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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Strange Religious Experiences

    I'll start with Augustine of Hippo
    In late August of 386,[81] at the age of 31, having heard of Ponticianus's and his friends' first reading of the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert, Augustine converted to Christianity. As Augustine later told it, his conversion was prompted by hearing a child's voice say "take up and read" (Latin: tolle, lege). Resorting to the Sortes Sanctorum, he opened the Bible at random and read Romans 13: 13-14: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.[82]
    He then went on to become a noted Xian theologian. He wrote an autobiography, "Confessions", and he moaned and groaned at length about what a terrible sin he once committed: as a little boy, he and some other little boys stole some pears. He also wrote that babies are terrible sinners, guilty of gluttony and jealousy and the like.

    He wrote an outline of history and a theory of government, "The City of God", where he rebutted some of the remaining pagans who argued that the Western Roman Empire fell because of disregarding the worship of the deities of Rome's old-time religion.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    From Taoist to Infidel by Richard Carrier.

    Although his experiences in Sunday School were very nice, with a very liberal sort of Xianity, he found the Bible disappointing when he got around to reading it. Very boring and disappointing, with odd moral rules like turning the other cheek and giving one's clothes to robbers, rules that everybody did the opposite of. He also was turned off by descriptions of eternal punishment and End-Times disasters. It was also lacking in concerns like democracy and gender equality, and it seemed very ignorant about how the Universe is. For a book that supposedly had all the important answers, it read like a "preachy fable", using only assertion, with no use of evidence or arguments. He was very dissatisfied.
    Then a miracle happened. At least, it was what believers would call a miracle. In a bookstore hunting for a dictionary for school, I had a feeling that told me to turn. I did, and the first thing I saw was a Jane English translation of the Tao Te Ching. I took it up, and, like Augustine, turned to a page at random and read. What it said was so simple, so true, so elegantly and concisely put, and so wise, I knew this was the answer. I bought the book and read it all through, and from that day I declared my faith in Taoism, my first real religion.
    So he became a Taoist, though a philosophical one. The Tao Te Ching seemed to have all the important answers, and it was written "beautifully and simply". He had mystical experiences which seemed to confirm Taoism for him. "The simplest and most common was that clarity of an almost drug-like wonder, perceiving everything striking the senses as one, unified whole."
    The most fantastic experience I had was like that times ten. It happened at sea, well past midnight on the flight deck of a cutter, in international waters two hundred miles from the nearest land. I had not slept for over 36 hours, thanks to a common misfortune of overlapping duty schedules and emergency rescue operations. For hours we had been practicing helicopter landing and refuelling drills and at long last the chopper was away and everything was calm. The ship was rocking slowly in a gentle, dark sea, and I was alone beneath the starriest of skies that most people have never seen. I fell so deeply into the clear, total immersion in the real that I left my body and my soul expanded to the size of the universe, so that I could at one thought perceive, almost 'feel', everything that existed in perfect and total clarity. It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God. Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at. What did I see? A beautiful, vast, harmonious and wonderful universe all at peace with the Tao. There was plenty of life scattered like tiny seeds everywhere, but no supernatural beings, no gods or demons or souls floating about, no heaven or hell. Just a perfect, complete universe, with no need for anything more. The experience was absolutely real to me. There was nothing about it that would suggest it was a dream or a mere flight of imagination. And it was magnificent.
    However, he continued reading and studying, and he decided that these experiences were all in his head, and he moved away from Taoism to a more typical metaphysical naturalism and secular humanism. This included reading the Bible again, and he found the Old Testament disgusting and the New Testament disappointing, and the whole Bible full of gross immorality. So that was out.

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    Sapere aude Politesse's Avatar
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    I think strange religious experiences are a phenomenon older than religion itself. The universe impinges on our consciousness at times.

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    Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) was a rocket designer who designed and built the first successful liquid-fueled rocket.

    In 1898, he read HG Wells's "The War of the Worlds", and on 1899 October 19, he climbed a cherry tree to cut off its dead limbs. He had an experience that he remembered for the rest of his life.
    On this day I climbed a tall cherry tree at the back of the barn ... and as I looked toward the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet. I have several photographs of the tree, taken since, with the little ladder I made to climb it, leaning against it.

    It seemed to me then that a weight whirling around a horizontal shaft, moving more rapidly above than below, could furnish lift by virtue of the greater centrifugal force at the top of the path.

    I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended. Existence at last seemed very purposive.[16]:26[23]
    For the rest of his life, he celebrated October 19 as the anniversary of that great day.

