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Friday, February 19, 2010

The Limitless Spirituality of Atheism

I believe that what we call spirituality is a natural extension of recognizing (consciously or subconsciously) that we are all part of a larger whole. The laws of physics tell us that everything is interconnected; everything impacts everything else. Whether we realize it or not, we feel a physical connection with the earth, the air, the tree under our window and the stars a billion light years away - we feel it because it is PHYSICALLY there. When we are conscious of this feeling, it becomes the basis for our own atheist spirituality which informs our ethics, completely divorced from the imposed, politically motivated fairy tales of religion that seek to limit (and often contradict) the limitless world around us.

People are afraid to leave their religion for various reasons: some are afraid of being ostracized by their families and communities; some are terrified of losing the rigid rules that guide their lives and having to figure things out for themselves; and some simply can't imagine living a life devoid of spirituality. There's little we can do about people's fear of personal responsibility. But we can do something about the fear of ostracism by offering religious people a welcoming, loving community on the other side of the divide. And most importantly, we can do something about the erroneous belief that without religion, a person's life is empty, lonely and full of fear. It is exactly the opposite - and it is up to us to say that. When we discuss atheism with religious people, I think it is important that we talk about this atheist spirituality based on provable, observable laws of physics, and impress upon them the awe and joy we feel - not towards an impossible and often malicious entity, but towards EVERYTHING, without limits, without conditions, and without demands.

We could use a word of our own, an atheist version of "spirituality" - or we can just feel the sense of awe and connection implied by the word without the need to label it. However, when we are talking to religious people, I do think we need to use terminology that is familiar to them. When we're dealing with people's fears that an absence of religion equals an empty, lonely, miserable life, the word "spirituality," I think, goes right to the core of their fears.

Religion claims that it is the source of that awe and connection - and I think the key to wrestling control away from religion is exactly this: showing, by concrete example, that these feelings not only don't originate in religion, but can be stronger without it when divorced from the fear and shame of religion.


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