Spiritual atheism may sound like a contradiction in terms but many atheists are exploring the realms of new age mysticism through ancient practices such as meditation, t’ai chi and yoga. Some are finding comfortable homes on the fringes of new age communities while others are unable to identify with the notion of a godless spirituality. The contrast in language is too much for them.
The word spirituality bothers many atheists. For many centuries it has been associated with religion, especially Christian mysticism with its cloistered adherents who live their lives in strict obedience to man-made tenets. Still, the sense of oneself as a distinctly spiritual being with an inner life persists in the minds of many who do not embrace a belief in god and who relish the modern world with its science and technology.
And while the word spiritual puts off many atheists, the word atheism seems to frighten some people who think of themselves as spiritual. In fact, watching the reaction of some folks when they hear the word atheist reminds me of the early standup comedy of George Carlin when he differentiated between the grungy unkempt beards worn by hippies and the fluffy, well-washed whiskers of Santa Claus. “Beard bad, whiskers good.”
Well then, is there an acceptable euphemism for “atheist?” And while we’re at it, should we substitute another word for “spiritual?” Or is it really a good thing to invent new terms to make everybody comfortable? Might it not be possible to rehabilitate the old standby terms like spiritual and atheist that served us for centuries and put them together to honor the birth of a new generation of individuals who are, indeed, spiritually and morally introspective while rejecting a belief in god? Can we lay claim to the truth about our own nature without paying homage to outdated systems that were born of superstition and primitive magic? Can we assert that human nature contains divine aspects and that to fully experience our own humanity practices like meditation, t’ai chi and yoga can take us deeper into our self-exploration?
I think so. The time has come to claim the right to name ourselves by whatever term describes us best and fits most comfortably. As for me, I’m a spiritual atheist.