Atheism is denial of God for individuals and in the social context, it signifies logical and seeking mind’s revolt against hide-bound religions. However, in the deeper sense, it means a seeking for something far greater than popular God and creed-based religions. The quest ends in spirituality-the supreme Truth of Existence.
Atheists Are Often More Honest Than Believers
Can an Atheist be Spiritual?
Atheism and Spirituality seem quite antithetical. While atheism signifies outright denial of the existence of God Spirituality avers that All exist in God and God exists in All. So, the simple answer to the question whether an atheist can be spiritual is an emphatic “no”. For not only does an atheist disbelieve in the spirit or an existence beyond and outside the body but he dismisses such concepts as fantasy of mind, a chimera, a fancy.
The atheists proudly profess that they do not believe in God or in the doctrines of religions. But the question is: do those who champion God and religions zealously really believe in God? Swami Vivekananda once asserted: “We are all atheists; not too many people actually believe in God. I am glad that, in modern times, another class of atheists has come into existence in the Western world — I mean the materialists. They are sincere atheists. They are better than the religious atheists, who are insincere, who fight and talk about religion, and yet do not want it. Until you have attained realization there is no difference between you and atheists. You degrade religion to your low level and seek matter in the name of spirit. You are all atheists. You do not believe in anything except the senses.”
This is indeed a very strong public denunciation of the so-called believers. But is it untrue? Aren’t the self-convinced atheists more honest than the non-believing believers?
Movement Against Superstition, For Free Thinking
Atheism in Ancient India & West
Atheism is not new to India. Thousands of years before the concepts of atheism, agnosticism and materialism gripped the Western mind, there was a distinct philosophical school in India which was known as Charvakas, the followers of the philosopher Charvaka. The followers of this iconoclastic school of thinking refused to believe that there is any supra-physical, supra-sensual reality and advocated what are now known as materialism and hedonism. And importantly, they were not denounced, hunted down and burnt. They were accepted as Hindus as Hinduism of that time was an all-embracing philosophy where even the non-believers had a distinguished place. The people were given the freedom to believe or non-believe in the light of their observation and experiences.
In the West, atheism arose as a reaction to the Church seeking to throttle the reasoning power of man by pushing some phony dogmas down his throat. It was evolving humanity’s one of the most consequential stages. It challenged the religious superstitions and doctrinal authoritarianism in the Western world. It strove and paved way for free thinking in the light of scientific progress.
Outright Denial & Skeptical Flexibility
Atheism & Agnosticism
Though allied, atheism and agnosticism are not the same. While atheism proclaims that there is no god agnosticism is more flexible than atheism, more skepticism than denialism. The professing agnostics neither believe nor disbelieve in God, saying that humanity will never know how the universe originated and the existence of God or gods can never be proved. While the theists and the atheists appear unshakably convinced of their knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God, the agnostics love to steer clear of these exclusive views and keep these metaphysical questions open.
East & West: Views Are Same
It is quite interesting to note that the views of the spiritual mystics of modern India and those of the rationalistic thinkers of the West on atheism are amazingly similar, though they viewed the matter from their respective perspectives.
We have already seen the views of Swami Vivekananda. Now let us see how Sri Aurobindo viewed atheism as a positive movement, a momentous stage in evolving humanity’s history- “Atheism is a necessary protest against the wickedness of the Churches and the narrowness of creeds. God uses it as a stone to smash these soiled card-houses.”
Now, we will see what Bertrand Russell said about his being an agnostic- “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.”
However significantly, a staunch atheist or agnostic can be self-effacing humanist no less than a true spiritualist. The history of mankind is replete with the instances of atheists and agnostics serving mankind not just with their intellect but with selfless philanthropic works done silently, without any reference to the Divine.
Human Evolution & Atheism
Humans have been evolving through belief, denial and then returning to belief. So, everyone should be given free space to reflect, to argue, to reject, to return, to affirm. He must have self-strength to reject all dogmas which fetter him, seeking to lay a yoke on his growing conscience and evolving intellect. He must have the freedom to experience and assert what is right according to his present light and then go from light to greater light. This is what true spirituality says.