Britain has lost its church-going heritage. There is a growing voice of the atheist in society such as Richard Dawkins author of The God Delusion, attacking what is seen as religious superstition. If Christianity is thought to be judgmental, hypocritical and blindly accepting irrational dogma, why should anyone still believe in God?
Although many these days, like the atheist, dismiss organised religion, not everybody has rejected the possibility of there being something deeper to life beyond what is apparent to their senses and beyond what science can discover. They have a dim awareness that there is more to human existence than material reality.
A red rose may be a physical thing but when you are presented with one by the person you love, you might experience a range of feelings, memories and associations which give that natural object a symbolic meaning and thus make it in some sense supernatural. It transcends its material reality to communicate something of beauty, hope and love.
People often say “I’m spiritual but not religious”. We all need ideas to be expressed in words, yet much of what passes for what is called spiritual seems to go beyond mere words and thus difficult to get a handle on. Nevertheless here are seven things about the spiritual dimension that can be expressed in words to help answer the question about whether it really is sensible to be an atheist.
1. Life and the atheist
For many people being alive is more than a material thing: it is due to a life force within biology that animates and restores one’s physical body and gives growth. No atheist can claim that science can put together a living thing from lifeless matter.
2. Ethics and the atheist
The entertainment industry, fantasy books and computer games often meet a popular interest in fantasising about a conflict between supernatural forces. A way of seeing reality the atheist denies. The industry have cottoned on to an awareness that no only do we need power and energy to protect ourselves from harm and malevolence but that human existence is about ethical choices between good and evil.
3. Synchronicity and the atheist
Some people notice fortunate coincidences that have occurred in their lives. Events that have gone together in a meaningful manner. Such a synchronous happening seems to go beyond what might be due to human prudence or to what might be randomly due to chance.
4. Nature and the atheist
There seems to be a renewed interest in nature. Not only in terms of wanting to protect the environment but also in respect for an inherent harmony of nature and the place of human beings within it. There is interest also in learning from nature as a potential source of wisdom. No atheist accepts creation. Yet the world of nature can be seen to be created to reflect the mind’s inner appreciation of life.
“As above, so below; as below, so above” (Saying of the medieval alchemists)
For example: Flowers echo the tender loving thoughts that are so beautiful while they last. A storm with torrential rain and hail reflects what is fierce and cruel.
5. Mystical experiences and the atheist
It is not uncommon to have had a mystical experience that appears to come from outside of oneself. For example feeling at one with the universe, in harmony with nature and being connected to all life. Individuals find it hard to talk about such moving personal experiences.
6. NDEs and the atheist
You might put down NDE’s (near death experiences) as hallucinations triggered by exceptional circumstances. People often tell of the following: the appearance of a bright light, encountering others such as deceased relatives and friends and being taken back – like in a video replay – through all the important incidents in their life. In other words there is a common pattern seen by many people rather than different individual fantasies. The atheist rejects the notion of the supernatural but do NDE’s mean some people have been in contact with a universal supernatural reality?
7. ADCs and the atheist
Likewise there is the evidence of ADC’s (after death communications). Experiencing messages from dead love ones might be thought just to be the wish fulfilling dreams of grieving people. However when read with an open mind such accounts are found to have credibility. One’s confidence in life after death is increased when one realizes that often the receiver is not in a state of grief or that unknown information is heard.
Source of a spiritual dimension to life
Having a sense of a spiritual dimension to life raises the question about its source. What is the cause? Alcoholics call this origin a higher power without which they cannot find the strength to resist temptation. Others think of it as a divine mind. Those who identify with what used to be called The New Age refer to the source as the Self. It is what I like to call the Divine within each of us. In Hindu philosophy it is referred to as Atman.
Swedenborg identifies the inner spiritual life as the presence of God and says we can receive this Divine presence as part of ourselves.
“God is the Self, the only One and the First, called Being and existing in Itself, the Source of all things which are and which exist…… the Self and only One which is in itself, and thus the Beginning” (Swedenborg TCR 22)
There are those who want proof of God’s existence. But I would say that God is not a thing that can be scientifically proven any more than one can prove someone is truly loving, or a painting is beautiful or the universe gives hope. What one can find however is spiritual perception. For Swedenborg, spiritual perception is to be able to see through the illusions of the naturally-minded person, to a deeper reality within.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems