Can an atheist be spiritual?

First, let me get the definitions out of the way.

Atheism is nothing more than a rejection of the belief that god (or gods) exists. It is not even a position against supernaturalism. It is not even a pro-science position. It is only a “I do not believe gods exist” position.

As such, there may exist atheists who believe in ghosts, pseudo-scientific theories, mystic healing, and magic. There may also be atheists who are racist, ethnocentric, and politically conservative.

Atheism does not stop people from being any of these things. It’s only about not believing that gods exist.

Now to define spirituality.

No two people will define spirituality the same way. It can indeed be literally about spirits (ghosts and suchlike), or it can be about something more beyond words. When asked if they are spiritual, people nod in the affirmative. But when asked what they mean by it, they dissolve into ambiguity. I have heard people say, without using the word “god”, that their spirituality is about “a higher power” or “something above us all” or “just a feeling”.

Spirituality remains undefined, and because of that, it remains prevalent. Religion is easy to reject in modern times. But a lot of religious baggage sneaks into rational minds disguised as spirituality.

Depending on how we define spirituality therefore, there may be atheists who can be defined as spiritual. But they probably won’t define it as having anything to do with a higher power that exerts any influence on their lives. Their definitions will be more… how shall I put it… esoteric.

There is a worldview known as Religious Naturalism that Carl Sagan might be described as having subscribed to. It finds in the scientific understanding of the world something that resembles religious feeling. Some people feel it in shrines, temples, mosques, and churches. Some feel it when watching Cosmos.

I am an atheist. And I have a definition of spirituality also. To me, spirituality means the search for meaning. So the simple act of opening the dictionary to look up a word is spiritual to me. To understand something is, to me, the highest possible calling of a human being.

All religion and all spirituality stems from the human need to understand. In ages past, we explained the universe using stories. These stories were the best we could do, and to some extent, they hold meaning even today. They tell us about ways of being and methods of conduct.

What has changed is that we have come to a greater understanding of not only the universe, but also the impulse that causes us to look for meaning. The human condition is defined, not by supernatural influences, but by our species’ imaginative outlook.

This is, at least to this atheist, kind of spiritual.

#atheism, #spirituality, #meaning

Why is there Islamophobia but no Hinduphobia or Buddhistphobia?

Hinduism and Buddhism have, generally speaking, created much less trouble for the world compared to Islam. What is referred to as Islamophobia is a result of primarily two influences:

  • Uninformed bigotry
  • Justified fear of political Islam

The first kind rules the minds of those who have failed to make distinction between how many Muslims see their faith. It conflates the very practice of Islam with everything bad that is done by Muslims. Although Islam is indeed in need of serious reform in several respects (including its overall constrictive nature that does not allow for any criticism of its tenets whatsoever), the form of Islam practised by extremist Muslims has little to do with what the Muslim next door to you believes his faith to represent.

The second influence has to do with the growing influence of political Islam in world affairs. There are bodies and organisations that are actively pushing for the recognition of Islamic law as a way to run modern societies. And it doesn’t stop there. Insults (perceived or otherwise) to Islam, its holy book, or its prophet, appear to be reason enough for followers to commit violence. One does not have to strain one’s memory to remember the last major instance of such behaviour — Charlie Hebdo.

Islamist violence is not even localised. Most modern countries, and even Islamic countries regularly report attacks carried out in the name of Islam. If it is not a global phenomenon, it is definitely a globally observed one.

Compare this with the possibility of Hinduphobia or Buddhistphobia. Fear of Hindus is relatively localised. In India, a certain brand of political Hinduism is a danger to a certain kind of progressive thought. Like in Islam, there are many Hindus who do not associate with it. But globally, Hindus are far from being seen as threats to modern civilisation.

Buddhists, even less so. The only instance of Buddhist violence I can remember is the one in Myanmar from a few years ago. Though some terrible violence happened there, it did not translate into global ill will for the religion.

It is useful to remember that the position that political Islam occupies these days was once occupied by Christianity. But through internal reform, much of Christianity has turned less obviously dangerous. Hindus and Buddhists too, in ages past, have done less than honourable things. But a good number of those practices have been abandoned following internal reform.

