Religion From the Inside

Karen Armstrong introduced her History of God with a seemingly contradictory statement about her subject matter:

Other rabbis, priests and Sufis would have taken me to task for assuming that God was—in any sense—a reality “out there”; they would have warned me not to expect to experience him as an objective fact that could be discovered by the ordinary process of rational thought. They would have told me that in an important sense God was a product of the creative imagination, like the poetry and music that I found so inspiring. A few highly respected monotheists would have told me quietly and firmly that God did not really exist—and yet that “he” was the most important reality in the world.

Armstrong is a mystic who believe that God cannot be defined but can be experienced. That idea, that God is not real but is a reality, is a complex one that underlies certain kinds of liberal religion. The Reverend Jonathan L. Walton, a new minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church, gives another take on the same idea but focuses on the actions of the non-believing believer:

Belief is revealed by action, Walter said. “It does not matter if Christianity is true, but rather can we, as those informed by the teachings of Jesus, make it true. Hence at the end of the day, our faith is not something to be professed, as talk is cheap, but something primarily to be done.”

Meanwhile, Francis Spufford, author of the history/novel Red Plenty, is publishing a new work titled Unapologetic, with the tagline “Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense”. Judging from a review at Crooked Timber, Spufford is at work in the same fields as Armstrong and Walton:

Spufford isn’t trying to establish theological foundations, and he is briskly dismissive of the usual theodicies, or attempts to justify the ways of God to human beings. Rather, he describes what religious belief is like by developing two broad themes. The first is experiential: he evokes what it feels like to have glimpses of the ‘all-at-once perspective of the God of everything’ behind ordinary life, the brightness that sustains everything, a presence in silence. The second is the importance of narrative and imagery in expressing these intimations and what they mean.

I doubt this message will become popular in America. It runs counter to the religious trends that have been playing out here for centuries. These ideas are antithetical to the view that Christianity is “common sense” and that the Bible is clearly the inerrant word of God. This idea that the whole religion is an emotional, ethical poem isn’t going to play well in the Bible belt.

Despite this, I suspect the favorite target of these liberals will not be the megachurches but will instead be the atheists. So get used to hearing about how Christianity can’t be believed but must be experienced.

  • Troutbane

    This is one of those things in which I agree that religious people feel something. You can see it on the faces of devout believers of any faith when they get in the “zone”. I think that feeling is real. However, my assumption would be that that is some kind of dopamine release to make individuals feel good in some kind of social/tribal group think. I stumbled upon this recently and it seemed to back up my earlier hypothesis, although, to be fair, I have not read the article, only the Wikipedia summary:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dopamine#Dopaminergic_mind_hypothesis
    (If anyone here has access to the original papers, I would love to get a copy )
    I.e. every true religious believer feels this, no matter the religion, so as a “proof” of god, its a best a vague theistic tactic. Then again, give neurochemistry time, maybe a God pill is around the corner.

    • Yoav

      I have access to most of these, let me know where you want me to send them. One of the mods can give you my email.

  • vasaroti

    Think I’ll stick with music, the high that comes with performing, animal rescue, hiking, fine dining and good lovin’. There a reason all religions caution people not to get too involved in any worldly activities – it’s because the believer may realize that he/she is getting exactly the same bump from them that they do from praying and religious services.

    • http://WhoHasTimeForThis.com David Cowan

      Exactly!! I was raised as a fundie Jew, and I achieved a sense of spiritualism from communal singing on Sabbath. Now I get the same high from singing in an a cappella group, without all the crazy rules, prejudices, hate, fear and stupidity.

      Really, God is real and not real? So 1 = 0. Doesn’t the cognitive dissonance hurt even a little bit?

  • machintelligence

    The title of the book, and perhaps the whole book, is based on what is called a “use – mention error”.
    The correct title is A History of “God”, because it is about the concept of God, not God her/his/its self.
    I doubt if a book entitled A History of the Concept of God would sell very well.

    • vasaroti

      Probably not. However, the book The Evolution of God was enough of a tease to sell pretty well. I enjoyed it, and learned quite a bit about the development of religion in the Middle East.

  • Duke of Omnium

    They make it all sound like it’s nothing but autosuggestive emotive nonsense. They may very well target atheists, but I don’t think that atheists will care much about such fluff-bunnies. After all, they seem less pernicious than the rabid fundies.

  • Kodie

    So get used to hearing about how Christianity can’t be believed but must be experienced.

    I’ve already heard this plenty, and I’m pretty sure by evangelicals or Catholics. I’ve heard often that god spoke to me but I chose not to listen or I don’t know how to discern the voices or whatever, that I don’t know how to listen. What really gets me is someone like Dwight Longenecker or someone keep trumpeting that it’s like I’m blind in an art gallery only he has access to these amazing colors – that unbelievers don’t know what they’re missing by tuning out. I know exactly what I’m missing and that’s the crazy voices telling me what I want to hear and thinking that is a deity. The one who says that it is believed through action, see, is not doing what is just or what is right but what one must do as it pleases the deity, and what one mustn’t do, as it displeases the deity. They’re actively taught and believe that one cannot believe oneself when one tells self that this is right or wrong, so when they do know right from wrong, it’s supplied through the radio receiver in their head from the deity. They trust that voice, so that when it tells them being gay is wrong, they obey it, they have lost all sensibility that they actually know right from wrong and can decide.

