Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Atheist Spirituality

Whitewater Canyon 
-awesome beauty in unexpected places-

There are surprises every day out here in the desert. Yesterday, I discovered an incredibly beautiful canyon about 40 minutes away from where we live.  A stream of water gushes through this desert canyon (a river in the springtime). The surrounding mountains, crystal blue sky- it made me feel like I was walking in paradise - such an unexpected place of beauty in the middle of a dry arid desert.

My trip to Whitewater Canyon yesterday reminded me of another unexpected beauty I discovered this week. On Sunday, I listened to Krista Tippet's NPR broadcast, "On Being." This week she featured a prominent atheist who opened up some new horizons for me as he spoke about his "atheist spirituality."

The British Philosopher, Alain de Botton comes from a family of long-established atheists. He rejects the existence of  a "Deity"- a "Supreme Being" but he does celebrate the spirituality inherent in the human condition.  "All human beings have amazing moments under the stars," He says. 

While he does not consider himself to be a religious person, in Sunday's interview du Botton nonetheless showed a deep respect for the "best" of what religion has to offer. He further shared, that as an atheist he regularly draws from the wisdom and beauty of the various religious traditions to feed his "spiritual side."

Religion for all its faults and excess has high points that are incredibly fascinating, beautiful and inspiring.

In Sunday's interview, Professor du Botton celebrated the glorious art that has emerged from religious traditions (especially Christianity) -the ageless paintings of the masters, the Pieta, the Statue of David. And of course, there is the vast body of literature and music - novels, poetry, symphonies, even hymns- all emerging from religious traditions over the centuries - a wealth of knowledge, wisdom and beauty to feed the "better angels"of his human spirit. 

In fact this celebrated and very prominent British atheist has written a very popular book, "Religion for Atheists" and he has established a "church for atheists" in London, where every week he gathers fellow atheists to hear sermons about human potential, listen to great music, even to sing some well-worn hymns that have been passed down through the ages. 

By the way, the hymns are not sung to worship a God- a supreme deity.  Rather, people sing the hymns because they are compositions of beautiful music and engaging poetry, and by singing together the congregation experiences a sense of solidarity.  (Interestingly enough, when I sing hymns in church, I pretty much have the same attitude.)

I think I was so struck by this interview because it opened so many doors for the way I might now look at the growing number of people who call themselves "atheists." Of course there are those "atheists" who are very much opposed to what Professor de Botton is doing in London. For them, he is not a pure enough atheist. Someone recently criticized, "He doesn't Not believe in the way you are supposed to NOT believe." Nonetheless, many "atheists" are flocking to Alan du Botton, relishing what he has to say, and finding sweet refreshment in his "atheist spiritually"

As I see it, every human being has a spiritual nature. We all are fed by beauty. We long for wisdom. Something deep within us desires intimacy, connection to others and relationship with the universe. This is how we are all "wired" as human beings - spirituality is endemic to the human condition.

Alain du Botton and his fellow atheists do not believe in "A" deity - a Supreme Being, but then again neither do I.  The God in whom I place my faith and trust is untamed "Love,"  passionately connecting us all - unable to de defined or named. So maybe it's more about words and definitions about what we all mean by "God".  And just maybe that gap between atheists and people of faith isn't really a gap at all. 

When we all have our "amazing moments under the stars," maybe we are all believing in the same thing after all. 

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