This Twitter tweet contains a video that can be seen here. Religious fanaticism comes in many forms, in this case Hindu.
This proves nothing except that seeming synchronicities sometimes occur in a pseudo-miraculous fashion.
This afternoon I was thinking about what to write about on this here Church of the Churchless blog, and came up with the idea of talking about how I happily allow about 90% of the blog comments to be from religious believers, almost all of whom are still adherents of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) faith that I deconverted from about fourteen years ago -- after being a strong RSSB devotee for some thirty-five years.
I was going to point out that this shows how much more open-minded us atheists are than religiously-minded people. What do you think the chances are that, for example, a Radha Soami Satsang Beas or Catholic Church web site would welcome a majority of comments that denigrate the teachings being promoted on the site?
Slim to none. (Much closer to none, than slim, I'm pretty sure.)
That's because most religions are dogmatic, while most atheists and agnostics are open-minded. Regular readers of my posts will note that almost always I say things like "Almost certainly there is no God." I talk about my atheist beliefs in this fashion because I can't be sure God doesn't exist; I just see no demonstrable evidence for the existence of God.
If that evidence came to light, either out there in the world or in here within my consciousness, I'd be pleased to change my mind. Yet how many religious believers are willing to say that? "Almost certainly there is a God, but I can't be sure about this."
Anyway, I was all ready to write a post along these lines when I saw that a new comment had been made by Jen. It was so close to what I'd been thinking about, I'd call it "miraculous" if I believed in miracles. Which, I don't.
Spencer, I should point out, is another frequent Church of the Churchless visitor who loves to use this blog to leave comments extolling the Radha Soami Satsang Beas teachings that I no longer believe in. Here's what Jen said:
Spencer you say: "What Brian writes is simply out of ignorance, and prejudice of others he does not know, understand or choose to believe. He simply invents an explanation that works for him. But it denegrates the legitimacy of true spiritual experience. He himself is victim to his own mind's refusal to acknowledge the evidence before him."
Spencer you also say: "This is why I strongly encourage people not to judge other people's personal experiences whom we have never met and do not know. It can't be done objectively and is generally just the bad habit of personal prejudice."
Why should we believe someone else's inner experiences? We aren't supposed to speak about them because its very egotistical and we are not really interested anyway and it just sounds like boasting. Spencer what makes you think you have the right to criticise another, especially when this is Brian's blog.
I think Brian has the patience of a saint, either that or he does not read through all of the comments, or if he does read them he allows others to have their own point of view, which is something you do not allow.
We are all entitled to choose to believe what we want. He is entitled to be an atheist, he does not preach about it and wtf has it got to do with you and vinny? Quote vinny: "Problem with atheists is that their half-baked mind is unable to comprehend Atomic energy/Shabd vibrating since ages, so the solutions they offer are half-baked. These Atheists are not worthy of sitting at the feet of any Physicist, forget about Saints. Always misguiding innocent people, more dangerous than Snakes, these Atheists are a threat to any civilized society."
Spencer, I don't understand you and vinny, you preach about love and yet you show no respect for others and their opinions.
Excellent points, Jen.
Spencer and other religious believers are very much welcome to comment on this blog, because I'm committed to open discussion and dialogue.
Regarding Jen's noting that either I have the patience of a saint, or don't read through all of the comments, the truth is about halfway between these extremes. I have considerable patience with people who disagree with me, and I also make a habit of scanning every comment to make sure it isn't "spam" but is at least somewhat on topic.
I read some comments in their entirety, but lengthy comments often get just a quick glance. Even though I'm retired, I still feel pressured for time, in part because my wife and I live on ten non-easy-care acres in rural south Salem (Oregon) that require a lot of work to maintain.
And I've got two other blogs that I write for, along with three Facebook pages related to my local citizen activism. So this Church of the Churchless blog is just one of many activities that compete for my attention.
How do we know what is real? This is a question that has occupied philosophers and scientists for as long as we humans have been pondering the nature of reality.
I don't pretend to know the answer, but I resonate with physicist David Deutsch's approach to the question. In his book, "The Fabric of Reality," Deutsch views explanations as being key to understanding what is real. He writes:
Explanations are not justified by the means by which they were derived; they are justified by their superior ability, relative to rival explanations, to solve the problems they address. That is why the argument that a theory is indefensible can be so compelling. A prediction, or any assertion, that cannot be defended might still be true, but an explanation that cannot be defended is not an explanation.
Now, I realize that this quote isn't exactly crystal clear. Which is understandable, because Deutsch's scientific world view isn't reducible to a couple of sound bites. But I'll try to do just that with another nibble at his philosophical perspective regarding understanding.
What is an explanation, as opposed to a mere statement of fact such as a correct description or prediction?
In practice, we usually recognize the difference easily enough. We know when we do not understand something, even if we can accurately describe and predict it (for instance, the course of a known disease of unknown origin), and we know when an explanation helps us to understand it better.
But it is hard to give a precise definition of 'explanation' or 'understanding'. Roughly speaking, they are about 'why' rather than 'what'; about the inner workings of things; about how things really are, not just how they appear to be; about what must be so, rather than what merely happens to be so; about laws of nature rather than rules of thumb.
They are also about coherence, elegance and simplicity, as opposed to arbitrariness and complexity, though none of these things is easy to define either.
Deutsch uses Galileo as an example of how mere prediction is much different from genuine understanding. He says that at first Galileo didn't get into trouble with the Catholic Church even though he promoted a sun-centered (heliocentric) view of the heavens. The reason: the Church viewed Galileo's theory as just a way of predicting the motions of the planets.
Thus the Church was able to keep on believing that the Earth was at the center of the cosmos by considering that the planets behaved as if they orbited the Sun, not that they actually did so.
To our modern sensibilities this doesn't make sense. But we live in scientific times that are far different from the religion-dominated era of Galileo.
Deutsch says that one reason the sun-centered view won out was that the Church's perspective required a belief in everything that Galileo taught (because that was how fairly accurate predictions of planetary motions could be made), plus an additional belief that somehow reality was responsible for making it seem as if the sun was at the center of the cosmos, even though it actually wasn't.
For example, if one were asked why a planetary conjunction occurred on such-and-such a date, or why a planet backtracked across the sky in a loop of a particular shape, the answer would always be 'because that is how it would look if the heliocentric theory were true'.
So here is a cosmology -- the Inquisition's cosmology -- that can be understood only in terms of a different cosmology, the heliocentric cosmology that it contradicts but faithfully mimics.
Religions obviously fail to produce the same sorts of understandings about reality that science does. In fact, it is difficult, if not impossible, to come up with a single fact about the world that any religion has produced that science didn't already know.
This is a major stumbling block for those who consider that religion has a privileged view of reality. If this is the case, why hasn't a saint, prophet, or other holy person ever come up with an explanation of some phenomenon that was so persuasive, that explanation eventually came to be added to the world's common store of knowledge?
Here's one reason: religion deals largely with supernatural entities that lack what David Deutsch calls "kick back." This term is derived from the story of Dr. Samuel Johnson responding to Bishop Berkeley's solipsistic view that matter doesn't really exist by kicking a rock and saying, "I refute it thus."
Philosophers correctly point out that Johnson didn't really refute Berkeley's assertion by kicking the rock. Rather, Deutsch uses this episode to point out a criterion for reality:
But Dr. Johnson's idea is more than a refutation of solipsism. It also illustrates the criterion for reality that is used in science, namely, if something can kick back, it exists. 'Kicking back' here does not necessarily mean that the alleged object is responding to being kicked -- to being physically affected as Dr. Johnson's rock was.
It is enough to say that when we 'kick' something, the object affects us in ways that require independent explanation. For example, Galileo had no means of affecting planets, but he could affect the light that came from them. His equivalent of kicking the rock was refracting that light through the lenses of his telescopes and eyes.
The light responded by 'kicking' his retina back. The way it kicked back allowed him to conclude not only that light was real but that the heliocentric planetary motions required to explain the patterns in which light arrived were also real.
I was a religious believer for about thirty-five years, so I'm intimately familiar with the many ways people convince themselves that God, Jesus, a guru, angels, spirit, or some other form of divinity is "kicking back' within their consciousness.
Prayers seem to be answered. Unusual events are viewed as miracles. Sights and sounds are perceived in meditation. God is viewed as working in mysterious ways that are plainly apparent to believers.
Yet there is scant evidence that any of this adds up to reality "kicking back" with evidence of a supernatural realm. If there were, converted atheists like me wouldn't be so skeptical of religious claims that fail to stand up under not only close scrutiny, but any kind of serious examination.
Science progresses with its understandings of the universe. Religion doesn't. This alone points to the failure of religious believers to demonstrate that reality does indeed "kick back" when someone attempts to understand divinity.
Yes, all sorts of phenomena do transpire within the minds of believers. However, almost certainly this is their own psyches kicking back against themselves. Meaning, religious beliefs result in mental phenomena produced by those same beliefs. This isn't the sort of really real reality that Deutsch, along with along scientists, are looking for.
Me neither. I'd much rather know something demonstrably true about the world, even if this is a small thing, than believe in the grandest religious fantasy.
"Spirituality" is a word that's difficult to pin down. In my current atheist frame of mind, I consider that the term refers to an attempt to find meaning in life -- this material life, this physical life, this life here on Earth.
Such is how Daniele Bolelli speaks of the need to rekindle our appreciation of what the senses bring to us. In his book, "On the Warrior's Path," he writes:
Our bodies are the kingdom of lost continents and unknown lands. Columbus, Livingstone, Stanley, Marco Polo, and Neil Armstrong are just Boy Scouts compared to the explorers of the inner space. The first step to unlock the doors of perception and sniff the scent of the Secret is to awaken the five senses from the numbness that normally surrounds them.
When the senses wake up, people talk about altered states, but actually nothing about them is altered. The only real alteration is the sleep into which we often let them fall. Bringing them back to life is the only natural thing we can do.
It is as if we defined the starting of an engine as an "altered state" only because we consider normal leaving it turned off. The fascination many people have for "supernatural" phenomena is the result of their lack of deep knowledge of what Nature is about.
...Ecstasy is not a faraway, unreachable dimension. It is right here, just a few feet away from the sleep of the senses. As William Blake put it: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." The miracle of ordinary reality is revealed to those who have eyes to see it and ears to hear it.
But many people -- most, actually, given the popularity of religions -- believe that the spiritual quest is to get in touch with a supernatural domain of reality. God, spirit, soul, angels, heaven, miracles, these are believed to point to a realm beyond physicality, a world of the Absolute.
I've started reading Alan Lightman's engaging book, "Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine." Lightman is a philosophically minded physicist who looks at the marvels of the universe with awe. He had a sense of infinity one night when he turned off the motor of his boat, laid down, and looked up at the stars.
I have worked as a physicist for many years, and I have always held a purely scientific view of the world. By that, I mean that the universe is made of material and nothing more, that the universe is governed exclusively by a small number of fundamental forces and laws, and that all composite things in the world, including humans and stars, eventually disintegrate and return to their component parts.
...Yet after my experience in that boat many years later, I understood what Lord Indra of the Vedas must have felt when he first drank soma and could see the light of the gods. I understood the powerful allure of the Absolutes -- ethereal things that are all-encompassing, unchangeable, eternal, sacred. At the same time, and perhaps paradoxically, I remained a scientist. I remained committed to the material world.
Every culture in every era of human existence has had some concept of Absolutes. Indeed, one might group a large number of notions and entities under the heading of Absolutes: absolute truth (valid in all circumstances), absolute goodness, constancies of various kinds, certainties, cosmic unity, immutable laws of nature, indestructible substances, permanence, eternity, the immortal soul, God.
Absolutes sound great, right? I used to strongly believe in them. For many years I was obsessed with the notion of Ultimate Reality, and even believed that one day I would understand it, and maybe even become one with it. So like Lightman, I too understand the appeal of Absolutes.
But here's the catch:
Finally, the tenets of the Absolutes have not been proven, nor can they be proven, certainly not in the way that science has proven the existence of atoms or the law of the pendulum swing. Unprovability is a central feature of all Absolutes. Yet I did not need any proof of what I felt during that summer night in Maine looking up at the sky.
It was a purely personal experience, and its validity and power rested in the experience itself. Science knows what it knows from experiments with the external world. Belief in the Absolutes comes from internal experience, or sometimes from received teachings and culture-granted authority.
...We have found no physical evidence for the Absolutes. And just the opposite. All of the new findings suggest that we live in a world of multiplicities, relativities, change, and impermanence. In the physical realm, nothing persists. Nothing lasts. Nothing is indivisible. Even the subatomic particles found in the twentieth century are now thought to be made of even smaller "strings" of energy, in a continuing regression of subatomic Russian dolls.
So a spirituality founded on a belief in supernatural Absolutes cannot be proven to be correct. We may feel that it is correct, but feelings can lead us astray. We may experience that it is correct, but experiences can lead us astray. We may be convinced that it is correct, but convictions can lead us astray.
This isn't to say that Absolutes have no value. Since billions of people believe in them, clearly they serve some human purpose. Lightman says:
The Absolutes comfort us. Imperfect beings that we are, we can imagine perfection. In search of meaning and how best to live our lives, we can turn to irrefutable precepts and principles. Certain of our material death, we can find solace in the permanence of our ethereal souls.
What's important, though, is to be honest with ourselves.
We need to realize that because Absolutes are unprovable, we have no way of knowing if they have any reality outside of our minds. But this is the case with lots of things: feelings, thoughts, imagination, fantasies, wishes, dreams, and so much else within our psyches exist only as neurochemical traces within our cranium.
If we seek certainty, or rather, near-certainty, it won't be found in Absolutes. It will be found in science, because this is the only means we humans have developed that allows us to say with a high degree of confidence, "This is true not only for me, but is a truth about the world that lies outside of me."
As Lightman puts it:
I respect the notions of God and other divine beings. However, I insist on one thing: I insist that any statements made by such beings and their prophets about the material world, including statements recorded in the sacred books, must be subject to the experimental testing of science.
In my view, the truths of such statements cannot be assumed. They must be tested and revised or rejected as needed. The spiritual world, and the world of the Absolutes, have their own domain. The physical world should be the province of science.
This makes a lot of sense. People are free to believe whatever they want about God and other Absolutes.
But when those beliefs intrude upon this physical world, and obviously this happens with regularity, such as when religious people want their dogmas to be enshrined in governmental policies or cultural institutions, those purported Absolutes need to be challenged vigorously.
"Prove it!" is an entirely reasonable demand if someone wants their personal spirituality to be accepted as universal truth. I do that frequently on this blog, and not surprisingly I've never gotten any demonstrable proof of an Absolute.
Most people are religious. But sometimes it's hard to tell what is a religion, and what isn't. Is Christianity a religion? Is Buddhism a religion? Is being devoted to your favorite sports team a religion?
(I'd answer "yes," "probably," and "no" to those three questions.)
The Patheos site has a story, What is Religion, Anyway?, that contains a definition that makes a lot of sense. Here's how it starts out:
Christian Smith is the Notre Dame sociologist who identified the religion of America’s youth as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and who exposed the bias in the field of sociology. Now he attempts to put the field of the sociology of religion on a more rigorous basis in his new book Religion: What It Is, Why It Works, and Why It Matters.
The book includes many provocative insights, which we might go into later, but I’d like to concentrate first on the question of definition. What is religion, anyway? A field needs to define its subject matter before it can get very far in investigating it, but the sociology of religion has had problems with this.
A religion, says Smith, is not necessarily about God, the afterlife, or a justification for morals. Though some sociologists have approached the question in those terms, not all religions have these things.
Religion cannot even be defined as a particular set of beliefs, since many people practice a religion without necessarily agreeing with all of its beliefs or even knowing very well what they are. He gives the example of children, though the same could be said of other adherents whose knowledge of their religion is sketchy, at best.
Nor is religion to be defined by a sense of transcendence, the meaning of life, a sanction for the culture, the experience of the numinous, personal identity, or community belonging. Again, sociologists of religion have defined religion in these terms, but these are actually effects of religion, not religion itself.
It is possible to find these things apart from religion, to find the meaning of one’s life in political action or to experience transcendence through art or to gain a sense of community through a group of friends. A religion’s vitality–or lack of it–might be assessed by how well it creates–or has ceased to create–such effects.
But the question remains, what is religion? What is a definition that encompasses all religions in all of their diversity? Here is what Prof. Smith comes up with:
“Religion is a complex of culturally prescribed practices, based on premises about the existence and nature of superhuman powers, whether personal or impersonal, which seek to help practitioners gain access to and communicate or align themselves with these powers, in hopes of realizing human goods and avoiding things bad.” (22)
The “superhuman powers” can be God, gods, or impersonal forces. “In hopes of realizing human goods,” these powers might be prayed to, supplicated, or ritually manipulated; or the practitioners might learn to conform themselves to these forces.
Given this definition, I'd say that a secular Buddhism wouldn't be a religion, since no superhuman powers would be involved. But a supernatural Buddhism that assumes the reality of reincarnation and karmic influences that continue from life to life would be a religion.
Regarding the content of religious beliefs, today on satellite radio I heard a discussion about "fake news" in social media such as Facebook.
The person being interviewed was knowledgeable about what sorts of social media posts grab people's attention. Not surprisingly, posts that fit with someone's point of view, have an emotional "bite" to them, and are shocking or salacious are going to be more likely to be paid attention to.
This comment made me think of religion: "If not constrained by facts, this can make a story more attractive."
So it's no wonder that religions have so much appeal. They aren't at all constrained by facts, being free to make up stories that fit perfectly with what people want to hear.
Worried about dying and being dead forever? No problem, religions have a story for that.
Worried about not being loved by a powerful supernatural being? No problem, religions have a story for that.
Worried about having to decide what is moral? No problem, religions have a story for that.
It's amazing, really, that more people aren't taken aback by the fact that almost universally religions have good news for humanity. Well, us atheists think about this, but few religious people do.
They just accept the stories told by their religion without wondering, "How can it be that everything I want to be true is part of the tales told by my chosen faith?"
Well, because religions aren't constrained by those annoying things called facts. Anybody can come up with a appealing story if they don't have to worry about reality. Fairy tales often end with "And they lived happily ever after."
It's easy to make imaginary stories have happy endings. That's why religions are so popular.
I don't believe in God. But I believe in the feelings that accompany belief.
So now that I've realized the falsity of religion, I've discarded the theological aspects of my former belief system and kept the positive feelings.
Here's some examples.
I used to enjoy the feeling that God was looking out for me, managing my life in such a way that even bad experiences were aimed at bettering my long-term salvation chances. This made me feel hopeful about the future, since I considered there was a trajectory to my life that would end with me becoming familiar with divinity, and maybe actually merging with it.
Now, I'm simply hopeful. The feeling is the same. I've just eliminated the crazy theological reasons I had for believing that the future would turn out fine.
Serving God (or a guru, for I was a member of an organization that believed the guru was God in human form) was another enjoyable feeling. Back in my true believing days I engaged in a lot of seva, as it was called, which is an Indian term for service, or volunteering.
Well, I still like to feel like what I'm doing is benefitting others.
