I am an ardent atheist, and have spent a lot of time over the years engaging with religious people online. Though I think I have a pretty good handle on a lot of the arguments presented for religions, I always stumble when people start talking about spirituality.
What the hell do people mean when they say they have a spiritual experience, or that they are spiritual people? It has always seemed like some extraneous addition to the human condition, something that I can easily do without; akin to astrology, or having a favourite AFL team.
To me it has always seemed that those struggling to explain spiritual experiences are simply in need of a good thesaurus.
Recently however some other ideas connected with this have been showing up on my radar with increasing frequency. Constant posts on the web extol the virtues of meditation as confirmed by science, I read a great article the other day about how Buddhist thought can be applied to modern psychology theories, and one of my old university friends appears to have embraced the spiritual side of life with a bizarre fervour.
So when Sam Harris’ book appeared in an Amazon Kindle sale, I couldn’t help but click buy. I have had some great success this past couple of years with realigning my thinking on topics by finding the right book on the subject. Whether it be The Compassionate Carnivore helping me to square the circle that is my taste for meat, but distaste for killing animals, or The Better Angels of Our Nature giving me a new optimistic view of humanity’s moral progress through history; I have learnt never to doubt the transformative powers of a well written bunch of words.
And while I don’t expect to become spiritual myself, I am hoping that by understanding this phenomenon in other people, it will give me a better understanding of how a thing like this fits into their lives.