Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
Word Definitions

Language is a wonderful ability, but it can sometimes be imprecise and inadvertently lead to misunderstandings. At other times, it may be used to deliberately mislead and confuse. This is not always by outright false statements, but may be by expressing something in a way that can be interpreted different ways, i.e. a double meaning. At other times, the meaning is not clear because words are used in a context that is unusual, or is understood differently among one group than among another. The purpose of language is fundamentally to convey information, although I was once told by a cynical friend that language was actually designed to confuse! Since individuals may have different opinions about spiritual matters, it is necessary to define some terms and explain what they mean in certain contexts. In these pages the defined terms are to be understood as explained here.

There is a common expression, “that is my reality”, often used by those approaching life and spiritual subjects from a viewpoint which differs from the norm. However, reality is nobody’s possession. It refers to what objectively exists. Things either are or are not. Their existence does not depend on humanity in any way, nor on observation or belief. For instance, I could say that there is a planet in another galaxy which is populated by a life form made up of individuals that look exactly like humans and with the exact same DNA structure as humans. I may believe that very strongly. I may base my whole life on that belief. I may convince other people of it. The objective reality, however, is that such a planet either does exist or it does not. If it does not exist, if it is not there, my belief will not cause it to materialise. The reality would be that it does not exist, despite my most sincerely held belief that it does. The opposite could also be the case. I may ridicule the idea as being ludicrous, but if it should actually exist, if the objective reality is that it is physically there, my disbelief will not make it disappear. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to determine whether something is actually the case. In the example, until we have space travel and can go to other galaxies in a short enough time span we will never be able to determine the objective reality of the planet’s existence.

This doesn’t just apply to planets, of course. We know that electricity is objectively real as we use it frequently and can determine its existence by its effect on our surroundings, but even though we explain electricity as being the flow of electrons, we cannot actually see the electrons when they flow, so we have to accept that explanation on trust. Notwithstanding that, either electricity is the flow of electrons or it is not, and our belief that it is or that it may be something else makes no difference to what it actually is in its reality. The objective reality is what happens along the wires when we turn a light switch to “On”.

Within this definition, the expression “my reality” has no meaning. Being external to everyone, reality belongs to no one. Reality just is.

In a physical sense, when we look around us we see things and it registers in our consciousness. If someone else looks at the same things it may register differently in their consciousness causing them to reach a different conclusion than us, that is, their perception may differ from ours. In a metaphorical sense we may also develop perceptions about things based on how we think about them, how we “see” them in our minds.

Perception is how individuals consider things to be. The perception of someone who accepts the existence of ethereal beings, ghosts, may be that they are being haunted when a window rattles or something moves unexpectedly. The perception of someone else who accepts that electricity is the flow of electrons will be that electrons are flowing when an electric light is turned on.

Both of those examples are perception. It doesn’t matter whether the perception is grounded in reality, in the sense above, or not. If someone sees something, physically or metaphorically, and accepts it as being based on something they consider to be valid, then that is their perception. Perceptions are always valid because that is how an individual relates to their surroundings. Of course, perceptions may change following a change in the circumstances which led to them in the first place.

When someone says, “my reality”, they often mean, “my perception”. That expression is often not used in this context because it includes an unconscious acknowledgement that others may have a different view which could be more or less valid than the speaker’s, whereas “reality” infers that the viewpoint is not open for discussion. It becomes a means of stopping debate rather than encouraging it.

After careful consideration or from being taught and influenced by others we may come to the conclusion that some things are true even though we have no personal experience of them. Simply accepting something to be so with or without proof is belief. It is prevalent in religious groups, but is not confined to them. Many aspects of life require unsubstantiated belief and some are so deeply ingrained as to be part of a culture. These often show up as default assumptions when a statement or a claim is made. Most people will immediately make assumptions when an incomplete description of something is given to fill in the missing material. Oftentimes these assumptions are wrong.

Perhaps the classic example of unsubstantiated belief is the rejection of science based evolutionary theory and acceptance of special creation, the belief that a deity created mankind deliberately and specifically for a particular purpose and that the universe and this earth were provided as a home so that purpose can be carried out. There is no proof for any of this, in the scientific sense, but many stories both written and oral. In the western world, the Bible account, of course, forms the basis for it. Interestingly, different “one and only” true religions have different approaches in dealing with the discrepancies that arise between the special creation and scientific evolutionary explanations which arise from increased scientific knowledge about prehistoric life form and modern understanding of the genetic code and the DNA which controls it. The differences range from accepting evolution but explaining it as being the mechanism used by a deity to bring about creation to outright rejection of any scientific information which supports an evolutionary explanation and tends to discredit a special, deliberate creation.

This has become a losing battle for those who believe that a special creation took place as more and more evidence for a slow developmental process from simple to more complex life forms becomes available, more widely known and understood. The accrual of information, most of it with a sound and well established scientific basis, is now so great that it is untenable to expect belief in a special creationary process. It is quite surprising, then, that there are so many religiously minded people who still reject proven scientific facts in their entirety as they pertain to evolution, and still believe in a few short passages written by those of a non-scientific, bronze age culture about four thousand years ago.

Previous page Home page Secular Articles Religious Articles Next page