Practicing the Presence of God

April 21, 2007 at 6:57 am 16 comments

Especially for those of us who came out of the charismatic movement, “worship” (when a person is suppose to be singing praises to God) was a very integral part of our Christianity. I use quotes around worship because, in reality, it was more about self-gratification than what one would consider true worship. If you think about it worship is really a single-directional event that should not have any expectations of a return. However, we worshiped to receive something from God. For us, it was about the high or the emotions we experienced.him-worship-shot.jpg

These emotions became ingrained within us. Even now, on my de-conversion journey, I could close my eyes and hum one of those worship songs and feel the very same emotion that I did in the past. Back then, my psyche interpreted it as the “presence of God.” Now I know it was just an emotional and conditioned response to a particular stimuli.

This phenomenon is different for different sets of individuals. For example, there is a large American Christian community who believe that Southern gospel is the only type of music God ordains. To them, Christian Rock is evil and of the devil. This community will feel nothing listening a contemporary worship song, but they will “experience the Holy Ghost” with a banjo pickin’ rendition of “I’ll Fly Away.” If I had heard that very same song, I would have experience nothing since I’m not conditioned to experience God with that type of music. Why would God not be there for me?

My point is that the reality is – it’s NOT really God Christians experience. It’s a series of feel good chemicals released into the body as a result of a conditioning that develops over time.

- The de-Convert

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16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Jerome  |  April 21, 2007 at 8:08 am

    You make a great point. I have been moving away from faith myself and am often confused by the reaction I have to religious songs. I still love the old hymns and folk songs. My response to them now must be purely human.

    On another note, I am going to borrow your “Agnostic Atheism Wager.” My readers need to see that.

    Greg

  • 2. Simen  |  April 21, 2007 at 8:28 am

    Since, based on all we know, these responses are simply physical reactions in the brain, there should be no real difference between a religious experience of “God” and a secular experience of “unity” or “being a part of something bigger” or whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the former, but I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced the latter.

  • 3. HeIsSailing  |  April 21, 2007 at 9:24 am

    This fact really hit home for me about 3 weeks ago. I have to write an article about it, but have not gotten around to it yet. I never got emotionally carried away during traditional worship. I did however, when contemplating the magnitude of God. I was like Isaiah, who upon seeing the throne of God would fall down, rend his clothes and declare ‘Woah is me’. Isaiah got a rush when contemplating infinity. So do I.

    I also enjoy hiking, astronomy and mathematics. I discovered that I got similar rushes when contemplating the size of the Universe and our place in it, studying fractal geometry (the fact that there are geometric objects of finite area but infinite perimeter length just blows my mind) or climbing a mountain, looking down at the curvature of the earth, and my tiny speck self against it.

    In each case, I am placing myself next to something inconceivably huge, the infinite. That is a transcendent experience for me, a suspension of disbelief. I think maybe Isaiah, Ezekiel and the rest had similar emotions in their raptures and epiphanies. When I hear New Agers speak of Astral Projection, this may be something like what they are talking about. But I found that it is all self drawn, all welled up from inside my emotions, drawn forth by placing myself to be tiny next to the infinite, and I get an indescribable rush of emotions contemplating the vast hugeness of it all.

    This is how I felt worshipping God. It is all inside me.

  • 4. radec  |  April 21, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I still attend church with my family and every once in a while a song will be led that brings up those warm “connecting with god” feelings. These confused me too until I realized a short time ago that it really isn’t god trying to connect with me but nothing more than the song triggering some happy memories of my past. In this case it was a memory of my mom who is now passed singing the song next to me. the memory was so strong that I swore I could even hear her voice!! Once I realized what and where these feelings came from, I felt great and enjoyed the singing more than I did as a believer.

  • 5. brad  |  April 21, 2007 at 11:17 am

    aA, I don’t think that most intelligent Christians would disagree with you. The emotionalism that is so popular in Charismatic or even mny other evangelical churches (even younger Mennonite churches see this) is really a reactionary result of the Christian segregationist movement (ie the Christian subculture – Christians bookstores, Christian music, Christian “x”), and horrible theology. For the most part, people do not pay any attention to the lyrics they are singing and rarely contemplate the theology behind it.

    I studied at a Bible College that was known for its musical talents but little focus on apologetics and theology. The result was typical and predictable – most songs could be equated to Gnostic theology.

    The underlying problem, of course, is the separation of the sacred and profane: I suck, we all suck, the earth sucks and God/Jesus/Bible/HS is so awesome that the awesomeness cannot be described in words (but we do it anyway). Sure, thats great – but when applied it takes away from the “God’s image” part of us. The Christians you speak of, and it is probably the majority of them, cannot equate “Science” with their faith, so they cannot see that maybe it is God that gave them these perfectly explainable emoitons – they tell themselves that it is the HS is a sort of superficial reinforcement of their theology.

    Sure I believe in God, but this oversaturation of “miracles” or events of the “supernatural” has killed true faith. Einsteins quote that either everything is a miracle or nothing is miracle is closer to the truth, but to say “it’s a miracle that it didn’t rain when our church league wanted to play baseball” doesn’t give much credence to the word.

    Personally, I find awesome “religious” experiences at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert (no, its not just the weed speaking) just as much as at Vespers, if not moreso.

  • 6. tobeme  |  April 21, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    You make a very good point about what is truly experienced when singing a gospel song. It is not the praise of God or the presence of God which is present, it is a physical and emotional conditioned response.
    The same one a sports fan might get from cheering for their favorite team. Good observation on your part.

