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  • Atheos

    Chapter 5: Religious Experience

    By Punkerslut

    Start Date: 2001
    Finish Date: 2001

    Section I: Introduction

         There are religious experiences that people will claim that a god(s) or some form of supernaturality is responsible for. A religious experience can qualify as simply a wholesome contentness inhibited in a religionist or it may qualify as a major phenomena to religionists that has a sort of universality. I regard that there are two closely related aspects to religious experiences: mislead ignorance through emotions and mislead ignorance through improper sensory. On the first account - mislead ignorance through emotions - it is when a religionist may feel a leap of happiness and automatically attributes it to a god or a supernatural force and possibly when this religionist has something negative happen to them, they may attribute it to a devil or negative, supernatural force. This type of religious experience I regard as ignorance. On the second account - mislead ignorance through improper sensory - I find it somewhat more excusable. When someone has the second type of religious experience it is instigated through the mind and this phenomena is observed in scientific laboratories.

    Section II: The Nature Of Religious Experience

         If someone has a religious experience and they live in North America or Europe, it is called being Born Again and it is linked with the Christian religion. If someone has a religious experience and they live in southern Asia, it is called Nirvana and it is linked with the Buddhist religion. If someone has a religious experience and they live in Asia, it is called Enlightenment and it is linked with the Hindu religion. If someone has a religious experience and they live in Asia, it may also be called Satori and is linked with the Zen Buddhist religion. If someone has a religious experience and they live in eastern Asia, it may be called Wu Wei and is linked with Taoism. If someone has a religious experience and they could live anywhere, it is called Nirvakalpa Samadhi and is linked with Yoga. If someone is born in China, they will not have any religious experience at all, as China is officially an Atheist nation.

         As it is obvious, the validity of religious experiences suffers from the fact that the religious experience of any one religion is not universal. If, however, the same religious experience was felt by everyone, then it would hold more weight; but the fact of the matter is that these religious experiences vary significantly. The significance is based no the conclusions of these various religious experiences. There is a sort of universality in these religious experiences in that they can be conducted universally to a degree. Surely, there is no problem with the religious experience itself, but almost everyone who has a religious experience goes beyond what they know - the religious experience - and claim that it is directly from a god of some sort. A religious experience is proof of itself and nothing else. It cannot be used to validate the existence of a god or any other form of supernaturality.

         I am sure that there is some rational reasoning in these purported religious experiences. When something dramatic or drastic happens to someone, they may claim that there was supernatural intervention of some sort. Some had claimed that the Great Fire of London of February 2nd, 1666 was the cause of Thomas Hobbes - one of the great infidels - living there. There are certainly many situations where people may be filled with so much love or so much passion that they conclude there is a god or supernatural being of some sort; and that this supernatural being is influencing their lives. The only qualm that I hold against these religious experiences is that people are so ignorant that they must uphold a divine presence as an explanation for their highly emotional experience. Many Atheists certainly do have highly emotional experiences and these emotional experiences can be explained naturally; no Atheist has concluded that their emotional experiences are caused by gods or spirits. Sigmund Freud was a psychiatrist and the developer of psychoanalysis, and he knew quite clearly that emotions were not from a god or any spirits. He explained that they were caused by the brain and not by spirits. To explain a natural phenomenon with a supernatural entity is ignorance. The highly emotional experiences and why they happen can be fully explained through psychological studies, which are a completely natural field of knowledge. There is no reason to presuppose that an entity exists in the realm of supernaturality for something that is natural and explainable.

         There are NDEs (Near Death Experiences) and OBEs (Out of Body Experiences) which are also more full-proof evidence, as they can be experienced by everyone and everywhere under the proper circumstances. However, NDEs and OBEs can be reproduced with proper drugs and other effects. These two experiences take place when a person is close to death. Whenever someone is close to death, they will have an NDE or OBE. Scientists have traced the feeling to chemicals released in the brain. A researcher named Dr. Karl Jansen did experiments regarding the NDE. To quote the well respected scientific report...

    The intravenous administration of 50 - 100 mg of ketamine can reproduce all of the features which have commonly been associated with NDE's. Intramuscular administration also results in NDE's, but events evolve at a slower pace and are longer lasting (Domino et al., 1965; Rumpf ,1969; Collier, 1972; Siegel,1978, 1980,1981; Stafford, 1977; Lilly, 1978; Grinspoon and Bakalar, 1981; White, 1982; Ghoniem et al., 1985; Sputz, 1989; Jansen, 1989a,b, 1990b, 1993, 1995, 1996).

    Mounting evidence suggests that the reproduction/induction of NDE's by ketamine is not simply an interesting coincidence. Exciting new discoveries include the major binding site for ketamine on brain cells, known as the phencyclidine (PCP) binding site of the NMDA receptor (Thomson et al., 1985), the importance of NMDA receptors in the cerebral cortex, particularly in the temporal and frontal lobes, and the key role of these sites in cognitive processing, memory, and perception. NMDA receptors play an important role in epilepsy, psychoses (Jansen and Faull, 1991), and in producing the cell death which results from a lack of oxygen, a lack of blood, and from epileptic fits (excitotoxicity). This form of brain cell damage can be prevented by administration of ketamine. Other key discoveries include that of chemicals in the brain called 'endopsychosins' which bind to the same site as ketamine, and the role of ions such as magnesium and zinc at this site (Anis et al., 1983; Quirion et al., 1984; Simon et al., 1984; Benveniste et al., 1984; Ben-Ari,1985; Thomson, 1986; Coan and Collingridge, 1987; Collingridge, 1987; Contreras et al., 1987; Cotman and Monohan, 1987; Rothman et al., 1987; Mody et al., 1987; Nowak et al., 1984; Quirion et al., 1987; Westbrook and Mayer, 1987; Sonders et al., 1988; Barnes,1988; Choi,1988; Monaghan et al., 1989; Jansen et al., 1989a,b,c, 1990a,b,c, 1991a,b,c, 1993, 1995, 1996). [1]

