Religion, U.F.Os, and a Cheeto

platitudes

Earlier today I read an interesting blog post regarding whether or not “paganism” is dying. My initial thought was, “who cares?”. If people decide they can no longer reconcile adopted beliefs with the mundane and objective reality of day to day life then they are freed in my opinion. I feel the same about any other religious belief. If an individual abandons beliefs that no longer serve them, and in some cases become detrimental, then more power to them I say. I admit I have become extremely jaded when it comes to any sort of religious claims. As I’ve written many, many times I simply have not seen or read anything that is in any way convincing to me that they are anything more than the subjective experiences or thoughts regarding things supernatural. The fact that I’ve never seen or read anything convincing to my mind perturbs me… it makes me feel almost jealous. Not jealous of the religious fanatics but wondering why, in all my 51 years, I’ve never had a “religious experience” of any kind. I have had one amazing and quite beautiful experience during meditation but it in no way seemed a religious experience and it certainly wasn’t life changing. When it was gone it was gone and I’ve never experienced it again. Yet I hear and read people blathering on about their (sometimes repeated) supposedly life changing religious experiences. It used to make me think something was wrong with me that I hadn’t experienced one myself. I know what’s wrong with me… I have bipolar disorder with psychotic features. But I don’t think that has anything whatsoever with experiencing or not experiencing a religious experience.

Thoughts As Religious Experiences

Within psychology, there are couple of things that make me wonder if those are responsible for what is going on with some, or maybe all, of these people supposedly experiencing these remarkable events. The first is simple and in many cases painfully obvious, a person attributes their own “inner voice” (their thoughts/inner dialogue) to that of a deity. I personally believe this happened quite often in ancient times and is exactly how several of the religions still around today began. More than three quarters of people with schizophrenia experience auditory hallucinations and ascribe those hallucinated voices to other people, angels, demons, spirits, Yahweh, or just about anything else you can imagine. But these people I’m referring to are not schizophrenic. They simply honestly ascribe their inner dialogue, which every person on earth has, to a deity. While there is a hypothesis within psychology regarding the “bicameral mind” it is rather controversial. Some shrinks believe the hypothesis warrants further investigation and I agree. I don’t think labels or diagnoses should be made based solely on a hypothesis. That’s a very slippery slope. These people may actually be hearing voices but that, in and of itself, doesn’t make them “crazy”. In a Dutch study of people that hear voices but were not receiving any sort of psychiatric care only 4% experienced only negative voices. The overwhelming majority said the voices they hear were only positive or neutral, 71%. The remaining said that they only heard neutral or negative, 25%. So obviously hearing voices doesn’t by default warrant a diagnosis of some disorder. What people do in regards to those voices, how they behave based on them, can make all the difference in the world.

The second, in my opinion, goes hand-in-hand with ascribing inner dialogue or one’s own thoughts to a deity. It’s called magical thinking. Believing that one’s thoughts alone can and do bring about objective changes in the physical world. This could range from believing one’s thoughts alone, with no physical actions, can be the deciding factor in whether a plant thrives or dies or that thoughts alone, again with no physical action involved, could cause a certain/specific thing or person to enter their lives. Sounds a lot like a series of books and an accompanying film that remains incredibly popular. An entire industry built upon magical thinking that brings in truly enormous sums of money…. It’s mind-boggling. I am a strong believer in the power of the mind over the physical body. I have experienced the power of the mind on many occasions, not all of them good experiences. But I learned the power of the mind during martial arts training throughout the 80s and into the 90s. I was taught how to “see myself” doing a technique that I was having difficulty with and invariably as soon as the next week, or sometimes as soon as the next day, I was able to perform the technique by executing it in my mind alone. Today it’s called visualization and I understand that it is so effective that professional athletes use the technique regularly. But that is not magical thinking. Visualization, done properly, can help overcome obstacles with regards to yourself alone, not something like causing a plant to thrive or die. I have known religious people who honestly believed they could cause objective, physical changes in another person or in the world as a whole with nothing more than their thoughts and words. Usually they ascribed their “powers” as a gift from God and when their “powers” failed, as they inevitably do, they ascribed that to a lack of faith.

Wisdom In The Oddest Of Places

In the popular HBO series Game of Thrones one of the characters is speaking with a religious zealot. He asked him a question that I personally think should be asked of all religious zealots. The question was, “If he’s so all powerful why doesn’t he just tell you what the fuck he wants?”. I would take it a bit further and ask if this or that “god” were so all powerful then why doesn’t he/she/it come down and tell the entire world what it wants? A book won’t cut it. There are many “holy books” that people believe are the “literal word of God”, yet they all disagree on key points so they cannot all be true or they cannot all be from the same sky-daddy. No, I mean actually show up and somehow prove he/she/it is all powerful, then proceed to explain in a way that would leave no questions whatsoever and not be open to interpretation exactly what, if anything, he/she/it wanted from us mere humans.

U.F.O.s are in the same category for me. I’ll believe in them when they land on the White House lawn and show themselves for all to see. Better yet, land outside my tent and provide me with some kind of irrefutable proof I could show the world that they exist. I can say with confidence bordering certainty that none of the above will ever happen with either alleged U.F.O.s or a god of any so-called holy book. I am not willing to suspend reason or disbelief without adequate evidence to convince me otherwise. After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In short, proof. As I stated earlier, I’m 51 years old, 51 years without any evidence, much less proof. I know people in their 70s who are still waiting to see some proof. I don’t think it’s coming. Ever. People will continue to believe what they want to believe and that’s fine as long as they don’t attempt to force those beliefs on others. To each their own. Until I have proof, or overwhelming evidence at the very least, I’ll remain skeptical. That’s just how I’m wired. But I will admit that there are some incredibly weird things going on in the world, things that defy reason… The United States chose a reality TV “star” as its President. That’s pretty weird!

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