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norwegian

Can western atheists be spiritual?

Here's wiki's definition of atheism.

Quote:
Atheism, as a philosophical view, is the position that either affirms the nonexistence of gods or rejects theism. When defined more broadly, atheism is the absence of belief in deities, alternatively called nontheism.


And true to this, among the people I know at least, atheists are spiritually barren, people with no moral compass, and yes even having grown up unloved.

However, I am a living example of a spiritual atheist. While I don't believe I was created by god and neither do I pray to one, I believe there exist beings in lower and higher planes of existence than humans. A lifetime of meditation gives me a third eye. Some of these higher beings have attributes that humans might construe as god, just as much as how some lower beings like animals might construe humans as gods.

Buddhists, Taoists, Confucianists, all of them are spiritual systems that don't require theism or a belief in creator-gods. The act of "praying" to a statue or to one's ancestors is an act misunderstood by Abrahamists. To Christians, putting one's palms together in church is a symbol of submission and prayer to a creator. To a Buddhist and Taoist, putting one's palms together is an act of paying respect. The respect one would give to a king or a highly accomplished individual.

So putting one's palms together in front of a statue is to acknowledge the memory of a great or loved person who has passed on. The statue being an optional visual reminder of the person. Photographs weren't invented then but has since been adopted by many Taoists and Buddhists.

Anyway, for centuries Easterners have shown that it is possible to be spiritual, to have a strong moral compass, and treat each other with love and compassion without the need to believe in a creator god.

I suppose one can say that the ancient pagan religions of the west are distant cousins but much of that has disappeared, its followers headed either for the church or atheism after people concluded that Wicca, etc is nothing more than just silly superstition.

As I said, most western atheists I know have taken to the extreme right of atheism, completely rejecting not just god but virtually anything to do with spirituality. I don't have a problem with that. I just wonder if you think atheism and spiritually are mutually exclusive.

Also, do you think one must be religious in order to be spiritual?

And by the way, unlike Abrahaimst religions, spiritualism in Eastern thought is not a mechanism for getting closer to god or asking for his mercy or salvation. It is a window to understanding spiritual evolution, a mechanism of figuring out one's place in the universe, understanding one's past and present, and knowing where one stands to go to from here.

[To Mod: I'm unsure if this topic should be in this thread or under Non Abrahamic religions. The intent is to understand the mind of the western atheist. Feel free to move it to Non Abrahamic if you feel that's where it should be.]
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Tvebak

Hi Neighbour

Copenhagen calling  Very Happy

Well I do not believe in the "soul".

Talking about meditations I consider them to be a rehearsel which have been perfected through years of years and it therefore seems healthy for the "soul". But, in my opinion, just not in a spiritual way, but in a complete material way. The stretching and the relaxing, the hymns and so forth is all contributing to release feelgood hormones, ie. the body likes it  Smile

Personally I would say it's up the person wether they want to consider them atheist, spiritual, believer or whatever, but in my 'world' I'm "atheistic" towards the soul, ie the spiritual, aswell.

Cheers and peace
norwegian

Hi Mr Copenhagen! Now you've dredged up some good old memories in me, memories of the blond kind  Very Happy

Tvebak wrote:
Well I do not believe in the "soul".


Cool. Buddhists don't believe in a permanent soul too, a major point that differentiates it from Hinduism. May I ask what made you come to that conclusion of no-soul?

Quote:
Talking about meditations I consider them to be a rehearsel which have been perfected through years of years and it therefore seems healthy for the "soul". But, in my opinion, just not in a spiritual way, but in a complete material way. The stretching and the relaxing, the hymns and so forth is all contributing to release feelgood hormones, ie. the body likes it  Smile


Well being comes from the mind. Even if the body is sick, the mind can still be happy. But if a mind is unhealthy, even a well-maintained body won't make one happy.

Quote:
Personally I would say it's up the person wether they want to consider them atheist, spiritual, believer or whatever, but in my 'world' I'm "atheistic" towards the soul, ie the spiritual, as well.


