Today’s Sermonette – on Spiritual Experience and Worship

September 30, 2007 at 12:07 pm 39 comments

Freedom of Worship by Norman RockwellWhile most good Christian believers are spending this Sunday morning in their various churches, temples and other places of worship, I thought I would place a sermonette here for the benefit of us heathen Christian apostates. Actually, my heretical brand of theology ought to make easy pickings for Christians and athiests alike.

My favorite Christian blogsite is Carol Howard Merritt’s Tribal Church. She is a Presbyterian minister, author, and wife of Brian Merritt, aka PastorOfDisaster. I find both Christian sites thoughtful, thought-provoking, meaningful, and bring out the best attributes of a liberal branch of Christianity. Even though I am no longer a Christian, they are a breath of fresh air compared to my rigid and unthinking fundamentalist background. Last week, Tribal Church published an article on spiritual experience that I replied to. Can a non-believer in a personal God, or any god for that matter, have a spiritual experience? I think so. I would like to reprint her article and my reply here – and I sure hope that is okay with the original author:

Original Article:

What makes a spiritual experience spiritual? I mean, besides of course–the connection to God. How does it happen?

We’re in worship, someone stands up during the prayers of the people. With a trembling voice, he thanks the congregation for all their support during his surgery, and there it is. The air is thick with God. We look around the sanctuary, and half the people are crying. What makes it a spiritual experience?

I go on a walk, three times a week. And then one day I see a bird, who’s on the ground. I inch next the bird and she doesn’t move. I’m so close that I almost touch her. I can see her feathers shaking and pain in her eyes. Then suddenly, I’m feeling for the frail bird, and she’s pulled something out of me. I’m connecting with some sort of grief that had been tightly, firmly packed away. And I get a fuller sense that I’m a part of the Ground of all Being, along with this tiny creature.

And when we’re at the bedside of someone who’s dying, and we read Psalm 23 and Romans 8. Have you been there? All of a sudden, that weird fear that’s been lurking about in the room all day leaves, the tension among the relatives dissippates, and the room fills with the waters of abundant life.

And what about the joy? What about that incredible love that gushes all over when you hold your baby for the first time? When you look at the paper-thin fingernails and feel that warm skin.

What makes those experiences spiritual?

Could it be the sense that we’re part of something larger than ourselves? Is it that something in our belly reaches out in the time when we need it the most? Is it the emotions that overtake us? Is it that our haunting insecurities are finally being matched with a divine acceptance? Is it simply the firm knowledge of loving and being loved?

What is it?

My Reply:

I am a frequent jogger. Actually, I run on the desert mountain trails just outside of town. I think you were recently visiting the Grand Canyon? I don’t live anywhere quite as majestic, but at least you understand the sense of hiking up a barren desert hilltop and being able to see forever. That is what I do when I run up those trails. About 5 miles up from the trailhead there is an abandoned tin mine that I like to run to and back down. After running hard for 5 miles facing the mountain side, I reach the tin mine and finally turn around to head down and face the panorama in front of me. I can see so far from there that I can see the swells and dips of the desert topography, and I swear I can actually see the curvature of the earth. Once I turned and saw an enormous cumulonimbus cell forming where I had started, and I knew I had to head down in a hurry. But the enormity of it all, combined with my desolate location, and the absolute silence of the desert, combined with the distant motion of those forming storm clouds makes me feel… … small, tiny, insignificant. Here I am, a skinny, little guy in shorts facing what seems to be infinite surroundings, and I am absolutely overcome with a sense of humility. I have actually stopped in my tracks, taken a deep breath to take it all in, and thanked God that I had the physical ability to experience what I was at that moment – because I just felt the need to thank something for what I was experiencing.

When I make my way back down to the bottom, the surroundings become more familiar, the desert more mundane, and I just concentrate on my breathing. I become exhausted and my thoughts drift from the infinite back to my physical being as I long for a big fat cheeseburger when I get back to my truck. When I finally reach the bottom, that feeling of epiphany is no longer with me. It seems I have left it back on the mountainside, only to be found near that high-altitude tin mine.

Is God any more present at the mundane bottom than at the wondrous top? It seems I have left God up there, yet is that so? It seems that way, yet we don’t want a God who only visits us during moments of euphoria.

