Utilising Religious Practices

41


Discussion by: utopia

Recently I've begun practising meditation for about 40 minutes a day, as often as I can anyway. My interest in religious experience and spirituality was cut short when I was quite young, as I realised there was no god like everyone was telling me there was so I didn't explore the ideas further. Now I've come back to it through following prominent atheists and their work, especially Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, the former advocating the exploration of spiritual practises and the latter advocating we use churches without involving the god parts.

What are your views on atheists utilising practises traditionally associated with religion?

  1. Churches
  2. Prayer / Meditation
  3. Pilgrimage / Fasting
  4. Symbols / Traditional phrases (our own equivalent of the crosses and "bless you", "god be with you", etc.)

To be clear, I'm not particularly interested in "not for me, you can do what you like" or "I like it". I want to know people's true opinions on the subject are, how they think these practises will affect themselves, communities of people and possibly humanity as a whole. Any scientific research on the matter would be of interest too, I'd say.

My view is that these practices would be immensely beneficial to everyone if they were divorced from the dogmas attached.

This is one article on the matter:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104310443

41 COMMENTS

  1. For a start, will you tell us what exactly you mean by “spiritual”, but non-religious, please? Then tell us how it could be subject to “scientific research”. THEN tell us the destinations you have in mind for pilgrimage, and how there can be such a thing as non-religious prayer. Then… no, don’t bother.

    Regarding fasting, I at once thought of Bertrand Russell’s remark that he could see no difference between those who drank much, and saw snakes, and those who ate little and saw angels.

  2. I tried a Unitarian Universalist Church earlier this year. Too weird for me. Too much hand-holding and singing and white hair.

    Prayer doesn’t mean anything to me, but I do practice meditation in the morning, although I’m starting at 10 minutes (40 minutes sounds a little too ambitious for me at the moment). I think of it as nothing more than a mental exercise designed to strengthen emotional resilience and deepen my appreciation of normal conscious experience.

    Fasting seems unhealthy and dangerous.

    Don’t have need for symbols or phrases equivalent to “bless you.” “Reason be with you” feels extremely silly.

  3. There are alternatives which make these practices superfluous, and if you stick to them, you actually propagate a view that life without religion is not possible (you can’t always add a disclaimer to saying ‘God be with you’, after all).
    Churches? Around here, most of them are baroue kitsch. Prayer presupposes a personal god, while meditation in the sense of mentally shutting out the world and concentrating is not necessarily religious (similarly to yoga, which can be practised as purely body exercise).
    Instead of tramping on the overcrowded El Camino to overcrowded Catholic places, go hiking somewhere nice in the mountains. There’s a net of long hiking routes you need weeks to finish.
    Fasting? What for?
    Symbols and traditional phrases? There are plenty of alternatives for telling someone you wish them something good without being a hypocrite,
    (Sorry, I’m not a native speaker.)

    • In reply to #6 by LI:

      … while meditation in the sense of mentally shutting out the world and concentrating is not necessarily religious (similarly to yoga, which can be practised as purely body exercise).

      “Mentally shutting out the world” is ignorance and close-mindedness, not meditation. The practice of ignorance and close-mindedness is common to the religious and atheists alike. I have no experience with yoga but think it is an “exercise” of the body and mind.

  4. I find this entry suspect, however I will offer a reply nonetheless.
    1. Churches: if one is looking for social interaction, any place where people gather around a common interest and listen to lectures or talks will do. Any group of people can act charitably, support one another, engage in philanthropic acts. Churches do not have a unique benefit to society.
    2. Prayer/meditation: if one seeks benefits to physical and mental health by training the brain to go into an extremely relaxed or calm state, and as long as one has no expectation of special powers or benefits that fall outside the physical world, then one might enjoy this. I prefer to listen to music or read a book. I cannot speak to the broad influence of a bunch of people meditating.
    3. Pilgrimage: people visit special places for personal, emotional, and intellectual reasons. Museums, battlefields, monuments, the Grand Canyon. Call it what you want.
    4. Fasting: alternative health practitioners often tout fasting as a benefit to health. I do not fast, and am not a physician or nutrionist.
    5. Symbols/traditional phrases: a bunch of nonsense, and I can see no benefit from them other than an orderly society in which most people answer the telephone the same way, say please, thank you and excuse me.

  5. prayer/meditation – Some traditions may have a positive element that is beneficial to us introverts. There are some of us who are reflective by nature and enjoy or benefit having a quiet space to think or focus, review what is going on in our life, look for solutions, and maybe even motivate or comfort ourselves. Most prayer tends utilize this nature but is usually limited to “God give me or God help me.” As atheists, this need for finding solutions, resolutions, and comfort shifts from invisible God to ourselves or other people. The challenge then, is to find a way to be responsible for ourselves and be committed to helping others while working within our reflective nature. This could mean journaling, walking while self-reflecting, sitting with your eyes closed and just relaxing. As an introvert, this is what comes naturally to me. To stop doing this because some religions hijacked the self-reflection part is absurd. I can reclaim this process, but it doesn’t need to look like formal prayer or meditation chanting “ohm name padmay ohm.” I simple do what introverts do.

