It seems to me that for a huge number of people that once included myself, getting over religion wasn't really the hardest part of letting go of the idea of a spiritual realm.

I think the hardest part is the existential crisis presented by the notion that who we are and what we are boils down to electrochemical reactions. Love, meaning, purpose, identity, etc. aren't any more real or valid at the end of the day than lightning. There's a kind of profound reticence we feel against accepting that our dreams, aspirations, courage, compassion, kindness and everything we hold as the highest expressions of the best of what it means to be human can be reduced down to patterns of electricity firing in a biological computer that directs the actions of a biological machine.

For me the key was a simple little adjustment of perspective I arrived at by both going to see music in small venues and, on other occasions, producing shows in small venues.

Here's the challenge: you have a band playing in a small venue that was not specifically designed with acoustics in mind. The band has a drummer, an electric bass, an electric guitar and a singer. First mistake (often made by people paid for their services) the sound guy mics the drums. Why? Possibly because in a larger setting - especially outdoors, the visceral nature of the drums are enhanced when they pound through the speaker. So, in a small space, don't mic the frikkin' drums. Nevertheless, the two stringed instruments are electric and need to amped. Besides, if they weren't, in a small space they would be overpowered by unmic'ed drums. Finally, the vocalist is going to need a microphone to be heard.

Most so called 'sound engineers' insist the answer to the almost inevitable problem of not being able to hear the vocalist in this situation is to jack up the volume on the vocal mic. The actual answer is for the drummer to learn how to play with more finesse and to turn down the amps of the guitars. I know - I have experience at making this work.

You see, once you understand that over thirteen billion years of physics and chemistry, and over four billion years (at least on Earth) of biology and evolution have arrived at the actions of some animals being motivated by what they call love, compassion and purpose - you don't need god or the supernatural to either explain it or validate it. Because, once you realize that it's not about artificial amplification of value and that its about the beauty of the music and being able to hear it clearly for what it is - it becomes very possible to find that music is more sublime when understood than when distorted.

Knowing that my thoughts are patterns of electrical impulses generated in a bioelectrical machine doesn't cheapen the value of my thoughts. Knowing that there is no god and no master plan doesn't cheapen my love for my family. For me, it makes it even more beautiful. It means that love and compassion and a sense of purpose evolved as a sophisticated solution to the challenge of survival in a universe that grows ever more sophisticated by the moment.

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Comment by D R Hosie on June 28, 2010 at 6:25pm
Exactly ! - And it is this sublimity (damn it, I still think it should be "sublimnity") of the human experience, that can't especially be reduced to formulae. Because, in a certain sense, it plays-out in individual performance(s) of meaning, like musical pieces being performed by unique individuals (I dunno, Howard, is that a double-something; unique individuals?).
Comment by Howard S. Dunn on June 28, 2010 at 4:04pm
D R - I concur. Another extension of the metaphor is this. Imagine a time (maybe today) when you could (can) listen to music without having any idea about how it is produced. Many who are not musicians find themselves in this position. The music lights up nearly every region of of our brains and moves us in a seemingly magical way. Now, as a musician, I am intimately aware of how music is produced. As one who studies the science of sound and the history of that science, I am even more 'demystified' when it comes to music. Since I am an atheist and fully accept that there actually is nothing mystical about either emotional responses or music itself, I am further demystified. Nevertheless, I would argue that I can appreciate music on even more levels than can the person who only hears it as a type of powerful magic. Even though I know the 'trick' of it - it remains sublime and that very fact makes it even more amazing to me.
Comment by D R Hosie on June 28, 2010 at 3:35pm
Howard, just to borrow slightly from your own metaphor, I came to see that trying to equate the entire human experience to the reaction of so many electro-chemical exchanges, is like instancing the most intricate and exquisite piece of music you can think of, by equating it to just so many electrical pulses being conducted across the circuitry or your particular sound system.
Comment by Howard S. Dunn on June 8, 2010 at 10:43am
I just thought that through - if you are alive, you are experiencing something. If you are dead, you are not experiencing anything. Yeah - gonna have to stay addicted to experiences as long as I can.



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