Now how’s that for an apparent oxymoron? How can the words Atheism and Spiritual work together?
Well, for one, you can listen to or read Sam Harris. neuro-scientist, materialist/reductionist, and a man who still insists on his spiritual position – despite being one of the so called four horsemen of the New Atheism, which included the late, great Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkns and Daniel Dennet. All of these have openly described their “numinous” experience, moments of sublime, oceanic connectedness. Keep track of that word: it’s going to make several appearances.
You could look the writings of Noah Levine, whose focus is on Atheist Buddhism with a with an emphasis on recovery. You could take it up directly with the Buddha of the Hinyana tradition, which is the oldest branch of Buddhism, enshrined in the so called Pali Cannon. Despite popular conceptions (and the fact that the Mahayana tradition which followed and flourished across much of Asia has theistic leanings), Buddha didn’t claim any divine status, nor any knowledge of such beings. His focus was on suffering, and finding a way out of it.
Or you could invoke the Great Old Man, Lao-tsu, author of the Dao Teh Ching. The Dao is a real force, but it ins’t a “proper” deity – it’s more akin to the Force from Star Wars, a presence that permeates and sustains existence.
What’s the common denominator?
So, the other day I was taking with an old friend who has a bone to pick with religion. Like to many kids, he had it beat into him (emotionally, if not physically) – and it has left a permanent scar.
And, like so many people, he assumes by spirituality, I mean religion.
However, I challenged him (I like doing that). I asked him simple set of example questions, all following this line of thinking:
Do you feel you are part of a greater world? A bigger universe?
How about your friends and loved ones?
How about the environment at large, or even locally.
He doesn’t have any pets – but the question still works.
What about your bass guitar; when you played with your band, did you ever have moments of flow, instances of sheer beauty?
If the answer is No, you truly are dead inside. If the answer is yes, then you understand what goes into Spirituality.
Connection – with people, places, things.
That’s the story, morning glories.
Now some theologians and philosophers may object to my reducing Spirituality to this one idea.
They can bugger off.
Or at least get more connected.
Does it matter. YES!
Most of the bad shit in the world displays a lack of connection – and it’s getting worse. I love technology, but I hold it somewhat responsible.
When I first got on Facebook, I thought I was connecting.
Ah, the bonfire of the digital vanities.
But I digress.
Humans need contact. We long for connection. This understanding answers the question of how an Atheist can be ethical, because it take ethics out of the realm Thee Big and Holy Books, and puts it right where it belongs, at the center of our hearts.
I’m a mythologist, so I do enjoy my Big Holy Books – it’s what I’ve been reading my whole life. But they never made me genuinely ethical.
I’m still working on that one.
For Buddhists and Hindus, the word is Dharma.
Dharma shouldn’t need rules – there is no rule to being open, kind or compassionate.
No dos, no don’ts, just know what your connections, and try to deepen and expand them.
Or to quote the noted philosopher Lenny Kravitz, Sometimes You just Gotta Let Love Rule.
On that note, stay connected!