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Spirituality: Same nonsense by another name?

Am I the only one driven to distraction by that weird grab-bag of ideas lumped together under the heading of "spirituality?" Religion is easier to critique because of the weaknesses of its core ideas and the sketchy nature of many its institutions and followers. But spirituality? Its own adherents can't even clearly say what the heck it is. (Something to do with "purpose," "nature," and often, cheesy pictures of wolves ...) Many people will acknowledge my atheism, and then immediately insist that I must then be "spiritual." Anyone else experience this, and more to the point, is annoyed by it?

The-Krzyz 7 Oct 8

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Most definitely. "Spirituality" is just more garbage.
It pisses me off to no end. Just like religion.

I absolutely agree with you.

@JanGarber Of course you do, because we're right. 😉


Yes, same b.s. to me. "Higher power," "energy," "souls" all mumbo jumbo to give them something else to believe in other than themselves and others--usually to take place of the religion they gave up.

lerlo Level 8 Oct 8, 2018

Check out my bio.
I'm with you.

Took you up on your invitation: Your bio brought me a smile and a chuckle of recognition, thanks! Noted your mention of “scientifically provable.” Maybe a sliver of daylight between our thoughts here (or just a turn of the phrase): I love science as a way of thinking that embraces uncertainty. Depending on my ability to get evidence today, I might learn something tomorrow, and then “everything I know is wrong!” I kinda like that ...

@The-Krzyz Yup. I keep it flexible, but skeptical.


I'm seldom sure what most mean by 'spiritual', for the reason that most that use that term aren't, either. "Grab-bag" is a good term, usually. Often it is feelings, mixed with woo & pseudo-science. Oftentimes it's a watered down deism or pantheism, sometimes with Eastern religious elements thrown in.
Do we have yearnings for an overarching meaning in life? Many of us do. Do we have a sense of wonder, beauty, love & more that is not easily translatable into 'material science', sure. Is this a reason to throw reason out the window & accept nebulous, unfalsifiable myths, double-talk & wishful-thinking as a real thing? I don't believe so.


Not really, I treat it the same as anything else closely or remotely related to any belief system. My stance has been and always will be that I don't care. People want to believe in God, fine... Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Spiritual....fine


For me , being spiritual merely means being concerned with more than the material.

Well, you hit my nail on the head, my friend: I'm a materialist! A physical being living in a natural, material universe, and everything that happens to me or that I experience or feel is a part of that, and can be looked at from that perspective. No need to "transcend" anything, even if that were anything more than an illusion. The plain old material universe is full of all the mystery, majesty, beauty, enlightenment and love I could want.

What is the non material that you are concerened?

@The-Krzyz You grossly misperceived my hammer! I'm a materialist also and reject any superstition or supernatural. I agree with all you said about the material world. I was using "material" not in the philosophical sense but in the common one. I mean we should be concerned with more than food, drink, and sex and should develop higher values like compassion, etc. This what being spiritual means to me. Perhaps next time you could try to listen, ask, and reflect rather than react instinctively to words that trigger you.

@The-Krzyz I could not agree more about the "plain old material universe". Wanting to 'transcend' only means that you can not truly appreiciate what you really have.


So we have a vernacular issue ... right? So let's come up with a better term! I've heard it said that indigenous people who live in the arctic have many words for what we simply call 'snow.' The word 'love' is similarly ultra-generic. So, if there is a better term to describe an emotional state in which one 'feels' a sense of 'awe' or 'wonder' or a 'connectedness' with the universe, for instance, let's have it. Until then, we use the term 'spiritual.'

And personally, if someone tells me that they are not religious, but spiritual, I'm inclined to be much more comfortable in their company than anyone who claims to be very religious, whether or not they claim to be 'spiritual!'

For me the word is problematic in that it implies that, as you so well put it, " an emotional state in which one 'feels' a sense of 'awe' or 'wonder' or a 'connectedness' with the universe," has to somehow stand outside of, or transcend, our material world. I just don't believe that, and see no evidence for it. I think it perpetuates a very old - and old fashioned - idea of a existence divided between material and spiritual, and the "spiritual" part is another way of saying "supernatural." I think there's enough room in our material world for all the awe and wonder we can handle, and that "connectedness" is scientifically verifiable and well described in the languages of biology, physics and a dozen other disciplines.

