It Pays to Advertise

I have a remarkable story to share with you all:

Last Friday, I had made plans to go out with some friends after work. At the end of the day, I debated whether to go and meet them directly or whether to go back to my apartment first and change, but I ultimately decided to go home first. The subway was jam-packed, and the first train that arrived was too crowded to get on. Likewise the second. I was getting impatient and determined not to miss the third, so I went all the way down to the end of the platform and managed to squeeze onto the very last car when it arrived.

I almost always read on the train. This week, I’ve been reading The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville, which I was solicited to review by the publisher. I was standing in the subway car and reading it, not thinking much about what I was doing, when I felt a touch on my arm.

It was a woman, a stranger, who looked to be about my age. “Sorry to disturb you, but what is that you’re reading?” she asked.

“See for yourself,” I said, and gave her the book so she could read the publisher’s blurb on the back.

She read it, then gave it back to me. “Are you an atheist?”

“Yes, I am,” I said. “I have been since college. Why? What are you?”

“I’m an atheist, too. A new one. I was a Christian for over thirty years, and I just became an atheist, but I don’t know any other atheists yet. What I’ve been trying to find out is if there can be spirituality in atheism.” She went on to explain that she had read Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, and was currently reading Richard Dawkins, and while she agreed with most of what they had to say, she wanted to know more about if there was a positive side to atheism and whether atheists had any kind of community. She said that she had been looking ever since she left her church, but hadn’t found anything like that yet.

“Well, I think you came to the right place,” I said with a laugh. “Actually, I have a website that has some things I’ve written on this subject. How far uptown are you going?”

It turned out that she was going to the Bronx, much farther than me, so I jotted down my e-mail address and gave it to her. “There are sources of community for atheists! You have to know where to look, but there are whole worlds out there that most people don’t even know about – sources of community, positive writings and philosophy. Myself, I believe an atheist can be a very spiritual person, if that term is defined the right way without recourse to the supernatural. Send me an e-mail and I’d be happy to talk about it with you!”

And that’s where things stand. I did get that e-mail, and pointed my new friend and fellow truth-seeker toward some writings I thought she might want to know about, including a few of my own (he said immodestly) and some essays by Robert Ingersoll. I told her about this website, too, so perhaps she may want to show up and identify herself.

If I had been a Christian, and a string of coincidences such as this had orchestrated my meeting a new fellow believer seeking to grow in the faith, our encounter would almost certainly be appearing on apologetics websites by now as proof of the unfolding of divine providence. For a wide variety of good reasons, I doubt anyone will ever make such a claim about the events that actually happened. I don’t think this was anything more than a coincidence, albeit an amazing and striking one. But as atheists’ numbers grow, coincidences like this one become more and more likely. So let me say this: Don’t ever hide that you’re an atheist. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You never know when you may meet a fellow nonbeliever, one seeking aid or advice of some kind that you’re personally qualified to give. We do have reason to spread the good news of atheism, and we do have reason to establish a true community of freethought and reason. Chance encounters like mine are just the first step.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Justin

    I glad to hear about this meeting! Maybe she’ll comment on this site.

  • 2-D Man

    I’m still a little hazy on what is meant by “spirituality”. I was never able to connect that term to anything I knew of when I was a theist. Now it’s even more difficult. I don’t feel like anything’s missing, mindy you; I just no longer have anything to say when the conversation turns that way. Can someone help me out a little?

  • Mr.Pendent

    I’m with 2-D–I’ve never understood what spirituality can mean to a free-thinker. I tend to think of spirituality as a sort of attempt to commune with the gods, or to feel the magic of the universe coursing through yourself, etc. Failing to find such a magic or god, what exactly does this mean in practical terms.

    Well, when all else fails, go for the cliche. I looked up spirituality (see spiritual). Spiritual gives us a list of items:

    1.of, pertaining to, or consisting of spirit; incorporeal.
    2.of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature: a spiritual approach to life.
    3.closely akin in interests, attitude, outlook, etc.: the professor’s spiritual heir in linguistics.
    4.of or pertaining to spirits or to spiritualists; supernatural or spiritualistic.
    5.characterized by or suggesting predominance of the spirit; ethereal or delicately refined: She is more of a spiritual type than her rowdy brother.
    6.of or pertaining to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.
    7.of or pertaining to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred.
    8.of or belonging to the church; ecclesiastical: lords spiritual and temporal.
    9.of or relating to the mind or intellect.

    Which, really, doesn’t help much.
    #1,2,4,5,7 & 8 are ruled out automatically by definition of “atheist”. #3 would seem to be exactly what Ebon suggested (and maybe what she was seeking)–time spent conversing with other like-minded individuals (ie. leaving one social circle/village/pack for another). Since we (again, arguably) by definition agree that morality is not drawn from religion, then #6 is possible, but not particularly meaningful in this situation (unless she needed advice on a moral issue). Finally, #9 presents an interesting idea–spirituality as the very essence of free-thinking and atheism, and therefore the exact opposite of religion. Who’da thunk it?

