Hi all. First post here. And I'm a Christian. Looking forward to being welcomed with rational politeness...! :)
Having been reading a number of forum discussions, it's clear many members here were formerly Christians (or at least attended church). For anyone in that category, did you in your time as a Christian/church attender have what would be described as a 'religious experience'? That could be anything from a 'sense' of God's presence in a church meeting (something many Christians would testify to and atheists would reject as deluded group-think resulting from psychological manipulation), to seemingly answered prayer, an experience of God 'speaking' etc.
Apologies if that doesn't make sense, though I think for those here who have been in churches - especially more charismatic churches - for any length of time will get what I'm asking.
Basically I'm interested in what you think was the cause of those experiences, and how they helped or hindered your deconversion.
People have a natural sense of awe and wonder or a moment of clarity and understanding. Now what has happened is that someone has told you this is a religious experience. You might be associating this experience that we all have as a connection to god. It is used to exploit your lack of knowledge of where that experience comes from.
I quite frequently will look up at the stars and shiver in awe.
I had several spiritual experiences . . . or, at least, experiences I interpreted as direct communication with God. They were uncanny . . . as if I were temporarily on some different plane of awareness.
But then the LSD wore off.
I have heard of several of these experiences from my friends in Baghdad. There they are referred to as Allah speaking.
Don't they chew a lot of Qat (a mild drug) in those regions?
Yes, I experienced what I considered to be the Holy Spirit entering me. A sense of Joy and love - a euphoric feeling? Hare Krishnas induce this by chanting and fasting is also another way to achieve it - that is actually Ketoacidosis. Yoga does it too. It is a self-induced euphoria. After losing my Christian faith I did all sorts of weird stuff involving Chrystals and tarot cards which induces that even more easily than prayer or singing hymns. I used to believe God answered me when I would have sudden realisations of what i should do when praying - now I get that when I write a diary - it is simply the product of setting out your thoughts in words. I cannot say this feeling contributed to my atheism - that came from reading the bible and trying to find answers to the questions this raised. I did miss that feeling for a while but I can now achieve it from meditation and breathing exercises.
I would be interested to know if you believe all religious experiences of this type are really from God or if it is just the ones experienced by Christians?
Hi Helen. The short answer is I don't know - there are all kinds of elevated or altered states that have simple physical causes such as drugs, meditation, severe stress, group psychology etc.
If you grant the existence of a spiritual realm (I'm not expecting any takers for agreement there :) then it's not much of a stretch to posit the existence of both benign and malignant forces. So - I believe - there can be some 'religious' experiences which are genuine encounters with spiritual forces that aren't God. I'm not going to point fingers at a particular experience and claim it was 'demonic' though. And no, I don't believe in little red guys with pitchforks and forked tails either.
Nope. I had to go to church for 18 years, even used to sing in the choir by choice. Not once when I prayed were my prayers answered or did I feel anything.
I found too many discrepancies between what I was told in church and what I knew to be truth, from a scientific and even logical perspective. Then I realised that even morally, church held nothing for me, and in fact, religion, even christianity, was responsible for atrocious acts even in this day and age and I was disgusted. I won't ever say god doesn't exist, but I will say, based on many things, that the kind and merciful god I was raised to believe in is a lie.
I was a fundamentalist believer for nearly thirty years and a ordained minister and pastor in a conservative, fundamentalist Presbyterian denomination for sixteen years. I'm now an atheist and a member of The Clergy Project.
Without a doubt during my times as a believer I had numerous experiences which I considered "religious experiences" of the type you mention. I know numerous other former clergy who even spoke in tongues and had other Pentecostal type religious experiences, who are now atheists.
Those experiences were simply "brain events", emotions, thoughts and the like that are common in one form or another in all religious groups but which are simply normal human responses to what you believe is true and interpreted in the context of that already established belief. They are simply aspects of our "psychology" based in our neurology as it has evolved and hijacked by religion as a means of confirming belief and inoculating against reason.
As an atheist, I can still feel awe at realization about the size and scope of the universe or by the kind and compassionate actions of other human beings. I can still gain significant insights into my own "self" and how that mind and self operate so that there are significant "aha" moments which motivate and serve as catalysts for change. I still talk to myself and observe my thoughts as I reason things out. I also "sit" zazen as a secular practice to become more familiar with the expression of consciousness and mind which are common human experiences.
None of these things are the exclusive property of religion, nor do they arise out of the "true" of any religion. They are simply common human experiences which religion has coopted for it's own use. The delusion is taking them as a confirmation of one particular religious perspective.
I hope this helps.
Thanks Dennis, that sounds like an extraordinarily difficult transition to make from being a pastor. Do you mind me asking what prompted the change in your views? Apologies if you've already detailed that elsewhere.
Here is a longish, rather detailed account of my transition.
It was a difficult transition. There are 200+ members of The Clergy Project who have gone throught similar transitions, all of them former ministers, theologians or other clergy from different denominations as well as those outside Christianity. Some are still active in the ministry even though they no longer believe, trying to get out and leave it all behind.
There are some stories on the same site as mine, some short "testimonials" on The Clergy Project site and, if you do a Google search, you find a number of the members of The Clergy Project are now out and speaking on behalf of the Project.
Briefly, for me, it was primarily a matter of truth. Truth is what brought me originally to Christianity in a desire to know if there was a deeper reality or fundamental truth. That same desire for truth lead me away from Christianity. As with others, studying and teaching the Bible was what ultimately did me in although there were other realizations along the way.
Thanks for asking!
Powerful stuff Dennis, and a great story - thanks for sharing it with us. I'm genuinely sorry about your marriage, and hope you still have a close relationship with your children.
I do thankfully. The children are not as fundamentalist as their mother and my son is an atheist as I am and a student of philosophy. He is going to University of Houston for an MA and is on a PhD track.
The kids and I are close. They too question but they also know how much I have done for them and how much I love them.