We’re Just Like Them, Only Different…

“non se·qui·tur [non sek-wi-ter-toor; Lat. nohn se-kwi-toor] noun. (1) Logic.  An inference or a conclusion that does not follow from the premise. (2) A statement containing an illogical conclusion” – The English Language

I often wonder why there are so many Atheists (yes, I am one of those people who capitalize “Atheists” – get over it) try so hard to “fit in” with the religious world.  The basic definition of Atheism is a lack of a belief in God, or gods, etc.  The concept of God is that of a being who is described as being outside the confines of the natural world.  The dictionary defines the word “spiritual” as pertaining to, or consisting of spirit, incorporeal. As well, a secondary definition defines it as pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature. This brings me to today’s topic…

Spiritual Atheism

What the hell is that all about?  An Atheist can be many things, but purposefully using a word that is directly connected to the belief in the “supernatural” (I immensely dislike that word, by the way) is highly illogical.  One can be in awe of the wonders of nature, grand water falls, stunning sunsets and a beautiful landscape and have these things bring about a profound realization of the beauty that surrounds us without connecting ones self to the realm of gods, goddesses, spirits, spooks, ghosts, goblins or anything else that is part and parcel of the incorporeal world.

I have run into several Atheists who state that they are spiritual and furthermore include the term “religious” into their self-descriptions – only to follow up with their alternate definition of “religious” and how it can mean something that it actually, in reality, does not.  Religious and Spiritual have established definitions that have no place in the descriptive of Atheism.

As Atheists, we should not be clamoring for acceptance amongst the religious believers by virtue of trying to be like them with regard to how we define ourselves.  We should be expecting acceptance amongst them by virtue of being a member of the human race.  Of course, in many cases, this will never happen, given the proclivity toward delusional beliefs that otherwise cloud rational thinking.  After all, it is the theist whom we admonish for disregarding reality in favor of the unreal beliefs that surround their acceptance of ancient myths and legends as facts.

As Atheists, we should be separating ourselves in a philosophical sense from those who are not Atheists.  Does this mean that I am implying that we should shun the religious?  No, “shunning” is largely a religious activity.  Does this mean that I am suggesting that we are more worthy of this life than the religious are?  No, being “unworthy” is largely a religious doctrine (in this regard).  Does this mean that I am stating that theists are wrong in their beliefs?  Yeah, you got me on that one…

By attempting to pigeonhole ourselves (Atheists) in a religious definitive, it makes us appear like that often beloved but much maligned character “Oliver Twist” as he clamors up to the Master and begs for more.

If you claim to be an Atheist, you are thus so by virtue of using reason and logic to discount, debunk and disbelieve in the existence of anything that is not part of the natural world on the basis of a lack of evidence. And to that which is still unknown, you have chosen to wait for science to provide a logical, reasoned and natural explanation.

The religious should be trying to explain themselves in light of the natural world and its empiricism.  We have the facts, we have the evidence and we have reason in our corner and it is our duty as Atheists to demand the extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claims of believers.

Be proud of what you are.  It’s a simple as that.

  18 comments for “We’re Just Like Them, Only Different…

  1. Paul Prescod
    October 10, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Your whole post is based on a presumption about why atheists choose to use the words spiritual and religious. You assume that the goal is to fit in. But actually, it is much simpler than that. When inwas a Christian, I experienced certain emotions like love and transcendence. Experiences where I encountered those feelings were called spiritual events. I went to a place called a church to participate in a religion to achieve those feelings and also to motivate myself to be a better person (on addition to supernatural goals I might have had).

    Now I go to a place to experience these feelings and to motivate myself to be a better person. For clarity of communication with others, I call the place a church (UU) and the emotions spiritual. Because wih the exception of the supernatural element, that’s what they are.

    Sam Harris says: “we can live moral and spiritual lives without religion,”

    Now you may agree or disagree with me that it is wise to use those terms. I’m open to the debate.

    But I see no evidence whatsoever that when atheists like Sam Harris and I use the term spiritual, we are doing do because we are ashamed of our atheism. I find the idea that Sam Harris wishes to “fit in”‘to religious culture to be laughable. You’ll need a different psychological explanation for us.