  • 7. BlackSun  |  April 21, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    This is the thesis of both “Breaking the Spell,” by Daniel Dennett, and “The God Part of the Brain” by Matthew Alper. Andrew Newberg also discussed this in “Why God Won’t Go Away,” although Newberg’s analysis moves quickly from science to religious apology.

    My point is this is becoming an undeniable fact supported by copious research, even some by believers such as Newberg. God is fully created by the human brain, and when we experience ‘god,’ it is our brain being high on itself. Period.

  • 8. Simen  |  April 21, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Believers will only answer that it’s natural for humans to develop a god center in the brain if there is a god, and they will say that it’s natural for there to be false positives, just like we can see or hear or feel hallucinations. So, while it totally blows out of the water any claims that personal experiences are proof of a god, it doesn’t disprove a god.

  • 9. Joe  |  April 21, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    >>in reality, it was more about self-gratification

  • 10. Dan Barnett  |  April 21, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Unfortunately you came from a charismatic, “crazy” singin’ church. All the arguments I see many of you making is based on your view of what God would be. You think that emotions are wrong to have in worship. First, worship is more than singing. Paul says to offer your body as a living sacrifice, for this your reasonable act of worship. Now don’t misquote me and say hey we’re supposed to kill ourselves. All that we do is to be pointed to one thing, and that is to glorify God. Aa, I think you mentioned your wife at one point on your site, so I will assume I remember that correctly and therefore you’re married. When you are telling your wife how beautiful she is, and expressing your love to her, do you feel void of emotion? Only a corspe would. The same is true of God. You cannot express your love, adoration, gratitude, etc. to him without feeling emotion. Praise and worship is not intended to bring a high or a supernatural feeling. You can’t base your whole argument against Christianity against one sector of it (Pentecostal, 4-square, Assembly of God). These denominations have twisted the Bible to fit their own agenda. By the way, Dartmouth did a study(and we can agree that they would not be leaning to the Christian side of arguments) and found that every human is born “hardwired” to connect to something spiritually higher than his/herself.

  • 11. MTran  |  April 22, 2007 at 12:57 am

    Dartmouth did a study(and we can agree that they would not be leaning to the Christian side of arguments) and found that every human is born “hardwired” to connect to something spiritually higher than his/herself.

    This would be expected of social creatures such as humans. Throughout history, people have “connected” to something “more” than themselves, often giving their lives in the process.

    That something, in ancient times, was often the family, the tribe or the city / polis. Patriots of any nation are clearly “connecting” to something they deem greater than themselves. As are those who act heroically to save another.

    These denominations have twisted the Bible to fit their own agenda.

    This is true of every denomination, sect, or cult. It’s also true of political parties and factions and of individuals as well.

    Sometimes it’s a simple matter of perspective, other times it’s outright distortion.

    It’s something that is done not just with the Bible but with many other significant texts or historic events.

  • 12. Karen  |  April 22, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    You make a very good point about what is truly experienced when singing a gospel song. It is not the praise of God or the presence of God which is present, it is a physical and emotional conditioned response.

    This is what finally “sealed the deal” for me in understanding those emotion-soaked “spiritual highs” I had experienced a few times during my Christian years.

    At the time, I readily accepted that they were “proof” of the Holy Spirit moving in my heart. Later, when I was re-evaluating, I wondered how else to explain them.

    Then I realized that I had the very same kinds of feelings when reading highly inspiring poetry, listening to gorgeous music, or – like HeIsSailing – contemplating the vastness and mystery of the universe in relation to my own tiny insigificance.

    It’s all emotion and brain rush and a chemical reaction. There’s nothing supernatural needed to explain it, and clinical though the actual explanation is, it does nothing to diminish the power of the experience, or the insight it provides, at least for me.

  • 13. Dan Barnett  |  April 22, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    mTRAN:”This is true of every denomination, sect, or cult. It’s also true of political parties and factions and of individuals as well…”

    It is not true of all, yet it is of the vast majority. There are those of us who seek what the Bible teaches first and decide what we believe based on it. There is not distortion in that. My point is that the denominations that some people on here seem to have been a part of in the past have formed their beliefs and teachings and then gone to the Bible to back it up. If you leave out the right parts, you can back up virtually any belief by doing that. Now, do most Christians “practice” the presence of God? I would have to say yesish. However is the worshiper has the right aim in his woship(expressing love to God) this question is unimportant. All I do in my life is in some way related to my worship of God. I raise my kids the best I can to show them the truth and teach them to walk in it. I do this in response to his grace in entrusting them to me. I believe God’s presence in worship is not fake, yet you don’t have to feel it to know he’s there.
    I appreciate your respectful response to my comment on this post. Thanks

  • 14. agnosticatheist  |  April 22, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    brad,

    Personally, I find awesome “religious” experiences at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert (no, its not just the weed speaking) just as much as at Vespers, if not moreso.

    I remember watching a Garth Brooks concert on TV once and he was singing “The Dance.” The camera spanned the crowd (it was in a park) and they were all singing, dancing, raising their hands, some crying. Overall the emotions were very high. At that moment, I realized that if he was singing a song about God, they would all think it was “God’s presence.”

    karen,

    Do you have a blog? I’ve loved reading your comments here.

    aA

  • 15. Karen  |  April 23, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    Do you have a blog? I’ve loved reading your comments here.

    Aww … thanks so much! :-) I don’t have a blog; not for lack of interest but for lack of time.

    As it is, I take an exorbitant time away from my work to read and participate at several blogs (not only religious ones) that I enjoy. Someday when I don’t have to work so hard I’ll probably start my own blog. In the meantime, I’m enjoying this one, so thanks for being here.

  • 16. pradeep  |  June 22, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    do u think there is god if so how do u justify…

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Attention Christian Readers

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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