@The-Krzyz If you don't believe in a spirit element, a soul, then do you acknowledge that the world is nothing but energy, and that energy vibrates? Why can't some people be more in tuned with these vibrations? Not to sound all Age of Aquarius or anything but if we are talking semantics...

@Tunisianamber Weighing in here, the universe is comprised of energy (or force) and matter. In any case, if 'some people' have the ability to 'tune in' to vibrations of energy, a mechanism would necessarily be at work, the description of which we await--might you offer a definition?

@p-nullifidian Mechanism? As in higher being? I'm a dowser and have never associated geomancy/earth energies with anything of the sort. Can't explain it. Just know its there. And for some, it's not a process, as in there isn't necessarily an effort to tune in. They seem to be just more inherently attuned. That said, those who meditate I guess would be trying.

@Tunisianamber A mechanism is the opposite of a 'higher being,' rather referring to a process of natural laws.


Spiritual to me just means an unorganized religion instead of an organized one.


I don’t mind being labelled as ‘spiritual’ although I usually just reply I’m an atheist Buddhist.


Spirituality is useless to discuss unless a definition can be provided, and usually the definition is full of other ill defined words.

Unless someone can define it, explain it, and provide evidence it is just another baseless, religious belief, and not worth any more than any of the other baseless religious beliefs.

Spire--greek--TO BREATHE. So what's the hubub? Why can't spirit be air? Or the sixth dimension? I mean, why get your panties in a bunch? They are simply trying to understand you. Either leave them to it or assist. But getting twisted over a word that could mean nothing more than processing one's own emotions, managing one's own state of mind (breathing, letting it go, lightening up...) seems pointless. I'm with the others, therefore, who've suggested you investigate why it is that word annoys you. Annoyance comes from within. BUT, be forewarned that in so doing you are drifting into the realm of the spiritual.

@Tunisianamber I never said anything about the word annoying me. I am not getting twisted over a word. I really could not care less how anyone uses the word, but OP asked a question and I answered with my opinion on the uselessness of discussing the word spiritual when so many cannot explain what they mean when they use it.

I am pointing out that people who claim to be spiritual never seem to be able to provide an actual explanation of what it means. There is another discussion I had where someone said spiritual was something ethereal within, and when I asked for a definition of ethereal the response was heavenly or spiritual. If you are incapable of rationally defining the term there is no way to have a discussion about it.

Annoyance comes from within. BUT, be forewarned that in so doing you are drifting into the realm of the spiritual. <-- Prove that it is spiritual. As far as I am concerned annoyance is a state determined by processes and chemicals within the brain. These processes can and have been mapped out using modern medical imaging technology, granted, not perfectly, but we are making progress. Once we have fully mapped and understand the human brain and how it works what are you going to claim is spiritual then?

From what I see the only people that want to discuss it are those who have an objection to the term. Don’t see anyone who holds a ‘spiritual’,as is termed, position declaring their stance in contradiction to anyone else.

@Geoffrey51 That is probably because no one who actually referes to themselves as spiritual can actually explain what they mean without using other ill defined words in a meaningless jumble.

@icolan perhaps they don’t need to explain if it means using ill-defined determinates

@Geoffrey51 If someone cannot explain their beliefs without using ill-defined words and talking in circles, their beliefs are questionable at best.

@icolan Only to anyone who is not the believer.


Spirituality in a sense of supernatural ideas is only loose organized and loose defined religion.
When I talk about spirituality is those subtle interactions, feelings, ideas and sensations that I KNOW are just biochemical reactions, subcontinent communication etc, but are out of control or under the radar of your continence.
Is the difference between you know that there is a rational explanation and knowing this explanation.
Sometimes is just easier to be wondered about the capacity of our brain and our hard wiring for group behavior that feels like it is supernatural instead of freaking out looking for explanation.
So my spiritual side is:
I know there is a rational explanation, but I choose to simply enjoy this feeling/sensation without the need to explain or look for this explanation.

