In response to Deepak Chopra’s Atheists’ Mistake: Liberal Spirituality

By Michel-Camille Bordeau

In his most recent article, famed spiritual author Deepak Chopra expresses his concern that “By making belief in God their enemy… atheists deprive themselves of what spirituality is really about: a process of inner growth.”

Chopra’s short article is a blog-jab in Christopher Hitchens’ direction, a response to a recent letter he wrote for the annual convention of atheists, and, by ‘atheists’, Mr. Chopra implies those who think-believe in the manner of the outspoken Christopher Hitchens.

Though, like any self-respecting minority, Atheists have plenty of reasons and sufficient rights to question majority opinions like those expressed by Mr. Chopra, assuming that every Atheist sees Humanity with Hitchens’ eyes is somewhat reductive, although very flattering, considering the man’s achievements.

As an Atheist, I wish I were as eloquently acerbic as Hitchens and I wish I had his worldwide exposure. I wish I had something mind-bending enough to say to deserve quality real estate in the greatest newspapers, magazines, and journals around the globe.

Yet, wishing to be a recognized participant in today’s (Media) vanity fair—pun intended—doesn’t mean I would argue, with Hitchens, that god-believers are all under the spell of “mind-forged manacles of servility and superstition.” It’s his ideological battle, not mine: this Atheist’s position, not that one.

My minority-battle is elsewhere, and I don’t want my tree (of knowledge) to be taken for the proverbial forest (of contradictions and confusions).

I’m not Hitchens, Hitchens is not me.I’m much better looking. He’s a lot smarter.

As non-believers, we are two of a kind, and that’s why, with due deference, I’ve decided to give Mr. Chopra a one of a kind, freethinking opinion about his article from last week.

It’s my Atheist take. It’s my thought-response to Mr. Chopra’s “Christopher Hitchens and the Atheists’ Mistake.”

It’s my twig of knowledge and no one should seek the forest behind.  Buddha aint’ there!

Let’s get right into the subject, let’s see if Mr. Chopra’s kind worries are justified,and let’s find out if Atheists do deprive themselves of spiritual growth.

Mr. Chopra writes:

By making belief in God their enemy, atheists deprive themselves of what spirituality is really about: a process of inner growth. There are wisdom traditions around the world that do not use the word God (e.g., Buddhism, Vedanta) or advocate religious worship in the conventional sense. Countless people have seen through the faults of organized religion and turned instead to their own spiritual journey.

Why does Mr. Chopra affirm (and therefore treat as absolute) that non-belief means non-potentiality for spiritual growth?

God-less is not spiritual-less, is it? Spirituality or ‘inner growth’, as Mr. Chopra defines it, is not the exclusive dominion of those who call themselves religious, those who pray to a sky-god or relate to an inner god or a plain ol’ transcendental deity. I am an atheist, have been all my life, and have no reason to change precisely because my humble successes in life have been the result of inner growth. And I’ve been quite intentional about it.  I had no choice but to seek inner growth. It was a matter of survival.  Here’s why.

Twenty-years ago I was a jobless, high school drop-out, living with his soon to be divorcing parents in the small chaos of a sleeping community outside of Paris. I’m writing this article in a language I barely knew back then. I didn’t know who Hitchens or Chopra were. I don’t think I’d cared to know who they were or what their contribution to the greater good of Humanity might have been. I was more concerned about static ‘moi’ and I was searching for ways to expand personal horizons, to grow within and without.

Back then, I would not have been able to read the article I am writing and you are reading. English was a foreign language. The thinking-studying of religions was a foreign concern. I would not have cared a second about the discourse this article is trying to penetrate-perpetuate. I didn’t know what ‘discourse’ meant. I didn’t give a hoot about this sort of thinking.

Twenty years later, I’ve come a long way, thanks to a deliberate effort to improve my chances in life. I’m as God-less as I ever was, though. I’m a good example, but not an isolated one, of what I call Liberal Spirituality, a desire to maximize potential in the service of humanistic growth—here, you must think of ‘Liberal’ as in Liberal Arts, not the semantico-political mumbo-jumbo.

Back to Mr. Chopra’s statement: why does he exclude Atheists from that group of ‘countless people’ who, while acknowledging organized religion’s many shortcomings, have found their own spiritual journey? Feel free to read again, I’ll wait for you.

God-less is not purposeless, is it? I don’t believe in the existence of a god, but I have a number of purposes in life. My wife thinks I have too many purposes, in fact, but it’s okay because I love her first.

One of these purposes is to educate people about religious misconceptions. For that purpose, I’m even returning to school to earn a fourth college degree: more inner growth is under way. I will train in Social Work to become a psychotherapist and hope that eventually I will be in a position to help people who have been victims of religious abuse and are ready to find a way out of that toxic relationship.