I think most religious or spiritual epiphanies are really no different than my experience while jogging. I can remember worship services that just carried me away to a different place, and in the presence of something more awesome than I could ever experience in my usually mundane life. I have never been a fan of contemporary pop or rock music during worship. Give me traditional chanting and liturgical reading where I can focus on the uniqueness of the ceremony and I can really loose myself. Since I hear pop music every day on the radio, there is nothing unique or holy about it, and it does not transport me anywhere. Give me a ceremony that I never experience outside the church walls, and I can truly proclaim like Isaiah once did, “Woa is me, for I am undone….for I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”, a true sense of transcendence and awe!

Again, during these experiences I am transported to the presence of the infinite, and I am humbled. But I only experience this when the conditions are just so. Does God reside in one form of ceremony or worship and not the other?

I have felt that same thing in many contexts. Certain music, both during live performance and on my CD player, literally brings tears to my eyes because of its beauty. How can a string of random musical notes be arranged so that they could possibly do this to me? How can certain words be formed into poetic lines that bring forth such beauty? How can the brush strokes of Monet and Van Gogh transport me to another time and place?

Similarly, many say that they see God at work in the loving actions of the saintly. And indeed, I am humbled and even envious of the character of such people like Martin Luther King, Albert Schweitzer, and Mother Theresa. But I don’t have to go that far to just admire and be humbled by the many nuns that I have met who have dedicated their lives to care for the severely physically handicapped and deformed children in my town. How can one not see God in these superhuman acts of charity? What is it that produces such devotion?

All these emotional responses, whether religious or secular in nature, bring forth the same feelings of transcendence in me. Is God present in each? Is there a spiritual connection or awareness despite the origin?

I think it is what Samuel Taylor Coleridge once called, “willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith”. For the moment, whether we are participating in church worship, whether we are on that mountaintop looking down, whether we see beauty in art or in the loving actions of people, we each in our own way, as an act of worship, willingly transport ourselves into those experiences. I don’t think God lives any more on the beautiful mountaintop than down below in the city ghetto, yet that is where I find God, because I create that perception of God there. I can literally leave myself and transcend to something greater, to imagine, to dream, to explore. And I think everyone experiences these spiritual epiphanies at one time or another, despite our spiritual or religious beliefs, or our individual perceptions of God.

So to finally answer what I think of your question, I think that these moments of epiphany are an expression of our own self-awareness. It is an awareness that we are not all there is, and that there is something much larger than us that we are in a symbiotic relationship with. All those people in your worship that are in a spiritual connection with God, the tiny and frightened little bird that is literally at your mercy, the wonder of a new-born infant and the dying hospice patient whom you comfort with Psalm 23 (yes I have been there too) each reminds us how we are all connected in some way to everything else, and we gain a sense of humility before the hugeness of it all.

Well, that’s my lousy opinion anyway. Thanks for reading this long reply.

There you are fellow de-converts. Does this make sense to any Christians out there? Any de-converts? Any hardcore atheists? I think this just goes to show that religious experience is not so simple when moving away from Christianity. Beliefs move in funny ways.

Go ahead and critique me. Tear it apart.

Picture: Freedom of Worship, by Norman Rockwell, 1943

-HeIsSailing

Entry filed under: HeIsSailing. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Why Do You Believe What You Believe? I Know Why …

39 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kip  |  September 30, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    That was so cool! As an ex-Christian, I think you got to the heart of the matter.

  • 2. jewwishes  |  September 30, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    I am neither a heathen or a Christian, but a practicing Jew, and I attend Shabbat services, read Torah, pray more than once a day, practice Tikkun Olam (Acts of Loving Kindness), and advocate for peace, tolerance and understanding of everyone…after all, we are all connected under the planetary umbrella.

  • 3. Thinking Ape  |  September 30, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    But then is there any difference between an emotional response and a spiritual one? Is not, then, a “spiritual experience” merely the attribution of an emotional response to some divine workmanship? Spirit, by definition, is not matter. Your question, hence, concerns the age old question of the soul and whether there is something beyond the material that we experience with our five senses. So I wonder, are you making linguistic tricks, merely calling the physical emotions “spiritual”, or are you placing what we would call our “emotions” in the realm of some non-physical realm?

  • 4. samanthamj  |  September 30, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I often struggle with the definition of “spiritual” myself.. and the question that Thinking Ape put out there. Is it spiritual? emotional? a humble awareness and acknowledgement that we are so small in comparison to all that there is? I don’t know.

    I do know I’ve experienced many of the same type of feelings you described. One of the hardest, and most “spiritual (?)” times in my life was when I was pregnant with my 2nd child, while also being the primary care taker for my atheist father who was on hospice care in my home. Talk about experiencing the full spectrum of life’s emotions…

    I am looking forward to other’s feedback on this topic…

    Thanks HeIsSaling.. =)
    smj

  • 5. LeoPardus  |  September 30, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks HIS. Beautifully thought out and written. I’ll have to digest a bit before I figure out if I have anything to contribute.

  • 6. lostgirlfound  |  September 30, 2007 at 4:09 pm

    Believing in “God” (but unsure about all the rest), I would say that if we are truly created beings (by something — someone — who also created the “spiritual” part of us), I would say that we each have a piece of that “light” in us. It is the part that responds to such things — emotions — on a deeper level. Semantics … emotional, spiritual … whatever it is, it is something beyond the physical realm, right?

    The struggle for me is thinking there is “nothing” beyond what I see right here, right now. It tends to make me a bit hedonistic … self-centered. Maybe I need my faith to remind me there is more than what happens right in front of my eyes. Whatever, the article was beautiful, and spoke to me on my spiritual level. Thanks — again — HeIsSailing!

  • 7. karen  |  September 30, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    When I went back and analyzed my “spiritual experiences” as a Christian, I realized that they were exactly the sort of thing you describe, HIS. Emotional transcendence that stemmed from a strong self-awareness combined with a strong connection to “the other” – i.e., the rest of the universe.

    Since I’m not been a Christian, these experiences have not ceased. They are usually provoked by being out in nature, particularly in a beautiful or awe-inspiring setting.

    What causes these experiences, and why do we have them? I would love to know if there’s been some neurological study done on joy or transcendence. I have little doubt they are part and parcel of the human experience, rather than something caused by an outside, supernatural force.

    But – who knows!? ;-) Thanks for the post, HIS. Great writing, as usual.

  • 8. HeIsSailing  |  September 30, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    Thinking Ape sez:

    So I wonder, are you making linguistic tricks, merely calling the physical emotions “spiritual”, or are you placing what we would call our “emotions” in the realm of some non-physical realm?

    Honestly Thinking Ape, I don’t know. It seems like I am playing games with the language, and it is unintentional.

    Maybe I can reason it out by typing it freeform here. I would love your feedback.

    Right now, I am calling my physical emotions spiritual, but leaving the least glimmer of hope that there may be something more to it than that. Something outside, something transcendent. I don’t know for sure, and I am leaving that possiblity open. To what, well I just don’t know.

    Let me remind you of one thing I am convinced of. That something outside that I am referring to is not the Christian God. It has nothing to do with that. I don’t know what it is, but I have spent the last year deconstructing my old Christian beliefs until there is just nothing left of them. I spent yesterday out with some old church buddies at a housewarming party. The way they were talking, and the fact that I used to talk like them was just surreal, simplistic and infantile. I can never go back to that baby-land playtime romper-room Christianity ever again. I love my friends, but.. .wow, I can never go back to that ‘personal relationship’ Jeeeezus lovey-dovey crap ever again. So when I speak of spiritual experiences and worship, it has nothing to do with that.

    Now I know many atheists will jump on me and say everything I am talking about in this article is pure emotion, and they are probably right. I think we create our own god out of our own experiences and feelings and emotions. But if there *is* something outside of ourselves to make us better people, is it really spiritual?

    I don’t think we will ever know, and honestly I don’t think it matters. What difference does it make where it comes from? I think as long as we are open to any new experience that makes us better people, call it spiritual, call it emotional, maybe it comes from within, maybe from without, but as long as we are open to it, and it enlightens us and makes us better people, well… it just does not really matter to me what it is or where it came from.

    For that, and a couple of other reasons, I don’t think I can ever be an atheist. We just don’t know for sure, do we? I still believe in keeping that hope alive.

  • 9. Thinking Ape  |  September 30, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Right now, I am calling my physical emotions spiritual, but leaving the least glimmer of hope that there may be something more to it than that. Something outside, something transcendent. I don’t know for sure, and I am leaving that possiblity open. To what, well I just don’t know.

    I understand where you are coming from and I think we hold similar views. In a recent conversation with my wife I rhetorically asked, “Do you find your self caught between what you actually believe to be true and what you WANT to believe to be true?” (I may have brought this up recently). I suppose I just wanted a little more clarification on your own stance. I personally would not call these experiences “spiritual,” other than in poetry or other creative writing. I don’t think this means I do not keep the possibility open for some transcendent entity or force – I just think we are so far able to explain almost all of our “emotions” through physiological terms.

