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.
Never. In fifteen years as a member of my parents' church, attending everything from "Acquire the Fire" concerts to overnight church "Lock ins", after hours of prayer and devotion, and even reading the whole darn bible in preparation for my confirmation as an adult member of the church, I never once had a "Religious Experience". No whispered words from on high, no guiding presence, no comforting feeling...just...nothing. My prayers were never answered. I was never given any sort of heavenly advice. And though the people around me seemed to have all of these wonderful, moving experiences, I didn't.
I did my research, red The God Delusion, reread The Bible, and finally freed myself from a faith that was controlling my thoughts and actions through fear of punishment (even for minor offenses), and promise of pleasure. It started with me deciding that if God was the same God I had learned about after reading the old testament, then he was a monster and a villain and not someone to be praised and worshiped. I started to wonder why God would do so much for me, who lived in one of the safest, most free countries in the world, when he let children starve in Africa, loving mothers and fathers die of diseases like Cancer and AIDs, and make it OK to hurt people based on whether or not they believed what I believed. Eventually, I learned that anthropologists, archeologists, geologists, and a slew of other scientists had disproven most of the Old Testament's accounts of how the world had been created and the events that followed, and when that was disproven, the rest fell into place. I have lived my entire 21 year long life with no religious experiences of any kind, something I'm quite comfortable with.
Also, welcome to the forum, I hope you enjoy your stay.
First, welcome to TA.
Second, I am willing to answer your question:
I, like so many other Christians, was ready and eager to attribute any emotional experience or coincidence to God. If I happened to not fall down the stairs because I was wise enough to put my hand on the railing, I praised God for the laws which required the railing to be there in the first place. If I lost my glasses, but found them just in time to fly out the door and risk a speeding ticket to make it to work on time, but didn't get a ticket, I attributed it to God watching out for me. If I avoided a traffic collision by mere seconds (whether it happened in front of behind me), I thanked God that it was not me he chose to have the accident.
Like many other Christians, I also attributed every bad thing that happend to Satan. I mean - the Bible says that God is good, so it can't be God who caused evil events.
The emotional fervor that some preachers are able to cause, I attributed to the Holy Spirit.
Now I understand how silly I was and how much time I wasted. No - not silly... SICK! As if I, an unworthy "sinner" could be saved a parking space close to Wal-Mart while some orphan starved to death made any sense.
Now that I've dumped religion, I know the truth. I feel sorry for those still stuck in the shackles of religion.
As an answer to your final question: They hindered my deconversion for many years as I searched for God's face and was afraid to leave Christianity. It was out of fear, not reverence or love... just fear.
Thanks Grady and Citizen for your honesty. Interested to hear answers from any others?
Personally, I think my religious experience may have been caused by a type of seizure in my brain. I am bi-polar. It was very powerful and felt more real then anything else I had ever experienced. I did not become an atheist until 28 years later.
If having a seizure is not the case then I have no idea what caused the experience. I was by myself when it happened, listening to music. I did have a grand mal seizure while I was at work about 8 year ago where I lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital. There might be no relation but just thought I would mention this. The doctors were not able to find a confirmed reason for the seizure. They said most likely I had a low seizure threshold, and told me not to drive for six months. It has never happened again since.
One night at about 9 years old I laid down in bed. I rolled over to get more comfortable and this beautiful woman wearing a dress with different colored roses on it was standing next to my bed. She was bathed in a warm glowing light. I instantly recognized this woman as younger version my great aunt Marge which was strange not only because she was suddenly young but also because she had died a couple weeks earlier. Was I seeing a ghost or an angel? She was gone as quickly as she appeared.
When this happened I was already having serious doubts about religion that I would never ‘recover’ from. This incident bothered me because I couldn’t explain it. On the one hand I had my rational brain saying there has to be a logical explanation. On the other hand I had my emotional brain telling me that I’d in fact just seen a ghost or an angel of my great aunt.
