As an atheist, I am occasionally presented with the question of spirituality. Many will point out that spirituality is the hallmark of the religious experience. It follows then, that if I can claim to have experienced what might be called a spiritual experience, then I must allow for religion. Conversely, if someone is a non-believer, the spiritual experience must be alien to them; something they can't possibly understand.
Not so. The spiritual experience is part of being human and one can feel it without the slightest nod to a god or that god's peculiar collection of rules and rituals. Awe and wonder are not shut out to me because I choose to eat whatever the heck I damn well please on Friday. Transcendent joy isn't locked away where I can never feel it because I choose to play with my children on Sunday mornings rather than taking them to a shaman who will do his best to close off their minds and chain them with the fear of a non-existent deity.
I have had, and continue to have, real and powerful spiritual experiences. These include, in no particular order, and at various times in my life :
- holding my wife in my arms
- seeing my children being born
- hearing my oldest son (who has autism) say something new, without prompting
- figuring out a complex problem I have been working on
- reading a really great book
- looking out into a clear, starlit night
- sex (one of the most powerful spiritual experiences a human being can have)
- having someone do something kind for me, without my asking
- standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon
- seeing protozoa through my microscope
- seeing the Rocky Mountains looming high above me as we drive ever closer
- my first solo flight in an airplane
- a loving kiss
- seeing the impact marks from comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in my backyard telescope
- coming to grasp with some new learning (science books do this for me)
- standing in front of the large tank at Marineland and watching the Orca swim by, inches away
- catching the wispy ring of the Crab Nebula in my telescope
- holding a copy of my first book, fresh from the box
- getting hugs from my kids with an "I love you" thrown in for good measure
Without reservation or exaggeration, I can honestly say that some of these moments are spiritual, even transcendent.
All those things . . . love, friendship, the appreciation of nature, the feeling of being carried away by music, the exploration of the self . . . none of these things require religion. Nor do they require a holy book of any kind. The Bible, the Qur'an, or the Talmud are no better moral guides, nor divinely inspired, than "Horton Hears A Who" or "Harold and the Purple Crayon". And in terms of enriching the human experience, I'd go with Horton and Harold.
Religion and its associated holy books are the trappings. If anything, they take away from the spiritual experience by providing you with a ready-made set of guidelines and rules that you must follow. They chain your mind and restrict your spiritual growth by teaching that the only path to true spirituality is through its complex maze of justification and fear.
I'll close this post by suggesting that the path to spritituality and personal growth actually opens up when you reject God.
Incidentally, in a recent post I responded to a related argument where a couple of friends argued that since I believed in love, I must (obviously) believe in God. You can read my reply to that by clicking here.