Also, I want to live a long life, in which I shall continue to love my wife, child, our families, our friends, and, if given a chance, a good chunk of Humanity! Humble purpose, but purpose nonetheless!

I will dare to generalize and state that most Atheists are not purposeless. Majority opinion should not hastily judge minority thought-behaviors, even when Atheists seek spiritual purpose beyond-before God-the norm! Let’s remember that for many Atheists, Life is the default spiritual journey. I’d go even further and say that…

Life (with or without god) is the default inner growth journey. It’s how Humanity, our next of kin, engenders the next generation, how we guarantee that there will be a world to come. It’s a matter of existential survival.

As Mr. Chopra puts it himself: “Spirituality is existential, too. It asks who we are, why we are here, and what are the highest values by which a person should live.” Though, if you read his article, and I recommend you do, you will find out that Mr. Chopra’s quest for inner growth (spirituality) is existential (worthy, pragmatic goal) only if ontological questions are within the context of some metalogical journey.

To put it simply, Mr. Chopra offers his advice to Atheists and suggest that a spiritual journey of ‘Find God and/to Find Self’ is a worthy goal that should not be denigrated. It’s not a bad advice, though not a novel one. And most importantly, it’s not the only noble and spiritual-worthy one either.

As an Atheist, inner growth comes first. By Mr. Chopra’s definition spirituality is the first stage of my life journey, the first step I take every morning, long before I look up to the sky and pounder about some metalogical question.

I ask questions about what are the highest values by which I should live in society, who I am, why I am, first. I’m ontological first because it’s a matter of existential survival.

My purpose in life is to best contribute to Humanity’s welfare. I am truly dedicated to the survival of my species: Humanity, my next of kin. I am devoted to friends, family, and fellow human beings in matters Health, Education, Love & Lucidity.

The order of my personal priorities might be different than those advocated by Mr. Chopra, but, by his own definition, they are no less spiritually effective. ‘Find Self and/to Find Humanity’ is a worthy existential/inner growth goal. (Personal) Reason(ing) inthe service of compassion (for Humanity) is spiritually liberating. Humanity does keep me alive. It’s my default spiritual bond with you. It’s our spiritual bond.

Caring and appreciating my next of kin is what I’ve been doing for forty years and will continue to do for the next forty plus. That’s the reason why:

In matters of Health, I will trust a licensed Nurse, Therapist, Social Worker, and Doctor, first. Also, I will trust a warm broth and a comfortable bed. A Loved One sitting next to me.

In matters of Education, I will trust a University educated Teacher, a Counselor, and a Professor, first. I will trust my curiosity and that of my kin.

In matters of Love, I will trust a caring Family Member, a loving Friend and Neighbor. I will trust those who understand that Love is for us all, first.  I will trust heart-felt Love.

In matters of Lucidity, I will trust those who contribute daily to my good Health, Education, and are deserving of reciprocated Love, first. I am the agent of my life. Me with You. We are my Life, now! My Humanity!

In matters of Health, Education, Love, and Lucidity, I simply trust Humanity, my next of kin, our mother. I trust Humanity, that’s why I’m an inspired freethinker-atheist. And I’m not alone.

Contrary to majority belief, the large minority of Atheists out there (over a billion strong) have a worthy belief-spiritual system, the default existential-survival mode, I might add, and one Mr. Chopra and his followers might agree to:

Life (with or without god) is the default inner growth journey. It’s how Humanity, our next of kin, engenders the next generation, how we guarantee that there will be a world to come. It’s a matter of existential survival.

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About Michel-Camille Bordeau

Michel-Camille Bordeau is the founder and author of The School of Seshata (, a blog about secular spirituality and the home of the Scriptopedia Project. Michel earned an M.A. in French Studies from The Ohio State University (1998).  Mid-life crisis oblige, he is returning to college in August 2011, to pursue an M.S.W. with a specialization in Mental Health & Drugs of Abuse.

Before relocating to Atlanta, Michel was an Academic Advisor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus, for nearly ten years. He has advised many students (and parents) on academic and life matters. He taught English, Public Speaking, Humanities, and French at various colleges and universities. In 2002, Michel published Poire Sucrée, Salée, Epicée, a short novel about a dance teacher forced to face the demons of her past. He is currently seeking representation for Seeing Purple, a dystopian novel set in Anaïs Abelard’s hometown, the New Orleans of tomorrow, also home to the power-hungry mega church known as the Calvinistry. Michel considers himself an amateur ‘atheologist’ and he often writes under the nom de plume Anais Abelard.

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