Mysticism Demystified: Three Arguments for God

Mysticism Demystified: Three Arguments for God December 2, 2019

Editor’s Note:  This look into mysticism is written and reposted with permission (and with a few editorial changes) by a Clergy Project member who did not come from a mainstream religion. This piece  provides not only useful information, but is also a nice respite from the coming onslaught of the Christian-themed narratives we face at this time of year. /Linda LaScola, Editor

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By “Scott”

Under the Influence of Mysticism

Mysticism can be like a drug. It has an intriguing and intoxicating appeal for individuals around the world, in nearly all cultures. Our attempts to solve the mysteries of the universe and seek the unknown are noble AND necessary for human progress. As monks, leaving the chapel after hours of deep meditation we’d say we were “drunk” with peace, bliss, or God. We’d get buzzed on bliss.

Most cultures have mystical beliefs and traditions. In the Pre-Christian era, Pythagoras emphasized the mystical interconnectedness of numbers, nature, and the soul.

Plato too was influential on Western mystical traditions. The Christians and Catholics have a plethora of mystic saints including St. Teresa,

Padre Pio, and St. Francis. Judaism has Kabbalah, and Muslims the Sufi mystics (Janz). In the East, mysticism is part of Zen Buddhism, Hinduism,

Yoga, and Sikhism to name just a few.

Mysticism is, therefore, a global phenomenon and belief system. Fascination with mysticism and mystical experience was a huge reason for my becoming a meditating monk for 14 years. The bible of Self-Realization Fellowship is Autobiography of a Yogi. Throw a dart blindly at any page in this book, written by Paramahansa Yogananda, a yogi mystic, and you will get a fantastic story of saints and mystics in India. Some were immortal, had two bodies, could live without food, and performed many other unusual yogic feats (Yogananda). But, what really is mysticism?

What is mysticism?

Mysticism (noun)

  • Belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.
  • Belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, esp. when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.

– Oxford Dictionary

Let’s unpack the belief system and “logical” arguments used by apologists and believers of mysticism. Below are the three main arguments that once seemed quite convincing and compelling to me. Without these three arguments I probably would not have dedicated 14 years of my life to practicing yoga meditation in a monastery.

The best “rationale” and explanations for believing in mysticism are based on three arguments from the consensus of:

  1. Mystics
  2. Holy books
  3. Humanity

The argument from consensus of the mystics:

Mystics (eg. christs, prophets, saints, yogis) experience extraordinary states of consciousness, union with god, supernatural perception, etc. Mystical experiences can’t be understood through the five senses, intellect, or ordinary human experience. Unless all mystics are deluded, supernatural experiences must be true. Therefore, a supernatural Deity exists.

The argument from consensus of mystics has numerous flaws. Premise 2, is basically stating: “If we don’t have a better explanation or know what mystical phenomenon are, then these experiences must be supernatural or God”. This is known as argument from ignorance (Skepdic). There are many explanations that rational thinking and science could use to explain mystical experiences. Some of them include: Many psychoactive chemicals, like LSD, natural substances, such as Peyote (Lal), or sensory deprivation, like flotation tanks, can induce “altered” states of consciousness, visions, feelings of oneness. Many people “under the influence” of these therapies have testified to religious or mystical experiences.

Premise 3 is flawed since it is possible that all mystics could be deluded in the same way. Scientists and skeptics suspend belief until there is sufficient, objective evidence. If we don’t have an explanation for a certain experience or phenomenon it’s OK to say “we don’t know”. There’s a danger in interpreting subjective “mystical” experiences as if they are certain truth claims.

Along with my fervent readings of Autobiography of a Yogi and many other spiritual books it was not surprising that I found comfort and faith in this next argument.

The argument from consensus of holy books:

Holy books reveal the word of a Deity.  The word of a Deity is necessarily true. The word of a Deity reveals the existence of the Deity.  God or a Deity exists.

The argument from consensus of holy books is circular. Arguing that a book or bible makes valid claims that a Deity or revelations exist and therefore that the Deity itself must exist is just reasoning in circles and is nonsensical. All holy books were written by humans, not gods (Park). I’ve heard arguments that holy books were divinely inspired. That could be. But arguing that holy books are divinely inspired just puts us full circle back into the flaws of argument from consensus of mystics above.
Lastly, is the third argument that supported my rationale for mysticism and supported my faith in personal experience of a Deity.

The argument from consensus of humanity

Nearly every human culture has believed in a supernatural Deity. All humanity could not be wrong or could not all be deluded. Therefore, God or a Deity exists.