Sure, but everyone's minds are different, are they not, chemically? Add to that that we each have our own live experiences to process. Just because someone feels compelled to process more actively than you, does that make them wrong? No. Just different. Yes?

@Tunisianamber I really don't understand what you are saying.

Glad you ‘KNOW’. That’s encouraging. Let’s stop all the research because we have someone who has the answer. We can save all that money that is spent on neurophysiological research and invest in infrastructure.

I am sure the world would be eternally gratefully


I'd say define your terms. Spirituality can mean anything, some of which I can relate to, like feeling connected with the cosmos, the Earth, the environment, all living creatures, and such. It can also refer to nonsense like "the universe has a plan for me" or "this was meant to be." Sure, we're all made of stardust, but so is the slime growing in the sewer system. I find peace in my meditation practice though I don't consider that a spiritual activity, though I suspect some might.

I think that's what irks me: If "spirituality" can mean anything, then it is essentially meaningless, no? Yet, some of its proponents have used this vagueness to rake in tons of money from people who don't seem to know what they want, and will pay for it ...

@The-Krzyz You are irked by a word that means nothing to you. Therefore, you are irked by nothingness just because to others it is a somethingness.

@The-Krzyz That’s the same in every field. Look around your home and observe the amount of pointless crap that you have accumulated but it made you feel good at the time.


yes but to many believe in spirituality like a loose religion. My parents did and i have to say some things that can't be explained by science its hard to put a meaning to


I would say yes.. but since I am learning about Taoism (which is a form of spirituality) I also want to say no lol..

Ahh, Taoism has been one of my loves since childhood years! It's given me a framework to help interpret my intimate love of the non-human, natural world -- a place of refuge and learning throughout my life. (Which, at other times, has tried to kill me in colorful ways: typhoons at sea, lightning storms in the mountains, rattlesnakes ...). That aside, I see Taoism as a philosophy, useful to a natural human being navigating in the natural world. I can't see any need to ascribe a "spiritual" aspect to it.

@The-Krzyz I think I say that because I see a Buddhists who seem pretty spiritual.. not a lot of taoists in my area lol ..

@hippydog You might be surprised! Most of the Taoists I know here in the West follow it as an individual philosophy and practice. I've noticed well-worn copes of the Tao Te Ching in the homes of many, very different types of people. Which I think is very cool!

"The Path of a Taoist " Group

@The-Krzyz OK this is can speak to using your language. Philosophy. Cynics aimed to achieve happiness by living virtuous lives in attainment with nature. They shunned possessions. Ascetics and stoics did much the same. These philosophers used logic to master their emotions, develop clear judgment, attain sustained serenity and a sense of freedom--from, to. Being free from wants and desires, they aimed to train themselves to remain present, in the moment. Yes? Furthermore, scientific studies have proven that the heart's activity accompanying the different emotional states has distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. SO, if the heart, with neurons all its own, guides the brain when processing emotional reactions, then perhaps that's what's meant by spirit. When you feel love, when you concentrate on love or on happiness, there is an undeniable physical sensation we experience in our hearts. Our bio-metric rates increase. Neurons begin communicating between the heart and the brain. These studies have shown that controlling the hearts activities during these items of emotional reaction (through meditation, breathing, listening to music--whatever serves to calm your heart rate) affects how we think, act and feel.


The operative term is "spirit." Spirituality is another type of magical thinking, as in, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual." Pft. No thanks.

Yes, thank you! Succinctly and elegantly stated. Yet, we seem to lose most of our fellows along the way.

@The-Krzyz Thanks. I was surprised this was even a question. I thought it was obvious.


Spirituality is the goto for those that believe their feelings are as valid as facts. No god = no afterlife = no soul = no spirit = no ghosts. It's not a hard concept. Some just don't follow the logic to its natural end. Some I've met cannot fathom that one's "energy" (i.e. their consciousness) is no more than a collection of brain wave patterns, and therefore believe their "energy" must, according to the laws of thermodynamics, go somewhere after they die. As we all know, energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. It doesn't even occur to them that it is transformed into heat, which is lost to the room as the body cools.