The solution to Islamophobia is internal reform. If those who follow Islam do not do it, who will?

#islamophobia, #religion, #buddhists, #hindus, #muslims, #islam

Are the humans of the present age smarter than god?

Which god? And how do we determine how intelligent god is?

The only measure of God’s intelligence we have is the sacred texts that he or she or it is said to have left us. If we compare the average intelligence of a modern human with the author of the world’s “holiest” books, here are some of the conclusions we can come to:

  • We have a relatively clear understanding of the solar system. They didn’t. They didn’t even know of all the planets that go around the sun.
  • We have robust theoretical models of how the universe came into being. These are validated by math. Their models are speculative in nature and come with little evidence except authoritarian arguments.
  • We know how elements function and react to each other. We have broken them up and seen their innards to such a great extent that we can combine them to make things we desire. The knowledge god gave man was somewhat lacking in this department.
  • We have made tremendous strides in medical science and we can cure / fix really damaged bodies with relative ease. Sacred texts had nothing on this. Indeed, they are full of accounts that encourage superstitious thinking.

These are just a few examples. I think it is safe to say that many modern human beings are smarter than god. They are also kinder and more moral than god. They have a clearer view of man’s origin and a grander view of the human future. All of this factors into intelligence I think.

The key difference between man and the god he used to worship is that over time, man has become capable of telling fact from fiction. Back when he couldn’t do so, he frequently mistook imagination for reality. God is a leftover illusion from that era.

#knowledge, #religion, #god, #science

Why can’t the Indian government enact a law that says criticising any god is blasphemy resulting in severe punishment, applicable to all religions?

Doing so might present some interesting challenges because the tenets of one religion will prove to be blasphemous towards another religion.

For example, Islamists may claim that Hindus are in violation of the Quranic guideline that prohibits idol worship. Christians might say Muslims are in violation of the belief that Jesus is the one true path to salvation. Hindus don’t have a blasphemy concept, but I am sure they will be able to come up with something too. And who will speak for smaller religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism?

The trouble with blasphemy is determining which standard of blasphemy is India going to enforce? It just does not compute.

Blasphemy laws are stupid. That’s all that needs to be said about them. The Constitution does impose restrictions on free expression which may be used to counter “blasphemy”, but even those are ambiguous and outdated clauses that serve no purpose.

#religion, #blasphemy, #free-speech, #66A

Is celibacy mandatory for the spiritual path?

All religions treat sexuality with suspicion. There are possible evolutionary reasons behind this. It is why more than one spiritual figure has called women the gateway to hell. It is why many temples have rules against allowing menstruating women in. It is why many orders of monks spend lifetimes without any sexual contact.

The hole in this approach of course is that if celibacy had been mandatory for spirituality, Krishna would be one of the least spiritual figures. So would Rama, and all the Pandavas.

Hinduism is not really about a single path. It is about a single goal which can be reached using many paths. For some, forsaking women is a way to achieve the kind of mental discipline they require for spiritual progress. Others take another path, one where women are not absent.

#celibacy, #sexuality, #spirituality, #religion

If you had to explain physical pain to an intelligent species that has no form of it, how would you go about it?

An intelligent species that has no form of pain seems very likely impossible. Creatures have to be able to discriminate between things that are good for them and things that are not. Pain is often an indicator of things we should avoid. When we feel pain, what is essentially happening is that our bodies are signalling to our brain that the present state of affairs may be dangerous.

Of course this is not always true. Children are notoriously afraid of injections, but that fear is simply a reaction to our bodies’ dislike for breaches of our skin. The part of our brain that makes us aware of pain seems to be incapable of distinguishing between getting stabbed and receiving a life-saving vaccine.

If there was an intelligent species incapable of feeling pain, we would have to ask them how they sense danger. We would have to understand how their bodies react to invasion and how they determine that a certain course of action will end in their demise (or at least injury).

When they describe this phenomenon, we can then tell them pain somewhat resembles it. It might also help if we explain to them how pain persists — how it can be more than purely physical and how those who suffer pain can sometimes be with it for a long time in their minds after it has subsided.

#pain, #communication, #explaining

If emotions are just chemicals, then who am I? Why do I exist?