Most definitely. Exchange of ideas yes, compulsion no. Smile
All_Brains

I am watching this conversation with utmost interest! Thanks to both of you for your wonderful and civil contribution.
norwegian

You're welcome AB. Under normal circumstances civility and religion foums are a contradiction of terms so let's enjoy the "peace" while we can.  Very Happy
Tvebak

All_Brains wrote:
I am watching this conversation with utmost interest! Thanks to both of you for your wonderful and civil contribution.


hmm then I hope we will make a good perfomance  Very Happy
Tvebak

Hi fellow scandinav  Smile

Lost yet anothe comment. Don't know wether its this site or the It-administrator at my work trying to make it hard for me doing other things than work   Rolling Eyes

What are you relations to Norway? Born and raised?

norwegian wrote:
Cool. Buddhists don't believe in a permanent soul too, a major point that differentiates it from Hinduism. May I ask what made you come to that conclusion of no-soul?


I'll do the lazy thing and copy paste a comment I've already written on the subject, have some cooking I have to do:

Tvebak wrote:

The subject "soul" is in my opinion an idea our ancestors have developed to explain our conciousness. There have been different ideas on how this "soul" have manifested. Many thought it was in the heart, which have also come to influence on the bible and the quran, where the "mind" is somehow talked as being in the chest/heart. Later when scientist realised that the brain played a very important role in this field the "soul" was attached to the brain. The "heart"-analogy was very powerful and therefore it still dominates poetry, litterature etc. etc.

The neurological advances there's made these years a amazing. Thinking that you can have a part of your brain replaced by a protestese within relative (if not already) few years is in my opinon amazing. The heart as the home of the "soul" has been completely ruined, in my opinion, by the mere fact of heart-transplantations. The same might be the case for the brain.

But to the explanation of the conciousness, think of a little baby, think of the different persons around the world suffering from different abnormalties in the brain (autists, spastic and many more). These examples show, in my opinion, what conciousness is made of. And its made of the constant interaction of the many different small elements in our brain and the impulses we get through the different senses. Through times we get some impulses on how to behave and how to react on different things. This makes us have feelings and emotions.



Quote:
Well being comes from the mind. Even if the body is sick, the mind can still be happy. But if a mind is unhealthy, even a well-maintained body won't make one happy.


I agree. It's more complex than that. In my earlier comment, which I lost as mentioned  Sad  , I somehow ended up on some thoughts about the different things that triggers fx our behaviour, fellings and memory; ie. the different impulses we have recieved and get all the time.
Through the life we have lived we trigger differently on different impulses and this also forms the way we will trigger on different impulses in the future (experiements with placebo-medicine is an example of this), some might be indifferent towards meditation and some might have a negative respond on it. For some sents can trigger some memories, people also react different on the alltime perfect drug, sugar.
It's mainly based on the way of our 'socialization' and on how the biological features are of the nerve-system and the brain. In my opinon  Very Happy

I think that was somehow what I tried to write earlier.

Now to the stove.

Cheers and peace
roshan

Quote:
Buddhists, Taoists, Confucianists, all of them are spiritual systems that don't require theism or a belief in creator-gods. The act of "praying" to a statue or to one's ancestors is an act misunderstood by Abrahamists. To Christians, putting one's palms together in church is a symbol of submission and prayer to a creator. To a Buddhist and Taoist, putting one's palms together is an act of paying respect. The respect one would give to a king or a highly accomplished individual.


The same could be said to be true of Hinduism as well.

Quote:
Cool. Buddhists don't believe in a permanent soul too, a major point that differentiates it from Hinduism. May I ask what made you come to that conclusion of no-soul?


Are you a Buddhist? What convinces you that there is no soul?
norwegian

Hi Tveback,

My family originated in Bergen but we moved around Europe for a while and finally settled in the American midwest. Can't even speak the language well I'm afraid... but one thing for sure I LOVE the countryside in Norway.

So you've basically equated soul to consciousness and consciousness to the random electrochemical interactions in the brain. Sounds fair. Remove the brain and you'd pretty much stop all reactions.

