I am not ashamed of being an atheist. I'm ok w/being rational. But I had a discussion with my sister in law today regarding having been Roman Catholic. We both come from Catholic families -- she is SBNR (spiritual but not religious, a point of view that I find to be namby-pamby), and I am an atheist. I caught myself candy-coating my point of view. I said that I was extremely agnostic. And as I was saying it, I was thinking, "WTF? Atheist!". Now, to a degree, I didn't want to offend her. And to a degree, I didn't want to get into a discussion, muchless an argument, about it. But I do feel cowardly.
If you check the dictionary, "spiritual" is actually related to matters of the spirit, the soul, which is a religious concept. (There isn't any physical proof of the soul, by the way.) I don't think that the questions you listed -- questions almost everyone has asked at least once -- are related to religion. Someone might find their answers, however delusional, in their religion, but religion isn't necessary to answer those questions. "SBNR" strikes me as the step between religious and agnostic. I describe it as "namby-pamby" because it still allows one to hold onto beloved delusions about reality, even if it means that someone else isn't telling you how to think. I find that the people I know who are SBNR are just one step away from organized religion. Strikes me as fence-sitting, and falling on the side of the deity, yet allows you to feel enlightened because you don't report to the Pope, because deep inside you "know" better than that. The SBNRs I know also take, like many religious folk, to the idea that belief is not just better than non-belief, but a necessity. I've been told that everyone should believe in god in some form or another. Didn't matter what form, as long as it was god. I've heard this from Catholics, Quakers, New Agers, and even a Sikh (an SBNR of Sikh background, to be more specific).
Just another thought on the religion spirituality distinction....
Spirituality is just a private and personal form of religion. Religious and spiritual people essentially put faith into the same core things (god or nature for example) it's just that spiritual people don't tend to label themselves in the same way that religious people do. Meaning spiritual people don't call themselves Christians even if they do have faith in the divinity of Jesus for example. I also think that many people are spiritual because they think god is above worldly distinctions of religion. I met a guy just the other day who was wearing a t-shirt that said "God is too big for any one religion." In his opinion the spirituality that underlies religion is the same everywhere it's just the label/traditions of communing with god that are different.
I don't necessarily think it is namby-pamby to be calling yourself spiritual instead of religious. I think that people who call themselves spiritual just choose to relate to god (or whatever they feel is deserving of worship) in a private personal way instead of a way prescribed by a particular religion. I personally am of the opinion that that is the only valid distinction between religion and spirituality.
After reading a couple reviews of the book you mentioned my initial reaction was 'bleah!" How is it that the label of spirituality has such a monopoly on the concepts of love, awe, feelings of transcendence etc... (This isn't a question so much for you it's more rhetorical.)
Anyways would you perhaps have some links to some shorter articles on this topic. I am interested in hearing the ideas but do not have time (or the stomach) for a whole book on a topic I am likely to disagree with. (Yes I am admitting to a bias.)
Also I'd like to make it clear that I never once said that spirituality is necessarily vague (although some people who call themselves spiritual can't give a definition of what they think it means hence the cartoon). In short I think that religion is organized spirituality (and you probably already know this but I'm going to say it anyway not all religion contains a god.)
I'm also very aware that some atheists consider themselves to be spiritual. I'm obviously not one of them.
I also disagree with your description of "namby-pamby". While both religion and spirituality both deal with the soul and spirit, they are NOT the same thing. A person can look for spiritual answers at a faire ring just as easily as they could through the study of cosmology, or mediation. I think to place the idea of spirituality into the same idea of religion is misleading and doing a diservice to anyone who wants to answer questions in their lives.
Why do you call questions such as: Why are we here or what does it all mean? spiritual questions? I don't think of them as spiritual questions at all. I think of them as questions that result from our self awareness among other things.
Most folks would use the term spiritual to describe what you call "self awareness among other things". Are you sure you are choosing not to use the term spirituality because it does't sit well with you as an atheist?
I am an atheist, but I am also a deeply spiritual person. My studies of cosmology and physics fulfill me on a very deep spiritual level. I am not afraid to use the "S-word".
