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Shedding light on terminology sometimes used in this web magazine …

Spirituality among atheists, Part 1

On The Radar (thoughts on current events)

About AtheistBible.net

Atheists have no true public voice, and yet some of the most brilliant people in history have been or came to be Atheists. We have no meaningful sense of community and seem to be characterized by our individuality rather than by the important traits we share. That is one of our biggest problems.

Suggested for Reading:

The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

The Science of Good & Evil, Michael Shermer

How We Believe, Michael Shermer

The End of Faith, Sam Harris

Tower of Babel, Robert T. Pennock

Freedom Evolves, Daniel C. Dennett


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Spirituality, Consciousness, God, Conscious Machines & the Atheist Mind

(cont'd from the previous page)

Having talked about where we believe spirituality came from and how it came about, where are we now?, and where might it be going in the future?

In this day and age, we think because we have a clearer understanding of so many once-mysterious natural occurrences in the universe and in our environments and in the things we believe gave rise to much of earlier spiritual concepts and magical tales, one of the present manifestations of our spiritual desires is the upsurge in magical type sci fi and fantasy fiction in games and movies and entertainment. Typically it involves supposedly out-of-this-world knowledge, an updated version of things we used to see as spiritual, instead of Thor striking with his hammer to make thunder, it’s finding a way through the back of a wardrobe or taking special pills or using specially connected telephones or dreamstates as the magical entry into spiritual realms.

There was a time when the original “pulp” type of sci fi and fantasy literature introducing these themes was considered trashy, the armpit of the novelist’s world, even though some of it was by first rate storytellers (some were scientists) and was truly original and innovative. Now it doesn’t matter what your belief or religious affiliation, the genre’s popular for its entertainment value with believers as well as atheists and agnostics and religious doubters. Our movie protagonists & superheroes get armed with evermore outrageously pseudoscientific prowess, courtesy of brilliant special effects; they are more astounding to behold than any of the purported miracles of some beatified saint, they jump in and out of otherworld realms as in The Matrix movies, they move through time itself. Yet at the same time, if some deluded someone today appeared in public dressed, say, in a bat costume seriously believing they were comic superhero Batman, he or she would probably be stared at in amusement or treated with detached curiosity, and maybe if they tried some dangerous stunt be carted off by peace officers to be observed in a locked medical facility, unless it happened at a film promotion event or this person was obviously acting out a planned role for public amusement.

There’s a schism, now, because we all know what ordinary or even extraordinary people can do: ordinary people pilot or are passengers in planes which are our flying steeds in the sky, we drive our chariot-cars in comfort at great speeds and distances, we communicate around the globe in an instant, watch a glowing screen in our living rooms (and everywhere else in the house) for entertainment and sometimes through it (or from our phones or radios) even learn of real news as it is actually happening so far away that in earlier times it would have taken us weeks or months or maybe even years to hear of. We hurl not thunderbolts, but hideously destructive missiles that vaporize large numbers of our enemies and everything near them; and physically extraordinary people do amazing gymnastic feats well beyond the earliest Olympiad participants thanks to better nutrition and training, or go at it one on one with nature in extreme sports; mentally extraordinary people invent or discover wonderful things from their knowledge of the laws of nature and of how to warp and use those laws that lead to electric lights and computers and iPod Nanos®) and manipulate plant and animal genes at their genetic level instead of taking years of commitment to do the same thing through selective breeding, or else they write extraordinary and captivating tales to amuse us. To earlier peoples we would likely have passed for the gods ourselves in our speedy mechanical chariots and nattering with distant family via the cell phone, one of our many electronic toys.

So what gods do we putative gods need? Perhaps those magical tales and movies with special effects and video games fill up the hole left by no longer being able to believe in it “for real.” We have these parallel tracks on which we seem to operate.

But some do a kind of feint, they manage to live with one foot in reality and the other in the fantasy realm by believing they actually talk to the dead or they have been alien abductees . They only prove our point, that except for where it exists in religion (or with those who actually think they can read our futures in the stars), that love of magical belief which came so easily to us as children and once, in earlier times, seemed a part of the real everyday world and was unquestioningly accepted, is now relegated to the entertainment industry, and only the young, the gullible, the ignorant and poorly educated and religious zealots and isolated groups and tribes, can actually be duped and manipulated by unscrupulous priests and shamans and would-be gods into truly believing it still.

