Tag Archives: Spirituality

A Child’s Toilet Epiphany

My first memorable “mystical experience” was on the toilet. I was very young and it was an ordinary day.  I don’t remember being in anything but a normal mood.  I was in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet doing the normal bathroom thing.  The door to the bathroom was just a little ajar to the hallway.  Occasionally someone in my family walked by the door and I thought to myself ,

“Gee, I didn’t close the door — this is a little embarrassing.  But wait, no one seems to know I am in here.  That is good.”

But as I thought about no one knowing I was in the bathroom, I started thinking more generally:

“Wow, this is what it would look like if I weren’t here.  Gee, but what if they don’t know I am in here because I don’t really exist?  What if I never existed?  What would this family be like now if I never existed?  What if all memories of me disappeared?  Who would I be if all these memories were gone, even my own?”

Then, bang!  Suddenly nothing was normal.  I had an abrupt flood of feelings and insights.  I suddenly felt like “I” disappeared and yet it was a rich, peaceful, buzzing feeling — my whole body felt it.  It was a little scary, but still exciting and happy.  And I felt secure in a deep understanding that was settling in.

Then the feeling faded.  That all lasted about 3 minutes and I would never forget it.  In fact, over then next two months, when sitting on the toilet I would try to think the same thoughts and ask the same questions in order to trigger the experience but it would not return.   About a half a year later, in the same setting but without trying, the epiphany came upon me again but with much less intensity.  And after that day, that experience would never return.

The hum of change from this rather simple and naive experience of a young boy has lasted as fuel for his understanding of reality since then.  Have any of you had similar experiences?  Or have you had positive inner experiences that hum for years and inform your life?  What is an atheist suppose to call these?  I could probably explain them neurologically but how do I convey them?  So, can you see why I call myself a “sympathetic Atheist“?

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Theological Roots of Pentecostalism – Book Review

Just as religious folks can be divided into sects by their theologies,  so I often wonder  what a natural taxonomy of Atheists would look like.  I imagine one test for a certain subspecies of Atheists would be to see if they read religious books like this one.  Religious folks are often very puzzled with those of us Atheists who are “obsessed” about religion.  They wonder if we are still seeking the Truth and may return to the flock or if we are just feeling guilty in our new apostate life.  Meanwhile, many lifetime Atheists also don’t see why we’d be interested in such writings.  So, I ask both my Atheist and Christian readers:  Do you read what you don’t believe and if so, why?  What do you feel about such ventures?  I did so to understand, not to prove anyone wrong, but simple to explore and feel.

The Theological Roots of Pentecostal Theology” by Donald Dayton was recommended to us by Nick Norelli, a Pentecostal scholar, in my post “Curriculum of Understanding” where I invited readers to suggest their favorite books to help non-believers understand their particular beliefs. As can be expected, it was rather dry and abstractly theological, but I enjoyed learning from Dayton’s scholarly objectivity.

Donald W. Dayton (Yale Divinity School; Ph.D., University of Chicago), is a professor of theology and ethics at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, IL.  His earlier books include The American Holiness Movement: A Bibliographic Introduction and Discovering an Evangelical Heritage.  Dayton is a believer

The first two pages of each chapter’s are right out of hymnals.  At first, this made me disappointed that I bought the book — “This is going to be a sappy, subjective insider’s story”, I thought.  But I was very pleasantly surprised to find the author a very objective scholar.  Dayton often left me unclear on what he himself actually believed  —  “Is he Pentecostal?  Is he even Christian?”    But as the book moved on, I realized that this Christian author was striving against being “uncritical or apologetic” for which he criticized many other Christian scholars.

The hymns starting each chapter did not to set the tone for a confessional theology, but  assist the reader to feel the hopes, fears and joys of the believers.  I feel such sympathy is essential in understanding any faith.  Each chapter then explores the evolution of Pentecostal doctrine showing how the various doctrines supported the felt social needs of the particular believers in their point in history.  Wow, that took me off guard.  To read a believer who understands the natural evolution of their own beliefs is refreshing.  Dayton shows religion as a social tool.

Dayton unpeeled the roots of Pentecostalism showing the influences of Pietism, Puritanism, Methodism, Holiness Movements, and Perfectionism in such a way as to draw in my mind the image of the interactions of waves — I will  do another post on this “wave theology” later.  Dayton shows us how Pentecostalism grew out of Methodism’s rich theology instead of simply being a contrived emotionalism sprung from revivalist movements.  The sociological complexity of his story was fascinating, even for this Atheist. Dayton does not hesitate to quote revealing superficial sides of these elements, or should I say, the human authorship of these doctrines.  For example I enjoyed his telling of a 1900 propaganda pamphlet which bragged of the “electric sparks” from the “Pentecostal battery”.

