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Atheist Experience
Revisions of the Concept of Spirituality: "Grand Inspiration"

I've been thinking a bit about the idea of spirituality recently, and I came across episode #723 of The Atheist Experience. About 40 minutes into this episode John from Concord, MA brought up spirituality. Jeff Dee stated that he avoids the term, and Russell Glasser asked for a different term for the idea.

I think that this feeling of 'spirituality' is better defined in my opinion as 'grand inspiration'. This grand inspiration I've conceived is a moral and, for lack of a better word, inspirational interpretation of scientific knowledge derived from understanding of evolution and cosmology; which I'll attribute my own mostly to Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, and Lawrence Krauss. I think that cosmology and evolution can or will be able to answer our questions about the past. I also think that evolutionary understanding of our world can help us to shape it as we see fit. I believe that this, or a similar concept answers 'the big questions' like: Why are we here? What is our purpose? What meaning is there in the world?

Anyway, I've only just come up with this idea very recently. I'd love to see discussion about it!

A number of us in the ACA like the term "wonderment" to express the awe and wonder we have for the beauty of the universe. No supernatural baggage.

That's a good way of putting it! I don't know that that's the entirety of it though. I think spirituality also includes personal identity and values. I think that looking beyond the sheer "wonderment" of the universe we can see inherent values from evolution, such as the studies into empathy in primates other than humans. It's one step further into understanding how humans perceive and interact with the world, and how it results. I wouldn't say that it's necessary, it's no more necessary than religion; but it's an alternative founded in scientific study.

The main problem I have with the term is that while I can try to find an expression for what *you* describe, it's not what other people mean by the word "spirituality." No two people I have ever asked, define "spirituality" the same way--and that's just for those who can even (poorly) explain what they mean by it. So, my issue is that you express the term meaning what *you* mean, and another person nods, hearing what *they* mean, and nothing in reality has been communicated. You *think* you've communicated what you meant, but they have just understood you to mean something entirely different than what you intended. And what is the point of a word that can't offer any shared meaning until the communicator has followed up by explaining, every time it's used with someone new, what it means to *them*?

In my experience what people mean by it isn't even close to how other people define it. I had in one week two people give me not just different meanings for the term, but actual contradictory definitions for it. What am I supposed to do with that? If one of them is speaking to the other, they not only mean different things, but contradictory things--and they walk away believing they're discussed "spirituality"--but don't even realize they disagree completely with one another regarding what they just discussed?

You talk about wonderment. I've had another person tell me it's a feeling of being one with the universe (whatever the heck that means). I've had another tell me it's that feeling they get that they are insignificant when contrasted with the universe (hardly a feeling of "oneness" with it). And the British Psychiatrists Association Spirituality SIG defines it as, basically, being able to engage in any social interaction--such a playing in a soccer game:

http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfo/treatments/spirituality.aspx

By this definition, a wolf engages in pack hunting, and other highly social endeavors with others--are wolves expressing spirituality, then?

Who is wrong here, because you can't all be right when it comes to what a word means--if you're defining it in such extremely different, and even contrasting ways. Who gets to define this word? Or are we actually supposed to accept that it means whatever any individual needs it to mean? What use is a word that is defined by every person who uses it at the point of use, and not subject to any cohesive meaning between communicators?

Evan Hill,

Being moved by something spiritual pertains to a power beyond the visible world. Most atheists probably don't believe in a Holy Spirit (or a human spirit) or souls or anything spiritual. Mostly I believe in material or physical things. Our identity (or consciousness) is the result of evolution.

What you are talking about is being inspired by something like science it's not spiritual or spirituality. The idea that what we have learned about how the universe and life in the universe came to be is "spiritual" is actually very strange - since it was necessary to look at it from a totally nonspiritual perspective to acquire all of the knowledge we have today.

Nothing was created (the universe, all the planets, and we are here because of evolution) being inspired to learn and being inspired to worship are very different things. We evolved from primates and everything about us evolved in order for us to survive - that includes compassion etc.

Oh man, I had a really good one typed up, but it was lost to the dreaded timeout... Next time I'll remember to copy/paste...

I'm too tired and frustrated to reconstruct that small essay in it's full form... I will say that I do practically agree on the points made by Linda and Tracieh.

My original point wasn't necessarily to unveil any truth or assert anything within the subject matter of spirituality, I wanted to discuss the revision of terms and concepts, not necessarily argue definitions, I started by giving my own "definitions" as examples, knowing that they aren't dictionary definitions but rather working definitions.

I'll add that practical/casual use of spirituality has about the same value as an uneducated creationist talking about evolution or cosmology, except that without the pretext, "creationist", we can carry on an open minded discussion, explaining the dictionary definitions and historical contexts of the term and it's related concepts.

