"Don't you believe in love?"
Whenever I see a comment like this on one of my blog posts from a religious believer, I'm dumbfounded. it's a ridiculous thing to say.
For one thing, I don't believe in love. I experience love. There's a big difference between believing and experiencing.
Likewise, I don't believe in consciousness; I experience consciousness. Nor do I believe in life; I experience being alive.
Same is true for everybody. Atheists. Agnostics. Religious people. Scientists. Musicians. Farmers. Young. Old. Men. Women. Everybody.
The only way any one of us knows anything about reality is through experiencing.
It's important to recognize that arguably every experience is "inner," since it is ours alone, unfathomable to anyone else except through indirect means of communication: written words, speech, gestures, facial expressions.
As Sam Harris says in a video discussion of his "Waking Up" book, any experience, no matter how profound to the person having it, by itself tells us nothing about the nature of the cosmos -- or perhaps even this world.
After all, even when someone's experience is of the outside world, mistakes commonly happen. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable. Memories are faulty. Mirages and illusions confound our understanding.
Even more so when the experiences are totally mental, as is the case with dreams, mystical visions, emotions, thoughts, hallucinations, and such.
Once a relative of mine said to me, "I'm a Christian because I feel the loving presence of Jesus throughout my day." To which I thought, "Well, that's nice. But a loving feeling is just a loving feeling. It doesn't prove that Jesus actually exists outside the minds of those who believe in him."
Likewise, commenters on this blog will say things like, "When I see my guru, I feel overwhelming love for him." Again... that's nice.
But religious believers need to keep in mind that parents feel the same way about their children, as animal-lovers do about their pets, as nature-lovers do about mountains, trees, and rivers. Like I said, everybody has profound experiences that are clearly known to them, while being ineffable to others.
What makes a personal experience more than subjective is when it relates to something objectively real. "I hear a bird singing in that tree. Can you hear it also?" If the bird is really there, and your friend's ears are working well, he or she will confirm the bird song.
Love, though, like other purely mental experiences, isn't confirmable by others. We have to take someone's word that love is felt by them. Further, we can't know whether their feeling of love is akin to our own.
So this points to what I feel is a misconception by many religious believers.
They wrongly consider that a personal experience of something supposedly divine proves that divinity actually exists objectively. Then they jump to an additional error: considering that other people should agree about the objective existence of that felt divinity.
It'd be much better if people simply said "I experienced such-and such," rather than "Such-and-such exists because I experienced it."
Sure, it exists for you. But not necessarily for anyone else. Your love, your dream, your mystical vision, your belief -- they are yours, not mine.
A mountain, a tree, a river, though -- they are part of the reality we all share. Such is the big difference between experiences of purely mental phenomena, and things that exist in the outside world.
Religion focuses on the former, science on the latter. Which helps explain why I love science more than religion.