Sunday, December 21, 2008

Atheist mystic

Atheists and agnostics help me to clarify my ideas about spirituality. Their beliefs are closer to mine than the beliefs of most Christians—well, those dominating the media, not those close to me.

But my atheist friends reject the word “spiritual,” unable to separate it from religions, to which they direct a mix of contempt, pity, frustration, and anger, assuming that all religious people believe literally and naïvely in religious myths. I confess to having similar feelings as I grew in awareness of the myth of Christ, and I also identify with those who, as one atheist wrote, “have become open about their atheism at personal cost but out of a feeling of moral necessity.”

Personal cost and moral necessity. Yes. Moral necessity because going along with “lies,” as they see it, violates their conscience. Personal cost flamed into view recently in a local paper’s guest editorial. It suggested that pagans and atheists “strip naked and dance around in the moonlight,” and “face life devoid of joy or hope.” The author followed the “promise to live at peace with you in brotherhood” with the promise to try “not to snicker when you freeze your behind off.”

This was such an obviously vicious attack that it generated rebuttals and, I suspect, most readers knew it for what it was. Ultimately it probably did more good than harm.

Because my atheist friends resist discussing spirituality, I’m excited to be dialoguing with an atheist for whom spiritual atheism is a passion. A blogger from Raleigh, North Carolina, at P! (yes, it's a link—go ahead and click on it), he criticizes the new atheism’s (Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, et al) “illogical rejection of all things god, christian, and religion,” and he considers it as dogmatic as Christian fundamentalism. In his view, atheist militancy,
outdoes evangelism by a far piece, conveyed with a Rovian arrogance that is very disconcerting.” And he agrees with my high regard for The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville, which he finds “brilliant and comforting.

Comte-Sponville not only endorses spirituality; he’s a mystic, an atheist mystic. How’s that for a paradox?
Here’s a sample of his deep spiritual awareness:
For any finite spirit, the truth of the universe must indeed be mysterious. How can we expect to understand and explain everything, given the fact that the ‘everything’ was here long before we were, and formed us, and permeates our very being, and surpasses us in every direction? One does not need much lucidity to grasp the fact that being is a mystery.
The mystery permeates us particularly at this time of year, the winter solstice, but the author professes disbelief in God. More about that soon.

1 comment:

ddjango said...

I must confess, Jeanette, that I do have some difficulty in defining "spirituality" as I mean it.

Perhaps it's "awareness of a higher 'intelligence'"; or maybe "a collective existence".

I like your calling Comte-Sponville a "mystic". Somehow, many atheists and scientists contend, "If I can't grasp it, it doesn't exist". Such conceit.

Humanity's biggest mistake is to imagine that everything can be "humanized". By which I mean "known by humans".

If we're so smart, why are we so intent on wiping out our species (and most of the others)? What basic assumptions do we make that we are convinced our scientific findings are ultimately correct and universal?

As an atheist, I do not think there's a god. That doesn't, however, leave that job open to an appointment of humans to fill it.

Be at peace.