But there are many readily available sources of spiritual fulfillment and self-renewal for atheists just as for the religious in the real world. They can be found in certain environments if you let your mind open up to them, they are available to all, they are like the counterpoint of the dark spiritual experiences we told of above, some people savor them best as a solitary experience, eliciting companionship and sharing and fulfillment from the experience itself, some find them even better shared with someone close. For example, inside almost any of the great National Parks around the world. Imagine for a moment, standing diminutive in the dappled light amongst the venerable, mute, aged trunks and lofting greenery of giant redwoods, some of them growing there since before the writing of either the Bible or the Koran, absorbing their woody, earthily familiar scent, good-tasting in the back of your throat and in your nostrils. If not a giant redwood forest, try a high-canopied lushly dense verdant misty-wet rain forest with orchids, exotic insects, birds calling, flashing iridescent plumage in the drenching ambient light. Or on some parched, expansive dusty sunbleached sunbaked panoramic veldt growing sparse on the African plains. Or a big-sky harshly empty desert tamed and softened by nightfall with darkened sands flowing into indigo-mauve dunes then swooping on up to meet hazy mountains beyond. Or the softly undulating, serene, fresh bright velvet emerald carpets of grass in Wales or Ireland, a “fairy ring” discovered by chance in a forest clearing. In fact there are near-countless other places in nature that can evoke this feeling if you look around, even a city park will do. And so too human-made places, many erected with religious intent: churches , Greek temples, Egyptian tombs, cathedrals that have been built as open as the plot of land on which they stand (and funds and architectural expertise available at the time) allowed, with tall columns, uplifting embellished ceilings , echoing domes full of jewel-hued light filtered through stained glass . And places like Stonehenge (where the studded roof is the vaulting sky itself), its astonishing silent massive monoliths arranged to exploit those instinctively understood ways of evoking spirituality. Even the abandoned, ancient, ruined, portions of Indian cliff dwellings and pueblos, or a once awe-inspiring castle , or parts of old city walls that endure despite being ravaged by invaders and time, left to whisper of the hopes and dreams of those earlier civilizations, their sad fall to ignorance and barbarity, they are still imbued with a nostalgic poignancy that lives on and reaches into becoming spiritual, the people who built them still there in the stonesmiths’ toolings, shades of their civilizations’ heights and their lives, whispering ‘we could rise again,’ if only in the imaginings of you observers. Music can foment that feeling too: Strong, soaring inspirational melodies played on certain instruments, harps, violins, wailing horns and oboes, perfect choirs singing contrapuntally, monotone chants echoing through cloistered monasteries , even though we atheists don’t believe the adoring religious words. How does it hook into spirituality for us (and are mysticism and spirituality different aspects of the same thing)? Does it require the amazing landscapes and sense of timelessness and solitude to get us in touch with the evolutionary roots of these feelings? If those seem to be essential factors, then glance into the introspective eyes of people engaging in group Tai Chi exercises and tell us they aren’t feeling they’re in some spiritual zone too, or those who get a rush of expansive emotion choking them, welling up and spilling out of their hearts in one of those huge densely packed stadiums with like-minded crowds while singing their national anthem pre-game. And if some examples suggest a need for having immense space around, how about when the quest for spirituality means finding quietitude inside yourself through meditation, safe in an insulated hiding space, perhaps a small, warm, dark location where others won’t bother you, won’t even know you’re there?

Well, there are common threads, but they emphatically don’t require dredging up hoary old references to religiosity in spite of many being wrapped in religious trappings, it’s all within your own mind, letting the possibilities play out. They pressure us to expand our minds, drop the barriers, focus on greater possibilities than our individual day-to-day problems. Most of these spiritualistic encounter places were there before we were born and will last long after we die . Perhaps we also get a personal moment of one-ness with the eternal feel of these experiences, and draw something for ourselves, some meaning out of their greatness. A kind of non-drug “high.” In everyday life, we need our mental barriers or we could not live our lives, but as humans, we are social creatures that yearn for close relationships involving unity, we can get that through sexual behaviors or when we feel in mental accord with like-minded people. Spirituality has an element of undoing that alone-ness for awhile. Maybe emphasize spirituality will eventually be explained by behavior of entangled sub-atomic particles and transcendental numbers that account for the form of our brains and how that is reflected in our minds to come up with notions of time and open-endedness.

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