  • 10. LeoPardus  |  September 30, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    Karen: Damn fine freeform thinking there. I think you’ve caught some good stuff. Like you I don’t know whether there is a spiritual something beyond us or not. If there is, I have to imagine that it’s something like the Tao.

    I also heavily identify with your assessment of “baby-land playtime romper-room Christianity”. I was at church today, listening to some of what the priest was saying about God, and I thought, “It’s like listening to little kids talking about what Barney the dinosaur is ‘really’ like.”

  • 11. LeoPardus  |  September 30, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Sorry, last post was directed at HIS, not Karen. Though I did like Karen’s comment too.

  • 12. HeIsSailing  |  September 30, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    Thinking Ape:

    In a recent conversation with my wife I rhetorically asked, “Do you find your self caught between what you actually believe to be true and what you WANT to believe to be true?”

    Funny – in a recent conversation with my wife, I recounted the escapades of Thor, from Germanic mythology. When I was done, I asked her if she believed anything I said was literally true.

    “No”
    “Why not? Whole nations used to worship this guy as God. Don’t you believe anything I said about him?”
    “No (incredulously)”
    “Why not?”
    “Because they are just… stories”
    “And now you know exactly why I don’t believe in Jesus. Bottom line – they are just stories like what I said about Thor.”

    Boy! It just clicked. Her lights immediately came on. She really got it.

    We have great communication with each other, even with my de-conversion. We keep talking to each other, and we teach and learn much from each other.

    I would love to place a long long long article on the conversations my wife and I have had, but I promised to keep most of that stuff private, so I have to honor that just due to the sensitive nature.

  • 13. HeIsSailing  |  September 30, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    Leopardus:

    I was at church today, listening to some of what the priest was saying about God, and I thought, “It’s like listening to little kids talking about what Barney the dinosaur is ‘really’ like.”

    This gave me a chuckle. Boy, can I understand this! Yesterday I visited some old church buddies at a housewarming party, and everyone was recounting how great God had been to them. It was a little cloudy and chilly outside, but when the clouds broke momentarily, a young lady burst out, “oh! the sun came out! Thank you Lord for providing the warmth! Thank you Lord!!”

    Well, while mine and millions of others’ prayers for peace in the Middle East have been consistantly ignored by God for *centuries*, I was so giddy when God looked kindly on our little party and provided some sun to warm our chilled bodies. He must luv us true believers so much, because he cares for us so! Thank You Lord! Thank You for providing our needs! Isn’t the Lord wonderful! I love you Lord!!!

    **gag** I felt like shoving a shishkebob skewer down my throat.

  • 14. athinkingman  |  October 1, 2007 at 4:25 am

    Great post HelsSailing.

    A key word for me in helping me reflect on my former religious experiences is ‘intimacy’. It seems that a lot of the time I was imagining an intimate connection with a personal god, or an intimate connections with others (through sharing the same imagined connection with god). For me, that’s why prayer often provided a spiritual experience. Sometimes it was a close encounter with an imagined friend.

    I can still have intimate connections with others. And I suppose, when faced with grandeur and beauty, I can have a different intimate connection with the object and with myself – seeing things in a new and intense way.

  • 15. tribalchurch  |  October 1, 2007 at 6:04 am

    Wow. I had a blog post that made it to de-conversion…. I’m so honored!

    But, more than that, I’m deeply moved by your comments and thoughts.

    Thanks, HIS.

  • 16. HeIsSailing  |  October 1, 2007 at 6:50 am

    LostGirlFound:

    The struggle for me is thinking there is “nothing” beyond what I see right here, right now. It tends to make me a bit hedonistic … self-centered. Maybe I need my faith to remind me there is more than what happens right in front of my eyes.

    I was thinking for a way to say this, but I think you nailed it here. Do I *need* to think outside myself like this to keep from getting too full of myself? Too prideful? Too hedonistic? Do I need to imagine a spiritual force outside of myself, even if it is admitedly just *imagination*?

    That is a great question, and I have to chew it over, but just thinking about it on the surface, I would say that in my case the answer is ‘yes’. Very interesting.

    In atheist circles, much is made of non-belief of God because of lack of evidence. Show me the evidence! And while there is something to that, there are some people who don’t need evidence to believe in God. You can throw the best, most well-reasoned arguments at them, and they will continue to believe in… something.

