Is this an oxymoron?

This is Sam Harris' latest article:

I woke up this morning thinking about what's missing from my secular life - an experience that was met when I had supernatural notions about life.

I find taking about this topic quite difficult - because it is a taboo amongst atheists - or so I sense.

But I really am interested to conduct some science based research into what religious folks have - in terms of experience - that many or even most atheists may be lacking. Or perhaps not. But what I'd like to do, is to identify those experiences - which I know are natural and nature based, so that we can know what it is that religious folks have, that we can too - but the question is what is it, and how can we get it on tap.

My main aim for doing this is that experiences had that are named religious are beneficial to relaxation, healing and contribute to our general sense of well being. So I want to identify what those experiences entail - which is why I link to Sam Harris, because I think that they are to be found in different uses and area's of the brain.

But I don't have a brain scanner machine, so I'd be addressing it from a sociological perspective.

My idea was to sit with the many atheists in Melbourne (my current home town) and then with some of spiritual beliefs - from Sea of Faith and other religious institutions - Christian, Muslim, Buddhist etc. My questions would be an effort to find out what people get from religion that atheists don't get from science alone - perhaps? As I don't yet know what it is - it's hard to say what it is that might be missing. But first I think I need to quantify what I'm talking about - and for that I think I would need to speak to the religious folk. Get a picture of what they get from spirituality / meditation / connection with god / involvement in their faith. Once I've got a really good idea of what they feel and think and experience - then I can ask atheists if they feel, think and experience these things - and when and where they have them happen. My guess is that it could be a mixture of things including a feeling of joy from giving to others, a feeling of connection to something bigger than themselves. I wonder if Krauss might give an atheist something very similar to what a Christian gains from Jesus - a sense of overwhelming amazement at life and how we came to be here.

Anyhow - I don't want to go on a lot - and really it's only a starting of an idea here - that I'd like to develop over the next 2 years or so. But I really want to connect with others who can guide my research and make it up to date, relevant and useful.

I know I've got a lot of pre-reading to do before starting the interviews - I would love guidance - even just places to start looking. Perhaps this is covered already and I've failed to come across it so far.

I really would like to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Also please contribute your own experience's that might otherwise be called religious. But let's rename them with names that suit our natural perspective.

Please help me with this difficult to pin down discussion and get it well onto the "able to be studied scientifically" map. Just like Sam Harris is reclaiming Morals from religious folk, let's reclaim 'spiritual' experiences and epiphanies from them also.

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Replies to This Discussion

It would be useful to quantify and name these things - experiences or conditions so that we can talk about them in a rational and reasoned way.


It's almost that we need an atheist dictionary that quantifies these liminal areas of belief - how are so called supernatural experiences explained in a naturalistic way?

I am not talking about anything supernatural but about looking inward to the personal conscience. Decisions would be made according to golden rule morality. We understand right and wrong through golden rule morality and this is strongly evidenced by the fact that, in virtually every civilized society in the world, those who truly do not understand right and wrong in this sense are considered to be insane.

I don't think there should be blanket religious type statements as to what is right or wrong but rather analyses on a case by case basis. A good secular way to more broadly address a moral subject might be through a thorough objective discussion of it that considered all of the extenuating circumstances that could exist. I think secular moral philosophy might be written and categorized in this way but, in order for it to be credible, it would have to be founded in the golden rule.

If secular philosophy were developed that was not founded in the golden rule theists would use it, as they already have, to stigmatize Atheists as amoral or immoral and, thereby, tend to preclude due consideration by the general public of the many good and worthy arguments for Atheism that call for secularization of society.
I really don't understand the golden rule.  I've heard of the term in art class at school - but I've not understood what it meant with reference to morals?  I think if I had this understanding I might understand your post better. :)
The golden rule is do unto others as you would have them to unto you.  In other words, treat people the way you would want to be treated.
Oh OK - I suppose it's a good starting measure...


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