Being spiritual and being atheistic are not mutually exclusive. They address different things. There’s a range of atheism, and there are religions that are functionally atheistic. There are even atheistic versions of traditionally theistic religions, such as Christianity.
So what does atheistic mean?
There are two parts to the word: “a,” which is a negative prefix (could also mean “not”); and “theist,” which means a person who believes in a theistic god. That last part is the one where we need to clarify a bit more on. I specified a theistic god for a reason. There are notions of God that don’t consider personhood to be a defining characteristic. That right there is what makes theism what it is. Theism states that God is a person. Atheism is the negative of that, in a sense. Atheism really comes down to lacking a belief in a theistic god. So on one hand, there’s the theist that makes the positive statement, “There is a god.” On the other hand, anyone who doesn’t make that claim in belief (no matter the degree of certainty) is considered an atheist. This probably even includes babies, since they lack a belief in a god. Atheism is the default position, theism is inserted into one’s beliefs.
And this is the part where I get to say, “not my job.” The burden of proof falls on those who make a positive claim, which in this case are theists. It’s impossible to prove that there isn’t one because there’s always a horizon to knowledge. And the possible proofs of the existence of a god can always be moved to beyond that horizon, where there’s gaps in our current knowledge. This is famously known as the God of the Gaps.
Enough with Atheism vs Theism, does it even matter?
I’m sure by now there are a whole host of readers that are in a fit because of my statement of disbelief. I’m sorry for that, I suggest let bygones be bygones. There’s a disagreement, and I’m not pressing it anymore. Does it matter anyway? What does it affect that I believe differently?
It doesn’t matter! So what does?
My own personal beliefs affect my personal relationship with the Divine. Whether or not I see the Divine as a person only affects my own relationship with it/him/her. If I were a theist, I’d pray a lot more than I do since prayer can be seen as a form of communication. Don’t get me wrong, I still pray, but it’s different. Instead, I employ meditation a lot more than I do prayer.
A spiritual journey involves a transformative process. What transforms is your heart/mind, and if done correctly you should develop what’s called virtues/fruits. That in turn affects how you interact with other people.
But how can you have a relationship with a non-person?
It’s different, but there are similarities. You could also ask a true scientist how there relationship with science is. I’m sure people like Neil Degrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan would respond with showing their love for it. I’m infatuated with the Divine. I also switch between other dynamics between It and myself, each dynamic has it’s different uses/flavors.
So what is the doctrine of Spiritual Atheism?
There is no doctrine! Spiritual Atheism is a label, not a religious identity.
So what’s the point of me saying that I’m a spiritual atheist if it’s not even a religion? Because it’s a label. A label is an efficient means of describing a characteristic/feature of something/someone. When a label is used, it contains within it a meaning that is commonly understood amongst a group of people. Unfortunately, labels are also subjective, and there are multiple groups of people. Some people might label me a heretic, and in their perspectives they would be correct. Others may label me as a wise person, and they would be correct in their own perspectives. Not only that though, but some groups of people might have a different understanding of a label than another group. Either way though, the meanings are commonly understood for most labels. In cases when it’s not, such as spiritual atheism, dissemination of understanding is recommended, just to get everyone on the same page.
So what if I ask someone their religion, and they tell me that they’re a spiritual atheist? That simply means that they currently don’t have a religion. Either that, or they may be using that to convey that they don’t believe in theism, but they’re still open to spirituality.
What does it matter anyway what religion someone else is? Two people can tell me that they’re Christian, and still exhibit completely different fruits. Jesus had told us to judge according to the fruits, so we can’t really rely on labels anyway. What one Christian means by their label, another could mean something very different. It’s not the what the path is called, it’s the path itself. And the results count even more than that. The same destination can be reached from various paths. And the only way you can really know what destination they’ve reached (or are headed) is by looking at what fruits they bear.
It’s really irrelevant in most cases anyway. I mean, there are cases in which you may be in a position to arrange a funeral or marriage, or other kind of event, and their religion probably would play a significant role in arrangements. But those are special occasions. There are other occasions too where one’s religious identity would be needed to know, but leave it for those occasions.
What’s the takeaway?
So I guess the gist of it is that you spirituality is not only independent of religion, but theism too. Theism and religion are also not necessarily mutually inclusive. It doesn’t matter if you accept theism or not, just like it doesn’t (really) matter if you have a religion or not. Once again, the most important aspect is spirituality, which is partakable whether or not you even believe in a god.