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The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville

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I have started reading this small book, literally ‘little’, about how spiritualism can be found, even in a world where God might not exist. Atheism, even in my short experience, gets a bad rap, not only because we claim there might not be a God. It is often, as an afterthought, assumed that atheists therefore are not even spiritual, or at least, if they claim to be, it is not a ‘legitimate’ spirituality. The French philosopher André Comte-Sponville wants to put forth the idea that Religion and Spirituality need not be so intertwined as they are in our western culture. But more than just stating that one can choose for a spiritual life even in the absence of God, this book carries a powerful message of tolerance.

In the introduction we read:

Is it a struggle against religion? No; rather, it is a struggle in favor of tolerance, in favor of the separation of church and state, in favor of the freedom to believe or not believe. The spirit is no one’s private property, nor is freedom.

And further on, we can begin to get a taste of where this desire for tolerance starts:

Even my way of being an atheist bears the imprint of the faith to which I subscribed throughout my childhood and adolescence. This is nothing to be ashamed of or even surprised at. It is part of my history – or rather, it is part of our history. …Being an atheist in no way entails being amnesiac. Humanity is one; both religion and irreligion are part of it; neither are sufficient unto themselves.

According to the author, the separation of church and state is the tool with which to combat fanaticism on the one side and nihilism on the other. It remains for atheists to invent the spirituality that goes with this. This book sets out to describe how that spirituality could look like by attempting to answer three ‘essential’ questions. Firstly, ‘can we do without religion’? Secondly, ‘does God exist’? And thirdly, ‘can there be an atheist spirituality’?

Atheists have as much spirit as everyone else; why would they be less interested in spiritual life?


Written by Philoman

February 20, 2011 at 10:15 am