Re: book on atheist spirituality - possibly of interest
- From: Paul Grieg <pgrieg@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2008 07:04:40 -0800 (PST)
On Feb 7, 10:46 pm, Lance <LanceG...@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality
by Andre Comte-Sponville, Nancy Huston
.... What could shamanism and Buddhism,
Taoism and Islam, Confucianism and Christianity possibly have in
common? Might it be a mistake to use the same word, religion, for all
Why? They share the necessity of believing in something for which
there is no good evidence -- like reincarnation in Buddhism.
Several of these systems of
belief, the Eastern ones in particular, seem to me to be a mixture of
spirituality, ethics and philosophy rather than a religion in the
generally accepted Western sense of the word.
Ethics and philosophy necessitate not believing in things without a
They are less about God
than they are about human beings or nature. They have to do less with
faith than with meditation;
Why should religion require God? Some require gods, others no gods.
The defining part of religion seems to me to be that which requires a
leap into irrational faith. Buddhism requires faith, at least in its
traditional incarnations. Never mind 'have to do less than', if it
requires faith it's a religion.
rituals as they are exercises and requirements; and their followers
assemble not so much in churches as in schools of life or wisdom.
If churches are necessary then only certain brands of Christianity are
'religion'. That's too narrow a definition.
is especially true of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, at least in
their pure or purified forms--that is, independent of the superstitions
that, in all countries, tend to accrete around a doctrine, sometimes
to the point of making it unrecognizable.
Like sea of faith Christianity? So really no religions are religions?
Rubbish. Why bring up purified forms? Why not the 'more usual' forms?
They are sometimes referred
to as atheistic or agnostic religions. While the expression may sound
self-contradictory to Western ears, it is far from absurd.
Reincarnation is as absurd as heaven.
are Buddha, Lao-tzu and Confucius not gods themselves; they identify
with no deity, no revelation, no personal or transcendent Creator of
any sort. They are merely men of freedom, men who have been freed;
wise men; spiritual guides.
His French pal Matthieu Ricard believes in reincarnation, and he's on
the liberal wing of Buddhism. Gods and heavens, hungry ghosts, etc,
etc all abound in traditional Buddhism.
But let us move on. I am neither an ethnologist nor a historian of
Well we all like spouting on about things we know nothing about :-)
As a philosopher, I wonder about the possibility of leading
a good life without religion. In order to answer this question, I need
to know what religion is, and thus I must come up with a definition of
the word, however approximate and temporary. One definition people
often find enlightening is the one quoted by Émile Durkheim in the
first chapter of his Elementary Forms of Religious Life: "A religion
is a solid system of beliefs and practices relative to things
sacred, that is to say, set apart and taboo--beliefs and practices
which bring together those who adhere to them in a moral community
known as a church."
Good definition. Buddhism fits it.
Certain elements of this definition may be
debatable--the sacred is not only taboo and set apart, it is also
revered; the community of believers is not necessarily a church
Oh come on, he just means any old group of people -- a 'broad
It will be noted that
it makes no reference to one or several gods. That is because Durkheim
knew that some religions had no gods--Jainism, for instance, which is
atheistic, and Buddhism, which is "an ethics without God and an
atheism without Nature" (the phrase, quoted by Durkheim, is from the
writings of Eugène Burnouf, the great nineteenth-century scholar of
India). All theisms are religious, but not all religions are
But you just said... Boy this little book needs some editing!
I would like to
propose a more limited definition
Why? There's a perfectly good word -- theism.
I know what I'm talking about--or at least, I can compare: Not only was
I raised a Christian, but I believed in God. My faith, if occasionally
laced with doubts, was powerful until around age eighteen. Then I lost
it, and it felt like a liberation--everything suddenly seemed simpler,
lighter, stronger and more open. It was as if I had left childhood
behind me, with its fantasies and fears, its closeness and
languorousness, and entered the real world at long last--the adult
world, the world of action, the world of truth, unhampered by
forgiveness or Providence. Such freedom! Such responsibility! Such
joy! Yes, I'm convinced that my life has been better--more lucid, freer
and more intense--since I became an atheist.
Of course, this does not necessarily apply to everyone. Many people
who have converted would say just the opposite, namely that they have
led a better life since they became believers; and many believers,
even if they've done nothing but share their parents' religion since
childhood, would describe it as the best part of their lives. All we
can conclude from this is that people are different. For me, this
world is enough; I'm an atheist and happy to be one. Other people,
most likely the majority, are equally happy to be believers.
How does he know? Maybe if they received his fine education they would
also be happier being atheists?
It may be
that they need a God to console and reassure themselves, to escape
from absurdity or despair (such is the meaning of Kant's "postulates
of practical reason"), or simply to give their lives some sort of
coherence; it may be that religion is what they see as the highest
part of their lives, either affectively or spiritually--their
sensitivity, their education, their history, their thought, their joy,
their love.... All these reasons are worthy of respect.
But 'he does not need' because he's a bright intellectual? I don't see
the respect - 'it may be that they need a God' is dismissive. They
are thick so maybe they need a crutch? Far better to treat them as
deluded and with a chance of losing that delusion - Dawkins approach.
Dawkins show them much more respect. He believes that he can lead them
to his position as equally rational beings. Sponville shows them
disrespect by considering they cannot follow his thoughts.
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