Dayton guided me through several insider controversies: apocalypsism & millennialism,  christiocentric vs pneumocentric religious sentiment;  salvation as holiness vs salvation as a heavenly reward; gifts of the spirit and more.  But I must repeat, Dayton’s writing is a bit dry and detailed for the non-Pentecostal, yet alone the Atheist, and he often assumes much Church history and doctrinal knowledge of the reader.  So I am not recommending this book unless you have a particular interest in Pentecostalism.  Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the read.  It helped me re-think the various waves of influence in my own past Christian life and gave me a larger sympathy to a variety of Christian believers today.  Most importantly, it gave me fodder for my blog (smile) — more posts coming.

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Personality Spectrums


Many personality traits vary over a spectrum and are not simply on-or-off traits.  I thought illustrating multiple spectrum-traits as volume controls such as are found on a sound board would be educational.  Here, for example, is my personality based on the famous O.C.E.A.N. 5 personality traits.

O — Openness : reflective, imaginative, creative, adventurous, curious.
C — Conscientiousness : dutiful, desires achievement, likes order and details
E — Extraversion  : talks a lot, likes to be center of attention, action oriented.
A — Agreeableness : cooperative, soft hearted, sympathetic,
N — Neuroticism : easily experience anger, anxiety, depression, vulnerability

The point of this post is not to discuss the validity of O.C.E.A.N. 5 though this linked Wiki article tells about studies supporting the heritability of these traits.  Instead, I am offering a visual method to think about the differences between people.  The point of this post is also not to discuss my personality, but ooops too late, I did (smile).   Of course it  is common sense that rating one’s own personality is vulnerable to amazing bias.  For that reason, I added a little objectivity by asking my wife which controls she would evaluate differently.   Of course she laughed and gladly cranked up one and down another  — I won’t tell you which – smile !

Religious Traits

My actual goal for this post is to get thoughts from readers.   I hope to use this “sound board” template to illustrate personality traits which may influence our religious proclivities.  Many of  this site’s posts are pleas to not look at religious ideas for only their truth value,  but to also take into account the influence of both personalities and environment in the believers who hold these ideas and their function in their lives.   I have some ideas for such religious traits, and research has probably already been done on them.  So I thought I’d ask my readers for their thoughts on this prior to doing a post to illustrate how our personality traits perhaps predispose people to a limited ranges of religious/philosophical speculation.   Thank you for your thoughts which will help me in my future post.

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

The Evangelism Cure

Peter Rollins
I just read an excellent article by Peter Rollins called “Evangelism will change the world“.   Where Pete challenges his Christian readers (and others) to be evangelized instead of the normal call to go out and evangelize.  Peter is a unique liberal Christian from Ireland and now moved to the USA.  Probably many Christians would not consider him to be Christian — as if we care.  His philosophy/theology is highly influenced by Slovoj Žižek, a Slovenian Hegelian philosopher.  I linked articles if you are interested.

I agree wholeheartedly with Peter’s article.  Reading those with whom we have islands or even continents of disagreement can benefit us if we are open to it.  Maintaining such an open heart without turning off discernment is a difficult challenge — but a challenge that makes me feel vibrantly alive.

Examples would be:

  1. The value of vaccine resistors to our vaccine methods
  2. Studies of Chiropractor’s doctors office methods have improved alopathic doctor office practices
  3. Atheists dialoging with Theists

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My Favorite Type of Christians

st_francisSome wrong belief are better than others:

95% of people remain in their religion-of-birth. Some may change to different denominations or sects within that religion — the reasons for change may include: geographical convenience, marriage, community status, or because they actually thought about issues and disagreed with their sect.  But most stay right there inside there religion of birth.

I am not a relativist.  I do not believe all beliefs are equal.  I also believe that among mistaken beliefs, some are better than others.  I also believe that if mistaken beliefs are construed properly and contain enough caveats can capture truth just as well as many true beliefs. Beliefs are complicated.

This aspect of my philosophy is highly controversial in atheist circles. But with such principles, I therefore feel that even if I disagree with a person’s religion in general, I don’t have to argue against their faith in particular but can challenge them to improve their faith.  In fact, I am not convinced that leaving a religion is always the best thing for a person.

My Favorite Christian Theologies

Among all the huge varieties of Christian theologies, I have some versions I favor over others.  So to aid dialogue, let me be transparent with my prejudices.  The table below shows theology categories: major beliefs within Christianity and the variety of ways different Christians believe about these issues. I also she how I’d prefer believers to move if I were to have any influence on that believer’s Christianity. Links in the left column are to my posts on those topics.

