Seem to criticize religion from a Christian or western religious perspective? In other words, those religions which have their basis in Hebraism, Judaism, and Islam; the so-called "Abrahamic religions." They rarely are ever familiar with eastern religion or philosophy where "God" is thought of in a completely different and antipodal way. For starters, God is not thought of as an "entity," and that really boggles the mind of some atheists who've spent their entire lives conceptualizing "God" as some kind of entity.
Of course, most English-speaking atheists that we encounter here at Atheist-Nexus are from the U.K or the United States where western religion is predominant, and that may explain why that is. That's why I've always enjoyed when Sam Harris emphasizes ignosticism which aims to define "God" before any discussion or debate takes place.
There's an interesting video I came across on YouTube where an Indian guru spills his insight to a young "spiritual seeker." He makes an interesting comment about atheism.
Basically that the "God" from his perspective is not the same God in which some atheists reject, the God as "entity," but instead a "source" which he vaguely describes. Because the God that the atheist rejects, he also rejects.
It kind of makes you think, what if the entire theist vs. atheist argument is one of semantics? That this flexible term that we use "God" has a spectrum of meaning, and on one side of the spectrum makes no sense, but on another side, can correspond exactly to reality. After all, Einstein used this word, but of course, not in the same sense a zealous Christian might use it. Just a thought.
And if anyone's interested in eastern philosophy and how "God" is thought about in something like Buddhism for example, a good place to start is this video here, just listen out for "final self." Truly fascinating for anyone with an open-mind… Perhaps some of you have heard this one before…
Western religions make (at least potentially) verifiable claims about the real world and Eastern religions (at least as presented in the West) apparently do not. It may be the case that some atheist arguments against Christianity do not apply to Buddhism and other Eastern religions.
Atheism itself does not (or should not) be seen as making verifiable claims about the real world, but simply as refusing belief in such claims. However there is another ground on which the atheist needs to do work separate from the rejection—dealing with objectively unverifiable claims made in both Eastern and Western religion about individual psychological experiences which follow the search for enlightenment through meditation, prayer, etc.
Both Buddhism and Christianity religions identify kinds of spiritual advance occurring to those who seek them within themselves. Feelings of peace, unity with nature, clarity of vision are said to result from the continued practice. The claim is these represent a supra-sensory path to reality denied to ordinary sensation and by its nature it would seem to be irrefutable, that is, non-falsifiable.
Life is full of non-falsifiable claims, many of which are harmless and certainly the atheist will accept some without question. They often refer to individual psychological states in others. It is the claim of the Christian that he has direct experience of God or the Buddhist that his meditation opens a path to reality that need to be dealt with. When the sole evidence is the personal experience of others, claims can be hard to evaluate.
It is interesting to me that many religious people seem to accept a belief in "a god" as one and the same god.Therefore these people are accepted as "OK" whereas atheists are rejected. This must explain why many Christians considered Romney a Christian, when he is not.
Harris rescues Buddhism from his sharpest condemnations (with extra-heavy emphasis on the jihadist elements of the Quran), but I wonder if he didn't take the Universe of Hinduist Thought into consideration and simply relegated it, mentally, to "Other Polytheism," or some other subcategory. In any case, one of the triumvirate of Harris-Hitchens-Dawkins points out that these beliefs have not, so far, created the bitter in-fighting by the monotheisms. Plus, Harris has "nice" things to say about Buddhism. When going through that stage in my life, I found remarkable things in, e.g. the Hua Yin School, because their major text makes an astonishing ancient understanding of quantum theory: the mirror universe of Hua Yin, infinite mirrors mirroring mirrors, subatomically corresponds to Bohm's vast interconnectedness (the implicate order), and for some time, that was my own belief. We are all, all of us, vastly interconnected. I don't need "God" to understand that, much less The Priesthood.
@ Lille: Uh, Mormons are Christians. They believe in Jesus, the Gospels, &c. They do not believe in the Protestant or Catholic versions of Jesus. The idea they are not Christians is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, oft used by the Evangelical movement to paint anyone who does not agree with them as "unChristian" (or Satanic).
Certainly Mormons are Christians in their belief in Christ and the Bible, but Mormonism adds so much to traditional Christianity—an additional set of scriptures of such length and an alternative history of such substance that a legitimate question can be raised whether these amendments are sufficiently transformative that traditional theology is overwhelmed. Is Mormonism just another version of Christianity or is it something radically different despite the formal resemblance?