But I've discarded the notion that there's some sort of special benefit to being of service to a supposedly Godly person or organization. This allows me to enjoy the sensation of "selfless service" without having that feeling rest on an imagined theological foundation.
People cling to religion because they like the good feelings that come with believing.
What I'm suggesting is that those feelings are separable from the theological framework, rituals, holy books, forms of worship, and other trappings of a religion.
In the same fashion, happiness is a feeling. But obviously there are many ways for someone to be happy. There isn't a single cause of happiness, just as there isn't a single cause of the good feelings that people enjoy from embracing religious beliefs.
You can give up religion and keep the feelings.
For many years I was the secretary, or leader, of the people in my town who embraced the teachings of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, an Indian religious organization.
I'd arrive early at the place where we held our Sunday morning meeting to get the room ready. I'd sweep the floor and arrange folding chairs just so, getting them all lined up nice and neat. I enjoyed the feeling of seva, being of service.
Today I went to Lowe's and bought 16 bags of garden fertilizer and 6 large containers of weed preventer (we have a really big yard, living as we do out in the country). My wife had noticed spring weeds beginning to pop up, and March is when I spread weed preventer, so today seemed like a good time to do it.
I was careful. I did my best to put the weed preventer every place in our yard that needed it. I enjoyed the feeling that after some rain arrived in a few days, it would be activated and stop weeds from sprouting. This was "seva," service -- just not to any imagined God or other divinity.
It was service to my wife and to myself, because we enjoy our yard more when it looks good and doesn't have a bunch of weeds. The good feeling I had after a couple of hours of work was very similar, if not exactly the same, as the feeling I used to have when I was performing volunteer service for a religious group.
So it doesn't make sense to cling to a religion because you enjoy the feelings that come with being a believer. Those same feelings can be produced in a myriad of different ways. Keep the feelings; ditch the theology.
One of the best arguments against believing in God is that there so many varieties of religious belief.
This doesn't happen in science, where there isn't an Eastern or Western science. Nor is there a Chinese or American science. Because modern science deals with entities that are real, there's agreement on, say, how subatomic particles behave, or the equations needed to put a satellite into orbit.
A friend of ours recently overheard a conversation between two men sitting behind her while she was on a plane. It started with one of the men asking the other, "Are you a believer?"
Turns out he was, so they launched into a rather loud discussion about Christianity. All went well until friction arose after it was learned that one of the men was a Jehovah's Witness.
Then the conversation became rather heated. Is God a unitary being, or is God a trinity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit? Our friend said they argued about this question for the rest of the plane trip.
What this shows is that nobody knows.
Whether God exists. What God would be like, if God does exist. There's very little agreement among religions about God's nature. Even Christians disagree about what God is like. Mormons and Catholics have little in common other than faith in Jesus.
(I think they agree on this; maybe they don't.)
Now, I used to argue that there was a common denominator among religions. It just was necessary to focus on what mystics in various religions taught about God.
But now that I've left behind my true-believing days, I'm aware that what I was doing was selectively choosing evidence for commonalities between mystical beliefs, because actually Christian mystics have a very different take on what God is like than, say, Sikh mystics or Islamic mystics.
So the fact that religious believers can't agree about God's nature is pretty conclusive evidence that God isn't real. The god of the Koran is very different from the god of the Bible. And Buddhists don't believe in any god at all, along with Taoists.
As the familiar saying goes:
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Kudos to TIME magazine for devoting an entire issue to a special report on the opioid crisis in the United States, "The Opioid Diaries." The photographs and accompanying text were disturbing, but that was the point.
To show life as it is, not as how we might like it to be.
I wish there was an easy answer to suffering. But there isn't. It is hard, impossible really, to judge people who, in their quest to relieve their suffering, turn to drugs. Here's an example from the TIME story.
"I got in a car accident and was in the hospital for three or four months. At first, I took it for the pain as prescribed, as needed. I started to like the buzz so I began taking more than I was supposed to. Then a family member introduced me to heroin, and I actually cried at first because I didn't feel any pain. All it takes is one time."
That's the dream almost everybody has -- to find a cure for suffering.
Opioid users seek that cure through drugs. Dangerous drugs, unfortunately, since street drugs are both cheaper and more powerful than prescription opioids, so deadly overdoses are killing thousands every year.
Religious beliefs of various kinds are much safer. But there's quite a bit of truth in Karl Marx's famous observation, paraphrased as Religion is the opium of the people, or Religion is the opiate of the masses.
Like drugs, religion is addictive. I know, because I was hooked on an Eastern guru-centered religion for over 35 years. It was difficult for me to wean myself from the good feelings I got from my belief system.
It didn't take away all of my pains and sufferings, not by a long shot. However, I got a lot of solace from believing that the events in my life had a cosmic meaning, since my guru supposedly was taking care of my karmic account so, as the saying went, "A sword thrust would be reduced to a pinprick."
I also enjoyed the reassurance that death wasn't the end, but rather a beginning. For either I'd be reborn with an opportunity to make further spiritual progress as a human, or enjoy the company of the guru in his divine form in higher spiritual regions of reality.
That's addictive stuff! The prospect of dying and being dead forever is scary. So I read this description by a sheriff of carfentanil's effects (a very powerful synthetic opioid) with a mixture of horror, understanding, and even a bit of envy.
"Unfortunately it's so addicting that if you die, addicts want to go to that dealer to get that more potent compound. It's unbelievable. They're chasing the next best high. They're not worried about dying. It changes your brain chemistry where death doesn't faze you, death isn't a fear anymore."
Well, if there's ever a drug that takes away the fear of death without nasty side effects (like dying), sign me up for a lifetime supply.
Since I'm a recovering religion addict, I know how powerful supernatural belief systems can be. So along with not judging opioid users, I also do my best to not judge people who are using religion to get through life by relieving some of the suffering that comes with being a sentient human being.
That said, I try to use this blog as a form of "tough love" for those who are still in the grip of religiosity. For I've found that even though it is difficult to give up faith in a higher power, the rewards exceed the withdrawal symptoms.
I feel like I'm more in touch with reality now.
I've broken out of the shell of my dogmatism, which I needed to protect me from skeptics who asked uncomfortable questions such as, "How do you know what you believe is true?" I wanted my beliefs to be true so badly, I was willing to ignore anyone or anything that cast doubt on them.
It's tough to face the suffering that is a big part of life head-on with eyes wide open. Like I said, I totally understand why people turn to drugs, religion, or anything else that promises to offer relief. Whatever gets you through the day is a difficult thing to give up.
So aside from the final sentence, which my atheist mind rejects, I like this advice from Angela Davis, a social worker with a facility that cares for opioid-exposed babies.
"If your family member is struggling with addiction, love them. Don't fight them, don't judge them. And for the love of everything holy, pray for them."
I love not only warm baths, but hot ones. It feels good to be immersed in water close to my body temperature. It relaxes me, makes me feel comfortable, sometimes puts me to sleep.
When I want to wake up, though, a cold shower is much better.
Now, I don't actually take cold showers unless our water heater is broken and I'm desperate to get clean. However, I have taken a cold shower of truth, which is why I chose atheism over religion after some 35 years of being an ardent believer in God, soul, spirit, and heaven.
(Eastern religion variety)
Because I'm deeply familiar with both religious believing and atheist doubt, I know what I'm talking about when I say that it takes much more courage to be an atheist.
Believing in God, or some other form of supernatural divinity, is easy. Most people in the world, and certainly most people here in the United States, are religious. So being a believer puts you in the majority, which is like being in a warm cultural bath of godliness.
Even if someone doesn't follow the same faith as you, if you're religious you get a heck of a lot more respect than if you're one of those damned atheists who are all hung up on that disturbing word, truth.
Disturbing if you're religious, that is. Those words are music to the ears of truth-seekers, like me.
It wasn't easy for me to give up the warm bath of my religious beliefs. After all, I'd spent almost four decades believing that I was special, one of God's chosen people, destined for a pleasant afterlife, embraced by the cosmos in a fashion few other humans were.
Fantasies are fun. Reality can be painful.
I'm pleased to report that, like many others who have chosen clear-eyed truth over blind faith, I've come to realize that it is more important to live life honestly than to hold onto religious lies.
There is no demonstrable proof of God. Likewise, there is no convincing evidence that anyone, alive or dead, has known God. But the human mind is adept at weaving together stories that create a pleasing myth.
God loves us. God has sent a messenger to save our souls. God has a wonderful plan for us if we have faith.
What's not to like about these sentiments? Well, one big thing: almost certainly they aren't true. (Us scientifically minded atheists know that nothing is 100% certain, but 99.99% is good enough, and I'm generous when I give a .01 chance of God actually existing.)
So if you've given up on religious fantasies, or are on the way to doing this, congratulations.
You've bravely chosen truth over lies, which is a very good thing. Have courage and keep treading the truthful path. It won't always be comfortable, but it will be much more satisfying than embracing religious falsehoods.
I admire thoughtful, rational, well-reasoned put-downs of religious fanatics. That's why I'm sharing a marvelous comment on a recent post by "Appreciative Reader" that totally destroys the credibility of another commenter, "D.r."
The whole comment is well worth reading as a great example of how to respond to religious bullshit. But my favorite part of Appreciative Reader's comment begins with the one-sentence paragraph, It occurs to me that you may be wondering why I’m wasting so much time with you.
I really resonate with the last part of the comment. It makes so much sense, I'll repeat it here:
But I come now to the third and most important reason of all, and that is : it is important that fanatics like you are everywhere called out and held to scrutiny and even, when appropriate, to ridicule. A very large portion of the world’s misery is due to fanaticism; and if we don’t immediately step on fanaticism the moment it raises its ugly head, then we are indirectly facilitating the growth of the cancer of fanaticism.
Every time that fanatics like you open your mouth to pour invective and ridicule on other people’s sincerely held faith while at the same time blithely claiming respect for your own pet delusions, every time that fanatics like you pollute rational and courteous discourse with your malicious and discourteous proselytizing, if we can immediately and firmly call out your bullshit (even if we personally are not necessarily being targeted), then we will have contributed in some small way towards making the world a slightly saner and safer place.
Here's the full comment from Appreciative Reader.
Quote D.r : “I contradicted myself there.”
No shit you contradicted yourself there! “There", indeed! You say that as if that is the one single contradiction that you’ve made, and which single instance I now point out to you. Your contradictions, friend D.r, are truly legion! My longish comment to you, addressed to you in that other thread, was a compendium of sorts of a whole host of them. All clearly documented and clearly demonstrated.
I refer to Open Thread 11 : go back and refresh your memory if you wish by re-reading the unbelievable comments you have posted there. After reading that comment of mine (addressed to you, and posted on January 29), what you do is to abjectly, cravenly, throw your hands up in surrender, eschewing even the barest pretense of rationality, eschewing even the appearance of critical thinking ; you retreat entirely from that particular discussion without showing any signs of having even understood what was being said to you ; and you respond there, instead, with some out and out non sequiturs, plucked out of thin air.
What is one to think of someone whose comments appear practically half-witted when the discussion moves to their own faith, their own beliefs and their own irrationalities ; and who, paradoxically, suddenly turns around and writes sharp and intelligent comments, all awhirr with critical thinking, when examining the irrationalities within others’ belief systems? As has happened here again and again and again?
Take these short responses you’ve made to me, right here on this thread:
I tell you clearly in so many words that, basis your repeated protestations, I no longer think you’re trolling, that I do not, repeat DO NOT, think you’re trolling ; to which you respond by complaining that I’m trying to show you up as a troll! God above, man, can you not READ? That’s, like, textbook strawmanning!
Then you go on to say : “I don’t put down other people’s faith or experiences” -- and, amazingly, astonishingly, go on, in that very same sentence, to say “I simply point out that meditation is dangerous and leads to delusions”, by which you mean, as is clear from your other comments, you mean not to highlight dangers (real or imagined) in this endeavor, but to imply that all of those whose experiences are predicated on meditation are deluded.
It is but a short step from there to, for instance, describing Jim Sutherland as mentally deranged, and, to take another instance, to peremptorily dismissing the heart-felt and sincere personal observations of Manjit, which he was kind enough to discuss here specifically on my request.
(And here’s the thing : if some out-and-out atheist were to do this sort of thing, I’d call them plain-spoken to the point of being obnoxious, but nevertheless consistent ; and especially in a “Churchless” blog their plainspeak, although perhaps unkind, may not really be out of place ; but for someone that claims that God “touched” them, for someone who solemnly claims they’ve actually had visions of God, for such an out-and-out apparent nut job to try to so peremptorily and rudely dismiss other people’s experiences, while continuing to gibber on about their own experiences and pet beliefs, that is … well, words fail me as I look on the grotesquely unhinged mentality that can make such comments in all earnestness.)
Here’s another gem from you : ”I do put down atheists though and I don't give a crap what you or anybody else thinks about that. I have zero respect for atheism. I hope you understand.” Well, I’m afraid I myself don’t have an overabundance of respect myself for people who do not treat others with respect. Even when such disrespect is not necessarily directed at me personally. I hope you understand!
And then, finally, you round off your comment here to me with that perfectly absurd gem of a non sequitur, where you say to me “I’m still not convinced that you aren’t an atheist”. That’s breath-taking, the sheer irrelevance and absurdity of that last nonsensical non sequitur.
And in that original sentence I quoted in my first comment addressed to you here (where you say that you can tell the real from the fake, etc), while your premise itself appears to have been mined from some deep dark recess within your own physiology, nevertheless that premise is yours ; and you seem unable to comprehend that single-line premise that you yourself hold, and what that premise, coupled your well-documented past conduct on here, says about the nature of your own experience. (Hint : that word, “fake”! Per YOUR standards and basis YOUR thinking, basis YOUR premise, not mine!)
#FacePalm!# ------ How can someone be so consistently bipolar in their commenting, alternatively apparently half-witted (when talking about their own beliefs, seemingly unable to parse simple sentences) and then, next moment, suddenly all razor-sharp and rational and logical (when talking about others’ belief systems)? I’d mentioned schizophrenia only in jest in my previous comment, but perhaps you do need to go get yourself tested!
Anyway : This discussion with you, across threads, was singularly unprofitable, but at least it was, in retrospect, not without some entertainment value! God knows I’ve tried to reach out to you more than once, including right here on this thread, despite your absurd and often obnoxious commenting on here! I’ll know better henceforth than to risk my sanity by trying to engage with you any further on this subject!
It occurs to me that you may be wondering why I’m wasting so much time with you.
I was just now about to press the “Post” button, when that same question occurred to me : why, I found myself asking, have I wasted so much time thinking about you and talking of you? It’s an interesting question in itself, because I generally like to keep well away from the bickering that is so common in Internet forums. I think the answer is, apart from the entertainment (which after all is only fleeting), I think in a weird sort of way, getting to interact with you was an instructive process.
Your mind is the perfect epitome of religious fanaticism.
What passes for thought with you, where this subject is concerned, is classic : my own religious delusions are gospel truth, to be respected and revered, and anyone who doubts the authenticity of my spiritual experiences and my religious faith is wholly wrong and misguided ; and what is more, others with their own spiritual experiences and religious thoughts and beliefs are also equally misguided ; and both these categories of people are fair game for peremptory dismissal as well as unprovoked rudeness and insults.
Logical rational thought have no place where my pet delusions are concerned; and yet, where others’ cherished beliefs are concerned, logic is a sound tool, as long as it can be used to swat those beliefs down. That’s you in a nutshell, D.r, when it comes to this particular subject : fascinating, isn’t it?
Your tragedy is, you’re born in the wrong time and the wrong place. You’d fit right in, had you been born some four to five hundred years ago (or earlier). I’m sure getting to live during the Inquisition would be your idea of heaven. Had you been born in those times, you’d get to not only insult those who don’t share your delusions, you could even end up physically hurting them by snitching about them to the authorities.
Even in present times, had you been born in, say, Syria, even then you’d probably fit right in with some of the folks there (always provided your delusions were of the Islamic variety, as opposed to the Christian variety). How do you like that idea, incidentally : I may have just now charted out the perfect calling for you : as long as you’re prepared to junk your current delusions and to embrace the One True Faith (Islam) and the One True God (Allah), you can always book a one-way ticket to one of those places that you read about in the papers, and you’ll find yourself in the company of your spiritual brothers, people who think exactly like you do.
Incidentally: I’m usually a stickler about being just as courteous online as I am in real life. But being less than perfectly polite with the likes of you is fine, at least at times. Jesus may have advocated turning the other cheek : but I am personally fine with reciprocating in some measure the rudeness of those who are gratuitously contemptuous of and discourteous to others. It is as good a means as any of keeping people like you in check.
Anyway: I was talking, in the latter half of this comment, about why I’m spending so much time on you. I’ve listed two reasons already. The first was entertainment (albeit of very questionable taste). The second was instruction about how the mind of the religious fanatic works.
But I come now to the third and most important reason of all, and that is : it is important that fanatics like you are everywhere called out and held to scrutiny and even, when appropriate, to ridicule. A very large portion of the world’s misery is due to fanaticism; and if we don’t immediately step on fanaticism the moment it raises its ugly head, then we are indirectly facilitating the growth of the cancer of fanaticism.
Every time that fanatics like you open your mouth to pour invective and ridicule on other people’s sincerely held faith while at the same time blithely claiming respect for your own pet delusions, every time that fanatics like you pollute rational and courteous discourse with your malicious and discourteous proselytizing, if we can immediately and firmly call out your bullshit (even if we personally are not necessarily being targeted), then we will have contributed in some small way towards making the world a slightly saner and safer place.
The most recent issue of New Scientist has a story called "Delusional You." The online version is differently titled: Grand delusions: Why we all believe the weirdest things.
Now, most of us consider that it is other people who are deluded, and that we're an exception, being nicely connected to reality. Which, I suppose, is another delusion. Here's an excerpt from the story.
That we are all prone to delusions may not be so surprising. A range of cognitive biases makes the human mind fertile soil for growing all kinds of irrational beliefs. Confirmation bias, for example, means we ignore inconvenient facts that go against our beliefs and uncritically accept anything that supports them. Desirability bias leaves us prone to shoring up beliefs we have a vested interest in maintaining because they make us or our group look good. Clustering bias refers to our tendency to see phantom patterns in random events, impairing our ability to draw logical conclusions from the available evidence.
The New Scientist story includes the Peters Delusion Inventory, "which is the most widely used measure of delusional proneness."
I was pleased to find that I scored in the low range, having answered "yes" to only two of the 21 questions. And one of them seemed problematic to me, Do you ever feel as if some people are not what they seem to be? Yeah, I feel this often, particularly when I'm around politicians. This can be reality, not delusion.
Anyway, below is the Peters Delusion Inventory. I couldn't resist putting four decidedly religious'y questions in red, and three more spiritual/New Age'y questions in purple. This shows that religiosity, or more generally, belief in special powers, makes it more likely that someone will be delusional.
This is somewhat at odds with how the story says we should look upon delusions.
First we need to be clear about what a delusion is. "There's a loose way of talking about delusions -- like when we talk about the 'God delusion' --“ which simply means any belief that's likely to be false and is held despite lack of evidence, or even in spite of the evidence," says Lisa Bortolotti at the University of Birmingham, UK. The psychological take is more nuanced.