    Pilgrimage – I can take a trip and think to myself that something along the way will strike me as so wonderous and I will be so inspired that it will benefit my life. I know that when I enter a gallery and view a piece of art it improves my own creativity. I know that when I enter a shop and see the colors, I feel inspired and thankful for this life filled with creative people everywhere. I can take a trip and have a map telling me how to travel from point A to point B and realize that somehow I will figure out the little steps, turns and roads as I travel. I may have a goal in mind and have no idea of the steps involved, but as I take those steps, I better understand what I am to do. Life is a lot like this – even without God.

    Fasting – Everybody at work does “cleanses” but it has more to do with them wrongly assuming that it will get rid of all the toxins from their body or because they are starting a diet. Fasting is wise only if done for medical procedures and should be done with consulting a doctor.

    Symbols/Traditional phrases – I’m trying to get into the habit of not saying anything when someone sneezes. Old habits die hard. I rarely swear, but a “God dammed it ” will slip out because of my cultural upbringing. Maybe I should train my brain to say “Oh, Fu_k ” That feel unnatural to me. Any ideas?

    To Nodhimmi- Yes, lots of fluff lately. It’s been building over the year or so and has hit a high level since the last switch to this format. Many of the heavy thinkers here are gone. What can we do to bring the level of RD.net back? I came to learn and now I’m commenting on news items and the occassional “theist” drop in.

    • In reply to #9 by QuestioningKat:

      prayer/meditation – Some traditions may have a positive element that is beneficial to us introverts. There are some of us who are reflective by nature and enjoy or benefit having a quiet space to think or focus, review what is going on in our life, look for solutions, and maybe even motivate or comfort ourselves. Most prayer tends utilize this nature but is usually limited to “God give me or God help me.” As atheists, this need for finding solutions, resolutions, and comfort shifts from invisible God to ourselves or other people. The challenge then, is to find a way to be responsible for ourselves and be committed to helping others while working within our reflective nature. This could mean journaling, walking while self-reflecting, sitting with your eyes closed and just relaxing. As an introvert, this is what comes naturally to me. To stop doing this because some religions hijacked the self-reflection part is absurd. I can reclaim this process, but it doesn’t need to look like formal prayer or meditation chanting “ohm name padmay ohm.” I simple do what introverts do.

      Pilgrimage – I can take a trip and think to myself that something along the way will strike me as so wonderous and I will be so inspired that it will benefit my life. I know that when I enter a gallery and view a piece of art it improves my own creativity. I know that when I enter a shop and see the colors, I feel inspired and thankful for this life filled with creative people everywhere. I can take a trip and have a map telling me how to travel from point A to point B and realize that somehow I will figure out the little steps, turns and roads as I travel. I may have a goal in mind and have no idea of the steps involved, but as I take those steps, I better understand what I am to do. Life is a lot like this – even without God.

      Fasting – Everybody at work does “cleanses” but it has more to do with them wrongly assuming that it will get rid of all the toxins from their body or because they are starting a diet. Fasting is wise only if done for medical procedures and should be done with consulting a doctor.

      Symbols/Traditional phrases – I’m trying to get into the habit of not saying anything when someone sneezes. Old habits die hard. I rarely swear, but a “God dammed it ” will slip out because of my cultural upbringing. Maybe I should train my brain to say “Oh, Fu_k ” That feel unnatural to me. Any ideas?

      To Nodhimmi- Yes, lots of fluff lately. It’s been building over the year or so and has hit a high level since the last switch to this format. Many of the heavy thinkers here are gone. What can we do to bring the level of RD.net back? I came to learn and now I’m commenting on news items and the occassional “theist” drop in.

      You raised the ‘fluff’ question earlier I seem to recall… may have triggered my response! My aggression level has been rising, probably from responding to Islamists on other sites; introversion also diminishing.
      Where will it all end? ;-)

    • In reply to #9 by QuestioningKat:

      To Nodhimmi- Yes, lots of fluff lately. It’s been building over the year or so and has hit a high level since the last switch to this format. Many of the heavy thinkers here are gone. What can we do to bring the level of RD.net back? I came to learn and now I’m commenting on news items and the occassional “theist” drop in.

      I’ve also noticed a large number of topics for discussion that involve atheists with a “spiritual” bent, and wondered if this was the result of some sort of policy. I’ve become aware of your lack of contributions as well , and wondered about the cause. Women writers are so few and far between , that their sudden absence is obvious.

      • In reply to #20 by Nitya:

        In reply to #9 by QuestioningKat:

        To Nodhimmi- Yes, lots of fluff lately. It’s been building over the year or so and has hit a high level since the last switch to this format. Many of the heavy thinkers here are gone. What can we do to bring the level of RD.net back? I came to learn and now I’m commenting on news items and the occassional “theist” drop in.

        I’ve also noticed a large number of topics for discussion that involve atheists with a “spiritual” bent, and wondered if this was the result of some sort of policy. I’ve become aware of your lack of contributions as well , and wondered about the cause. Women writers are so few and far between , that their sudden absence is obvious.

        Actually, I’m into the “spiritual”/atheist stuff along with the cool Atheist Shoes that were featured last week, but that doesn’t mean that it belongs here (or to the extent that it has lately.) Yes, I have said in the past that atheism needs to hit mainstream by being more accessible to the mass population, but not at the expense of rational thought and hard hitting intellectual ideas. I’m plenty good at dumbing stuff down and I’d rather look up Atheist Shoes on Pinterest. Richard’s idea for a course/degree program in Evolution and with emphasis in philosophy sounds interesting and I think some ideas should be tried out here. I wish I were more knowledgeable to start some really thought provoking topic. As I have said, I’m scientifically inept. I’m here to learn. Regarding women, there have never been many since I’ve been here. I deal with 95% women on a daily basis and (yes more women should be atheists) but I find the break refreshing.

