Welcome to Another Breed of Faith

Welcome to Another Breed of Faith July 20, 2018

Approaching a sentence that contains the words “atheism” and “spirituality,” or their synonyms, is a bit like approaching a pit of fighting cocks: blood (you expect) will soon flow.

Not here.

Another Breed of Faith is for nonbelievers who want to develop a strong spiritual life without falling into spiritual nonsense. You’ll find these words like atheism and ritualism, science and faith, nihilism and pantheism, sharing sentences in productive harmony, article after article.

ABOF doesn’t take a New Age approach to spirituality. You won’t hear endless rhapsodies about how “love will heal the world” nor poor misunderstandings of Joseph Campbell’s phrase “follow your bliss.” There won’t be any references to an obscure and inexplicable “energy” that permeates the universe. Yes: Yoga is good. Meditation is wonderful. But there is more to spirituality than that.

And for those who like atheistic screeds, look elsewhere. While the writing on ABOF is based on an assumption of naturalism, religion gets due deference. For all their faults, Christianity and Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, etc., aren’t social pathologies. I believe our spiritual capacity is not just an extraneous and unnecessary growth—an appendix better removed lest it become a point of deadly infection. On the contrary, I think it’s one of our most important faculties—something that makes human existence more than merely living cradle-to-grave by way of a cubicle. Yes: Science is good. Reason is wonderful. But there is more to humanity than that.

I believe spirituality is not a supernatural phenomenon. Rather it’s what lies at the core of our most important experiences as human beings. We encounter it at the heart of music, art, poetry, theater, love, tranquility, ecstasy. We encounter it on the crests of glory and under the floorboards of humility. We feel it when we walk into the cathedrals of nature and into the reefs and cliffs of the human habitat. Spirituality shouldn’t be reduced to the belief in an unknowable mystery-world that rings our own, nor is it just faith in a world of light and eternal justice that streams in through the stars. Rather, spirituality is the simple experience of being human—just more so than on regular days.

What you will find on ABOF is a combination of three things:

1)    Research-based knowledge: Interpretations of religion informed by recent research into the cognitive science of religion.

2)    Fruit, without the spikes: Exciting ways to find value in the fruits of ancient wisdom traditions without the outdated beliefs in which they are enmeshed.

3)    Spirituality for the future: Experimental new ideas about how our notions of spirituality can (and will) adapt to a rapidly changing world where the role religion once played is being replaced by civil institutions and where rapid technological change promises (or threatens) to alter the very meaning of what it is to be human—or divine.

As the number of nonbelievers in the world rises, so too rises the need for a vibrant secular spirituality.

Science, for all its explanatory power, provides us with no clear purpose in life. It does not tell us how to live in community, how to forgive, nor how to love. It does not provide solace in times of grief or ways to celebrate in times of triumph.

The literature and leadership of the atheist movement today champions rationality. But without a healthier emotional center, the atheist movement risks ostracizing many nonbelievers and becoming little more than a bloodless battering ram pointed at all other traditions of belief.

Nonbelievers today face a landscape of atheist thought that is jagged and powerful in its intellectual offenses, but on whose earth grows precious little fruit. ABOF instead deals with secular spirituality that aims to provide refreshingly sophisticated spiritual ideas left largely undeveloped in atheist discourse today.

The ultimate aim of ABOF is to seed the landscape of unbelief with ideas that will help sustain our inner life in this most scientific of centuries, and to find ways to speak of the sacred while believing the sky is empty of ears.

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  • Cozmo the Magician

    ” believe spirituality is not a supernatural phenomenon.” and there is your problem. You ‘believe’ without evidence. You provide nothing to back this claim. That is called ‘faith’. Which is what all religions are based on. There is nothing ‘new’ about your breed of faith. It is no different than most. It is what makes you feel good, and allows you to knock down other faiths. This is NOT what atheism is about. Not is it what humanism is about.

    You make many claims but they are all just assertions of your personal belief. “aren’t social pathologies” for example… Really? Promoting Genocide is a ‘good’ thing? I’m sure there are many nazi trolls around here that will love you for implying that.