This is a circular argument that assumes because many humans believe something it must be true. Just because many people hold the same beliefs doesn’t mean they are true. Which humans or gods should we believe? Zeus, Thor, Shiva, Yaweh, Mother Mary? Humans used to believe the world was flat. Then science proved the world was round. In the medieval era, humans thought plagues were punishment for sins from Satan. Then science discovered germ theory and that microscopic bacteria causes diseases and viruses. Wishful thinking, mass delusion, and irrational belief are only countered by rational-thinking and willingness to revise beliefs based on impartial, unbiased evidence.

Unfortunately, before I’d committed 14 years of my life to mysticism in a monastery, I was not privy to the flaws of the three arguments above. If I had been, I might have made better decisions and not wasted so many years of my life pursuing my mystical dreams. It took me a few years after I left the monastery to develop reliable skeptical- and critical-thinking skills. What is skepticism and how does it help humans make better decisions?

What is skepticism? 

Skepticism is a practical approach when examining mysticism and all unusual claims, whether in advertisements, from con artists, friends, or mystics. Skepticism is simple and straightforward. Skepticism means not believing something before you have credible proof. It is nothing more than thinking and withholding belief until adequate evidence is presented. Also, skepticism means keeping an open mind, being ready and willing to change your mind when better evidence demands (Harrison).

***Author’s Question*** Are there more convincing arguments for belief in mysticism or existence of a Deity? I’m open and willing to know where my thinking may be off. Please share your favorite arguments or sources.

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Bio: “Scott” was a monk at the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) ashram for 14 years before leaving to complete his education and enter the business world.  Raised Roman Catholic, he got into eastern religious practices and was influenced in his 20’s by reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by SRF founder Paramahansa Yogananda. He is now a member of The Clergy Project and a successful business consultant.  He discusses the hidden, and sometimes-dangerous side of meditation practices, systems and groups at SkepticMeditations.com.

Works Cited:

36 Arguments for the Existence of God. Goldstein, Rebecca. The classical arguments and perspectives on their flaws. PDF. Web. 10 Oct 2013

DMT: The Spirit Molecule video documentary. 2010.

Janz, Bruce. Roots of Western Mysticism. 2011. Web. 12 Dec 2014.

Harrison, Guy. Think: Why You Should Question Everything. Print. 2013. Prometheus Book: NY.

Lal, Erika. “Psychedelic Drugs and the Religious Experience: A Study of Neurological and Mystical Relationships”. Azusa Pacific University. 2011. Web. 15 Feb 2014.

Park, James. Which Gods Do Not Exist? No Gods Wrote Holy Books. University of Minnesota. 15 Feb 2014.

Skepdic, Skeptics Dictionary: argument to ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam). Web. 15 Feb 2014.

Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. Self–Realization Fellowship. 1998. Print. 2 Feb 2014.

>>>>Photo Credits:  By Kalyan Kumar – originally posted to Flickr as ShivMandir , Kemp Fort, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4232992 ; By Pedrohuerta – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28585465


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  • Michael Neville

    The argument from consensus of humanity Nearly every human culture has believed in a supernatural Deity. All humanity could not be wrong or could not all be deluded. Therefore, God or a Deity exists.

    This argument would be valid if everyone believed in the same deity. If widely spread societies and cultures all accepted the same god or gods then that would be evidence for the existence of a particular god or gods. But as Scott explains since the various gods barfed up by human imagination differ so widely there is no consensus of humanity and so that argument fails.

  • Jim Jones

    And the Jews and Christians are wrong too:

    Then I began to see that not just the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born-again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost.

    Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.

    Misquoting Jesus — Bart Ehrman

  • Mark Rutledge

    Sorry for your 14 years. I see “mysticism” as a human experience that many people have had. It seems to be a universal type of experience across times and cultures. Sometimes they are profoundly life changing. What these experiences “mean” are matters of interpretation. Interpretations vary widely. One of those interpretations has to do with “God” however various cultural religions see that. But there are non-supernatural interpretations–one of those being related to the psychotropic drug research you refer to. I had one once but I did not interpret it in religious terms, simply something like “what the heck was that?!”
    I remember reading William James “Varieties of Religious Experience” in college and being fascinated. My sister is a sufi mystic. I do not call myself a mystic, nor do I necessarily understand those kinds of experiences in religious terms. It is unfortunate that some see these experiences as demonstrations (or proofs) of the existence of a god. I see these kinds of experiences as part of the natural experience of being human, Meditation need not be related to a god, but simply a human practice that adds certain dimensions to our human experience. Just a thought. A question: why can’t such experiences, (whether long-time practices or one time dramatic or life changing moments be seen as “natural”? That’s the way I seen them. Just as I see your years of meditation as valuable and not to be diminished by connecting them with a god or any kind of “proof.”

  • Linda LaScola

    FYI: I am currently trying to contact Scott to see if he can respond directly here.

