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Atheism and transcendence

self-transcendence is a psychological state of awareness that goes beyond the personal self and the present reality. It is often associated with spiritual or religious experiences, but can it also be achieved by people who do not believe in any supernatural entity or higher power? In this article, we will explore the possibility of self-transcendence for atheists, and examine the benefits and challenges of this phenomenon. We will also discuss some of the factors that can facilitate or hinder the attainment of self-transcendence, such as personality traits, values, practices, and social contexts. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of what self-transcendence means for atheists, and how it can enrich their lives and wellbeing.

What does self-transcendence mean for an atheist?

self-transcendence is a personality trait that involves expanding one’s personal boundaries and relating to something greater than oneself. It can be understood as a process of personal growth and development that goes beyond the self and connects with the wider world. For some people, self-transcendence may involve spiritual experiences or beliefs, while for others it may be more secular or humanistic.

One possible way to approach the question of what self-transcendence means to the atheist is to consider how an atheist may find meaning and purpose in life without relying on supernatural or divine explanations. An atheist may transcend the self by engaging in activities that contribute to the well-being of others, such as altruism, compassion, or social justice. An atheist may also transcend the self by pursuing knowledge, creativity, or excellence in various domains, such as science, art, or sports. An atheist may also transcend the self by appreciating the beauty and wonder of nature and the universe, and feeling a sense of awe and gratitude for being alive.

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These are some examples of how an atheist may experience self-transcendence in different ways, but they are not exhaustive or definitive. self-transcendence is a personal and subjective phenomenon that depends on one’s values, goals, and preferences. Ultimately, self-transcendence means finding a way to go beyond one’s ego and connect with something larger and more meaningful than oneself.

Examples of transcendent atheists

Transcendence is a state of being that has overcome the limitations of physical existence and has become independent of it. Some religions view transcendence as an aspect of a deity’s nature and power, while others view it as a goal or potential for human beings. Atheists, who do not believe in any deities or supernatural realms, may have different ways of understanding or achieving transcendence.

Some atheists may seek transcendence through science, reason, and logic. They may explore the mysteries of the universe and the laws of nature, and try to find meaning and purpose in their existence. They may also strive to create something of lasting value or impact for humanity or the world. Some examples of atheists who have achieved transcendence in this sense are Stephen Hawking, who made groundbreaking discoveries in physics and cosmology, Sigmund Freud, who founded psychoanalysis and revolutionized the study of the human mind, and Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook and changed the way people communicate and connect online.

Other atheists may seek transcendence through art, culture, and creativity. They may express themselves through various forms of media, such as literature, music, film, or painting, and try to evoke emotions, insights, or beauty in their audience. They may also challenge the norms and conventions of society, and inspire others to think critically or differently. Some examples of atheists who have achieved transcendence in this sense are Jodie Foster, who is an acclaimed actress, director, and producer of films that explore complex themes and characters, Lance Armstrong, who is a former professional cyclist and cancer survivor who founded a foundation that supports people affected by cancer, and Salman Rushdie, who is a novelist and essayist who has written influential works that blend realism, fantasy, history, and culture.

We can also look at some quotes that illustrate how atheists may achieve self-transcendence in various contexts. For instance, Albert Einstein, a famous physicist and an atheist, said: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (Einstein, 1950, p. 5). This quote shows how Einstein transcended his self by recognizing his connection with the universe and expanding his empathy for all living beings.

Another example is Bertrand Russell, a renowned philosopher and an atheist, who wrote: “The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. Neither love without knowledge nor knowledge without love can produce a good life” (Russell, 1925/2009, p. 11). This quote shows how Russell transcended his self by balancing his love for humanity and his pursuit of knowledge.

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A third example is Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and an atheist, who said: “I don’t want revenge on the Taliban; I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban” (Yousafzai & Lamb, 2013, p. 313). This quote shows how Yousafzai transcended her self by forgiving her enemies and advocating for education as a way to promote peace and justice.

These are just some of the many examples of how atheists may find self-transcendence in their lives. They demonstrate that self-transcendence is not dependent on religious beliefs or supernatural explanations, but rather on one’s own values, goals, and preferences.

Transcendence is not a monopoly of religion. Atheists can also achieve transcendence in various ways that reflect their values, interests, and passions. Transcendence is a human phenomenon that transcends belief or disbelief in gods.