    Good luck. If you start providing some evidence to back up your myriad of claims, you may be able to get an audience here.

  • Welcome to Patheos Nonreligious! I’m another of the newbies blogging here. I’ve been managing the Driven To Abstraction blog since the beginning of the year. Like your blog, mine is not a place for the usual God-is-God-ain’t debates.

    Science, for all its explanatory power, provides us with no clear purpose in life. It does not tell us how to live in community, how to forgive, nor how to love. It does not provide solace in times of grief or ways to celebrate in times of triumph.

    I’m not at all spiritual, but I agree with you about the excessive emphasis that we nonbelievers place on science. As fascinating as I find the legacy of empirical inquiry, I think you’re right that we mistakenly make it sound like science can tell us how to live our lives or create just societies.

    I’m very interested to see what subject matter you tackle once your blog gets going. I wish you the best of luck.

  • nice!

    i am schrodinger’s atheist, and i dabble in abrahamic mysticism – like torah+lurianic kabbalah because they present a highly structured, ultimately self-verifiable mode of inquiry built around mythos instead of logos, which enables exploration of the dollhouse of existence as well as human behavior using fuzzy matching and various composable “proofs” (like Isaiah 53, which was the proof for Jesus Christ and MLK Jr) – here I’m using “proof” in a sense very similar to how it’s used in math when used as a noun. Like the powerset construction proof that can be used to mathematically transform a non-deterministic finite state automata (FSA) into an equivalent deterministic FSA.

    so i think ABOF sounds exciting.

  • Prof_M

    You are right CM. Number 2 will have to be much better than Number 1.

  • larry parker

    A straight forward, non metaphorical definition of spirituality would be nice.

  • spirituality is perhaps too general, all encompassing and colloquial to be both concise and non-metaphorical.

    but how about mysticism: transcendent exploration of the nature of divinity or God.

    it’s typically accompanied by a belief that the intellect alone is not sufficient to the task. So mysticism is a practice, or practices, often involving reflective meditation or prayer, sometimes self-discipline, and often other rituals to attune oneself. Martial artists typically practice something similar to attune their minds.

    torah and kabbalah are very formal and structured about it. so it can be a very intellectual practice as well as a transcendental practice.

    many other forms of mysticism are more “woo” like by comparison, if only in that they are reliant more on intuition and less on intellect, and kabbalah is fairly good at accommodating both.

    does that help at all?

  • larry parker

    Gibberish to explain vagueness. So, no.

  • it sounds like you don’t appreciate abstract thinking.

    and if true, you probably don’t, and haven’t developed and practiced it.

    so spirituality and mysticism and metaphysics, which typically require abstract thinking, aren’t going to be accessible to you, nor are you going to find value in them, basically because you don’t want it, or can’t grok it.

    either way, there’s not much anyone can do for you to bridge that gap.

    it would have to start with you.

  • larry parker

    Abstract thinking is fine, but it is just a tool. It needs to be tempered with reality and practicality to produce anything of value. Abstract thinking alone does not get you to the moon or cure cancer.
    As for the rest of your comment: Mumbo jumbo, woo all the way down.
    PS: your passive aggressive, condescending smugness is noted and flushed.

  • plenty of people find a lot of value in it, regardless of whether you’re able to.

    you seem to want to make the tacit claim that mysticism cannot produce meaningful results.

    but you make that claim while readily admitting you can’t or won’t understand it.

    so by your own admission, you don’t have enough understanding to make such a claim reliably.

  • the only one being aggressive here is you.

  • in my case, a lot of my concrete applications came from either reflective meditation, or sometimes simply studying scripture at a deeper level.

    I got the idea for a negative force directed graph defined in measure space from a read of the Genesis origins story. I use it in predictive software.

    meditative reflection was what led to the epiphany that I needed to understand microsoft’s Component Object Model at the vtbl level.

    and martial artists typically rely on it to make them more effective at using their bodies.

