2012-06-13

Back in MY Day

"Atheist spirituality"? What? Huh? Atheist spirituality? Wow.

Browsing through the bookstore at last year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, I saw this book: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, by Andre Comte-Sponville. He’s a French philosopher. I apologize for the national stereotyping, but I admit that what popped to mind was the thought: “There's no atheist as atheist as a French atheist.” And he’s writing about atheist spirituality.

Since then I have seen this phrase, "atheist spirituality" in a number of places. "Atheist spirituality." My, my. The times they are a-changing.

Things used to be simpler. (Do I sound old? “I tell you, when I was a boy . . .”)

When I was in fourth grade, I heard the word “atheist,” asked what it meant, and shortly thereafter decided I was one. This was a scandal to my classmates in small-town Georgia. I was "the class atheist" from then on through high school.

So I can tell you, when I was a boy, things were simpler. Atheists didn’t have something they called "spirituality." We didn’t use that word for our experiences. We eschewed – and sometimes outright scorned – words such as spiritual, sacred, divine, transcendent. We weren’t so keen on awe, mystery, or wonder either. Those were the days!

Back in the day when
"men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from alpha centauri were real small furry creatures from alpha centauri," (Douglas Adams)
and atheists were real atheists, the only point that atheists were concerned to establish was that they were ethical. "It’s perfectly possible to be good without God," was the main atheist message. But these atheists today want to tell us not just that they are moral, but that they are, in fact, spiritual.

Spiritual atheists. Well, I have learned to accept that there are plastic glasses, tight slacks, and jumbo shrimp. Why not spiritual atheists? Times change, words change. The language itself evolves, and so, apparently, do atheists.

Here's a sample: some lines from a Youtube video called, “My Spirituality as an Atheist”
"…I’d have to consider myself a spiritual person. I’m not talking about some ghostly, ethereal soul…inside my body….I’m talking about the essence of human….I use the word “spirit”…rhetorically. [It means] the action or ability to see beauty, to feel wonder, and to be in awe. Religion…prostitutes the awe and the mystery….They bottle up our essence and try putting a lid on the wonder we naturally feel. They fail, of course. Religion points to the man behind the curtain in an attempt to answer the mystery – when…there is no man….The Grand Tetons….A pile of stars…still and perfect….At times I can be so overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive that I cry or I laugh or I scream or I just breathe deeply. I never once imagined that to be supernatural….Being humble is simply the feeling of recognizing the reality of one’s small significance to a universe so massive. Being grateful to be alive doesn't require a person to be grateful toward….I am one with the universe. Not metaphysically, but physically. I am as much the universe as a supernova: made of the same particles, governed by the same forces. I am genes that mutated randomly then were selected naturally based on their success in survival. And I love apple butter on a biscuit. I collapse in awe at the magnificence of this place….I breathe appreciation for it all. I have to – with all my essence, with all my spirit."


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This is part 1 of 6 of "Atheist Spirituality"
Next: Part 2: "freshabundantsimpleunifiedsilentserene"