Atheism is the term used for a philosophy which rejects the idea that an all powerful personality, i.e. a god or gods, created the universe and may be guiding events within it. An atheist understands that gods do not exist and that the universe is without inherent purpose.
The word spiritual often causes some difficulty when applied to atheists, especially among those who are believers, because most of its meanings have to do with religion and would include belief in a god. However, this is not the only context in which the word is used. The Random House dictionary defines the word spiritual as:
If the first and last definitions are blended, we get:
It is in this last sense that the adjective spiritual describes atheism in Spiritual Atheism. Atheists who have concerns about understanding matters that are not about physical material, whatever those concerns are, may be properly described as spiritual atheists. This would include appreciation for the beauty in a flower, wonder at the universe, love, having a reason for living, and a myriad of similar subjects, but all being connected by having the same basis of being things of the mind. Do remember, however, that spiritual atheists are, first and foremost, atheists, and reject the existence of gods and realms where angelic or demon beings reside.
Humans have both a physical body and a mind. The mind comes from the operations of parts of our brain. Spiritual matters are those which arise from these functions of the brain in contrast to those of the physical body. Thoughts and emotions come from our minds and these are the major components of humanity’s spiritual nature. They are intangible and have no existence external to the firing of neurons and the operation of the brain. Even when written down, these thoughts require a mind to bring them back to life and assign meaning. They do not exist outside the functioning of our brains.
It should be noted that a mind which concludes there are no gods directing the affairs of the universe, i.e. an atheist’s mind, is engaging in a spiritual activity. In other words, atheism is, by its very nature, inherently a spiritual matter. It is not religious, of course, since religion is concerned with matters pertaining to gods and atheists reject such personalities, but it is spiritual in the sense that it is a matter originating in the mind and consciousness. Atheism is, therefore, not a religion but it is spiritual.
Religious people sometimes claim that atheism is as much a religion as their own, usually followed by a comment such as, “I wish I had the faith in my religion that you have in yours”. Of course, that is nonsense. They do not wish that at all. The purpose of the comment is to diminish the force of the atheist’s arguments during a discussion. It is really a tacit and unconscious acknowledgement that those arguments have validity and have hit home.
How can an atheist, a person whose view of the universe is founded on scientific facts instead of unsupportable claims about an ethereal being, be said to have faith in a religion? Scientific investigation is done to establish facts and the results specify whether claims are true or untrue, and how much surety goes along with that. It is an objective way of looking at the universe and does not require belief in anything. The only thing needed is to acknowledge the validity of the scientific approach. If doing that is to be likened to faith, then so be it, but accepting proven, validated, scientific findings as fact hardly requires the suspension of observable realities that everyone can see for themselves. The conclusions that an individual reaches based on those observable, scientific facts is a product of reason and logic, not of faith.
Scientific investigation is not a static process, of course, so it is to be expected that as new facts about the universe are discovered changes in how it is explained take place. This happens when the results of new investigations have increased our body of knowledge and thereby clarified our understanding. It is not based on a whim, or a personal preference or a traditional, discredited explanation. For any science based atheist the scientifically proven facts take precedence.
Contrast this with the practice of theists who often use explanations and interpret documents that are millennia old, and often give the impression that the older the document, the more valuable for religious interpretations it becomes. Many of the central beliefs that are promoted by religious groups came about many centuries in the past in societies that were fundamentally bronze age, perhaps even stone age, cultures. Those beliefs and practices no longer have much relevance to our society in the present age, if they have any at all. This is shown clearly in the attitude to women displayed by many theists, as an example. The critical aspect of this is that traditional explanations and beliefs are based on resistance to advancement and change, resulting in viewpoints that may be at odds with, or even flatly contradict, proven scientific facts. The rejection of the evolution of species, now so clearly shown to be true by DNA sequencing and mapping of the genomes of closely related species, is a case in point. Even today, some religionists reject the very extensive scientific data on this subject and the facts that this data makes abundantly clear, preferring instead to put faith in a few sentences found in 3,000-4,000 year old writings from a time when civilisation had barely begun.
For clearly intelligent people, and religious leaders are often very intelligent, to reject proven facts in preference to unproven statements of what can best be described as myth, must surely indicate an overpowering need to be considered special, selected and singled out, i.e. superior to the general run of humanity because they chose the one and only true religion and the deity that religion worships or, as they usually say with all due humility, the deity chose them. Many different religious groups have this attitude, but obviously they cannot all be specially chosen and cannot all be members of the one and only true religion, so it becomes a scenario of mutual contradiction.
If a religionist really did have a lack of faith in their religion, what on earth are they doing trying to convert other people into becoming members of a religion in which they do not fully believe? Isn’t that the height of hypocrisy? In effect they are saying, “You believe what you’re saying much more than I believe what I’m saying. I’m not sure that what I’m saying is really the case, but you should discard your views and adopt mine anyway”. Surely, logic would dictate that the opposite should take place: that they should adopt the atheist’s viewpoint if they honestly wished they believed with the surety of an atheist, as it must obviously appear to them to have a more certain basis and produce a greater surety on which to base one’s life, a more assured belief and approach to living.
Since they do not accept the atheist’s views it must be obvious that they do not really believe their own statement. It is just a technique used during a discussion about religion that is not going their way and is really nothing more than a subtle ad hominem attack. Its purpose is to demean atheists and, by association, diminish the force of their arguments by referring to them in a manner that paints them as having a philosophy that is no different from any theist philosophy which requires faith to understand, rather than the plain, logical deductions based on scientific facts that lead to atheism and are its actual basis. That is, of course, the significant underlying difference between the atheists’ and the theists’ views of the universe: logical conclusions based on proven facts in contrast to unsubstantiated claims that require simple acceptance without any proof.
It is surely more than a little humorous and quite amazing that some individual theists who claim they represent the “god of truth”, as they sometimes refer to their deity, have absolutely no compunction making false statements to win an argument, compromising their integrity in the process. It is as if winning an argument, even dishonestly, gets them some sort of spiritual credit when, in truth, there is no evidence it makes any difference whatsoever to the functioning of the universe. If gods were to exist, do these theists really believe that their god would need their puny assistance? Is he really that needy? If gods actually were to exist, nothing, absolutely nothing, a human could do could possibly make any difference. Remember, if gods were to exist we would be talking about an all powerful, sentient entity which could change the course of a galaxy or even billions of galaxies, on a whim! No! The fact is, gods do not exist.
It is sometimes held that spiritual atheism is an oxymoron. This is largely based on the assumption that the word spiritual has to be a reference to a deity or a spirit world and unseen spirit beings. The definition given earlier shows this is not the case, and that the word “spiritual” in this context refers to mental and emotional capabilities, not to external ethereal beings.
Even if this were not the case, it would still not be an oxymoron. If spiritual atheism is to be likened to a religion, then let us remember that Christianity teaches that there are three individual gods, but at the same time those three individual gods make up a single individual god. That is the doctrine of the trinity. If asked to explain it logically, the explanation very often ends in declaring it to be a divine mystery, since it is clearly not logical for three to be one but remain three at the same time nor for one to be three but remain one at the same time. In the same way, since it is often charged that atheism is just another religion, the spiritual component of spiritual atheism must be a divine mystery.
A consequence of atheism is rejection of all concept of other worlds and universes that have ethereal, spirit, non-corporeal, powerful or magical beings who can interact with our physical world to influence the course of events of the world, groups within it, or actions of individuals. This includes the concepts of heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment respectively. Neither exists, and what you see in this world is what you get. There is no need to worry about what will happen after our lives end. The facts are plain: our consciousness ceases and our bodies decay, returning to the universe to be reused. In view of that we should simply live our lives as best we can in the way that gives us most satisfaction. That includes giving ourselves purpose and participating in the progress of our species and its society. The only inherent purpose to life is to live it. There is nothing else.
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