Without an overarching structure dictated by a religious belief, our own beliefs are probably about as diverse as they can be. AB.net wants to look at atheists' spiritual beliefs and what recent research shows about the human brain on spirituality, This four-part look at spiritualism among atheists will be published over the next four issues: In this issue we start with the perception of spirituality; next issue will focus on atheists and spirituality; then we'll look at spirituality and the corporeal brain; our last part will be about spirituality and the children of atheists. If there's enough interest, AB.net will follow up with submitted articles on how other atheists see spirituality. Any submitted articles must have the sender's name, city, and email address, after submission they become the property of AB.net. AB.net will assume no responsibility for opinions expressed in submitted articles. Articles must be original in content and may be edited. AB.net will use them if they offer views and information AB.net thinks have merit.
The perception of "spirituality.": Raise the topic of spirituality, and to most people, the context must be religion. Ask an average group of random individuals whom they think of when asked to name a spiritual leader and you'll most likely get religiously oriented names like the Rev. Billy Graham, the Pope, the Dalai Llama, Buddha, Mohamad, an ayatollah; or perhaps in their minds' eye they see that schlocky popular rendition of the Virgin Mary with hands together in prayer (or worse, those scary white, disembodied, clasped porcelain-rendered praying hands, or else a big-bellied china Buddha). But it's all a matter of individual personal perspective. Even the terrorist Osama bin Laden doubtless qualifies as extremely spiritual to his followers, sad and wrong-headed as that might seem to AB.net. Atheists don't naturally come to mind, even though there have been atheist philosopher-teachers throughout history. Although it probably shocks many atheists, there are religious believers who try to link atheism to monsters like Hitler or Stalin, creatures who were obsessed with power and control and became inhumane themselves in pursuit of their goals and by their willingness to do whatever it took. AB.net would argue that the likes of Hitler and Stalin were not typical of many, or even any, sincere atheists. The Hitlers and Stalins of history were individuals who saw practical advantage in suppressing any ideology or cultural belief which might compete with their own claims to legitimate power. Given that throughout history many religions wielded power even over kings themselves, no wonder demagogues like Hitler, Stalin, and self appointed religious leaders like Osama bin Laden, viewed any religious power base other than the one in which they starred, as the enemy. For them, the simple fact was that religions competed with their own claims to power over people, and interfered with their own ambitions, which is something quite different than holding atheist beliefs.
In a similar vein to the people who think atheists are all would-be Hitlers or Stalins,, there are believers who see them as devil worshipers, which of course they could never be since the Devil is a religious concept. So it bears reminding that, when considering spirituality, spiritual people have come in all colors and shapes and sizes and in all kinds of belief systems, and atheism is certainly another belief system.
Unfortunately for atheists, in rationalizing against and denying the existence of a deity or deities, they've let themselves be painted as something akin to nihilists. Now, nihilists totally reject not just religion but also morals; but AB.net thinks that most atheists find the same need for morality in society as most religious people do, as long as it's based in sound principles. It's quite possible that a few atheists might be nihilists, but most are surely not. Nihilism is such a negative and empty and unspiritual condition of belief that AB.net doesn't accept it as a normal human condition at all; it seems more like a defiant reaction to hopeless black despair, or maybe deep clinical depression, than a genuine belief system.
AB.net thinks the fault in letting ourselves be seen this way is our own. We have not done a good job of uniting in some clear belief systems which express our own morality and the ideas we might have regarding the spiritual side in each of us. It shouldn't surprise us that non-atheists, with no reference picture of who we are, would fill the void with notions of bad/immoral people with no standards at all. This is a sad state of affairs. Some of the greatest philosophers the world has seen, many if not most of whom seemed quite spiritual in their own abilities to navigate the internal human condition, were also atheists. Yet they largely failed to provide workable alternative belief systems which might fill the internal voids left by need of spiritual comforting when people lost loved ones, or felt other pain of the psyche, for example. Reason and logic do little, by themselves, for alleviating mental/emotional pain. Moreover, these earlier philosophers had no access to the modern scientific knowledge of the brain and discoveries concerning neural activities and how imbalances in brain chemistry can affect belief and thought processes. For them, there were even more limitations. Most of the "ordinary" people couldn't read and learned only what they heard from the preachers' pulpits, and that message was one of mixed parts control and comfort. Anything possibly dangerous to church or ruler's power was probably edited out!
Our luck in living in this day and age is that we can reach out through the Web, we can publish without need for permission or approval by the gatekeepers of what gets publicly disseminated. Freedom of speech and of belief is still as-yet allowed, despite the assault on these rights by the current U.S. administration. But if we are to reach out now, it means addressing all aspects of ourselves, not to simply rail against the monolithic religions and how corrupted many of them have become. We can and should examine our human spiritual side in the context of our own atheism, and establish in the popular mind that atheists are as moral and spiritual as they are, even as we deny the existence of god or gods or other deities. Without acknowledging our spirituality, we lose much of our humanity, we are just biological machines with no more capacity to find pleasure or go on flights of imagination or revel in simple phenomena than a carrot or potato.
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