The Spiritual Life of An Atheist

June 5, 2011

Spiritual Life of An Atheist: Spiritual But Not Religious

I love glimpses of the enormity of nature.  Instead of unsettling me, as they reasonably could, they fill me with an unparalleled sense of peace.  The myriad pinpoints of other planets and stars in the night sky, the ancient depths of the Grand Canyon or heights of Yosemite Valley’s granite walls, the rhythmic crashing of the Pacific against the shore, the kaleidoscopic diversity of life, all soothe me.

Not that I don’t feel fear in the cold face of nature’s indifference.  I love nature, but I respect the limits of my skills in it, as I am well aware that it does not love me back.  I don’t need it to.  For me, it matters that I appreciate the universe.  I do not require it to appreciate me.

There is no word to express the feeling nature’s encompassing power inspires in me other than “spiritual.”  Nature is not, however, my God.  God is too small a word for the universe.  God bespeaks tradition, dogma, righteousness, intent.  Outside of humanity (and perhaps whatever other intelligent beings may exist in the great expanse), the universe embodies none of this.  It is all matter and force.  The waves pounding, the glaciers incrementally eroding, the distant suns radiating, genes randomly mutating.

I try hard to see as much of the universe as I can for what it actually is and us for what we are in it, to grasp as fully as possible the experience of being a part of yet different from the unfeeling matter and forces that created us, surround us, and sustain us.  That our feeling nature (and that of other animals) emerged from the mindless churning of particles and processes moves me.  For me, contemplating this fact results not in meaninglessness but a penetrating feeling of deep humility and compassion.  I have found that non-theistic materialism can provide sustaining spiritual power.

copyright 2011 by S. Anne Johnson



  1. I feel the exact same way when I contemplate the universe. The enormity, majesty, and overwhelming power of it all is breathtaking. I am an incomprehensibly insignificant speck compared to the universe. But yet, quite literally, I am a part of it and it is a part of me. As Carl Sagan is often quoted as saying, we are all literally made of star stuff. The universe was here long, long before me, and it will be here long, long after I am gone. But even once I am dead, I will still be a part of it. The atoms that formed my body and brain, and which gave rise to my consciousness, will still remain. Who knows, maybe someday the atoms that are part of me will be incorporated into a new planet, or a new star, or a new sentient life form. All of this is consoling to me. And it’s even more consoling that none of it requires any imaginary gods. The universe is real, and I was here to witness it. This inspires a sense of peace and hope in me, not nihilism or emptiness as Christians like to pretend.

    Comment by Spock — June 5, 2011 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

  2. I found my way to this site having read a review of “Absence of Mind/Marilynne Robinson” by sannejohnson (I am currently reading the same). I thought the review was pretty good, understanding your point of view, and wondered why you only went with 2 stars. Upon reviewing your blog, I somewhat see why. It’s the typical human tendency to explain and identify what one is by saying what one is not. Thus a-theism.

    That’s too bad.

    However, on the brighter side, precisely what I am criticizing you are tending to not do in this present blog. In this “Spiritual but Not Religious” short essay positive statements are made for having deep symbiotic type personal experience with nature (and if I can infer with being itself). I can identify and share that same appreciation myself though I hold to a theistic interpretation of being. So, even though I find a materialism that only allows for externally observable derivable truths as inadequate, I can appreciate a clear position which is not dependent on defining itself by offering shock valued naysaying. So much atheistic literature is just bombastic narrow minded anti-statements rather than a positive alternative way.

    Hmm. If you are to name this approach something, please do not refer to it as “atheology”. That may have a ring to it for some, but positive statements such as you have made do not warrant self-definition as NOT-goddistic. The materialism you describe does not also sound metaphysical in either a traditional philosophical or a new age sense. There is so much more thought to engage in rather than “not-theistic”, with an anti-christian tone to it all.

    Maybe I’ll go three stars here.

    Comment by Ralph — July 2, 2011 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: