The Trouble with Atheists

by | Jun 11, 2018 | Articles, Essential Reading, Survey | 15 comments

The trouble with atheists is that they are fighting a battle with a delusion, which is not that surprising. Atheists pride themselves on being “not stupid,” after all, and they aren’t. Atheists can see the patent absurdity of God as a violent, abusive, and controlling patriarch, and they can see the ideological web of lies that go into its construction.[1] They know it is foolish to believe in such a farce, and so they do not. They reject the absurdity and settle, most often, into a lifetime commitment to the Church of Secular Humanism, and then they die. And good for them (slow clap, clap). Secular Humanism is most certainly a step forward from the ideologically rooted dogma of church and temple. But, as a former atheist myself I would like, for the record, to say, that rejecting the nonsense of the Western Church is not the only step forward we need to take. Rejecting the ecclesiastical image of God, what I like to call “Church God[2] (i.e. a God as violent, abusive, authoritarian patriarch in the sky) frees you from the ideological clutches of the Hierophant, but it doesn’t put you in contact with the full truth. Rejecting Church God is, I would say, only the first step out of the dark forest of the dark ages.

The billion dollar question at this point is, what’s the next step? Well, the next step is to realize that despite all the lies the Church has told, despite the presence of elite ideology and nefarious intent in the spirituality of this planet,[3] humans are not, as the song says, merely dust in the wind. We are something more. Do not believe me? I hate to drop names, but Einstein,[4] several famous physicists,[5] not a few psychologists, and a small handful of sociologists (Edward Carpenter, for example, Hermanns, and me)[6]  have suspected (and even researched) this for quite some time. If you have only taken that first step, i.e. if you have only rejected the sanctimonious elite ideology of Church God, you might be surprised by this statement—but do not be. Despite what polemicists like Dawkins[7] would have you believe, for quite some time there has been a reasonable amount of reasonable scholarly interest in the “something more” of human spirituality.[8]

Of course, I understand that if you are an atheist, you may have trouble with this. Strong feelings may be invoked in the hard atheist heart by suggestions that we take human spirituality seriously, or that some legitimate scientists have shown a genuine scholarly interest. I understand why you might have trouble because, as noted, I was an atheist once as well. Consequently, I know exactly why atheists reject the authenticity of human spirituality. They reject it for the same reasons I rejected it. They reject it because they think it is a stupid, false, delusion.[9] And it is false, and arguably stupid, particularly the abusive patriarch part. But it is not all false and it is not all stupid. Some of if it is darkly brilliant. If you ask me, Western exoteric and esoteric spirituality is a genius system of thought and behavioural control put in place to, well, control the thought and behaviour of the human masses. I got a glimpse of this brilliance when examining the Western Tarot deck which, as I demonstrated in an article entitled The Sociology of Tarot, is an effective ideological tool of the ruling class.[10] Indeed, so effective is the tarot as an ideological propaganda tool that Decker et al. (1996) called the sum of activity engaged in by the elites who developed the Tarot in the 18th century the

…most successful propaganda campaign ever launched: not by a very long way the most important, but the most completely successful. An entire false history, and false interpretation, of the Tarot pack was concocted by the occultists; and it is all but universally believed.”[11]

And it is not just Western esotericism or the masonic tarot. Western ecclesiastical institutions, and perhaps Eastern “spiritual” institutions as well, are clearly about behavioural control of the masses. But just because elite institutions are about social control, and just because some of the concepts they use to propagate their silly ideologies are wrong, doesn’t mean the whole of human spirituality is a superstition and elite bred farce. As we will see in a moment, what happens in churches and temples is not the total of human spiritual experience. These are merely corruptions, interferences if you like, attacks if you will, on what I would call the authentic core of authentic spiritual experience. The activities of these elite institutions do not represent authentic spirituality any more than a horse-drawn carriage represents a modern self-driving automobile. They represent an elite hijacking of human spirituality, interference in the connection process, bald face attempts to suppress the powerful and transformative spirituality of the human physical unit,[12] or ridiculous (but effective, I’m afraid) attempts to scare the masses into submission, and nothing more. They are interesting as such, but they do not represent the sum total of human spiritual activity.