    And then when you ask for proof, they use this as an argument. It can’t be proven, you have to get it through your head, figuratively and literally. When you realize god is real, they say, you just know it, you feel it, it is awakened inside your skull in something they call a spirit. It is not something they can show you, but then they claim they are intelligent and that they were unbelievers too, they had to be convinced, and when they arrived, it was as plain as day… in their head. All this is taking place inside the brain matter, the arguments that don’t make sense suddenly make sense, and the unbelievable things not to be believed become true anyway. It’s true because they can feel it.

    I have no adequate way of arguing with this nonsense. I feel plenty great sometimes, I really feel like a citizen of the planet, things click socially for a short period, and it gives me a good feeling and that feeds me energy and momentum to do things I was too tired to do before or felt too worthless to bother. Yes, that is a good feeling. It doesn’t sustain. I can only think this is what religious people feel as “doubt” and they go to their friends at church and get renewed, like we all do when we’re down and need to come back up. The argument from “feels true” – associating these positive feelings with all the nonsense in the bible: I associate positive feelings with listening to some music on youtube that I’ve forgotten, a tug at my old self, words that I remember, and I come back to me, ready to be good company, as it were. But I’m told that’s not “real” because that’s not the deity. That is myself thinking I am my own god. Now how do they know what the colors inside my head look like? Why is god the only right way to be motivated? And how do they get from “feels good” to “resurrection is true,” that’s just a story. How do I get from “feels good” to “a song I really like is true.” All stories and art feel like humans touching humans and most humans can feel when they’ve been touched by something or left cold by it. I have no doubt there are stories in the bible, which I have never read, that offer the reader a new perspective, a touch to the past, a feeling of continuation, identity as human, having faults, or whatever, but to make believe that a guy died for his convictions that he was god’s son for you and for me and everyone to take away our sins and mean for us to follow everything he says to do – is nuts. If hearing about that gives you the warm fuzzies you need to give a helping hand to your neighbor not because it sounds really uplifting, heroic and charitable by example, but because you are taking it personally as your duty – NUTS.

    • Norm

      It would seem nuts when you havent experienced it or dismissed it as an emotional response,but when it is an undeniable and ongoing thing all the rationalization and mocking is like water off a ducks back.To me atheism is like a group of people who deny love,most people understand it to some degree and have experienced it,some more than others.Then theres the ones who say,”prove it,show it to me,your dreaming ect”Because they dont get it,but when youve experienced it,you know.If you want to hear an atheist who took a crash course in the spiritual realm google Howardstorm.com and hear why he changed his mind and became totally NUTS

      • Troutbane

        Wow, some guy had an NDE and converted to Christianity because he saw some crazy shit. That’s amazing. Of course, people since ancient times all over the world in all religions have had NDEs. So, as always, when it comes down to a simple theistic argument, which religion is true?

        And are you seriously criticizing being rational?

        • Norm

          The point is Howard Storm is an educated rational thinker who came to the same conclusions about God and the spiritual realm until he had a personal experience.Being a professor he then studied all the major religions and he came to the conclusion that the God he talked to is the God of Christianity.And no I wasnt questioning rational thinking but love so often is anything but rational.

      • Kodie

        I have felt it many times and I know how to identify it. I’m not interested in the baggage of being an idiot that often goes along with not understanding one’s feelings.

  • Troutbane

    “I associate positive feelings with listening to some music on youtube that I’ve forgotten”

    When I listen to this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpMNXEY_tio
    with headphones turned way up, the lights out, and my eyes closed, I literally get the feeling I used to get when doing Buddhist meditation or even how I felt at Church singing Psalms when my dad made me go when I was a kid.

    • machintelligence

      Or you might prefer something 500 years older.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Cn7ZW8ts3Y

      • Troutbane

        Very good. I am in the process of creating a Late Medieval/Early Modern-Early Renaissance world and have been looking for authentic 15th to 17th century music to get inspiration. Thanks!

        • Kodie

          I thought I liked old music. One thing to say is that even though people can get pretty emotional about whose musical taste is better than someone else’s, most people understand the idea that they’re not going to like everything and it’s ok that someone else does, for whatever reason they like it, and that there are different personal levels for one to enjoy music or any other kind of art, even within the same person. I can like some music for musical appreciation, and I’m not the deepest musical appreciator, that does not describe me. I admire that quality in other people but I admit I don’t have the patience to take that journey all the time. Even so, I do appreciate music – I think it’s amazing, simply strange and awesome to me that it’s mathematical. It can’t not be, what else could it be? But they’re sounds. I also like certain instruments than others, certain emotions that are different than just playing notes, and words. I like familiar music and I don’t know why it’s familiar because I don’t like strange music. How does strange music become familiar to me if it takes a couple listens? I can’t say for sure what it is about me and music, and being able to play by ear, but if I had skill on an instrument, when I remember music, it sounds the same in my head as it did on the speakers (all the instrumentation) and that is one of the best things. I have tried to find out if that is the normal way to remember music or not.

