Nontheist Spirtuality
January 27, 2006 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Religion, again?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:02 PM on January 27, 2006

this is fascinating. at first I thought it was another atheist salvo in the recent craziness in meta. but this is just straight up interesting. It's precisely the kind of spirituality that I'm finding more and more people engaging in without formalizing their beliefs. tons of interesting reading material, thanks.
posted by shmegegge at 11:11 PM on January 27, 2006

Just add politics and gender and then maybe the post will transcend into something crazy and all your archologies will launch into the sky.

I talk like this because I want you to hear me up there, way over my head.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 11:12 PM on January 27, 2006

I hope folks actually bother to read that first essay; it's great. The 2nd site seemed a little more silly (and apparently led to a spat at Wikipedia), but the last one about Quaker nontheism is really intriguing. "Nontheism is coming out of the Quaker closet," eh? Haven't checked the others yet, but this looks like a good collection of related links, and a great post by any standard (recent religious wars here and in MeTa aside). Thanks, bigmusic.

And that first link, wow. It articulates my feelings fairly well, I think, wrestling thoughtfully with the idea of "naturalistic spirituality":

First, it is clear that under naturalism connection with the world is built in to every aspect of our being, not a hoped for eventuality in the life to come. We’re joined to the cosmos and the everyday world as described by science in countless ways: the elements composing our bodies are the products of the Big Bang and stellar evolution; most of our DNA is shared with other beings; our perceptions and sensations are all mediated by processes involving photons, electrons, ions, neurotransmitters and other entirely physical entities; and our character and behavior is fully a function of genetics and environment. We are, therefore, fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality. In fact, no more intimate connection with the totality of what is could be imagined. So, from a naturalistic perspective, there is an empirically valid referent for the sense of cosmic consciousness encountered in spiritual experience.

So far, so good. But I really like this part, where it gets almost poetic:

When we confront the startling fact that existence isn’t subsumable under any overarching interpretation, but simply is, we are left with an irreducible mystery about why we are here, or exist at all; and mystery serves at least as well as purpose to inspire spiritual experience. Unable not to ask questions about ultimate purpose and meaning, but rebuffed by the logic which shows such questions unanswerable, we are caught in a cosmic perplexity, a state of profound existential astonishment. The realization that existence inevitably outruns our attempts to assign meaning and purpose can have the impact of a true revelation, stunning the discursive mind in the manner of a Zen koan. Like a koan or other practices in which thinking confronts its own limitations, such a cognitive impasse can serve as the gateway to the direct, non-discursive experience that the present is sufficient unto itself...This response is quite different, obviously, from that of the Sartrian existentialist, for whom the discovery of no ultimate intrinsic purpose makes the universe "absurd."

It then moves on to the subject of wonder. Again, good stuff - far more thoughtful than the standard believer/non-believer nonsense we see around here.
posted by mediareport at 11:23 PM on January 27, 2006

Naturalism provides an all-encompassing perspective that can sustain us as well as any to be found in traditional spirituality, and it leaves behind the dualisms that can obscure the intuition of unity. Should we ever want recourse to the transpersonal, naturalism is there for us, not just as a philosophy, but as an inspiration to feel truly at home in the universe.

That just slays me. As a rationalist and an atheist adrift in a sea of fundamentalists (I live in Alabama), that's the kind of message I need to hear to shore up my resolve.

Thanx, bigmusic. Great post.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:07 AM on January 28, 2006

Excellent post. I consider myself a naturalistic pantheist as well as an atheist (sounds of heads 'splodin'), so this is my cup of tea. is an interesting site in this context too. I think that was the site that got me interested in Spinoza by mentioning him in the same breath as Lao Tzu.