    So, for me, I’ll assume that she was after fellowship(another word which religion has attempted to take, but secularist still own 7/8 of).

  • TheMightyThor

    We do have reason to spread the good news of atheism, and we do have reason to establish a true community of freethought and reason. Chance encounters like mine are just the first step.

    Interesting idea! I have often joked that I should stand outside of a kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and pass out Atheist tracts. But I don’t know if such exists. Passing out Hitchens, Dawkins and Harrison would be waaaay too expensive, LOL!
    Ebon, perhaps you could publish something for the newly developing mission?

  • John

    What, pray tell me, is “the good news of atheism?”
    Why do you call this a “remarkable,” story?

  • Carlos

    Well… Since “spirit” can mean a lot of things, most of them not at all religious (it can mean intelligence, the ability to think, just to mention two), one can be an atheist and still be, in a sense, spiritual.

  • heliobates

    John’s going for the “bannana in the tailpipe”, folks.

    A life of wonder not good enough for you, buddy?

  • exmachina

    What, pray tell me, is “the good news of atheism?”
    Well, that’s a bit of a long answer. I imagine that discovering the truth that there is no God would be a bit of a bummer, but only at first. When you learned that there was no Santa Claus is might have been a let down, but in the end it was inevitable that you learn the truth. The truth, in the end, is a good thing. The more familiar you are with the truth, the better decisions you can make, and the happier you will be.

    Why do you call this a “remarkable,” story?You’ve got two former strangers sharing stories with each other. People coming together . . . that’s good right?

  • http://www.cognitivedissident.org cognitive dissident

    Very nice story, thanks for sharing it with us!

    Remember, too, the power of a good example…other passengers (who didn’t approach you and start a conversation) may have drawn strength just from hearing you two talk, or even from seeing you reading a freethought book in public.

    (We bloggers who are “out” in public might want to consider printing up business cards to hand out in this type of situation…)

  • Brad

    My thoughts of spirituality are how I am connected with the world, the world with the universe, people with each other, as well as who I am as a person and what the nature of the universe is.

    I think the good news of atheism really refers to the removal of bad news from theism or conventional religion that we shouldn’t have had in the first place, and which most people don’t stop to think about. (Irrational fear, guilt, repression; arbitrary ceremonies, rules, doctrines; et cetera.) In Life of Wonder, Ebonmuse says “I believe that atheism implies freedom.”

    Lastly, I think story is remarkable not because of improbability (1 in 7 isn’t at all improbable, especially in crowded cities), but in the idea of a chance encounter between young and new atheists and how it fits into the freethought movement.

    Thanks for sharing, Ebonmuse!

  • Polly

    If I had been a Christian, and a string of coincidences such as this had orchestrated my meeting a new fellow believer seeking to grow in the faith, our encounter would almost certainly be appearing on apologetics websites by now as proof of the unfolding of divine providence.

    LOL! I’ve said this many times. The “atheist god” has intervened in my life seemingly countless times to direct my godless footsteps in myriad serendipitous ways. It sometimes seems that no sooner do I think something or ask a question in my own mind that an answer appears our of nowhere. But, I recognize this as selective memory.

    I don’t think this was anything more than a coincidence, albeit an amazing and striking one.

    It most likely is nothing more than a coincidence, BUT… I can’t help thinking that maybe:
    1)She knew who you were and just wanted to get a closer look
    or (and you’ll like this)
    2) Maybe, she kinda dug ya’ and saw an opening. ;)

  • Mr.Pendent

    The “atheist god” has intervened in my life seemingly countless times to direct my godless footsteps in myriad serendipitous ways.

    It’s a Festivus miracle!

  • Polly

    BTW, woman-on-train if you’re reading I meant #2 facetiously. Please don’t take offense. And I hope your “spirit” will be buoyed here or, if online doesn’t do it for you, maybe at a UU church or a non-believing organization.

    N-Joy,
    Polly

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    It certainly does pay to advertise! This reminds me of something I wrote a while back about my sudden realization of why The God Delusion has a bright silver cover–it’s meant to be seen.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Reminds me of one of the great missed opportunities in my life.

    A couple of years ago I went to a Barnes & Noble in mid-town to buy The God Delusion during my lunch break. On my way back, I took the stairs to pass through the Rockefeller Center concourse and saw a woman standing against the wall holding up a Jehovah’s Witness newsletter. I briefly made eye contact as I walked by her.

    After I walked past her, I realized that I should have taken my copy of The God Delusion and held it up for her to see. It would have been a great silent rebuke to her. But alas, I blew the chance.

  • John

    “I have a remarkable story to share with you all:”

    Happens all the time. Nothing “remarkable” at all. Polly may have it right, beats saying something like, “don’t I know you?”

  • RiddleOfSteel

    Yes, thanks for sharing the story. It’s interesting Ebonmuse mentions the woman he encountered was wondering “whether atheists had any kind of community”. I don’t think this can be discounted as a significant reason why some people belong to churches. Churches have in certain ways co-opted things outside the supernatural, which many people, including non-believers, could have interest.