    Why?

    I have a catholic friend who attends mass regurlarly, who admits there is no good reason to beleive any of it. He admits there is no good reason to believe in Jesus, Mary, but continues to believe for one simple reason.

    He thinks belief in God makes him a better person. So he believes. Period.

    I sure can’t argue against that. Thanks for the morning meditation, LostGirlFound!

  • 17. HeIsSailing  |  October 1, 2007 at 7:05 am

    TribalChurch:

    Wow. I had a blog post that made it to de-conversion…. I’m so honored!

    I admit I was holding my breath when I copied your article here. I didn’t want to creep you out, but it was such a thoughtful topic that you planted in my mind for the whole week, I just could not resist.

  • 18. Epiphanist  |  October 1, 2007 at 7:17 am

    Epiphanies? That always gets my attention. LOL. Karen is getting close with the suggestion that spiritual experience is indeed part of the human experience. Different for each human life, just as each human life is different.

  • 19. ESVA  |  October 1, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Many years ago, when I was taking a course called The Arts in Education, I had to write an essay about an “aesthetic” experience I’d had. I was a Christian at the time, and had a very difficult time distinguishing between an “aesthetic” experience and a “spiritual” one. Maybe I was trying to see a distinction where none exists.

    I’ve had, and continue to have, many experiences that could be described as “spiritual.” Some are aesthetic, some are interpersonal (sexual and otherwise – there are many kinds of intimacy), some are intellectual, etc. I think that these points of heightened awareness of ourselves, our environments (natural, social, etc.) and others are the real stuff of “spiritual” experience. Those experiences that are commonly called “spiritual,” should, perhaps, be more properly termed “religious” – using that term in a respectful way.

    Maybe the error is in allowing religion to appropriate the term “spiritual” to describe experiences that should be restricted to the category of “religious.” It may be the case that religious experiences are one type of a whole range of experiences that are spiritual. In that case, spiritual experiences of all sorts are available to and had by many, not just the religious. And religious experiences, of course, are unique to the devout.

  • 20. karen  |  October 1, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Let me remind you of one thing I am convinced of. That something outside that I am referring to is not the Christian God. It has nothing to do with that. I don’t know what it is, but I have spent the last year deconstructing my old Christian beliefs until there is just nothing left of them.

    So, just to put out some labels here: You’re no longer a theist, i.e. someone who believes a divinity interacts personally with the world as recounted in the bible, Koran and in personal experiences of believers?

    But you might still be a deist, i.e. someone who believes there is a divinity who created the world and exists “out there” somewhere but doesn’t intervene in the workings of the universe? (Many of the founding fathers were deists).

    I’m asking because when you say:

    For that, and a couple of other reasons, I don’t think I can ever be an atheist. We just don’t know for sure, do we? I still believe in keeping that hope alive.

    … you’re using the definition of a “strong” atheist – someone who believes they KNOW there is no god. But the great majority of people who call themselves atheists (including myself) are “weak” atheists – we don’t know whether there’s a god or not, but we don’t hold a belief in god because we see no reason to do so.

    The other option is to use “agnostic.” I don’t like that one either, however. For me, it implies fence-sitting and I don’t feel like I’m on the fence. ;-)

    It’s very confusing and honestly, I wish there was better terminology out there. There was a huge atheist convention in D.C. last weekend and apparently Sam Harris suggested that we no longer use the word atheist because it is defining ourselves by a negative. I’m starting to agree with him.

  • 21. karen  |  October 1, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Well, while mine and millions of others’ prayers for peace in the Middle East have been consistantly ignored by God for *centuries*, I was so giddy when God looked kindly on our little party and provided some sun to warm our chilled bodies. He must luv us true believers so much, because he cares for us so! Thank You Lord! Thank You for providing our needs! Isn’t the Lord wonderful! I love you Lord!!!

    **gag** I felt like shoving a shishkebob skewer down my throat.

    ROTFL! That’s hilarious. But on the other hand, that attitude also makes me angry because I see it as so terribly, terribly self-centered and self-involved. And this is where I don’t get it when people say that believing in god makes them “better” people.

    Are you a better person if you imagine that god has the time and interest to provide a little sun to pep up your party, when for instance he can’t be bothered to dry up the skies over in Bangladesh where thousands of poor and destitute people are being flooded out by the 14th day in a row of downpour?

    It’s just so damned selfish and myopic! But Christians – at least conservative American Christians that I’m familiar with – never take the time to consider this point. They’re so wrapped up in their personal relationship with their beloved friend up in heaven it honestly never occurs to them (or it never occurred to me). Argh…

  • 22. karen  |  October 1, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Boy! It just clicked. Her lights immediately came on. She really got it.

    We have great communication with each other, even with my de-conversion. We keep talking to each other, and we teach and learn much from each other.

    I would love to place a long long long article on the conversations my wife and I have had, but I promised to keep most of that stuff private, so I have to honor that just due to the sensitive nature.

    You are very fortunate and your wife must be an incredibly special person to remain so open on this point. I’d love to hear more, just in a general sense (no specifics needed), on how you manage to keep the communication flowing. What would be really cool is if your wife would be willing to write something about her reactions to all this going on in your life and how she handles it. ?

    My husband – and most other spouses of de-converters that I’ve heard about – becomes extremely threatened and defensive if I dare talk about nonbelief. He wants nothing to do with it, and we’ve reached a “truce” by agreeing to disagree but not discuss it further. Doesn’t make for a very fulfilling relationship in the long term, however, when there’s a big area that you have to talk around. :-(

  • 23. LeoPardus  |  October 1, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    Selfish, myopic Christians.

    Yep. That about sums it up Karen. You and HIS have NAILED it.

    Like you, my spouse is not open to talk of non belief. On one hand though, I do have to consider that she has a small business that would vanish if she became an atheist. (Not that it’s directly religious, but 90%+ of her customers are religious and like her because she’s “on their side”.)

  • 24. slickleb  |  October 1, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    http://www.slickblog.wordpress.com

    please check out my site.

  • 25. BH  |  October 1, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    I probably fall into the “hardcore atheist” category in the OP, and I must say, the last time I felt that “transcendent” emotion was when I was reading A Brief History of Time. Realizing how complex the universe is even if you factor life out of the equation put all of our human struggles into perspective and gave me a lot of hope.

    I’ll encourage those who are interested in the spiritual or emotional question to pick up books by D. C. Dennett and V. S. Ramachandran.

  • 26. HeIsSailing  |  October 2, 2007 at 7:00 am

    Thus saith BH:

    the last time I felt that “transcendent” emotion was when I was reading A Brief History of Time.

    You know, I actually understand this too. I did not care for that particular book, but rather with Chaos Theory. It started with James Gleik’s ‘Chaos’ (an old book now, but new when I started looking at it), and working through some of the equations and considering the implications of them – wow, that is a real mind-bender. And yes, that is also contemplating infinity. I totally understand where you are coming from.

  • 27. HeIsSailing  |  October 2, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Thus saith Karen:

    What would be really cool is if your wife would be willing to write something about her reactions to all this going on in your life and how she handles it. ?

    Wow, now there is an idea!! I will ask her about it. When I first started putting this stuff on the internet (almost a year ago now!), there were a few of our friends reading it, and my wife insisted that I stay anonymous, and that I not discuss her own beliefs. People we knew were reading in, and she was aware of that.

    I think all my friends have stopped reading this stuff long ago. I will have to ask her – and I honestly have no idea what she will answer!!

    I hope she says yes though. Yes, my wife is really the best. We are following different spiritual paths through all of this, and she is probably the main force behind me not becoming a fullblown atheist, but that is ok. We need to continue to talk, learn from each other, and grow together. We have great communication – and it has not always been easy, especially in the beginning.

    And I have to tell you, my heart breaks when I read these stories of men and women who just become alienated from their families over de-conversion. Like we had any choice in the matter! Like we can just will ourselves, by brute force, to believe in something we know does not exist! Yet I have read many times of de-converts being driven to divorce, or at least an unfulfilled marraige.

    One of the best writers out there, DaGoods, is in the middle of writing his long ‘multipart De-conversion story’. Yesterdays entry concerning his strained relationship with his wife is heartrending. Check it out:

    http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/2007/09/my-deconversion-story-in-which-we-learn_29.html

  • 28. HeIsSailing  |  October 2, 2007 at 7:18 am

    Thus sprach Karen:

    …But you might still be a deist…

    You know, technically this is probably where I am at right now, although I do not know much of the Deistic philosophy. But truthfully, I don’t know where I fit in terms of ‘hard’ or soft agnosis or anything. I have spent so much time deconstrucing my beliefs, that I have not really figured out how to assemble something together again. But.. ah well, that is something that will take time, maybe my whole life. I think I have a pretty good grasp on things as it is, so I will be ok.

    In the meantime, I still go with what atheistdad said in one of his videos. If someone asks me what I believe, I just say, “I believe actions are more important than beliefs”

  • 29. tobeme  |  October 2, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    I think this makes a lot of sense. We are more connected to our source at certain times and in certain situations. This degree of connection is because of our thoughts, we have trained ourselves or been indoctinated to have an increase in our spiritual awareness durring certain events. We can choose to amplfy this awareness, it is simply a matter of creating awareness.

  • 30. karen  |  October 2, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    In the meantime, I still go with what atheistdad said in one of his videos. If someone asks me what I believe, I just say, “I believe actions are more important than beliefs”

    That’s the way to look at it, HIS, definitely. You’ll come to some more conclusions in future – or perhaps not – but in the long run what matters for all of us is what we do with our lives.

    Thanks for recommending DaGoodS blog! Wow. I was in tears, truly. Amazingly good read. Next time someone tells me a deconvert “couldn’t have been a True Christian,” I will have someplace to refer them.

  • 31. Bunc  |  October 2, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    I enjoyed this post.
    I am a hard atheist in many ways but I dont have a problem with the word spiritual. All this worry about whether spiritual is just emotion I think is easily resolved. A spiritual experience is indeed at its root an emotional experience – but one with a very particular characteristic.
    Usually our emotional responses focuss us in on ourselves – this is the commonest type of emotional experience. They connect us to ourself in that sense.
    An emotion of a type that is not so inward facing is love.
    there are various types of emotions which have externally directed objects.
    A spiritual experience is a more extreme version of this. A spiritual experience is one where the emotion connects to us to a sense of something beyond the human scale of things.

    For the strongly religious peron this will bne interpreted as spiritual in the sense of the presence of divine spirit or somesuch notion. For the hard atheist it is spiritual in the sense of feelings of faintly grasping the connectedness of things or the beauty of things etc – but still at the scale beyond the merely human.
    So we all have spiritual experiences – they are a product of us being small clever apes in a very large and complex world.

    And the dawn of spirituality? Imagine the dawn of proto human consciousness – when the ape suddenly looks up and no longer just sees trees and savannah and thinks “where is the food?” but becomes able to see the scale and complexity of the world and faintly grasp how small it itself is in all that.
    Now that must have been some spiritual experience!

  • 32. anon  |  October 2, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    Though of jewish descent, I can honestly state that I have no belief in any sort of a god or spirituality in the traditional sense.

    As a means of artistic expression, I indulge in photography of, among many other things, the wonders of nature all around us. There is often something seemingly magical in the way the light interacts with the world that at times can produce a strong emotional reaction in me.

    I suppose if I were a religious person, I might describe this experience as a spiritual response or as seeing “god” in the scene, but to me there is far more wonder and awe in nature itself than in any fantastical interpretation we feeble-minded humans have historically chosen to superimpose over it.

  • 33. Richatd  |  October 3, 2007 at 1:09 am

    What a fascinating post! I have struggled with this issue myself. It would make a long story (actually, it did — I wrote my deconversion sroty recently and it totalled >60 pages) but the short version is that I am a former fundamentalist Christian who deconverted over the past 10-12 years. In the process the most crucial issue for me to struggle with was the issue of meaninglessness — as in, without the Christian God, my life seemed to have none. The idea that there is no one “grounding” our values, giving our lives cosmic importance made me feel that *nothing* mattered.

    What I eventually came to was a realization of the staggering preciousness of life precisely *because* of its finitude. It was existentialsit thinking, especially Nietzsche, who struggled heavily with nihilism, that helped me the most. I came realize that immersion in life, a kind of joie devivre, could become my meaning. A naked affirmation of the value of life itself, made all the more poignant because it is limited and sometimes painful, is all the “meaning” my life could ever need.

    I say this here because that experience of life’s sheer, utter gorgeousness became a “spiritual” experience more profound than any I had ever had as a Christian, and one which I still today wish to try to express. I suspect, but cannot prove, that many of the names spiritual types have given their experiences over the years — Ground of Being, the numious, etc — are name for experiences similar to mine and to that of the writer of the original CHristian article above. We are trying to find some way to talk about the beauty, majesty, worthwhileness, and, well, the *goodness* of life itself.

