Now this is interesting. A New Zealand website called Deep Fried devoted to wind surfing caught up with Presidential hopeful John Kerry to discuss with him his passion for the sport. During the course of the interview Kerry talks about spirituality in relation to wind surfing and describes how he’s a Catholic himself and how he’s fascinated with learning more about how people of other religions and cultures view their spirituality when he springs the following comment out of left field:
I find that even – even atheists and agnostics wind up with some kind of spirituality, maybe begrudgingly acknowledging it here and there, but it’s there. I think it’s really intriguing.
Kerry then goes on to talk about China and how they don’t have a “theory of Creationism” (which isn’t entirely true in as much as Creationism isn’t a theory, but a myth) and he never really explains why it is he seems to think that atheists and agnostics would end up grudgingly acknowledging some form of spirituality. For that matter, it’s difficult to say just what he means by the word “spirituality,” though the interview seems to imply he’s suggesting some form of higher power.
The word “spiritual” often means different things to different people, but the common usage relates it to matters of the spirit or soul foremost as well as to the concept of gods and the supernatural. In a strictly definitive sense then I don’t know of any atheists, myself included, who could be considered spiritual or who acknowledge spirituality in the way that Kerry suggests.
If, however, you consider spirituality to be that sense of awe and reverence for some event or situation such as witnessing the awesome power of Niagara Falls or marveling over the birth of a child then atheists and agnostics are probably as spiritual as anyone else you know. The power of nature is amazing. The mind-bogglingly immense size of the universe is overwhelming. We’re as capable of appreciating these amazing things as the next person. The key difference being that we don’t think there’s some ultimate being working behind the curtains orchestrating everything.
I’m quite capable of getting wrapped up in all the emotion that can come from contemplating the wonders of reality. I’ve expressed such giddiness here and there on this blog often when talking about some cool new scientific discovery related to Cosmology, but even something as mundane as a good thunderstorm can get me going on occasion. I’ve been told by one of my friends who is very much a believer in a higher power that I was one of the most spiritual people she knows despite the fact that I’m an atheist.
So what should we make of Kerry’s comment? Not much in the long run as it’s just another example of a believer who has a hard time coming to grips with the idea of someone not believing in a supreme being. If I had a dime for every time someone tried to tell me that I know deep down in my heart that god really exists and that I just don’t want to admit it, well, I’d be a very wealthy man by now. I’ve gotten to the point where I pretty much expect that any more.