Atheist Mysticism

Cino

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In a recent thread, the topic of atheist mysticism came up in a different context.

The concept may sound surprising, after all, mystics are generally understood to be seeking closeness to, or even union with, a divine being.

Deeply awe-inspiring or unifying experiences can and do occur to people who do not believe in any god, however. Commonly cited are experiential insights of the vastness and boundlessness of space, contemplating the starry sky or the subatomic levels of nature. Mathematical contemplation can similarly lead to a bone-deep sense of vastness and detail.

Mystics often report crises of identity or faith which are to be overcome as part of a personal developmental process in their relationship to the divine. Similarly, atheist mystics experience profound personal development triggered by their realizations of the scheme of things and their place or function.

If there is interest, I'm willing to go into more detail. Ask away!
 
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In a recent thread, the topic if atheist mysticism came up in a different context.

The concept may sound surprising, after all, mystics are generally understood to be seeking closeness to or even union with a divine being.

Deeply awe-inspiring or unifying experiences can and do occur to people who do not believe in any god, however. Commonly cited are experiential insights of the vastness and boundlessness of space, contemplating the starry sky or the subatomic levels of nature. Mathematical contemplation can similarly lead to a bone-deep sense of vastness and deail.

Mystics often report crises of identity or faith which are to be overcome as pat of a personal developmental process in their relationship to the divine. Similarly, atheist mystics experience profound personal development triggered by their realizations of the scheme of things and their place or function.

If there is interest, I'm willing to go into more detail. Ask away!

I'm very interested in this, but hardly know the right questions to ask. I guess I could try asking what role triggers could play in mystical experience. For instance, music, poetry, art, nature, etc., when some numinous quality finds it's way through what is taken in by the outward senses. It is said that the mystic Jacob Boehme was struck by a powerful mystic experience as he contemplated the way the sun's rays reflected off a dish (which led to the writing of many books).
 

RJM

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Also: weird is out there, but it has to have a logical explanation? No divine agency? No spiritual agency. Nothing really spiritual about it?
 

juantoo3

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In a recent thread, the topic if atheist mysticism came up in a different context.

The concept may sound surprising, after all, mystics are generally understood to be seeking closeness to or even union with a divine being.

Deeply awe-inspiring or unifying experiences can and do occur to people who do not believe in any god, however. Commonly cited are experiential insights of the vastness and boundlessness of space, contemplating the starry sky or the subatomic levels of nature. Mathematical contemplation can similarly lead to a bone-deep sense of vastness and deail.

Mystics often report crises of identity or faith which are to be overcome as pat of a personal developmental process in their relationship to the divine. Similarly, atheist mystics experience profound personal development triggered by their realizations of the scheme of things and their place or function.

If there is interest, I'm willing to go into more detail. Ask away!
Greetings, been away for a bit.

Since you offer, what you describe, possibly short of Mathematics (though I can see that possibility as well) seems to me equally "awe-inspiring" to those who believe in some form of Divine or Diety as well. Is it not possible that perhaps, maybe, what you describe as "athiest" is a semantic distinction more than any other distinction? That perhaps there is something innate in the human condition that is subject to "awe" and "inspiration" not dependent on the Divine?
 
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Cino

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I'm very interested in this, but hardly know the right questions to ask. I guess I could try asking what role triggers could play in mystical experience. For instance, music, poetry, art, nature, etc., when some numinous quality finds it's way through what is taken in by the outward senses.

May roles, I would say: Setting the mood for contemplation. Providing an object for contemplation. As a memory aids, to remember. Lastly, as a vis-a-vis to observe the back-and forth between being apart and wholeness, across the ostensible divide between outward and inward senses.

It is said that the mystic Jacob Boehme was struck by a powerful mystic experience as he contemplated the way the sun's rays reflected off a dish (which led to the writing of many books).

Which I haven't read (yet). He lived not too far from my place. What is your takeaway from his work?
 

Cino

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Also: weird is out there, but it has to have a logical explanation? No divine agency? No spiritual agency. Nothing really spiritual about it?

Any agency is weird and miraculous, if viewed through a purely logical lens of cause and effect.
 
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Cino

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Is it not possible that perhaps, maybe, what you describe as "athiest" is a semantic distinction more than any other distinction? That perhaps there is something innate in the human condition that is subject to "awe" and "inspiration" not dependent on the Divine?

I would agree.
 

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OK, so what role, if any, would you suggest "awe" and "inspiration" have to do with humanity developing some sense or desire towards what can be called Divine?

Awe draws me outside of myself. Inspiration develops my interest in things beyond me or the ego. They serve the role of undoing the illusion of separation.
 

juantoo3

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Awe draws me outside of myself. Inspiration develops my interest in things beyond me or the ego. They serve the role of undoing the illusion of separation.
OK, so why or how is this a function for some of "seeking towards the Divine," and for others it is not?
 

