An Agnostic on Spiritual Envy
Longtime KQED Forum host Michael Krasny’s new book explores his journey from faith to science — and skepticism. In the current information age, I find myself frequently amongst fervent (even militant) atheists. When information is a few keystrokes away, and when science and technology are ascendant, I’m noticing many young people in the technology sector are committed atheists. Don’t get me wrong, I respect atheists and know many in that camp. But I am noticing an intolerance among some of them. When it comes to spiritual matters some atheists dismiss all spiritual practices and traditions. Ironically they condemn fundamentalists for being so intolerant!
That’s why I find Michael Krasny’s attitude so refreshing. As an agnostic, he remains appreciative of the contributions of people of faith.
When I write of spiritual envy, I mean envy of the consolation of faith, of the elevating power of knowing a force or forces beyond the physical, observable world or past the finite limits of self, of knowing a higher purpose, or possessing answers, or even being convinced they can be discovered. To have answers and certainty, to possess spiritual anchoring or spiritual authority and purpose, is to have comfort, a release from the entrapment of life’s suffering. And even though religion has been much maligned in recent years — and deservedly so for having led too many in its name along dark paths of cruelty, intransigence, self-righteousness, and violence — religion also has provided ineffable solace and a reason for living a moral life, a reason for charity and generosity.
Listening to the interview, I get the sense that Krasny is primarily referring to religious faith as opposed to Spirituality. Most of the spiritual seekers I admire, use scriptures, methods and practices from a variety of traditions. The best spiritual teachers are the ones that urge their followers to try things out, and not embrace practices out of blind faith. Spirituality is deeply personal, and practices that become popular enough that we take them for granted, are the result of innovation and investigation1.
(1) As an example I’ve pointed out in a series of posts that modern hatha yoga is the result of innovations that started in the 1930’s, see , . .