Atheism and spirituality

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The Theravada school of Buddhism is a nontheistic school of Buddhism.

The issue of atheism and spirituality is frequently brought up in relation to atheism.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines spirituality as "the quality or state of being concerned with religion or religious matters : the quality or state of being spiritual".[1]

Atheism is a religion so atheists can be spiritual.

Atheism and nature worship or neo-paganism

See also: Atheism and the origin of the universe and Evolution and Origin of life

Creation Ministries International's article on atheism declares:

By “nature worship” and “neo-paganism” I refer to the atheist’s tendency to replace a sense of awe of God and seeking transcendence by relating to God with seeking awe and transcendence in nature. This natural high, as it were, is not merely enjoyed but it is enjoined and said to be holier than theism.

Referring to our ability to “step off the Earth and look back at ourselves,” as was done in Voyager 2, Carl Sagan stated,

“I find that a chilling, spine-tingling, exciting, perspective-raising, consciousness-raising experience. It’s said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience.

The very first episode of his televised series entitled Cosmos, began with Carl Sagan stating,

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us—there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as of a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”

Presupposing a God-free reality, why atheists seek transcendent experiences remains unanswered.[2]

Pew Research reports about American atheists, "And roughly half of all atheists (54%) frequently feel a deep sense of wonder about the universe, up from 37% in 2007. In fact, atheists are more likely than U.S. Christians to say they often feel a sense of wonder about the universe (54% vs. 45%)."[3]

For additional information, please see: Atheism and nature worship or neo-paganism

Atheism and wonder

The psalmist David wrote: "The heavens are telling of the glory of God. And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." (Psalm 19:1 NASB)

See also: Atheism and wonder

The argument from beauty argues the existence of beauty in the natural world testifies to the existence of God who both designed natural beauty and who possesses a divine beauty. Objective beauty exists and beauty is not merely subjective in nature.[4]

Rabbi David Wolpe wrote:

I will go so far as to say that there is sometimes in the atheist a want of wonder. In a world in which so much is still not which we have not pierced the mystery of consciousness, to discount the supernatural is to lack the openness to mystery that should be a human hallmark. There is so much we do not know. Religious people too should acknowledge this truth. Epistemological humility -- the acknowledgment that we are at the very first baby steps of understanding -- is far wiser than arrogance on either side. After all, we comprehend with our brains, and who knows how limited are our only organs of understanding?

So please, feel free to vituperate, argue and belittle. But understand that the religious dialogue is not advanced by shaken fists and snide asides. To quote the prophet, "Come let us reason together (Isaiah 1:18)." All of us ought to be astonished by our miraculous ability to talk, think, dream and disagree. Our first response to life should be gratitude and wonder that we share this remarkable world so far beyond our poor power to grasp.

...There is an arrogant unwillingness to engage with religion's serious thinkers. Too many atheists assume that a couple of insults will substitute for argument.[5]

Many atheists became upset with Oprah Winfrey when she declared that you can’t be an atheist if you believe in the awe and wonder of the world.[6]

Atheist worldview, nature and futility

See also: Atheism, agnosticism and pessimism and Atheist worldview, nature and futility

Although Bertrand Russell was an agnostic, he had favorable views towards atheism.[7] Bertrand Russell wrote in 1903 about entropy and the universe:

That man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.

"Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding dispair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." [8]

In a letter to Lowes Dickinson, Bertrand Russell wrote:

We stand on the shores of an ocean, crying to the night and the emptiness; sometimes a voice answers out of the darkness. But it is a voice of one drowning; and in a moment the silence returns” (Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, p. 287 as quoted by Leroy Koopman, “Famous Atheists Give Their Testimonies,” Moody Monthly, Nov. 1975, p. 124.) [9]

See also: Hopelessness of atheism and Second law of thermodynamics and Fall of man

Atheism/Christianity and science

Atheism and life after death

See also: Atheism and life after death and Atheism and death and Atheism and Hell

According to a study performed in the United States by researchers Wink and Scott, very religious people fear death the least.[10]

A majority of atheists hold to the philosophy of naturalism which rejects the miraculous. See also: Atheist worldview and Atheism and beliefs

However, when it comes to belief in life after death and other matters, a significant portion of atheists reject naturalism in various instances (see: Atheism and the supernatural).

The website Skeptics Guide indicates that a significant number of atheists and agnostics believe in life after death and the website reported:

A survey compiled in 2014 by The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture (AISFC) reveals that 32 percent of Americans who identified themselves as agnostics and atheists believe in an afterlife of some kind. In addition, 6 percent of the same non-theistic group expressed a belief in a “bodily resurrection”. These numbers were taken from a sample of 15,738 Americans, all of which were between the ages of 18 and 60. According to the data, 13.2 percent of Americans identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, or some other variation of non-believing.

