I occasionally describe myself as a spiritual atheist. Slightly oxymoronic, but it expresses something important about my aspirations and beliefs.
Essentially I share many of the aspirations of people who are on spiritual journeys, but I have a fundamentally naturalistic worldview. I seek to grow in honesty and compassion, knowledge of myself and openness to others. I would love to live in a world in peace and in harmony. The language and the stories of people on journeys of spiritual and personal development have a lot of resonance for me. And I would love to be able to believe in miracles, in supernatural ways of healing our hurting world. But when I look into the claims for the divine or the supernatural, I find they have very shaky foundations – too shaky to rest my hopes for a better world on.
For example, while the demonstrations against the Iraq war were going on, I was sitting on a hillside pouring my heart and soul into meditations that, I had been told, would do more to prevent the war than physically joining the demonstrations. I’ve changed my mind since then. Joining them might not have achieved much. But I would prefer to make a small contribution that was definitely connected to the systems of the world, rather than trying to influence events through a mental/spiritual process I had no confidence was doing anything at all.
More recently I’ve come into contact with new age ideas, of energy healing and so on. I’ve been strongly drawn to the beautiful possibilities, but the deeper I look the more illusory they seem. I feel sure that the proponents of these systems are acting in good faith, but to me they are in danger of doing nothing, or even doing harm, because they aren’t checking the foundations of their belief systems carefully enough. I wrote in an earlier post evidence, bio-energetic fields and alternative medicine about some of the problems I’ve come across.
I think it’s often the strength of the compassion of these people that makes them want to believe that their hopes are true. I sympathise, because I want to believe these things too. But on the basis of the evidence I’ve seen I just can’t share their hopes.
Becoming a better person and working for a better world would both be much easier with some divine or supernatural assistance. But I’d prefer to find my own way, based on the best evidence I can find for how the world works, rather than rely on a deus that may never emerge from his or her machina!