What is this blog about? Well like any blog it is an opportunity to voice my random thoughts on an array of subjects, (whether they are worthy of anyone’s time is another question, I’ve had many requests from friends to set this up, so here goes) but they will broadly focus on the idea captured in the name: spiritual materialist.
I want to express my conviction (I would like to think an educated one) that people can be spiritual without believing in anything supernatural, spirits or even the soul.
Unsurprisingly, then, I am an atheist, I don’t believe in god, gods, an afterlife or a soul separate from the body. I’m a materialist, I believe there’s nothing in the universe (or outside if it’s ever demonstrated that there is an outside it) that is not matter or energy, pending changes in scientific understanding.
Perhaps more surprising is that I maintain that without the need for anything beyond the physical humankind can and should still be spiritual. I developed this thesis over 5 years of reading as many sacred texts, books and articles on religious culture, evolution, psychology and neuroscience as I could. I have come to one conclusion that they are all getting at (consciously or not): Religion is a tool for manipulating human psychology. Not in a cynical, Machiavellian way of controlling other people (although this happens), but for self- and communal regulation to fulfill spiritual needs.
By ‘spiritual’ I mean feelings associated with deep psychology well-being. These are often triggered by behaviours that have developed under the auspices of, and have been historically tied to religion. Behaviours like meditation and group worship and religious thinking patterns such as prayer, which all help remove one from one’s self or one’s emotional attachments and worries. (More to come in a future post.) As such, religion as a lot to teach us about practices and a mindset tuned to mental well-being.
This flows into the second major topic of my blog: our relationship with ancient mythology. The problem with spirituality as it stands is that it’s so bound up with belief and mythology (for reasons coming in another post) that causes the problems associated with religions; dogmatism, division and fighting, rejection of science and a poor understanding of the human mind and its spirituality
The more and sooner people realise this, the better. We can then hone the tool into something more effective (as demonstrated by the scientific method). Finally we could remove the undesirables that have caused misery for millennia such as in-group out-group thinking or the pernicious idea that there is a better life (or a worse one) to lower the value or joy of this one; we can cultivate the provision of individual and social well-being.
If you find the above distressing, or even offensive, it may be because your psychology is reacting against an attack on deeply held beliefs, and I apologise. But this is because your psychology associates those beliefs with those positives I mentioned, whereas I think the two can be carved apart and yet still provide the psychological satisfaction of the combination.
And so we come to the third branch of this blog: our relationship with modern mythology. If as I argue, ancient mythological beliefs are pernicious, is there still a place for mythology? If we are required to believe the events are in any sense objectively true then both are as bad as each other, regardless of whether they are ancient or modern. If mythology is a series of inter-related tales that hit on core ideals about what it is to be human, and what it is to strive beyond, to be super-human. Then my answer is yes, we are story-tellers and the telling of mythology gives us a deep spiritual satisfaction, gives us an education in morality and a vehicle to discuss it, and entertains.
In future posts I will elucidate my argument for spirituality without belief, looking at the scientific justification and psychological benefits, and explore modern mythology in a variety of different forms. I hope you are intrigued enough to follow me.
– The Spiritual Materialist