        Sorry to the author of this post. I assume you are not a theist undercover posing as an atheist. Your topic is legitimate. We have had plenty of theist drop in here over the past few months with wish-washy discussions. I yearn for ideas that will open my mind.

  6. Prayer and meditation are two completely different things. Prayer is an ineffectual superstitious practice where people ask deities for help. As there are no deities this practise is useless. Meditation on the other hand is a set of practices meant to calm and clear the mind. Many people find this enjoyable, and there is some evidence it is good for your mental and physical health.

    Fasting is a bad idea, it is bad for your health.

    A pilgrimage is a trip to a place with religious significance taken for religious reasons. If you are not religious you can hardly take a pilgrimage. A nice vacation would be the atheist’s closest equivalent.

    Symbols and traditions are fine, and are part of most cultures. While I’m not going to bless anyone, I do use many secular phrases that are meant to be courteous. I’m all for traditions that build family and community ties. I never use overtly religious phrases as I’m not religious. I would also never use any religious symbols.

    Using religious symbols and phrases is giving tacit support to the underlying beliefs, something I don’t want to do. I reject religion, and I reject all the trappings of religion.There are perfectly good secular equivalents for any religious thing worth keeping.

  7. I’m sorry, I seemed to have stirred up a hornet’s nest somewhat! To clarify: I don’t believe in god, I don’t believe in the supernatural, science and modern medicine are the only logical way forward. I’m not a theist in hiding, and it seems to me that not many of you are familiar with Harris or Dennett’s work in these areas.

    I’m happy to give up on the fasting, symbols and phrases, I just threw them in because they fitted the theme.

    “Spiritual” is the label I use as an umbrella term for practices like these, the phrase “spiritual experience” is very clear in meaning I should think.

    You guys have a very surface-level understanding of meditation, there’s three types I know a bit about.

    1. Insight: the practice of noting the types of thoughts that arise in your conscious mind via unconscious processes, with the end goal being to do away with unnecessary types of thought. This is pretty much always combined with the next type of practice.

    2. Concentration: the practice of training you mind to focus it’s attention on something (the image of an object in your mind, your breathing, the nature of each thought that arises in your mind, etc.) to the exclusion of all other thoughts and stimuli.

    3. Loving-kindness: the practice of associating feelings of compassion that you have for loved ones to other people, thus extending your feelings of love to acquaintances and strangers (basically self-induced release of oxytocin).

    These practices are being studied by neuroscientists, by all appearances they are not pseudoscience.

    With regard to prayer, I think some form of it could be kept. Lots of it is basically loving-kindndess meditation, and I suspect that there’s another type that could be useful: encouraging pattern-seeking processes in the brain to increase awareness of lucky opportunities and unlikely connections between events (nowadays using god to explain the connection, I don’t think it has to be that way to be used successfully).

    I think churches would be extremely useful socially and politically, as a good teacher of how to think in the right way and to put the resource in place for people from bad backgrounds, or with mental illnesses. Also I think it would be very beneficial to convince ourselves as atheists that we are a group of people working together, not a hivemind, not individuals separately coming to the same conclusions. I think that is an important difference. Seemed to me that you were agreeing with the pilgrimage thing, except in none of your examples was this a social experience for a large number of people, which it could be.

    • In reply to #11 by utopia:

      “Spiritual” is the label I use as an umbrella term for practices like these, the phrase “spiritual experience” is very clear in meaning I should think.

      You guys have a very surface-level understanding of meditation, there’s three types I know a bit about.

      With regard to prayer, I think some form of it could be kept. Lots of it is basically loving-kindndess meditation,

      I think churches would be extremely useful socially and politically, as a good teacher of how to think in the right way and to put the resource in place for people from bad backgrounds, or with mental illnesses.

      I’ve nothing against meditation. From what I’ve read it can be healthful, calming, and an interesting experience.

      Prayer is asking deities for help, it is not meditation. We shouldn’t try to give words different meanings because we have some sort of fondness for the concept. Thinking nice thoughts about your friends and family isn’t prayer.

      Churches are where you go to worship deities. If the building is not dedicated to a deity then it isn’t a church. Again, we shouldn’t redefine words willy nilly. A community hall can be given some new word to describe it if you want a word that is more warm and fuzzy. I’m pretty sure I’d call a building dedicated to helping the mentally ill a hospital.

      In short, I don’t think we need to take over or usurp religious words for secular purposes. There are perfectly good secular words for caring about your neighbours and community.

      • In reply to #13 by canadian_right:

        I’ve nothing against meditation. From what I’ve read it can be healthful, calming, and an interesting experience.

        Are you saying you would advocate it then? To me, this reads as a subtle condemnation of the idea, “you’re not hurting other people or yourself, do what you like”. The importance of realizing that most thoughts that enter your mind are unconscious and not caused consciously by you, of being able to control what you are thinking about without other thoughts intruding and distracting, to deeply care for people and their wellbeing without having to have known them all your life (or at all), these are the gains being offered by these types of meditation. They are not insignificant. As scientific thinkers, I would expect every single atheist to look into these types of experiences and judge their value, as the (not unscientific at all) gains on offer could contribute to world-wide mental health issues (depression being the main one of our culture, others like chronic shame, OCD, etc. could be affected) if true. If these claims are true, how crazy would it be to not avail of them?