I've already stated above what I think the only valid distinction between religion and spirituality is and thus far have not received a convincing enough reason to change my thoughts on the subject. They guy with the t-shirt was one of maybe 5 people I've ever asked about the topic that had a clear concise definition of what spirituality was to them and I fully respect that. The vast majority of people I talk to about spirituality tend to answer "well I believe in something." "Well I believe in something" isn't a useful or even an interesting answer it's a cop out or an admission that one has never really taken the time to explore what it means to them and that is something I certainly don't respect.
Are you sure you have a clear concise definition of spirituality? Because your response to me is rather vague... self awareness isn't a necessarily spiritual thing and certainly not a good or convincing definition of spirituality.
Those questions are extremely valid and are not a cop out. From a purely scientific viewpoint those questions still provide much understanding of our place in the universe. How the universe came into being (single big bank, M-theory, parallel universes, etc) to how life developed here (and elsewhere - the universe is BIG) and what will happen in the future . There is always meaning. Whether there is a divine intelligence is totally a different story entirely.
You mention reality. What is reality? Solid matter? Atomic level? Quantum level? Reality is different at all of those levels and each of them is definitely beyond the description and understanding of the others.
My understanding of my place in the universe is very spiritual to me. It comforts me knowing that I have a place in the the great machine (for lack of a better term) of our universe (and others most likely). I don't claim any belief in divine works that put our universe into play, but being able to live my life know that I exist for a reason (we are all stardust) is a great feeling.
It seems to me that so many atheists have such negative views. instead of seeing the beauty in things is seems to always be about tearing down others' religious beliefs (which I don't believe in), trying to prove them wrong, or making it clear how unintelligent and backwards they are. There is a reason that some many folks give atheist a bad rap....because so many of the atheists are so negative.
My understanding of the definition of an atheist is a person who does not believe in a god or gods. . Your comment that I am somehow "pretending to be an atheist" is humorous, indeed. It sounds very similar to the elitist nonsense that many of the local fundy Christians spout. By what yardstick are you measuring my "lack of a belief in a deity"?
How about I use a different word than negative? Let me try again. I think the word I am looking for is more along the lines of militant. Atheists who feel the need to prove others wrong make us look bad. Just like militant Christians who try to push their beliefs on others make other Christians look bad.
Do I really need to make it clear that I don't strap on goat-fur leggings every full moon and dance around a fire as a way to worship the "great machine" (that was a metaphor, you know)? Yes, the universe is awe-inspiring...and it is MUCH MORE strange than we have so far comprehended in the last few thousand years. Our species will hopefully be around long enough to gain some better insight into what reality is all about, but it is going to take more than religious thinking or a viewpoint that concrete reality (what people can touch, see, smell, taste and hear, and can currently measure) as we currently experience it, is all there is to the universe.
Maybe you want to play a game of semantics, that is your choice. I am quite comfortable using the word spiritual as a way to help comprehend my place in the universe....[and on a side-note I do use the words/terms goddamn it/Jesus Christ when I hit my hand with a hammer].
It is belief. Not belief in an intelligent deity that controls the universe. But a belief that we all play a role in "creation", not necessarily a predestined or ordained role by any means, but a role nonetheless.
I chose the terms negative (changed it to militant) atheist and elitist Christian carefully to address not the belief, but the people who push their beliefs on others. I meant exactly what I said. I could care less what people believe, as long as they don't push them on me or choose to negatively influence my life.
I think that your dislike of the word might have more to do with the religious baggage that accompanies it. Just as some atheists try to choose to avoid using expletives than include God, Jesus, etc. as of a need to distance themselves from anything remotely religious.
I wouldn't use naturalist due to its antiquated feel, which doesn't seem to take into account modern studies in particle and quantum physics. It sounds like a word that Charles Darwin, etc would use over 100+ years ago. It doesn't offend me and I don't care if others use it.
I could care less if you are not a spiritual person or not. Use whatever terms you wish to describe yourself. That is cool. But remember you were the one who alluded to me be something less of an atheist than yourself.
It appears that further discussion is probably pointless since we cannot agree upon a common frame of reference for a simple word. Good luck.