I found these results to be quite surprising. Having been immersed in circles of atheists and agnostics for the past 20 years, the numbers revealed by this study are higher than I would have guessed, by quite a lot. What stands out the most is that 6% expressed a belief in resurrection. It could be a statistical anomaly of some sort (perhaps the respondents did not understand the question about bodily resurrection?) Why an atheist or agnostic would believe that a dead person could come back to life seems entirely contrary to their worldview.[11]

Reluctance of Western atheists to engage in meditation

Atheist Greta Christina wrote: "A lot of atheists, humanists, and other nonbelievers are leery or dismissive of meditation and mindfulness."[12]

See also: Religiosity and larger frontal lobes and Atheism and the brain and Atheism and consciousness

Atheist Greta Christina wrote at the website

A lot of atheists, humanists, and other nonbelievers are leery or dismissive of meditation and mindfulness. Some see it as an irretrievably religious or spiritual practice, and want no part in it. Others are put off by the faddish, overused, buzzword quality of the practice and the terminology. And I can understand that. For years, I stayed away from trying this stuff out, for exactly those reasons. I was interested in the practice—I had friends who did it, and who seemed to get a lot out of it. But I couldn’t find anyplace to learn that didn’t base their teaching on Buddhism or some other religion. And I’m too ardent an anti-religionist to “take what you need and leave the rest,” the way many nonbelievers do with religion. After all, I literally wrote the book on angry atheism. For me, trying to learn meditation in a Buddhist center would be like trying to learn meditation in a room full of fingernails scraping on blackboards.[13]

Although many atheists in the Western World are reluctant to meditate, in the East nontheist Buddhists often practice meditation.[14]

Atheism and inspiration

See also: Atheism and inspiration and Atheism and apathy

Atheist Francois Tremblay wrote: "One last problem that undermines any propagation of atheism is inspiration. Let's be honest here, "there is no god!" is not a very motivating call for most people."[15]

The ex-atheist Alister McGrath has repeatedly pointed out the uninspiring nature of atheism.[16][17] According to McGrath, atheism is "stale", "dull" and difficult to believe.[18]

John Updike wrote:

Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic un-interestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity, the humanity...of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we're dead we're dead?".[19]

The British columnist Giles Coren wrote in The Times:

But it’s not the nihilism, the soullessness, the lack of poetry, the moral and physical ugliness, the shallow iconoclasm or the vainglory of atheists that bother me most. It’s the boringness.

Is there anything more boring in the world than an atheist?[20]

Andrew Brown wrote in The Guardian in an article entitled You can't dance to atheism:

...a religion is a philosophy that makes you dance. It pleased me because the book itself can be read as a history of how philosophy grew from dance...

There aren't any overwhelming and inspiring collective atheist rituals...

If I'm right, then liberal, individualistic atheism is impossible as an organising principle of society because any doctrine that actually works to hold society together is indistinguishable from a religion. It needs its rituals.[21]

China has the world's largest atheist population.[22][23] National Public Radio's article Chinese Turn To Religion To Fill A Spiritual Vacuum declares:

One young evangelical Christian missionary travels from rural village to village in the Protestant heartland in eastern China to proselytize. She attributed her own conversion to the overwhelming pressures of China's education system.

"In high school, I felt very depressed," said the bright-eyed young woman, who gave her name as Nicole. "I felt people had no direction, and I felt life was dry and boring. I felt the pressure of school was very high. God helped me and liberated me." [24]

Atheism is an emaciated and unnecessarily limiting view of the world

See also: Rebuttals to atheist arguments and Evidence for Christianity

Alister McGrath argues that atheism is an emaciated and unnecessary limiting view of the world and it does not answer the deeper existential questions.[25] For example, McGrath argues that atheism cannot give a person objective meaning and the ultimate purpose of their life (see also: Atheism and meaninglessness and Hopelessness of atheism and Atheism and purpose).[26][27][28]

While recognizing the benefits of reason/science, McGrath also points out the limitations of reason/science in terms of the type of questions that they can answer.[29] See also: Limitations of science

The ex-atheist C.S. Lewis wrote: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”[30] Lewis also wrote: "If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning."

Furthermore, there is no proof and evidence that atheism is true, atheist arguments are easily rebutted and there is compelling evidence for Christianity and the existence of God (Rebuttals to atheist arguments and Evidence for Christianity and Arguments for the existence of God).