        Prayer is asking deities for help, it is not meditation. We shouldn’t try to give words different meanings because we have some sort of fondness for the concept. Thinking nice thoughts about your friends and family isn’t prayer.

        What about prayers people make up themselves? What about all the claims of “God helps those who help themselves”? In that context the dogma has allowed the benefits to be separated from the superstition. I am asking: are there benefits to this behavior and could this behavior be reapplied in a non-religious way? I don’t think it’s true to say that you need to believe in god or to ask for favors to pray, I suppose that’s where the difference lies.

        Churches are where you go to worship deities. If the building is not dedicated to a deity then it isn’t a church. Again, we shouldn’t redefine words willy nilly. A community hall can be given some new word to describe it if you want a word that is more warm and fuzzy. I’m pretty sure I’d call a building dedicated to helping the mentally ill a hospital.

        What about unused churches? I’m talking about the actual buildings, could they not be used the same way religions use them with teachings that are rational and socially helpful? Not everyone with mental health problems needs to be locked up, and not all of them can afford treatment, however it is my firm conviction that many of them can be successfully integrated into society at some level through communal meetings like those I’m talking about.

        There is more that we as atheists can do to form tight-knit communities, to share our knowledge of reality with those without the time, resources or wherewithal to figure it out themselves. I think it our duty to move from internet forums into public spaces, to communicate with people who are different rather than seeking the safety of only talking to people who think the same as us. To be clear, I do consider myself in that category too, I’m not trying to make myself look better than anyone else here. This shit’s important.

    • In reply to #11 by utopia:

      I’m sorry, I seemed to have stirred up a hornet’s nest somewhat!

      Well you ask for opinions and then get defensive when those opinions challenge yours.
      Meditation is the only plausible option, in fact I’ve tried it and found it relaxing. Throwing in ‘church’,
      ‘prayer’, and other supernatural nonsense raises suspicions about the integrity of your post.

      • In reply to #15 by Nodhimmi:

        In reply to #11 by utopia:

        I’m sorry, I seemed to have stirred up a hornet’s nest somewhat!

        Well you ask for opinions and then get defensive when those opinions challenge yours.

        Just pointing out that I said that before I got defensive, and I got defensive because I think I have some ideas that are worth considering, I find it interesting that this was the only quote you deigned to take issue with.

        Meditation is the only plausible option, in fact I’ve tried it and found it relaxing. Throwing in ‘church’,
        ‘prayer’, and other supernatural nonsense raises suspicions about the integrity of your post.

        Saying meditation is to be used to “relax” is a frankly massive distortion of what it truly is, I would take powerful issue with that. I think that everyone should do meditation, lots of it.

        Churches aren’t supernatural, the doctrine taught in them is, why can’t we have doctrines that are rational? Atheists are so elitist nowadays, they expect everyone to read Bertrand Russel and to have the intellectual self-assurance to argue against the doctrines being imposed on them. Why can’t we make it easier for people to evade dogma? Why can’t we acknowledge that religions have some practices that would be more beneficial to keep in some bastardized form than to just throw away?

        I’m sorry I make you feel queasy (these interests of mine are indeed an aspect of my personality so that is a direct insult). I don’t understand what you mean by “Slippery slope or wedge?”, and I take your comparison between myself and Logical Thinker to mean you suspect that both pseudonyms are me, or we are in cahoots, in both cases you are again just trying to slander me rather than argue with me.

        With regard to people commenting on the name ‘utopia’, I picked it because it’s what I see as our purpose in life, the most possible happiness for everyone.

    • In reply to #11 by utopia:

      it seems to me that not many of you are familiar with Harris or Dennett’s work in these areas.

      I’m aware of Harris’ interest in Buddhism. He cops a lot of flack from atheists here over it. I wasn’t aware of Dennett’s interest in these areas. What did you have in mind ?

      “Spiritual” is the label I use as an umbrella term for practices like these, the phrase “spiritual experience” is very clear in meaning I should think.

      A lot of people just outright reject “spiritual” as a word too contaminated by religion to be useful.

      These practices are being studied by neuroscientists, by all appearances they are not pseudoscience.

      Agreed.

      With regard to prayer, I think some form of it could be kept.

      Sorry no prayer. I’m happy to meditate and I do but prayer to me means praying to something. There isn’t anything to pray to.

      I think churches would be extremely useful socially and politically, as a good teacher of how to think in the right way and to put the resource in place for people from bad backgrounds, or with mental illnesses.

      But we already have places to go and people to see if such situations. No need to call them churches and priests.

      Also I think it would be very beneficial to convince ourselves as atheists that we are a group of people working together, not a hivemind, not individuals separately coming to the same conclusions. I think that is an important difference.

      But where are all individuals coming to the same conclusions. (OK somebody do the Life of Brian joke.) Why do you want to be a group of people working together? I got too much of that rubbish at school. Perhaps I’m just anti-social.

      Michael

  8. 1. ‘utopia’
    Slippery slope or wedge? This discussion section is becoming questionable as more and more of these dubious subjects are proposed. Your “interest in religious experience and spirituality” makes me feel very queasy.

    ’2. Logical Thinker’
    Rebirth and past life experiences…

    Coincidence?- what’s going on?