Factors affecting transcendence

self-transcendence is a psychological state of awareness that goes beyond one’s personal identity and ego. It involves a sense of connection with something greater than oneself, such as nature, humanity, or the cosmos. self-transcendence can have positive effects on wellbeing, meaning, and purpose in life. However, not everyone experiences self-transcendence in the same way or to the same degree.

One of the factors that can facilitate self-transcendence in atheists is openness to experience. This is a personality trait that reflects curiosity, imagination, and interest in new ideas and perspectives. Openness to experience can help atheists to explore different aspects of reality and appreciate its complexity and beauty. It can also foster a sense of wonder and awe, which are emotions that can trigger self-transcendence. Moreover, openness to experience can enable atheists to be more receptive to alternative forms of spirituality that do not involve belief in a supernatural agent, such as humanism, naturalism, or pantheism.

Another factor that can facilitate self-transcendence in atheists is altruism. This is a value that reflects concern for the welfare of others and a willingness to help them. altruism can help atheists to transcend their self-interest and egoism and connect with other people in a meaningful way. It can also promote a sense of compassion and empathy, which are feelings that can enhance self-transcendence. Furthermore, altruism can motivate atheists to engage in prosocial behaviours that can benefit society and the environment, such as volunteering, donating, or activism.

A third factor that can facilitate self-transcendence in atheists is meditation. This is a practice that involves focusing one’s attention on a specific object, such as one’s breath, a mantra, or a sensation. Meditation can help atheists to quiet their mind and reduce their attachment to thoughts and emotions. It can also cultivate a state of mindfulness, which is a mode of awareness that involves being present and attentive to one’s experience in-the-moment. Meditation can foster a sense of detachment from one’s ego and identity and a sense of unity with one’s surroundings, which are aspects of self-transcendence.

Factors that hinder

However, there are also factors that can hinder self-transcendence in atheists, such as dogmatism, materialism, and isolation. Dogmatism is a cognitive style that involves rigid and inflexible beliefs and opinions. Dogmatism can prevent atheists from being open-minded and tolerant of different views and values. It can also limit their ability to question their assumptions and challenge their world-view. Dogmatism can inhibit self-transcendence by creating a sense of separation and conflict between oneself and others.

Materialism is a value system that emphasizes the importance of money, possessions, and status. Materialism can distract atheists from pursuing higher goals and values that can give meaning and direction to their lives. It can also foster a sense of dissatisfaction and greed, which are emotions that can impair self-transcendence. Materialism can hinder self-transcendence by creating a sense of attachment and dependence on external sources of happiness.

Isolation is a social condition that involves lack of contact or interaction with other people. Isolation can deprive atheists of opportunities to form meaningful relationships and bonds with others. It can also induce feelings of loneliness and alienation, which are states that can diminish self-transcendence. Isolation can hinder self-transcendence by creating a sense of disconnection and estrangement from oneself and others.


In conclusion, self-transcendence is a psychological phenomenon that can have positive implications for well-being and meaning in life. However, it is not equally accessible or attainable for everyone. There are factors that can facilitate or hinder self-transcendence in atheists, such as personality traits, values, practices, and social contexts. By understanding these factors, atheists can enhance their potential for self-transcendence and enrich their lives.

Further reading

Here is a summary list of weblinks exploring transcendence in atheists:

Transcendence (religion) – Wikipedia: This article provides an overview of the concept of transcendence in different religious traditions, as well as some philosophical and psychological perspectives on it. It also discusses the possibility of naturalistic transcendence for atheists and humanists. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendence_%28religion%29

Transcendence and Mystery for Atheists — The Mortal Atheist: This blog post explores how atheists can experience transcendence and mystery in their lives, without resorting to supernatural explanations or beliefs. It suggests some sources of transcendence and mystery for atheists, such as nature, art, music, literature, science and human relationships. https://www.themortalatheist.com/blog/transcendence-and-mystery-for-atheists


Einstein, A. (1950). The world as I see it. New York: Philosophical Library.

Russell, B. (2009). What I believe. London: Routledge. (Original work published 1925)

Yousafzai, M., & Lamb, C. (2013). I am Malala: The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban. New York: Little Brown.

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