    As an example, my wife attended a Lutheran church service last week, at a church she had never before visited, and came home mentioning how friendly the congregants were, and how the pastor coincidently spoke to some issues of which my wife had concern. (Apparently the sermon involved limited mention of the supernatural – the group is a member of the liberal branch of the Lutheran church.) I have attended a like-minded church on occasion, and have often thought, that if the church would just cut out the supernatural component, I would agree with much of what was going on at the service and what they were trying to accomplish.

    While there are organizations that function similar to these churches sans the supernatural – in my experience these orgs do not exist in comparable numbers and locales as churches. On any given day, a person could easily locate and walk to any number of churches in my area, and possibly find fellowship and some common purpose – but would be hard pressed to identify an alternate group minus the supernatural to find similar fellowship. The secular version is in some cases there – but the churches far outnumber.

    I think one reason churches will continue to hold sway, is that regardless of the qualms some members may have with the supernatural teachings, people will still attend for the other services offered by the churches. The woman on the train provides an example of someone who, just because she is now an atheist, is not suddenly unconcerned with a lot of the other issues that caused her to be a member of her former church. Yet in a way, she is suddenly divorced from the people who she was associating with, unless she leaves her atheism at the door. It’s an unfortunate situation, the transition of which would be made easier, if alternate non-supernatural groups were more available and popularized. So I agree with Ebonmuse that it pays to advertise.

  • heliobates

    Happens all the time. Nothing “remarkable” at all.

    Pishtosh. If it “happened” to Adam all the time, then he wouldn’t bother telling us about it.

    I constantly read atheist/secularist/humanist books on the subway and I’ve never been approached by anyone about it. Of course, I’m not as good looking as Adam ;o), and I don’t ride the same subways. And the plural of anecdote is not data. But for a few atheist corks bobbing in a sea of the faithful, chance encounters with each other are rare enough to be “remarkable”.

  • John

    “But for a few atheist corks bobbing in a sea of the faithful, chance encounters with each other are rare enough to be “remarkable”.”

    Well at least you understand how much work atheists still have to do.

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    Great post! I don’t call it “spirituality” myself, since for me that word is too loaded with metaphysical implications. But I do experience what I call epiphany, or transcendence, or a feeling of oneness and connection with the universe. And it doesn’t rely on any belief in anything that isn’t the natural, physical world.

    And this is making me realize, for about the 2276th time, just how important visibility is to our movement. Whether it’s in the form of billboards and ad campaigns, or in the form of books and bookstore displays, or in the form of blogs and websites and MySpace pages, or simply in the form of talking to the people we know and meet: Coming out is the single most important political act that we can take. It lets believers know that atheism is an option, and it lets other atheists know that they’re not alone.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    That’s a lovely story. Mine isn’t nearly as impressive, but I’ve sort of had a similar experience. I’ve recently moved to the USA, and one of my new friends is this guy from India who describes himself as “Well, basically, to be honest I have to say I’m an atheist.” So when he asked me my religion, and I responded “atheist”, he said “Yeah! It’s so nice to be able to just say it, you know? Like there isn’t anything wrong with it or anything. Back home, when I tell my mother that, she says ‘Oh, no, don’t be silly, of course you don’t really mean that.’”

    “In my country,” I tell him, “about 35% of the population is atheist or agnostic or non-religious. So it’s pretty normal.”

    “Wow,” he says. “That’d be nice.”

    Just an ordinary, simple conversation, I suppose. But if my confidence, born of the normality of atheism in the country where I grew up, can shift the picture ever so slightly towards the normality of atheism in other places, then I’m glad of it.

  • Alex Weaver

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

    …what?

  • RiddleOfSteel

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

    John, maybe you are purposely trying to be cryptic in your post, or I have not had enough coffee this morning to understand at what you are driving?

  • heliobates

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

    Yeesh. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar.

    “Adam” is “Adam Lee” of EbonMusings and Daylight Atheism.

    Well at least you understand how much work atheists still have to do.

    Dude, your cluelessness is now well documented. Given the number of posts on this blog about what it means to be an atheist in Western society, and the far-ranging nature of ensuing discussion, the viscous condescencion with which you coat your posts is (maybe just a tad?) premature.

  • http://atheistthinktank.net L6

    I find that taking atheist literature–or the FFRF.org newsletter–and eating alone at a restaurant with a counter is a good way to attract not only fellow non-believers, but also confused people who generally don’t care and curious believers who have (claimed) never met a non-believer.

  • http://atheistthinktank.net L6

    By the way, “spirituality” is nothing more than knowing what to do and how to reconcile that with how you feel.

  • Pi Guy

    I wish that I could meet a nice atheist girl…

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/metalchris Chris

    One of the things I’ve always disliked about religion is the gathering. I’ve always felt lucky as an atheist because I don’t need to see large (or small) groups of people to help me reinforce what I believe (or don’t believe). I’ve thrown that rotten crutch away with all the rest religion offers. Tho I do believe others can do as they wish and I don’t mean to imply otherwise, I don’t see why atheism needs to have group gatherings. What’s next, tithing to pay for the gatherings?