  • larry parker

    All I asked for, in my original post, was a straight forward definition. All you have provided is a trip down Lombard Street (that’s pretty abstract, but if you study it deeply I’m sure you can divine its meaning).
    I think I’ll wait to see if blog author provides any clarification. Until then, Have a nice day.

  • A straight forward, non metaphorical definition of spirituality would be nice.

    Sam Harris is no fan of religion or “woo,” but he notes on his blog and in his book Waking Up that the term “spiritual” is and should be separate from conventional religious or New Age notions of transcendent human experience:

    We must reclaim good words and put them to good use—and this is what I intend to do with “spiritual.” I have no quarrel with Hitch and Sagan’s general use of the word to mean something like “beauty or significance that provokes awe,” but I believe that we can also use it in a narrower and, indeed, more personally transformative sense.

    Of course, “spiritual” and its cognates have some unfortunate associations unrelated to their etymology—and I will do my best to cut those ties as well. But there seems to be no other term (apart from the even more problematic “mystical” or the more restrictive “contemplative”) with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness—through meditation, psychedelics, or other means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness. And I find neologisms pretentious and annoying. Hence, I appear to have no choice: “Spiritual” it is.

  • you’re asking for more than a straightforward definition.

    you’re asking for a definition you can translate directly to action/utility.

    it’s akin to expecting a straightforward definition of ballet that would immediately show you how to use it/the utility of it.

  • I don’t necessarily agree with Harris’ estimation of mysticism to be problematic, but i think i understand where he’s coming from.

    i prefer it as a bit more specific than spiritual.

    spirituality i’d more closely follow Sagan’s general use of spiritual.

  • larry parker

    Thanks for your reply. So, Harris wants to reclaim spiritual by removing the baggage. If you do that, all your are left with is a suffix.

    “But there seems to be no other term……” – How about introspection. Meditation, as I understand it, dose not produce a non-ordinary state of consciousness. It’s more like hitting the reset button. I practice a form of meditation and it helps to clear away the clutter and look at my problems from a fresh prospective. Psychedelics (been there, done that) or other means (whatever they are) do induce a non-ordinary state of consciousness. Non-ordinary is disconnected from reality and no way to fix problems.
    PS: I’m aware of your blog, but haven’t really read it. I’ll stop by and take a closer look. Thanks, again.

  • So, Harris wants to reclaim spiritual by removing the baggage. If you do that, all your are left with is a suffix.

    If you say so. I’m no more spiritual than I was before I read Waking Up, but at least I realize that the concept of contemplation or nonrational introspection isn’t exclusively the domain of New Age hucksters. I’m looking forward to reading what Daniel has in store, and hope his blog does well.

    I’m aware of your blog, but haven’t really read it. I’ll stop by and take a closer look. Thanks, again.

    Hope to see you there. I appreciate dissent and civil dialogue.

  • larry parker

    I think rational introspection would be a lot more useful than nonrational introspection. By the way, I just got done meditating (mowing the lawn) so I pretty fresh. Maybe too fresh, overripe even. I think I’ll take a shower;)

  • Heh heh! “Schrodinger’s atheist,” yep, that’s you all right.

  • ORigel

    Emotionality (from Jerry Coyne)

  • That sounds fascinating Honey Crisis – I’m also fascinated by kabbalah and will be touching on it in future posts! My math is a bit rusty, so I don’t follow you exactly, but using mathematical thinking applied to belief is something I’ve never heard of before. Are there other thinkers who have developed on this?

  • Thank you for the warm welcome Shem! – It’s good to meet another blogger with a similar outlook. I’ll definitely check out Driven to Abstraction. And like your tagline for that blog says “science is important enough to criticize.” – Critique leading to strength.

  • I hear you Larry – I wasn’t expecting to get so much attention so quickly. The definition I provided here is meant to link to a post where I explain in much more detail what I mean by spirituality. I’m publishing that post this week. Look out for it, and hopefully it will clarify a lot of the initial confusion.

  • Yes, Kabbalah is pretty much about that.

