Is it necessary to believe in God to be spiritual?
Many folks these days consider themselves to be spiritual but not bound to any particular religion. Around 25% of American’s fall into this category according to numerous polls, while one pole illustrates that 72% of millennials identify as spiritual but not religious. We can assume that many of these folks do believe in God. But many may not.
Being spiritual without a particular belief in God isn’t new. Some traditional religions are basically atheist, or rather a-theist—a term we’ll explore.
Taoist spirituality lacks an anthropomorphic God. Instead what they call the Tao—literally “The Way”—functions as a universal law or essence. The Way is not a conscious thinking being like you or I, but it maintains a sort of intelligence or consciousness. Most importantly, it gives birth to all things and maintains natural order in the physical and spiritual universe.
The Buddhists also lack an anthropomorphic god at the the top of their philosophical pyramid, although the concept of spirit remains—as do various deities and etheric beings that are subject to the to natural cycles of change and suffering, just as humans are. Despite there being no God, there is life after death—or at least awareness after death. The spiritual hierarchy of reality is throned by none other than consciousness itself.
Outside of these traditions, what does an a-theist spirituality look like?
An a-theist spirituality sees the world as utterly connected and beautiful. Some sort of spirit pervades everything. Non-local consciousness is real in this world. A-theist spirituality affirms the the existence of psychic phenomena.
The theist loves to proclaim that “God is in everything”. But at the same time, our concepts of a celestial giant often don’t fit into our experience of the natural world, or even the spiritual world. We can’t envision a big fat God in an orange, or even a majestic redwood tree. In order to “see God in everything” we are asked to imagine each physical object is a tentacle of a giant God-octopus, its head somewhere off in the sky.
I use the term a-theist, inspired by my uncle, a former professor of anthropology, whose self-proclaimed atheism often irked my Catholic family. One day, when I was older, I asked him about it. He said, “I’m not agnostic, because that’s like saying that I don’t know. I do know what I believe. I say I’m a-theist because, like the Buddhists, I don’t believe in a personal God.”
If we cut off the head of the octopus, the tentacles still wiggle.
So what’s making the tentacles move? What is the intelligence that remains in all of life, though it doesn’t have any sort of head? Equally distributed life force. Holographic creative essence. The big bang with every point as its center.
Biblical authors may have got the garden part of the God story correct. Perhaps God is more plant-like, than Octopus-like. In a spiritual garden every node holds the intelligence of the total organism equally. There is no head. There is no master-brain. But there is natural intelligence and spirit. Nonlocal consciousness.
The a-theist looks at any object or living being as if it were a god.
Everything is divine. The a-theist sees that, fully appreciating each living being and each physical part of the universe as truly miraculous due to its mere existence. When we see the world this way, we can seek to learn from it, and really learn about it—instead of always brushing it off as just a part of God, another clone tentacle.
Trying to see God in everything—instead of seeing the spirit or consciousness in everything—can be a conundrum since we are often taught that God is a mystery that we can’t possibly understand. Therefor, when I look at the orange and say “this is a part of God” the theist program sends my mind away from the object and into the concept of God—which is a confusing haze since I simultaneously believe I can’t possibly understand God.
My mother, a Catholic school teacher—who went to Catholic school her whole life, including Catholic university—tells the true story of a student so distraught over the concept of God that it was giving him intense headaches. He couldn’t stop thinking about the big fat man in the sky.
The monsignor came to talk to him one day. He said, “Have you ever made a hole in the sand at the beach and watched a wave fill up the hole? Do you think the whole ocean could fit in that tiny hole?”
“No,” the boy said.
The monsignor said, “Well that hole is like your brain. You can’t possibly fit all of God in there.”
The boy, feeling he had official permission, finally stopped thinking about God. His headaches went away.
There are multiple ways to understand this story. It illustrates the infinite nature of the divine. The rational mind often has a hard time grappling with the implications of infinity. Similarly, concepts of quantum physics and non-local consciousness may not sit well with it.
In addition, maybe the infinite universe can’t fit within the finite concept of God. Maybe that contributed to the boy’s headaches. Conceptual pains would understandably increase if one was contemplating the reality of an imaginary anthropomorphic meme.
