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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 spirituality?

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 evidence.

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 atheist.

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Spiritual Atheist