It has become obvious to me that when Atheist speak, “reason” is paramount to any conversation.  In fact, I just attended the “Reason Rally.”  Reason, it appears, is the lifeblood of the Atheist movement.  But what is Spirit?  Where does or does it fit into the hierarchy of Atheist thought?  Plato and later Aristotle, whom I believed “formalized” the European cultural essence, viewed “reason” as the higher function of man/woman, while appetite (emotion) was more “base.” Plato saw them in opposition to one another a sort of “dualism.”  This led to Descartes idea of “mind vs. body” The superiority of the intellect over the emotional self (Spirit), even Richard Dawkins asked at the Reason Rally, who could rally against reason?


I personally had a discussion with a fellow atheist whereas I mention that the “spirit” was important in human interrelationships.  She became upset with me when I told her that “spirit,” in my mind, was that unexplained connection (unreasonable) between humans and the universe, the unreasonable “knowing” that there’s more than just a physical connection between us and the star “stuff” that made us, more than that which is provable by science perhaps something metaphysical. That spirit is the inseparable bond, the appositional relationship, which we all needed to make us human to make us whole.  That in my mind, there was no separation between reason and spirit, that they both shared equal importance in our existence and both were necessary to bring us balance. She denied, and even became angry with me, that spirit (emotions) played such an important role, because I would assume that she saw “spirit” (emotion) as that which is used to fuel religion and therefore unnecessary.


I then wondered what do other Atheist really think about the concept of Spirit?  To my knowledge they never speak on it as something of value, if mentioned at all.  Does it have a significant place in Atheist thought or any place at all?  If so, what is it?


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Comment by Pope Beanie on April 28, 2012 at 12:00am

I believe similarly that spirituality is the feeling we can get when we feel connected to each other and the universe. It's like the feeling people can get when praying, or when singing spiritual music, but which (obviously to us atheists) exists without the existence of a supernatural agent or spirit separate from our physical existence. It is not a real connection, but merely metaphorical, or an internally contrived feeling of connection. 

I agree with your friend that spirit has unfortunately been used to fuel religion. But that doesn't prove that some concept of spirit is unnecessary or not useful to us. In fact it seems to me that religion is only one of the ways we've over-intellectualized our innate capacity to connect to each other and the universe. Other over-intellectualizations that have attempt to explain things are astrology, phrenology, superstition, or even homeopathy's contrived explanation for the placebo affect.

When I say we "connect" to people and the universe, I mean we understand internally how to interact with and predict behavior. E.g. before we had science, we originally learned to predict the behavior of the sun daily, or the moon monthly, or the weather or the seasons, as if those objects and processes were acting with a mind or spirit of their own.

So far, I've seen that I have a minority opinion here at TA on the definition of spirituality. My take is that our disdain for religion and other over-intellectualized explanations that lack empirical evidence has sometimes led scientists to the absolute refusal to even try to explain some of the internal feelings that have been historically very difficult to explain. I'm certain it's inappropriate to conclude that science will never explain our feelings of spirituality, and I'm pretty sure that science will be able someday to explain the usefulness of those feelings.


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