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 10, 2011 at 9:32 am

      Thank you for your comments, Paul. I understand where you are coming from, and it is not the psychological definition of our individual experiences that I am questioning. I have these types of emotional responses to things, as do all human beings. My point is that I reason we should find and use another word because although we might know what we mean, the religious world just uses situations where we refer to ourselves as spiritual as yet another talking point about how we “really believe but are in denial.” I cannot fathom why an Atheist would want to infer that they have some ethereal or incorporeal connection with an existence outside of the natural world.

  2. Aliasalpha
    October 10, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Isn’t Atheism technically the rejection solely of the god hypothesis as posed by theism rather than everything… if not supernatural then what should it be called? (Extra-natural? Nah that sounds like a ghastly breakfast cereal you buy when you need a shit)

    Whilst they’re pretty strongly linked, does Atheism as a whole also require the rejection of ghosts & goblins (the mythological creatures, not the arcade game because that was awesome) in favour of an evidence based rational approach or would that be a variant of Atheism? Rationalist Atheism would do that but Doofus Atheism wouldn’t because whilst they think the idea of gods is dumb, they buy homeopathic “remedies” and watch ghost hunter shows on TV.

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

      Doofus Atheism? I just may have to use that from time to time. I know I am going to get heaps of shit over this, but I am used to getting heaps of shit over what I write. They don’t call me the “Prince of Polemic” for nothing.

      I know there are degrees of Atheism that are trotted out, even by our most “revered” Atheists. The point I was trying to make is that, in my opinion, one is either an Atheist or not.

  3. Grammar Merchant
    October 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I don’t use the word “spiritual” when I describe myself, though I will use substitute words such as “meditative” or “reflective.” I agree that “spiritual” has a supernatural taint to it, and that it muddies not only my view of my own processes, but also the perception others have of my thought process. Still, it’s important to pick our battles, and if we come off as overly pedantic, that will become the avenue of attack for those who wish to characterize and dismiss us.

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Meditative is a good word, as is reflective. I do agree that it is important to choose battles, which is why I have not taken this issue beyond my blogs and social networks.

  4. sqlrob
    October 10, 2011 at 9:53 am

    If you claim to be an Atheist, you are thus so by virtue of using reason and logic to discount, debunk and disbelieve in the existence of anything that is not part of the natural world on the basis of a lack of evidence.

    All nickels are coins but not all coins are nickels.

    Raelians are atheists (little a intended, to differentiate from your Atheists). Would you call them rational? Or is that your intent with the capitization? Capital-A Atheist = rational, lower case-a atheist = disbelieves in gods for non-rational reason?

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 10, 2011 at 10:07 am

      As far as I can understand, Raelians believe that life on earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials, which they call the Elohim. The reasoning that there is life outside the confines of our planet can be deemed as possible, even probable, so in that respect I would not call them irrational. The logic that a technology so advance as to have no comparison to anything the human mind can conceive of is also not illogical. If you went back in time to the stone age with a Tablet Computer, a cellphone and a Buick, I am positive that our cave dwelling ancestors would look upon you as a god and make many cave paintings in your honor. Do I ascribe to Raelianism? No, but for no other reason than disinterest for the time being.

      I capitalize Atheist because I feel the need to.

      • sqlrob
        October 10, 2011 at 10:57 am

        There’s still other possibilities, I was just trying to go for a cohesive example in my group. What about the teenage rebellion against religious parents? What about the the “used to be an atheist” conversion stories? Are those worthy of an “A”?

        What you’ve been calling Atheist I would consider more Rationalist (or, in my preferred nomenclature, sane)

      • Dionigi
        October 11, 2011 at 7:17 am

        They might ask why you brought a Buick

  5. martha
    October 10, 2011 at 11:00 am

    I feel moved to repeat something I posted in Greta C.’s thread on the negative definition of atheism:

    “Wish List:

    -I wish “Truthist” wasn’t such a silly sounding word, because it emphasizes the bit I really care about- I care what’s true & that’s why I say there’s no god, if god looked like a credible theory I’d be for it.

