A naturalistic spirituality

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!


7 responses to “A naturalistic spirituality

  1. I agree with you the the New Agers often hold out empty promises to some very desperate, lonely people; and in a way, takes advantage of people as much as religious hucksters do. That’s a stain.

    being sceptical ain’t nothing bad. in your heart, though, you’ll know when something true is spoken; like hearing music that resonates with your very being. when a truth is true for you, it sweeps upon you with a quickening force.

    personal experience is the only measure to go by; all else is hearsay

    good luck on your journey; you are very earnest

  2. Wanderer7 – thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    Interestingly I’ve just started writing a follow-up post about choosing what believe – the feeling of resonance you mention is definitely part of it. But sometimes things resonate because we want to believe them, which makes things more complicated!

  3. 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!

    You know, this reminds me of the movie The Truman Show. It was just on this afternoon, and, having off of work, I was able to catch the tail end of it. Everyone knew Truman’s world was an illusion, yet no one could tell him directly. He had to find out for himself. Some people tried to tell him, but it was so outrageous, just some isolated events in which people said something wasn’t convincing enough. This symbolic representation of our own struggle with reality really speaks to how you want to take responsibility for your own course, direction, and discovery. While people may influence us on our journey, they cannot do what we need to do for us–we have to do it for ourselves.

  4. Tom – thanks very much for these interesting links. Always good to know that there are other people thinking along similar lines!

  5. Pingback: If your blog is your home, show us around… « Words that sing

  6. very well written. i also consider myself a spiritual atheist.. especially now. other times have not tapped into my spirituality…

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