The Spiritual Atheist..

If the purpose of speech is to convey a message. And an atheist calls himself spiritual. Isn't that person misrepresenting himself by using a word that is most largely viewed to be synonymous with "soul"? Even if he himself has his own unique meaning for it (which takes a 5 minute video to understand)

Let's be honest most people hear the word spirit and think soul.. don't they?

It seems like a way of justifying for no reason. If there is a lack of a better word... make a new one. To me I find that people are kind of ridiculed or perceived in a derogatory way if they admit or "come out" with believing they do not have a soul. Like you are somehow less of a person, lacking mystery, etc.. So when someone tries to find a convoluted means of explaining why they call themselves "spiritual". I feel that they are pandering to this unfortunate misperception.

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Just an hour or two ago I read an article in Freethought Today, where a bunch of folks (I think they all work at FFRF) answered the following question, in reference to a claim that "a majority of the population is spiritual but not religious":  "

Does anyone really understand what it means to be "spiritual but not religious?"

Some of the respondents said it was basically meaningless, because they were operating under a religious definition of "spiritual" but Dan Barker broke it down in a lengthy and thorough response, saying there were basically three different meanings to this depending on the individual.

1) Someone who is quite theistic but doesn't go to a church will sometimes say it, because to them "religion" means "belongs to a church."  Barker then says "To my mind, these people are indeed religious, though not part of any organized religion," and I agree.  There's clearly ambiguity not only in the definition of "spiritual" but also of "religion."  I guess a lot of New Agers might fit into this bucket.  [And this is why I am always skeptical of polls that say X percent of people are without religion--how many of them think "religious" means "goes to church" and reject that label while still believing in a higher power?  These folks are not our compatriots and seeing more of them is no cause for celebration--except that maybe they will take our side in some church-state issues.]

2) Barker's second group thinks "religion" is a claim to a transcendent reality but reject it and use "spiritual" to mean feelings up the sublime, meditation, enjoy the beauty in the world, and get one's mind off the ordinary and commonplace.  And this of course is what we are talking about here.  I've no complaint with this attitude but of course the trick is figuring out that someone means this and not the other stuff when they say "spiritual."

3) Then there are the evangelicals, who consider themselves more spiritual than religious but do concede the "religious" label fits.  Specifically these are the ones who think of "religion" as man reaching up to doG, while real Xianity is doG reaching down to man.  "Spiritual" here is a reference to the holy spirit.  Obviously this is not a sense in which I would use the word "spiritual" in talking about myself.

Because the word is so ambiguous, I try to avoid it, and sometimes find it a bit offputting when others use it because then I have to figure out if this is some guy who believes in woo-woo or has more of the attitude expressed so well by Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson.

And that is how I feel. Thanks for sharing.

Semantics are important. I wish we didn't have to worry about it. It especially makes atheists debates difficult because each word has SO MANY meanings. Religion, God, Atheist, Agnostic, Spiritual, Soul, etc.. all these words have so much baggage.

I look forward to a time (and I believe it will come relatively soon) when current limited forms of the written / spoken word are obsolete. A quaint memory of a primitive form of language used by early humans... If technology as a natural process had an agenda (and it almost appears to have one) it's priority would be supercharging our means of communication to unimaginable levels. When we have the ability to connect our minds (of course many will reject it but that's irrelevant) and can share our thoughts, ideas, memories, visuals, emotions with anyone at any time from anywhere instantly. That will be a beautiful language to me. There will no longer be language barriers. That will be the global language. Misunderstanding will be scarce. The fair and just thing to do will be something attainable by both parties. Of course there will always be pockets of people along the way who choose to not join in to the global conversation... and that is ok too.

Great post, Steve! 

I wonder how many of us feel this? I know I do, and have ment many others also. I expect that many of us place a label on the feeling, and call it god, others nature.

In the movie 'Contact', both of these labels are applied to what seems to be the same 'object'. But the scientist seems to come closer at times to the 'object'. A theist view point seems to hide the 'object' from view behind a fog of poorly matched language and metaphor. While the scientist begins to touch the 'object' with tools, models, and method.