This experience didn't stop me from doubting. I eventually shoved it to the back of my brain to deal with later. I was so done with god that even this wasn't going to make me go back to religion.
Quite a few years later this 'problem' was solved during a random search online about lucid dreaming (something I am prone to). I certainly did see an angel….a hallucinatory one. The angel was created by my mind in the very early stages of sleep called hypnagogia a stage of sleep especially prone to vivid hallucinations and a stage of sleep where one isn’t necessarily aware that they are indeed sleeping as in my case.
I think most 'religious' experiences have a straightforward rational explanation. Most people who have these experiences don't want to explore the rational causes behind them. They prefer to believe that what they saw or experienced was supernatural or god.
This link might interest you: When God Talks Back. I'd especially like to draw your attention the the bottom section, "Interview Highlights." Her description of why she was moved to tears and experiencing moments of joy resonate very much so with me.
As someone raised in a Catholic family, I was taught to kneel and stand and pray - this all became habit or routine - just like any other routine I have in my life. When others around me felt emotion, I felt empathy - sometimes this happened at church, sometimes it happened elsewhere. At group events and retreats, I felt connected to the people around me, but no more so than I did in my girl scout troop or at a marching band performance. It was the realization that there was no causal link to these events or experiences that freed me from the fear that I would lose it all were I not Catholic or a theist in general.
Hi Matt, welcome to ThinkAtheist.
Depends on what you call a religious experience. Did I have a transcendent feeling of well-being, joy and wonder at the beauty of the world and the glory of being alive in it? Yep. Did I have a crushing feeling of overwhelming guilt and fear where I was certain that God's eye was upon me and judging me unworthy? Also yes. Do I attribute both of these states to psychological and emotional conditioning reinforced by religious teachings and indoctrination? Not the first, definitely the second.
There's plenty of research on how these kinds of emotional states can be induced in people and also how people are prone to attempt to assign agency to all kinds of events that have no agency behind them. Humans are experts at that.
As for how they helped or hindered, the first type had little effect, really. I never attributed it to a deity in the first place, although several of my family members did. The second delayed my acknowledgement that I no longer believed, as the conditioned fear took quite some time to erase.
Shay, I don't know if you (or anyone else here) ever watched - or was made to watch - the 1972 film 'A thief in the night'? Terrible, terrible film. I watched it as a kid and had the same experience several times of being terrified I'd missed the rapture.
I was always very spiritual as a kid. I used to look at nature as evidence for god and feel this happy tingle every time I saw something amazing in nature. I used to always feel god's presence. My mother is very devout, so I was going to church before I could talk. I saw god in everything, from the mundane to the extraordinary. So I guess I had many 'religious' experiences. It wasn't until last summer I began to think about how much of the bible I really know. And how much of that I knew I believed . . . which wasn't much. I then started to read the bible and watch atheist vs christian videos on YouTube. And within a month, I was agnostic. And about three months after that, I became the anti-theist atheist all my friends talked about . . . behind my back. A lot of atheist had 'religious' experiences, it's nothing really. It's just when you believe something so much, you get a high off of it.
Thanks again for all the stories above. It's really helpful to me as a Christian to understand what experiences (or lack thereof) would move someone towards atheism. Both in this thread and elsewhere it seems a reasonably common experience for people to have only experienced God as a kind of divine moral policeman (and a very strict and angry one at that) and to live in fear of eternal punishment / constant guilt and condemnation for not living up to the expected moral standard.
I'm not surprised anyone who lived with that turned their back on that god - he's awful. Some of you might be familiar with the Far Side cartoon...
I used to believe in a god like that as well, but I don't anymore. I'm also disappointed that somehow verses like 'there is no fear in love' (1 John 4:18) and 'there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus' (Romans 8:1) seem to have been taught in some churches as 'You're right to feel fear and condemnation because it helps us control your behaviour' ...
"I'm not surprised anyone who lived with that turned their back on that god - he's awful."
I know of no one here who has turned their back to god. We are just waiting for the tinniest shred of evidence in his favor.