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Atheism/People who claim to have a religious experience.


I'm a young adult in my early 30's and I struggle with a few issues, they are 1)Going back and forth between being an athiest and an agnostic, 2)Trying to decide whether or not if I want to embrace Christianity, and 3)This is something I've been wondering about alot lately since I feel like I'm leaning towards not believing that there is a God and it is; When somebody claims that they had a religious experience is it possible that it's just a strange chemical reaction in the person's brain? I myself feel like there's no evidence whatsoever of a creator God that made us all. In fact, I even have a quote I printed up which reinforced my lack of belief and it reads "If there is a Creator-God, it is completely detached. It has used methods of creation that are indistinguishable from nature, it has declined to make itself known for all of recorded history, it doesn't interfere with earthly matters, and has made itself impossible to observe. There is no evidence for such a being and its existence is improbable and unnecessary, at best. But even if you believe in that God...why would you think it would want to be worshipped?" This is the source of the quote and it says the person who wrote the quote is David G. McAfee. I'd really appreciate any feedback you might have, thanks.

Hi, David.  Thanks for contacting me.

I certainly empathize with what you're going through.  I think many individuals go through exactly what you're feeling.  So let me address your issues in the sequence presented.

1) Atheist vs. Agnostic.  Well, I'll admit right up front that I'm a bit biased on this one, because I don't find much use for the word "agnostic" whatsoever.  Taken literally, the word means "without knowledge."  And let's face it: the most devout believer and the most stringent denier are both "without knowledge."  Nobody knows.  Period.  So, technically, everyone is agnostic... which renders the word pretty meaningless.  But religious belief is about... well... belief.  Not knowledge.  The word "atheist" simply means "without a theistic belief system."  And this is a simple yes or no question.  If you don't have a theistic belief system, you're an atheist by default.  If you're "unsure," you still don't actively have such a belief system, so you're still an atheist.  Remember: atheism is not about actively denying the existence of a creator (though some do go that far).  It's simply about not accepting that there is one.  People have put such tremendous weight and stigma on the word "atheist."  It's undeserved.

2) Embracing Christianity.  Well, in my mind, this isn't a "decision."  If you find Christianity worthy, you'll embrace it. It won't be an active decision, but something you'll feel isn't even a choice, but a no-brainer.  Choosing a religion isn't like choosing which outfit to wear in the morning.  It's more like falling in love.  You don't make an active decision to do it; it just happens.  Though, like falling in love, it's easy to be taken in by the hot rush of excitement, which eventually can wear off.  

3) Religious experiences.  Yes, absolutely right.  There have been several studies of the brain during religious experiences.  Some have shown similar activity to epileptic episodes.  Other have shown that life-changing experiences (like being "born again") are related to atrophy in the hippocampus.  And so on.  So yes, it's entirely possible (one might even say "likely") that religious experiences are directly tied to chemical activity in the brain.  What distinguishes one type of religious experience from another, though, is in how we're brought up to believe. The same brain activity can be experienced as "seeing Jesus" or "deep meditation" or any number of other things, depending on what we're exposed to.

And you're right.  There's not a shred of actual evidence of a creator.  Such beliefs come as a result of being "without knowledge."  I maintain that the only reason religion continues to thrive is because humans can't deal with the concept of non-existence. They can't imagine what it's like to not be alive, so they conjure up heaven as a way to never need to think about it.  Others can't deal with injustice without punishment, so they cling to the idea of hell just to make more sense of the world.  And so on.  I get it.  I really do.  I just don't see a need for it.  I can't picture non-existence any better than anyone else.  The difference is that I accept that there are things I can't understand.

A close friend of mine has a belief very similar to the quote you shared.  We were speaking about it just this past weekend, in fact. Except that he doesn't engage in what you'd call "worship."  He's not a church-goer.  I never hear him talk about offering prayers for something.  But he can't shake the idea that a creator is unnecessary.  So he clings to it.

David, your brain is giving you all the information you need, I think.  You see the writing on the wall.  

Be well.


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Vincent M. Wales


Skeptic and atheist for more than three decades.


Living as a non-believer in an increasingly religious nation... and writing about it.

Atheists and Other Freethinkers (Sacramento)
Freedom from Religion Foundation
(founder of) Freethought Society of Northern Utah

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