          It’s so offensive that someone would attempt at canceling out anything anyone feels for any reason because it’s not part of a spirit realm or because it can be explained by science. If your neurons are moved by a story of someone who doesn’t know you but knows you and still loves you even when no one else does, it doesn’t make the story true and it doesn’t make the brain chemicals not true, and of course it’s still moving to many people. Why they hope to destroy life or love or whatever by defining it so narrowly, to invalidate other people’s experience in order to validate their own is just offensive.

  • smrnda

    Mysticism seems like a great thing for people unconcerned with truth and accuracy. Instead of explicit claims, you make some vague statements that have no precise meaning, then appeal to ‘mystery’ or get the hubris that anybody who thinks the emperor has no clothes is just a philistine.

    When they try to make a comparison between the religious experience and art or music (with the added goal of making the unbeliever seem like a crass, unsophisticated person with no appreciation of anything aesthetic) what they are missing is that art, literature and such does make claims about reality and comments about reality. Much of the time the commentary is true. Religion does the same thing, but the reason why I can see the beauty in a film but not in a religion is that the religion is, in the end, making claims about the world that are false.

  • Sunny Day

    Basically it breaks down into two parts.
    First you experience something wierd/wonderful/strange.
    Then you make stuff up trying to explain it.

    How is this any different from people who’ve seen UFO’s, Faries in their Garden, or Ghosts?

    Hell even I’ve had an Epiphany about 20 years ago where I suddenly KNEW the reason for my existence. God* was lonely and created the universe to keep him company and wanted us and more importantly me, to be its friend. It was so simple. It was such a clear message, I knew if I could communicate it to other people they would understand also and feel the same way.

    As I thought about it some more it seemed like I was latching onto stuff from my own life and interests to explain it. Realizing much of it was coming from Babylon 5 I figured it was just one of those times where my brain was playing tricks on me.

    * (Religion played almost no part in my upbringing, I knew there was supposed to be a god who was responsible for everything but then I also knew the Greeks thought the same thing about their pantheon, and what made the christian one any more correct than the ancient Greeks?)

  • jose

    Can we summarize this by saying it’s an attempt to strip christianity of supernatural elements? I don’t see how to reconcile this with the Jesus of the Bible, who is rather obsessed about his supernatural father. Might as well go secular.

  • Guest Speaker

    Norm, Just because it IS an emotional response doesn’t take anything away from the feeling of love. In fact imparting woo and mumbo jumbo to it cheapens it more than anything.

    Sincerely,
    An Atheist in Love

  • Norm

    That is so true and when someone has a spiritual experience and some call it an emotional experience because they are unable to understand it cheapens it aswell.Religion can be the mumbo jumbo of the spiritual realm ,a bit like what lust is to love.

    • Kodie

      One way to cling to your pathetic beliefs* is to put everyone else down and compare it as love to the secular lust, because you’re the one who doesn’t know.

      *Your beliefs are even more pathetic than a usual religious person. You have shown a willfulness that few others possess in resisting intelligence and functionality of being a person, which makes you particularly susceptible to the snake oil business that sells you crap you think you have to buy. While many believe as well as you do, few are as outright dopey about how they even arrived there or were convinced to believe, and when they talk to us, they still sound like they went to A school somewhere and can put their thoughts in order before trying their case to us. The things they say to us are equally unconvincing trash, but I can tell they got to you and ran circles around you intellectually, smoke and mirrors magic show, you looked at it and had no basis for discerning what’s real and what’s not. Don’t kid yourself you have any valid arguments, not even among Christians.

  • Guest Speaker

    Norm, YOU call it a spiritual experience because YOU cannot understand the psychology and physiology behind emotional reactions. “Learnin’ is hard, so we’ll just make something up that sounds cool. Spirit, chakra, quantum, wooooooo”

  • Norm

    Ok,so what is love????an emotional reaction,how sad.Psychology or physiology might be able to explain some of our brain functions but should be the first to admit how much more there is to learn.You can dress it up in medical or scientific terms and impress yourself but to one who is in love or deeply spiritual all they hear is blah blah blah.

    • Johan

      A classic way people deal with uncomfortable truths is by changing the subject. Like you just did.

      Don’t even pretend that you would change your opinion if science DID find a way of explaining love. You would deny that science because it was another one of those uncomfortable truths. When your beliefs contradict science you choose belief despite facts. Nobody who behaves in that way can responsibly discuss what science hasn’t learned yet. It reeks of dishonesty.

