The other day I read an article in the Washington Post called Spirituality: It's only human, by Paula Kirby. It was well written and I agreed with her, that spirituality is "a weaselly word that believers throw in when they’d like to claim something for religion, but suspect they wouldn’t get away with it. ‘Spiritual’ is conveniently ill-defined and therefore perfect for their purposes, conveying, as it does, a vaguely religious implication that humans are special, somehow elevated above the other animals, attuned to other-worldly influences and having an added dimension that cannot be satisfied with mere Earthly matters. ‘Spiritual’ leaves open the possibility of ‘mysticism’ and ‘higher powers’ and ‘immortal souls,’ without ever having to spell out, and therefore defend, what is meant by such things."
I disagree on one point, that nonbelievers are able to fill the gap with 'emotional and psychological well-being' when trying to describe an intense feeling of awe, amazement, peace, harmony, love or something equally powerful. But 'spiritual' doesn't work for me either, mainly because of the wishy-washy, religious connotation it has. I would never use this word for myself (anymore) but it would be nice to have something that expresses deep feelings as described above for naturalists (people who don't believe in anything supernatural). *See below for definitions of spiritual and naturalism
I was talking to my mother about it yesterday and she said she'd call herself spiritual. She doesn't really believe in God anymore, and she's definitely not religious, so she is sort of in the middle.
While religious people might use the word to casually weasel in religion, there are others, like my mom, who use the term because they're between the two extremes.
If a child is raised in no religion and isn't indoctrinated to believe in fairy tales, they don't really have to think about it too much. I have a couple friends who have always been atheists. They are in their own group. Often they are less tolerant of religion, less understanding of believers.
Then there are people who were indoctrinated to believe in God, whichever sect their family subscribed to, and if they eventually questioned it all and became atheists, some of them went through a 'spiritual phase'. I think this is natural.
Of course some of you went right from True Believer to Hardcore 6.999 atheist in an instant. (I'm a 6.999 atheist. This refers to Dawkin's Spectrum of Theistic Probability).
I think if you were indoctrinated as children, you go through a process of deconversion, and this can happen quickly or take some time. You have to study, read, ask questions, and "think, think, think" as Winnie-the-Pooh would say. Remember, you're deprogramming yourself, educating yourself over beliefs that were instilled in you while your brain was just growing and forming. It can take a long time.
I know atheists who are spiritual, who still believe in the supernatural. Some were always atheists, and have never had to bother to question and study like most of us who were indoctrinated. Others seem to be moving forward slowly, and are still not comfortable with the idea that there is no afterlife.
Which, I think is a big reason that people find comfort in religion and spirituality. It certainly was for me. I still believed in reincarnation and a loving cosmic force for a couple of years after shedding religion and my belief in God. I wanted so much to believe in cosmic consciousness, that there was something looking out for me, that there was karmic justice for all the wrong in the world.
I think it was harder to give up my spirituality than it was to give up God, actually. But eventually lack of evidence in anything supernatural, and the study of science and skepticism won me over to a naturalistic worldview.
For some, they will never want to give up that (false) comfort of either religion or at least the supernatural or spiritual. They'll stop looking for honest answers, or never start in the first place.
I think it takes courage to look past the curtain. Not everyone is strong enough to do it.
1. of, pertaining to, or consisting of spirit; incorporeal.
2. of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature: a spiritual approach to life.
3. closely akin in interests, attitude, outlook, etc.: the professor's spiritual heir in linguistics.
4. of or pertaining to spirits or to spiritualists; supernatural or spiritualistic.
Origin: 1275–1325; Middle English < Medieval Latin spiritualis, equivalent to Latin spiritu- (stem of spiritus, spirit) + -alis -al
Naturalism: a scientific account of the world in terms of causes and natural forces that rejects all spiritual, supernatural, or teleological explanations