Delusions are still seen as irrational, but they are also idiosyncratic, meaning the belief is not widely shared. That rules out lots of things including most religious beliefs, conspiracy theories and the denial of climate change. Furthermore, the idiosyncratic nature of delusions makes them isolating and alienating in a way that believing, say, a conspiracy theory is not. Delusions also tend to be much more personal than other irrational beliefs, and they usually conform to one of a handful of themes.
Hmmmm. The way I see it, just because a delusion is widely shared doesn't make it less of a delusion. Consider the four religious'y questions in red below.
Lots of true believers do feel they are especially close to God, have been chosen by God in some way, believe in the occult, and sometimes feel they have sinned more than the average person. These aren't idiosyncratic beliefs; they rest at the heart of some major religions and mystical paths.
And the questions in purple are widely held by those who follow certain meditation practices.
In the thirteen years since I started this Church of the Churchless blog, I've seen many comments from people who believe in telepathic communication, consider that it is possible to completely stop thinking, and view thoughts as alien to the supposedly pristine "soul consciousness" that is separate from the mind.
Now, feel free to take the delusion test.
Almost everyone is vulnerable to delusions, but some of us more than others. These 21 questions constitute the Peters Delusion Inventory, which is the most widely used measure of delusion proneness. Give yourself one point for each “yes” and zero points for each “no”, then tot up your score.
1 Do you ever feel as if people seem to drop hints about you or say things with a double meaning?
2 Do you ever feel as if things in magazines or on TV were written especially for you?
3 Do you ever feel as if some people are not what they seem to be?
4 Do you ever feel as if you are being persecuted in some way?
5 Do you ever feel as if there is a conspiracy against you?
6 Do you ever feel as if you are, or destined to be someone very important?
7 Do you ever feel that you are a very special or unusual person?
8 Do you ever feel that you are especially close to God?
9 Do you ever think people can communicate telepathically?
10 Do you ever feel as if electrical devices such as computers can influence the way you think?
11 Do you ever feel as if you have been chosen by God in some way?
12 Do you believe in the power of witchcraft, voodoo or the occult?
13 Are you often worried that your partner may be unfaithful?
14 Do you ever feel that you have sinned more than the average person?
15 Do you ever feel that people look at you oddly because of your appearance?
16 Do you ever feel as if you had no thoughts in your head at all?
17 Do you ever feel as if the world is about to end?
18 Do your thoughts ever feel alien to you in some way?
19 Have your thoughts ever been so vivid that you were worried other people would hear them?
20 Do you ever feel as if your own thoughts were being echoed back to you?
21 Do you ever feel as if you are a robot or zombie without a will of your own?
0-5 You are less prone to delusions than most. Your thinking style is probably more analytical than intuitive.
6-7 Congratulations! You are normal. The average score is 6.7, with no difference between men and women.
8-21 You are more prone to delusions than most. You are likely to think intuitively and jump to conclusions.
All terrorist attacks are despicable and difficult to comprehend. But when Muslim militants killed 305 Sufis, members of their own religion whose supposed crime is viewing Islam differently -- that's freaking insane.
Back in my true believing days, before I saw the atheist light, for several years I became a huge fan of Rumi. I bought just about every English language book about Rumi and his teachings. Rumi was a Sufi. So this helps explain my outrage at the killings in the Sinai Peninsula.
Here's some excerpts from a New York Times story, "Who Are Sufi Muslims and Why Do Some Extremists Hate Them?"
Sufism is a mystical form of Islam, a school of practice that emphasizes the inward search for God and shuns materialism. It has produced some of the world’s most beloved literature, like the love poems of the 13th century Iranian jurist Rumi. Its modern-day adherents cherish tolerance and pluralism, qualities that in many religions unsettle extremists.
But Sufism, often known as Islamic mysticism, has come under violent attack in recent years. On Friday, militants stormed a Sufi mosque on the Sinai Peninsula, killing at least 305 people in what officials are calling the worst terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history. The attack followed several assaults on Sufi shrines in Pakistan over the past year carried out by Sunni extremists. (The vast majority of Sufis are Sunni, though some are Shiite.)
What is this form of Islamic belief, and why has it come under assault?
...Sufism, known as tasawwuf in the Arabic-speaking world, is a form of Islamic mysticism that emphasizes introspection and spiritual closeness with God.
While it is sometimes misunderstood as a sect of Islam, it is actually a broader style of worship that transcends sects, directing followers’ attention inward. Sufi practice focuses on the renunciation of worldly things, purification of the soul and the mystical contemplation of God’s nature. Followers try to get closer to God by seeking spiritual learning known as tariqa.
...Sufism has shaped literature and art for centuries, and is associated with many of the most resonant pieces of Islam’s “golden age,” lasting from roughly the eighth through 13th centuries, including the poetry of Rumi.
In modern times, the predominant view of Sufi Islam is one of “love, peace, tolerance,” Mr. Knysh explained, leading to this style of worship becoming synonymous with peace-loving Islam.
...The Islamic State targets Sufis because it believes that only a fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam is valid.
Some fundamentalists see the reverence for saints, which is common in Shiite Islam, as a form of idolatry, because in their view it shows devotion to something other than the worship of a singular God. Some consider Sufis to be apostate, because saints were not part of the original practice of Islam at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who died in 632.
...Imam Feisal said that attacks on Sufi worshipers, besides being a “major sin,” are the result of the politicization of religion in the region over the past few decades. Egypt, in particular, he said, is a place where that politicization has fueled extremism.
“When religion becomes politicized,” Imam Feisal said, “it is not good.”
I just finished reading a disturbing chapter in Kurt Andersen's book, "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire."
Disturbing, because in America Versus the Godless Civilized World: Why Are We So Exceptional?, Andersen presents facts about our zealous religiosity that sent chills up my atheist spine.
These facts weren't totally new to me. But they were conveyed in a way that made it clearer than ever how religiously wacko the United States is -- not only compared to other advanced countries, but even countries with a reputation for religious mania.
Here's some quotes from the chapter:
According to a Gallup Poll in 1968, only 5 percent to 14 percent of Scandinavians said they attended church every week, as opposed to 43 percent of Americans at the time. And religious commitment in most of Europe has plummeted ever since. In the U.K. in 1985, for instance, a third of people said they had no religion at all; by 2012 it was up to half.
Unlike the Earth's other moderns, we have rushed headlong back toward magic and miracles, crazifying some legacy churches, filling up the already crazy ones, inventing all kinds of crazy new ones.
The loosest measure of religiosity doesn't require any particular belief in the impossible: Does religion play a very important role in your life? is a survey question Pew asks in dozens of countries.
At the top of the rankings are African and Muslim and Latin American countries, as well as India and the Philippines -- places where between 61 percent and 97 percent of the people say religion is very important in their lives.
In the developed world, the percentages range from 11 percent in France to 33 percent in Britain -- except, of course, for the United States, where it's 59 percent, right between Turkey and Lebanon.
The results are the same again and again, no matter how or where the questions are posed.
A majority of Americans tell Pew they pray every day; in the rest of the developed world, those fractions are one-tenth or one-fifth. Elsewhere in the developed world around half the people never pray; only one in nine Americans admit they never pray.
Among the citizens of twenty-three countries surveyed in 2011 by the international research firm Ipsos, people in only three -- Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey -- believe in heaven and hell more than Americans do. Our faith in an afterlife is greater, for instance, than that of Mexicans, Brazilians, and Saudi Arabians.
While a majority of Americans think the devil is in some sense real, in nearly all other predominantly Christian countries, even the Philippines, devil believers are small minorities.
Is the Bible "the actual word of God... to be taken literally, word for word?" Although more than a quarter of Americans think so, in the rest of the rich world, the actual-word-of-God populations range from 4 percent to 10 percent.
Did God create humans in finished form at the start? Among people in thirty-four more-developed countries asked whether they accept evolution, the United States is second from the bottom, ahead only of Turkey. On a different list of two dozen countries ranked by belief in evolution, Americans' disbelief is exceeded only by that of people in South Africa, Brazil, and three Muslim countries.
Although the United States is by far the largest importer of things, we have become the world's great net exporter of fantasy. For the last century, we have created, defined, and dominated the ever-exapanding, increasingly global culture industry -- from advertising to movies to recorded music to television and digital games.
Alongside the shiny pop-cultural fantasies, we're also phenomenally successful exporters of exciting fantasy religion. The market is the Third World, and we are saturating it.
A century ago, right after Americans invented Pentecostalism, no more than one-tenth of one percent of earthlings were Pentecostals and charismatics. Today it's 10 percent, one hundred times as many, more than half a billion Christians -- including a large majority of the world's Protestants -- who believe they're routinely speaking in a mystical holy language, curing illness by laying on of hands, hearing personally from God.
...Why are we so peculiar? Why did Americans keep inventing religions and maintain so many beliefs that people in other affluent countries never took up or else abandoned?
...Most of the scholars examining this question, because they're scholars, and thus are expected to stay in their lanes and suppress tendentious speculations and hunches, exclude the X-factor, our peculiar and multifaceted American credulity that is the subject of this book.
Tocqueville's archetypal American in the 1830s stopped his frenzied making and selling to think impractical thoughts only when "his religion... bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven."
Over the next two centuries, as we ran out of New World forests and frontiers to clear and settle, as life kept getting easier (and for many of the least fortunate over the last couple of decades, gloomier), we've extended those occasional glances toward Heaven into a fixed and frenzied stare.
Like I said, this is disturbing.
Americans' credulity regarding God and all things supernatural predisposes them to also believe in other falsehoods: for example, that human-caused climate change isn't happening; that tax cuts somehow produce more revenue for the government; that homosexuality is a choice; that an embryo is a full-blown person with concomitant rights.
Religion is bad enough as it is. Adding to the badness are the side effects of religiosity caused by a propensity to elevate unfounded personal belief above demonstrable fact- and reason-based truths.
Sadly, many Americans consider our over-the-top love of religion to be something to be proud of, a faith-filled badge of honor. Actually it is an embarrassment.
To have faith, or not to have faith. This is a big question.
I was pleased to see a thoughtful comment interchange between Spence Tepper and Appreciative Reader on a recent post of mine, "The most amazing thing about religions is that everybody believes they're right."
Here's how Spence Tepper views faith: quite positively.
Posted by: Spence Tepper
And here's how Appreciative Reader views faith: mostly negatively.
Hello, Spence. I too have come across that particular argument IRL [In Real Life].
That faith is an end in itself, and that faith in the face of situations where faith appears insupportable and fantastic, is an even greater virtue than when faith is ‘easy’. Which, when you stop a minute to think about it, is a fascinating piece of sophistry (or rationalization, depending on who is making the argument, the exploiter or the exploited, the priest or the “flock”).
I realize that you made that point in a specific context, one particular example of how one does one’s best to bear with situations and circumstances that appear to be unbearable. Specifically, the death of one’s child. And perhaps no one who has not actually experienced that is really qualified to speak of it! I myself haven’t, so perhaps I amn’t qualified either, but still, to complete what I was saying:
You know, it occurs to me that to use faith to tide over such difficult times is exactly akin to using drink or even stronger narcotics to get over some difficult situation. Using narcotics works in the short run, no doubt about it. And when nothing else seems to work, using narcotics may seem like a good idea. Especially when the use of narcotics is already accepted by society.
(Here’s what I meant to convey by that last sentence: When someone is faced with some tragedy, we would probably still not support their use of hard drugs in order to cope, because the use of such drugs is not sanctioned by our society ; however, since the use of one particular narcotic, alcohol, happens to be freely accepted by our society, therefore we would probably ‘understand’ if someone who’s received difficult news turned to hard drink in order to cope.)
Thus, perhaps, with faith?
(That is, perhaps we’re pre-programmed to look at conventional faith with a benign eye, much as we do with alcohol, simply because faith in established religions is so ubiquitous, so “accepted”? We may not have been as supportive if they had turned to, say, a faith healer who took their money to perform rituals under a full moon, while assuring them that their child would be benefited and even happy in some other world as a result, or pretended to speak with their dead child’s soul in exchange for money paid, yet the solace offered and received might have been just as real, given faith.)
Using faith (faith in things that don’t exist) in order to cope, which is what you’re referring to, appears to me exactly similar to using narcotics.
Sure, it works in the short run. But, just like narcotics, it soon becomes the proverbial monkey on one’s back. For one thing, it is addictive. For another, it eventually shows negative effects that cumulatively end up far exceeding the effects of the original ill that one believed it would help assuage. Of course, when something truly horrific, like losing one’s child, befalls someone, then if they decide to turn to hard drink or to hard drugs in order to cope, perhaps we have no right to judge them.
(Not that one is ever really justified in presuming to “judge” someone else, ever, but you know what I mean.)
And who knows, perhaps some strong-willed individual may indeed end up using narcotics wisely, using it to dull the edge of their anguish in the face of unspeakable tragedy, and then after a while weaning themselves off it. If used thus, one can hardly fault them. But how many are actually that ‘wise’, and how many are able to use their particular poison (drink, or narcotics, or faith) as judiciously?
(And also: if someone were indeed that strong-willed and wise and self-controlled, might they not perhaps be able to try to cope with their misfortune without the use of narcotics in the first place?)
I realize even as I type this, now, that I’m not saying anything at all new. Still, the fact that this equating of religious faith with opiates is a cliché fully a century old, does not take away from the aptness of the comparison. Faith and religion are exactly like opiates and narcotics. Like narcotics, they do soothe and offer comfort, and that comfort may seem welcome when times are trying. But they carry their own cost. Cost to the individual, as well as cost to society as a whole.
From your many comments on this site, I do know your own personal ideas about faith (as it applies to yourself). You use faith as an instrument to aid you to “go inside” and explore, yourself, what there is to explore. I am in full agreement with that approach. That isn’t blind faith, that is only conditional trust, in fact not even that, it is merely, well, using a crutch in order to see if the crutch does help one walk better, carefully and gingerly at first, and with greater confidence as you find, first-hand, that the crutch does help to hold you up.
(And I suppose that, if you found from your personal first-hand subjective experiments that the crutch did not in fact hold you up, you’d then be open to giving it up.)
I wouldn’t argue with that kind of a watered-down version of faith (as long as that faith did not lead you to do things that are, in themselves, objectionable). As you’ve often pointed out on this site, that kind of t hing is very similar to the methods of science. But I’d say that your kind of faith is very very rare : perhaps one in a thousand … no, one in ten thousand … not even that, probably an even smaller fraction of those who have faith, actually see faith in that light, the way you see it.
For most others (including, probably, the Pentecostal Christians in your particular example, so bravely battling their horrific situation), faith equals blind faith, and is no better than some deadly narcotic that momentarily dulls the pain but can -- and often does -- end up consuming their whole life.
(Sorry, that turned out to be a very long-winded comment. Thing is, you’d made an excellent point, and my first reaction was to agree with what you’d said, about faith being ‘acceptable’ in the particular situation you spoke of. But then I thought I could see what appeared to me to be the flaw in your reasoning. Not that I’d ever presume to judge someone who tried to cope with the loss of their child in whatever way they saw fit, with drink or drugs or faith, but I’m afraid this does not really work as an argument in favor of faith per se. And I wanted to present my thoughts here, for what they’re worth, without sacrificing nuance for brevity.)
Posted by: Appreciative Reader
Religious people believe in the miraculous.
Atheist me finds a different sort of miracle embedded in religiosity: the fact that almost everyone who embraces a particular religion is highly confident, if not absolutely certain, that their particular faith is The True One.
Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and followers of many other creeds (including the Eastern mystical/spiritual teaching I followed for many years, Sant Mat) -- with just a few exceptions each devotee considers that somehow they've been fortunate enough to find the truth about an ultimate divine reality, while billions of people who believe otherwise are sadly deluded.
This makes possible the atheist saying:
“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Now, religiously-minded people might point out that in science alternative theories may compete with each other. True enough. But there are ways to determine which scientific theory is most correct.
Such doesn't exist in religion, or we wouldn't have thousands of faiths (Wikipedia says about 4,200) competing with each other for thousands of years with no demonstrable evidence of which, if any, speak the truth most truly.
-- What if you, believer, are right about there being a God but picked the wrong one?
-- What if you're right about God but picked the wrong religion to worship Him, as Muslims, Jews, and Christians mutually claim about each other?
-- What if you're right about God and your religion but wrong about which denomination, sect, or church has it right?
-- What if no demomination or person has figured it out correctly yet?
-- Can you, in your little corner of faith, in your tiny denominational box, shaded by your own personal perception, interests, likes, and dislikes, really be so sure that all of these billions of others have it wrong and that you have it right?
-- What if you are wrong about God's existence?
-- What, then, are you doing with some or much of your life?
-- How much time and effort are you wasting chasing fairy tales out of a book that is ancient literature turned social-control manual?
-- What are you doing to yourself, to your psychological well-being, when you must constantly lie to yourself about your worldview, which does not match your view of the world anywhere you look without relying on rationalizations and contortions of facts?
-- What are you ignoring or failing to learn about the world or yourself because you think you already have answers or because you want them less than your cherished beliefs?
-- What are you doing when you support inhuman social policies, hold back education, suppress healthy expressions of sexuality, oppose beneficial measures in regards to sexual health, deny others their basic human rights, curse the names and lives of your enemies or go to war with them, vote for idiotic politicians because you like their beliefs, held without evidence, enough to act without regard of their backwards ideas on key matters of policy?
-- What are you asking from those of your friends, your family, and your community who do not believe and yet are currently all but forced to listen to and to pretend to respect your religious beliefs, delusional rambling, misplaced thanksgiving, and unflattering solipsism?
-- What actions and thoughts do you deny or attempt to deny yourself on the grounds of your faith, activities and mindsets that might bring enjoyment, pleasure, meaning, or fulfillment to your life?
-- Which of those do you do anyway, needlessly hating yourself for it even while you do it?
-- What do you do only because you hope for bonus points with your imagined creator, selfishly trying to improve the chances that you will get your reward?
This isn't a big shocker, really. But it was still surprising to read that people who don't believe in God actually are more likely to hold other unfounded beliefs, like aliens visiting Earth.
So says psychologist Clay Routledge in a New York Times piece, "Don't Believe in God? Maybe You'll Try U.F.O.s."
People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.
An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.
When people are searching for meaning, their minds seem to gravitate toward thoughts of things like aliens that do not fall within our current scientific inventory of the world. Why? I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.
Well, I know quite a few atheists who don't believe in U.F.O.s or ghosts. This includes me and my wife. We get along just fine without either religion, or irrational fact-free substitutes for religion.
I'm not saying that everything we believe is true. Far from it. We simply do our best to put our faith in what is known to exist within the natural world, rather than embrace supernatural entities or far-fetched physical phenomena such as alien visitations.
I agree that we humans have a strong drive to find meaning in our lives. However, there are plenty of ways to do this other than those mentioned in in Routledge's essay.
Family. Friends. Volunteer work. Art. Civic activism. Politics. Nature. Gardening. One's profession. Writing. Meditation. To name just a few.
Routledge says we have a quest for significance. Agreed. I just disagree that believing in a religion or U.F.O's is a good way to feel that our lives have meaning. How about working to make this world a better place? Isn't that a significant thing to do?