    As is the advanced predictive and explorative attempts of things like holocaust theology, which test the limits of torah. it’s one of the reasons that rabbis have put so much effort into understanding it.

    but it’s not traditional “math” it’s math-like mythos. composable, constructable and self-verifiable formulaic proofs, but often illustrated using riddles posed as intractable paradox, which you can see pretty profoundly in the laws.

    the scriptures are composable “proofs”

    but to show you how to compose the proofs will take much more introduction, so i’ll name some basic proofs that don’t require composition to be understood:

    Genesis 18-19 shows us why mass shootings are happening with ever increasing regularity.

    Isaiah 53 predicted MLK Jr.

    You can use books like Proverbs to analyze society.

    Such as “when a leader believes lies, all his ministers become wicked”

    ever seen that in american politics? a lot of people might suggest this of the current occupant of the whitehouse.

    the laws are predictive of human behavior, but also prescriptive of how we should act.

    they’re intended to show you cost. What is the cost of stealing, or killing? what is the cost of vengeance.

    Is it more cost effective to punch a Not-See or redeem one? that sort of thing.

    trying to *enforce* the laws makes you animalistic and cruel.

    but avoiding violating the laws is the goal, even as we all violate them. Our individual violations show us the areas in the in our life that are costing us more than they gain us.

  • Hello Cozmo – I appreciate the critique. This first post is meant to function more like a “welcome” doormat than the foundation, pillars, or other supporting structure of ABOF. The real weight-bearing articles are yet to come — for which I’ll be relying on a mix cognitive science, sociology, philosophy, and other supporting evidence. I appreciate the initial skepticism, and i hope you stick around to watch as the blog develops. And if you still have criticism, I’m more than welcome to hear it as things progress!

  • Isaac Luria and Moses Maimonides both engage in this style.

    Maimonides wrote a book to help others with it called The Guide For the Perplexed, but it itself is extremely difficult to dive into by itself. It’s perplexing. =). It took me a long time before i could begin to understand it.

    Isaac Luria formalized his dissection of verse and the logic of it by way of birthing Lurianic Kabbalah.

    It gives you the structure of the declarations in the text.

    But you also need appropriate technique for reading scripture, which requires combining apophasis and cataphasis in order to be complete in interpreting it. You have to read scripture such that the only thing God can’t/won’t do are things God says he can’t or won’t do.

    Such that “god created day and night” doesn’t preclude dusk or dawn, while the cataphatic references to day and night emphasize them over the inbetweens – meaning it’s a spectrum, but with special emphasis on day and night as primary guideposts.

    same with “God created male and female” it doesn’t preclude the existence of people who exist somewhere in between, such as intersex (indeed Jews distinguish between a half dozen varieties of that), but the primary emphasis is on those two points “male and female”. Reflected in the preponderance of those that are clearly male and clearly female over the relatively few people that exist somewhere less concrete, in that inbetween spectrum

  • Pennybird

    Speaking from personal experience only, I think Harris hit the nail on the head when he described spirituality as “beauty or significance that provokes awe.” I have had those occasions myself where I was struck with a strong feeling of awe when faced with extreme beauty (some of the artwork in Florence for example). It wasn’t introspection at all, it was almost literally being struck.

  • larry parker

    Thanks Pennybird. I have had those feelings too. I would just call them awe. I thing that I am hung up on the spirit part of spirituality.

  • Pennybird

    The word “spirituality” felt apt to me because at times I have described those feelings as being as close to a religious experience as I’ll ever get.

  • larry parker

    Do you think that a religious experience is a good thing? Religious experiences have led of people to delusional thinking.

    Edit: add ‘a lot’ after led or get rid of the ‘of’.

  • Pennybird

    I don’t really think of it as good or bad, but just there. My feelings at those times caught me off guard, and have been similar to what other have described to me as a “religious experience.” But without the woo.

  • If you’re interested, a more rigorous explanation of what I mean can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anotherbreedoffaith/2018/08/defining-spirituality/

  • Adam King

    I’ll give it a pass.