God’s Nature
Intervening –> Non-intervening (see Tinkerology)
Personal –> Impersonal
Christology High –> Low
Low:   Arianism , Ebionitism,   AdoptionismUnitarianism
Bibliology Unified Theology –> Multiple Theologies
Inerrant –> Errant
Inspired –> Inspiring
Infallible –> Fallible
Literalists –> Figurativists
Soteriology(Doctrine of Salvation) Who is saved:
Exclusivist –> Inclusivist –> Pluralist –> UniversalistHow we are savedAtonement Theology
Substitutionary Atonement Theories –> Mystical Theory or Moral Example Theory
Angelology:
Angel, Satan & Demons
Literal –> Figurative
Dualistic (you serve God or the Devil) –> NonDualisticSee Jewish Encyclopedia article  (I have much more work to do here)
Harmartiology (Doctrine of Sin) original sin –> ancestoral sin –> tabula rasa
Concept of Sin:
Ontological (nature) –> Deontic (behavior) –> Relational
View of Hell Traditionalist –> Annihilationist –> Universalist
Resurrection
Bodily  –> Metaphorical
Cosmology Young Earth Creationist –>
Gap Creationist –> Old Earth Creationists
–> Evolutionist
Ecclesiology Top down rule –> Local rule
Missionology Salvation First –> Service First
Eschatology Christian Zionist –> Pro-Israel –> Israel-Neutral
Premillenialist –> Postmillenialist –> Amillenialist –>
No Millenialist
Goyology isolated –> acquaintances –> friends –> welcomes family
Tinkerology Marionette –> Tinkerer –> Watch Maker –> Absentee
Theodicy Irenaean (necessary for development)  –> Augustinian(free will)
Deadly Yahweh Dilemma Conservative: Unchanging, Dispensational, Marcion
Liberal: Inaccurate stories, Metaphors
Prayer Life Miracle Prayer –> Guidance, Endurance, Thanksgiving prayer –> Meditative Prayer
Hearing God God tells me what to do –> I talk to God –> My Prayer is simple contemplation
Science Anti-science –> Pro-science
Women Misogynist –> Pre-defined roles –> Equal Rights & Respect
Homosexuality Anti-Gay –> Gay-tolerant –> Gay-friendly
Self-view Worm Theology –> Worth Theology

Generous Understanding vs Condescension

All of this may sound a bit condescending to believers, but remember, in my world, you aren’t going to hell and I still feel that with inaccurate beliefs you could be a better person than a person with accurate beliefs.  My challenge is to try and understand how you use your beliefs to live your life.  Yes, I may disagree with you on a belief but it does not mean I look down on your life.  I may actually come to conclude that you use your beliefs better than I do my own.  I am just trying to understand how you make your beliefs operate in improving your world and the world of those around you.

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Filed under Philosophy & Religion

Whose quote is this?

Guess in the Poll Below:

“Acts inspired by religion have some quality of infinity in them: they seem done in obedience to a command, and though they may achieve great ends, yet it is no clear knowledge of these ends that makes them seem imperative. The beliefs which underlie such acts are often so deep and so instinctive as to remain unknown to those whose lives are built upon them. Indeed, it may be not belief but feeling that makes religion: a feeling which, when brought into the sphere of belief, may involve the conviction that this or that is good, but may, if it remains untouched by intellect, be only a feeling and yet be dominant in action. It is the quality of infinity that makes religion, the selfless, untrammelled life in the whole which frees men from the prison-house of eager wishes and little thoughts.”

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References:

Answer: I’m going to make you work a bit for this:  “This is probably too much work for most oyou all !”  <– that sentence contains the answer using Francis Beacon’s famous encryption method.  If you are diligent and solve this code, send me an e-mail with the answer !  For the rest of you, I will post the answer (and my point) in my next post.

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Religous Folks aren’t Delusional

insane_man_in_a_strait_jacketWell, I guess it is all relative.  Heck, even atheists can be delusional.   But Tom Rees, reviewing an article at his fine site: Epiphenom,  shows that New Agers are wackier than everyone.    I particularly enjoyed Tom’s speculation that when folks leave their religions because they just can’t seem to fit in, if they are rational they become atheists but if they are nutty, they become New Agers.

So if New Agers are more crazy than Religious Folks, why do the atheists seem to focus most of their attacks on the poor Religious Folks?  After all, Atheists pride themselves in attacking illogical, deluded thinking.

Well, I can think of a few reasons (can you add more?) :

  • New Agers aren’t trying to take over the government
  • New Agers don’t think you are going to Hell
  • New Agers won’t stop their kids from playing with yours
  • New Agers aren’t trying to stop science research.

So come on Atheists, fess up.  It is not the beliefs of Theists that you dislike, it is what they attempt to do with those beliefs.  I actually feel that many religious folks are far from delusional.  I feel they only suspend rationality for a few precious beliefs and then turn on rationality to handle all the rest based on those beliefs.  It is all very complicated.