Next time some Christian tells me my atheism is just another religion, I'll agree and ask if he wants to attend my church services. :D
posted by fleetmouse at 4:58 AM on January 28, 2006

I'm a panentheist,and have roots in several mystical traditions... these links contain some really excellent and compelling statements. Kudos bigmusic- I just hope that this won't provoke yet another awful flamewar. We've seen extremism on both sides this week and your post is moderating and thoughtful.
posted by moonbird at 6:54 AM on January 28, 2006

Though of course I'm not in full agreement with lots of the content, the first link especially resonates strongly with me for its acknowledgement of human wonder, a sense of awe universal to all of us, nonbelievers and believers, which we God-worshippers cannot and should not claim a monopoly on.
posted by brownpau at 7:10 AM on January 28, 2006

Thanks, I especially enjoyed the Universism article, the one about atheistic faith and the Spiritual Humanism link. As an atheist, I tend to toy with those ideas but find it hard to cross the line and fully embrace them. These will have me thinking about spirituality for some time, which is a good thing I think.
posted by melt away at 7:10 AM on January 28, 2006

"Why should I be deprived of the chance to worship something just because there's nothing to worship?"
posted by davy at 7:23 AM on January 28, 2006

What about nonspiritual theism ?
posted by troutfishing at 7:51 AM on January 28, 2006

What about nonspiritual theism ?

Image Hosted by
posted by fleetmouse at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2006

gooseontheloose, i thought "archology" was a word i'd seen before, but didn't find it in a dictionary. By the context you didn't seem to mean "archeology" or "arcology".
posted by jam_pony at 8:34 AM on January 28, 2006

As a semi-spiritual nontheist I appreciate the post.

Spirituality is an inner state or practice. Religion has an external part - etymologically it's re + ligare, to bind back [to a community]. The latter is what atheists have lacked. The sense of community is what a lot of theists are really (or in part) in it for.

To succeed, any of these will need a good set of holidays :)
posted by jam_pony at 8:39 AM on January 28, 2006

Fascinating stuff.

mediareport said 'but the last one about Quaker nontheism is really intriguing'

Seconded. I've long been vaguely interested in, even attracted to Quaker beliefs and practices (following on from an interest in 19th century philanthopism, labour history, workers villages, etc.), but the believing in God stuff will always put me off attending a meeting to find out more about them directly. Will have to seek out some nontheist Friends, I think. Though I will be very annoyed with you, bugmusic, if this post ends up making me get religion ;-)
posted by jack_mo at 8:49 AM on January 28, 2006

Jack , you go to Optimo every Sunday , does this make you an Optimist ?

/lame joke
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:54 AM on January 28, 2006

philanthopism - crikey moses, hangover worse than I thought. I mean, of course, philanthropy.

And yes, sarge, my current religion is indeed Optimoism ;-)
posted by jack_mo at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2006

If I had to do college and/or graduate school all over again, I'd want to read into the historical and psychological reasons for anthropomorphism being so essential in Judaism, Xtianity, and to a lesser extent Islam. Monotheism is generally thought of as an improvement over more "primitive" forms of worship that came before, but I think many Buddhists, Taoists, and Shinto worshippers would disagree. Their seems to be something primitive about only being able to worship an entity that looks, talks, and thinks like you do--not very imaginative.

Neat post, but the fine line between some of this and new agey stuff makes me cringe a bit (my own bias I realize).
posted by bardic at 9:31 AM on January 28, 2006

(Just another plug for trying out a Quaker meeting--but your YMMV depending on what group you're with. Personality plays a big role.)
posted by bardic at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2006

posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2006

"Why should I be deprived of the chance to worship something just because there's nothing to worship?"

posted by five fresh fish at 9:34 AM on January 28, 2006

five fresh fish: "'Why should I be deprived of the chance to worship something just because there's nothing to worship?'


While I agree this is funny, it also hints at the one thing about my Atheism that I actually regret: I frequently wish there were someone I could thank for my "blessings." I'm not so much about the blaming or the asking for miracles. But I am grateful for my life, and wish I believed there was actually "someone" out there to thank for it. So, yeah. Back to snarking, now.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2006

GooseOnThe Loose meant arcology, I think. It's a reference to James Blish's Cities in Flight, jokingly suggesting that this is a kind of SF woo-woo invented religiosity, like that which may or may not motivate the construction of Arcosanti.

Or so I infer.
posted by mwhybark at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2006

jam_pony and mwhybark: archology. n. theory of origins; science of government. © From the Hutchinson Encyclopaedia. Helicon Publishing LTD 2000.

Theory of Origins maybe?
posted by exlotuseater at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2006

> What about nonspiritual theism ?

Troutfishing, meet Moloch. Moloch, Troutfishing.

> Why should I be deprived of the chance to worship something just
> because there's nothing to worship?"

There's your first koan. Get to work.
posted by jfuller at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2006

Yes -- this is exactly the discussion I was looking for. I wish I knew what it was I can contribute to it... many people in my region of the world are discovering this kind of spirituality. Sharing simply in the exultation of the wonders of "the Lord". We are a collection of generally male college students who live in Carrboro, NC and we like to get together and generally drink beers and smoke weed sometimes and just have a good time jamming out on some guitars and shit but also talk about our studies and get very excited about reading about science and discussing it. Just the other weekend we were making a collage from a bunch of issues of New Scientist, eating raw carrots, trying to get computers to make noise, reading some of the headlines, marveling at the ridiculous nonsense of what sciences is doing these days "Jiggling vacuums are the origin of mass? WHAAT" This is the kind of worship I am interested in and that is why I am leaving academia for divinity school to join the clergy. I am interested in getting a bunch of people together and agreeing very hard and very emphatically about certain things which we find interesting in the world today.

I love the post which I just read, "Why should I be deprived of the chance to worship something just because there's nothing to worship?" becuase it is similar to a thought which I had while I was an atheist, which was "What do you do if you are an atheist and get the urge to praise the Lord?" The problem is you lack a common language to do this with your peers and your families because you are educated in certain ways of the world and they are not. But what we can do is learn their langauge to try to spread some of the joys that we have experienced through science and all tis wonders.
posted by Laugh_track at 10:07 AM on January 28, 2006

posted by bigmusic at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2006

There is, of course, the Episcopal Church.

I suggest checking out Marion's God without Being, where author argues that the idea of God as existing is inherently idolatrous.

Then there is the Sea of Faith movement, based in religious non-realism. God does not exist, but religious language has efficacy.

Then there is a growing number of theologians [say James Alison] who seem to argue that Catholic teaching truly leads us to be free of all religion.
posted by john wilkins at 10:34 AM on January 28, 2006

I have a friend I visited last weekend who just happened to have been getting into studying Quakerism. He really opened my eyes to the beliefs and practices of that group - he specifically mentioned that they were non-theist.

Is it a common perception that Quakers are closer to Puritans? That was my misguided concept before speaking to him - that they were some kind of Puritan/Amish.
posted by melt away at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2006

I like the sense of wonderment that this one emphasizes. Straight atheism always runs the risk of slipping toward morose existentialism: there's no god, there's no meaning, there's no anything, and then you die. Boo fucking hoo.

I generally find "boo-hoo" an impossible reaction to have to the intricate workings of the human and natural world. It is entirely possible to enjoy and be astonished by the world without attributing its "magic" to some God. In fact, given the amount of science, art, and technology that any one person can absorb and understand, I think it's more or less impossible to walk through the world without being astonished at every turn. The author at the above link focuses a little too much on how electronic gadgets he can't understand are "miraculous," but the same holds true for any number of observable phenomena. Just look around.
posted by scarabic at 12:46 PM on January 28, 2006

The nontheist Friends site was one I had happened upon myself a couple weeks ago. I have been looking into Quakerism lately, and was glad to find the site. I haven't managed to get myself to a meeting yet, though.
posted by beth at 2:02 AM on January 29, 2006

Initially I thought the first link was to naturism.

*sits here, sweating nakedly*

posted by wilful at 4:02 PM on January 29, 2006

"Why should I be deprived of the chance to worship something just because there's nothing to worship?"

But that's the point. There *is* something to worship. I mean, funny joke, but it completely misses the heart of things in this discussion.
posted by mediareport at 5:55 PM on January 29, 2006

There isn't anything to worship, just everything. A subtle but key distinction, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:53 PM on January 29, 2006

Everything = "something to worship" is the point here.
posted by mediareport at 11:38 PM on January 29, 2006

Cool. Lots of things to think about.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:20 AM on January 30, 2006

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