As a concept—a program—God just doesn’t work. It makes our mental, and spiritual, computers malfunction. A program is a set of commands for achieving a certain calculation. The program of God might actually be a virus that causes us to bypass healthier programs that actually work—like spirit and nonlocal consciousness.
Some historical religions that also saw the God program as virus.
The Gnostics, branches of both the Judaic and Christian lineages, had interesting ideas that mirror our a-theist conversation.
They believed that the God of the Old Testament was in fact a demiurge, an egoic creator god, that functioned much like a demon. The demiurge was a sort of fallen angel that constructed a false world, a world of illusion similar to that expressed by buddhist concept of Maya. The demiurge sought to enslave the human spirit in its program of hard matter.
The supreme good—the truth behind the world’s illusion—was, rather, Sophia. Sophia stood for wisdom, the divine feminine essence that permeated the universe. Sounds a lot like the concepts the Tao and nonlocal consciousness doesn’t it?
Feminine Conceptions of the divine provide better spiritual programs.
As stated,the Gnostic concept of Sophia is female. Similarly, the Tao concept has a female tonality, referred to by Lao Tzu as the mother of all things.
Our biblically derived concept of God, however, reflects the ancient male ego engaged in tribal aggression. Tribal battles speckle history, the victor’s deity becoming God, the enslaved culture’s god lowered to the status of demon—or feminized sub-deity if it were lucky. Furthermore, the champion was most often depicted as a warrior-god. No doubt, Yahweh and other male gods were mere cosmic projections of earthly chieftains or big-men.
The goddesses of ancient religions, on the other hand, are often depicted as the mothers and protectors of nature, fertility, and love.
Modern Goddess worshippers, some inspired by women’s rights and neopaganism, are often ambivalent on the issue of monotheism. It doesn’t really matter to a Goddess worshipper whether there are one or many Goddesses because a goddess functions much like nature herself, giving birth to other goddesses and gods the way nature gives birth to myriad flora and fauna. She doesn’t have the macho “there can only be one!” attitude. There can be many.
An anthropomorphic Goddess figure is not the one and only answer to our quest for a vessel of the infinite. However, concepts of the divine feminine serve as a better program for an integral form of spirituality that values, love, nature, justice, and nourishment—without the male concepts of ownership and divine supremacy.
The a-theist’s beliefs posit them somewhere between their dogmatic comrades on both sides—traditional religionists and materialist atheists. But they’re also a bridge between the two. The proponents of the divine feminine don’t need the bridge, as they already know how to swim.
A-theist spirituality is intimately engaged with nature. It values science but isn’t blinded by its biases. All is truly one in the a-theist universe—holographic without the weight of some central star to orbit around. Every point of the universe is the center of the universe, a reality philosophers and astronomers can agree upon.
For the spiritual a-theist, free of God, various possibilities emerge: meditative bliss, cosmic interconnectivity, lucid dreaming, out of body experiences, healing at a distance. These are benefits both the religious and the atheist have most likely yet to enjoy. (Actually quite a few fundamentalists, religious and atheist, run to either end of the spectrum after being spooked by endeavors in spiritual exploration.)
Perhaps skeptics and materialist atheists shut themselves off to psi phenomenon, and spiritual practice in general, due to an underlying resistance to traditional concepts of God. They sweep all nonlocal spiritual phenomenon under the magic carpet, assuming an irremovable connection of all things nonlocal and spiritual to God. If this is the case, could the consciousness movement budge a bit? Maybe then the materialists might be more willing to explore the emerging scientific phenomenon of nonlocal consciousness.
Our friends on the other-other side of the fence need some help too. The traditional religionists need mystical connection to spirituality rather than dogma structures and threats of celestial punishment. They also need to see the natural world as good, ie. divine. When God is separate from man and nature, threatening us to follow his law, we sacrifice the the sanctity and beauty of life on earth for imagined rewards in heaven. And we destroy our precious resources because we think it really doesn’t matter what happens here.
When you free yourself of someone else’s God—whether it be the big fat man in the sky, a big fat machine of exclusively-material evolution—or an octopus—magical things happen. All of nature blossoms—holographically divine. You’ll want to make the world a better place…maybe even heaven on earth.