    – I wish for a word that could, in one nifty little package, convey to the non-fundamentalist religious that the “theos” that I am “a-” is not what they probably mean by it in their everyday lives. I’m not “a-” profound emotional bond with the universe, sense of community or commitment to the well-being of others. I’m kind of down with all that. I’m “a-” their theory of where all those experiences in their brains come from.

    And while I’m at it, could this same nifty little word distinguish the kind of atheist who’s down with all of the above from, say, Stalin?”

    I expect people who say they are spiritual atheists are trying to accomplish something like this. I agree “spiritual” is a bad word for it. Still waiting for a better one.

    If what I’m describing is the same as saying “just like them, only different,” then I guess I’m OK with that.

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

      I capitalize the word “Atheist” in every use of the word because, in spite of the editorial style of most media and publishing houses, I am proud of who I am (personally) and for legal purposes when challenging First Amendment violations, which is the only venue where I consider the name Atheist the same as the name Wicca, Shinto, Christian, Satanist, Jewish, Muslim, Humanist, or any other name, etc. The same reason many African Americans capitalize “Black,” etc. It identifies me in those ways. Yeah, it’s bad grammar, I know.

  6. inflection
    October 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

    I wish there was a better word than “spiritual” to connote the class of activities it’s usually used to describe. The problem is that the word is so ill-defined that it covers a lot of things:

    *) the experience of great awe
    *) the sensation of wonder at difficult mysteries
    *) a moving moment of beauty
    *) the feeling of being part of a supportive social group
    *) being “in the zone”
    *) well-focused meditation
    *) and all the nonexistent supernatural bits.

    Not everyone considers all of these “spiritual,” of course, but many people use the word to include their experiences under such conditions. There seems to me that there is some kind of common thread among them, but that may only be an artifact of their having been included under a single word in the first place.

    • sumdum
      October 11, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      How about the word ’emotion’ ? Doesn’t that cover the lot pretty well ?

  7. H.H.
    October 10, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    I have never gotten a good answer about how one can determine the difference between an intensely emotional experience and a “spiritual” one, even from those who maintain they aren’t the same thing.

  8. Brad
    October 13, 2011 at 9:15 am

    The word spiritual did originally have supernatural connotations. (Sorry, I think you should get over your distaste for certain words that are in common usage.) But I take it now to refer to a set of common experiences, experiences often brought on by cultivation of certain behaviors (such as meditation). I simply refuse to accept the metaphysics of those experiences as a naturalist. (Surely you can’t mind that word, too. It has an important place in philosophical history.) But words change meaning. Over time and slowly, sometimes, but you seem to have an overly simplistic and essentialist view of language use. (Not just you–others do, too.) You sound to me just like Rick Santorum, who recently said a napkin is a napkin and a paper towel is a paper towel, and one can’t becoem the other, meaning of course that marriage is between a man and a woman by definition.

    I value what are called spiritual experiences. I suggest naturalistic, neurally based explanations of why they are valuable. I recognize, as a naturalist, that the common metaphysics associated with them are false (and there isn’t just one, but thousands of variant metaphysics given).

    No other word does the job that spiritual does here. Not reflective, not meditative (meditation is just one thing spiritual people do). It’s not a bad word, if taken to describe the experiences, sans metaphysics.

    One reason I seek to do things this way is that it gives us inroads into persuading the new agers, or at least getting them to consider our views seriously (which sometimes leads to them changing their minds later). Some of these people shut down at the mention of atheistic naturalism, and I have had great success at getting many of them to come to think that our views deserve a new hearing. And that, rational persuasion, is a main goal of mine!

    Certainly many of them, maybe most, are too far along to ever change their minds, and no one I have presented with this ever changes instantly. But of course that is not how debate works, is it? Rather, we plant solid ideas that may take root later, even much later.

    • Al Stefanelli
      October 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

      You mean like the word “theory?” Words are important, how they are used is important. You should know this.

  9. Tony
    November 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    >I immensely dislike that word, by the way)<

    -Do you have a preferred term?

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