For additional information, please see:

Sunday Assembly atheist church movement

See also: Secular humanism and Atheist factions and Atheists and church attendance

The Sunday Assembly atheist church movement was founded in 2013 by the secular humanists and comedians Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones.[31] In 2014, it was reported that there was a schism in the movement as far as whether or not they should use the word "atheist" in their movement and/or whether they should just cater to atheists.[32]

Pew Research on American atheists and spirituality

Pew Research reports on American atheists and spirituality:

Unsurprisingly, more than nine-in-ten self-identified atheists say religion is not too or not at all important in their lives, and nearly all (97%) say they seldom or never pray. At the same time, many do not see a contradiction between atheism and pondering their place in the world. Three-in-ten (31%) say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least weekly. A similar share (35%) often thinks about the meaning and purpose of life.[33]

Janan Ganesh on the reluctance of irreligious/nonreligious to embrace the tenets of materialism/atheism

See also: Atheism and wonder and Atheism and beliefs and Atheist worldview and Atheism and life after death

Many atheists became upset with Oprah Winfrey when she declared that you can’t be an atheist if you believe in the awe and wonder of the world.[34] See: Atheism and wonder

Janan Ganesh wrote in the Financial Times:

What stands out even more is the constant groping for profundity by people who stop well short of any religion or organised belief system themselves. There has been a vein of lifestyle spiritualism in the west, and especially the US, for a long time now. Deepak Chopra, the Martin Luther of this stuff, is in his seventies, and Oprah Winfrey not far behind. But unless I am being singled out for special treatment, it appears to have become inescapable over the past decade in particular.

This is not the place, nor am I the writer, for a disquisition on the existence or otherwise of God. The question, rather, is why people who plainly do not have any such faith are so reluctant to own the fact. Why is the materialist view of things still so hard to embrace, even for those who share all or most of its tenets?[35]

Many atheists became upset with Oprah Winfrey when she declared that you can’t be an atheist if you believe in the awe and wonder of the world.[36] See: Atheism and wonder

See also


  1. Definition of spirituality
  2. Atheism
  3. 10 facts about atheists, Pew Research
  4. Is Beauty Objective? by Keith E. Buhler, posted October 24, 2007
  5. Why Are Atheists So Angry? by Rabbi David Wolpe Posted: 03/10/2011 11:06 am EST Updated: 05/25/2011 6:35 pm EDT
  6. Oprah: You Can’t Be an Atheist If You ‘Believe in the Awe and Wonder’ of the World by Josh Feldman, Mediaite, October 14th, 2013
  7. Russell, Bertrand (1947) "Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?"
  8. Entropy and heat death
  9. Atheism and the despair of hope
  10. Fear of death: worst if you’re a little religious?, World of Science]
  11. Survey: 32% of Atheists & Agnostics Believe in an Afterlife
  12. Mind is Matter, Greta Christina, The
  13. Mind is Matter, Greta Christina, The
  14. Christians Talk about Buddhist Meditation, Buddhists Talk About Christian Prayer, edited by Rita M. Gross, Terry C. Muck, page 89
  15. Herding Cats: Why Atheism Will Lose by Francois Tremblay
  16. Clear Voices 2014 - Alister McGrath - C. S. Lewis’s Vision of the Christianity
  17. In the Aftermath: Provocations and Laments By David Bentley Hart, page 136
  18. Updike, John (1989). Self-Consciousness: Memoirs (New York, NY: Knopf), ch. 4.
  19. I don’t believe it – they’re doing atheism at GCSE by Niles Coren
  20. You can't dance to atheism by Andrew Brown
  21. Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics (Zuckerman, 2005)
  22. A surprising map of where the world’s atheists live, Washington Post By Max Fisher and Caitlin Dewey May 23, 2013
  23. Chinese Turn To Religion To Fill A Spiritual Vacuum, National Public Radio, July 18, 2010
  24. Facing the Canon with Alister McGrath
  25. Why faith makes sense: Developing a Christian mind - Alister McGrath
  26. Clear Voices 2014 - Alister McGrath - C. S. Lewis’s Vision of the Christianity
  27. Christianity makes sense of the world, C.S. Lewis Institute
  28. Atheist Church Split: Sunday Assembly And Godless Revival's 'Denominational Chasm', Huffington Post, 2014
  29. Atheist Church Split: Sunday Assembly And Godless Revival's 'Denominational Chasm', Huffington Post, 2014
  30. 10 facts about atheists, Pew Research
  31. Oprah: You Can’t Be an Atheist If You ‘Believe in the Awe and Wonder’ of the World by Josh Feldman, Mediaite, October 14th, 2013
  32. Instagram atheists need to drop the hokum by Janan Ganesh. Financial Times, 2018
  33. Oprah: You Can’t Be an Atheist If You ‘Believe in the Awe and Wonder’ of the World by Josh Feldman, Mediaite, October 14th, 2013