         In Philadelphia, a researcher discovered areas of the brain that become activate during meditation; other doctors in universities in San Diego and North Carolina studied how epilepsy and hallucinogenic drugs are capable of producing religious epiphanies; still, another neuroscientist in Canada fits people with magnetic helmets that produce spiritual experiences. All around the world, scientists, neuroscientists, and biologists are working together to understand what causes religious experiences. Powerful brain imaging technology has revealed what mystics call Nirvana and what Christians call being Born Again. It has been well accepted within many parts of the scientific community that religion is simply a component of the mind without an objective ground. [2]

         Ingersoll also noted the origin and belief in immortality and religion in the natural mind. The belief in immortality, he thought, would last forever. To quote the great romanticist...

    The idea of immortality, that like a sea has ebbed and flowed in the human heart, with its countless waves of hope and fear, beating against the shores and rocks of time and fate, was not born of any book, nor of any creed, nor of any religion. It was born of human affection, and it will continue to ebb and flow beneath the mists and clouds of doubt and darkness as long as love kisses the lips of death. It is the rainbow -- Hope shining upon the tears of grief. [3]

         There are those who believe that since we are biologically programmed to "seek a god or spirituality" that it is proof of a god or supernaturality in itself. It goes so far as to say that since the mind has capability of religiousness in the area of NDEs and OBEs, it is proof of "design" that god has implemented in us, but this is not so. An NDE or OBE is proof of itself and nothing else. When someone goes as far as to explain an NDE or OBE supernaturally, they are dogmatic. However, when someone goes as far as to explain an NDE or OBE as a chemical or hormonal reaction within the mind, they are legitimately reasonable. The origin of these NDEs and OBEs can be explained legitimately. They are chemical and hormonal reactions. Why would we have those reactions in the mind? Perhaps, they have an evolutionary purpose. If someone nearly died, but survived, then an NDE that granted them hope and happiness would certainly spur on their survival spirit. However, if someone nearly died, but survived without an NDE, they would most likely suffer from depression without an NDE to keep them optimistic. There is no proof, nor any reason, to believe that these NDE or OBE-causing chemicals are the result from divine design.

         There are also those who argue that we feel god, just as we feel many other things which are not tangible. For example, we feel love and conscience. We know these things exist. Similarly, one may argue that through feeling god, we know that a god exists. This line of argument is flawed, however. We certainly may feel love and conscience, but they are axiomatic and proof of themselves. When we feel guilt from conscience, we simply know that we feel guilt from conscience. We do not extend our claims to say, "I feel guilt from conscience, therefore there must be a supernatural being in this Universe." Similarly, a religious experience is simply proof of itself, as well. Just as love and the conscience are feelings limited to the mind, so are religious experiences.

         There are claims by many men and women that they have seen and talked with god in dreams and visions. The error with this is that dreams are just that: dreams. If someone claims that they spoke with god in a dream, how do we know that this person did not just dream that they spoke with god? After all, dreams present illusory images. If we dream that we are talking to a king, it is no reason to presume that we actually talked to a king. Similarly, if we dream that we are talking to a god, it is no reason to presume that we actually talked to a god. One may, of course, argue that all dreams - be they talking with god or a king - are a gift from god and therefore hold some sort of divinity in them. The error with this, however, is that dreams being divine does not validate them any more. If a dream with a god is divine then certainly a dream with a king is divine, but one is no more truthful than the other. Also, the assertion that dreams or divine certainly lacks in evidence.

         If a person claims that there is an invisible being telling them to do things, then there is only one of two possible explanations: the person is insane or religious. Both qualities are separated by a slight line.

    Section III: Conclusion

         A person may feel happy and content without assuming god is responsible for these emotions. Furthermore, the explanations for being Born Again, Nirvana, Wu Wei, or other religious experiences can be explained through science. Gods were created by the minds of religionists, and religionists were not created by a god(s). Religious explanations also suffer from variety. Depending upon where someone is born, they will either experience being Born Again, Nirvana, Enlightenment, or Nirvakalpa Samadhi. Of course, there are Atheists and people born in these Atheist nations who do not experience any religious experience, or at least do not conclude that a god or another form of supernaturality is responsible for it. I ask not people to deny these "religious experiences" or "spiritual happiness," but I ask them to deny the fact that they are caused by religious or spiritual causes.


    1. Jansen, K. L. R. (1996) Using ketamine to induce the near -death experience: mechanism of action and therapeutic potential. Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness (Jahrbuch furr Ethnomedizin und Bewubtseinsforschung) Issue 4, 1995 (Ed.s C. Ratsch; J. R. Baker); VWB, Berlin, pp55-81. Karl Jansen has a book out available at maps.org or: http://www.maps.org/kdreams/. It's entitled Ketamine: Dreams and Realities. Permission obtained to quote Jansen's research.
    2. "Tracing the Synapses of Our Spirituality," by Shankar Vedantam, in The Washington Post, Sunday, June 17, 2001.
    3. The Ghosts, by Robert Green Ingersoll, 1877.

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