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.
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
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.