Tvebak wrote:
I agree. It's more complex than that. In my earlier comment, which I lost as mentioned, I somehow ended up on some thoughts about the different things that triggers fx our behaviour, fellings and memory; ie. the different impulses we have recieved and get all the time.
Through the life we have lived we trigger differently on different impulses and this also forms the way we will trigger on different impulses in the future (experiements with placebo-medicine is an example of this), some might be indifferent towards meditation and some might have a negative respond on it. For some sents can trigger some memories, people also react different on the alltime perfect drug, sugar.
It's mainly based on the way of our 'socialization' and on how the biological features are of the nerve-system and the brain. In my opinon


Pavlov's experiments established the link between external stimuli and behavior. Ring the dinner bell and the dogs begin to salivate. It happens in corporate life too although they'd be salivating for money not food Smile  So yes, socialization has a lot to do with how we react to sense stimuli.

roshan wrote:
Are you a Buddhist? What convinces you that there is no soul?


Hi Roshan. Yes I am a Buddhist.

Let me start with an observable fact, that identities change very rapidly. The you today and the you in ten years time may be very different. Your values, beliefs, behavior and attitudes could be completely unrecognizable. Just ask your spouse. But whether the change is large or small, the fact is it changes.

Some insist that only circumstances change but we do not. I disagree. We all get tired of our favorite song one time or another. If the song never changed, then what was it that did.

That our identity is drastically different between birth and death is easily observable. If our soul is our 'self' and self is our identity, then we can argue that the soul is not permanent just as our identity is not permanent. Buddhists believe the so-called soul subject to birth, decay and death just as the physical body is. It is constantly dying, renewing.

Humans are extremely attached to self and identity and the fear of identity loss is unimaginable. But if one can achieve deep concentrated calm, he can mentally detach to observe the 'self' and see how this identity called 'I' rises and falls, change from state to state. Its there for anyone to see.
roshan

Quote:
Hi Roshan. Yes I am a Buddhist.

Let me start with an observable fact, that identities change very rapidly. The you today and the you in ten years time may be very different. Your values, beliefs, behavior and attitudes could be completely unrecognizable. Just ask your spouse. But whether the change is large or small, the fact is it changes.

Some insist that only circumstances change but we do not. I disagree. We all get tired of our favorite song one time or another. If the song never changed, then what was it that did.

That our identity is drastically different between birth and death is easily observable. If our soul is our 'self' and self is our identity, then we can argue that the soul is not permanent just as our identity is not permanent. Buddhists believe the so-called soul subject to birth, decay and death just as the physical body is. It is constantly dying, renewing.

Humans are extremely attached to self and identity and the fear of identity loss is unimaginable. But if one can achieve deep concentrated calm, he can mentally detach to observe the 'self' and see how this identity called 'I' rises and falls, change from state to state. Its there for anyone to see.


Hi Norwegian, I will agree with most of your post, but I think you have misunderstood the Hindu concept of a soul. It is not the same as the "self" in the western sense which refers to the human ego. It is a relative reality since it is always changing, in contrast to the absolute reality, which is the soul, which is immutable.  The ego or human self as per Hinduism is therefore illussory in comparison to the soul. The soul as per Vedanta is defined as pure awareness. The soul itself is a non agent - it neither thinks nor acts. Here is a definition "without parts, without qualities, without action and emotion, beginningless, endless and immutable. It has no consciousness, such as is denoted by ‘I’ and ‘Thou’. It is the only Reality."

I would argue that there is in fact something that does not change - the state of enlightenment that can be achieved by humans. This state of enlightenment is basically the realization of the soul, as per Hinduism. I think the primary difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is that Hinduism realizes that the material world/the ego is illusory due to its impermanence and dualism, but claims that behind it lies the absolute reality, which Buddhism (particularly the Theravada sect) generally doesnt recognize. However, many Mahayana schools also recognize an absolute reality, they just call it Buddha or Nirvana instead of Brahman/Atman.

Read the section titled "Nirvāṇa in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra" here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana
Read the section titled "Sunyata in the Tathagatagarbha Sutras" here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Void_(Buddhism)

The relationship between Sunyata and Nirvana in the above sutras is exactly the same as that between Maya and Brahman/Atman in Hinduism.
norwegian

Hi Roshan

Thanks for the insightful analysis. You've obviously spent a lot of time studying the Vendanta. Everything I know about Buddhism has been gleaned from books and the Internet. Sometimes I wish I had the benefit of a live teacher.

roshan wrote:
I would argue that there is in fact something that does not change - the state of enlightenment that can be achieved by humans.


I read somewhere about the Buddha saying that enlightenment is a state that neither changes nor doesn't change. I have no idea what it means. I guess he was trying to say that the enlightened state cannot be described in dualitistic terms. Have you come across it before?

Quote:
I think the primary difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is that Hinduism realizes that the material world/the ego is illusory due to its impermanence and dualism, but claims that behind it lies the absolute reality, which Buddhism (particularly the Theravada sect) generally doesnt recognize. However, many Mahayana schools also recognize an absolute reality, they just call it Buddha or Nirvana instead of Brahman/Atman.


The Mahayana I know takes a form that has become theistic in nature. Its rather strange seeing Mahayanists  pray to goddess Kuan Yin asking for forgiveness and salvation just like Christians do to Jesus. I try not to generalize as there are many Mahayana sects but so far, Theravada appeals more to me.

Quote:
Read the section titled "Nirvāṇa in the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra" here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana
Read the section titled "Sunyata in the Tathagatagarbha Sutras" here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Void_(Buddhism)


Thanks. I will.
roshan

Quote:
Thanks for the insightful analysis. You've obviously spent a lot of time studying the Vendanta. Everything I know about Buddhism has been gleaned from books and the Internet. Sometimes I wish I had the benefit of a live teacher.


I have learned most of what I know from books or the internet as well. I think in a way its better than having a teacher as one can evaluate different perspectives for oneself. Most information coming from teachers is often filtered or altered depending on their philosophical stance, so its best to study for oneself. For example, I have found Hindu mantras speaking of discovering the light are often translated into discovering god by theists, which is an interpretation that is completely subjective.

Quote:
I read somewhere about the Buddha saying that enlightenment is a state that neither changes nor doesn't change. I have no idea what it means. I guess he was trying to say that the enlightened state cannot be described in dualitistic terms. Have you come across it before?


I have come accross some quotes regarding non dualism attributed to the Buddha. I would interpret that as seeing Brahman in everything, hence percieving the underlying nondualism of existence.

Quote:
The Mahayana I know takes a form that has become theistic in nature. Its rather strange seeing Mahayanists  pray to goddess Kuan Yin asking for forgiveness and salvation just like Christians do to Jesus. I try not to generalize as there are many Mahayana sects but so far, Theravada appeals more to me.


I was referring more to classical Mahayana philosophies (like Yogacara) as oppposed to modern practice. That modern Mahayanists would pray in such a way is very odd, but not surprising, since Hinduism has pretty much metamorphed into a heavily theistic religion as well over the millenia. In contrast, early Hinduism was quite agnostic or silent about theism (such as Vedanta) and even directly opposed to theistic belief (Sankhya). In fact there are Hindu philosophies around today such as Dvaita which teach complete dualism, as well as worshipping an anthropomorphic god as well as the concept of going to heaven after reincarnation. I guess once you accept an absolute reality, it is quite easy for such a reality to be given anthropomorphic properties and turned into god by lay followers.
norwegian

roshan wrote:
I have learned most of what I know from books or the internet as well. I think in a way its better than having a teacher as one can evaluate different perspectives for oneself. Most information coming from teachers is often filtered or altered depending on their philosophical stance, so its best to study for oneself. For example, I have found Hindu mantras speaking of discovering the light are often translated into discovering god by theists, which is an interpretation that is completely subjective.


I know what you mean. You might be familiar about the Buddha initially refusing to teach anyone due to the difficulties involved. Problem is, self discovery will take many, many more lifetimes to accomplish and the prospect of being stuck in samsara that long is rather unappetizing. It is possible to reach Buddhahood entirely based on self discovery as many Pachekkabuddhas have done in the past. The requirement for patience must be out of this world.

