THE LITTLE BOOK OF ATHEIST SPIRITUALITY by André Comte-Sponville (Penguin Books, 2007 – translated by Nancy Huston)
I chanced upon this slim volume at the excellent Judd Books in Bloomsbury (a highly recommended source for bargain books if you are ever in this part of London).
I hadn’t heard of the book previously but it proved to be an inspired and inspiring purchase. It makes the case for atheism in a concise and intelligent manner whilst maintaining a tolerance for those who believe in God or some other supreme being.
André Comte-Sponville addresses this question from an overtly philosophical perspective so it is cogently reasoned with numerous quotes about faith and belief from heavyweight thinkers like Nietzsche, Kant, Spinoza and Wittgenstein.
These are not just chosen to make the writer look smart (although he plainly is!) but to illustrate that the big questions – ‘Can We Do Without Religion? ; ‘Does God Exist? – are far from new and can be answered in numerous ways.
These questions are the titles of two of the three chapters in the Frenchman’s guide for the perplexed, the third seeks to respond to the query: Can There Be An Atheist Spirituality?
Needless to say, his answers to these three points are, respectively, YES, NO and YES. Continue reading
THE POWER OF NOW: A GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT by Eckhart Tolle (New World Library, 2004)
A book like this wouldn’t have become such a best seller without it containing a modicum of truth and wisdom.
Ekhart Tolle has won high-profile fans in the form Oprah Winfey, Jim Carey and Meg Ryan as well as hundreds of enthusiastic endorsements on Amazon, exemplified by one who gushes: “I have no words to describe how profoundly this book has changed me AND my life. This book is unbelievable!. I was mesmerized by every word … AWESOME! Whewwwww!”
I think it is hard to argue with statements like “every addiction starts with pain” and I am willing to go along with the notion that we should live more in the moment rather than dwell on what might have been or what might be.
As William Henry Davies wrote in his poem, Leisure: “A poor life this is if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”.
The accelerated lives we lead means that, more than ever, we need to give ourselves time and space to take stock of where and who are.
But to turn all this into a spiritual teaching is over egging it a bit. Tolle’s guru qualifications are very flimsy. His epiphany came during a sleepless night at the age of 29 after which he overcame his suicidal tendencies with a realisation that nice things happen when you just stop thinking. This might have been an excuse to overdose on daytime TV but he decided that becoming a spiritual leader was better career move. Continue reading
I used to work for a man who was a stickler for correctness. From handling requests for time off to responding to an official complaint from a member of parliament everything had to be done exactly by the book.
On the one hand this was logical and safe, but his inability to do anything without consulting the prescribed guidelines drove most people in the office to distraction.
He was unwilling or unable to trust his instincts in even the most minor and banal of requests.
Buying washing up liquid for the staff kitchen would demand the same amount of red tape as dealing with an accusation of sexual harassment. Actually, I can’t remember either of the last two scenarios happening but you get the picture.
The central point about his behaviour was that it was fundamentally inhuman. He was not a monster so I don’t use the word ‘inhuman’ in the sense of lacking humanity or acting cruelly. What I mean is that his actions were impersonal and dispassionate to the point that he was no better than a machine. Any feelings he had were hidden behind a cloak of bureaucracy. Continue reading