I consider myself a non-theist. I was raised by atheists, in a secular society, and for a long time I was confused by my spiritual experiences – I thought that if I experienced these things, I must be ‘religious’. (Of course, my parents’ weren’t keen on that!)
But over time, I’ve come to see that spiritual experience does not equal experience of ‘God’. My experiences with spirits and non-ordinary realities doesn’t mean that I have to believe in the whole package; a creator God who controls the universe makes no sense to me, in light of my experiences. And so I’m a non-theist.
Why not an atheist? It was the ‘family religion’, after all. And that’s exactly why I don’t identify in that way; my experiences of atheism are that it comes with a lot of unrelated baggage, just like a religion, which complicate spiritual practice. Atheists, in my experience, worship science and rationality; I don’t think that science and rationality provide all the answers, or even practical answers a lot of the time.
Atheists also seem to hold a lot of beliefs about the world that can’t be based in their experience or be proven; for example, science doesn’t prove the non-existence of spirits, or non-ordinary realities, and yet many atheists are violently opposed to considering these topics as anything other than ‘irrationality’ or ‘mental illness’. And I understand; in a world that’s only just recovering from religious oppression of free thinking peoples, it’s tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater. “Let in any belief, other than science,” atheists seem to say, “and we’ll lose all our secular rights again.”
But for people like me, for whom these other, spiritual, experiences are valuable and real, atheism can be as dangerous as religious zealotry. Where’s the line between a mental health ward and a prison, a lifetime on anti-psychotics or burning at the stake? The religion of rationality is as damaging as the religions of the book; dogma is dogma, and so – I’m a non-theist.