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OK, so why or how is this a function for some of "seeking towards the Divine," and for others it is not?

Just a matter of perspective in my opinion. Some see 9; others see 6.

My understanding is the typical atheist understands these experiences to be purely illusory in nature however awe-inspiring they might be. Yes, there are awe-inspiring things in our universe for both the religious and the atheist to contemplate, but for the atheist it is all nothing but a collection of atoms randomly swirling around when all is said and done - much like how a 2D character in a video game would only see the virtual world it inhabits and declare the player/creator of the video game and his/her world to be an illusion while still experiencing the same world of the 2D characters that believe there is a player/creator of the video game. Awe and inspiration help both characters as they progress along their own paths.
 

Cino

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Is it not possible that perhaps, maybe, what you describe as "athiest" is a semantic distinction more than any other distinction? That perhaps there is something innate in the human condition that is subject to "awe" and "inspiration" not dependent on the Divine?

I would agree.

OK, so what role, if any, would you suggest "awe" and "inspiration" have to do with humanity developing some sense or desire towards what can be called Divine?

To my mind, you have it upside down. Some have a desire towards the divine. Some of them may find God and are awed and inspired. Others, like me, find No God, and are awed and inspired. So I would agree that this is not dependent on the Divine.

In any case, it is the desire which fuels the search. The awe arises on the way. Oh, and the love, too.
 

juantoo3

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To my mind, you have it upside down. Some have a desire towards the divine. Some of them may find God and are awed and inspired. Others, like me, find No God, and are awed and inspired. So I would agree that this is not dependent on the Divine.

In any case, it is the desire which fuels the search. The awe arises on the way. Oh, and the love, too.
Fair enough, and I don't wish to seem argumentative simply to be argumentative, I am merely chasing out the logic.

Deeply awe-inspiring or unifying experiences can and do occur to people who do not believe in any god, however. Commonly cited are experiential insights of the vastness and boundlessness of space, contemplating the starry sky or the subatomic levels of nature. Mathematical contemplation can similarly lead to a bone-deep sense of vastness and detail.

Mystics often report crises of identity or faith which are to be overcome as part of a personal developmental process in their relationship to the divine. Similarly, atheist mystics experience profound personal development triggered by their realizations of the scheme of things and their place or function.
Unless I misinterpret, which is an occupational hazard here, it seems your argument is an attempt to usurp "awe" and "inspiration" away from pursuit of the Divine.

Here's my quandary; humanity has been pursuing the Divine for thousands upon thousands of years. If there is no Divine, as I understand atheism to posit, then why did humanity spend such inordinate amounts of time and resources in such frivolous pursuit?
 

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Just a matter of perspective in my opinion. Some see 9; others see 6.

My understanding is the typical atheist understands these experiences to be purely illusory in nature however awe-inspiring they might be. Yes, there are awe-inspiring things in our universe for both the religious and the atheist to contemplate, but for the atheist it is all nothing but a collection of atoms randomly swirling around when all is said and done - much like how a 2D character in a video game would only see the virtual world it inhabits and declare the player/creator of the video game and his/her world to be an illusion while still experiencing the same world of the 2D characters that believe there is a player/creator of the video game. Awe and inspiration help both characters as they progress along their own paths.
Fair enough, but since the 2D character is in fact merely illusion, blips on an electronic screen, not a live being, the illustration falls short. I believe I grasp your intent, but I feel you are closer to the mark with the 6 and 9 analogy.

Allowing that different persons, different peoples, different cultures, different species of homo (Neandertal) relate to the world in different manners, I can see how we end up with different religions. But the anthropological fact remains that so many cultures and even Neandertal spent vast amounts of precious time and effort in what we would call spiritual pursuits.

If I may be allowed a half step back and come at this from another angle: we have precious little analogue to compare to prehistoric humanity. Contenders would be various tribal peoples, perhaps the Ainu, San Bushmen, various aboriginal tribes in the Americas and Australia, perhaps Pacific islanders. To riff from Gilligan's Island - no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury. Why would cultures such as these waste time and resources better spent procuring life's necessities on something as frivolous as spiritual pursuit if spiritual nature does not exist?

I mean no disrespect in saying, it seems to me atheism is a luxury, afforded only by modern living, and is not based in genuine experiential reality.
 
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Ahanu

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Fair enough, but since the 2D character is in fact merely illusion, blips on an electronic screen, not a live being, the illustration falls short.

As for the game illustration, one aspect illustrates transcendence; another aspect illustrates survival.

I believe I grasp your intent, but I feel you are closer to the mark with the 6 and 9 analogy.

Not sure I grasp the difference you have in mind.

Allowing that different persons, different peoples, different cultures, different species of homo (Neandertal) relate to the world in different manners, I can see how we end up with different religions. But the anthropological fact remains that so many cultures and even Neandertal spent vast amounts of precious time and effort in what we would call spiritual pursuits.