      • Norm

        Ahh no ,science is a study or inquiry into how and why things happen or are and never will be able to explain things of the spirit realm.Science can monitor brain function whilst something goes on and of course can explain “love” or other feelings from a limited perspective but so what,it doesnt prove whether a person loves someone,only what is happening in their brain. Oh and as someone who has no understanding of the spirit realm it would be irresponsible of you to be commenting either.

        • Johan

          So you agree then that you wouldn’t change your mind if science disagreed with your beliefs? Your answers can be hard to interpret, what with all the moving goalposts and subject changes when you get uncomfortable with honest discussions. In this case, you moved the goalposts again. I said if science did find a way of explaining love, you go off on a tangent saying it can’t be done rather than being honest with us and with yourself. If you did that by accident I would be quite surprised. Its a pattern with you.

          I can and will discuss spiritual nonsense because I can do so honestly without constantly reaching for well known fallacies and changing the subject when it gets uncomfortable. If anything that is currently regarded as spiritual were verified by science I would change my opinion. You would not. Once again, you reek of dishonesty.

          Here’s a tip. It wouldn’t get uncomfortable if your beliefs were true. That sense of discomfort, that urge to run away from honesty into semantic gamesmanship, is a clue that some part of your mind knows when its full of shit. The moment you feel the urge to change the subject like that, or the urge to move the goalposts or pretend some important point didn’t get made, is when your integrity should be sending you warning signals.

          If you respond, don’t lie, don’t move goalposts, and don’t ignore points when they get made. If you hold your beliefs truly and honestly then you will never feel the urge to decieve people in an attempt to defend those beliefs.

          Be honest with us. If you can’t then at least be honest with yourself.

          • Norm

            Oh dear,what the trend is when i say something that makes you feel threatened is the reverse physiology is brought out to tell me i feel threatened or i think im superior to atheists and im not to be trusted.If that makes you feel better fine.

            • Kodie

              No, you’re just unbearably pointless.

            • Johan

              Don’t even bother. You are obviously a scumbag and nobody respects a scumbag. Your lies get pointed out, your bullshit gets pointed out, yet all you do is play the victim and pretend that being outed as a scumbag liar didn’t happen.

              Nobody believes you, liar. You aren’t honest enough to be part of a conversation or debate. You obviously don’t have the guts to speak honestly about your beliefs and deal with the criticism. Maybe in your fantasies people aren’t smart enough to pick up on your bullshit, but here it obviously isn’t going to work.

              Keep it coming. Each time a theist reveals themself as a liar it helps deconvert the honest believers.

            • Sunny Day

              Well said Johan.

        • machintelligence

          Ahh no ,science is a study or inquiry into how and why things happen or are and never will be able to explain things of the spirit realm.

          Since there is no spirit realm, there is nothing to explain. Any voices you hear in your head are your own.

    • Kodie

      Norm, what is sad? Your opinion of other people and the way you look down on them because you don’t understand MANY THINGS. You don’t just not understand one thing, you don’t understand MANY THINGS. And it closes you off, it doesn’t make you better than anyone else. It doesn’t make you closer to a god that doesn’t exist. And it’s actively causing you to insult people because they don’t think like you do, for you to put them in a place beneath you. Your stubborn lack of intelligence is not something to be proud of.

      • Norm

        How do you come to any of your conclusions Kodie??? Why do you think i look down on anyone or feel superior in anyway to any person here???You personally are the first to unleash a diatribe of insults from me having a differant opinion to my poor grammer,ive even apologized to you personally.Maybe your leading question of “why is it sad”is a clue,you dont get it.When someone says,”I love you Kodie”, dont answer with,”ahh thats just electrons in your brain,science can use magnets to stimulate that,its all an evolutionary prosess to make us engage in coitus so our species will grow and prosper”.Just hug them.Lighten up.

        • Kodie

          You don’t just have a difference of opinion, and having a different opinion doesn’t make yours valid.

        • Johan

          You do look down on people. Even your comments to me. “Aah, no.” Condescend much?
          Your ignorance is nothing to be proud of. Go read a book. Go to a library, get a book on the history of the hold land or comparative religion or anything you please, but please get some information into your head. All of your sad little rhetorical games aren’t getting you anywhere. You act like a shithead so you get treated like shit. Smarten up, learn a little, come back when you know enough to have a conversation about your beliefs without needing to use deception.

          • Norm

            Aahh no,is that all youve got,thats being condescending,you need to toughen up princess youve been over mothered and under fathered,stop reading books and playing video games and get out in the real world.

            • Kodie

              Weren’t you banned at Friendly Atheist for being an insufferable moron? You have said nothing of substance so far. Explain to us one thing – how has what you believe led you to our forum? Was it to convince us, or was it to insult us? By the way, your lack of intelligence is an insult unto itself. I much prefer arguing with theists who actually have two brain cells to rub together. They’re still wrong but they understand what having a discussion entails.