The United States is a Fantasyland. And not just any old Fantasyland -- people in this country probably have the most fantastical beliefs of any country in the world.
This is the core message of Kurt Andersen's marvelous book, "Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire, a 500-Year History." It's more that 400 pages, but if you want a short overview, check out an Atlantic piece, "How America Lost Its Mind."
I've only read the first part of the book. But already it's offered up fresh insights into a familiar topic on this blog, the ridiculousness of giving subjective religious beliefs way more credibility than they deserve by politicians.
For some of my posts on this subject, see here, here, here, and here.
A few days ago right-wing wacko Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed federal agencies to give more credence to religious beliefs that conflict with established law. This is a totally amazing quote from his memo.
“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be accommodated in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.”
It's totally absurd for the Attorney General to say that "no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law."
As I've noted before, why should only religious faith get a free pass from United States laws?
Frequently people who drink a lot have faith that they can drive just fine. Shouldn't they be absolved from a ticket or jail time if they're caught driving drunk? What difference is there between a Holy Church of Drink All You Want Because God Loves This and another church that believes it is OK to discriminate against gays?
The above-linked article says:
“This guidance is designed to do one thing—create a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and others, sanctioned by the federal government and paid for by taxpayers,” Vanita Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, said in a statement. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, accused Trump of furthering a “cynical and hateful agenda” and said the memo “will enable systematic, government-wide discrimination that will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ people and their families.”
Here's some quotes from Kurt Andersen's Fantasyland that shed light on how the United States became such a wacked-out country, a nation that elevates unfounded personal beliefs above reasoned, factual, evidence-based conclusions.
It's really sad that we've come to the place where our Attorney General says it is absolutely fine to discriminate against someone if you have a religious belief that is OK to do this. Again, why is religious belief elevated above other sorts of beliefs? As Andersen notes below, the root of our current Fantasyland lies in Protestant beliefs from the 1500s.
But many branches have grown from this root. Like the Attorney General's memo. Andersen writes:
Why are we like this?
That's what this book will explore. The short answer is because we're Americans, because being American means we can believe any damn thing we want, that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else's, experts be damned. Once people commit to that approach, the world turns inside out, and no cause and effect connection is fixed. The credible becomes incredible and the incredible credible.
...In other words: mix epic individualism with extreme religion; mix show business with everything else; let all that steep and simmer for a few centuries; run it through the anything-goes 1960s and the Internet age; the result is the America we inhabit today, where reality and fantasy are weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled.
...Out of the new Protestant religion, a new photo-American attitude emerged during the 1500s. Millions of ordinary people decided that they, each of them, had the right to decide what was true or untrue, regardless of what fancy experts said. And furthermore, they believed, passionate fantastical belief was the key to everything. The footings for Fantasyland had been cast.
...As we let a hundred dogmatic iterations of reality bloom, the eventual result was an anything-goes relativism that extends beyond religion to almost every kind of passionate belief: if I think it's true, no matter why or how I think it's true, then it's true, and nobody can tell me otherwise.
That's the real life reductio ad absurdum of American individualism. And it would become a credo of Fantasyland.
I'm always (well, usually) glad to admit when I've been wrong about something.
So I'm pleased to say that during my true believing days, which stretched into over 30 years, I was decidedly wrong about the world's major religions having a common denominator.
Namely, an all-pervading conscious spiritual energy known in India as shabd. Various "Radha Soami" sects claim it is possible to return to God by connecting one's individual soul-consciousness with this universal divine-consciousness -- which manifests as inner sound and light.
Shabd is referring to spiritual current which can be perceived in meditation as inner light and sound. Yoga is referring to the uniting of our real essence (soul) through an inner listening with focused mental concentration (surat) upon an inner sound (shabd) which it is maintained emanates from Radhasoami the Supreme Being. It is therefore taught as the unchanging and primordial technique for uniting the soul with the supreme being via the power of Shabd.
Following the practice of meditation under the guidance of a spiritual teacher who is himself in contact with Shabd, is considered of paramount importance.
Pre-requisites for successful achievement of the meditation practice are a lacto-vegetarian diet, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, and maintaining a pure and moral lifestyle.
Now most people, religious or not, would find the description above to be at odds with the teachings of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, and even Hinduism.
To offer up some examples, Christians believe in the divinity of Christ, obviously. They don't meditate "under the guidance of a spiritual teacher" unless they're in some sort of a cult. Buddhists don't believe in a Supreme Being, nor in a soul. Islam and Judaism don't promote vegetarianism, though some members of these religions may choose to be vegetarian on their own.
And certainly adherents of the world's major religions would never go to their church, temple, mosque, or wherever and hear someone preaching the glory of shabd as the "unchanging and primordial technique for uniting the soul with the supreme being."
Yet some (and maybe all) of the Radha Soami sects claim that their "shabd yoga" spirituality is part of the core of every religion, even if this isn't widely recognized.
To which I now say, bullshit, though I used to say "so true." Radha Soami followers have to stretch religious scriptures to the breaking point to find mentions of shabd in them.
To them the Gospel of John supposedly praises shabd because of the words, "In the beginning was the Word." But "Word" is a translation of the Greek "Logos," and one would be hard-pressed to connect the Indian notion of Shabd with the Greek conception of Logos as it is used in the Bible.
In some recent comments on a Church of the Churchless post, there's a debate about the universal nature of Radha Soami teachings.
As you should be able to tell from the above, I'm in agreement with "RS Sceptic," who wrote:
The notion that SHABD is some kind of universal truth and the way of all religions is a myth propagated by radha soami. It is not true. All religions are not the same. They don't all teach shabd yoga. Once you believe this then you think sant mat is the only way and only truth. It is not. And by the way I am not saying this because I hate rssb or anything like that. It is a simple observation.
Yes, all religions are indeed not the same. And it is very rare to find any argument about this. When have you heard a Christian, say, claim that every other religion agrees with the central tenet of Christianity? This would be a ridiculous assertion.
Actually, the world's major religions revel in their differences, not their similarities. Each claims to have some special understanding of the cosmos that the others lack. So we'd have to believe that the followers of Radha Soami sects somehow comprehend other religions more accurately than members of those religions themselves.
I can't accept that. Nor can I accept that shabd is a common denominator of every religion.
I've got some semi-serious health problems. Meaning, they aren't fatal or debilitating. But they're damn annoying. The details aren't necessary to know for the purposes of this post, though I've blogged about what I'm going through here.
It's been interesting to see how my atheist mind has been dealing with the stress I've been feeling.
Back in 2006 I wrote a couple of posts on the subject of turning to God during difficult times. The first was "Atheists in foxholes do exist." It concluded with:
Religious belief or faith is almost always individualistic. That’s a paradox, considering that humility and loss of ego usually is considered to be a religious virtue. It’s self-centered to believe that a God, guru, angel, Buddha, or whoever is going to bestow upon us the blessing of a miracle that isn’t available to all.
We are special. Divinity cares more about us than others. These beliefs underlie every intercessionary prayer. For if we merely wanted God to give us what is natural, normal, lawful, and regular, we’d merely say “thy will be done” (which, in my opinion, is the best prayer—if you feel the need to pray at all).
It’s better to let reality trump belief. Focus on what is happening, not in what you hope will happen. Focus on what you can change about reality, not on what you hope a higher being will change.
Even in a foxhole. Especially in a foxhole.
And here's an excerpt from the other post, "Yes, there are agnostics in dentist's chairs."
During my devotional days I’d try to adopt the attitude that a dental visit was God’s will, part of my bad teeth karma. I’d repeat the mantra given to me by my guru and do my best to enter into a relaxed “thy will be done” attitude.
Today I felt just as calm, cool, and collected. Yet the Brian whose mouth was open for well over an hour was an agnostic, not a believer. I felt no need to lean on a higher power. Reality was my mainstay.
“What has to happen is happening,” I told myself. “Accept it.” And I did. I found that it helped to focus on my one-syllable mantra, if only to keep myself from worrying about how much decay would be found once the malfunctioning crowns/bridge were removed.
However, what I'm going through now is much tougher for me to handle than a visit to the dentist (even for a root canal).
I'll be honest and admit that Atheist Me has occasionally laid in bed at night, when I feel the most anxious, and uttered some prayers to the God I no longer believe in. I've also called upon the Indian guru I no longer believe in to make an appearance in my consciousness.
So I totally understand why believers in a divinity find comfort in feeling that their health problems have some spiritual purpose/benefit, are being overseen by a supernatural being, or will be ameliorated through the grace of a higher power.
After all, if a nonbeliever like myself is tempted to appeal to God for help, obviously religiously-inclined people are going to look upon God as the Healer of Last Resort (or first resort, since some extreme believers reject medical treatment entirely -- even for their children, which should be considered child abuse).
Here's what I've found, though.
As my favorite saying by Philip K. Dick puts it, Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
Reality is what sustains us. Reality also is what makes us suffer, pushing us down. Reality is all there really is. And that includes our thoughts, beliefs, imaginings, and such that only exist within our own minds.
Yet as Dick said, there's a difference between a reality that is only a mental belief, and a reality that continues to exist even in the absence of a belief about it.
When I'm physically hurting, that's real.
Praying to God might make me feel better about the pain, but prayer to an imaginary God isn't going to make the pain go away. More accurately, if the pain does go away, this will be due to the power of a person's mind, not the power of a supernatural being.
Thus I still use a mantra to help me get to sleep at night, and to relax during the day. But I no longer believe that the mantra has some mystical power, or is being sensed by a divine being. It makes me feel better, which is all I need.
Yes, I realize that prayer also makes religious believers feel better. That's why I said in my previous post:
Recently a couple of people have asked me, “What’s wrong with believing?” after listening to one of my rants about the power and glory of Faithlessness. It’s a question that is akin to the more basic query: “What’s wrong with feeling good?”
Because religious belief does make many people feel better. Yesterday on a cable news channel I saw an interview with a female doctor about the power of prayer. She said that she had a patient who now was almost totally paralyzed.
He told her that prayer and a belief in God’s goodness—that there was a divine reason or plan for what had happened to him—was sustaining him. Seemingly you can’t argue with that. Whatever works.
That still makes sense to me. Whatever works.
And this will be different for atheists and believers. Atheists with a health problem can derive the same comfort from a secular practice as a religious person can get from a faith-based practice.
Here's another atheist-themed letter to the editor that my wife, Laurel, has been sending in monthly to our local newspaper, the Salem Statesman Journal.
She makes some great points. Laurel's letters usually generate quite a few comments. This one has 18 so far.
Such as: "Thank you Laurel. Pompous, so-called 'Christians' make judgements that are not backed by facts. Their faith does not equal truth. Life is not black and white. We are a diverse world, so get over yourselves."
Absolutely! Read on for the letter.
In a letter by Dale Kirby, he claimed society would have less terror, corruption, hate and adultery if everyone was guided by biblical principals.
He seems to assume that all non-believers live in hate and commit the most atrocious acts.
What about the Crusades, the World Trade Center attack (9/11) , the burning of witches, the torture and killing of gays which still occurs in some countries, all due to religious beliefs?
The Bible says Jesus did not disavow the First Testament, so never rejected all the horrible inter-cultural extermination, barbaric killing of children of other tribes, slavery, and subjugation of women God encouraged.
Even the New Testament condones slavery. To truly live by “biblical principles” we would still have slavery, treat women as disposable property, and be barbaric toward those who we consider “infidels”(just like ISIS).
Although many religious people are good, moral people, they would likely be good people anyway, just like the good atheists.
We learn to be good from our families and other influences. Thank goodness for the moral advances that the rational non-believers have brought to our society: ending slavery, women’s rights, gay rights, etcetera.
Oneness has a lot of appeal.
It's simple. Nothing is simpler than one. (Well, maybe nothing is simpler, but since there is no way to know what nothing is like, since it doesn't exist, who knows?)
Also, oneness has a lot in common with love.
Love brings us together, which is a big step toward being one. Duality, on the other hand (a good phrase to use when talking about duality), posits two things that are inherently different.
Like most people, I've had the idea that Eastern forms of spirituality are more into oneness that Western forms are. The cartoon above captures the notion from a Buddhist perspective. It's difficult to imagine a Christian or Jewish version of the joke.
The Greeks were the source of Western dualism. Here's an excerpt from a book that I'm enjoying a lot, Jeremy Lent's "The Patterning Instinct."
The eternal soul, Plato explains, knew all about the immutable world of Ideas before it was incarnated. At birth, when the soul is forced to leave the world of Ideas and become fused with a mortal body, it forgets most of its previous knowledge. Thus, the goal of philosophy, in purifying the soul from the body's pollution, is not to learn new truths but to rediscover the Truth that was already known to the soul prior to its incarnation.
...Here, in Plato's cosmology, is the beginning of the cascade of dualism that would structure the European tradition of thought about the nature of humanity and the universe all the way to the present. In this constellation of ideas that would become endemic throughout Western civilization, the human capacity for abstract thought is linked with the soul, which, in turn, is linked with truth, and truth with immortality. The body, as part of the changeable material world, is associated with sensory appetite, ignorance, and death.
Soul and body. Heaven and earth. Truth and illusion. Spirit and matter. Good and evil. Eternity and time.
These are the sorts of dualisms that have split the Western mind for thousands of years. ("Mind," by the way, has largely replaced "soul" since Descartes. But many, if not most, Westerners still believe that mind has an immaterial basis, as does consciousness.)
So Eastern forms of thought and spirituality attract people who are turned off by the rigid dualism of Western religions. In my case, I embraced Indian philosophy because I believed it was markedly more into oneness than Christianity and Judaism.
Well, over the years I changed my mind.
The form of meditation I learned from an Indian guru was intensely dualistic. It was aimed at leaving behind awareness of the body and senses in order to experience a form of "soul travel" that led to knowledge of realms beyond the physical.
You can't get much more dualistic than that.
In these passages Lent explains how ancient India embraced a form of dualism that differed in some respects from that of the Greeks, but still was based on the same sorts of splits found in Christianity. After quoting from the Maitri Upanishad, he writes:
The realization of oneness in breath, mind, and the senses seems a long way from the Platonic notion of the separation of mind and body. In fact, an influential school of classical Indian thought is known as advaita, which literally means "not two" and is frequently translated as "nondualism."
Does this mean, then, that the principles of Yoga transcend the dualistic mind-body split that India civilizations inherited from its PIE [Proto-Indo-European] forebears? Further investigation shows that this is not in fact the case.
First, we need to consider what the term advaita refers to.
Is it saying that body and mind are not two, that they are really just different aspects of one entity? Not really. Its core teaching is based on the foundational idea that atman equals Brahman, that the world of maya is illusory, and that although things seem separate from each other, if you keep peeling the onion and look to the inner reality, you will see that everything is ultimately part of Brahman.
Rather than resolving the mind-body split, advaita teaches that relinquishing the body and all other conditions of existence is necessary to realize the true identity of atman and Brahman.
So if someone is looking for oneness, it won't be found in either Greek or Indian thought, which are both thoroughly dualistic.
Pleasingly -- because I'm attracted to Chinese thought, especially in the guise of Taoism (and Tai Chi, basically Taoism expressed as movement, which I've been practicing for 13 years), Lent is big on the Chinese way of looking upon the world, which he admires as being in tune with modern scientific thought and a naturalistic approach to oneness.
Here's how he concludes his chapter on "Dualism and Divinity in Ancient India."
The belief in the divinity of everything in the universe ultimately differentiates Indian thought from that of the Greeks. In Greek dualism, only humans possess the faculty of reason that enables them to achieve the lofty heights of divinity. For the Greeks, the ultimate Truth attained by reason is to be found above the world, separate from the world, in a dimension of eternal abstraction.
In the Indian cosmos, dualism took a different form: the source of meaning is both above material things and hidden deep within then, and is glimpsed by piercing through both the reasoning faculty and the senses.
While looking in different directions for the ultimate source of meaning, both traditions agree that it's not to be found in the tangible world. It is in this sense that both are dualistic.
In the next chapter, we will explore an alternative understanding of the universe. In the ancient civilization of China, untouched by the migrations of Indo-European tribespeople, an unbroken tradition evolved from shamanic roots into a cosmology that demonstrated, by its very structure, how the human quest for meaning can take an altogether different approach.
And I'd add, an exceedingly appealing approach for those, like me, who are tired of philosophies and spiritualities that divide, rather than unite, our world.
Here's another of my wife's monthly letters to the editor of the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal newspaper. Her April offering was titled "Reader prefers science over religion" on the opinion page.
As we were driving around today, talking about this and that, including the ridiculousness of religiosity, Laurel mentioned that nothing in the Bible or any other holy book has led to any new understanding of reality in the way science does all the time.
Meaning, one would think that the prophets, sages, gurus, enlightened beings, divine sons/daughters of God, or whoever would have been privy to some fact about the world unknown to the science of their time.
After all, religious believers consider that the founders of their faith understood ultimate reality in a profound way -- more completely and accurately than ordinary people. Well, if this is true, why didn't they describe some fact about the universe unknown to supposedly ignorant materialists?
Because, as my wife says below, religion is based on mere belief, while science is based on demonstrable facts about reality.
In science, we have ways of knowing when we are wrong. In religion, there is no way beliefs can be shown to be wrong.
This is because religion is a system of bias and mere belief, where you can rationalize and distort facts to come to the conclusion you want.
The more religious people are, the better they seem to be at rationalizing things away that make no sense.
Good things happen when you pray? Claim God did it. Bad things happen even though you prayed? Claim “it must have been God’s plan and better wisdom.”
Science can show that religious beliefs are wrong.
Religious people know this deep down, and this is why they so often resist science. The more science advances, the more threatened believers get because it keeps proving religious beliefs don’t make sense, are primitive or plain wrong.
There has never been a religious belief that has ever had any influence in promoting the real advancement of science. Instead, religion has impeded science.
In science, faith is a vice, since it can affect good exploration for the real facts. In religion, faith is considered a virtue but leads to false facts about reality.
We usually think that religions require people to believe in certain things. Like God, heaven, life after death. But what if religiosity is more akin to a tune you just can't get out of your head than a consciously arrived-at system of beliefs?
Memes, according to Wikipedia, are "ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme."
They propagate and evolve much like genes do: through natural selection. Here's how Wikipedia says memes operate in the area of religion.
Aaron Lynch attributed the robustness of religious memes in human culture to the fact that such memes incorporate multiple modes of meme transmission. Religious memes pass down the generations from parent to child and across a single generation through the meme-exchange of proselytism. Most people will hold the religion taught them by their parents throughout their life. Many religions feature adversarial elements, punishing apostasy, for instance, or demonizing infidels.
In Thought Contagion Lynch identifies the memes of transmission in Christianity as especially powerful in scope.
Believers view the conversion of non-believers both as a religious duty and as an act of altruism. The promise of heaven to believers and threat of hell to non-believers provide a strong incentive for members to retain their belief. Lynch asserts that belief in the Crucifixion of Jesus in Christianity amplifies each of its other replication advantages through the indebtedness believers have to their Savior for sacrifice on the cross. The image of the crucifixion recurs in religious sacraments, and the proliferation of symbols of the cross in homes and churches potently reinforces the wide array of Christian memes.
