Traditionally spirituality has been defined as a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals. Since the 19th century spirituality is often separated from religion, and has become more oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth. It may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience, but without a single, widely-agreed definition.
So, according to the always reliable wikipedia, spirituality is
1) a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals
2) personal transformation from subjective experience and psychological growth. It may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience
Debunking 1) is easy. Spirituality and personal transformation doesn’t count for shit when your religious ideals are wrong. It is very possible to have a wrong epiphany from a religious experience. Everyone knows that holy transformations (from the other guy’s religion) are notoriously unhealthy.
Denouncing 2) is a bit of a problem, because 2) (which I guess takes a more secular stance) defines spirituality as personal transformation from any meaningful activity, and, um, that could mean anything. But fear not, I’m here to prove that spirituality is bullshit, and if you’re reading this article it means that I consider myself to have succeeded.
One of the problems with spirituality is that due to the religious history of the human race, spirituality (especially in the religious sense) is often considered a virtue.
The image of the wise old man descending from the mountains after devoting 40 years of his life to isolation in search of the meaning of life is one that is revered virtually across all traditional cultures and because of that, many atheists who denounced their bullshit religion still cling onto the idea that somehow they can still be spiritual, unable to let go.
Here’s a seemingly irrelevant thing that actually ties in to my whole argument: Consider the fact that Determinism is incompatible with the idea of free will. But because people still like the idea of free will, so compatibilists decided that in order to keep free will around they would redefine free will to be a meaningless version of free will that doesn’t conflict with determinism… (but also doesn’t matter).
Old Definition: Free Will = the agent had the absolute freedom to choose his action (and is thus accountable for his actions).
New Definition: Free will = the agent had freedom to act according to his own motivation (for which he is not accountable for)
But “his own motivation” must have a cause for which “he” is not free to choose? Doesn’t matter, what matters is that free will is here to last because it’s now compatible with determinism! But doesn’t that mean all the implications of the original definition of free will are now invalid? Yep, but who cares? Free Will is here to stay because we like the idea of free will so much!
The problem with these new definitions from compatibilists is that they are not completely established among mainstream usage, so even though a compatibilist may be referring to free will in his new secular usage, he is validating the traditional usage of free will whether it was his intention or not. Plus, to redefine free will in that sense is to take all the meaning out of it, which just makes the compatibilists who tout free will in the same light of the “great” thing it once was, if not a bit silly.
And that is essentially what atheists are doing to spirituality.
If religion were true (which it isn’t, but imagine a hypothetical “perfect religion”), then spirituality is a greatly meaningful thing: A connection to the divine that transformed your life and way of thinking for the better through relevatory experience where all that pretentiousness* surrounding it is 100% justified, because you chose god while the hedonists around you chose earth and now you’ve gained a whole new level of wisdom because of it.
Now, consider our new definition of spirituality that “spiritual atheists” seem to be pushing: Growth through any vaguely meaningful experience.
Sure, I’ve experienced that feeling several times. One time in Nepal on a mountain at an altitude of 5000ft, breathing the fresh air I looked up into the clear night sky and recognized nebulaes for the first time (you have to understand that Hong Kong is perpetually smoggy), and saw a shooting star. It was beautiful, magnificent, one could almost describe it as… spiritual.
Almost. But spiritual is a gross overstatement. Everyone has had these moments of sudden clarity where there’s this overwhelming feeling of profoundness that might have provoked some form of personal growth within them. Its nothing special, and can be caused from a variety of known methods (eg. euphoria is one of the first symptoms of hypoxia), with varying results. The difference between spirituality and “spirituality” is the difference between witchcraft and magic tricks – literal witchcraft is real, inexplicable, intangible, everything that a magic trick is not – incidentally why witchcraft has largely fallen out of favor in modern usage (aside from the context of fantasy, hyperbole and in certain backwards witchburning parts of africa) – we eliminated witchcraft from our mindset because it was archaic obsolete bullshit that had no place in a modern civilised society.
To redefine magic tricks as witchcraft is to take away the implications of witchcraft. If you want to describe a non-religious version of overwhelming profoundness, find another fancy phrase, but describing a spirit-less feeling of profoundness or mind-opening experience as spirituality undermines your atheism, it undermines linguistic integrity by being an inaccurate and misleading description, it validates religious spirituality and promotes a form of elitism by giving “spiritual leaders” powers they do not deserve, and ultimately it is not healthy for society, and that is why spirituality is bullshit.
* “Spiritual” people always seem to have a set of attitudes generally considered “wise”, a spiritually transformed person may partake in behaviour that professional psychologists describe, using clinical terms as not giving a shit, its often some variation of “because he found god and realized that life is futile, and therefore spitirtual concerns are the only concerns worth concerning”.