    My own way of resolving this question at hand– is this experience religious, does it point to God, or is it entirely natural — is essentially a pragmatic critique. I ask: what difference does it make? My experience is no less moving and important to me if it is a product of evolution, which is actually what I pretty strongly suspect, than if it comes from “God”. My experience is equally inspiring either way. I remain somewhat open to an “ineffable” god, an Eternal Thou (to use Buber’s term), but it is the problem of theodicy, not an ideological committment to naturalism, that makes me skeptical. Regardless, the experience is what it is and those who have had something similar know how precious it is. It is as though in those moments we feel the quickening of life itself.

    For me, the only author I have read who really makes sense to me about how to handle this is the Jewish theologian Mordecai Kaplan, who founded Reconstructionist Judaism. He suggests we use words liek “God” and “Holy” self-consciously as ways to express that which we most value. He was a scientifically minded naturalist, and did not believe in a personal God, but found value in religious practice (Judaism, in his case) because he felt it put him in touch with, and sensitized him to, just this feeling.

    Richard

  • 34. Richard  |  October 3, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Sorry, late at night, mistype. My name is “Richard” and that word in the middle, after “Ground of Being”, is “numinous”

  • 35. HeIsSailing  |  October 3, 2007 at 6:14 am

    Richard sez:

    What I eventually came to was a realization of the staggering preciousness of life precisely *because* of its finitude. It

    Yeah, this was a real discovery of mine also. I used to imagine what Heaven would be like. Now that I realize that there is no heaven, and that I really will die, and that I really am mortal, I value life. I realize that life is now more than just a mock trail where God is watching my every move. There is more to life than evangelizing the Gospel and saving souls from the griddles of hell.

    Like you Richard, I have discovered that life lived actively without God is a more moral life – because it *will* end. There is more to treasure, more to cherish, because this is it baby.

    I have Christian buddies back in chruch who think I did this to ‘backslide’, I grew tired of living life in the straight and narrow, or found the Christian life a burden. On the contrary! Thanks for your reply, Richard!

  • 36. HeIsSailing  |  October 3, 2007 at 7:13 am

    Karen asks:

    What would be really cool is if your wife would be willing to write something about her reactions to all this going on in your life and how she handles it. ?

    I asked her. She said yes. My wife agreed to write an article and place it here. It may be a while though, as she is occupied with other stuff right now. I wonder what she will say too. Stay toooooned.

  • 37. pastorofdisaster  |  October 3, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Richard sez -My own way of resolving this question at hand– is this experience religious, does it point to God, or is it entirely natural — is essentially a pragmatic critique. I ask: what difference does it make? My experience is no less moving and important to me if it is a product of evolution, which is actually what I pretty strongly suspect, than if it comes from “God”. My experience is equally inspiring either way.

    Richard you really articulated something that I feel deeply. I have really enjoyed following the comments on this post. I am willing to accept that my experience with God may be only a product of evolution, my hope is that it is not. Yet, often I resonate with others experiences who do not believe in God (especially those who have de-converted from a fundamentalist backround). That is why I think it is important for me to read, listen and learn from this perspective.

  • 38. karen  |  October 3, 2007 at 2:27 pm

    Richard, excellent thoughts, I really appreciate them and the way you articulated them (despite the typo!) :-)

    HIS:
    I have Christian buddies back in chruch who think I did this to ‘backslide’, I grew tired of living life in the straight and narrow, or found the Christian life a burden.

    Oh yes, because now that you’re a backslider you’re just whooping it up every night with your wild, irresponsible debauchery, right? (rolling my eyes). You’re probably struggling with more ideological and philosophical burdens now than you ever did as a Christian! They’d never buy that, though. ;-)

    I asked her. She said yes. My wife agreed to write an article and place it here.

    Woo-hoo!!! Terrific. I really look forward to her thoughts. Tell her she may be able to shed a lot of light for those of us whose spouses are not as open to talking about their perspectives honestly with us. I appreciate her openness.

  • 39. Gigi  |  December 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Yeah but make sure they are qualified as well, eihetr being a psychologist or psychiatrist.I went to secular counselling and it was crap, I paid a lot of money for somebody to ask questions and write things down. That didnt help at all.Later I saw a christian counsellor who was also a psych, and it was brilliant. He showed me things I could not see my self, and gave great advice as to how to fix the things that were wrong. From then on things have been fine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

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.

Twitter

Archives

Blog Stats

  • 1,997,603 hits since March 2007

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 199 other followers