  • Christopher

    One of the things I’ve always disliked about religion is the gathering. I’ve always felt lucky as an atheist because I don’t need to see large (or small) groups of people to help me reinforce what I believe (or don’t believe). I’ve thrown that rotten crutch away with all the rest religion offers. Tho I do believe others can do as they wish and I don’t mean to imply otherwise, I don’t see why atheism needs to have group gatherings. What’s next, tithing to pay for the gatherings?

    I have similar thoughts on the matter – I find the idea of an “Atheist collective” to be counter-intuitive (not to mention counter-productive to what a typical modern Atheist desires): I can understand the need to fellowship with one’s own kind from time to time, but why the need for any formal collective structure? The church can keep that outmoded idea and die with it!

    I seek not a world with theists on one side and Atheists on the other, but rather one in which these terms are meaeningless as the whole idea of “god” is irrevelent to its inhabitants.

  • Christopher

    Typo: “meaningless.” Sorry about that…

  • steve bowen

    Ebon
    It could just as easily gone the other way with your book attracting the attention of some “christian” thug spoiling for a fight. Glad you made the right connection.

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

    Note the capital “He”. I think John has just promoted you to anti-christ. Congratulations :o)

  • Brad

    I am interested in what John thinks of Ebonmuse.

    Also, re: atheist gatherings. I think formal structures are only transitional methods to disillusion the masses, and eventually bring about the state Christopher speaks of once they become irrelevant and unnecessary. If religion wasn’t so pervasive and deep-seated in our societies, we wouldn’t need organizations such as FFRF or The Reason Project.

  • heliobates

    I am interested in what John thinks of Ebonmuse.

    Are you seriously unable to infer that from context?

  • mikespeir

    Note the capital “He”. I think John has just promoted you to anti-christ. Congratulations :o)

    I suspect John doesn’t realize Ebonmuse is Adam. He’s probably talking about the biblical Adam, which leads me to guess he’s LDS.

  • Erika

    On the importance of community for atheists: Formal community gathering, or perhaps regular is a better term, is an important part of a stable society. Whether in a church or in a regular pick up basketball game, we get to know people in ways that strengthen our ties. These ties are, for many reasons, important predictors of various levels of involvement (political, altruistic, social), and both of those factors are closely tied to the general levels of trust in a society. Thus, being part of stable communities increases the amount of generalized reciprocity in a society, and this contributes positively to the economic well being and safety of the community.

  • Jeff T.

    As a concept, spirituality for atheists can be found in things such as Ebon’s writings or the videos produced by Thunderf00t on Youtube.
    I highly recommend readers to go watch Thunderf00t’s videos on ‘why people laugh at creationists’ and then to watch his ‘beauty in nature’ (title?) series.
    I think simply viewing spirituality as a serene acceptance of our place in the universe is a good place to start.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    We bloggers who are “out” in public might want to consider printing up business cards to hand out in this type of situation…

    Great idea. I’m going to print some up tomorrow with my blog logo. Carry a few in my wallet.

    I’m also with those who just can’t wrap their heads around the concept of spirituality. I suspect that in my case my early Catholic indoctrination has something to do with it, because I can still lie out under the night sky, stare at the billions and billions (pretend I sound like Sagan) of stars, and still have the same feeling I had when I thought it was “spiritual”.

  • bbk

    Spirituality is ultimately a failure to articulate one’s feelings towards something. Sometimes people find spirituality in art, music, friendship, or even in philosophical writings. It doesn’t necessarily have to be towards a divine being. This happens to such an extent that rather than fighting it, the religious masses simply claim ownership over all of it. I believe that I do have what others would think of as spiritual experiences, except that I can more easily put my finger on what it is that makes me feel a certain way.

  • RiddleOfSteel

    It may shock some commenters, but believe it or not, some people of common interests actually join together in order to accomplish things. The supernatural may or may not be a component. The problem arises when the atheist may want to join with others to get certain things done – but the church is the only game in town. For example, becoming an atheist does not mean the former church member suddenly no longer wishes to work in fellowship with other community members assisting the less fortunate. But the non-religious opportunities to accomplish this end, may not always be as easily available, as they are within the religious community, especially at a local level. I think it would go a long way towards assisting others in making the transition from religion to atheism, if the only thing the former church member had to give up was the supernatural. Unfortunately, the former church member sometimes has to give up quite a bit more, from fellowship to friendships, and even at times family relationships. Having more atheist friendly alternative organizations would be a start, along with other atheists “taking one for the team” by coming out of the closet. It’s more difficult to stereotype and demonize atheists when they are all around doing nice things. Although I notice some of the so called “amoralists” and morally challenged atheist residents have chimed in already. You guys are welcome to stay in the closet;)

  • Brad

    Heh. Too many of you Adams for me to keep track of; the phonological part of my mind doesn’t register capital letters; an Adam & Eve reference appears out of nowhere in this discussion; all combined with the bizarre claim being made in the first place; and there you have it – I didn’t read well enough.

