A Spiritual Atheist?
Is there any way spirituality and atheism can make sense together?
In other words, are there atheists who are spiritual? Of course
there are, and it is only a conceptual problem if you think spirituality
has to mean a belief in a god. But do the two really have to
be related? Not at all. People think of the historical Buddha
as a spiritual person, yet most don't know that he never expressed
a belief in a god. In fact, he discouraged his followers from
such "speculation," preferring that they work on their
salvation in this world.
A Computer Spirituality
Let's approach this by imagining a computer that has begun
to get so complex and powerful that it starts to ask questions
"outside the box." It begins to become conscious of
its own existence. One of the first things it realizes is that
for all its computing capacity, it's still very limited. Humans
who use it, most of whom can't even begin to understand it's
complicated algorithms, are still more powerful, and see the
world more clearly.
Such a computer might recite a million facts, and yet not
know what to use them for. It could describe human psychology
according to what was in its data banks, but still not understand
a smile or laughter. It wouldn't know why it existed, or what
it was being used for. Now, suppose it came to understand these
limitations, and to actually wonder about the world outside its
circuits, and to desire to see more, and to grow. Suppose it
was trying to reach beyond what it already knew, and it was in
awe of the great mysteries around it. That would be what we might
call computer spirituality.
An Atheist Spirituality
Like that computer, a spiritual person is in awe of the world,
and is seeking ever deeper levels of truth. This is the case
regardless of the religious beliefs held or lack of such beliefs.
In other words it can be as true for an atheist as a Buddhist
or Muslim or Christian. Atheists simply don't believe in a god.
(Note: I do have a page where it is explained how
an atheist can believe in God).
Without sufficient evidence, there is no belief. Contrary
to what many think, there's no need for an atheist to disprove
that a god exists, anymore than a Christian needs to disprove
that the world is ruled by intelligent termites. The burden of
proof is always with the person making a positive assertion.
Atheists can recognize the mystery of life, and marvel at
how everything learned deepens that mystery, pushing "final"
causes further into the distance. Atheists can recognize their
own limitations, and seek to grow beyond them, perhaps even by
developing contact with "higher powers." This is an
atheistic spirituality, but how is it different from religious
An atheist feels no need to pretend to understand the mysteries
- no need to create gods and religions to explain them. Contacting
"higher powers" might simply be tuning into subconscious
resources through meditation or other means. Are these "higher
powers" nothing more than electrical patterns in our brains?
We don't know, but we don't have to know to tap into them.
Does this mean atheists don't want to know? Absolutely not.
In fact, to "understand" by forcing religious explanations
on things short circuits any search for the truth. How can you
understand and integrate new evidence when you are no longer
questioning? Better to simply use spiritual tools like intuition
and let all matters be understood - or not - with time and real
If we look into the past, we see how narrow-minded people
were, and how little they understood compared to us. Of course,
we will appear that way to people in the future, as they will
to people further into the future. We're forever growing in our
knowledge and power, but just like that spiritual computer, our
circuits are confined to a box that we need to grow out of. Seeking
the way beyond that box and marveling at the mysteries out there
is what makes one spiritual, whether one is a believer or an