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Filed under Cognitive Science, Science

Cognitive Mysticism

Rumi

Rumi

A phrase to describe my beliefs popped to mind today — “Cognitive Mysticism“.  Well, being only two common words, and lots of writers out there, I am sure these two words have been put together before so please excuse me if someone has grabbed them and given them their meaning before me, and please indulge me.

Religious mystics are generally despised by the orthodox in their home religion.  The orthodox value creeds, doctrines and right thinking.  The Mystic values relationships and being.  The mystic’s first offense, a social one, is to deny the need the religious specialists or traditions to communicate to their god.  The Mystic’s second offense, a philosophical one, is to hold doctrines as suspect — Mystics questions the power of language to capture that truth of the encounter with the divine.

I too question authority (while understanding it’s usefulness in the lives of others) and hold that beliefs are merely anchors for our web of life with no more substance than the function they serve.   Our webs of belief capture far deeper realities than the words that string them together.   These deeper realities are our relationships — relationships to ourselves, others and the world we live in.

Cognitive mysticism allows me to dialogue with other faiths without, at times, a need to challenge their treasured assumptions.  If I want to help a person change their way of relating to their world I can still look to change their web while still preserving many of their cherished beliefs.  I can take pleasure in just making them a better version of themselves while they do the same to me.
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Roadkill Theology

RoadKill Theology Is our final fate any different than other animals? I don’t think so. But most religions disagree with me, painting the fate of humans as uniquely different from all other creatures.  They don’t believe in “Roadkill Theology“: the theological position that all creatures share the same final fate.

I remember the first time I verbalized my Roadkill Theology.  It was to a Western Buddhist friend.

My friend was very fond of his Tibetan guru (teacher) and over the past year had bragged to me often of what a unique opportunity he had to study with this man.  He was convinced that this man was an incarnation of a previous very famous lama (monk).  Then one day, he got news that his master died – smashed by a truck on a chaotic India road. It was a generic death.

My friend was distraught with grief. I felt sorry for him. However, after two days of grieving he appeared more cheerful. He told me that he realized that his Master was probably died for a reason and would soon re-incarnate and return to teach at a higher level.

I’d seen this “everything-happens-for-a-reason” nonsense before: among Christians (God’s plan), New Agers (the Universe’ teaching), Muslim’s (Allah’s will) and now a Buddhist (karma’s care). Argggghhhh.

In my teens, I lost my dearest friend to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.  His parents, born-again Christians, were devastated. His mom took 10 years to recover enough to merge again into society. But three days after my friend died  I witnessed my friend’s father smiling and shaking hands with people who were trying to comfort him.  The father was reassuring the well-wishers  by saying, “I know my son is in a better place.  Somehow this was in God’s plan.”

I understand how these mechanisms protect us and comfort us — well, some of us.  But I can no longer feel these comforts. I no longer believe these stories.

Whatever theory of life and death someone contrives, if it doesn’t treat roadkill squirrels, raccoons, deer, mice, worms and humans identically, then I know it is wrong. The death of a moth smeared thin on my car’s windshield can’t can’t be ruled as an accidental death while that of a human child who wandered into traffic as being part of a divine or karmic plan.

Roadkill theology states that:  All theories of death must treat human and animal roadkill identically.

But tell us what you think:

Photo Credit:  My photo — a roadkill squirrel near my home.

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Beliefs as Circuit Components

friger_schematic

Geiger Counter

Geiger Counter

  • Beliefs are like electronic parts.
  • Each belief can serve several functions depending on relationships.
    (e.g., a capacitor can serve as a filter, blocking DC or it can damp changes in voltage.)
  • Beliefs have relationships to other beliefs and to the outside world (people, activities etc).
  • Using the same beliefs, we get get very different outputs, depending on connections.
    (e.g., imagine a radio and Geiger counter made from similar parts)
  • Using very different beliefs, we can get very similar output/functions. (e.g., a video tape player vs a dvd player)
  • This is how I view beliefs whether those beliefs are the web of beliefs in an atheist or a theist.
  • I care about the output.
  • I care about the relationships and connections
  • I care about the particular belief only secondary to output and relationships, and even then, more in an academic way.
  • As I wrote earlier, beliefs are always linked with emotions, so they play hugely in the mix too.
  • geiger_schematic

    Small Radio

    Small Radio

    Thus, I do not buy into the reductionist model of dissecting each belief and figuring out its individual, unconnected truth value as being meaningful in evaluating a person.  The object is greater than the sum of its parts, because those parts are in relationship.  This view must be common and have a name — can someone help me name it?  I just thought of the analogy tonight.  Before I was using the analogy of beliefs as clothing.  But I like this one better (for now ! smile).

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Notes:  Here are some related posts on beliefs:

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Filed under Cognitive Science