    Atheists like me want to keep the word “spirituality” as a term that refers to a sense of connection and subjectivity, even though it is traditionally supposed to refer to souls and metaphysics. I think I want to keep it because of the closeness in the significant parts of the meanings of both concepts. It just seems like a natural, poetic transition in language.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    For anyone who’s interested, I’ve expounded on my views about spirituality, and in what sense an atheist can have it, in my Ebon Musings essay In Awe of Everything. Last year’s posts “Immanence” and “Fragile Trappings” also bear on the subject.

  • Leum

    Personally, I find “spirituality” to be an empty word; there’re so many different meanings for it, the word is so overused, and it’s linked so inextricably to religion that I find no real use for it. I prefer words like “awe,” awesome,” “mysterious,” “amazement,” and “joy” to describe the sense of transcendence and glory that I find in life.

    When I use “spirituality,” I use it to describe the semi-mysticism and attempt to understand the divine that is found in any religion worth its salt. I have also been known to describe those who don’t seem to really think about their faith or care about it as “religious, but not spiritual.”

  • Alex Weaver

    I suspect John doesn’t realize Ebonmuse is Adam. He’s probably talking about the biblical Adam, which leads me to guess he’s LDS.

    Really? I would have guessed LSD…

    I need to bring my reading material with me more often.

  • Brock

    I have often joked that I should stand outside of a kingdom Hall (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and pass out Atheist tracts. But I don’t know if such exists.
    Try the Freedom From Religion Foundation “non-tracts,” and I seem to remember some pamphlets I’ve seen put out by the American Atheist association.

  • velkyn

    okay, again with “spiritual”? I can feel “connected” but not “spiritual”. I can share someone’s ideas but not be spiritual. I can appreciate music or art but find nothing “magic” about it. Spiritual, be it desired or not, has the main meaning of corresponding to the supernatural. I have yet to understand why anyone wants to keep that word when there are plenty of other words soooo much better and more precise.

  • http://6thfloorblog.blogspot.com Ceetar

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

    I’m pretty sure he’s exactly who I think he is.

    I suspect John doesn’t realize Ebonmuse is Adam. He’s probably talking about the biblical Adam, which leads me to guess he’s LDS.

    This _isn’t_ written by the biblical Adam?

    If it was christian meeting christian…the woman would’ve ended up being named Eve. And eating ribs.

    Or, if you want to be more cynical, maybe she just wanted a handwriting sample to forge your signature and steal your identity.

  • 2-D Man

    Thanks, everyone; this helps a lot. I guess the reason I was confused was because… well, when I believed in God, no one ever identified the feelings of spirituality to me. People later described it, but it always sounded like the way I’ve always felt when I understood something new or arrived at a particularly clever solution to a problem. The feelings people associated with God, I’ve always had, and rarely in connection with God.

    I think that’s what I’m trying to say….

  • D

    Great story, and thanks for sharing! It’s always heartening to hear about atheists coming together the same way everyone else does, but without all the religious hokum attached – that stuff always leaves an icky taste in my mouth.

    As for spirituality, I’ve found that words relating to “spirit” still have a lot of use for atheists: the spirit of the law or a holiday, the human spirit, a spirited person, kindred spirits, and so on. Despite the fact that we’re made of no different stuff than the rest of the universe, we still feel like there’s some metaphysical “I” at the helm of consciousness. I think it’s entirely appropriate to refer to things that depend upon or cluster around that kind of feeling as “spiritual.” For an atheist, it just means that it’s about being alive and conscious (and perhaps vividly aware of that fact), not about having a soul or whatever. It’s not necessary to use the word, of course – but there is no single word in the English language that couldn’t be replaced by other words, so that’s no reason not to use it.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    “spiritual” is a fine word when used in conversation with people who respect the context. It is a real trap in debate with apologists; as are all religiously associated words with that slippery lot. I was in a bar yesterday and got into conversation with a xian (I was a bit set-up: my girlfriend ‘outed’ me as an atheist to the guy, he was a bit the worse for drink too, however…) who actually got to the point of saying “well it depends on what you mean by the word “god”. Sheesh! If he didn’t know what a god was, I sure as hell didn’t.
    To the point: I would happily refer to many experiences in my life as “spiritual”; the birth of my children, the realisation of love for another, the beauty of nature, the excitement of discovery, the bliss of… all sorts of stuff. But I’d be rushing to my thesaurus in any theological argument for an alternative.

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    Brave of this woman to talk to a stranger about this on the train. I’m not implying that Adam is intimidating or anything, but it takes courage to strike up a conversation in that usually stony-faced environment, and all the moreso if the subject is considered a taboo like atheism. So good on you!