Quote:
I was referring more to classical Mahayana philosophies (like Yogacara) as oppposed to modern practice. That modern Mahayanists would pray in such a way is very odd, but not surprising, since Hinduism has pretty much metamorphed into a heavily theistic religion as well over the millenia. In contrast, early Hinduism was quite agnostic or silent about theism (such as Vedanta) and even directly opposed to theistic belief (Sankhya). In fact there are Hindu philosophies around today such as Dvaita which teach complete dualism, as well as worshipping an anthropomorphic god as well as the concept of going to heaven after reincarnation. I guess once you accept an absolute reality, it is quite easy for such a reality to be given anthropomorphic properties and turned into god by lay followers.


I suppose you are right. Self discovery can eliminate much of the "religious follower" syndrome but as I said, the prospect of taking lifetimes to realize truth is daunting.

We're getting a little specific for this thread. Suggest we take discussions of Hinduism, Buddhism etc in the Non Abrahamic section?
Tvebak

norwegian wrote:
Hi Tveback,

My family originated in Bergen but we moved around Europe for a while and finally settled in the American midwest. Can't even speak the language well I'm afraid... but one thing for sure I LOVE the countryside in Norway.


I love Bergen and the surrounding and the trip from Oslo to Bergen. The 4 or 5 times I've been there I've been lucky to avoid the predominatley rainy days. I have relatives in the Faroe Islands and we have often traveled through Bergen.

norwegian wrote:
So you've basically equated soul to consciousness and consciousness to the random electrochemical interactions in the brain. Sounds fair. Remove the brain and you'd pretty much stop all reactions.


Well that was simplistic  Smile  , but yes. My view is that the concept of "soul" is an idea our ancestors created to explain our consciousness. And the neurobiology explains what makes our consciousness, and yes they be the electrochemical interaction in the brain.

Quote:
Pavlov's experiments established the link between external stimuli and behavior. Ring the dinner bell and the dogs begin to salivate. It happens in corporate life too although they'd be salivating for money not food Smile  So yes, socialization has a lot to do with how we react to sense stimuli.


LOL  Very Happy good one with the corporate life.
norwegian

Hi Tvebak,

Yes, Norroway will continue to be my favorite place on earth. I seem to have an affinity to it.

Are you a brain surgeon by any chance? You seem to know a lot about the brain. Very Happy

Let's talk about consciousness which is more objective (to science at least) than the soul concept. What's your view about consciousness being able to occur without any discernible brain activity?

There've been studies about NDE (near death experiences) where someone was declared clinically dead but was revived later. Apparently he could recall everything that happened around him while he was brain dead. There seems to be more than 1 documented case. I'm sorry I don't have the reference to it but you may have come across it.

These studies seem to suggest awareness is independent of brain activity as they happened when the subjects had flatlined. What's your view?
Tvebak

norwegian wrote:
Hi Tvebak,

Yes, Norroway will continue to be my favorite place on earth. I seem to have an affinity to it.


Hi Neighbour

Had missed this comment for some time, so sorry for the late reply.

norwegian wrote:

Are you a brain surgeon by any chance? You seem to know a lot about the brain. Very Happy


No certainly not, as I stated earlier I'm no expert I just have a profound interest in the area. Though I have familymembers who have their fingers in brain-determined areas. And besides I don't think I would have the nerves to keep my hand still probing in some other living persons brain... .. .. . yik

norwegian wrote:

Let's talk about consciousness which is more objective (to science at least) than the soul concept. What's your view about consciousness being able to occur without any discernible brain activity?

There've been studies about NDE (near death experiences) where someone was declared clinically dead but was revived later. Apparently he could recall everything that happened around him while he was brain dead. There seems to be more than 1 documented case. I'm sorry I don't to it but you may have come across it.

These studies seem to suggest awareness is independent of brain activity as they happened when the subjects had flatlined. What's your view?