    • Meditation: covers a range of mental exercises that can be good for the brain, as physical exercise is good for the body. Yoga can combine both. Good idea.
    • Churches: great venues for certain kinds of music. Add in a light show via sunlight and stained glass, and some pleasant smells from incense burners, maybe a bit of mime in absurdly rich costumes, you’ve got a show. Notre Dame in Paris I recall does this splendidly. Ignore the religious connotations. Use churches for entertainment, and as places to hear great music or simply to relax and maybe meditate away from the hustle of daily life,yes. More comfortable seating would help.
    • Pilgrimage: make your way to the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, the Giant’s Causeway, Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Newgrange (Ireland), the lava tubes of Lanzarote, any good limestone cave network, snorkel or scuba a coral reef, walk any mountain trail (depending on your fitness level), any high place away from cities for a starry night, or, especially, a place in the path of a total solar eclipse. Add your own destinations, these are just a few that spring to mind, anywhere that helps you connect to the size of the universe, the age of the earth, and the works of humans long ago. Do some meditation when you get there, consider the amazing fact that you are there, experiencing it, but more importantly, actually experience it. I’d have included a Space Shuttle launch in this list, but sadly there’s no current equivalent unless you go to Russia.
    • Fasting: certainly backing off from perpetual munching, chewing, slurping sounds good. But only as part of a sensible, healthy, balanced diet.
    • Symbols, tokens, icons: a handy sized lump of rock containing a pretty fossil. Then you can hold “deep time” in your hand any time you want. Or just make a pilgrimage to a decent museum.
  9. As an anti-theist, I just try to keep it simple – nogoddidit.

    I’m heavily involved in various motor sport communities, which takes all the time I can spare, gives me a multitude of activities, many levels of involvement, includes community volunteering, good charity work – and is delightfully free of ritual, woo, dogma and politics.

    I only need 4 ‘commandments’: contemplate deeply the Golden Rule, remember to Learn Much, try to Question Everything, give salutations like Live Long and Prosper…. Mac.

  10. In reply to #21 by QuestioningKat:

    In reply to #20 by Nitya:

    In reply to QuestioningKat

    Sorry to the author of this post. I assume you are not a theist undercover posing as an atheist. Your topic is legitimate. We have had plenty of theist drop in here over the past few months with wish-washy discussions. I yearn for ideas that will open my mind.

    I don’t mind debating with believers , as long as it doesn’t get personal. Unfortunately I often find that there is a great attempt ( probably with the best of intentions) to make me convert to the true path. But, I am a grown-up and I’m not about to change any time soon.

    I have always had a passion for science, particularly evolution and cosmology ( of all things), though I took up teaching as a career purely and simply because it was the easier option and I am by nature, fairly lazy , unfortunately. This doesn’t stop me giving my 10cents worth, on occasion.

    There were a couple of contributors with a more robust turn of phrase, who seem to be missing of late. I wonder what has become of them?

  11. Why can’t we make it easier for people to evade dogma? Why can’t we acknowledge that religions have some practices that would be more beneficial to keep in some bastardized form than to just throw away?

    OK, I like this topic. Not everyone leaves religion because of science. I certainly fit this type. Fortunately, I left a church which taught people to follow their own spiritual path and practice. After I left the church, I needed to either drop certain ideas or switch out the God parts. It was a sorting and rebuilding process.

    Here is the challenge: people like recipes. I wanted to cook up a meal and I opened a recipe book. I know that following a recipe will give me a far superior and edible dish than an idea that I come up with looking at what I’ve got in the fridge and winging it. Plenty of people do the same or have mastered certain dishes because of practice or “inheriting” a family recipe. Religion is like this. Someone gets grandma’s recipe and they blindly follow it to the point of stitching closed the turkey filled with stuffing. There are plenty of new ways to prepare a turkey including fabulous Martha Stewart recipes, yet they demand on doing something that makes no sense in modern times. Yes, the stitched bird will come out tasting good, but they won’t consider something different.

    Then there are the CREATIVES. These people know what spices are best to use and can cook, bake, fry whatever perfectly. They have knife skills, decorative skills, and lots of other stuff that I know nothing about. Their process is a learned process of spending lots of time acquiring skills and understanding their craft. When they achieve a level of mastery, the spontaneity and originality kicks in. They think of combining and trying new things. I would imagine a scientist would approach their research in a similar manner.

    Unfortunately, the religious is discouraged from being proactive and finding their own meaning in life. How do you go from coloring in the lines to facing a blank page? Should people get crutches – meditation, fasting, symbols, etc.? Perhaps this is good for the people who are unable to reach a level of being proactive and creating their own meaning. (Some people just can’t do it- religious or not.) Unfortunately, this is what I call low level thinking. It’s one step removed from religion involving a PROCESS rather than an education and UNDERSTANDING on how to see/view making our own meaning. It’s not “teaching a person to fish” It’s providing a fishing excursion with rented equipment.

    I think the bottom line is that there is no way of getting around hard work and effort. Change can be painful. This includes the examination of the self and how we fit into this world and making an earnest attempt at striving to be the best human being – living our best life now in terms of education, well-being, psychological understanding, achievement, and other aspects that are HUMANIST. So yes, adapt certain religious practices for those with limited capacity for growth or those needing a smooth transition, but strive to teach the most liberating form of creative thought and reasoning abilities because there are people who will rise up to the task and exceed existing levels. There is no reason to hang a low ceiling capping off people’s potential. That is the business for the religious not freethinkers.

