Tuesday, 16 January 2007

A reintroduction

Vjack over at Atheist Revolution asks how to define spirituality Sans God and why we, as atheists should pursue it. He reads quite accurately that this blog is about 'finding spirituality in a godless world'.

In formulating my answer(s) to this interesting question perhaps we should revisit the original goal of this blog.

I'm a mental health professional who works with people who are labelled as having 'severe and enduring' mental health problems. Increasingly in this arena, 'spiritual well being' is being focused upon as a crucial component of good mental health.

Perhaps predictably, many of us in this field struggle to understand what this means, let alone help people in poor mental health improve their spiritual well being. Repeatedly we fall back upon typecast notions of spirituality e.g. Religious denomination and rituals.

A part of me wonders whether this nascent spiritual uprising in psychiatry is merely a smoke screen behind which the old, repressive practices continue unabated. By this I mean the repression of 'schizophrenics' through medication, legislation, misunderstanding and public loathing.

Another part of me feels (quite strongly) that this is an opportunity to be capitalised upon. If we can use this chink in the armour of established psychiatric practice to highlight the human and social aspects of mental illness then the term will be well used.

The UK is largely secular. In my personal experience at least. Actively religious people are in the minority here. This seems to be an inverse reflection of the US experience. I must admit to being quite taken aback by the depth of Christian fundamentalism in the US, having only experienced it in any detail after starting this blog and taking an active interest in the topic of atheism.

I'm thankful for this. Thankful that the church and state are well separated (notwithstanding the Blarite spinned Sunday morning phot-ops). That said, I do feel that the western world is caught in a vicious existential crisis whilst it readjusts to its godless world. I feel that as a society we're missing something fundamental, some meaning that was conveniently provided by religion.

Not all of us are able to cope with the notion that meaning and purpose can only be created subjectively. Frankly, few of us have the capacity, time or motivation to explore this philosophical aspect to our lives. Which is why many of us godless people resort to 'kabalah lite, aromatherapy and self-help.'

Atheism, isn't good enough then. It isn't nourishing enough to the masses to be sufficient in and of itself. In my view, to have a grasp of our human, emotional experience we need to put empiricism to one side. Suspend disbelief if you like. We should feel comfortable that much of our lives are metaphorical and aesthetic and beyond the reach, for the time being at least, of pure logic and science.

This, I guess is where the term spirituality should sit for an atheist. Between bleak empiricism and illogical belief. It's a concept that we can choose to use if we so wish, to help us think about relationships, altruism, love and meaning without getting tied up in philosophical knots all the time. Yes it's a short cut, but one I'm willing to take if it means I might be able to ease the suffering of another person for a while.

1 comment:

vjack said...

Thank you for clarifying your position. Since atheism is nothing more than the lack of theistic belief, it is not a satisfactory place to find meaning. This is what leads many atheists to secular humanism. Unlike atheism, secular humanism does offer meaning and many of the other benefits of religion.

If I define spirituality as a sense of awe and appreciation of the natural world, I can certainly relate. However, I find the word "spirituality" too limiting because it typically has supernatural connotations.