I have been thinking about atheist spirituality because of a lecture I recently heard by Alain de Botton. Unlike many Christians, I don’t see any contradiction in terms. When I was younger, it seemed to me merely a matter of finding one’s affinity, as follows:
- I could know my affinity already and assent to it
- I could discover my affinity and assent to it
- I could be searching for my affinity and therefore assent to none, or assent only provisionally
- I could have surveyed all possible affinities and decided that I have no affinity, and therefore cannot assent to any
- I could know my affinity and, despising it, refuse to assent to it
- I could reject the notion of affinity altogether
This paradigm may seem familiar, as it can apply to different kinds of psychological situations. Here I use it solely in reference to spiritual affinity; that is, formation of identity.
The first case is acceptance of a cultural identity without self engagement. It may be common, but I reject it out of hand as not requiring reflection.
The second case is the happy coincidence of personality and situation normally called certain belief.
The third case is agnosticism or cautious acceptance, which are really the same state of mind.
The fourth case is misanthropy. The sixth case is like it but rooted in ignorance rather than arrogance.
The fifth case is the sad condition of the conflicted soul who resents the world for imposing unseemly demands. This, I later realized, is the condition I sought to avoid by honestly reflecting on possible affinities.