I really appreciate the feedback from all you guys. I want to reply to a couple of your posts here, Allan, I'll start by quoting something you posted on page 5 on this thread:
"However there is another ground on which the atheist needs to do work separate from the rejection—dealing with objectively unverifiable claims made in both Eastern and Western religion about individual psychological experiences which follow the search for enlightenment through meditation, prayer, etc."
Perhaps you're familiar with the work of Dr. Rick Strassman who aimed to do precisely what you've mentioned here. Strassman speculates in his book "DMT: The Spirit Molecule" that the true culprit, so to speak, behind religious or mystical experience, what in Christianity you might call the "Beatific vision" or in eastern religion, you might hear as "satori" or "samadhi," may be a natural induction of endogenous DMT (N,N-Dimethyltryptamine). So, he administered DMT intravenously to several volunteers as a part of his research, all of whom, low and behold, had very profound, life-changing experiences under the influence of this very peculiar entheogen, all of whom came back uttering tales of religious revelation, UFO abduction, enlightenment, etc.
Shamans have been using substances to go into these altered states for millennia. Ayahuasca is a DMT-containing beverage, a kind of neurotransmitter cocktail and the use of it dates back thousands of years. Likewise, psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in the so-called 'psychedelic' mushroom is related to DMT and the ingestion of psychedelic mushrooms also dates back to thousands of years. These substances, if taken in a shamanic fashion meaning not taken recreationally but taken at 'effective doses,' can produce this so-called mystical experience on-demand.
But I agree with you that these things aren't easily assessed. I've noticed that most people who don't have direct experience with these things have certain preconceived notions about the effects of these substances such as people tend to assume that what happens is basically what you find depicted in the movies, i.e. pink elephants, prancing leprechauns, what have you or some kind of projection of the personal subconscious or unconscious. Having experience with this stuff, personally, I can tell you that it is not at all like that. What instead seems to happen is you seem to tap into a kind of universal phenomenon. In other words, there are motifs in the experience that aren't reducible to the individual. So, that's one thing that makes this a really hard to tease a part of what is traditionally called the subjective or a "personal experience," it's instead defined as impersonal or a transpersonal experience. That everyone, in a way, kind of goes to the "same place," so to speak. It's as though maybe because we're all perturbing the same substrate: the mind, the brain, we see the mind electrified to a reality-obliterating, ego-shattering, mind-boggling intensity and suddenly you're witness to the mind of nature or the multiverse itself. They can produce as I said before, staggeringly titanic, colossal, God-like altered states of mind of which ordinary experience is unrecognizable, often referred to as "ego death." Powerful emotions equated to agapé along with a kind of intuitive omniscience or a kind of intense, wordless understanding or insight, etc. It's like turning circuit board of reality over and seeing the circuitry and having this profound intuitive understanding of how it's all wired together. The so-called 'mystical' experience of the French philosopher Descartes involved a similar sudden revelation in which he saw in a flash the "order of all sciences," as he described it, he was also in a way obsessed with DMT with his obsession of the pineal gland which he referred to as "the seat of the soul" and which also is speculated to elaborate DMT in the human brain.
But truly, if you see all of religion as a kind of attempt to describe this experience, then all these have been failed attempts to coin the perfect metaphor. That's why I think to really assess it, you're going to have to have this experience for yourself. So, if you accept this kind of perennial philosophical rap as true, then you have an explanation of Mormonism, that Joseph Smith is just another person, another average human being like you and I, who in history had this colossal experience and went on to become the founder of a religion, likewise Christ, Mohammad, Gautama, etc. An experience that each of us has the potential to undergo. However, I might mention that after having this experience nowadays, you probably wouldn't go on to become the founder of a religion, you'd probably end up in a psychiatric ward if you aren't careful with your words about it. If you're articulate enough, maybe you'll start some DMT-awareness religion that'll solve M-Theory, put to rest the mystery of synchronicity, dissolve the theist vs. atheist issue, etc. I mean, who knows? As an aside, I'd like to add that The Atheist Experience show has never in any episode ever addressed DMT. Maybe someone should call in and let these guys know what's up or maybe someone should send Matt Dillahunty 70mg DMT through the mail.
Ah! Well, I sort of went off in a tangent there, but I'm sure this sounds either redundant or familiar to you, Allan, as I know we've edged around this stuff in another thread. I'm not sure if you had taken a look at the link to another atheist forum's thread that I've been mentioning. The thread there goes over all these topics at a little more depth. I'll leave a couple of links if there's people out there that don't know what this stuff is… because despite the fact that people produce this naturally, most people don't know what it is. I don't think we'll ever put religion to rest unless we study these altered states and the substances that propel them.