  12. It’s refreshing to be able to enjoy a touch of the fundamentalist ambiance without having to leave home. There is nothing about atheism that precludes superficiality, stupidity, bigotry or any other human failing. These are human qualities, available to everyone and frequently on display.

    I think that some form of all the things you listed would be of value. In the categories you listed, I read Community, Reflection, Self-examination, Self-knowledge and Places, Actions and Expressions of Meaning and Wonder.

    Pilgrimages – No atheist in good standing would make a pilgrimage, like going to one of our cultural, technological or natural cathedrals like the Louvre, the Tanglewood Music Festival, a Grateful Dead concert, opening day at Fenway Park (not me, no way), the Lincoln Monument, Yosemite, Redwood or Sequoia forests, Hoover dam, San Francisco Bay Bridge, World Trade Center (now or before), or to an event to see Richard Dawkins give the same book tour speech you’ll be able to see on Youtube.

    Fasting – As an act of solidarity with millions starving around the world? Recent research results on that arteriosclerosis promoting byproducts of carnitine metabolism by gut bacteria suggest we’d benefit by fasting from meat most of the time. Prospective fathers who join pregnant wives in abstaining from alcohol.

    Symbols – Like the stuff sold in the RDFRS (or other) store … T-shirts, lapel pins, the Darwin tree of life thing? Clothes with sports insignias, weddings, memorial services, Mother’s Day, autographed books, wedding and class rings, piercings, giving flowers, Season’s Greetings, “Let’s roll”, Peace sign.

    I’m for anything that confronts the status quo and dogmatic political correctness so bring on the fluff, the spiritual (as opposed to material or physical; a perfectly good word when stripped of the supernatural association) and anything else that tweaks people enough that they have the opportunity to display the quality of their thinking. I must admit that I’ve been noticing the absence of heavy thinkers myself. How about a Deep Thought discussion?

  13. Churches

    I have seen churches turned into great pubs and climbing centres – they are often nice and high to fit a climbing wall. So yes there are things we can do with churches after the victory of secularism but I wouldn’t build anymore.

    Prayer / Meditation

    Who or what would I pray to ? Meditation is fine as a mental exercise. I think there is scientific evidence that it can be useful as an aid to relaxation, lowering blood pressure etc. It’s often hard to separate out the religious and wooish aspects and a lot more research needs to be done to that end. A lot of people are now tending to say mindfulness to avoid the religious connotations.

    Pilgrimage / Fasting

    Pilgrimage ? If you mean do I like travelling and do I got to places I am interested in — sure. I wouldn’t call it pilgrimage. If you can give me a good medical reason to fast I’ll do it. But spare me any new age “cleansing” rubbish.

    Symbols / Traditional phrases (our own equivalent of the crosses and “bless you”, “god be with you”, etc.)

    Symbols don’t do a lot for me. Too close to flags and flags are too close to patriotism. I do like traditional phrases like “fuck of you wanker” when some driver tries to run into me on my bike. In such situations I have been known to use traditional hand gestures as well.

    Any scientific research on the matter would be of interest too, I’d say.

    There is lots of scientific research into meditation. I’ve not looked at it closely though so I am not sure how good it is.

    Michael

    • In reply to #27 by mmurray:

      Any scientific research on the matter would be of interest too, I’d say.

      There is lots of scientific research into meditation. I’ve not looked at it closely though so I am not sure how good it is.

      You could start with Zen and the Brain by James H. Austin, MD (academic neurologist) and two sequels all published by the MIT Press:

      • Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness, 1998
      • Zen-Brain Reflections: Reviewing Recent Developments in Meditation and States of Consciousness, 2006
      • Selfless Insight: Zen and the Meditative Transformations of Consciousness, 2009
      • In reply to #29 by whiteraven:

        In reply to #27 by mmurray:

        Any scientific research on the matter would be of interest too, I’d say.

        There is lots of scientific research into meditation. I’ve not looked at it closely though so I am not sure how good it is.

        You could start with Zen and the Brain by James H. Austin, MD (academic neurologist) and two sequels all published by the MIT Press:

        Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness, 1998
        Zen-Brain Reflections: Reviewing Recent Developments in Meditation and States of Consciousness, 2006
        Selfless Insight: Zen and the Meditative Transformations of Consciousness, 2009

        Thanks. That first one is on my kindle unread. I’ll have to push it up a bit.

        Michael

  14. Loving the ideas for places for pilgrimage. My thinking is that having “official” places of pilgrimage, for particular reasons, would do wonders for social cohesion and compassion. Imagine that you could know that every single person you met on your way to these places was there for the same reasons as you, to feel the same way as you, to learn what you want to learn! I would love that.

    whiteraven: Community, Reflection, Self-examination, Self-knowledge and Places, Actions and Expressions of Meaning and Wonder.

    Gleefully stealing these words forever.

    QuestioningKat: I think the bottom line is that there is no way of getting around hard work and effort.

    Using your example, are you saying that cookbooks prevent people from ever becoming chefs because they get to learn things without making the mistakes? I don’t understand why everyone who cooks should be trying to become a chef, and I don’t understand why someone using a cookbook would be presented with difficulty in becoming a chef later on.