            • Theory_of_I

              Norm-

              Like nearly all believers, you show up here with your fingers stuffed into your ears, your eyes fearfully sqeezed shut, and nothing to offer beyond the incessant ululating regurgitation of the simple-minded inventions of a thoroughly ignorant people.
              In your early youth, you knew nothing of any belief system and would not have known nor cared had you not been stealthily and subreptitiously inculcated by the benefitting members of the religious hierarchy.
              You are a prime example of the weak-minded and credulous part of the population who have allowed the industry of religion to infiltrate and enslave your mind. You are now nothing but the hopeless vassal of those in the religious industry who use you to their profit. They have stolen your ability to think clearly, rationally and independently. A fact which you have consistently and irrefutably demonstrated with each and every thing you have posted on UF. It is patently obvious that you could not produce an original thought in this regard if your life depended on it.

              I would pity you for having been so foully treated and made perpetually ignorant by religion, except that it is your choice not to pull your fingers out of your ears, open your eyes and shut up. You could spend the energy and effort you are foolishly wasting now in trying to perpetrate the farce of a god and the system that uses you for their gain to learn about and appreciate the awsome beauty of the world as it really is… but you won’t.

            • Johan

              You seem to be under the impression that the opinion of an ignorant liar (that’s you, scumbag) is of value to honest people. I hate to have to continually point out how much of a worthless douchenozzle you are but maybe it will sink in one day. You are so obviously full of shit that no honest believer, not even one of your own variety, would ally themself with you because of how much of a lying douche you are. If you think the real world tolerates your lies, think again. In the real world liars get called liars, ignorant fucks get called ignorant fucks, and lying ignorant fucks get called lying ignorant fucks.

              You are a lying ignorant fuck. Keep it coming, each lie helps to deconvert your fellow believers.

            • Nox

              A lot of atheists use to be christians. Some of us did believe. Some of us have experienced god as much as you have. But we eventually figured out that what we were experiencing was an emotional response to a lie. When we realized that what we had actually experienced was being deceived, we stopped believing. Because we actually cared about truth. I know that doesn’t fit with how you want to see things, but it’s actually a pretty common scenario.

              You will not believe me of course. We’ve already established what you’re willing to believe and what you’re not willing to believe (or understand). You will continue to believe what you decided about all of us well before talking to any of us. Your opinion is not based on what you observe but what you feel like believing.

              That is why your diagnosis is completely meaningless. I don’t say that to insult you. Others have covered the necessary insults. I just mean that what atheism is like to you means exactly f*cking nothing.

              You’ve already established that you have no understanding of why real people have real doubts, and that you vehemently wish to not understand. You’re here on a website with real atheists who have been entirely willing to explain their reasoning to you. Yet still, you can only conceive of atheists as being what your pastor told you they were.

              You have formed your opinions from complete ignorance. Again, I don’t say this to insult you. It’s just that actively trying to have no information, is not the best way to find truth. With this method, if you are right about anything, it could only ever be by coincidence. If your blindly predetermined (and ridiculous) beliefs happen to be true then you might coincidentally stumble into being right about something. But at this point the odds of you having any special insight into what all atheists are thinking seems about as likely as you having any special insight into life after death, when life begins, or how life began.

            • Sunny Day

              Its always funny when people think their condescending insults will cover up how hopelessly stupid they are.

            • Yoav

              A lot of atheists use to be christians. Some of us did believe. Some of us have experienced god as much as you have. But we eventually figured out that what we were experiencing was an emotional response to a lie. When we realized that what we had actually experienced was being deceived, we stopped believing. Because we actually cared about truth. I know that doesn’t fit with how you want to see things, but it’s actually a pretty common scenario.

              Cue, you were never a TrueChristian™ in 3 2 1…. I’ll get the bagpipes ready.

            • Kodie

              You couldn’t feel what Norm feels and ever lost it. He knows how you felt and he knows so little about anything, but what he does know is that your feeling was being fooled by something else you thought was spirit, not the real spirit, and being fooled is not something that applies to people with real spirit like Norm. He is the self-identified well-spoken and knowledgeable authority on who has the real spirit and who has been fooled by something else entirely. Even though he’s never been through it, that’s been his experience.

    • Troutbane
    • Troutbane

      Wait….
      “Ok,so what is hunger????an emotional reaction,how sad.Psychology or physiology might be able to explain some of our brain functions but should be the first to admit how much more there is to learn.You can dress it up in medical or scientific terms and impress yourself but to one who is hungry or deeply thirsty all they hear is blah blah blah.”

      OK, the original text was fixed for ya there Norm.

      • Norm

        Thanks Trout,but isnt hunger a physical feeling not a physiological one?

