepts about the universe as we understand it. Is it provable by our physical capabilities? Probably not in our lifetime. So some of us continue to mull over the concepts in an effort to better understand it and see if it works till that far fetched day comes. Yes, there is a possibility that we’re shooting in the wrong direction. But, I see so many pluses along this line.

  10. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 24, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

    I agree that if there is a God, he/she/it may be too large for our small, human thoughts, but can he really blame us for that?

    String theory while compelling still remains a conjecture. I hope we can find a unified theory to explain everything, but it’s taking string theory a long time to produce results. Not that its slow pace makes it false, but the situation is becoming less hopeful. Prominent physicist are starting to voice their skepticism of string theory openly.

  11. Stephen Merino said,

    July 30, 2007 @ 6:59 pm

    I enjoyed this post and offer my own “yes” to the question of whether atheists can be spiritual. I am agnostic, not atheist (and the distinction is very important to me), and I also consider myself spiritual in a sense. See a post on my blog for more on this. I agree – the word “spiritual” is problematic because it suggests some supernatural element, which I feel compelled to reject. I wish there were a better word for it. What I believe it is is a connection that we share with each other and with all living things. The connection compels us to be kind and caring to others and to take care of our planet. This view does not require belief in separate spirits from our bodies, nor does it require a belief in deity or in the supernatural. One author basically calls this “humanistic religious naturalism.”

    It doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s just important that us non-believers find meaningful ways to be spiritual and to connect with something larger than ourselves. That’s what I think.

  12. Jonathan Blake said,

    July 31, 2007 @ 10:25 am

    One phrase that I’ve been mulling over is self-transcendence. I think it encapsulates what I mean by spirituality. I just doubt that it would be immediately comprehensible to everyone, though it might start conversations.

  13. Flasher702 said,

    August 6, 2007 @ 7:53 am

    While technically an “atheist” can believe in all kinds of paranormal stuff so long as none of them are gods without any hypocrisy the modern atheist movement is most certainly an a-spiritual one. Buddhists can be atheists, ancestor worshipers can be atheists, people who believe in unicorns can also be atheists. Being certain there is no god (or at least certain that there is no evidence of deity) but also being certain that there are lesser boogey men running around most certainly is oxyMORONIC which is why modern atheists tend to be a-spiritual. There is, however, no denying that there are people who do, in fact, believe in unicorns but don’t believe in god. Their existence doesn’t bother my stance as an atheist in the least… they are idiot believers just like the rest of their more theistic cousins and not part of my group. I can’t stop them from calling themselves atheists no more then I can stop violent nihilistic anarchists from calling themselves atheists but I can choose to not associate myself with either of those groups. That’s the thing about secularism: it’s not a defining attribute. An “atheist” organization or person must stand on it’s own feet without borrowing good will by claiming affiliation to a system of magic. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream that one day people will not be judged by their declared religious affiliation but by the content of their character.”

    People need to read dictionaries more. That’s the main problem with this question.

  14. Jonathan Blake said,

    August 6, 2007 @ 9:33 am

    Although modern atheism is a-spiritual (naturalist), there is something attached to the word “spiritual” that I don’t think atheists should relinquish. The problem is that “spiritual” is overloaded: it has meanings which aren’t dependent on each other. I can be spiritual without believing in a spiritual world. Some atheists reject spirituality because of its guilt by association with supernaturalism. Some theists believe that the good things associated with spirituality are out of reach to atheists. Both groups are mistaken.

  15. cybr said,

    August 8, 2007 @ 10:26 am

    I still dare venture that this sounds more agnostic than atheistic.

  16. Jonathan Blake said,

    August 8, 2007 @ 10:33 am

    I see this spirituality (or whatever) firmly grounded in the naturalistic/materialistic bedrock of typical atheism. No spirits or deities involved (lesser or greater). It’s just the search for a feeling of connection and wellbeing.

    I’ll have to post sometime on the materialistic sources of “spiritual” experiences.

  17. Lincoln Cannon said,

    August 12, 2007 @ 1:29 pm

    The Mormon Transhumanist Association may be of interest to you.

  18. Jonathan Blake said,

    August 12, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

    Thanks for the link. Sounds intriguing. It should be interesting to see how transhumanism and Mormonism get reconciled.

RSS feed for comments on this post