Emotions are not just chemicals. They are what your mind experiences as a result of chemical reactions inside your brain. This may seem a needless explanation, but it is important to define things properly before wondering what purpose they serve.

The question assumes that being “just chemicals” is not enough reason to justify existence. This belief stems from a bloated idea of human importance. It says, essentially, that the human condition is something more than “just chemicals”. And because “just chemicals” is a lesser way of being, it is not worth existing as.

We were never anything more than “just chemical”. Ideas about human uniqueness, where we are more than just chemical, are fantasy. And because we have been invested emotionally in such ideas for a long time, the chemical truth of our condition seems to be a step-down.

So here are the facts:

  • You are just chemicals
  • You do exist

Now the question is, what are you going to do about it? How are you going to live your life in the light of the fact that there is no fundamental difference between you and the natural world. You do not have the properties that you thought made you distinct from the world you live in. When you die, you will be dust and no part of you will move on into imaginary fantasy lands.

I personally find it a liberating thought that I am just chemicals. I can think, explore, love, and learn. I need not worry about violating any divine code or angering any deity. In short, I can decide why I exist.

And so can you.

#human-condition, #purpose, #materialism

On why we ask “why”

Here is my answer to the Quora question: When do we stop asking “why”? The asker added the following paragraph to explain where he was coming from.

Why do 2 objects having mass attract each other ?isn’t that question equally valid as the original question of why the apple fell down ! Calling it a natural phenomena is as silly as saying god made that apple fell down instead of going up .”why” a natural phenomena happen in the first place .

Contrary to popular opinion, there is such a thing as a stupid question. And if I appear unnecessarily uncharitable with the word “stupid”, you may replace it with the word “pointless”.

Yes. Pointless questions exist.

Questions about why things happen the way they do arise from the assumption that there is something resembling underlying purpose in the universe. The illusion persists despite there being no evidence of such underlying purpose.

The reason we think purpose exists is because we have all grown up in societies where purpose exists. What escapes our attention however, is that this purpose is man-made. It is not divine or cosmic. Thinking that the universe has underlying purpose that corresponds to the human condition is akin to thinking that the sun goes around the Earth.

We are just not that important!

The universe does have rules and they can be made sense of by human beings by methods that we have come to define as science. We can know how the universe works. But when it comes to why, there is no reason to think that what we are knocking at is even a door.

Natural phenomena are natural phenomena. The only reason we might ask why they are the way they are is because we are looking at them through the human lens. We are expecting natural laws to make the kind of sense that human laws do.

#human-condition, #purpose

Why were we born as human beings?

We ARE human beings. Our being human is not a quality that can be removed from “us”.

This is a common thought failure. It is the tendency to assign independent existence to a property and thinking it can exist without the thing that it is a property of. Being human is our property. If we weren’t human, we would not exist.

Why were birds born with wings? See why this question is nonsensical? If they didn’t have wings, they wouldn’t be birds.

Why were fish born as fish? BECAUSE THEY ARE FISH! If they hadn’t been born as fish, they would not exist. The fishness of the fish is a description of a condition, not an independent condition.

Human beings have something called language. Language contains words that are descriptive — they are used to define objects and concepts. The problem arises when, because there are words to represent things as well as thoughts, we equate the two and assume a thought is a thing.

#anthropic-bias, #human-condition, #purpose

Are Hindu marriages more scientific?

Few things are more bewildering than the nonchalance with which words like “science” and “scientific” are thrown about in modern India. To a certain extent, it shows our science-envy and the willingness to break away from unscientific ways and superstition. But in another, more accurate way, it shows how deeply entrenched we still are in irrationality.

Any marriage is an experiment. It puts two people together in a household and tries to see if the alliance can produce a functional social unit. To this extent, all marriages are “scientific”. They are social experiments. But because these social exprriments are not carried out with the intention of data gathering, all they end up being is ritualistic reenactments of cultural behaviour.

Marriages are simply socially authorised rituals that legitimise monogamy. You might say, that in a society that values cohesiveness and structure, there are rational reasons behind marriage. But none of that makes marriage “scientific”.

And this applies to all marriages. Not just Hindu ones.

#marriage, #science, #pseudo-science, #hinduism