Before I begin, let me first say that I am not religion-bashing with this article. Nor am I recommending that you turn from God (or your identified Spiritual Source) in any way.
But, after decades of thinking I understood myself spiritually, recently I woke up with a startling thought: I don’t believe in God any more.
In my life, “God” was a very modern, personal, and transformational concept. It was not connected to any religion or doctrine. I referred to it primarily as “my Spiritual Source.” It wasn’t anthropomorphized nor did I seek a relationship with it in order to gain something from it.
The journey to deeper connection and closer intimacy with God was an end in of itself for me. What I was seeking, was Love. What I believed is that we each have a soul’s presence that exists as an extension of a Spiritual Source. By bringing more of that soul’s presence into life, by connecting more deeply through that presence with the Source of all life, we strengthen and expand the experience of Love for ourselves and everyone.
So what happened?
Through a series of life decisions and spiritual experiences, layer after layer began to shed from my relationship with God. Some of these layers were needlessly complex, others were strikingly beautiful. All of them faded away. Until I was left with a few bare beliefs.
I began to suspect that I am an atheist. I asked myself, “Is it possible to nurture my spirituality – to live a spirit-centred life, and have no real belief in God?” Upon reflection, I realized that whether or not I believe in God simply wasn’t an issue anymore. If there is no God (or Spiritual Source of any kind), I’m okay with that. For now – and perhaps for a long time to come, God is simply irrelevant to my spiritual development.
And here are are 10 signs God may be irrelevant (or becoming irrelevant) in your spirituality too:
1. You seek, always, to live in kindness. To position kindness as the central motivating force in one’s life is, quite possibly, the single most influential decision a person can make in their spiritual development. It requires no belief in God, but a willingness to act on behalf of the good for all (including oneself). If we let it, kindness will shape us into healed, Loving, and deeply spiritual people. It will remake our lives and, through us, the lives of those we touch.
2. You are dedicated to serving a higher purpose, rather than following self-interested ambition. You need not believe in God to be filled to over-flowing with a very spiritual sense of service and purpose. “How may I be of service?” is a powerful prayer. Feeling called is a spiritual instinct, answering that call is spiritual practice. Relinquishing personal desires and even pieces of one’s identity to a greater spiritual purpose is an intense training.
3. You recognize that all of life is inter-connected and are committed to honouring the health of the whole system. Viewing all of existence as a vast complex ecosystem, where everything exists in connection with everything else, is not a spiritual concept, let alone one that requires a belief in God. However, it is a concept that has found roots in spirituality for … well, probably as long as there has been spirituality. As science reveals deeper and more awe-inspiring aspects of this truth and the health of our world strains more dangerously under the weight of our decisions, it has never been so important for seekers to understand and take responsibility for their contribution to the system, both spiritually and physically.
4. You nurture the experience of wonder – for yourself and others. There are those who argue that to experience wonder is to believe in God – that wonder is an awareness of a infinite presence, a moment of communion between human and the divine. However, the feeling of wonder is by no means dependent on, nor evidence of, a belief in any Spiritual Source. I would suggest though, that to develop spiritually one must cultivate and court a sense of wonder. It is a kind of spiritual medicine, inoculating us from despair, boosting our well-being, and strengthening our capacity to Love unconditionally.
5. You appreciate the value of discomfort and aspire to accept it without resistance. In this society, our ideas and beliefs about God are entangled with the ebb and flow of comfort and discomfort through our lives. (This is often true even if a person is not at all spiritually-identified.) We have a terrible relationship with discomfort in this culture, but the truth is, there is deep spiritual value in learning to sit peacefully within it. Spiritual seekers, in releasing judgment of the experience and softening the compulsion to assign meaning to it, accept that all experience offers an equal and infinite opportunity to learn and practice Love.
6. You understand that peace and suffering are intimately connected – to strengthen one always lessens the other and the converse is true as well. While the experience of pain and discomfort is natural to life, suffering need not be. Peace is always possible. Peace and suffering are human states of consciousness. It is not God that makes either a reality in our lives, but our conscious understanding. And a well-developed relationship wi
th any Spiritual Source does not guarantee an end to suffering or the continuance of peace – only we and our level of spiritual skill can offer that.
7. You do your best to meet each moment and all experience with gratitude. Because every experience offers an equal and infinite opportunity to learn and practice Love, every moment also offers a corresponding equal and infinite reason to be grateful. The choice to be grateful or not is entirely ours. This is a powerful spiritual principle
that calls us beyond all judgment, eradicates the concept of reward and punishment, and can exist – even thrive, outside a belief in God.
8. You practice wisdom, rooting your choices in lasting principle not temporary impulses. The practice of true wisdom is a lifetime’s worth of work. It is founded in a kind and vigilant care for the content of own’s own consciousness. It requires us to be in a state of Loving possession – possession of our selves, our values, actions, feelings, and motivations. Without this ownership of the space we create in the world, there is no wisdom. And no belief in God is required to strengthen this practice of wisdom. In fact, for many of us it can hinder the process, because learning the extent of our own influence and acknowledging the depth of our own responsibility is of paramount importance.
9. You participate in a community of shared values and intention. Unless one happens to be called to the path of a solitary hermit, sincere spiritual development requires the participation in a community. Human beings learn better when we learn together – when there are role models to look up to and fellow travellers to support and celebrate with. (I’m not making this up. There are studies that demonstrate like-minded community is possibly the most important factor in
being able to create and sustain lifestyle change and well-being.) While it is obviously possible for a community to bond over its shared belief in a Spiritual Source, it is not at all necessary. What is essential is the shared commitment to practice and principle.
10. You stay open to inspiration, realizing it must be courted and supported. To live spiritually requires the sustaining nourishment of inspiration. Without it we grow weary, bored, afraid, resistant, or simply more likely to lapse into patterns of suffering. It is important to note that inspiration need not be excited or even joyous. It is often so quiet and calming, it is easy to miss. Whether it comes through reading and contemplating spiritual writing, listening to a trusted teacher, walking in nature, meditating or praying, dancing, sharing in true intimacy with another, lending compassion and service to those in distress … inspiration is an experience that must be expected, sought out, welcomed, supported, and appreciated – it must be believed in. Experiencing it can be just as enriching whether or not it embraces a belief in God.