Book review: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality

by Andre Comte-Sponville


Surprisingly, this book provides precisely what the title promises. It’s in three parts:

I. Can we do without religion?

II. Does God exist?

III. Can there be an atheist spirituality?

In Part I, Andre argues that humanity survives on the same moral, spiritual, and cultural values that religion cultivates, but that religion itself is unnecessary. Religion doesn’t provide the basis for our morals, but rather our morals provide the basis for religion. We do have a foundational need for our spiritual well-being, but Andre shows these basic needs to be communion, fidelity, and love … of which atheists can partake without entering a church building.

Part II you may skip with no feelings of regret. It’s a rehash of various arguments against God, and refutations of the common arguments for God, and there is not enough depth nor originality here to bother with.

Part III makes up for the lazy part II, by exposing both the smallness and the awesomeness of our being. Just staring at the stars is a religious experience. Sensing nature in all its immensity helps the spirit break free, at least partially, of the tiny prison of the self. What a relief, when the ego is driven away and nothing remains but the All, the enormous thereness of being!

Why would you need a God? The universe suffices. Why would you need a church? The world suffices. Why would you need faith? Experience suffices. Says Andre, “the certainty that you cannot fall out of the universe, the sense of being at one with the All … never have I experienced anything more powerful, more delightful, more overwhelming and more soothing.”

It turns out that atheist spirituality is as experiential and meaningful as promised, but the training course may be more cerebral than fulfilling. You have to dive below the surface or get trapped in a head bubble, trying to “oppose sophistry with rationalism and nihilism with humanism” or some such similar commandment. I suppose that’s a struggle with any worthwhile philosophy.

Fun book, written with wit and intelligence, and which does indeed titillate your spiritual side without looking to God.

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