Nothing brings more rage and irritation to atheists than talk about spirituality. For some, spirituality is a bunch of mumbo-jumbo for the weak minded who ‘just don’t get it’. Spirituality is as real as unicorn sparkles. But for others, spirituality is a way of life and the only topic worth discussing are matters of the heart and soul. Spiritual people (for lack of a better term) want to get to the inner depths of the soul to understand why we are on earth and thus, how to live. But precisely because of this great divide, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the subject. Not to prove one side correct, but to distill the rational elements that we can take away from spirituality.
Spiritual moments may chance upon us at the oddest moments. It might be with a newborn, where we feel unconditional love for the little one. Or perhaps gazing out to the stars and feeling an overwhelming oneness with the planet and the great galaxy beyond. Or maybe due to taking a banned substance (don’t try this!), where we feel there are no barriers nor differentiation between one person to another. Often spiritual moments find us when we’re looking at things from a new angle. The rational element here is that we’re able to shed our own egos. We see little differentiation between our own physical self and others. We waste a lot of time comparing ourselves to others. We expend a lot of energy getting people to do what we want them to do, and having people see things are our way. When we feel this expansiveness of oneness, we can let go of these struggles and simply surrender.
In spiritual moments, there might be an overwhelming feeling of love. Not the passionate Hollywood type of love. But a pure, unconditional love for one and all with the intensity we might reserve for only one or two in the world. Yet we might feel that love for a tree on a hill, or everyone involved in a distant memory, or for all the oceans on the planet. We might even feel love for the beauty of the galaxy and beyond as this love is distributed without bounds across the multiverse.
Enough to get a eye-roll and a groan from atheists, spiritual people might say that they feel the presence of God in the room, or in their hearts. Or they see the hand of God, directing the twists and turns of a fortuitous event. The core element is that they’ve experienced timelessness, divine, altruism and splendour associated with the almighty. It means that the benevolence and warmth attributed to the divine was in their reach.
Spiritual experiences may reassure us from fears as well – for example dreaming one’s own end of life as a completely benevolent and peaceful experience. We might think of the bigger picture in life, to give up the struggles of petty bickering with our loved ones or to surrender to the process of life. We make peace that some struggles, if lost, will lead to a better life than one we could have conceived of ourselves anyway. Rather than be fearful of the unknown or of punishment, we accept that there is a more elevated goal in life – one that involves generosity and nobility.
Although it would be nice to, we can’t always be spiritually elevated all the time. There will be traffic jams, taxes to pay and dreaded customer service calls to wait on. But the claims of material reductionist or atheists shouldn’t invalidate the elements of spirituality. We all need relief from the struggles of every day living, of the rat race or of thinking that we are unloveable. Ignoring the principles of spirituality would only do us a disservice. A spiritual experience at the core is entirely neutral, and simply elevates us for a temporary relief from the burdens of struggling in our physical bodies.