I once have a very pleasant tête-à-tête with a certain Canadian. This Canadian guy is a Methodist but what strikes me about him is his resentment with religion. Well, he never really said that religion pisses him off…but you can catch him on how he talks about religion. He keeps saying that religion is nothing more but symbols and practices. I can agree with his observations.
The conversation leads us to the subject of spirituality. He was surprised to learn that I am an atheist and keep asking me why I should label myself as an atheist. Well, that will be tackled in another subject. Anyway, he asked me if I believe that everything is all just about the physical reality and if I believe in the realm beyond the physical reality. Such question arises if the person asking question considers atheism is just mere materialism.
The concept of reality really varies but it’s not a matter of personal choice. Reality must be independent with human opinion, that is the rule, but sometimes human opinion creates his own “reality.” If you asked a person who believes in metaphysical mumbo-jumbos about reality, it would have been obvious for him to explain reality base on the belief system he accepted as true. He will describe a reality which includes parallel universes, invisible territories and palace in the sky. That is his reality. Some will even say to you that reality is just an illusion. Rationalist will say that reality is what the mind perceives and so on. So it seems “reality” vs. “what is real” is not really the same.
This Canadian guy seems not very familiar about the difference between abstract realities versus concrete realities. Well, he still clings with the supernatural so it’s an obvious reaction. He asked me “if everything is physical, what happened to love, emotions, beauty and pain?” He thinks that these are set from realities different and separated with the physical plane. Most people who are into esoteric teachings think that way. A kind of mind over matter stuffs. Abstract ideas are not independent to the material brain. You need a brain to perceive love, pain, beauty and emotion. These abstract things will not exist without the material brain and the material humans to interpret them.
He asked me if I derided the word “spirituality” and was surprising on my response. I have my spirituality and spirituality does not require a belief in a god or gods. Hmmmmm…maybe you are also been bolted from the blue with my answer?
You do not need to believe in a god to have a spirit. Ep! Ep! Ep! Not so fast! You think that when I speak about spirit, I am talking about this invisible, disemboweled, supernatural entities that comes out of a person when he died huh? Nope, the word “spirit” has other meaning.
The word spirit can also mean the fundamental emotional and activating principle determining one’s character; it’s not just about ghost. The best meaning I read so far about the word “spirit” is that the “spirit” is the “I” of the individual. It’s the one that makes him uniquely compares to everyone else.
Spirituality is a very misunderstood term. Most of us believe that the term spirituality means going to church every Sunday or spirituality is only achieved when someone read the Tanack, the Bible or the Quoran. Spirituality is a way of life. That every person is looking for happiness, you are entering the realm of spirituality. You are sitting alone in an empty room listening to your favorite music that is spirituality. As you are looking at your favorite artwork, eating your favorite food, talking to your friends or even doing your favorite house chore that is spirituality.
Spirituality transcends mere religion. It is a question of individual inspiration rather than external practices and rituals. It is the recognition of your identity as a conscious being. Spirituality does not necessary mean a search for the existence of a god. On the contrary, spirituality is more searching for the “I” on an individual. Spirituality is more of an inner affair. Spirituality is the search of your uniqueness as an individual. Religion tends to make spirituality from outside source. Priests and pastors teach their adherents that we can get spirituality from reading the Bible, going to church and doing good deeds. Some even says that spirituality is solely a religious term. Today believers look for “spirituality” at books written by men from the past, outside their time and space. It is not found on the pages of those books, nor is it found on what the priests or pastors discourse. It is found inside the person who is reading the book or the one who is listening to the priests. Spiritual experience comes from within you. It is your craving for knowledge, your desire for love, your experience and search for happiness. It seems that a person who connects spirituality on his religion is more lost than an atheist who accepts the wonder and beauty of his life.
Carl Sagan once said in his book “The Demon-Hunted World” that even science can be a profound source of spirituality. When we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that souring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is truly spiritual.
Spirituality is not mere faith. Unlike faith, spirituality is not an assurance of something or a hope for anything. Spirituality is embedded to anyone’s consciousness. It’s neither about Descartes’ dualism nor Christian tradition of the separation of mind and body. Years of research have already done away with it. Spirituality is about identity. The Buddhists even treat the subject of spirituality to be rigorously empirical not just a statement of metaphysics.
So now you know why an atheist like me still has a sense of spirituality.