Makes sense to me.
The meme hypothesis explains why core religious beliefs almost always have a strong appeal to people. By contrast, what I like to call "real reality" has lots of nasty aspects to it.
Death. Pain. Disease. Suffering. We are born. We die. In-between life and death there's both pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, good and bad.
Such is the state of human affairs without the consolations of religion. Life after death. God's eternal love. Heavenly bliss.
It's easy to imagine how popular these notions would have been to the first Homo sapiens individuals who came up with them. And then how easily such religious memes would have found their way into other human minds. Today, get-rich-quick schemes spread like wildfire. Religious ideas would have been equally tempting to early members of our species, if not more so.
Memes don't have to be rationally (or irrationally) accepted. They're akin to viruses in that a meme can "infect" a mind without the person choosing to invite it in. People don't consciously choose to get a cold. A cold virus simply causes them to have cold symptoms.
Likewise, the meme theory of religiosity says that while religious beliefs may appear to be adopted, actually they may simply spread by virtue of their attractiveness to human minds.
Here's a short Richard Dawkins video where he talks about memes and religion.
My wife, Laurel, is on an atheist letter-to-the-editor writing mission. Every month she submits another letter to our local newspaper, the Salem (Oregon) Statesman Journal.
Here's her March letter (click on the link to read the online comments). Nicely done, Laurel.
Question those who flaunt "religious arrogance"
Could religious beliefs survive if children were not indoctrinated into religion from an early age by their families and cultures, and instead were allowed to decide whether religions make sense when they are old enough to examine the evidence and logic?
Why do almost all religious believers believe in the religion their parents or their immediate culture/community believes in, and not one of the thousands of other possible beliefs about supernatural beings?
Would religions survive if they were not systematically protected from criticism, by arrogant expectations that non-believers respect their belief and believers were not discouraged from questioning the aspects that make no sense scientifically?
It is religiously arrogant thinking that makes claims that can never be proven by science and then attempts to expect or force everyone else to comply with that interpretation of reality and what is moral.
That is exactly what the “religious right” is attempting to do in our country, even though a growing percentage (about a quarter) of our citizens no longer consider themselves religious. This is “religious arrogance.”
Some religious believers feel so sure they are right that they try to force their unfounded beliefs on others.
Last night my wife, Laurel, and I watched the first episode of the HBO series, The Young Pope. It was weirdly realistic while also being strangely fantastical. The official trailer will give you a feel for the Young Pope, masterfully played by Jude Law.
Laurel, being a retired psychotherapist, didn't have any trouble diagnosing the newly elevated Pope Pius XIII: psychopath. The Young Pope is controlling, manipulative, hypocritical, and charismatic.
In other words, he is like lots of other religious leaders in both the West and East.
They prey on the misguided faith of their followers. They profit from being viewed as God, or at least Godly, despite being thoroughly worldly beneath their well-crafted persona presented to the outside world.
There are, of course, various degrees of cultish deception.
The Young Pope pushes the limit of what could be achieved by a duplicitous leader of the Catholic Church. But when I watched this clip from a future episode, I was reminded of how closely the Young Pope's speech to his cardinals echoes themes I heard from gurus who led an Indian organization I used to belong to, Radha Soami Satsang Beas.
"Fanaticism." "Total devotion." "Blind loyalty to the imperative." "Nothing outside obedience to Pius XIII."
Coming from the lips of Jude Law/the Young Pope, these words sound sinister. However, actually they are ideals promulgated by many, if not most, fundamentalist religions.
It is only because The Young Pope shows us the inner reality of Pius XIII which belies the Catholic dogma supporting papal divinity, that we viewers are able to recognize how dangerously fake he is.
Based on my lengthy personal experience in a guru-led form of spirituality, where the Perfect Living Master was considered to be God in human form by his millions of devotees, I can confidently say that while the The Young Pope may shock followers of a liberal form of religion, the themes in this HBO series will appear quite familiar to people knowledgeable about cults led by a leader who has almost complete control.
It's going to be interesting to see how the Young Pope's relationships with Vatican insiders turn out in further episodes. In Episode 1 we got glimpses of rebellion. This makes for good television, but it doesn't fit with how Indian gurus typically are treated by their inner circle.
Faith in the guru usually is so strong -- in large part because the guru is considered to control the eternal salvation, or lack thereof, of disciples/initiates -- even those closest to him who are able to see his flaws are extremely unwilling to view those human frailties for what they are.
Rather, expressions of anger, insults, vindictiveness, lack of compassion, and the like are explained away as being "lessons," "tests," "tough love," or other rationalizations.
For example, in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas literature there is an oft-told story of a guru who ordered his disciples to dig a large hole in a field, only to fill it with dirt again. Then the disciple was supposed to repeat the process: dig a hole; fill it back up. Eventually the guru saw that only one person was still digging, as all the others had quit this difficult, meaningless task.
In a cult, that person is viewed as possessing the greatest faith and is the most beloved of the guru. But in everyday life, that person would be properly seen as the most gullible and easily manipulated by a con artist.
Rather surprisingly, The Young Pope is very popular in Italy and hasn't been criticized by Pope Francis.
In general, I take this as a good open-minded sign. But it also is possible that those who belong to a fundamentalist religion consider that displays of cult-like behavior just couldn't pertain to them -- only to those other false religions.
The title of "Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts that Will Save Us" pretty much sold me on the book. Even though the authors focus on medical myths, often the same factors that lead people to embrace health falsehoods are responsible for unfactual religious beliefs.
On page 5 we get a list of "healthcare beliefs that fly directly in the face of scientific evidence and that are supported by at least a substantial minority of people."
Now, there is positive evidence that supports a rejection of these assertions.
I disbelieved in almost all of them before I read Denying to the Grave. My eyes were opened in a few areas, notably the effectiveness of shock treatment. One of the authors, Jack Gorman, is a psychiatrist who was on the faculty of Columbia University's Department of Psychiatry for 25 years, so his assessment of the scientific evidence about ECT is highly credible.
When it comes to religiosity, though, evidence-based research is almost non-existent. After all, it is very rare for religions to make testable assertions that can be falsified through experiment or observation.
Life after death, for example, is an unfalsifiable assertion. So is the existence of God. Here's a passage from the book pertaining to this.
Any scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable. This is why the statement "There is a God" is not a scientific hypothesis because it is impossible to disprove. The goal of scientific experimentalism, therefore, is to try to disprove a hypothesis by a process that resembles experience or empirical observation.
It is this line of thinking that informs the way hypothesis testing is designed in science and statistics. We are always trying to disprove a null hypothesis, which is the hypothesis that there is in fact no finding. Therefore a scientific finding will always be a matter of rejecting the null hypothesis and never a matter of accepting the alternative hypothesis.
For example, in testing a new medication, the technical aspects of acceptable modern experimental design frame the question being asked not as "Can we prove that this new drug works?" but rather "With how much certainty can we disprove the idea that this drug does not work?"
When it comes to God and all other theorized things in the realm of the supernatural, obviously there is essentially zero evidence in support of their existence. Prayer hasn't been shown to have any effect. Specific predictions about future events don't occur outside of what would happen by guesswork alone.
Yet people still cling irrationally to religious beliefs. Denying to the Grave is filled with reasons for this. Here's a few of them.
Dislike of uncertainty. The Gormans point out that "it is simply too frightening to accept the fact that we don't know what causes something or how to cure it...How can we live with uncertainty, even when that uncertainty extends to scientists who have not -- and never will -- figure out all the answers?"
Children love to ask Why? Seeking answers is an important aspect of our humanity.
So when a religious leader claims to have answers to why the world was created, what happens after death, or what God's plan for us is, we have a natural tendency to embrace those spurious answers, even though almost certainly they aren't true, since there is no demonstrable evidence for them.
Charismatic leaders appeal to emotions. Every religion is led by charismatic individuals, usually of the male variety (even Buddhism, which has the Dalai Lama). In various ways, they appeal to our emotions. Which makes sense, because there are very little, if any, factual reasons to say YES to a religion.
Denying to the Grave says:
As we have observed many times throughout this book, people respond more to emotional anecdotes than to population-based statistics, and this is in part an adaptation that allows us to have empathy and thus form functional societies... We argued in chapter 2 that charismatic leaders are in part so successful because they appeal to people's emotions.
...In general, charismatic leaders tend to share the following common characteristics: verbal eloquence, strong communication skills, a potent sense of an "us" versus "them," and a remarkable ability to elicit strong emotions.
...All leaders must create a sense of "us," but what is perhaps unique about the charismatic leader is that he or she not only creates a much stronger sense of an enemy "them" than any other type of leader but also formulates a sense of "us" that can be so potent it operates to the exclusion of other identities.
That is, the group's "us" becomes so strong that people in the group feel an allegiance to the group identity above all other aspects of their identities. This is especially true in cults, and we will examine whether some of this strong "us" branding has occurred in some of the health denialist movements under examination in this book.
People have trouble changing their minds. We dislike uncertainty. We're prone to accept emotional assertions by charismatic leaders, even if they don't have any factual basis. We enjoy feeling like we're part of a group that knows more than other groups, whether or not this is true.
Thus for these and other reasons, it is difficult for people to change their minds. The book says:
We set up beliefs that suit us, and then our brains work very hard to make sure we can resist anything that seems to challenge those beliefs.
Such is the power of cognitive dissonance.
It turns out that we are extremely resistant to changing our minds. We are reluctant to unlearn lessons we've learned and integrated. When we are confronted with information that conflicts with what we already believe, we experience cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is extremely uncomfortable, and we do everything we can to dispel it. This is how people convince themselves that smoking is safe, that they do not need to eat vegetables, and that repeatedly skipping trips to the gym will not make a difference in their weight or health.
Or, that believing in the tenets of a religion will lead to eternal life in a heavenly realm.
Today our local newspaper, the Salem Statesman Journal, published my wife's "Good Without God" letter to the editor. Naturally I feel that Laurel makes a lot of sense, fellow scientifically-minded atheist that she is.
After her letter, I'll share the earlier letter from Dale Kirby that stimulated Laurel's response. Another person, Larry Nelson, also took issue with Kirby. I've shared his letter as well.
I can't resist adding comments on my own, in red. First, here's my wife's letter.
Dale Kirby’s Nov. 30 letter claimed there is a “war” against religious freedom in our country.
Naturally, there isn't. Unless you believe everything Fox News says. (A big mistake.)
The facts are, that until the 1950s, there was no God in the Pledge of Allegiance. “In God We Trust” was not on paper money until 1957. E pluribus unum (“Out of many, one”) was the original U.S. motto from the Great Seal of the United States.
Ah, the good old days before right-wing religious wackos started becoming more politically active.
It is the more scientifically-minded, non-religious people in the U.S. who are discriminated against. The religious people force their superstitious beliefs (which have no real basis in reality) on us. The percent of population with no religion is growing, yet Pence and Trump, etc., are trying to change laws that uphold the constitutional separation of church and state.
Amen to that.
Religious politicians seem to be at war with science. Religious believers long ago fought scientific findings that the earth was round and revolved around the sun (versus flat with the sun and heaven above it). Now the science of human-caused climate change is being rejected.
"Seem" is being too generous. Republican politicians are definitely pushing their religious zealotry on the rest of us. They reject truth and embrace falsehoods. Reality is too valuable a thing to waste to allow this to happen.
The earth is at risk.
For sure. Human-caused global warming is real.
It will not be God ending the world, but people with superstitious beliefs, rejecting science until it is too late.
Yes. Religious superstitions are a huge threat to humanity. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, even Buddhism. When people forsake "what is" for "what we imagine to be," bad stuff follows. Reality kicks our butt when its truths aren't respected.
Here's the letter that got my wife's atheist indignation aroused. Along with my comments.
America’s military is fighting against terrorism. Another war is being waged by dark forces against our nation’s religious freedom.
Huh? I haven't seen any signs of that war.
The freedoms of speech, religion and assembly are all bound together. Destroying any one of these inhibits the others and threatens three of the most needed and valued constitutional guarantees.
Well, again I assert there's no indication that religious believers are being stopped from saying whatever they want, worshipping however they want, or assembling however they want.
Destruction of religious freedom would destroy the God-given right to pursue a life of liberty and happiness, since religion is the source of happiness for millions of America’s most upright citizens.
Um, I'd substitute uptight for upright, Dale. Also, heroin in all its various forms (such as Oxycontin) also is a source of happiness for millions of people. Just because something makes people happy doesn't make it safe or desirable.
Those who seek to limit freedom of religion expect people of faith to accept their godless way of life. We see today in the U.S.A. the results of godlessness in lawlessness, abortions and adultery. Do we really want an irreligious nation?
YES! I'm pretty sure the most religious states have the highest crime rates. Same with nations: godless countries like Japan and the Scandinavian nations are both happy and lawabiding.
The destruction of religious freedom takes away the correct care of the poor, the orphans and the homeless. It would extract the badly-needed thousands of hours of service given by the helping hands of those of faith in times of disasters and calamities.
Non-believers are equally committed to volunteerism and charity. Get real.
I believe everyone should have the privilege to worship a deity of his or her choice. It is a God-given right to worship who or where we may. The lives of honorable religious citizens are the backbone of our nation.
I agree with your first two sentences, Dale, but not the last one. Religious people aren't any more moral, upstanding, and generous than atheists. If anything, they're less so, because religiosity and judgementalism go hand in hand.
Dale Z. Kirby
Lastly, here's the other response to Kirby.
In his Nov. 30 letter, Dale Kirby writes that “war is being waged by dark forces against our nation’s religious freedom.”
I wish I knew what he means, since, as it appears to me, no nation on earth exceeds the U.S. in the vibrancy of its religious communities and the scope of its guarantees of religious freedom.
Mr. Kirby is free to worship as he likes, whenever and wherever he likes, as long as his practices don’t break the law or infringe on the civil liberties of others.
In the 1860s, many religious people used the Bible to defend the practice of slavery. Is this the type of religious “freedom” Mr. Kirby longs for? The type that would allow any practice he believes his Bible supports, regardless of the rights and beliefs of others?
Probably. Lots of religious people want to be able to discriminate against the LBGTQ community, take away a woman's right to choose to have an abortion, and even restrict access to birth control. Basically, the Dark Ages are the Good Old Days for many of today's Christians. Bring back the Inquisition!
What about people like me? I’m a law abiding, conscientious citizen who happens not to believe in Mr. Kirby’s religion. Should I have fewer rights than a religious person?
No. The law should be blind to religion. Which means, no religious "conscience" exemptions. It's ridiculous when a religious believer gets away with breaking the law or not adhering to a regulation because he or she believes in a superstition.
Those of us who disagree with Mr. Kirby are not “dark forces.” As a nation, we are all better off when people are free to believe as individuals as their consciences dictate, as long as we show respect for the rights of people of other religions or no religion.
Well said, Larry.
Larry R. Nelson
It's a pleasure to share a churchless opinion piece by my wife, Laurel. It was published yesterday in our town's alternative paper, Salem Weekly.
Laurel was impelled to write this after going into the belly of the beast -- attending a large Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) religious rally at the state capitol grounds here in Salem.
Government shouldn't be guided by irrational concepts
by Laurel Hines
Recently evangelist Franklin Graham visited Salem to urge Christians to vote their “Christian values.” But does basing government on religious beliefs supported by a book written in pre-modern times make sense?
The Bible condones slavery and raiding other tribes, killing their children, raping their women. The Bible contains no modern knowledge about disease, the universe, or the world. Instead, it is based on the culture and knowledge of those who wrote it long ago. Further, Bible stories were re-told and re-translated many times.
None of the miraculous claims in the Bible holdup to modern scientific or anthropological scrutiny. Noah’s Ark is just one example.
Wouldn’t it be better to vote for policies that make sense for a modern world, based on critical thinking and current scientific knowledge, founded on evidence and not mere hopeful or fear-based religious belief?
Most Americans think Muslims are archaic for wanting to use Sharia law based on the Koran in governmental policies. But isn’t basing law on Christian beliefs the same?
Just because many people share a belief, doesn’t make it true. Most once wrongly believed that the earth was flat and the center of the universe.
Shared religious belief often causes clouding of critical thinking and over-stimulation of emotional brain centers. People grasp onto faith-based tenets of a religion while ignoring the fact that these aren’t based on any demonstrable evidence.
Some think religion is needed for morals, but why do predominantly atheist countries have the lowest crime rates (Japan, for example), and many mostly non-believing countries have the highest happiness index?
As a mental health therapist, I helped people examine irrational thinking patterns that moved them to anger, resentment, fears, anxiety, and depression. I helped them think more critically about wrongly-held assumptions that made no rational sense and impaired their functioning.
We all hold onto irrational beliefs at some time. Most of us believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as children. Luckily, we evolved into critical thinking about those beliefs, but usually fail to examine the religious ones we are programmed to accept and taught not to doubt.
Our country was established as a secular nation, not a theocracy. There is supposed to be separation of church and state. Critical thinking, reason, humane treatment of all, and the greater good are better guides on how to vote than religious belief.
So I ask the Christians who flocked to hear Franklin Graham:
Do you think critically for yourself or blindly accept how your religious leaders tell you to vote? Certainty in one’s morals and beliefs can lead to problems in societies; doubt can be healthy and promote wise consideration of alternative understandings.
Perhaps judging less, learning more, and voting based on critical thinking, fairness, science, and reason would lead to a better government and society.
Do you allow yourself to doubt parts of your religious beliefs that seem absurd, or do you have a thinking blind spot when it comes to your chosen faith?
Over on my other blog, HinesSight, I've talked about how tough it is to figure out how to stop more mass shootings in this gun-crazed natiom.
The main problem is that the United States has both way more guns than any other industrialized country, and also way more gun deaths. While it's obvious that the two are connected -- more guns means more gun deaths -- it won't be possible to make those guns disappear.
Religion seemingly also played a role in Omar Mateen's attack on a gay nightclub. He pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 phone call in the midst of the attack. ISIS is known for killing suspected homosexuals because of their twisted view of Islam.
But if there is a clear link between the attack in Orlando and the Islamic State, it would be the most high-profile incident yet in the group's wider, relentless campaign against gays. Ever since the group came to prominence amid security vacuums in Iraq and Syria, it has set about persecuting religious minorities, women and others whose identity and lifestyle are anathema to its puritanical creed. In areas under the control of the Islamic State, its fighters have issued edicts against homosexual behavior and flashy hairstyles and promised death for anyone caught in the act of sodomy.
Christianity, though, also has played a big part in the persecution of the LBGTQ community. Christians haven't been throwing gays off of tall buildings (as ISIS has done), but many of them believe that homosexuality is against God's law.
Vox has an interesting recent piece, "LGBTQ religion activist: it's time to talk about America's faith-based homophobia problem."
As with every mass shooting before it, politicians are responding to Sunday morning’s massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando by extending their "thoughts and prayers" to the families of the 49 victims who lost their lives.
But what does it mean for politicians to offer their thoughts and prayers to a marginalized community they’ve prayed against?
"I find it so ironic when the same Christian leaders who put in the most footwork in oppressing us in this space try to use this tragedy as a talking point for their Islamophobia," Faith in America executive director Eliel Cruz told me in an interview Monday.
