I debate, a LOT. To me it’s a sport, something like football to its fans. Debate, regardless of what you may have seen during presidential campaigns, when properly practiced leads us to truth. Because of this I debate everything; in the search for answers, for truth, one uses whatever tools are at one’s disposal.
But recently my tool has been running afoul when I apply it to the phenomena known as “religion” and “spirituality”. It seems that, for most people (theist and non-theist alike) once these topics come up then all logic and reason is thrown out of the window in favor of what I fondly call “stupid monkey syndrome”. We all have it, when pet theories are threatened and all of our time and effort seems to be pointless, and just because it flares up doesn't make us lesser people. It just means that there are some underlying issues that need to be addressed.
I’m not dealing with those issues in this article, no. Rather, I’m addressing something that several people have told me and putting some misconceptions to rest.
Many people say that they've had some sort of “mystical” experience and that they now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is something more to life. All is one, or some variant thereof. This is usually their last ditch, semi-lucid attempt at using logic against my investigation, so I will start with these “experiences” the human brain is capable of generating.
I too have had experiences that were “mystical”. I've had moments and afternoons where I felt a connection to the cosmos, where I could literally feel the breathing and pulsing of life and have a sense of mental clarity about my purpose in the universe. When someone claims to have “seen god” or “felt the holy spirit”, I know full well what they are talking about. It was my own inner experiences that led me to science, after all.
Where I differ from others, however, is that I’m not convinced that what I experienced was truly “metaphysical”. At first glance it seems that way, but I've seen one too many Necker cubes and had way too many false memories to trust appearances. Everyone should know this by now, but we humans have a problem with examining things after we've made up our minds about them. How often have you thought someone was angry or upset, a jerk, or just rude and then, after you get to know them, you realize how wrong you were about them? If you can extend that courtesy to others, then extend it to yourself.
You see, science is NOT some sort of megalithic beast that can be clearly defined. Just like spirituality, science is a method, a WAY of thinking about things. The strength of science, however, is that conclusions can be tested for one’s self, if one is inclined to do a little work for it. Spirituality is unique for every practitioner, so while it is interesting and can be extremely helpful for those who use it, their insights often prove vague or useless to others who may use different terms or paradigms. With science, we have a common language. Words have exact meanings, and formulas describe patterns that are observed in nature and the lab. With science, “I don’t know” is an open invitation for people to try to make sense of it. With religion and spirituality, “I don’t know” is seen as an admission to be avoided at all costs. Don’t understand something? Postulate something like ectoplasm or god and Ta da! Problem solved!
Except that we still are ignorant of what’s really going on. “It must be the work of god” has become synonymous with “I don’t know but I can’t admit that I’m ignorant”.
As I said earlier, I have had “mystical” experiences and have been goaded by them to try to understand them. Because of this I have researched topics like “god” and “spirituality” for quite a while and I feel that I have earned the right to express my (still developing) opinions.
I think that any talk about “gods” is pointless, as we can’t prove or disprove them and at any rate it isn’t like they pop up to help us out in any direct way. Besides, even if they were real, most of them (if not all) have blood on their hands in some way and ALL are immoral by our modern norms. Given the track record of religions and “deities” in terms of loss of life, enslavement of humans, and exploitation of the uneducated by these same institutions in service to a status quo that still alienates people and allows injustice to flourish, I believe that the complete disengagement of people from organized religion and “god” worship is in the best interests of our species.
As far as “spirituality” goes, however… That’s a different story. Certain disciplines have empirically demonstrated that they further development the physical brain, as well as alleviating anxiety, stress, inability to focus, and several other benefits. Not paradigms, mind you, but techniques. Actual, repeatable actions that can be empirically studied and proven. I believe that spiritual practices should be studied so as to refine and perfect any methods that show to support healthy brain development. To ignore the practical benefits of something, no matter how irrational the source, is illogical and unscientific. If we really are ignorant of almost 84% of reality as physicists are starting to conclude, then it would be arrogant to dismiss the bath before fishing for any babies.
And that’s about where I stand on the issues. Opinions change as more information becomes available, of course, and I expect mine to be subject to these laws. I highly recommend giving yourself permission to be wrong, and to then re-examine EVERYTHING you thought you knew about these “gods”, “spirits”, and “experiences” that you have. You never know: you may end up proving scientists wrong!