    Also, in these hypothetical atheist churches, there would obviously be a large proportion of the “doctrine” relating to freethinking and challenging authority, etc., there’d be no need to cow people into accepting everything on faith. I think overcoming cognitive dissonance to learn sometimes painful truths about reality would be probably one of the most important things taught in these churches. (this would be good for newbies and even for the people on this messageboard)

    @mmurray: You are presently anti-social due to the general dogmas and childishness pervading social discourse in general nowadays, I would guess. We could design better meeting places, where people are taught and discuss more interesting things, doesn’t that sound different? Imagine the things an atheist church would talk about, and rest assured that god and religion would not be among them. I’d advise you to have a quick read of some of the things about meditation I’ve written in this thread, if you’re still interested after that you should go watch Sam Harris’s video ‘Death and the Present Moment’ (50 mins), that video blew my mind.

  15. I would separate prayer from meditation. Prayer, to me, involves asking some force to make stuff happen. As an intellectual and emotional activity I see it as very different from meditation. Intellectually it contains no where near the standards I would apply in other areas of my life and emotionally any regular anthropomorphism of nature can lead to corruption of the mind and heart whereby you start spreading yourself like butter over reality. Emotionally it is like a self centered extension – you literally take yourself and apply it to the world and come back feeling, surprise surprise, comforted. It can also lead to intellectual corruptions like using fallacies. Spread over a culture or the planet this leads to increased suffering at the expense of ones ego, which surely has to be the very definition of wrong.

    Meditation need not be anything like that though. I think that that, when used honestly and without ego is likely to be rewarding.

    Pilgrimage and fasting are absolutely fine. I wouldn’t choose to venerate as part of pilgrimage. I would say that education and understanding can be venerated, so going to museums or listening to lectures. I wouldn’t like to see the worlds atheists trudging to some special place as it either requires the mysticalisation of locations or the promotion of authority to make it feel needed. I don’t think we should be about either. It should be about respect and understanding of reality and nature; since you can do that anywhere grouping should be bound around increased understanding and enlightenment, not locations and people.

    Fasting would probably be helpful given our weight issues. I don’t know what you’d get people to do it for though.

    Symbols and traditions are just natural outgrowths of culture and as such are inevitable in one shape or an other.

    I love the new Atheist churches popping up. Their spirit based around the people in them and not a cultish leader (be it one in a fairytale or not) is great. I think that they should be based around knowledge, understanding, science and philosophy and aim to increase each in individuals. So they should be mixes of energy (singing Queen etc), socialisation and education.

  16. Meditation is simply a practice (method) that quietens the mind. It helps to reduce the constant and obsessive voice patterns that chatter in the head. That voice has it’s logical uses of course, but that voice can become so overwhelmingly loud, that inward inquiry can become almost impossible.

    When the mind (voice) is silent, directing scientific inquiry inward, becomes much more achievable.

    I’m an atheist of course and I meditate regularly. Not formal mediation however, but simply directing inquiry inward, waiting patiently for whatever manifest into realization.

    When the mind is over active, this inward scientific inquiry, can be very difficult, if not impossible.

    Where the mind is extremely useful logically for material science, meditation is useful for the science of consciousness, which is to say, that inward inquiry, is the inquiry into consciousness itself.

  17. Churches

    No, to anything that sounds like, acts like, or functions like, a church. As a former preacher, I have been through enough to know that if Atheists were to attempt to modify their practices, it would turn into one big groupthink mess. If cities were to have groups of freethinkers that got together for some community fellowship, fantastic. I encourage it – I even think it is necessary. But anything that organizes itself like a church, copying their religious aspects, will inevitably fall into some traps (unless those who run it are intimately aware with church functions and actively avoid all direct connotations with religion). The last thing we need is to be thought of as a religion. I also like sleeping in on Sunday :)

    Prayer / Meditation

    Prayer – to the ceiling? I don’t see any necessary end to this practice. Meditation – sure, why not. Worst comes to worst you get more relaxed and slightly ‘granola’. Because it effects you, and only you, I would say go for it.

    Pilgrimage / Fasting

    No to both. Pilgrimage has awful connotations. If groups of atheists want to go see a marvel of geology, biology, etc. they should organize it with a local group and then do it. Leave ‘pilgrimage’ at the door. Why not just a trip to see some part of the world. I remember people around where I live wanted to set up sites for atheists to take pilgrimage. I have problems again with being taken as a religion.

    Symbols / Traditional phrases (our own equivalent of the crosses and “bless you”, “god be with you”, etc.)

    I have no inherent problem with this – to a point. I wear a scarlet A pin, and various atheist/scientific shirts, occasionally with other scientists will greet them with ‘praise Darwin’ as whimsical sarcasm. Greetings like this however can be dangerous, as this often labels and defines you as a religion. We (often) know which religion people are based on their verbal terminology. I would stay clear of the greetings, but physically identifying yourself as an atheist, I think, is very important to raising awareness of atheism as normal people – not devil worshipping, pagan, tightasses.

    I think to form community, we could take some religious influences – but it is imperative that we don’t approach being a religion. Atheism is the starting point – faith is not. We aren’t born ‘god believers’, we are taught to be them.

    • J
  18. In reply to #36 by Jogre:

    I’d be interested in hearing more about why you think we shouldn’t begin a new religion, if that’s okay?

    I tend towards the idea that a good religion is possible, that may be considered naive of me but I think it is open to debate.