  • The Girl on the Subway

    I’m that girl on the subway who was fortunate enough to finally meet a fellow Atheist who was super open, friendly, and helpful. If I didn’t know any better, my former Christian self would have attributed our chance encounter to “divine providence” (as Adam jokingly suggested). I’m now happy, however, to perceive and relate the experience as it was: good ol’ probability. I’m thoroughly relieved to now be convinced that there are no demons plotting my demise, (as a Christian, I was engaged in “spiritual warfare” at least three times a year!), or angels, or “holy spriit” guiding my life and actions. No longer do I carry the burden of belief that as a “Born-Again,” my prayers and cries were more important than those of the unsaved child’s. So, if I was “blessed” with a job that earned me a ridiculous paycheck over the mom-of-six kids whose husband just died, it was because I was “saved” and she was not. What a dangerous mindset to have! When I reflect sometimes, I find myself outraged at myself for believing this useless drivel for as long as I did. I cannot deny, however, my spiritual side. If I had to convey what that means to me, I would say that it’s that intangible, primal/instinctual, knowing and knawing feeling I get. It’s kinda like when you meet someone and you instantly feel repulsed or relaxed and safe. It’s the unspoken connectivity you have to your loved ones and the place where you find comfort. Because I’m accustomed to prayer, church service, and the Bible in times of crisis or unease, I now find I’m struggling to get to an “everything’s gonna be alright” place. So, in a nutshell, I’m looking for the place where I can find that “everything’s gonna be alright” without resorting to ten “Hail Mary’s” and five “Our Father’s.” Plus, since, according to my mom, I’m now going to hell and devil-possessed, this would be a good time to expand my knowledge and get more ideas from people like you!

  • Cerus

    An interesting introspection TGotS.

    I empathize with your desire to find a comfortable ideology after deconversion. I was comfortable as a xian for more than 15 years prior to my own personal revelation, the social connections I’d relied upon for so long disappeared after I stopped attending services, few even bothered to call after the first few “Hey buddy, I haven’t seen you in a while, you should come to service tomorrow!” type calls, and these are people I’d known for many many years, and even grew up with many of them.

    I’m probably very fortunate that I later found a wonderful woman who shares my philosophical viewpoints and has a similar history, or I may have gone mad from the social and intellectual isolation.

  • Leum

    TGotS:

    Welcome! I know what you mean about the “everything’s gonna be alright” place. I can usually find that place in reading, in music, or in sitting back and looking at the bigger picture, but not always. Religion does provide a place to go when everything seems hopeless, but it’s a false refuge that comes at the price of believing absurd things and–very often–harmful things (Hell and demon possession are both poisonous ideas). Religion doesn’t leave in one go, and finding the appropriate replacements for the supports of religion doesn’t happen overnight, either. We’re all just muddling through this together, best of luck on your journey.

    Oh, and I hope your mother can come to accept your loss of faith; I would heartbroken if one of my relatives thought I was bound for Hell.

  • exrelayman

    Just a brief rejoinder to John’s rather smug “what is the atheist’s good news” several comments back. It is good, nay, wonderful news that there is no Hell. If Hitler and the Holocaust were bad, Jehovah and Hell are infinitely evil. Billions upon billions of people are not going to suffer eternally because of a ‘thought crime’ against an imaginary Deity. Seems like pretty good news to me.

  • mikespeir

    It is good, nay, wonderful news that there is no Hell. If Hitler and the Holocaust were bad, Jehovah and Hell are infinitely evil. Billions upon billions of people are not going to suffer eternally because of a ‘thought crime’ against an imaginary Deity. Seems like pretty good news to me.

    Amen to that!

  • http://bridgingschisms.org Eshu

    Hi TGotS,
    From the sound of it, you share quite a lot with this atheist community. If you read a few of Adam’s essays and posts, you may find yourself nodding profusely and wishing you’d written it.

    As regards feelings of unease, I would suggest that if it is possible to do something constructive about the problem now, to do so. If it isn’t something you can tackle immediately, then put it out of mind by distracting yourself with something engaging and/or enjoyable.

    Unless you happen to really enjoy philosophy, I don’t think it offers much comfort on its own. At least that’s my experience. In my opinion, the place where “everything is alright” is in daily life, the people whose company you enjoy, your interests and experiences.

  • velkyn

    TGotS,

    [quote]I cannot deny, however, my spiritual side. If I had to convey what that means to me, I would say that it’s that intangible, primal/instinctual, knowing and knawing feeling I get. It’s kinda like when you meet someone and you instantly feel repulsed or relaxed and safe. It’s the unspoken connectivity you have to your loved ones and the place where you find comfort.[/quote]

    Personally, I would call the reaction to people “empathy” and “the unconscious awareness of factors that are interprted as “good” and “bad”. I would call the other “familiarity”.

    Sorry to hear that your mom is being an idiot. Sorry, I can’t coat that in sugar. However, know that one often finds one’s true family in other than similar DNA.