Haven't read much about this subject, but remember a comment in a book I bought about a year back, called "A beginner's guide - the brain" (it's easy to read, so I would recommend it). But anyways I looked it up. It was a little tematic box called "Near-death experience and religion" and the text was as following p. 154:

Quote:
In 1975, a physician, Raymond Moody, hit the best-seller lists with a book about survivors of near-death experiences. Nearly all reported similar pleasant experiences, an "out of body" experience, travelling down the tunnel towards light, meeting a being of light or religioys figure who helped them to evaluate their lives and finally a decision to return to the material world. Variations on these themes exist; in general, the presence of loved ones and feelings of security, peace and happiness are common. The religious aspects of the experience tend to coincide with the expectations of the individual, so Christians meet Jesus, while Hindus see the messengers of Yamraj coming to take them away. Such experiences can occur to people who believe they are near death when they are not and similar events are reported regularly by military pilots undergoing blackout G-force training. The limbic system seems to becrucial for these near-death experiences, with abnormal firing being the trigger, which can be caused by lack of oxygen or exteme stress


Recently there have been made studies on patient which were thought to be inactive, fx comaes, and it's shown that these have considerable brain-activity. Furthermore this article argues that the equipment used to measure brainactivity in some of these "NEDs" have not been adequate:

Quote:
Blackmore wrote that in 2004 but, as noted above, in 2006 scientists demonstrated brain activity in someone in a vegetative state, which is not identical to a flat EEG but which indicates that some machines might detect  brain activity while others do not.* Thus, those researchers who claim that their patients have memories of experiences they had when they were dead (as Dr. Michael Saborn does of musician Pam Reynolds) may be mistaken. Just because their machines don't register anything cannot be taken as proof positive that a person is dead, nor can it be taken as proof positive that the patient isn't aware, on some level, of what is going on around her. Unconscious patients may hear what surgeons and nurses are saying, even if the hospital machines aren't registering any brain activity.*


But as I said I haven't read much about this area, but it is an interesting area I will look more at. As a starter you could the article linked above. Another funny story (which I have from the same book as mentioned above) about "conciousness" and death is the stories about chickens who after being decapitated runs around or return to business as useall, just without there heads. The explanation to this is that some of the information is stored in the spinal chord. The absurd case, mentioned in the book, is a "Mike the headless chicken" which alledgelly lived for 18 months. You can probably find some on the subject on the internet.

Peace
brainout

Well, I find it ludicrous to claim that if you don't believe God exists, that makes you immoral.  Morality is part of being human, even as immorality is.  You have will, you have ethical norms and standards, both are inherent to being human.

You could argue that if God really does exist and you reject Him that is immoral, but it would be a vertical immorality.  That's as far as I think one can logically go with the "morality" tie.  And certainly NOT a religious one.  To me religion per se is immoral, flat.  I hate it all.  All religion is a lie, it uses God's name to control people, a pox on it all.

Eastern spirituality is generally animistic, defines godness as a kind of mass-life-force, depersonalized:  idea is to be "one" with that life-force.  I maintain modern evolutionary theory is just another version of animism without "god" ideas in it.

That's all I can add to the thread of value, imo.
Tvebak

brainout wrote:
Well, I find it ludicrous to claim that if you don't believe God exists, that makes you immoral.  Morality is part of being human, even as immorality is.  You have will, you have ethical norms and standards, both are inherent to being human.

You could argue that if God really does exist and you reject Him that is immoral, but it would be a vertical immorality.  That's as far as I think one can logically go with the "morality" tie.  And certainly NOT a religious one.  To me religion per se is immoral, flat.  I hate it all.  All religion is a lie, it uses God's name to control people, a pox on it all.

Eastern spirituality is generally animistic, defines godness as a kind of mass-life-force, depersonalized:  idea is to be "one" with that life-force.  I maintain modern evolutionary theory is just another version of animism without "god" ideas in it.

That's all I can add to the thread of value, imo.


Hi Brainout

I'm glad that you are not on the wagon of "Atheist are immoral beings". I remember reading someting about Bush Sr. being of the idea that atheist should no be living in USA, "gods own land". Scary to hear that from one of the most important persons in the world in modern history, the president of USA.

Cheers

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