    He studied physics and became a physics professor. That enabled him to work on ways of traveling through outer space. He settled on rockets, and by 1909, he decided that liquid-fueled ones can have the fastest exhaust, like hydrogen-oxygen ones. In 1915, he showed that a de Laval compression-expansion nozzle was good for getting high thermal efficiency: kinetic energy / chemical energy. In 1917, he built the first known ion thrusters, though these rocket engines worked in air. Later ones are vacuum-only.

    In 1919, the Smithsonian Institution published his paper "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes" about using rockets to do that. In 1923, he tested a liquid-fuel rocket engine, using gasoline instead of hydrogen, and in 1926, his first liquid-fuel rocket flew. It rose 41 ft (12 m) and landed 184 ft (55 m) away in a nearby cabbage field. He continued testing his rockets until 1941, and his highest altitude was achieved in 1937, 8000 - 9000 ft / 2500 - 2700 m.

    So it's fair to say that he lived up to his childhood experience very well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Carrier
    The most fantastic experience I had was like that times ten. It happened at sea, well past midnight on the flight deck of a cutter, in international waters two hundred miles from the nearest land. I had not slept for over 36 hours, thanks to a common misfortune of overlapping duty schedules and emergency rescue operations. For hours we had been practicing helicopter landing and refuelling drills and at long last the chopper was away and everything was calm. The ship was rocking slowly in a gentle, dark sea, and I was alone beneath the starriest of skies that most people have never seen. I fell so deeply into the clear, total immersion in the real that I left my body and my soul expanded to the size of the universe, so that I could at one thought perceive, almost 'feel', everything that existed in perfect and total clarity. It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God. Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at. What did I see? A beautiful, vast, harmonious and wonderful universe all at peace with the Tao. There was plenty of life scattered like tiny seeds everywhere, but no supernatural beings, no gods or demons or souls floating about, no heaven or hell. Just a perfect, complete universe, with no need for anything more. The experience was absolutely real to me. There was nothing about it that would suggest it was a dream or a mere flight of imagination. And it was magnificent.
    However, he continued reading and studying, and he decided that these experiences were all in his head, and he moved away from Taoism to a more typical metaphysical naturalism and secular humanism. This included reading the Bible again, and he found the Old Testament disgusting and the New Testament disappointing, and the whole Bible full of gross immorality. So that was out.
    Some folk are so totally sold on abstract "isms" that they'll throw direct experience out the door in favor of ideological tenets. But there are few things more "all in my head" than whatever stupid "ism" that anybody comes to believe in.

    He got past the analytic bit of the brain that wants its conceptual "pegs" to fit its conceptual "holes" and so was more nakedly open to experience.

    Some of the description of his experience sounds religious, but is it really? "I left my body"... "my soul expanded" ... "It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God". But...
    1) he immediately qualified such phrasing with "Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at."
    2) he has a christocentric way of describing his relation to Taoism too, which supports that his Christian background likely infects his description of a lot of things (I see it in secular humanists all the time). So his skewed choice of phrasing doesn't mean the experience itself was inherently religious.

    I think secularist/scientistic ideologues imagine the alternative (to being stuck inside a highly reductive and cartesian viewpoint) is to get religious about things... to indulge in "woo". No, it doesn't go straight from the reductionism direct into religiosity. Religion laid claim to these "oneness" experiences ages ago and slathered a lot of metaphysical, hyperbolic language all over them. But that's not a good reason to (anti-empirically) reject such experiences -- just because religious persons obscured them with the language of "woo".

    IMV, Carrier found the baby in religion's bathwater and, for ideology's sake, threw it out. What a tragic thing to squash wonder with dogma. I make a point of this because I think it's a huge mistake to concede valuable experiences that are ubiquitous to all humanity to religion simply because they're traditionally associated with religion and, so, tend to be described in the language of religion.
    Last edited by abaddon; 01-26-2020 at 12:13 AM.

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    Augustine was a pagan in the true sense of word. It is said he one proclaimed 'God give me chastity but not yet!'.

    He had an overbearing controlling mother. He is credited with the idea that a little self physical abuse was good for the soul.

