Is an atheist or agnostic spirituality possible? Sure. And I've read a book that proves it: Andre Comte-Sponville's "The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality."
This morning I browsed through the final chapter again, liking it even more the second time through. My first post about the book was on the theme of desiring God isn't proof of God.
That's true, but sort of negative. Comte-Sponville ends his book with a positive flourish, arguing that not only is an atheist spirituality possible, but really it is the only authentic way to establish a loving, truthful connection with the cosmos.
First, what is spiritual? Is it something other-worldly, non-materialistic, transcendent? Or is it a term for the inner, aware, conscious side of being human?
Comte-Sponville argues for the latter, and I've come to agree with him.
Taken in its broadest sense, spirituality can be said to include virtually all aspects of human life and spiritual is more or less synonymous with "mental" or "psychic." Today, this sense of the word has pretty much gone out of use, and when people talk about spirituality, they are usually referring to a rather limited part of our inner life (though it may contemplate limitlessness) – the part that involves the absolute, the infinite and the eternal. It is, in a sense, the spirit's farthermost point and its greatest amplitude.
Mystery surrounds us. It is us. The far out also is close at hand.
Spirit, says Comte-Sponville, is part of nature. Adding on abstract concepts such as "God" or "soul" distances us from an immediate intuitive spiritual experience of enchantment, awe, wonder, humble not-knowing.
I feel like I've experienced what he's talking about. Often I'm simply blown away by a wordless sensation that I can best try to describe as …
The universe is. So am I. We have so much in common. I'm alive for a while, aware of being. Being something, someone, somewhere. But also (and more importantly), simply being. Existing within existence. I've got no idea what all this means. Never will. I'm just grateful to be an infinitesimal part of it, experiencing a speck of time within the vast expanse of eternity.
Comte-Sponville puts it better than I can. Here he's describing an oceanic sense of connectedness with It All that doesn't involve any sort of conventional religious sense of a detached divinity.
Firstly, there is the suspension of familiarity, banality, repetition, "been there done that" – the spurious self-evidence of ordinary awareness. All at once, it is as if everything were new, singular and astonishing – not irrational, perhaps, but inexplicable or incomprehensible, beyond all forms of reason. Given that reason is a part of it, how could reason possibly contain it? This is what I call mystery.
Secondly, or rather at the same time, there is the suspension of questions and problems – not because they have all been resolved, but because they are no longer raised. Why is there something rather than nothing? The question vanishes and all that remains is the answer, which is no longer an answer, since there is no longer a question.
All that remains is being, reality, what I have called self-evidence. Woody Allen comes close to it in one of his aphorisms: "The answer is yes. But what is the question?" There is no question, which is why the answer is always yes.
… Wittgenstein put it most aptly: "For an answer which cannot be expressed, the question too cannot be expressed … The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem."
I can't say that I've stopped searching for the meaning of life. But I'm becoming more aware of the games that I play with myself along the way.
I like to ponder the mystery of existence. I enjoy exploring mystical paths that point to a void, nothingness, mind-blowing incomprehensibility. And yet, in the back of my blown mind is an expectation: someday it'll be clear.
Hey! Who says?! Where the hell did I get that notion, someday it'll be clear? What vestige of religiosity is clinging in my supposedly churchless mind that assures me of my eventual salvation from cluelessness?
Yet there are the occasional moments of grace, when we cease hoping for anything other than what is (and this is no longer hope; it is love) or what we are doing (and this is no longer hope; it is will). Moments when nothing is missing, when there is nothing to either wish for or regret and when the question of possession is irrelevant (because having is replaced by being and doing) – this is what I call plenitude.
…While we are living it, it is neither a concept, a reflection nor a comprehension. It is an experience. It is a fact. It is a bedazzlement. The present is here, and it is all there is. It never vanishes; it continues. It changes ceaselessly; therefore it is unceasing. All is present; the present is all. All is true. All is eternal, here and now!
I have no idea what these words mean. Yet I know that they're absolutely true.
Just as I have no idea what the meaning of the universe is. Yet I know that the existence within which I'm existing is absolutely true. How could it not be?
Try not to be what you are or to be what you are not!
…Instead of looking at yourself, you can see. Instead of pretending, you can act. Instead of waiting, you can pay attention. What could be simpler than simplicity? And what could be rarer? It means being one with yourself, so much so that the self vanishes, and all that remains is oneness – the act itself, awareness itself.
You were taking a walk? All that remains is the walk. You were making love? All that remains is desire or love. You were meditating? All that remains is meditation. You were acting? All that remains is action – such is the secret of martial arts, which is why they involve spirituality.
You were being? All that remains is being itself.