The Pulse shooting was a direct attack on Orlando’s LGBTQ community, which is consistently targeted by some politicians of faith who claim religious freedom when writing, lobbying for, and passing anti-LGBTQ laws.
The shooter, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, has been identified as an Islamist extremist. And while politicians may pair his homophobia with his religious beliefs as a Muslim, faith-based homophobia is an all-too-familiar American tradition.
Cruz’s nonprofit organization for LGBTQ people of faith and allies aims to counter religion-based bigotry head on. Cruz weighed in on why the shooting in Orlando serves as a sobering reminder that people choosing to use religion to oppress people, regardless of one’s particular faith practice, can lead to deadly consequences.
Here's another connection I see between religion and the reaction of Americans to mass shootings: many people believe that "thoughts and prayers" actually do something.
At least, those thoughts and prayers don't do anything for the victims of a mass shooting, nor do they do anything to help prevent another attack. However, thoughts and prayers can make people feel better, especially if they're part of a ritual or gathering of like-minded people.
Otherwise, they're useless.
There's no evidence that God exists, so a non-existent God isn't going to respond to prayers. There's also no evidence of life after death, so now non-existent people killed in a mass shooting aren't going to be aware of thoughts. (Nor would they be even while alive, unless the thoughts were communicated directly them in speech, writing, or whatever.)
I strongly suspect that given how religious most people in the United States are, this religiosity plays a role in our continued inability to do much to combat gun violence. Consciously or unconsciously, those who believe in God and an afterlife don't think that someone killed by a gun is dead and gone forever.
Rather, they're dead and gone somewhere else. Heaven is the most common hypothesis. Or rebirth here on Earth, if the religious believer accepts reincarnation.
We hear this all the time from relatives of people who have died unexpectedly. "I miss her so much, but I know she's in a better place now."
I can understand how comforting it is to feel that way.
But I'm convinced that this attitude plays a role in our reluctance to do something concrete and realistic to reduce the very high number of gun deaths in the United States. If someone believes, as I do, that this is our one and only life, then life becomes exceedingly precious.
Cutting lives short, as happened in the deaths of the 49 people who were killed in the Orlando shootings, then can be seen as even more outrageous. There is no consolation in an afterlife, no hope of being reunited with a deceased loved one, no imagining that the soul of the departed is now in a "better place."
So religion plays a role in the persecution of members of the LGBTQ community, 49 of whom died in Orlando. It also arguably plays a role in our inability and unwillingness to tackle head-on the problem of mass shootings in this country -- because believing that a dead person is now in heaven diminishes the urgency of making this world as heavenly as possible.
Trae Crowder is a comedian who says some damn funny stuff in his "Liberal Redneck" You Tube videos. But his mocking has a serious side to it, because often he's making fun of small-minded dogmatic religious believers.
Here's four short Liberal Redneck videos that I liked a lot.
Being familiar with a southern accent, United States style, I had no problem understanding Crowder. Other English speakers might have some difficulty grasping what he's saying.
Even if you don't get every word, though, give him a watch. This Liberal Redneck has an engaging style and outlook on life.
Yesterday my wife, Laurel, and I made a non-religious pilgrimage northward up I-5, where we (and three other faithless Salem friends) took part in the first-ever Portland Atheist Festival.
Laurel volunteered to walk around with an "Atheists rock!!" sign and handouts. Which, not surprisingly, she handed out to people who wandered over to check out the booths in downtown Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square.
This video shows Laurel taking part in a "coming out" feature of the festival, as described in an Oregonian story, "Upcoming Atheist Festival hopes to coax non-believers out of the closet."
This Thursday, one person after another will step up to a microphone in Pioneer Courthouse Square to boldly tell the city what he or she believes.
Or doesn't believe.
It is, after all, an event for atheists, agnostics, secular humanists and freethinkers.
I did my own "coming out" thing on stage. However, since I shamelessly used the microphone to plug this blog that I started in 2004, my deep skepticism toward religion wasn't exactly a revelation.
Best I can remember, this is the gist of what I said:
Religions come in both Western and Eastern varieties.
Back in 1970, it was the time of the Beatles/Maharishi, psychedelics, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Timothy Leary, sex, drugs, rock and roll. Like so many others I wanted more reality, more life, more living.
So I was attracted to an Indian guru who promised that with several hours of meditation a day, I and other disciples could experience higher regions of reality. We could leave this world behind and soar with our astral self, causal self, soul self.
I ended up writing several books for the guru's organization. I gave talks about the teachings. In most of the talks, I'd quote Philip K. Dick, a science fiction author: Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
But often when I'd mention in a talk that I hadn't yet experienced those higher regions of reality -- cosmic light and sound -- sone fellow disciples would come up to me afterward and say, "Thank you for saying what you said. I thought I was the only one who wasn't experiencing those things."
It turned out that, so far as I could tell, nobody was.
So it began to dawn on me that when I and others stopped believing in the guru's teachings, when we stopped thinking about them, the supposed Extra Reality of which those teachings spoke did indeed go away.
Thus the hours I was spending each day in a dark room, meditating, actually was taking me away from reality -- the reality of this world, the only evident reality there is.
Now, I still meditate. Just for twenty minutes a day or so, though. And I don't try to escape from this world to some supernatural realm. Rather, I focus mindfully on my breathing and whatever else I'm aware of in my surroundings.
Reality is a terrible thing to waste. Embrace science and this physical world, not religion.
Here's a few more photos from the Atheist Festival (and the surrounding area):
I felt ever so comfortable after I entered the Cathedral, joining others who enjoy worshipping at the altar of all things Apple. Who needs the promise of God when, seemingly, an upgraded MacBook Pro lineup is supposed to be announced next month?
In it she plugs the May 26 Portland Atheist Festival. Laurel and I are signed up to be some of the people who will speak for two minutes about why they're proud to be atheists.
Non-Believers Come Out of the Closet
by Laurel Hines
If you are one of the ever-growing numbers of people who don’t believe in a religion, you are “a-theist” (not part of a religion). If you don’t like the religious dogma that Ted Cruz and others hope to inflict on the nation, you must come out of the closet and declare your “a-theism”. If it worries you when legislators make policies based on religion instead of modern science, you must come out of the closet and declare yourself as “a-theist”!
A Pew Research survey recently found that 23 percent of the U. S. population is nonaffiliated, and a third of Millennials identify now as non-religious. Yet few are willing to declare themselves as atheist or even agnostic (uncertain about God’s existence). Yet politicians will continue to ignore secular Americans until they are convinced that there is a price to be paid for doing so.
The Catholic, Evangelical, and other religious lobbies, meanwhile, have significant influence in our government. The non-believers avoid the atheist label because of the tendency of people to assume only the religious are moral and good people. Yet those of us who are atheist/non-believers know that is hog-wash, and that actually the opposite is true ( atheists are under represented in prisons; some churches are awash in child molesters in the clergy).
Morals are inherent in social beings, and religion is not necessary for moral behavior.
Secular non-believers need to assert that our numbers are growing and significant, and that we vote. But it takes joiners to create a lobby!
Freedom of conscience for all – which exists only in secular democracies- should be a top concern for the non-religious.
Unless we non-believers accept a label and unite under a label, and join organizations that take action by fighting to keep our government secular (like Atheists of America or Freedom From Religion), we face legislation based on religious morals and beliefs, and not science, reason, or facts.
On Thursday, May 26th, from 11 AM to 2 PM, the first ever Portland Atheist Festival will be held in Pioneer Courthouse Square (https://www.facebook.com/portlandatheistfestival/). Come and meet an atheist, or come and declare your atheism! We need to come out of the closet and show the world who we really are. The success of LGBTs in the past couple years shows that coming out of the closet and demanding to be heard can create major change for oppressed groups. Atheists are oppressed because we don’t declare ourselves and we don’t unite.
So let’s do it! Come to the Atheist Festival May 26th.
Laurel Hines is a retired clinical social worker/psychotherapist. She now volunteers at Willamette Humane Society, is an active animal advocate, and champions reality that can be supported by science and reason. She is part of a growing group of Salem Freethinking Atheists.
We've all heard lofty sounding spiritual phrases that initially seem like they mean something, but on further reflection are recognized as empty words.
In one of his Scientific American Skeptic pieces, "The True Meaning of BS," Michael Shermer uses Deepak Chopra as an example.
Example: “Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.” This is an actual tweet composed by Deepak Chopra, as quoted by University of Waterloo psychologist Gordon Pennycook and his colleagues in a paper published in the November 2015 issue ofJudgment and Decision Making.
The scientists set out to determine “the factors that predispose one to become or to resist becoming” a victim of what they called “pseudo-profound” BS, or language “constructed to impress upon the reader some sense of profundity at the expense of a clear exposition of meaning or truth.”
I was cited in the paper for describing Chopra's language as “woo-woo nonsense.”
For instance, in a 2010 debate we had at the California Institute of Technology that was televised on ABC's Nightline, in the audience Q&A (http://bit.ly/1PQqk6s), Chopra defines consciousness as “a superposition of possibilities,” to which physicist Leonard Mlodinow replies: “I know what each of those words mean. I still don't think I know….”
The entire essay is well worth reading.
Download The True Meaning of BS - Scientific American
Since I also can't understand what “Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation" means on any level besides the obvious superficial one (to type that sentence, I needed to intend to do so while paying attention to where my fingers are on the keyboard of my laptop), this additional quote from the essay made me feel good.
In four studies on more than 800 subjects, the authors found that the higher the intelligence and analyticity of subjects, the less likely they were to rate such statements as profound. Conversely, and revealingly, they concluded that those most receptive to pseudo-profound BS are also more prone to “conspiratorial ideation, are more likely to hold religious and paranormal beliefs, and are more likely to endorse complementary and alternative medicine.”
Not everything that is said refers to something that is true. Words can be empty of meaning beyond the mind of an individual who considers them meaningful.
Religions thrive on this: getting believers to accept that words in a holy book, or uttered by a holy person, point to an objective actually-existent divine reality.
In his book, "Failure: Why Science is So Successful," Stuart Firestein says:
If science is to produce something more than trivial knowledge it must be hard, it must be susceptible to what the late philosopher John Haugeland called the collision between the theoretical and the empirical -- what we thought to be the case and what the experiments indicate is in fact the case.
...T.H. Huxley famously quipped that there is nothing so tragic in science as the slaying of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact.
Well, the same is true of beautiful spiritual words. If they don't point to a demonstrable fact about reality, they're attractive to hear but useless as a guide to living.
Great timing, Steve. Your comment today on my "Why 'man of faith' is an insult" post came soon after I'd come across a perfect reply. But first, the comment:
Brian, thank you for taking a moment to respond to my post. I understand and agree with both of your references (although I have a special affinity for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream).
Still, I'd like to understand your perspective on faith just a bit more. You indicate that neither of your examples require religious faith, and I agree with that premise.
My question is this (and expanding upon your examples just a bit): Do self-discoveries based upon personal experience ("I like vanilla ice cream") and scientific discoveries based upon proven methods of objective analysis (evolution, gravity, physics, chemistry, medicine, etc.) negate faith?
Steve referred to my comment-reply to his previous comment-question, "Are you a person of beliefs or a person of opinions?"
Steve, we all believe in some things that are only subjectively true. Like, I believe that I like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate, based on a lot of previous personal experience.
I also aspire to believing in objective truths, such as those known to science. Like, a big bang brought the universe into being 13.7 billion years ago, and evolution has guided life on Earth.
Neither of these sorts of beliefs requires religious faith. Hopes this points at an answer to your question.
So, yes, I do consider that both self-discoveries based on personal experience and scientific discoveries based on methods of objective analysis negate faith. More exactly, "faith" as it is used in personal experience and science is very different from how this word is used in a religious context.
Jerry Coyne, a biology professor who runs the marvelous Why Evolution is True blog, is able to explain this much better than I can.
Check out his recent post that I noticed a few days ago, "Another misguided believer claims that science is based on faith." Here's how it starts out.
I guess it was too much for me to hope that my 2013 Slate essay, “No faith in science,” would once and for all dispel the claim that science is just like religion in depending on faith. My point was simple: what “faith” means in science is “confidence based on experience,” while the same term in religion means “belief without enough evidence to convince most rational people.”
It’s the same word, but with two different meanings. Yet religious people mix up those meanings regularly—and, I expect, deliberately. I wish they’d read my goddam essay.
So someone’s done it again: Matt Emerson, a Catholic whose blog says, “I teach theology and direct the advancement office at Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA.” He’s also written the book Why Faith? A Journey of Discovery, to be published by Paulist Press this May; it apparently aims to help people maintain and understand faith.
At any rate, Emerson published a short essay in the March 3 Wall Street Journal—”At its heart, science is faith-based too“—that, as usual, conflates the meaning of “faith” as applied to science (but we scientists avoid that word!) versus as applied to religion. Rather than go into detail, I’d recommend you read my Slate piece, and Emerson should have, too!
This got me to read Coyne's Slate "No Faith in Science" essay. It demolishes the argument that "faith" in science, or everyday life, is anything like religious faith. Here's the first part of the piece:
A common tactic of those who claim that science and religion are compatible is to argue that science, like religion, rests on faith: faith in the accuracy of what we observe, in the laws of nature, or in the value of reason.
Daniel Sarewitz, director of a science policy center at Arizona State University and an occasional Slate contributor, wrote this about the Higgs boson in the pages of Nature, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals: “For those who cannot follow the mathematics, belief in the Higgs is an act of faith, not of rationality.”
Such statements imply that science and religion are not that different because both seek the truth and use faith to find it. Indeed, science is often described as a kind of religion.
But that’s wrong, for the “faith” we have in science is completely different from the faith believers have in God and the dogmas of their creed. To see this, consider the following four statements:
“I have faith that, because I accept Jesus as my personal savior, I will join my friends and family in Heaven.”
“My faith tells me that the Messiah has not yet come, but will someday.”
“I have strep throat, but I have faith that this penicillin will clear it up.”
“I have faith that when I martyr myself for Allah, I will receive 72 virgins in Paradise.”
All of these use the word faith, but one uses it differently. The three religious claims (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, respectively) represent faith as defined by philosopher Walter Kaufmann: “intense, usually confident, belief that is not based on evidence sufficient to command assent from every reasonable person.”
Indeed, there is no evidence beyond revelation, authority, and scripture to support the religious claims above, and most of the world’s believers would reject at least one of them. To state it bluntly, such faith involves pretending to know things you don’t. Behind it is wish-thinking, as clearly expressed in Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
In contrast, the third statement relies on evidence: penicillin almost invariably kills streptococcus bacteria. In such cases the word faith doesn’t mean “belief without good evidence,” but “confidence derived from scientific tests and repeated, documented experience.”
You have faith (i.e., confidence) that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has, and there’s no evidence that the Earth has stopped rotating or the sun has burnt out. You have faith in your doctor because, presumably, she has treated you and others successfully, and you know that what she prescribes is tested scientifically. You wouldn’t go to a shaman or a spiritual healer for strep throat—unless you want to waste your money.
After reading Steven Pinker's book, "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined," my thoroughly atheist wife recently was moved to write a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, the Salem Statesman Journal.
The claim that the 20th century was the most violent is not true.
Most other scientific information shows that although the two world wars killed large numbers of humans, in terms of numbers of humans killed versus world populations at the time, this was actually mild compared with killings by Genghis Khan and others eons ago.
Historic facts now known demonstrate that the more secular and educated societies have become, the less violent they become. Humans today are statistically far less likely to die from violence than in any other time in history. In fact, we are becoming more moral in general as time goes on (speaking statistically).
Religion is not at all necessary for a moral society. Studies on very young babies have proved that we are born with a sense of morality that emerges very early before almost any learning. This can be later distorted by life experiences, brain injury, social influences, etc.
We evolved to be moral because we are social animals. We are inherently “good without God.” In fact, religion can be divisive and judgmental and has spurred much violence and cruelty.
Our forefathers were wise in creating a secular democracy.
Here's some quotes from "The Better Angels of Our Nature" that back up Laurel's points. The less religion there is in the world, the safer and more moral it is.
“Challenge a person's beliefs, and you challenge his dignity, standing, and power. And when those beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile. No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad.
When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them--or worse, who credibly rebut them--they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.”
“Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition.
A connected and educated populace, at least in aggregate and over the long run, is bound to be disabused of poisonous beliefs, such as that members of other races and ethnicities are innately avaricious or perfidious; that economic and military misfortunes are caused by the treachery of ethnic minorities; that women don't mind to be raped; that children must be beaten to be socialized; that people choose to be homosexual as part of a morally degenerate lifestyle; that animals are incapable of feeling pain.
The recent debunking of beliefs that invite or tolerate violence call to mind Voltaire's quip that those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”
“The theory that religion is a force for peace, often heard among the religious right and its allies today, does not fit the facts of history.”
Below is a video of Pinker discussing the theme of his book several years before it was published. Have a look, even if you only watch five or ten minutes of the 21-minute TED Talk.
Pinker persuasively argues that the Age of Reason -- 16th century onward -- has led to declines in violence. Yes, this goes against many peoples' intuitions, given the horrors of two world wars in the last century.
But religions also are intuitively appealing. Which goes to show, our intuitions often are wrong.
So, I was browsing through the Sunday Oregonian a little while ago and came across a story about how recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered as a "man of faith" at his funeral.
This is a similar story I found on Google News, "Justice Scalia eulogized at funeral Mass as man of faith and man of law."
Forever combative about the law, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered Saturday as a man whose deeply held religious faith brought him peace.
Rather than a star-studded funeral service featuring judges and politicians, Scalia’s sendoff at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception — the largest Roman Catholic church in North America — was a traditional Mass of Christian Burial befitting a true believer.
The way I see it, this term, man of faith, isn't a compliment. It's an insult.
I'd like to be known as a man of reason, science, reality, and truth. There's nothing complimentary about embracing faith. Google tells me it means:
1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
So a man or woman of faith is someone who believes in something 100%, completely, without proof that the belief is correct.
How is this admirable?
Hitler had such faith. So did Stalin. Ditto for everyone who believes that they have an understanding of reality that is impervious to debate, discussion, deliberation, or modification.
Scalia may have been a wonderful person otherwise. But his unduly confident religious faith, along with his equally questionable views of the Constitution, did a lot of harm to our nation. I talked about this in "An atheist Supreme Court justice would be great for this country."
Hopefully over time more and more people will react to being called a man/woman of faith with "Hey, those are fighting words. You're wrong. I'm proudly faithless."
If you disagree, tell me why it is good to have complete trust or confidence in someone or something, or to believe without proof that a belief is correct.
Even scientists who study the seemingly immutable laws of nature are open to their understandings of those laws being wrong, capable of modification, improved. Reality is never known for certain. No matter how well we believe we know something or someone, that knowledge is provisional.
Or at least, it should be. A true believer like Scalia is dangerous, because their mind is closed off to a fuller understanding of truth. That's why a "man of faith" shouldn't be emulated.
There's high drama playing out here in Oregon right now.
