Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Sunday, July 18th: 'Spiritual' is a Nonsense Word

From King Mike Gillis:
Hello Everyone,

Next week’s episode, which I will co-host with Casey Doran, will be entitled “‘Spiritual’ is a Nonsense Word.”

My argument is that the word ‘spiritual’ is practically useless because it’s a verbal Rorschach test. Everyone uses a wildly different definition for the word, so inserting it into a conversation is almost useless. Deepak Chopra means something completely different than Desmond Tutu, who means something completely different than Sam Harris, who means something completely different than Rick Warren…etc. So when someone uses the word, they tend mean one thing and their listener will hear something else. And when their are countless (and even contradictory) meanings of a word with no consensus, a word becomes entirely useless.

So we’re asking our viewers to send in their definitions of the word “spiritual” to prove me right or wrong. Please send us an email using the form in the right-hand nav. –>

Your definition might be read on next week’s episode.

Thank you for watching!

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Ron Strelecki

I have enjoyed every episode so far. I am looking forward to seeing new hosts and new combinations. I think of “spiritual” as not entirely meaningless. It has a function more than a definition. Perhaps “shibboleth” is a better way to describe the word. It is a way that certain people use to identify themselves to one another. It is cumbersome to say, “I will pretend not to be judgmental about or laugh at your crazy, irrational beliefs if you do the same.” It is a way of signalling that you will politely nod and say, “umm-hmm” as the other… Read more »


Next week? We haven’t been able to watch last week yet. Where is it guy? Is there another place it’s available?


I’ve used the word Spiritual to mean “interested in questions regarding existence and the human condition.” In that sense, I’m more “spiritual” as an active atheist than I was as a wishy-washy, Spinozian Deist. But I’ve also come to recognize that most people don’t share that definition of Spiritual, so there’s really no benefit to using the word.


I am compelled to respond, though I know it to be for naught. People turn off your brain’s extra-spin cycle, please! Oftentimes, a discussion begins because of differing ideas/opinions/etc about one word/thought. It usually continues as a result of more than one contrast. I hear some have chosen their words that carefully in order to feel superior by intentional confusion or a spiteful mislead. Those who happen to choose educating themselves, good for you! Don’t let others hold you back or become the excuse on why we get to be stupid. HOWEVER, shame on anyone who suggests that as a… Read more »


I have no idea what you’re trying to say, Su. Can you possibly simplify? Thanks!

Mike Gillis

Su, I have to chime in, too. I have no idea what point you’re trying to make. Give it another try.

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