  • Ravyn Guiliani

    so is it impossible for Atheists and Theists to exist side-by-side then? I have nothing to prove (or disprove), I left proselytizing when I left religion. I am not sure if I understand why it is assumed in this article that liberals will have a “target” and that it will be atheists? I like most of Karen Armstrong’s books, she helped me break away from religion by introducing me to the non-dogma of vague liberalism, and her writing style is very easy to read and enjoyable. I never felt she was attacking anything but fundamentalism. I suppose there can be fundamentalistic Atheists. But why would they even care what she had to say? Like you postulate, it is not going anywhere in America’s Bible-belt. I think you are imagining a battle that is not there and won’t be.

    • Johan

      There is no such thing as fundamentalist atheists. There is no fundamental structure or book to be all fundie about.

  • smrnda

    This is mostly in response to Norm and the comparison of religious belief to love.

    Love is something that I experience, and I experience it as a reaction to real, observable things. I can explain why I love my partner to someone else by pointing out her personal qualities or things she does for me or things we do together. So, for me, love is something that there is absolutely no mystery behind. If you see people who love each other, it’s usually not difficult to find out why.

    Even if other people do not experience my love, they can observe the things that cause me to love and be loved. They can see that my partner is a real person who actually exists as described by me.

    The problem with the spiritual or religious experience is that, unlike my partner, the entity (god or whatever) cannot be observed by others, unlike a person you love. People could see a person you love, but they cannot see or observe your god. The entire spiritual experience is all self-reported sensations and impressions without there existing anything in the concrete world that can be pointed to as the cause.

    If we want to take it a step further, I think about religious belief as a kind of placebo. If you’re been taught to believe in it, it works, and can do a job on things that are mostly subjective (placebos work on pain relief better than they can relieve real underlying symptoms.) I see nothing going on with religious people that cannot be seen as just a placebo effect. I mean, if you tell me “I love my parents” the existence of one’s parents can be observed, and I can observe the relationship. But this doesn’t work with religion. Should I take a religious person who says she ‘feels’ the presence of god in a church any more seriously than I take a person who ‘feels’ the presence of ghosts in a cemetery, or the presence of fairies in a garden, or the presence of certain types of ‘energies’ in magic crystals? Do I lack something of value, or is it more like I’m a sane person next to someone who is prone to hallucinations?

    • Kodie

      Can I just say I’m more glad to know more and more about the brain chemicals of love? More than a few times, that shit just makes me too stupid to make good decisions. I’m not trying to diminish love by turning it into a business decision, but stupid shitheads like Norm tell me to lighten up and take the hug – how presumptuous that everyone who says they love me and makes me feel good in my brain follows that the person really does love me and means me no harm. That just following my “heart” is something to be taken trivially when it has had serious consequences for me in the past, unpleasant ones I wish I’d steered myself to avoid, had I taken a step back to consider the warnings. I’m one who loves too easily sometimes, I like to think I accept people for who they really are and not what I wish they were or match what I was hoping for, but those are rationalizations I make because my brain chemicals make me a fool for sweet nothings, a person who isn’t going to love me as much as I want to love them, and a person who is almost certainly going to take advantage of that fact rather cruelly. Knowing all along that it’s brain chemicals helps me better avoid these traps because I can override them, even that can be painful and full of second-guessing, but I’d rather be single than co-dependent. In alternate world where we just don’t know what’s going on but it “feels right”, I simply cannot help myself and end up wondering why I didn’t stop myself sooner if all the signs were there but I still want him back so bad and I can’t go on without him even though he’s terrible. We’re meant for each other and it’s terrible and wonderful and that’s all a part of love that you just can’t control.

      Norm is someone who is easily fooled, and he likes being that way, it hasn’t led him wrong so far, at least according to him. While being in love is nice and I begrudge no one (of course), it’s just presumptuous of another person to dictate that love is something “spiritually” felt and not to analyze it, as if it only leads to mutually beneficial relationships. It’s a brain chemical process that wants you to bond and get laid and isn’t too discerning about flaws in the personality that ultimately degrade the relationship.

    • Norm

      Smrnda i was comparing religion to lust as opposed to a relationship with God to love.Religion has its place and so does lust but they are both shallow compared to true love or the relationship Jesus came to bring us into.

      • Kodie

        Does it make the world safer for you to sort things into simple categories so you can justify yourself condescending to people who know more than you do about just about everything?

      • Jabster

        @Norm

        I’m now going to compare Christianity to a jam sandwich as opposed to Shintoism to a soufflé Suissesse. Christianity has its place and so do jam sandwiches but they are both shallow compared to the true spirituality that Shintoism brings us into.

      • smrnda

        I’m not following at all. My take on love is that it’s something a person experiences in response to something that other people can observe (the person they love.) Anything spiritual is in response to something that cannot be detected. Perhaps we’re making totally different points, but I just think your comparisons don’t make sense for that reason.

        I also understand that using ‘relationship with God’ as opposed to ‘religion’ is important for you and other believers, but I would put ‘a way of relating to god or gods’ as part of the definition of ‘religion’ so it’s just a difference in phrasing to me.