Connection Experiences

So, if there is more to human spirituality than vapid superstition and elite machination, what is that something more? The answer to that is remarkably easy to state. The something more is mystical experience, religious experience, or connection experience, as I would say. To say this is not entirely novel. William James took mystical experience seriously when he called mystics the “pattern-setters”[13] whose experiences established religious traditions. Heriot-Maitland notes that “mystical experience… constitute[s] the very essence of religion, such that the origin of a given tradition can often be traced to an initial transcendent encounter, moment of revelation, salvation, or enlightenment.”[14] Abraham Maslow, who spent the bulk of his career looking at “peak experiences” (a naturalistic name for mystical experiences) writes:

The very beginning, the intrinsic core, the essence, the universal nucleus of every known high religion (unless Confucianism is also called a religion) has been the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer. The high religions call themselves revealed religions and each of them tends to rest its validity, its function, and its right to exist on the codification and the communication of this original mystic experience or revelation from the lonely prophet to the mass of human beings in general (Maslow, 2012: 339).

As noted above, I prefer the term “connection experience” to refer to the mystical or religious experiences that were the subject of Maslow’s lifelong interest. As Maslow discovered, and despite what most people might think, these experiences are not rare at all. At the beginning of his career Maslow certainly thought they were, but towards the end he had concluded that just about everyone had connection experiences. As for those who didn’t have connection experiences, Maslow felt there was something wrong with them. Given the controversial nature of this statement, I feel it is best to let him speak for himself here.

At first it was our thought that some people simply didn’t have peaks. But, as I said above, we found out later that it’s much more probable that the non-peakers have them but repress or misinterpret them, or-for whatever reason-reject them and therefore do not use them. Some of the reasons for such rejection so far found are: (1) a strict Marxian attitude, as with Simone de Beauvoir, who was persuaded that this was a weakness, a sickness (also Arthur Koestler). A Marxist should be “tough.” Why Freud rejected his is anybody’s guess: perhaps (2) his 19th century mechanistic-scientific attitude, perhaps (3) his pessimistic character. Among my various subjects I have found both causes at work sometimes. In others I have found (4) a narrowly rationalistic attitude which I considered a defense against being flooded by emotion, by irrationality, by loss of control, by illogical tenderness, by dangerous femininity, or by the fear of insanity. One sees such attitudes more often in engineers, in mathematicians, in analytic philosophers, in bookkeepers and accountants, and generally in obsessional people.[15]

It is not only Einstein, physicists, and psychologists who have taken connection experience seriously. Perhaps surprisingly to any sociologists reading these words, sociology had a space carved out for the study of mystical experience all the way back in 1912 with the publication of Troeltsch’s Die Soziallehren.[16] For the Sociology of Spirituality, Troeltsch suggested a tripartite division of study, church, sect, and mysticism.[17] That is, to understand human spirituality, sociologists should examine religious institutions (like church, sect, and cult) on the one hand, and connection experiences (i.e. mystical experiences/religious experiences) on the other. As an aside, I would prefer to demarcate the sociological study of human spirituality along simpler lines, specifically the sociological study of spiritual institutions (church, sect, cult, etc.) and the sociological study of spiritual experience (peak experiences, mystical experiences, connection experiences).

Carving out a space for the sociological study of mystical experience made perfect sense at the time, since anybody who looks at the field through a clear, unbiased lens can see that connection experience is an important part of human spirituality. Nevertheless, the division was never carried forward. As Garett notes, “the concept of mysticism has mainly experienced wholehearted neglect at the hands of sociological investigators….”[18] Why? I explore some of the reasons for the sociological neglect of mystical experience in my papers The Sociology of mysticism[19] and Mystical Experience and Global Revolution.[20] I will say here that one of the more interesting reasons for neglect of connection experience is an ideological, elite led sanitation of the discipline. To be blunt, sociologists have been actively discouraged from looking at connection experience because of its transformative/revolutionary potential.[21] That is, connection experiences have the ability to transform the human heart and undermine the elite status quo. I refer the interested reader to my paper Mystical Experience and Global Revolution for more.