For me it feels like I am standing a vast beach with higher deminsions teasing me for awareness. As I delve deeper, I find more, and my vision must be replaced or broadened with rationalty and abstraction. But that shutter of knowing mixed with ignorance, almost seems like a lovers dance, trying to embrace, but feeling the vast space of unknowing. Funny how I am now near tears....

It's beautiful, certainly. I would prefer to describe it with the word awestruck over spiritual though.

Carl Sagan (who wrote Contact) actually did refer to spirituality much in the same way as the the guy who posted this video. However, I also believe he pandered to the religious as many scientists still do today. It seems as if it's to not push the religious away from science. I love Sagan but I believe he was an atheist however, he would never have called himself that.

He used the word atheist in the "hard" sense of the term, an absolute belief that there is no god, period... and I think most atheists don't go that far, so I would agree we'd mostly be calling him atheist today even though he called himself agnostic.

During my reading of the book 'Contact', it was rather clear that more would go on the trip to Vega, 5 if memory still serves. Representatives of other faiths with science.

For the movie, there seemed to be an excess engagement of 'people of faith', in the decision making, I expect as a way to reach a wider audience. During the plot development, the 'religious' component was slowly killed off via the effects of madness and a final  secret involvement of corporate and government(s) interest.

While I think the movie 'Contact' should have had atleast a crew of three, scientist/astronomer, philosophy/cultural anthropologist, biologist/biochemist, the effect made by the single person going was effective. Maybe the scientist could have been a poet on the side? 

I still expect that 'Contact II' will appear in time, maybe via our own 'First Contact'?  

I don't suppose that someone who has imbibed a fifth of spirits would be considered spiritual.

When doing 'spirituality', a clear head might be helpful, but I have known my share of folks that seem to believe that a little 'spiritualist little helper' might improve the event.

And as far as definitions go, alcohol is definitely a solution....

So when someone tries to find a convoluted means of explaining why they call themselves "spiritual". I feel that they are pandering to this unfortunate misperception.

No, I now equate my feelings of connectedness with nature and people as spirituality. Religion, more than any other human invention has convoluted, misinterpreted, and misrepresented "spirituality". And I see in atheists an overreactive backlash to discussion of spirituality, quite probably as a knee-jerk reaction to how religion has successfully taken such ownership of inherent human qualities (or qualia).

Even though (imo) belief in Free Will and Spirituality are just delusions, I still want to try to understand how such delusions can seem so real, and take hold of us. I've had feelings of connectedness that make me feel that something "bigger than myself" can explain and even give purpose to my existence. But I'll bet it's from a built-in human need to find connections in the universe and with other humans. I also have constant feelings that "I" am in charge of my own behavior, and I'm not just a sack of chemicals pre-determined to act out destiny. So my question is, how can determinism actually feel so much like free will?

So yeah, I agree that jumping to simplified, supernatural explanations for hard-to-explain human feelings is counter-productive, especially when scientific inquiry and reflection of our human selves becomes too easily avoidable. But no, I see a constant need in too many atheists to deny such basic human feelings (or perceptions or delusions or whatever they might be called), just because religionists (and spiritual charlatans like Deepak) so consistently employ woo to explain these things, instead of real science.

I understand how many atheists would consider my employment of the word "spirituality" as pandering to wooists. However (and I might decide later I'm taking the wrong approach), I feel stubborn enough about my view of human spirituality (in the non-supernatural sense) that I'm anxious to refine its definition, with more empathy and less denial, and with more scientific interpretation when possible. (With fMRI data, for example.)

Gotta go back to your opening sentence, "...the purpose of speech is to convey a message." You can call the soft, knee-high thing you're sitting on a "spoon" if you want, but you would be better off not talking about it at all if you use the wrong word. "Spiritual" connotes living among the spirits. Although I don't correct my friends when they call me spiritual, I don't refer to myself that way.

You're right. There should be a better word for someone who stands in awe of the natural word but who rejects the supernatural world in its entirety.

How about aweful?  Hmmm. Maybe not. :-)


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