  • Anna

    I’m just adding my two cents.
    I’m an atheist that used to be a member of the ministry. I was totally involved with my Christian faith and was utterly convinced that God was real. After several catastrophic events that I won’t go into here, I now realize that what I ‘felt’ was simply chemical reactions in my brain. Those feelings of being “slain in the spirit” and speaking in “tongues” were all mass hallucinations, an attempt to fit in, and mass hysteria. I now realize that I can get those same euphoric charges from simply viewing people coming together and being good for the sake of being good, being active in nature, and enjoying time spent with friends and family. I don’t need some mystic being to tell me how to be happy anymore.

    • smrnda

      When I was in graduate school for psychology I did psychology of religion and morality. We did a lot of work on the whole charismatic ‘speaking in tongues’ thing. I recall my first exposure – it seemed like anybody was just repeating 2 or 3 syllables over and over again, way too few phonemes to be a language and I couldn’t figure out how anybody was being fooled.

      I think the trick was that you might take it at first to fit in, or to gain approval, and eventually the self-deception works so well that you start to deny you’re faking it. The cycle continues with the next batch of people. The person who faked it on day 1 by day 50 firmly believes that he or she is speaking in tongues and would deny that it was ever faked.

  • Guest Speaker

    Hi Norm et al.,
    I just wanted to follow up one more time and sorry if the thread drifted off topic. However, the fact that Xtians and spiritual people try to claim “love” for themselves and imply that it is something that atheists can’t understand or ‘really’ experience irks me. I certainly don’t think Norm meant to be condescending – he really believes it. This is why rational people are there to correct each other.
    Science is really just a methodology (or collection of methodologies) for trying to figure out what is really going on in this world, what is true. This includes:
    - clear definitions of what you are talking about (here you are merely confounding ‘spiritual’ with well-known biochemical bases of emotion)
    - a mechanism for how a affects b (how exactly does the “spirit” impart emotion?)
    - and credible evidence – usually stemming from a good observational or experimental design that rules out alternative hypotheses.

    Your ‘spiritual’ theory has nothing: you can’t even define what a spirit is! I could even put forth a theory that “Love is the leftover of a great cosmic war between the thetans and crespians. It is beamed into the yukutiual gland by flying pink unicorns.” This silly reasoning is as testable and well-defined as your “theory” of spirits and love and woo.
    The difference between us is that if a body of empirical work emerged with strong experiments and a mechanism which showed the ‘spirit’ existed and how it interacted with the physical brain to create a feeling of “love”, I would happily change my mind. Theists will never change their mind, no matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary.

  • Nox

    I propose an experiment to test the ‘spiritual realm’ (try this at home kids).

    1) Acquire a couple hits of LSD.
    2) Ingest them.
    3) Think about what is happening.
    4) Come back and tell us all about how transcendant spiritual experiences aren’t based on chemical reactions in the brain.

  • Norm

    Well that went well didnt it? A few worthwhile comments and feedback a lot of sooking but hey thats ok.I would have liked to have commented on a few more responses but some seemed unable to understand the spirit it is said in,so we best move on eh.

    • Troutbane

      Actually Norn, there are several questions put to you on this and other threads that have still not been answered. In all cases, when the question is put too you and all your ridiculous defenses are shown for what they are, you simply jump to a new thread. You move on because you are unable to answer those questions which you cannot without reexamining your own faith. In some case they are logical errors you commit and instead of resolving those, you just jump ship to deal with the cognitive dissonance. You are the worst kind of drive-by fundie troll because debating you is the equivalent of arguing with my cat about jumping on the counter.

      • Sunny Day

        A cat can learn not to jump on a counter.
        Norm has decided he doesn’t need to learn anything, ever.

  • Theory_of_I

    No Norm-

    You don’t get to dismiss the comments made to you as if you are so superior that you can’t be bothered.

    If you do, then you are nothing but a vacuous troll, and YOU NEED TO BE BANNED.

    • Sunny Day

      Norm is no different than any of the other object lessons in purposeful stupidity on this site.
      Let the vacuous nincompoop stay.

      • Mogg

        He’s possibly the most annoying one we’ve had, but yeah, annoying doesn’t equal ban-worthy by itself. It’s possible to argue that his behaviour is troll-like in that he tends to throw in an inflammatory comment and not come back to it, and seems to enjoy riling people up. But I’m not a mod.

        • Kodie

          I could definitely name worse we’ve had, but most of the worst ones still engaged in a back-and-forth. His idea of a conversation is a share circle. We think this but he thinks something else, which just randomly happens to be shallow and gullible. After that, he has no idea what’s missing from his end and blames us for asking him to back it up. He doesn’t seem to comprehend what that means or why it’s important to discussion. He’s full-on “entitled to my own opinion, end of discussion.” The insults are really just his back up to the wall. He doesn’t know what we’re asking, he’s confused how this goes, and decides this is some kind of assault or how we express offense at his opinions – persecution. Well he’s shallow and gullible. That doesn’t just form the bulk of his opinion, that’s his whole opinion. That’s what he’s defending.