Four remaining armed militant militia members (is there any other kind?) who have taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County are now surrounded by the FBI, who apparently have moved in to within 50 feet of them with armored vehicles.
The Oregonian newspaper has a story on this, which includes an embedded You Tube live audio feed of the militants talking among themselves, and to some supporters who currently are driving to the refuge from Portland.
The militants see themselves as Christians standing up for their twisted version of the United States Constitution. They're crazy people who have precisely zero understanding of how wacko they are.
I'm both fascinated and appalled by this drama. I can listen to the live audio for a few minutes, then find the militants and the Nevada legislator (Michele Fiore) so irritating, I have to turn off their idiotic conversation for a while.
They do a lot of praying. Believe me, a lot.
They believe that God is on their side, and the FBI law enforcement officers are evil. This is a great example of how religion can make stupid people even more stupid, and dangerous people even more dangerous.
Here's what I said in a Facebook post not long ago:
Yes, I'll admit that the live audio feed of the militants talking their crazy talk is gripping. (Available on the Oregonian web site and many other places.) But I can only take so much of their crap before I have to turn it off for a while.
These idiots do a lot of praying to their imaginary God. If anyone wants a good reason not to be religious, just listen to the absurd blathering of the Nevada legislator (Fiore) and Franklin Graham, I believe it was.
They actually believe that the FBI agents, who have been amazingly restrained during the illegal takeover of the refuge, are evil. Along with, apparently, all other government officials. Well, as an atheist I've been doing my own form of "praying." It just isn't to any God.
"I hope these fools don't cause themselves to be shot, and they decide to surrender peacefully, then spend time in jail for the crimes they've committed. But if anything goes wrong, it clearly won't be the fault of the FBI, as anyone who listens to the rants of the militants fully understands.
So thank you, militants, for making a couple of things crystal clear. Anybody who believes in their twisted view of the Constitution doesn't deserve to be taken seriously. Their demands to have federal land turned over to private ownership also can never be taken seriously. And anyone who prays to God while surrounded by the FBI because they're armed and doing something illegal shows up the ridiculousness of religion."
After getting a few supportive comments, I added this:
I don't know very many deeply religious people. But if any read this comment, I'm curious if you true believers think it makes sense to pray repeatedly to God when surrounded by the FBI because you're armed and have broken numerous laws, including threatening violence against law enforcement officers. Is that what your God wants, or do you agree with me that this sort of religious crap is ridiculous?
My wife, who in some ways has become even more fervently churchless than I am, was the one who recommended David Silverman's book to me.
"Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World" takes no prisoners.
After reading the first few chapters, I can tell that Silverman makes other anti-religion writers like Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens look like comparative pussies.
In the book's introduction, he says:
But religion is not just incorrect, it is malevolent.
It ruins lives, splits families, and justifies hatred and bigotry, all while claiming to be the source of morality. People die and suffer needlessly because of religion; such a waste.
...Some (too many?) people call me a dick because I challenge the absurd notion that religion deserves respect by default. But religion is wrong for demanding respect simply for being, and even more wrong for demanding never to be questioned.
Indeed, it is my duty as an American, as an atheist, and as a nice person to do what I can to take religion down -- not by force, not by law, but by truth.
And the truth is quite simple: all religions are lies, and all believers are victims.
Silverman takes it from there in the rest of the book, building argument after argument in favor of his atheism good, religion bad thesis.
He's bold and persuasive. Here's his take on the perfection of atheism, which I heartily agree with.
Atheism is perfect. Yes, I know every religion says the same thing about itself, but religions are wrong. (Yes, I know they all say that about atheism too.)
What I mean by this is that atheism is so simple that it cannot have any flaws. It is simply a lack of a belief in gods, so unless there is a reason to believe in gods, it is a logically perfect position.
Once a single piece of scientifically valid evidence for the existence of any deity is unearthed, this will change, and atheism, being the single condition of the absence of a belief in a god, will have a flaw, but as this has never happened, I'm not nervous.
...In the history of mankind, atheism has never had a single moment of failure. Never, not even once, has atheism been proven wrong, and once is all we'd need to drop it completely.
If atheism had been proven wrong, if one god had been verified, if one supernatural event had been measured, if one ocean had really parted. or if one person ever really rose from the grave, I would quit my job because I'd be wrong.
[Silverman is the American Atheists president.]
...Prove me wrong, even once, and I'll convert.
Below is a Church of the Churchless guest post by Osho Robbins.
My wife and I had some new neighbors (husband and wife) over for dinner last night. The man used to be a hypnotherapist. He had a lot of interesting things to say about hypnotism, a topic Robbins raised in his email message to me.
Hi Brian, I've been reading some of your recent postings. The following might be of interest to you to post as a new topic.
A lot of people who follow a certain belief (whether Radha Soami, Islam or any other) don't realize that they are simply brainwashed by that belief. Of course an outsider can see this clearly - but not the person 'in it.'
It's a bit like a live hypnosis show. The person hypnotized cannot see he is hypnotized - but the audience can.
Anyway - here's the posting. I just thought it would be interesting to see how people respond to it.
Regards, Osho Robbins
God Save Us From Religion
There are many religions and there are many who believe the tenets and beliefs of those religions.
Once they believe – they become brainwashed by the beliefs.
From that point onwards, they view everything through those beliefs and cannot see outside that religious box. They give away their ability to think freely because they create their own prison around themselves – unaware they are doing it by their own beliefs.
In effect they are wearing coloured glasses and those glasses colour their view of the world.
After a while they become 100% convinced that their version of the world IS the real world.
People who buy into a religious or spiritual system do not see themselves as brainwashed, but rather they feel they have found the truth and can even get quite evangelical about spreading the word.
They go on a mission to save the world – but they themselves are not saved (whatever ‘saved’ means!). If you take the example of Radha Soami followers: they will become ‘speakers, secretaries, authors, sevadars etc’ and gain prestige but they can’t really honestly say they have made any progress on a spiritual path, even though they might have become quite good at being a hypocrite.
The idea of an external GOD figure is a major part of the religious trap.
Someone asks Osho – “Do you consider yourself a God?” and he says “My God! There is no God! How can I be a God?”
Then he goes into how this deep seated belief arises.
This is a far cry from the Radha Soami belief that the guru is God in human form.
and also this one – there is no creator
All religions claim to KNOW and that is the trap. The follower believes and... game over.
The Buddha went in search of the truth. After decades of searching the conclusion he came to was that there is no external saviour (including himself), and certainly no external God.
So any religion that is based on a God figure is delusional, in the sense that fictional statements are made as if this fictional God is making a factual statement. Like commandments etc.
Islam, Radha Soami, Christianity, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, are all just a few examples of these types of religions that claim to know the truth, but in reality just trap the believers into thinking they are privileged.
Here’s a video on Jehovah’s witnesses –
There is always something in the message of each religion that promises you something profound – like eternal life, Sach Khand, or being part of a privileged class.
Once you believe that promise – you are screwed, because all of the promises are false.
Then there is another type of ‘spiritual message’ which is profoundly different. However it can also become the same after a while.
The message I am referring to is one that frees the follower. This is what Osho was doing – his message was not to believe him – but to stand on your own feet.
Another similar movement was ‘est’ from the 70’s which later became Landmark.
Werner Erhard’s original ‘est’ was very different from what Landmark has now become.
The Buddha did not start Buddhism – and his purpose was not to create another trap.
Here’s a video of Werner Erhard creator of the original est training (trailer)
I have bought the whole video and it’s very interesting to watch how Werner created a training programme designed to free people of beliefs that took a lifetime to form. In two intense weekends he would free the participants from a lifetime of false beliefs.
My wife, Laurel, is just as much a fervent scientifically-minded secular activist as I am. A few days ago she wrote a letter to a city official here in Salem, Oregon about religiously-themed roadside memorials on public property.
What she said makes a lot of sense.
Sure, the desire of relatives and friends to put up a cross, flowers, and such at the place a loved one was killed in a traffic accident is understandable. But not all intuitive impulses deserve to be allowed as lawful acts, especially when they appear to go against the grain of the U.S. Constitution.
Here's Laurel's letter, with her brief introduction:
I drive by a roadside memorial of a cross everyday and have long been bothered by these memorials which the City of Salem allows to remain indefinitely on the public right-of-way. Emboldened by reading the FFRF [Freedom from Religion Foundation] newsletter, I am sending the letter below to the Salem Public Works Director. I spent all evening researching the issue to devise the letter.
Here it is:
RE: Religious Roadside Memorials January 21, 2016
Dear Mr. Fernandez,
I recently called to ask why religious roadside memorials are allowed to stay up indefinitely, often for many years, on the public right-of-way in the City of Salem. I spoke to Kevin Hottman, and later your own assistant, and was told that the City allows such memorials unless they become a hazard or become unsightly and unmaintained.
I have explored this issue and am providing some articles and information easily obtained from a Google search about the legality issues of such memorials, especially when they have religious symbols.
As I am sure you are aware, the U. S. Constitution supports a separation of church and state. While religious symbols are supported by free speech on private property, when a public governmental organization allows them to exist on public property, like a street right-of-way, it can be construed as governmental support of a specific religion.
Though courts have yet to provide clear guidance on the constitutionality of erecting and allowing private memorials on public spaces, there have been increasing numbers of legal challenges regarding such memorials, which have resulted in many states, including Oregon, to not allow such memorials on State highways.
Private religious speech in a designated or traditional public forum is generally free from the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government endorsement of a religion. However, private religious speech may lose its purely private nature by its placement in a public space like a city road right-of-way. By not removing the private religious displays, a government may risk appearing to tacitly adopt the religious message.
The Supreme Court has noted that the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to communicate one’s views at all times and places or in any manner they desire.
But regardless of the religious aspect of crosses in the memorials, the real issue is that no one private person or family has the right to use public land for his or her own purposes. If I were to decide to erect a memorial to Michael Jackson, a giant ceramic dog statue (which I might like), or a symbol of devotion to the Flying Spaghetti Monster on Kuebler Road or Commercial Street right-of-ways, would I be allowed to do that?
The roadside memorials are eyesores to the vast majority of the public who do not know the deceased, but possibly may even be traumatic for some, due to being a traumatic reminder of witnessing the accident, or of some other accident or death of a loved one every day as they drive by. I doubt there is any evidence that the memorials increase safety by reminding people about the need to drive safely. They are more likely to distract a driver who glances over at the memorial out of curiosity.
The real issue and problem is the location of the memorials, not just the content. People should not be able to put anything they want on public property and leave it there.
The City of Salem is already violating their policies about advertisement signs private people or businesses place on public property. There have been numerous complaints about this issue, with the mayor and others just saying the city lacks funds to deal with the problem effectively.
I urge the City of Salem to adopt a policy about roadside memorials. At the very least, the religious symbols should not be allowed, but the memorials themselves are unnecessary and should not be allowed. People can grieve their loved ones at cemeteries or in other private place of their choosing. Our streets and roads belong to us all; we pay taxes for their maintenance and they are not cemeteries for private memorials.
I would like to know what the City of Salem is going to do about this situation. If nothing is done, and there is to be no action on this issue, my next step will be to contact the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which I am a member of, to see if they will become involved in our local matter.
My wife and I hugely enjoyed seeing The Book of Mormon musical in Portland last night. I enjoyed the show much more than I thought I would.
My uncertainty about The Book of Mormon wasn't because it is the creation of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who came up with the animated South Park series.
I'm a big South Park fan. I love profanity, bathroom humor, and gross jokes. I expected these marvelous qualities to be in The Book of Mormon, and they were!
What I was unsure about was how funny Mormonism could be. Sure, Mormons have weird beliefs (there's a listing of 101 of them). But all religions do. Can this be made humorous enough to warrant the price of spendy tickets to the musical?
I'm not going to give away the plot of The Book of Mormon here, especially how the show ends. But there's no harm in sharing my main takeaway philosophical conclusion of the final act:
Weirder is better when it comes to religion.
This fits with a review of the show I read on my iPhone while we were sitting in our seats, waiting for The Book of Mormon to start.
Of course, there are also countless potshots at Mormonism. But for all the criticism of the 190-year-old religion, the show is never cruel. Sure, the characters mock believers' unflappable optimism and the faith's Upstate New York origin story. The message is never anti-religion, though. Rather, it's uplifting and spends just as much time mocking the musical genre itself.
Mormonism is simply a front to point out all the absurdities in life. And in mocking religion, the show is, in a way, endorsing it: If you need an absurd story to get you through the horrible parts of life, then by all means, have it.
Most of the musical centers around the problem a bunch of Mormon missionaries have in converting Ugandan villagers to their religion. They succeed only when the already-weird Mormon teachings are made even weirder.
I liked this plot twist a lot.
If you're going to believe in strange stuff, why not go all the way to the farthest reaches of strangeness? Since religious supernaturalism is unbelievable, why not burst the bounds of believability to the fullest extent possible?
Like Janis Joplin sang back in the '60s, "Feeling good was good enough for me." If it feels good, do it. This isn't a statement about the nature of reality -- just a reflection of human nature.
Everybody needs some help to get them through the tough side of life. Religions are one of the crutches people lean on. If a crazy belief relieves anxiety, pain, suffering -- I'm fine with that, so long as it is recognized that the belief is just that, not a truth about the cosmos.
Here's some videos that will give you a feel for The Book of Mormon. Be sure to check out "I Believe," as this song reflects a core theme of the show.
LAHORE, Pakistan — Late one night, the imam Shabir Ahmad looked up from prayers at his mosque to see a 15-year-old boy approaching with a plate in his outstretched left hand. On it was the boy’s freshly severed right hand.
Mr. Ahmad did not hesitate. He fled the mosque and left the village, in eastern Punjab Province.
Earlier that night, Jan. 10, he had denounced the boy as a blasphemer, an accusation that in Pakistan can get a person killed — even when the accusation is false, as it was in this case.
The boy, Anwar Ali, the son of a poor laborer, had been attending an evening prayer gathering at the mosque in the village, Khanqah, when Mr. Ahmad asked for a show of hands of those who did not love the Prophet Muhammad. Thinking the cleric had asked for those who did love the prophet, Anwar’s hand shot up, according to witnesses and the boy’s family.
He realized his mistake when he saw that his was the only hand up, and he quickly put it down. But by then Mr. Ahmad was screaming “Blasphemer!” at him, along with many others in the crowd. “Don’t you love your prophet?” they called, as the boy fled in disgrace.
Anwar went home, found a sharp scythe and chopped off his right hand that same night. When he showed it to the cleric, he made clear it was an offering to absolve his perceived sin.
Here's a big reason why religions appeal to people: they claim that humans are special.
Not only that, but almost every religion teaches that the cosmos has a special relationship with us Homo sapiens. We're being looked out for, guided, loved, and embraced by the Creator of It All.
Even when it comes to the Devil or other sorts of negative cosmic powers, human beings are viewed as being the special focus of the dark side. It isn't my dog who is at risk of being led astray by Satan; it is me.
I no longer believe in this crap.
Sure, I understand the appeal of feeling special, unique among all the other inhabitants of the universe, chosen by the highest divinity for a starring role in the grand scheme of things.
But reality argues otherwise.
Here's some passages from Mihaly Cskikszentmihalyi's classic 1990 book about the psychology of optimal experience, "Flow." (Somehow I've never read it before; I finished the first chapter today and am finding it highly enjoyable.)
The foremost reason that happiness is so hard to achieve is that the universe was not designed with the comfort of human beings in mind. It is almost immeasurably large, and most of it is hostilely empty and cold.
...It is not that the universe is random in an abstract mathematical sense. The motions of the stars, the transformations of energy that occur in it might be predicted and explained well enough.
But natural processes do not take human desires into account. They are deaf and blind to our needs, and thus they are random in contrast with the order we attempt to establish through our goals.
A meteorite on a collision course with New York City might be obeying all the laws of the universe, but it would still be a damn nuisance. The virus that attacks the cells of a Mozart is only doing what comes naturally, even though it inflicts a grave loss on humankind.
"The universe is not hostile, not yet is it friendly," in the words of J.H. Holmes. "It is simply indifferent."
...How we feel about ourselves, the joy we get from living, ultimately depend directly on how the mind filters and interprets everyday experiences. Whether we are happy depends on inner harmony, not on the controls we are able to exert over the great forces of the universe.
Imagine, as John Lennon did, that all the time, money, and effort people pour into trying to get on the good side of God or some other divine power was devoted to making things better here on Earth.
Imagine that instead of praying for special supernatural dispensations from a higher power, people focused on how best to align themselves with the laws of nature -- understanding them as fully as possible, and putting them to use for the betterment both of humanity and our planet as a whole.
Imagine that human beings came to look upon themselves simply as parts of a greater natural whole, the universe, nothing special, yet also nothing not-special.
I like these imaginations.
Because they're eminently capable of being made real. Atheists like my wife and myself are living our lives this way, as are many other people around the world. We're not yet a majority, because feeling special is so addictive to religious believers.
But the ranks are growing of those who realize how harmful and false it is to put human beings up on a special pedestal. This isn't conducive to either individual happiness, or communal well-being.
When we separate ourselves out from the rest of existence as something uniquely precious, good things don't happen. Love, harmony, compassion, generosity to all -- these flourish when people feel humbly average, not egotistically special.
Given how easily religious believers can accept the existence of a god they've never directly experienced, I always find it surprising when they can't accept a much more believable hypothesis:
Giving up religiosity brings more happiness and contentment, not less.
This is what's happened to me, though I readily admit that comparing states of happiness at various times of one's life is very difficult to do. After all, it isn't as if we can lay them side by side and measure how much contentment they contain.
I was happy as an atheist. I was happy as a religious believer. I'm happy now as an atheist again.
Yet people have left comments on my blog posts claiming that I'm bitter about the thirty-plus years I spent as a devotee of an Indian guru.
Which leaves me thinking, "What the heck are you talking about?"
First, they aren't me, so they have no way of really knowing how I felt then, or now. Second, I was very much content with my religious practice for most of those thirty-plus years, just as I was very much content with my first marriage (which lasted eighteen years) for most of the time before it ended in a divorce.
Psychological research has found that about half of happiness is genetically determined. After that, a large share of happiness depends on "environmental" circumstances: health, relationships, job, hobbies, and such.
Religious affiliation plays a role in all this, but I suspect the belief aspect of religiosity has a relatively minor role. More important is feeling a sense of belonging to a larger group/cause, and the friendships that come along with being part of a religious congregation.
Now that I've given this up -- both the believing and the belonging -- I've found other ways of meeting those needs. I believe other things. I belong to other groups.
While it's difficult to describe the difference between my life as a religious person, and my current life as a non-religious (in my view, "normal") person, here's my best shot at an overall description.
I feel more in touch with the world and other people now, since I no longer feel special, chosen, unique, destined to know truths about the cosmos off-limits to most of humanity.
This is a good feeling.
In fact, a very good feeling. Before, I felt a sense of pressure to live up to standards my religion had set for me. Now, I'm considerably more relaxed. I don't feel like the fate of my eternal soul is up for grabs if I do this or that.
Because I no longer believe I have one, or am one.
In my experience, feeling like a normal, average, run-of-the-mill human being is more pleasant than feeling like you've been chosen by God (or a guru) to fulfill some divine purpose.
