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Ex-Christian - But Spiritual

By Carl S ~

When people tell you, “I'll pray for you,” aren't they really saying they'll hope for you? (Wizened Sage and I think so, and he suggested a response: “I'll hope for you, too.”) In a terrible bind, in imminent danger or a life-threatening situation, you'll often hear the words, “Let's try this and hope it works,” and when it does work, others say, “Your prayers have been answered.” This got me to thinking: Isn't “God,” like “'prayer,” just another word for “hope?” And, while Christian friends might ask how you can be happy without their god, nobody asks if you're unhappy without their hell.

This is written for those who have left behind their indoctrinated beliefs, but still consider themselves “spiritual.” Too often, writers like me assume leaving blind beliefs also means rejecting spiritual ones. And yet I personally know those who are good and virtuous without a god or religion, who say they are “spiritual.” For atheists/materialists like me, this seems like a contradiction. I can smile about that; I don't have a problem with it. As it turns out, that word means something different for them than me. Since so much of the population still believes in some sort of after-death existence, angels, karma, etc., all superstitions to most ex-religious, the rest of us wonder why these beliefs still remain.

I think one thing that puts people off reading science, psychology, and philosophy, is the fact those subjects are written with such exactness of phrasing and sources that they can't get passionate about the subjects. It's difficult to follow a narrative flow when it's interrupted with citing references in other places and giving credit to individuals. Technical language is another reason. They're “dry” to the believers and “too far over my head.” Can't be bothered. None of the romance of having easy answers like, “It's in the bible; that's enough,” or “ Mysterious ways.” Not everyone is able to get through them. Maybe the writers can't find any other words. This is unfortunate, because for one example, evolution alone is far more fascinating the any creation myths, and it's true and ongoing. (Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan, though, are approachable and lead us out of religious darkness into the open light.)

The cold facts of reality are already ignored by the person inclined to prefer the fun and fantasy world of emotionally involved religion that it, in pretending, offers. That person only finds confirmed “cold” facts don't count. The lures, the baits of religions, are emotional, giving their members a sense of special importance when, let's face it, no one is really all that important. (One thing I found: my sins aren't worth anyone suffering for, let alone dying for! And if belief is an option, I prefer not to believe anyone should be murdered for my benefit. Let that person live.)

While you were in a religion, it was acceptable to judge those who didn't agree with your doctrines. You were expected to judge women seeking an abortion as morally depraved, homosexuals as choosing to be immoral, objections to prayer in public schools as efforts of enemies of God to drive him out of your country, etc. etc. If you were not prejudging their morality, you were not “a real Christian.” Eventually, that black-or-white, all-or-nothing world, didn't make sense. It really didn't. Now, you're a non-Christian, non-judgmental, looking around at humanity, instead of focused on looking inward at your inner conflicts of pleasing a god or offending him. It's a different world now. What changes us?

I'll try to simplify some of the things I've learned recently. You can go to the magazine Free Inquiry, April/May 2017, for the details. Quite a few researchers have conducted studies on the differences between the brains of believers and non-believers, how and why they change their minds. For one thing, it appears those who have an emotional need for social contacts will attend church services, while atheists and agnostics tend to be individual thinkers. True believers are not curious or questioning, and as conservatives, respect and trust in authority figures. Those who are open to challenges and discovery for themselves, such as the liberals, question authority-claims, eventually come to the conclusion those “authorities” are conning them. This realization will send some into a tailspin, from the sense of betrayal and emptiness that follows. Those who are brave or curious enough, or who can no longer stand the contradictions, hypocrisies, the group-think, of religions, will find themselves with an identity crisis. Formerly, they identified as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. Now, they are “only” themselves. They still have “spiritual” as a fallback, a security blanket, and don't we all understand that? And they tend to find others like their newly found selves. Welcome aboard.

True believers are not curious or questioning, and as conservatives, respect and trust in authority figures.Doesn't “spiritual” describe an emotional conviction, rather than a thoughtful one? Oh sure, we all want to believe there's rationality behind our strong feelings, but what happens when we find out we've been fooling ourselves? The trouble with religious belief is that it’s not open to taking a humane look at ourselves, to not taking ourselves too seriously, to accepting we can be fooled and fool ourselves. Individuals testify to their spiritual, out of body, surreal, unreal, and overwhelming sense of awe, as if these emotions are deeper, have more meaning than human experiences alone, in a realm of their own. And yet they are the result of happy or sad emotional mind-body connections. That last sentence is too hard for spiritual persons to swallow, so they reject it. Their feelings they truly trust, they believe those feelings do not lie to them. Don't believers “just know” Allah/God/ Krishna, etc. are just as “real” as you and I? That Mohammed rode his steed into the sky and out of sight? After all, the community supports that tradition! Aren't they preferring the good feelings of wishful thinking, fantasies to reality?

The brains of conservatives are different from those of liberals: the conservative one is mainly wired for emotion responses, while the other, though originating in emotional responses, goes further, proceeding to step back and analyze the circumstances before making decisions. Does one “go with your gut” and the other with considering the outcome? It sure looks that way. We're all familiar with individuals who go from one bad decision to another, by predominantly following their emotions. We see people jump from one set of beliefs to another, as if they're trying on shoes for a proper fit, and not seeking for truths at all. We see the emotional responses of true believers who use the sign of the cross and the sign of the finger with equally convinced passion, originating from their deeply-held beliefs/hopes. We can well relate to those emotions, standing now on the outside of religion, we can also feel just how “spiritual” they and we are. The difference is that whereas we can have a free sense of humor about our all-too-human-spirituality, they are insulted by it.

Note: in re Easter: “The Gospel Truth"