          I’ve seen stubborn ones, prolific ones, articulate and studious ones, and ones who are not annoying at all (not that they avoid argument, but they speak well and aren’t dense as fuck), and only a couple real true dumb ones, and aside from NAoC, they usually leave. I think it takes a really really real true dumb one to not realize they are outmatched and keep trying. That’s what we’re dealing with here. What with the low traffic in recent months, it does stand out as something to do that we might otherwise ignore. I wish to take a position where someone says something so awkward and so stupid that we just do the “Homer backs away”. Of all the hundreds of Christians (that I can remember), no matter how annoying or trollish we have challenged to back up their assertions and did come to respond, only one other has been so totally clueless how to engage in a dialogue, no matter the argument, no matter the insult. Every single other one has at least tried to engage and make their case with whatever information is available to them. We don’t need to name that other one, but it’s my opinion that we don’t need two.

  • Norm

    Well guys when i read over this post and i try to be objective ,the responses really do amaze [and amuse] me.For a group whos mantra is “we are freethinkers”,some are the most closed minded,insecure people ive met.I dont come here and say you are all wrong you should belive “this”,I say,this has been my experience,or,I disagree and this is why.Its called a discussion.Because I disagree on a point of view doesnt mean i think i am superior or im being condescending.Ok after a while I tell johan hes a mummys boy,so that makes me a troll who should be banned does it?Im wondering where the so called moderator is because a lot of the responses are that of teenagers not of adults who are openminded and are a bad reflection of this community. .If the purpose of this site is to post articals for the purpose of ridicule then yes i am wasting my time or if its for the un believer to comfort each other ,fair enough,but I thought it was more than that.And lets face it if I didnt call you out on some stupid things you say this all wouldnt be nearly as interesting would it now.?

    • Mogg

      Norm, you have proved over and over in both the blog and the forums that you wouldn’t know a civil discussion if it bit you on the nose. You have never given reasons why you disagree on certain things, even when an entire forum topic was dedicated to your stance on a specific subject. You don’t even appear to understand the basics of a discussion, or how to support an assertion – basic parts of language which most primary school students grasp better than you appear to. You have proven youself remarkably poor at basic conversational understanding to the point where I genuinely wonder how you function in your day-to-day life. You leap to amazingly off-track and unjustified conclusions about people, and yes, even your very first posts were condescending and rude. And somehow *we* are immature?

    • Kodie

      Sorry Norm, we have been too hard on you. You have no idea what we’re asking for. You’re sharing your opinion which you value and we have no use for. You are in deeper waters than you thought you were and lashed out. You come from someplace where your opinion is accepted without question and you don’t have to explain yourself. You thought you were coming over to make a few pals and just have some kind of sharing community where your opinion is just accepted without question. But this is a community of skeptics.

      You say X and we ask how did you come to believe X. If it’s true, then you should be able to draw a diagram, but you change the subject instead, or you insult people for being analytical. If you can’t stand the scrutiny, this is not the community for you. It is not because you are Christian – several Christians have held their beliefs while being able to handle the rigors of a debate or conversation. You have not. We have also had a lot of other Christians who make faulty arguments, but they make them. If you have answered any question to defend your belief, if you haven’t ignored it, changed the subject, or outright insulted people, the best argument you have raised in defense of your opinions is “because”. That’s not an answer, and unfortunately, you’re too simple to understand why that’s not an answer.

      Why do you keep coming here? Answer that. What attracted you here and what was your goal when you began posting? Talking to lots of other Christians has been a lot like talking to a person I don’t like, still a person with an engaged brain, and you are not even in that category. Talking to you is like talking to the TV. The characters in my program keep talking about themselves and ignore me. I get so frustrated when the tv doesn’t answer me when I talk to it, well it talks, but it doesn’t acknowledge that it’s in a conversation with another person. The tv doesn’t know. The programs may be live or recorded and the people on my tv look like real people, but there’s a barrier where they can’t hear me, so of course nothing they will say has anything to do with what I asked to find out.

      I don’t actually try to have conversations with the people in my tv – but talking to you is just like that. I am used to a call-and-response. I post something, someone addresses what I’ve said (even if they get it wrong), and I write back – PEOPLE TO PEOPLE. You’re not keeping up. You are a tv. I regret very much to compare you to one of my favorite appliances, but you’re not a person.

      • Sunny Day

        Norm is TV, he’s the Jackass channel.

        • Norm

          Aah no,Im the science channel,Big Bang Theory,the characters seem so relevant here dont they Howard lol

          • Yoav

            Actually you can pass as a significant part of the history channel lineup, you clearly have the same grasp of what evidence is as the folks on shows like ghost hunters and ancient aliens.

            • Sunny Day

              I think Nimrod Norm thinks Big Bang Theory is on the Science Channel instead of CBS.

              I’m not really surprised by this.


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