I've talked about this in a couple of other blog posts.
"Deconversion is as natural as conversion."
"I'm scolded for changing religions. But change happens."
I like this quote from a book by Jay Michaelson that I included in the first post.
Spiritual practice is about letting go, and that includes forgoing justification, specialness, pleasure, power, particularism, ego. At some point, it might be better to just admit that we are doing what we want to do, because any holding on to a sense of purpose is going to be counter-productive.
...Admit it all, and say so what. Let Being simply be what it is, whatever it is, without label or ascription, without looking for God, labeling an experience as God, or in any way claiming something is or isn't God.
And then, what might you notice? Perhaps a tone of relaxation, a quieting in the mind. The sound of the breeze, the feel of the air, ordinary sights of trees and sky. In other words -- whether God is delusion or not, your experience would be the same.
Imagination is wonderful. Except when it isn't.
That's one of the core messages of psychologist Daniel Gilbert's marvelous book, "Stumbling on Happiness."
I'm re-reading the book after first discovering it in 2006, when I wrote "Happiness is a new mountain bike. Maybe."
On the same day I bought myself this present, I received a few other gifts from myself after a visit to my other favorite Sisters store, Paulina Springs Books.
I saw “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert on the new non-fiction table. At first I figured that the book would tell me how to do just that. But as I thumbed through it I realized that Gilbert had a more tasty fish to fry. He’s out to explain why what we think will make us happy usually doesn’t. At least not in the way we thought it would.
Four chapters into my second reading, I'm enjoying Gilbert's book even more this time around. He's a marvelous writer, along with being a skilled interpreter of what psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, and such tell us about the human condition.
Basically, we've been screwed by evolution. But in a good way. Which also is a bad way. C'est la vie.
We humans apparently are the only species that can imagine something which doesn't exist. Not in a short-term way or instinctively. Many animals can do that. A cat can envision killing a mouse if it does this, then that.
Gilbert calls this sort of thing "nexting" to distinguish it from "predicting." Nexting happens automatically. He says:
Brains are continuously making predictions about the immediate, local, personal future of their owners without their owners' awareness. Rather than saying such brains are predicting, let's say that they are nexting.
But people can go way beyond this. We can imagine ourselves living in a different place, having a different job, being involved with a different person, living a very different life.
Because imagining is so easy for us -- this is pretty much what daydreaming is all about -- we tend to lose sight of how poorly imagination predicts reality. Such as, how happy we will be if something occurs, or we find ourselves in a certain situation.
Gilbert presents highly persuasive evidence and arguments for a disturbing conclusion. Here's a quote I included in my previous post about his book:
In fact, just about any time we want something—a promotion, a marriage, an automobile, a cheeseburger—we are expecting that if we get it, then the person who has our fingerprints a second, minute, day, or decade from now will enjoy the world they inherit from us, honoring our sacrifices as they reap the harvest of our shrewd investment decisions and dietary forebearance.
Yeah, yeah. Don’t hold your breath. Like the fruits of our loins, our temporal progeny are often thankless….How can this happen? Shouldn’t we know the tastes, preferences, needs, and desires of the people we will be next year—or at least later this afternoon?
Answer: no. The human brain really isn't set up for this to happen.
Evolution has brought us the gift (and curse) of imagination because it has a lot of survival value. Happiness is a secondary benefit. When it occurs. Which isn't nearly as often as we imagine it will.
One problem, of course, is that it's difficult to predict the future. Another problem is that even if we get an imagined future right, we're lousy at predicting how happy we'll feel in this state of affairs.
Religions are a product of the human capacity to imagine things that don't exist.
There's no demonstrable evidence that God, spirit, soul, heaven, hell, or any other of the myriad supposed denizens of hypothesized supernatural realms actually exist in reality, outside of people's imagination.
Yet not only do billions of people fervently believe in these imagined entities, they base important aspects of their lives on how happy they will be in a predicted future involving God, spirit, soul, heaven, hell, and such.
Thus religion hits people with a double dose of off-kilter imagination: they imagine a supernatural reality that almost certainly doesn't exist, then imagine themselves feeling all happy in this imagined supernatural reality.
This comes at a cost.
Sure, it can feel good to believe that something is coming which will make us happy. Heaven! Eternal life in the lap of God! Existing joyfully without the burden of a body!
But continually looking around the corner for the Something Is Coming distracts us from the What Is Already Here.
What sense does it make to keep on anticipating the arrival of future happiness if we never fully enjoy the present moment? Imagination definitely has its benefits. Here-and-now can be a trap, a cage, a prison. Imagination can be a key that unlocks the door leading to attainable vistas beyond our immediate horizon.
Other times, we imagine a future that can't possibly exist, because the entities populating this future world are non-existent. Such as the gods people sacrifice so much time and energy to. And the lives they hope to lead after death, while failing to fully live their all-too-human lives now.
For many years I believed that I had, or was, a soul. This idea was comforting, because the spiritual philosophy I followed taught that the essence of human beings was non-material, pure consciousness, and everlasting.
Worse case was, it, or I, would be reincarnated as another bodily life form. Best case was, my soul, or True Me, would leave matter and mind behind forever. In this case, soul-me would exist in a "heavenly" realm beyond time and space.
Now, it was always hard for me to imagine what such a soulful existence would be like. This was understandable in one sense, because all I knew was living in this physical realm.
However, descriptions of the Indian/Eastern version of the above-mentioned "heaven" were disturbingly vague -- which led increasingly skeptical moi to question whether the gurus who talked about this stuff had actually experienced a bodiless existence.
The fact is, most religions believe in some sort of soul. But just because they all use this word (or a term in another language, such as atman), doesn't mean there is agreement about what "soul" means.
Along that line, here's an interesting passage in a book I'm reading, "The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life." It starts off a section called A Brief History of the Soul.
Common to virtually all conceptions of literal immortality is the idea of the soul. Otto Rank proposed that the soul is one of humankind's earliest and most clever inventions, enabling humans to dodge death by perceiving themselves as more than just physical beings.
As Rank's translators put it, "the soul was created in the big bang of an irresistible psychological force -- our will to live forever -- colliding with the immutable biological fact of death." Unencumbered by finite flesh, the soul's existence was not only conceivable, it was also certainly more welcome than the alternative prospect of total annihilation.
Throughout history, humans everywhere have had souls, although the specific nature of them varies considerably across time and space.
For some, the soul is a physical entity with mass and volume, ranging from a full-sized shadow to a miniature replica of the body. For others, the soul is immaterial, but no less real.
In some cultures, only humans have souls. In others, all living things have souls. In still others, all living things and minerals have souls.
Some souls are completely independent of their body; they can come and go as they please, and they often appear in dreams and ritually enacted spiritual experiences. Others are connected to bodies to some degree. When bodies die, souls depart, either wholly or in part, depending on how the relationship between soul and body is construed by the culture.
Some have an autonomous ethereal existence of their own. Others join a general pool of ancestral "soul-stuff." Some souls are reincarnated into other life-forms. Others are reunited with their resurrected bodies. Regardless of the differences, all soul concepts render the prospect of immortality feasible because souls are detachable from their corporeal containers.
Well, that's good news.
But if soul is real, seemingly there should be more agreement about what soul is like. So I'll be pleasantly surprised if my soul-consciousness continues after death.
I'm not going to bet my life on it, though.
My wife, Laurel, is an increasingly ardent scientifically-minded religious skeptic.
Check it out. It isn't just for women, or feminists. I liked Garst's "The Devil Made Me Do It" post.
The whole idea of the devil is ridiculous, but the notion of an supernatural power in opposition to God (who is another absurd idea) can be found in Eastern as well as Western religions.
For a long time I belonged to an Indian spiritual organization led by a line of gurus. They taught the existence of Kal, the Negative Power, who bore some resemblance to the Devil.
One weird thing, among many, about those teachings was that the human mind supposedly was the vehicle that allowed Kal to lead people astray. Yet the gurus used their minds to communicate words, concepts, arguments, and such about Kal to their disciple's minds.
Well, one truth about religion is that it doesn't have to make sense to appeal to people. Here's some quotes from Garst's "The Devil Made Me Do It."
While this saying is often made in jest, the underlying meaning is much more sinister. It implies that there is either a supernatural entity or a cosmic force that preys upon humans to encourage them to commit heinous acts. The shooter in the recent tragedy at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is reported to have left a message on social media saying that he would be “welcomed in Hell and embraced by the devil.”
How can people believe in such a malevolent force if they also believe in an omniscient and all-powerful deity? How is the fear of evil used to motivate and control people to accept religious dogma? How does this concept of the devil and hell impinge on our ability to get at solutions to tragedies such as the one at UCC?
...But what if there is no cosmic evil force? How would our actions change?
Instead of stating as Jeb Bush did in response to the UCC shootings—stuff happens—maybe we would look harder for solutions and seek to understand the various factors at play in a tragedy such as that of UCC: identifying and providing support to youth, especially males, with tendencies toward violence or with mental health difficulties; examining how we can reach a compromise on gun control; looking at what in our culture leads to young males feeling they are victims or losers, etc. Yes, it would require more thinking than just saying—the devil made me do it—but we might actually prevent these acts from reoccurring.
FEMEN International has a good slogan -- the title of this post.
Recently they made good on those words, as described in "Topless female protesters manhandled after disrupting Islamic conference in France."
Members of a feminist protest group known for storming events topless has disrupted an Islamic conference in France and caught what appears to be a bit of a beating in the process.
...Even right-wing media sites like Breitbart were impressed when two young women, sans shirts, took the stage last weekend at what was billed as a “Muslim salon” in Pontoise, France, a town just outside of Paris. The salon, as Buzzfeed reported, included a conversation about “Women’s valuation in Islam.”
In dramatic video that’s not exactly safe for work, the women take the lectern and start shouting in French: “Nobody enslaves me, nobody owns me, I’m my own prophet.” Messages written on their chests — a Femen trademark — offered similar messages.
“The two activists (both coming from Muslim families) [gave voice to] hundreds of women, feminists, and associations, all disgusted by this public hate speeches,” the group wrote on Facebook. “It was our duty to interrupt this enslavement event, and to let a scream of freedom be heard in the middle of their submission lessons.”
The women were quickly escorted offstage. But the escorting seemed to turn into a scuffle as a number of men began kicking the women once they were down.
Here's the video. Great way to protest religious absurdity.
Recently I got an email from someone who was initiated by an Indian Sant Mat guru, Rajinder Singh, and now realizes that this supposed divine being isn't really what he claims to be.
This person gave me permission to share the message, which I've done below with some mild editing in line with the person's wish to remain anonymous.
I'm always pleased to hear about someone's disillusioned experience with a religion or religious teacher. This is a wonderful thing, waking up from an illusion.
Feel free to share your thoughts about what this person says in a comment, as my correspondent would like readers of the following message to do.
Hi Brian, I’m glad I found your blog. I also contacted the ex satsangi group but did not get a reply.
You can post my message on your blog if you like, I’d like people to comment, but please leave out the information about where I am from and my name. This posting may be interesting because there is a lot about other Sant Mat Gurus here but not so many from the Darshan-Rajinder line.
I have been initiated by Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaja in 2013 - long distance initiation, did I really believe that?! I saw him for the first time in the last two weeks. Seeing him in reality after watching his videos for 2 years was nice at first, but I had a very bad experience when my son was initiated.
I took part on the initiation together with my son, who was taken away from me and made to listen to the sound current for 40 mins. until he started to cry. The satsangi told me later he was having experiences! How ignorant is that?! He was simply in pain from fingers stuffed in his ears!
Also, the person responsible for the foreigners here is starting to push us around. This made me realize after 2.5 years of daily up to 2.5 hrs meditation and more in workshops, that I do not want to follow guru god Sant Rajinder Singh Ji any more.
I am quite confused now - my poor boy has to watch as I have to explain to him what happened and why I misbelieved so much before. All the questions that Sant Mat has answered: Who am I? Why is there suffering? Where do we go after death? are now wide open again for me and I think I have to be very careful to not stuff that hole with another scam.
From my Satsang friends I hear all the "It was Karma", "You have to overcome it“, "This was best for your son", "Stand up during Darshan and talk to the Master" - shit and I can’t believe it.
If I stand up during Darshan, the first thing that will happen is that everyone around me will get annoyed and angry because they think after 3 hours of waiting it’s them who should be close to him. The second thing to happen is that I can’t speak calmly in such a situation and english is not my mother tongue. And I am quite sure the third thing will be a response like "Your son will be fine" or "Have faith" and I’m not sure I can control my anger when that happens.
There are many thoughts in my head now, also emotions, and sometimes I catch myself doing Simran without wanting it.
There are so many things I give myself permission to think now.
Kirpal, Darshan, and Rajinder, these were/are the current godmen, and it JUST SO HAPPENS that they are one family? Please. Also, you would think that there is a woman in that line somewhere - for god, gender is nothing, right? Then why are all of the Masters men? Yes there is Mira Bai but women are really under-represented.
I never had experiences of any kind, never even felt the "sense currents" collect at my third eye, even after 2 hours of perfectly sitting still and being totally concentrated. During initiation Rajinder asked who saw a sun, the moon, a Master within, and we only meditated 25 mins. half of the Indians raised their hands.
What?! I am sure there are so many not meditating properly, and they saw the radiant form of the Master, and me, after two years of meditating everyday, nothing? Not even a flash of light? No, not even as HE touched my third eye.
Also, this science thing - it’s like Freud, and I never liked Freud's way of forcing people to believe him. If you say anything against it, you just have to develop further "in the right direction", otherwise you are "in denial". One way or another, it’s your responsibility. But at the same time "we are nothing" and "Master is everything".
I am mild in judgement to myself because I only needed this one week in his presence to realize he is just a man like everyone else. He might even be a saint. But he is not God. He does not know what is going on in our minds.
Well, I can’t prove that. But as you are allowed to have a hypothesis and check it, my hypothesis was that my son would feel at least in peace during meditation, that he would be appreciated and taken good care of. But Master ignored him and the Satsangis around him made him cry. For me, this is enough proof that there is something wrong in this Satsang and I don’t want to go there any more.
The next problem I have to deal with is what will I believe in in this life.
I know many readers think, you don’t have to believe in anything, you have yourself. I did not write this to get an answer. I write this, because I am in that state now where you are kind of lonely and insecure and you don’t have a mass of sheep around you assuring you that you are doing the right thing, and this feels new and a bit sad. But I’ll get through it, because I’m a grown person and 2 years of being wrong is something that I can overcome.
One thought for SEVA: I was always wondering how holding a satsang is better and holier SEVA then feeding the hungry or playing with orphans. Even working in the SEVA kitchen is basically just feeding yourself.
Maybe I will write some words for my own comfort, hoping that it will help someone else, too: you don’t need to spend your whole money traveling the world and sitting and waiting for hours for a Master to be close to god. By the way, before I joined Sant Mat, I was wondering how all this flying is ok?! It is very harmful for the environment that all the Satangis fly all the time!!
And also, I am vegan and never understood how Master can promote dairy. If you know a little bit about milk production: you can be sure that cows and baby cows are exploited and killed. And then the Satsangi answer: well, if Master blesses a dairy, the cow will sure be reborn at his Lotus feet in the next life! - yeah. you be sure of that.
Sitting in a chair in an atmosphere that you like is enough. You don’t need to sit in meditation for hours to be at peace and know that you are a good being. It is enough to just scan your system, ask yourself how you feel, what you think, and what would serve you right now. Sleep? Talking to a good friend? Writing down some thoughts? You don’t need hours of studying holy scriptures.
You already know what is present in your life, where you want to put time in and where you don’t want to put time in. There is a reason why there are so many people on earth (if you believe that god created us). Wanting to make them all equal and making them do the same thing is ignoring an important trait of human nature.
We are all different children of god, we are all equal, and Masters are not above or below us. And: it is me who has the responsibility and the power to build my life. Nobody else. That I can control only very little in this life is a fact that I have to deal with on my own. Everything else is denying my personal responsibility. This might be scary, but again, is another thing that sane grown-ups are capable of handling.
Warm ex satsangi greetings, _________
A few days ago astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted out something so-true:
If your Personal Beliefs deny what's objectively true about the world, then they're more accurately called Personal Delusions.
This makes most religious dogma delusional. In fact, I probably should have said all religious dogma, since if something is objectively true it belongs in the realm of science and other forms of generally accepted knowledge, not the realm of religion.
Now, in a reply to someone who commented on this tweet, Tyson clarified what he meant. He was asked, "What if your personal delusions don't deny what's objectively true about the world?" Tyson's reply:
Then they're not Delusions. They're just Beliefs. My Tweet does not reference these.
This gets us to the question of what is objectively true.
If there is positive demonstrable evidence for some fact, such as that the big bang brought the universe into being some 13.7 billion years ago, then clearly a belief that the universe was created by God a few thousand years ago is delusional.
But what about accepting the existence of God? Or heaven and hell? Or eternal soul? Would this be a delusion or a belief?
I strongly lean toward Personal Delusion. After all, this is an objective truth about the world: there is no convincing demonstrable evidence that God, heaven, hell, or eternal soul exist.
Speaking more broadly, lack of evidence that something exists is a fact about the universe. Yes, a provisional fact, because evidence could always pop up in favor of that thing existing.
If clear and convincing evidence of God appeared tomorrow -- some observable cosmic event or miracle that scientists couldn't explain any other way -- then I and almost all other atheists would be pleased to admit, "We were wrong. God is real."
Until this happens, though, it is justified to call someone delusional who embraces the notion that God exists. Not delusional in most regards, as a deeply psychotic person might be -- just delusional in this regard.
Tyson's distinction between Personal Belief and Personal Delusion enters into the fervent current national discussion about what sorts of religious beliefs deserve to be accommodated in a society governed by secular laws, such as the United States.
I say, very few, if any.
For one thing, when dug into usually these beliefs are at odds with objective truth, which make them delusions.
Kim Davis, for example, is a county clerk who wants her religious belief that same-sex marriage is against God's will to be accommodated under a federal religious liberty law. Davis claims that she is acting under "God's authority," which supersedes the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
Well, this only makes sense if it is objectively true that (1) God exists, (2) God rules over human affairs, and (3) God has decreed that same-sex marriage is wrong.
Since all three statements are at odds with what is known about objective reality -- there's no evidence for 1, 2, or 3 -- Kim Davis is embracing a Personal Delusion.
I'd argue that even if it was viewed as a Personal Belief, she still doesn't have the right to ignore the law of the land, as Jeffrey Toobin says in the above-linked piece, "Kim Davis's Cafeteria Government."
Now Davis is seeking to extend the concept of accommodation even more—to government officials, like her, who want to pick and choose which legal obligations to honor. It’s one thing to allow cafeteria citizenship; Davis wants cafeteria government.
The problem, as Scalia recognized more than two decades ago, is that there is no logical stopping point for the accommodation principle. People have sincere religious beliefs that obligate them to engage in, or refrain from, all kinds of behaviors that the law allows (like same-sex marriage) or requires (like paying taxes).
So while people are free to hold both Personal Beliefs and Personal Delusions, these shouldn't be confused with Objective Truth. As the saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.