Spiritual Atheism and Andre Comte-Sponville
The title of The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality (Viking) by André Comte- Sponville often draws a chuckle. Some see a contradiction in “atheist spirituality,” whereas others assume the book is a lightweight, touchy-feely book that substitutes religion with the Age of Aquarius.
Fortunately it’s much better than that — a thought-provoking, accessible little book that tackles all of those important intangibles that a human being runs into after she’s given up the gods and embraces atheism.
Comte-Sponville writes with the relaxed confidence of the European atheist he happens to be. For anyone deafened by the culture war, this kind of book is like hearing new music that’s refreshing and surprising. The author has advantages, of course — atheism doesn’t cause as many fits of the vapors among French philosophers as it does in Alabama.
That leaves him freer to think and build instead of reacting and defending quite so much, so he can raise intriguing new questions instead of answering the same tired batch. He thinks about community and loyalty, the ways people stay attached to ideals and committed to each other after faith is gone, and how people think about and react to the death of loved ones without the traditional supports.
He has no interest in attacking religion and the religious. “Humanity is far too weak and life far too difficult for people to go around spitting on each other’s faiths,” he says. He loathes, “…fanaticisms of all kinds, including atheistic fanaticism.”
So he’s not looking to de-convert anyone — just to understand and live his own life, and to help others do so. His book is a tolerant atheist perspective much less often heard, and a welcome addition to the 21st century atheist chorus.
“Truth, not faith, is what sets us free,” he says at the end of this marvelous little book. “We are already in the kingdom. Eternity is now.”