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    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Carrier
    The most fantastic experience I had was like that times ten. It happened at sea, well past midnight on the flight deck of a cutter, in international waters two hundred miles from the nearest land. I had not slept for over 36 hours, thanks to a common misfortune of overlapping duty schedules and emergency rescue operations. For hours we had been practicing helicopter landing and refuelling drills and at long last the chopper was away and everything was calm. The ship was rocking slowly in a gentle, dark sea, and I was alone beneath the starriest of skies that most people have never seen. I fell so deeply into the clear, total immersion in the real that I left my body and my soul expanded to the size of the universe, so that I could at one thought perceive, almost 'feel', everything that existed in perfect and total clarity. It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God. Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at. What did I see? A beautiful, vast, harmonious and wonderful universe all at peace with the Tao. There was plenty of life scattered like tiny seeds everywhere, but no supernatural beings, no gods or demons or souls floating about, no heaven or hell. Just a perfect, complete universe, with no need for anything more. The experience was absolutely real to me. There was nothing about it that would suggest it was a dream or a mere flight of imagination. And it was magnificent.
    However, he continued reading and studying, and he decided that these experiences were all in his head, and he moved away from Taoism to a more typical metaphysical naturalism and secular humanism. This included reading the Bible again, and he found the Old Testament disgusting and the New Testament disappointing, and the whole Bible full of gross immorality. So that was out.
    Some folk are so totally sold on abstract "isms" that they'll throw direct experience out the door in favor of ideological tenets. But there are few things more "all in my head" than whatever stupid "ism" that anybody comes to believe in.

    He got past the analytic bit of the brain that wants its conceptual "pegs" to fit its conceptual "holes" and so was more nakedly open to experience.

    Some of the description of his experience sounds religious, but is it really? "I left my body"... "my soul expanded" ... "It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God". But...
    1) he immediately qualified such phrasing with "Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at."
    2) he has a christocentric way of describing his relation to Taoism too, which supports that his Christian background likely infects his description of a lot of things (I see it in secular humanists all the time). So his skewed choice of phrasing doesn't mean the experience itself was inherently religious.

    I think secularist/scientistic ideologues imagine the alternative (to being stuck inside a highly reductive and cartesian viewpoint) is to get religious about things... to indulge in "woo". No, it doesn't go straight from the reductionism direct into religiosity. Religion laid claim to these "oneness" experiences ages ago and slathered a lot of metaphysical, hyperbolic language all over them. But that's not a good reason to (anti-empirically) reject such experiences -- just because religious persons obscured them with the language of "woo".

    IMV, Carrier found the baby in religion's bathwater and, for ideology's sake, threw it out. What a tragic thing to squash wonder with dogma. I make a point of this because I think it's a huge mistake to concede valuable experiences that are ubiquitous to all humanity to religion simply because they're traditionally associated with religion and, so, tend to be described in the language of religion.
    Taoism and Zen are interesting ones to me. I can see why someone might move beyond them into naturalism, and yet their way of seeing things isn't what I would call 'religious' in the normal sense of the term. Maybe the motivation behind them is religious, but their content has actual substance.

    And so I could see holding the taoist/zen and naturalist perspective simultaneously. The former being a perspective, while the latter builds on that perspective and moves it towards realism. Both interesting and useful in their own right.

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    Administrator lpetrich's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    2) he has a christocentric way of describing his relation to Taoism too, which supports that his Christian background likely infects his description of a lot of things (I see it in secular humanists all the time). So his skewed choice of phrasing doesn't mean the experience itself was inherently religious.
    What do you consider "christocentric"?

    IMV, Carrier found the baby in religion's bathwater and, for ideology's sake, threw it out.
    What is that baby?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    What do you consider "christocentric"?
    "Miracle", "my faith in", "my soul", "God", "at peace with".

    He himself acknowledges that he uses the language that believers would use. That's what I meant by christocentric. If I chose the wrong word then maybe "Christian-like" would be a good-enough replacement?

    I'm suggesting that persons might think his "strange religious experience" is inherently religious. I'm suggesting the experience itself was just itself and not intrinsically religious - the label "religious experience" and the religious-sounding description don't make the experience intrinsically religious. Main point being, you don't have to be religious to experience unity with nature. I consider his experience a good and extremely desirable one. But it's not clear to me you have to be religious to have such experiences.

    Maybe the word "spiritual" is necessary if this kind of experience is something alien to secular thought. "Religious" doesn't work because it strongly implies association with a tradition based on supernaturalist metaphysics. "Secular" denotes "no religious or spiritual basis". So, maybe "spiritual" is the most apt label, as Sam Harris argues in his book Waking Up.

    Quote Originally Posted by lpetrich View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon
    IMV, Carrier found the baby in religion's bathwater and, for ideology's sake, threw it out.
    What is that baby?
    "Mystical" experiences of the sort he had. Often I see people suggest the best thing in religion is it helps some people be moral. Others say it provides a sense of community. Others value a religious tradition because it helps provide structure in their lives. Whereas I consider "the baby in the bathwater" to be contemplative techniques for attaining unitive experiences like or similar to the one Carrier describes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Politesse View Post
    I think strange religious experiences are a phenomenon older than religion itself. The universe impinges on our consciousness at times.
    Without a doubt. Using modern parlance all religious experiences are ultimately mental disorders. Some are benign, some are serious.

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