That no wise the nature of all things
For us was fashioned by power divine
So great the faults it stand encumbered with.
I just finished reading L’Espirit de l’athéisme – Introduction à une spiritualité sans Dieu by André Comte-Sponville. This book’s title has been translated (??) into English as The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. Why didn’t they use “The Spirit of Atheism – An Introduction to Spirituality Without God”?
The book has three chapters:
I) Can We Do Without Religion?
II) Does God Exist?
III) Can There Be an Atheist Spirituality?
In the first chapter Comte-Sponville says that we can do without religion but wants to hold on to certain aspects of religion. Get rid of faith but keep fidelity, keep communion and love. He also thinks that secular rites such as funerals are bad copies of their religious counterparts. He worries that Nihilism is a danger in this new era and proposes Humanism to counter this threat.
The second chapter goes through many examples of the lack of evidence and strong arguments for the belief in a god. Comte-Sponville writes of the mediocrity of mankind, the problem of evil, the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, amongst others. If you are already an atheist you have been there many times before, if not, it will be new territory.
The third and last chapter touches on spirituality. But what is spirit?
“The human spirit…is our noblest part, or rather our highest function, the thing that makes us not only different from other animals…but greater than and superior to them”
“Whatever it is, we can use it to think, to want, or to imagine…. It is the power to think, insofar as it gives us access to truth, universality, or laughter. It is likely that without the brain, this ability would be able to do nothing at all or would not even exist”
“The spirit is not a substance. Rather, it is a function, a capacity, an act (the act of thinking, willing, imagining, making wisecracks)”
In the end he says that it does not matter if this “thing” is the brain. He talks of the capacity to live in the present and give no importance to the past and the future, as they do not exist. He is highly influenced by eastern religion, delving deeply into personal experience as he goes into an explanation of immanence and letting go of one’s ego, being part of everything or having what he calls an “oceanic feeling”.
If by spirit he means the human ability for empathy, awe, ethics and curiosity, that is fine. Give it another name. I am not sure, but “Ethos” would work better for me and remove the possible supernatural connotation.
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism
See you next time.
- Contemporary Humanism and Spirituality, Part 5 (psychologytoday.com)
- Study: World of atheism diverse, nonbelievers can’t be lumped together (timesfreepress.com)
- Atheists Who Pray (atheistrev.com)