The Dangers of “Spirituality”


James Snell attacks the phenomenon of spirituality propounded by some atheists.

Irreligion has become the new mainstream phenomenon. Previously, it had been those who criticised religion, but described themselves as ‘spiritual’ who were considered more culturally acceptable. The final nail in this particular coffin was not Arthur Conan Doyle’s fairies: it was the recent study which showed a correlation between people who described themselves as ‘spiritual, not religious’, and what the Spectator termed ‘madness’. To me, this principle of abandoning organised religion in favour of ‘spirituality’ is one which seems to reek of more of ignorance of ‘spiritual’ customs than of a worry about theocracy. Less about caring for those crushed by religious serfdom, and more about joining a fashionable group of sceptics. The people who describe themselves as such are further burnishing their hipster credentials, and firmly entering the ‘herd of independent minds’.

Irreligion has become the new mainstream phenomenon.

Presumably, these people care not that religions have penalties for apostasy – Islam even goes as far as to say that all non-believers are apostates, as all humans are apparently born Islamised. Their souls would be forfeit if we looked at what the texts of religions about abandoning their particular path of life. This therefore means that all who describe themselves as ‘spiritual’ must be either fully committed to their chosen doctrine – not obeying any established gods; or that they are only doing it for a temporal gain, i.e. reputation. To reject religion is certainly de rigueur – but to embrace the consequence that there is nothing after death and that all human life, replete with pain as it is, is merely a cruel joke (albeit one with no divine watch-maker to hear the punch-line) – is (unsurprisingly) not so.

If we accept that there is no divine commander, then we must see that all life is inconsequential, and that billions of our ancestors lived short, brutish and torturous lives; all filled with the terror of extinction and fear of non-existence which evolution creates within us. We must also accept that even if we know this there is no reprieve, and that our own fates are not tied in with our understanding of the innate futility of existence.

But those endorsing spirituality cannot be expected to know this! They are hardly intellectual titans: merely pretentious, vacuous, celebrities – such as Ricky Gervais, who; after being a little bit critical of religion once or twice, has transmuted into a spokesman for non-belief (Richard Branson, a similar monstrosity of the public sphere – idiotically jovial and inane when he isn’t whinging at others – is also a case in point). But the mundane nature of the “spiritual” amongst us only reveals itself fully when we get into musicians such as Pink, who happily declares herself to be spiritual too! After the usual preamble on the BBC’s ‘Five Minutes With …’ in which she piously repeated the usual mantra (“organised religion is one of the biggest problems in the world”), she described Buddhism and Paganism as her spiritual outlets.

It is so fashionable to ‘study’ Buddhism, but how can one truly do so? As a faith based on the life of a semi-legendary Hindi prince, saved from extinction by British imperial archaeologists interested in Indian culture, it is not a documentary religion. The texts it can claim are chock-full of pointless and platitudinous advice, and cannot be seen as anything other than stress release. It shows all the signs of one major faith parasitically leeching off another – lifting the ideas of samsara, karma and rebirth/reincarnation from its more successful southern neighbour, Hinduism. But, as the usual suspects jostle to say: it is not a religion, it is a concept.

It is so fashionable to ‘study’ Buddhism, but how can one truly do so?

It has all the romantic aspects that Sloaney gap-year students love: foreign destinations, a lot of figurative stories, and an ultimate quest. This leads, ultimately, to Nibbana, which is the sensation of non-existence, after Enlightenment, obviously. It is insidious, this quest to not exist: a true fetishising of the end of living, which makes it seem so odd that the practitioners believe in a potentially endless cycle of new lives. Not only is it as evil in its approach as fundamentalist Islam: it too inspires a plethora of suicides each year by believers, often monks performing ritual self-immolation – it also promotes spiritual slavery in untold future lives! The worst thing is that it is not true. To follow their idiotic moral code for future lives, one has to waste one’s only shot at the damn thing!

Paganism is just as primitive, showing the brutal superstition which governed the lives of our lowly forefathers. In invocations of animals and of entities it is a mere lapse of rationality. In ascribing control of our universe to the physical phenomena, we relegate our own lives with it: and so diminish even further the point of all of this.

Now, of course: “atheism is just as dogmatic as religion”. Even Richard Dawkins, attack dog of the irreligious, does not describe himself as a ‘proper’ atheist. He does not doubt the possibility of a god existing, but merely remains unconvinced by all available evidence so far put forward by believers. A god believed in by deists, such as Thomas Jefferson and Voltaire – a God that does not intervene in the physical realm but did provide the impetus for all to occur – cannot be proven not to exist; this said, the chances of him being benevolent (considering what his creation does every day) are close to nil.

St. Augustine, in his theodicy; said that evil, as the absence of good, was ‘no-thing’. Would he, I wonder, relegate blindness or death to the rank of non-entities? They are, after all, the absence of sight and life. Glib get-out-clauses won’t save the illusion from the threat of exposure.

St. Augustine, in his theodicy; said that evil, as the absence of good, was ‘no-thing’. Would he, I wonder, relegate blindness or death to the rank of non-entities?

But unfalsifiable hypotheses cannot prove anything, and the burden of proof for god’s existence must lie with the proposition. Unless we can be certain that god exists; and we will never be, then the propensity to doubt is a reasonable one. At least Dawkins says that if confronted with incontrovertible evidence to the existence of the almighty, he’ll convert. In this, at least, he is more open to the possibility of change than any religious leader.


  1. “It shows all the signs of one major faith parasitically leeching off another”

    Much like Christianity leeches off Judaism.


    Buddhism is not really that concerned with gods. Many Buddhist scholars regard Buddhism as an atheistic and practical philosophy. The Buddha himself was not divine. He was a sceptic and he didn’t pay much attention to karma and reincarnation. The deities and supernatural aspects of Buddhism arose as it diverged into different branches.

    Unfortunately ‘spirituality’ is a bit of a vague and pretentious sounding term. But I do think atheists and secularists can in some sense be ‘spiritual’ – i.e. they can have experiences or beliefs that can only be described in that way.


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