Moving forward

If you are an atheist rejecter, I suppose at this point you have a decision to make. You can continue to erroneously assume that Church God and religion (i.e. religious institutions) represent the total of human spiritual experience, or you can consider like many others have that there is maybe more to human spirituality than all that. No doubt, and speaking from experience, getting over your assumptions will be a challenge. As already noted, I was an atheist. In fact, I was the worst of the worst of the atheists, arrogant, strident, and staunch. I used my presumed intellectual superiority to arrogantly bash the duped, deluded, and deceived believer wherever and whenever I could.  It took a massive blow to my cherished materialist worldview to open me up to the possibility that there was more to human spirituality than what was on offer in the churches and temples. It took even more to get me “out of the closet,” so to speak, i.e. to get me to a point where I’d be willing to ask questions, explore, and talk with open-minded curiosity.

Whatever you decide to do at this point, whether you want to hang onto your atheist belief system or perhaps loosen the boundaries and take another look, is up to you. I will say this though, as someone interested in studying human spirituality, which as I suggest is comprised of the study of spiritual institutions on the one hand and spiritual experience on the other, I do not want to talk about Church God and I do not think there is much of anything new to say about religious institutions, except perhaps to say that their true purpose is to subvert revolutionary connection experiences. As a sociologist, I know that most spiritual institutions, especially the big ones, are elite-driven monstrosities designed with population control in mind.

On the other hand, as a sociologist interested in studying human spirituality, I am quite interested in the other side of the coin of human spirituality, which is spiritual experience. As I’ve tried to point out in my early work on the subject, spiritual experience,[22] connection experience, is definitely a thing, and it’s a thing that is definitely worth taking a closer look at, especially now as our world begins its apparent death spiral into debacle, and especially if it has transformative and revolutionary potential, as I suggest it does. If you are an atheist you may not like to hear this, but tough. If you still struggle, let me leave you with the words of William Stace, a respected pioneer of the study of human mystical experience, who says, mystical/religious experience is “a psychological fact of which there is abundant evidence…. To deny or doubt that it exists as a psychological fact is not a reputable opinion. It is ignorance and very stupid.” [23]

‘Nuff said.

 

References

Anon. (2009) Edward Carpenter: Red, Green and Gay. Socialism Today 131.

Berger P. (1969) The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, New York: Anchor Books.

Carpenter E. (1921) The Art of Creation: Essays on the Self and Its Powers, London: Georbe Allen & Unwin.

Dawkins R. (2006) The God Delusion, New York: Mariner Books.

Decker R, Depaulis T and Dummett M. (1996) A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot, New York: St Martin’s Press.

Freud S. (1961) Civilization and its Discontents, New York: W.W. Norton.

Garrett WR. (1975) Maligned mysticism : the maledicted career of Troeltsch’s third type. SA. Sociological Analysis 36: 205-223.

Heriot-Maitland CP. (2008) Mysticism and madness: Different aspects of the same human experience? Mental Health, Religion & Culture 11: 301-325.

Hermanns W. (1983) Einstein and the Poet, Boston: Branden Books.

James W. (1982) The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature, New York: Penguin.

Marx K. (1978) The German Ideology. In: Tucker R (ed) The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton.

Maslow AH. (1962) Lessons from the Peak-Experiences. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2: 9-18.

Maslow AH. (1971) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York: Viking.

Maslow AH. (2012) The “Core-Religious” or “Transcendent” Experience. In: White J (ed) The Highest State of Consciousness. New York: Doubleday, 339-350.

Rowbotham S. (1980) In Search of Edward Carpenter. Radical America 14.

Sosteric M. (2014a) Everybody has a mystical experience. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/3560183.

Sosteric M. (2014b) A Sociology of Tarot. Canadian Journal of Sociology 39.

Sosteric M. (2016a) Mysticism, Consciousness, Death. Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research 7: 1099-1118.

Sosteric M. (2016b) A Neurologically Grounded Theory of Mystical/Spiritual Experience. Available at: https://athabascau.academia.edu/DrS.

Sosteric M. (2017a) From Zoroaster to Star Wars, Jesus to Marx: The Science and Technology of Mass Human Behaviour. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/34504691.

Sosteric M. (2017b) The Sociology of Mysticism. ISA eSymposium for Sociology July.

Sosteric M. (2018) Mystical experience and global revolution. Athens Journal of Social Sciences.

