Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The need for atheist spirituality...

Vjack has a great post over at Atheist Revolution about the application of "spirituality" to atheist thought. As I mentioned in the comments section, Sam Harris makes no bones about the spirituality he has experienced, and the fact the he continues to seek those experiences through contemplative processes like meditation. Presumably, a portion of his motivation in the area is his work as a neuroscientist and a desire to understand the neurological or neurochemical basis for these types of transcendent experiences.

To me, I find it interesting that religious folk often tend to use these types of experiences as "proof" that their mode of belief is correct. And, it's an easy misinterpretation to make, especially when caught up in the euphoria that may come along with these experiences. But, the fact that many cultures throughout history have produced these experiences, with or without a religious component ought to serve as proof of the opposite: our brains are wired to accept these types of input and translate them as awe-inspiring, transcendent, and special.

Conversely, many atheists appear to place little value in this type of experience. We can get so caught up in promoting rationality above all else that we may forget the sense of wonder and mysticism that is inherent (at least to me) in nature. It seems to me that these peak experiences are a wonderful part of the human condition. Different people will seek out these experiences to different degrees, but I think we ought to be open to this type of wonder, so long as we don't read too much into them. That is, they are not proof for god's existence, let alone proof that your specific god cares for you personally & individually.

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