  • Michael Neville

    That is why Musloms* insist that the only correct Quran is the 650 Zayd ibn Thabit edition and ulamas (Islamic scholars) need to know 7th Century Arabic to properly study the Quran.

    *Intentionally misspelled to get around the Official Patheos Naughty Word List™.

  • Carstonio

    No, mystics only say they experience extraordinary states of consciousness. Anyone with an agenda could claim to have that experience. If I say I’m thinking of a purple elephant, no one knows for a fact that I have that thought. And “if we don’t have a better explanation” is the equivalent of filling in the missing pieces of a puzzle with putty.

    Framing the argument as the existence of a deity wrongly gives monotheism a privileged place in the debate. It implies that the only possibility is a single being and not many beings.

  • Jim Jones

    Yes, and even though this one is a horrible mess the first version was worse!

  • Carstonio

    Religious or mystical experience? Extraordinary state of consciousness? Feelings of oneness? Those terms seem vague as to be meaningless for practical purpose. I’ve never tried any psychoactive chemicals and I never intend on trying them.

  • mason

    Making love, surfing, experiencing Nature’s wonders, great wine & seafood, friendships, travel, great literature & movies; do people really need mysticism? Maybe because they have failed to learn how to enjoy the banquet of life? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a478be58f75e9cefb55d48263fbf250d7b4b4e0881d07bfe8c8b4e0430fa7481.jpg

  • alwayspuzzled

    Reaching conclusions by arguing for or against a religious consensus is problematic.

    In practice, a religious consensus is not arrived at until a set of individual religious experiences has been institutionalized, and the institution has transformed the original experiences into doctrine and dogma. Historically, religious institutions have been entangled with the secular power structure so that, as the institutional dogma takes shape, it serves the secular ambitions of the institution and its leaders in addition to extracting the meaning and significance of the original religious experiences.

    In this sense, a religious consensus will inevitably be compromised and corrupted. The Roman Catholic Church would be one very good example of this, over the centuries.

    It is very difficult to see how such a consensus can be used to reach conclusions about the existence or non-existence of an extra-empirical being (or beings). The development and perpetuation of a religious consensus will tell us a great deal about human nature, but it will tell us little or nothing about a putative divine reality.

  • Thanks @disqus_vGOjNGMpI7:disqus for your comments. I agree overall with your seeing “mystical” experience as natural, human experience. Though, perhaps, rare or infrequent. All experience gets filtered through some kind of world view. Mine just happened to be interpreting my experience through the mystical lens, which also labelled those experiences as god, spirit, special-somehow. I don’t have answers to the experiences or interpretations. Just more, perhaps simpler interpretations than overlaying complicated gods or spirits as the cause of such experiences.

  • @Carstonio:disqus: Thanks for posting your comments. Based on my experience and research “mystics” don’t claim “monotheism”. Polytheism might be closer to the experience. All is god, one, union, ineffableness, etc. Of course, I’m no longer claiming these experiences prove a god, spirit, or anything other than our human interpretation and quest for something transcendent of language, words, and conceptual thoughts.

  • @disqus_GbXjFCBTpb:disqus : Agree. Wonders are all around. Sometimes though the pain or flatness of life compels us humans to seeks something more, to escape into poetry, music, or religion/philosophy/art/utopian dreams. I don’t ever think we can escape wanting to escape our limitations. Art is a great tool for sharing experience and leaving interpretation open to the experiencer.

  • @alwayspuzzled:disqus thanks for your comments. Agree. Consensus is a leveling of extraordinary down to the mediocre. Mystics, artists, and adventurers or risk takers of the mind are perhaps beyond consensus. The interpretation or world-views that interpret them have some leveling of the extraordinary so we can try to make meaning. Otherwise, we don’t “see” or experience at all without our already, always unconscious familiarity.

  • carolyntclark

    .Sapiens has an evolved complicated emotional factor…..”something transcendent of language, words, and conceptual thoughts” = emotion.
    The ability to be awed is a biological cerebral experience, not a supernatural one.

  • Lord Backwater

    Nearly every human culture has believed in a supernatural Deity… Therefore, God
    or a Deity exists.

    This argument is not only fallacious, it is perverse. Belief in Thor is interpreted as evidence for God. Belief in Kali is interpreted as evidence for God. Belief in the volcano god and rain god are interpreted as evidence for God. Etc. This argument contains a huge load of chutzpah.

  • mason

    100% of human cultures didn’t believe in germs for most of human history; therefore germs do not exist.

  • mason

    I’ve never had the need/compulsion to escape our limitations (and we can’t really unless we go to delusion & fantasy) and I’ve had my share of pain etc. and will have more. 🙂