Stace WT. (1960) Mysticism and Philosophy, London: Macmillan.

Wilber K. (2001) Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists New York: Shambhala.

Endnotes

[1] Berger P. (1969) The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, New York: Anchor Books, Marx K. (1978) The German Ideology. In: Tucker R (ed) The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton.

[2] Church God is the image of God supplied not by mystics who have actually explored divine realities, but by paid employees of one of the biggest (and, based on their history of violence, theft, manipulation, and child-sex cover ups) corporations on this planet, the Catholic Church.

[3] For an examination of elite ideology in the religious systems of this planet, see Sosteric M. (2017a) From Zoroaster to Star Wars, Jesus to Marx: The Science and Technology of Mass Human Behaviour. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/34504691.

[4] Hermanns W. (1983) Einstein and the Poet, Boston: Branden Books. Maslow AH. (1971) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York: Viking., William James James W. (1982) The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature, New York: Penguin. Carpenter E. (1921) The Art of Creation: Essays on the Self and Its Powers, London: Georbe Allen & Unwin.,

[5]  Wilber K. (2001) Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists New York: Shambhala.

[6] Anon. (2009) Edward Carpenter: Red, Green and Gay. Socialism Today 131, Rowbotham S. (1980) In Search of Edward Carpenter. Radical America 14, Hermanns W. (1983) Einstein and the Poet, Boston: Branden Books.

[7]  Dawkins R. (2006) The God Delusion, New York: Mariner Books.

[8] Sociologists, see Garrett WR. (1975) Maligned mysticism : the maledicted career of Troeltsch’s third type. SA. Sociological Analysis 36: 205-223. Also Anon. (2009) Edward Carpenter: Red, Green and Gay. Socialism Today 131. My own nascent work includes  Sosteric M. (2016a) Mysticism, Consciousness, Death. Journal of Consciousness Exploration and Research 7: 1099-1118. Also Sosteric M. (2014b) A Sociology of Tarot. Canadian Journal of Sociology 39. Finally, Sosteric M. (2016b) A Neurologically Grounded Theory of Mystical/Spiritual Experience. Available at: https://athabascau.academia.edu/DrS.

[9] Freud S. (1961) Civilization and its Discontents, New York: W.W. Norton.

[10] Sosteric M. (2014b) A Sociology of Tarot. Canadian Journal of Sociology 39.

[11]  Decker R, Depaulis T and Dummett M. (1996) A Wicked Pack of Cards: The Origins of the Occult Tarot, New York: St Martin’s Press.

[12] For an overview of the transformative potential of authentic spiritual experience, see Sosteric M. (2018) Mystical experience and global revolution. Athens Journal of Social Sciences.

[13] James W. (1982) The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature, New York: Penguin.

[14] Heriot-Maitland CP. (2008) Mysticism and madness: Different aspects of the same human experience? Mental Health, Religion & Culture 11: 301-325.

[15]  Maslow AH. (1962) Lessons from the Peak-Experiences. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 2: 9-18.. For more on this, see Sosteric M. (2014a) Everybody has a mystical experience. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/3560183.

[16] Garrett WR. (1975) Maligned mysticism : the maledicted career of Troeltsch’s third type. SA. Sociological Analysis 36: 205-223.

[17] Sosteric M. (2017b) The Sociology of Mysticism. ISA eSymposium for Sociology July.

[18] Garrett WR. (1975) Maligned mysticism : the maledicted career of Troeltsch’s third type. SA. Sociological Analysis 36: 205-223.

[19] Sosteric M. (2017b) The Sociology of Mysticism. ISA eSymposium for Sociology July.

[20] Sosteric M. (2018) Mystical experience and global revolution. Athens Journal of Social Sciences.

[21] For a glimpse into the powerful and transformative nature of authentic human spirituality, see ibid.

[22] Ibid., Sosteric M. (2017b) The Sociology of Mysticism. ISA eSymposium for Sociology July.

[23] William Stace WT. (1960) Mysticism and Philosophy, London: Macmillan.

Written by Mike Sosteric (Dr. S.)

Just another loud mouth sociology professor, teaching sociology courses. Check me out here at the Socjourn, over there at The Conversation and at academia.edu.

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