Dear Sir,

You ask if an atheist can be spiritual? Socrates would, of course, respond with a request to define “atheist” and “spiritual” as you intend them. Atheist is easy — see any dictionary. Spiritual is much more difficult to define. I have never seen a dictionary definition that correlates with common usage. The only (implied) useful definition I have heard was quoted by an atheist member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Paraphrasing our basic text (the “Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book”): “The spiritual life: The way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.” The remainder of the book conflates spirituality with a rather vague deism. I suppose religious people wonder what motivates an atheist to behave in a spiritual way. I can only answer that I have no idea what motivates people to believe in an undetectable deity.

Another Atheist

Dear Another Atheist,

This is exactly what I was looking for. I appreciate the idea of embracing spirituality as the way of patience, tolerance, love and kindness. As for having no idea what motivates people to believe in an undetectable deity, I think it can be attributed to faith. The idea that while we can’t prove something to be true, we can choose to trust it to be true. A believer in God and an atheist can both have faith that he or she will find love, good friends and a life that’s fulfilling. While there is no certainty that any of this will happen, having faith means spending less time worrying and more time believing that it can be true. Which ultimately, will make it true. Whether it’s a deity, deities or neurons and electrons in play, it doesn’t matter. Faith is hope. And hope is something we can all believe in, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

Dear Harlan:

Throughout my life, I have had trouble with getting girls to like me and be interested in me. Now I have come to this college, and this girl (who is also here) has always liked and commented on my Facebook stuff. So I started messaging her, and she seems interested and always continues the conversation and uses smiley faces, etc. But I recently found out that she has had a boyfriend here for the past two weeks. A boyfriend who was fired as a resident assistant last year for drinking. What should I do?

Bad Luck

Dear Bad Luck,

Your life hasn’t been very long. I mean, you’re probably 18 or 19 years old. You’ve only been able to date for a few years. You’re barely had time to have adult relationships. I wouldn’t judge your attractiveness based on a few years of not getting dates in high school. Trust that there are a lot of ladies out there for you. Once you can have faith and believe it, this cloud of confusion will lift. You’ll see that this one woman can be your friend even if she has a boyfriend. You can date other people. And you can give her time to date this bad boy and date you later. Still, I wouldn’t hold back letting her know that you would like to take her out. Ask her if she still has a boyfriend. Give her a chance to tell you that it’s going to end soon. She might tell you she’s not dating him or it’s not that serious. Either way, showing an interest in her love life makes it clear that you would like to be more than friends.

Write Harlan at [email protected] or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 3501 N. Southport Ave., Suite 226, Chicago, IL 60657.

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