    I’d just point out that I’m not thinking of a religion in the name of atheism, though there would be no mention of a god in it. There would be various traditions in it, such as a respect for and interest in science and the nature of reality, admiration towards critical thinkers and enjoyment in debate (through Socratic dialogue), practices of meditation, meeting places (probably churches), TED talks screenings, all the good stuff. Haven’t thought of a name for this religion yet, but I suppose that’d be the most important thing of all…

    • In reply to #37 by utopia:

      In reply to #36 by Jogre:

      I’d be interested in hearing more about why you think we shouldn’t begin a new religion, if that’s okay?

      I tend towards the idea that a good religion is possible, that may be considered naive of me but I think it is open to debate.

      I’d just point out that I’m not thinking of a religion in the name of atheism, though there would be no mention of a god in it. There would be various traditions in it, such as a respect for and interest in science and the nature of reality, admiration towards critical thinkers and enjoyment in debate (through Socratic dialogue), practices of meditation, meeting places (probably churches), TED talks screenings, all the good stuff. Haven’t thought of a name for this religion yet, but I suppose that’d be the most important thing of all…

      I wonder how long it would be , before this new religion starts telling women what they can wear?

    • In reply to #37 by utopia:

      In reply to #36 by Jogre:

      I’d be interested in hearing more about why you think we shouldn’t begin a new religion, if that’s okay?

      I don’t believe that religion, even a new one that is atheistic in nature, could ever survive. At some point, this new religion would be taking donations when the leaders had to abandon their jobs due to the amount of effort needed to run the ‘church’. When people disagree with the decisions, a split happens, which increases disagreement, rather than talking it out and attempting to come to proper conclusions. When important decisions are left to communal agreement in a church setting, you’d be very surprised the factions that come out of it. I find that any religious arena is contentious, divisive, and generally causes personal strife.

      As an ex-preacher, I have seen what happens in religious settings. It is not nice. People do not get along. I personally am far too Epicurean to put myself back into situations that are abusive to community, abusive mentally and abusive emotionally. It will happen, as I have even started home churches with enthusiastic believers. In 5 months, there is segregation, back-biting, sniping, and general unrest. It is inevitable when we lose sight of other people’s needs.

      If we were to remain a very close knit group of ‘enthusiasts’ (I can’t think of another synonym to convey my point better) that simply met when we all agreed and had time (forcing a date causes people to resent going if they don’t feel like it. They tend to feel others expect them there, and expectations kill passion), had interesting events, communed, met other like-minded people, could get along and truly be united, I would absolutely be behind this 100% – no qualms whatsoever. Passion. This is what unites us. Simply getting together would be fantastic! I see no need to codify ourselves as a religion. When others are happy, passionate, and are looking for community, I am telling you – you can’t go wrong! People are amazing. I love being in a close-knit community. I haven’t met people more passionate and generally a happy and amazing group of people than the atheist community :) Making us a religion, I fear, will cause more problems and difficulties than we need.

      I tend towards the idea that a good religion is possible, that may be considered naive of me but I think it is open to debate.

      I am not in the same boat, although I love someone like you who honestly appraises their own motives. The problem I have, and I could be too jaded here, is that religious settings get absolutist. Look at the amount of denominations in the protestant faith. These groups start because they can’t agree over points that have become absolute doctrine – something that naturally has to happen when there is an absolute authority in your pastor, priest, whatever. Absolutes are a killer as well to passion. In religion, absolutes are a requirement. I think, were a ‘good religion’ possible, it would require absolutely no absolutes ;) A light framework that allows freedom of thought and discussion, is the most important thing I can think of. Take my relationship with my mother. She is a Christian – the rare type that actually still loves me and enjoys my presence. I will be reading the God Delusion beside her on the porch as she reads her bible. Our framework is: I love you, therefore I give you freedom and trust you to your own judgement. It is fantastic – without putting up defined strictures, we never go over each others toes despite being diametrically opposed in our beliefs. I think it would take this type of framework for a ‘good religion’ to exist. However if it were set up like this, it would not be religion as we know it – therefore why call it religion?

      To be honest, the best thing I can think of that comes from religion – loving other people – is simply philosophical. It is innate, and the closest thing I can think of to a ‘spiritual’ realm that could exist – the experiencing the consciousness of another like-minded human being. The closest thing to ‘religious’ I could ever be is in my appreciation for humanistic philosophy – Epicurus is my muse of late, although I am, if we are all accorded one ‘religious affinity’, enjoying SOME Chan Buddhist philosophy, ala my martial arts practices. I am truly lenient of Chan Buddhism because of interactions with their monks – They really, and this surprises me for religious ideals, don’t want to hurt or effect ANYONE negatively. This, I approve of :D I just don’t think we need any religion, no matter how ‘nice’ or ‘good’ it seems, to do this. That is all, and I apologize for the long rant.

      • J
  19. Churches

    Saw Dawkins speak in one. It was awesome. They also make great rave venues.

    Prayer / Meditation

    These are already secular practices. It is an understandable misconception to think they are fundamentally religious at all.

    Pilgrimage / Fasting

    I’ve found fasting to be incredibly insightful. Many people develop eating-disorders because of the unexpected spiritual side-effect. It’s very mechanical, like drugs. For that matter, drug taking is a religious practice… but certainly religion is not needed.

    Symbols / Traditional phrases

    Sigils are powerful tools. Corporations use them with great skill.

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