  • bbk

    Subway girl, think of your past religion as kicking a drug addiction. You won’t find any direct substitutes for church life in contemporary atheism, but chances are you’ll find comfort in precisely that fact. Every time that you felt that “everything is gonna be alright” feeling while you were at church, what you were really experiencing was a sales pitch, the price of which was becoming an implement of the leaders of your church – giving them your money, your vote, your children, letting them pick your friends… not to mention 10% of your life. Do you really want to experience that “everything’s gonna be alright” feeling that you felt in church? Try watching a late night infomercial about weight loss products or wrinkle cream… chances are you’ll discover a lot of parallels to religion and smile to yourself realizing that you’re no longer under the control of your old church.

  • Cerus

    Well put bbk.

  • The Girl on the Subway

    bbk: What a striking observation! You’ve provided a perspective i’d never considered.

    In retrospect, I can now recognize that the comfort and assurance I believed I was receiving from church, was indeed, false and fleeting.

    Thank you for being kind and thoughtful with your comments.

  • The Girl on the Subway

    Whoops…it’s me, by the way: The Girl on the Subway.

  • StaceyJW

    Advertising goes both ways- I think I may enjoy the flip side better.

    I was reading “God Delusion” on a recent flight. Across the aisle, a man was reading the opposite- a book about what God wants from you and all that.

    After we landed, he started talking to me. I thought maybe he was just the friendly type, or maybe he was hitting on me? BUT after a few sentences, he asked if I was an atheist- I said “yes, why do you ask?”- turns out, he had noticed the book. He asked a few questions about it, and went on to tell me that he was getting back from a church get-away and was really pumped up on his faith.

    He followed me all the way to baggage claim and sat there talking for 10+ min. Turns out he didn’t even HAVE luggage, he just wanted to convert me. He gave me his card and told me if I ever wanted to explore faith/spirituality, to give him a call. I was astounded at this behavior- would anyone call this random guy?????

    This guy probably thought that “god” had sent him an atheist- even set one right next to him!- and it was his mission to bring me over to his side. It took me awhile to catch on to what he wanted- I don’t proselytize, so I guess it just hadn’t occurred to me that a stranger would want to convert me after seeing my book.

    It is pretty rude, really. It makes me want to hand out “Atheist tracks” (like chick tracts) in front of churches that promote this type of behavior. Not to the general public, just to those that preach constant NAGGING in the name of their “god”.

    REALLY PEOPLE! WE DON”T WANT TO BE CONVERTED!

    But if you are the argumentative type, this type of believer can be really fun!!! When I have the energy to reason with them, its fun to make them upset. (and reason always makes them hopping mad)

    StacetJW

  • Polly

    @StaceyJW,
    Uuuugggh! I knew where he was going as soon as you said he “started talking.” There’s simply never any other goal for Christ’s salesmen other than A.B.C. – “Always Be Converting.”

    On Tuesday, I guess I kinda advertised for Atheism. A lady was asking if someone could could buy her some food. Out of about a dozen people in the coffee shop (some of them with their Bibles out), I was the only one who volunteered. We walked over to the sandwich shop next door. I told her to get whatever she wanted as much as she wanted. She thanked me and asked if I was a spiritual or religious person. I smiled and said, “no, I’m an atheist.” When we were ready to part ways, I got the usual “God Bless you / I’ll pray for you.”

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I actually got into a second conversation on the subway as a result of reading The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. This time it was with a Christian. But you’ll all have to wait for the review to hear about it. :)

  • http://n/a Mortland

    wow thank google for this site lol,,

    MY first post and i am hoping i see a lot more of you all here.

    I think that this whole attempt to join spirtuality and atheism is a dangerous mis-course from proper free though all though that is redundant as hell as we should all explore all paths probabilitys and impossibilitys. But this sounds like someone is not understanding the whole concept and realization of it all. The whole spirituality,looking for acceptance in groups, “a positive side” to athesim….. thats the kind of things that started religon out. People looking for meaning without intellegence (no offense) collecting in large masses lol. There is a positive side to athesim, in fact i dont and fail to see a negative except im not as so blind to think my family is all going to be waiting for me on a cloud like at a airport terminal when i die. But i am thankfull that i have completed my mindset and realization that allow me to think so far out of the box and at all diffrent angles. So that positve alone greatly outweighs that minor negative.

  • Entomologista

    by the way, Adam is not who you think He is, nor is He in fact, what most Christians think, but, I digress.

    He’s secretly Jesus.

  • heliobates

    He’s secretly Jesus.

    You’re on to something. I mean, has anyone ever seen the two of them in the same room together?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    If you can’t provide evidence that he isn’t Jesus, then that proves that he is.

  • heliobates

    If you can’t provide evidence that he isn’t Jesus, then that proves that he is.

    Yes, I admit that’s the New Atheism’s greatest failure.

  • Christopher

    Of course – Jesus came down from the cross and changed his identity many times through the centuries to justify his followers’ beliefs that he actually rose from the dead! Now Adam Lee is Jesus’ secret identity!

