Friday, October 2, 2015

Can an Atheist be Spiritual?

Army Photography Contest - 2007 - FMWRC - Arts and Crafts - Follow the Light
Oxford Dictionary defines the term “spiritual” as follows:
  1. Of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things
  2. Of or relating to religion or religious belief[1]

As a skeptic and an atheist, I do not believe in spirits, souls, gods, or ghosts. Spiritual people believe in the supernatural, skeptics do not. There is a complete absence of credible evidence substantiating the paranormal. Belief in spiritual forces, whether these forces are defined by organized religion, popular culture, or personal intuition, requires faith. While the concept of faith has been exalted as a human virtue, I tend to agree with the Kurt Vonnegut Jr quote, “Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith. I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”[2]

For me, the religious application of the term “faithful” can be used interchangeably with the terms “gullible” and “superstitious.” Believing something without evidence is a slippery slope. If I choose to accept one supernatural manifestation on faith, am I not then susceptible to believing any absurdity? Talking snakes, invisible deities, angels, pixies, leprechauns, and unicorns are all supported by faith and disputed by reason. How does one justify belief in a god, but not in a pixie, or in some other god?

Are ghosts real because it feels as if ghosts are real? If so, this same intuitive sense could be used as justification for every god ever worshiped and every superstitious belief ever held. Is god real because the Bible says he’s real? If so, the Koran is proof for Allah’s existence and the Vita Merlini is proof that magical wizards are real. Are souls real because people you respect in your culture say that souls are real? If so, respected people from other cultures and other time periods who held superstitious beliefs are proof of said beliefs.

It is human nature to be egocentric. Egocentricity is how humans all over the world and throughout history reflect the predominant beliefs of their own culture and “feel” fortunate that they happened to have been born into the “true” faith, while considering those born in other cultures unfortunate to have been taught false beliefs.

Believers and non-believers enjoy and suffer the same range of emotional experiences. Both groups experience wonder, ecstasy, fear, anger, love, excitement. However, believers and non-believers may differ in their interpretations of these experiences. It is a natural limitation for humans to lack insight with regards to emotion. The experience of emotion often seems to arrive from external sources. Believers may interpret some of these sources as supernatural ones (god, spirits, the devil, ghosts, angels, and demons). Sometimes these emotional experiences may be mistaken for evidence of the paranormal. But, feelings are not evidence. Science provides rational explanations for human mental states. Changes in neurochemistry resulting from reflexive and perceptual reactions to internal thoughts and external events create emotional experiences.[3]

The entire process that creates an emotional experience is housed within the human brain. The brain can react to thoughts in the same way it reacts to actual events. For instance, if I believe with all my heart on a Thursday that it is actually Friday, I will experience whatever emotions accompany the idea, “It’s Friday!” In other words, a false belief creates the identical emotions as an accurate belief.

Can an atheist be spiritual? My answer is, “no.” Can an atheist experience the same sense of wonder and joy as a person who is spiritual? Yes, of course.

[1] "Definition of Spiritual in English:." Spiritual: Definition of Spiritual in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US). N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
[2] "A Quote from Mother Night." Goodreads. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
[3] "Biology of Emotion - Boundless Open Textbook." Boundless. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.

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