Atheist Big Book Study: Appendix 2 Spiritual Experience
In order to correct a misunderstanding from the first printing of the Big Book, the second appendix was written to clarify that one need not have a sudden and dramatic spiritual awakening like Bill W. experienced at Towns Hospital.
In fact it is mentioned that most spiritual experiences are of the educational variety and take place gradually over a period of time. The reader is assured that no one need have difficulty with the spiritually of the program, provided they maintain an open mind.
In an effort to provide added emphasis to the importance of an open mind, a quote is added that is wrongly attributed to Herbert Spencer.
“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation — Herbert Spencer” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 568).
Herbert Spencer was a man who loved science and reason. He was an early proponent of the theory of evolution and he was also an agnostic. He was a brilliant man, but not however the originator of the above quote. It was actually an English clergyman and Christian apologist by the name of William Paley who is responsible for the quote. It is believed that this was an honest mistake on Bill’s part.
Can an atheist have a spiritual experience?
I suppose it depends on how one defines spirituality. Many people view spirituality as not necessarily supernatural or religious, but rather something that is deep within them that gives meaning and purpose to their lives, or that energy which gives us consciousness and makes us human. Others see it as a feeling of awe and wonder at the beauty of the natural world.
Personally, I see spirituality as having to do with the supernatural and is often used as code for religion. I don’t believe for myself that I have undergone or am undergoing a spiritual experience, but I do believe that I have been profoundly changed by my experience in A.A. The 12 Steps have changed the way I approach life and going through the process, I learned to understand myself and to realize that I am not much different from other people, in fact all people are very similar.
I do find myself filled with a sense of awe and wonder as I contemplate the universe and the strange coincidence that made this planet a hospitable place to live, and the unlikely turn of events that caused life to evolve into the many varying forms that we see today. I don’t understand that as spiritual experience, but rather it is simply an appreciation of the astonishing and amazing beauty of reality. I much prefer reality because it reminds me that I am connected to everything in the universe, I am made from the same stuff as the stars. It’s really quite poetic and I can certainly understand how one could define these feelings as spiritual.
So maybe it’s only semantics. I undoubtedly believe that I have been psychologically and emotionally transformed by the Twelve Steps. What limited understanding I have of nature and science helps me feel connected to everything and everybody. I just don’t call this transformation and new outlook a spiritual experience. I don’t know what I call it to tell you the truth. In my own interpretation of the steps, I simply refer to the end result as having been changed, and that I have.