Abso-fucking-lutely … Sometimes it is even harder to listen to. There are still a few shops selling incense sticks and other spiritual catalysts.


When we have a deep hurtful cry, that is spiritual. Deep inside our very private self , we find the need to release our self from the agony . Mindfulness, as Shefree asserts, that is it. Having a premonition or a feel is spiritual.
Religion has to do with a deity and spiritualism does not.

EMC2 Level 8 Oct 17, 2018

People who live in Glass Houses never touch down. Climb a Mountain or walk deep into the Woods and feel the forces of Nature. Most Religious Movements were founded from experiences in other lands and through different interactions with Nature. Constantine was an Pagan who had a vision in Battle. Martin Luther go caught in a Thunderstorm. Joseph Smith and a many of your televangelist use this as a ploy to induce others in the door. Joel Olsteen, Jimmy Swaggert, Pat Robertson and the Whole Southern Christian Coalition is steeped into this Showcase with Bands, Choirs and Tambourines. The Native Americans respected the Earth, Nature and each other more so then were ever given credit for except to be termed Heathens. Read a little History and see where the Nonsense came from.


If you're talking about superstitious spirituality, you have a right to be annoyed. If the mere word annoys you, that annoyance is why many people don't like atheists. We can sometimes be as impatient and intolerant as religious fanatics.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be annoyed by the word.
In so many things they state their definition which as an atheist I can agree with in principle. Then down a little farther religious superstition is slipped it. This word is is so often used to slip “soft” religion into the conversation masquerading as a universal principle and it’s not a universal principle. So it’s like being tricked into talking about religion even if you set the definition of the concept in advance of the conversation.

@Myah Who are ‘they’ that you mention?


I agree that religion at least has the advantage that it has dogmas and creeds that define it, and often, a holy book as a guide of sorts.

Spirituality, divorced from religion, means whatever any random person claims it means. It does not convey a coherent idea, ideology, or view, even to the limited extent that religion does.

That said, I rather liked The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Compte-Sponville, which is really about defining and embracing the so-called "great virtues" such as humility, kindness, self-control, patience, generosity, diligence, integrity, etc. These can at least be discussed in terms of the benefits they bring to civil society, or the avoidance of harms at least. A humanistic moral system and a systematic way of living it out, gives us something to coalesce around other than simply critiquing theism, and it demonstrates that morality isn't handed down from on high but comes from deciding as a society what creates and sustains the sort of environment we want to make for ourselves and for each other.

That is a use of the term "spiritual" I could buy into. But there is no woo involved, only a rational consideration of what we want for ourselves and for the life we share with others. The book would have better been called The Little Book of Virtue, but I understand that the publisher wanted to sell books, and putting the word "spirituality" in the title probably does sell better. Also putting the word Atheist in the title makes it provocative and edgy. But really ... virtue has nothing do with spirituality or unbelief. It works equally well for the religious, and I'd submit that people have to overcome their religious or spiritual nature in order to BE virtuous.


i am often told i am a spiritual person. i am NOT. i think of spirituality as religion light. i don't care whether it requires worship or naming names or following rules or joining a club; if you think there is something out there pulling strings with some kind of agency, that's religion, no matter what you call it, and if you do that without calling it god so you're spiritual, great, fine, you're religious without a religion. that's your right, but don't mistake me for feeling or believing the same way, pretty please.



I think not. I consider myself spiritual in that I believe in beings/dimensions/intelligent design....
Other stuff that might raise an eyebrow more than I've already mentioned. But I don't believe in WORSHIPPING anything. My thought is that we simply don't understand this stuff, yet.


Yep, spiritualism is for the person who understands that man made up religion, but still don't quite understand that the need for a higher purpose is what drove them.


No, not annoyed at all. I’m not aware of any circumstances of people that fall into this ‘category’ proselytising, door knocking, claiming tax exemptions or bothering anyone in the slightest.

Can’t see why you would want to critique them anyway!

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