    *Look, up in the sky – it’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s… Super Jesus!*

  • Polly

    Did anyone catch last night’s episode of “Family Guy”? Brian, the dog, meets a woman when they discuss Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion.” They actually show the book and both say that they’re athests. I was only half paying attention to the TV up to that point, so I may not have the scene completely accurate.

  • Antoinette

    Hello, I find the phrasing in your blog extremely interesting and would love to corrispond with you about how you came to your belief in athieism. I have been studying a variety of philoshers and find that there hasn’t been an original thought in a long time. Anytime you think your on to something, someone, somewhere has done an extensive study on the issue that usually leads to more questions. Like where do feelings evolve from. Like Love. Hate. Anyway, do you agree that it takes alot of faith to belive that a law of physics would have had to be broken in order for the universe to just have started on its own. An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. Out of nothing-nothing comes, This law has not been broken since that time. I have a great deal of respect for those who seek truth and don’t say that we all can be right. There is either a God or there isn’t. If there is no God, I am to be pittied above anyone else. However, if there is, what we believe or don’t believe about his existence is pointless. Do you agree? Hope if you have time you would engage in a debate about these things

  • http://www.answerbearer.blogspot.com Karla

    It is interesting that the woman you spoke with was looking for spirituality in atheism. One can’t seem to get away from that need.

    Also I am working to answer your 10 questions to pastors. I will post my answers, as a pastor’s wife, in the coming week on my blogspot.

  • Alex Weaver

    It is interesting that the woman you spoke with was looking for spirituality in atheism. One can’t seem to get away from that need.

    Basic HUMAN needs that have been highjacked by specific creeds tend to work that way, yes.

  • Ziddina

    Man! I always come into these sites AFTER all the fun conversations have cooled off… Polly, in response to the woman whose sandwich you purchased (after all those Christian people forgot about Jesus’[alleged] example of feeding the poor!), perhaps you could have said, “Honey, don’t pray for me! Pray for all those hard-hearted fellow Christians of yours that refused to pay one thin dime for your food!!”

  • seathanaich

    The term “spirituality” when used by atheists is like a hangover is to alcholics. It’s a sign that they haven’t fully escaped from the culturally context of their religion.

    There is no such thing as “spirituality”. It’s just another bogus concept made up by religions and the religious. “Soul” and “mind” are just religious terms for “personality” and “brain” that have been made obsolete by science, but remain in use for their artistic connotations, and because of societal familiarity with them.

    The same is true of “spiritualality”. What does this term actually convey? It’s meaningless. Humour, kindness, enjoyment of life, love, joy – these are all real, identifiable qualities which people have, or don’t have. What does “spirituality” contribute to any of them? It’s just a term coined by by a pre-scientific society, today used by the religious to pretend that they have access to some secret that non-believers of their god and faith can’t gain access to. I dismiss it as surely as I dismiss other bogus religious constructs like “soul” and “mind”.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I dismiss it [the concept of spirituality] as surely as I dismiss other bogus religious constructs like “soul” and “mind”.

    The concept of mind is bogus? Then why do you bother to use the word “I”? If you’ve no mind, where is your sense of self seated? Your shinbone?

    Please clarify this line of thought.

  • Dennis

    Hi. My first time here.

    I agree with seathanaich above. Why invoke a loaded word that has the propensity to create so much confusion, yet you are, in essence, simply trying to allude to well known emotions, or a range of those emotions? Just be specific.

    I recall getting confused while reading the later chapters of Sam Harris’ book End of Faith, where he kept throwing that word – spiritual – around. I was confused because this guy is supposed to be one of the sharpest rationionalists around, yet he kept harping on about ‘spiritual experiences’. Afterwards, when I Googled “sam harris spirituality”, I found that several skeptics (including Randi) had noted that, for a rationalist, Sam Harris was confusing many people with his allusions to ‘spirituality’. It turns out, he reads alot stuff from people like Dean Radin and thinks mystical experiences can be rational..so yeah no wonder. Harris obviously has a ‘woo’ fetish, for which he has been deservedly criticised by the rationalist community.

    http://www.sacw.net/free/Trading%20Faith%20for%20Spirituality_%20The%20Mystifications%20of%20Sam%20Harris.html

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmske/is_3_13/ai_n29381143/

    Of course, YOU might mean something different when you say it, but to the ears of most people, spiritual equals supernatural – at least in everyday colloquial usage. So rather than start a war of semantics with theists about the meaning of ‘spiritual’, I think as atheists we’d be better of without ever using that word. Words like comfort, empathy, ecstacy, euphoria, joy, peace, etc..better explain the range of sensations we experience which some of you here are preferring to call ‘spititual’. ‘Spiritual’ sounds suspiciously New Agey, and will be construed as such by most people.

  • http://rift-zone.net Rift Zone

    Spirituality is the endeavor to understand and identify one’s self with their origin and relation to the universe.

  • Alex

    A certain unusually wise and thoughtful religious leader has offered us the following definition of spirituality, with which I think many atheists of a humanistic bent may identify:

    “Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony which brings happiness to both self and others. There is no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system.” —–Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet