A few years ago, author Sam Harris gave a speech at an atheist convention in which he talked about the need for spirituality within the greater community of reason. He got a lot of criticism for those comments and other comments from many atheists in attendance. The problem was that despite his valid point, the term "spirituality" is a religious term. There is no secular term that is synonymous with "spirituality." What does the term "spirituality" mean anyway and can atheists embody that meaning?
German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote about how all of philosophy amounts to mere language games and that we become the proverbial fly caught in the bottle as our thoughts become trapped by our language. He said, "The limits of my language are the limits of my world" (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 5.6). When talking about spirituality, that is exactly the problem.
Ironically enough, it was Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, who best secularized the term, "spirituality" in my opinion by summarizing two Jewish theologians. The problem is that spirituality isn't one thing; it is two things. It is the feeling we get "when we are truly in relationship with others" and that "deep sense of incomprehensibility at the wonder of sheer existence." To put it simply, spirituality is the feeling of deep connection we have towards one another and with the universe in general.
Dr. Lawrence Krauss observed when talking about his book, "The Universe from Nothing":
"Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics. You are all stardust. You couldn't be here if stars hadn't exploded. Because the elements, the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution weren't created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars. And the only way they could get into your body is if the stars were kind enough to explode. So forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be here today."
These are the realities of our world and they remind us of our deep connection not just to each other, but to the universe itself. This is spirituality without the superstition. There is no need to frame it in terms of New Age "transcendence" or "mysticism" or relate it to some sort of deity.
There is no secular term for our sense of profoundly deep connection and interconnection. The only term that our overly religious society understands is spiritual. While we obviously don't believe there are any actual spirits involved, the term still seems to fit and in this sense many atheists, and dare I say it, most atheists are spiritual people.
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