Another comparison can be made to the term "Christian" or. Because there are so many subdividing sects or denominations of religions, to refer to it broadly and argue specific points can be just as rash and irrelevant.

I'm saying that it deserves discussion because it is misunderstood or misrepresented so often, just like Christianity, atheism, and many other terms. These discussions are the most worth my time because they are or pertain to the "ultimate truth".

Maybe I just enjoy semantics though.

The spirit world originated with the Egyptians over three thousand years ago. Monotheism was created by Akhenaton IV in XIV century BC. Just about all of the old testament originated from earlier Sumerian and Egyptian religious sources, as well as, the one true biblical god.

"Those who gave thee a body, furnished it with weakness; but He who gave thee Soul, armed thee with resolution. Employ it, and thou art wise; be wise and thou art happy." Akhenaton (King of Egypt, 14th century BC)

The Old Testament mentions ghosts in several passages, with one in particular described in detail. I Samuel chapter 28 tells how King Saul seeks out the help of a witch at Endor to call up the dead spirit of Samuel when Saul felt threatened by the warring Philistines. Saul disguise his appearance and approached the witch of Endor to act as a medium to Samuel so he could get advice from the deceased Samuel.

Saul had tried to rid the country of witches, because he had been advised by Samuel to not suffer any witches to remain in Israel. But now Saul was without the wisdom of Samuel. So, Saul disguised himself before the witch of Endor but when the witch conjured up Samuel the apparition caused her to become afraid because she realized that her client was Saul, a friend of Samuel.

Lilith was the first wife of Adam and is referred to as "a spirit of all spirits" and "the Northerner." Either following a confrontation with Adam, or after the creation of Eve, Lilith fled the garden of Eden and refused to return. Lilith continues to roam the world as a harmful spirit, acting as a succubus who seduces mortal men and kills children. According to Jewish legend, Lilith gave birth to the Lilin, a race of evil spirits associated with witches and hags.

In Kabbala or the Zohar Lilith appears as a night demon in Jewish lore and as a screech owl in Isaiah 34:14 in the King James version of the Bible. In later folklore, "Lilith" is the name for Adam's first wife. Lilith first appeared as wind and storm demons or spirits as Lilitu, in Sumer, around 4000 BC.

Evan Hill (you said previously) "How can atheist and science explains this supernatural phenomena?"

Science would need some kind of actual evidence (none exists to date) that there is anything there. There's plenty of evidence that there is nothing there.

Evan Hill (you said previously) "If ghosts are real then there must be the a soul and a God. Or all this stories are just lies or creation of our mind?" *Sorry for my bad English, isn't my mother tongue

They are creations of someone's mind because they are not real.

Spiritualism as we know it in modern times started in about 1848 in New York when two girls, Katie and Maggie Fox, began telling people that they were communicating with the spirit of a peddler who was murdered and the evidence of this communication was asking the spirit to (make a nose) by rapping. These girls continued to talk to other dead people through rappings. Eventually (meaning many years went by) before it was determined that the rappings were fake and the girls confessed that they were indeed faking the whole thing. But the older sister had began a spiritualism movement that spread all over the U. S. and on to other countries. Knowing that this was fake didn't stop anything.

William Mumler claimed to produce "spirit" photos, in which individuals could sit for a photograph and a ghost would appear in the printed photo. This was around 1862 when the glass-plate negatives were invented. With these glass-plate negatives you could make double exposures of the previous photograph taken onto the current photograph. It was eventually uncovered that the ghosts that appeared in many of the photographs were living in Boston and had their photographs taken previously.

In "The Demon-Haunted World" Carl Sagan criticized the argument from ignorance by saying the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" many people didn't understand that it was an unfavorable comment. They actually try to use that to say that you don't need evidence to prove something. Why would Carl Sagan have said "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" if he didn't think you needed evidence?

Houdini exposed many spiritualists as hoax before his death and like Houdini, Harry Price and the Amazing James Randi did the same. I think you need to read some of James Randi's books or read about Houdini (these were people who knew how these fakers operated because they were magicians) get the other side of the story.

Sorry, this was a mistake, Evan Hill didn't say any of this someone else did. I was going to answer it, and it was so much like this one I got them mixed up.

Evan Hill (you said previously) "How can atheist and science explains this supernatural phenomena?"

Science would need some kind of actual evidence (none exists to date) that there is anything there. There's plenty of evidence that there is nothing there.

Evan Hill (you said previously) "If ghosts are real then there must be the a soul and a God. Or all this stories are just lies or creation of our mind?"

However, my answer otherwise does explain where the concept of anything spiritual comes from. I don't care what anyone thinks spiritual or spirituality means the idea comes from very ancient religions and myths.

Okay, this is funny. I've been going back and listening to old episodes of The Atheist Experience, and every time they ask somebody to define "spiritual" or "spirituality" they get a different answer. Literally. Every. Time.

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