Problem: even many monotheists today would view their ancient ancestors as idol worshippers of the world around them - such as the Sun, sky, and so on. They declare their spiritual pursuits as a waste of time too.

If I may be allowed a half step back and come at this from another angle: we have precious little analogue to compare to prehistoric humanity. Contenders would be various tribal peoples, perhaps the Ainu, San Bushmen, various aboriginal tribes in the Americas and Australia, perhaps Pacific islanders. To riff from Gilligan's Island - no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury. Why would cultures such as these waste time and resources better spent procuring life's necessities on something as frivolous as spiritual pursuit if spiritual nature does not exist?

Not all of their spiritual pursuits were praiseworthy. We look in horror at human sacrifice. I think most atheists would see the ancients' spiritual pursuits as coping mechanisms for facing the violent reality of everyday life.

I mean no disrespect in saying, it seems to me atheism is a luxury, afforded only by modern living, and is not based in genuine experiential reality.

Christians in the Roman empire were deemed atheists, however. I see popular atheism as a backlash against religious violence.
 

juantoo3

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As for the game illustration, one aspect illustrates transcendence; another aspect illustrates survival.
Perhaps in an abstract manner, not in reality

Not sure I grasp the difference you have in mind.
Fair enough, at least that part of your response related directly to human cognition.

Problem: even many monotheists today would view their ancient ancestors as idol worshippers of the world around them - such as the Sun, sky, and so on. They declare their spiritual pursuits as a waste of time too.
Perhaps, but then that's their problem, no? Any way it is considered, it is not relevant to the subject at hand.

Not all of their spiritual pursuits were praiseworthy. We look in horror at human sacrifice. I think most atheists would see the ancients' spiritual pursuits as coping mechanisms for facing the violent reality of everyday life.
Only the rare examples of cannibalism, and there is nothing I've seen to indicate that was particularly religious.

Christians in the Roman empire were deemed atheists, however.
I've done a fair bit of Roman history. This is inaccurate. Christians were not considered atheists, they were considered cultic Jews. Jews were, by and large up to a point, granted clemency due to the antiquity of their religion. Christians did not enjoy such clemency, because they were viewed as a recent cult offshoot. Big difference.

I'll show my evidence after you show yours, since you brought it up.

I see popular atheism as a backlash against religious violence.
Well and good, it doesn't negate my point. Atheism is not based in genuine experiential reality.

Have you ever participated in sensory deprivation experiments, or simulations of the deeper parts of the caves where the cave paintings were done (they were not painted in the living spaces)? Cave explorers and miners trapped for prolonged periods in absolute darkness have reported what can be described as spiritual experiences, not possible if spirit does not exist. Moody's psychomanteum is another research tool used to obtain similar results. Sensory deprivation tanks, or Isolation tanks, are used for similar purpose. The psychological results are consistent, and to my way of thinking strongly suggest why pre-historic humanity bothered with the pursuit of spirit.

Psychological effects of sensory deprivation have been noted under terms such as: Prisoner's Cinema, Ganzfeld Effect, Dark Retreat and Closed-Eye Hallucination. These likely factored into the various Greek Necromanteions and Oracles of the Dead in Classical Antiquity.
 
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Ahanu

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Fair enough, at least that part of your response related directly to human cognition.

In the previous post I also wrote: "I think most atheists would see the ancients' spiritual pursuits as coping mechanisms for facing the violent reality of everyday life."

Perhaps, but then that's their problem, no? Any way it is considered, it is not relevant to the subject at hand.

True. It is not directly relevant to the subject you want to address.

It highlights for me how the term "atheist" is relational since some Romans portrayed the Christian's refusal to participate in the worship of the gods in such a way. From my experience many Christians would consider Buddhists atheists since they regard Jesus as a great moral teacher instead of God and don't worship God even if some of them believe in God.

Only the rare examples of cannibalism, and there is nothing to indicate that was particularly religious.

See Mound 72 for an example. Seems religious in nature to me.


Perhaps at occasional moments, but not exclusively, and not for prolonged periods. I've done a fair bit of Roman history.

Okay.

Actually, I'm not going to leave this, because it is inaccurate. Christians were not considered atheists, they were considered cultic Jews. Jews were, by and large up to a point, granted clemency due to the antiquity of their religion. Christians did not enjoy such clemency, because they were viewed as a recent cult offshoot. Big difference.

I'll show my evidence after you show yours, since you brought it up.

See Larry Hurtado's blog here. Also, see Robert Louis Wilken's The Christians as the Romans Saw Them:

"Justin Martyr, writing in the mid-second century, also mentions the Cynic philosopher Crescens, who called the Christians 'atheistic' and 'impious,' echoing the charge of Pliny (2Apol. 3)."


Well and good, it doesn't negate my point. Atheism is not based in genuine experiential reality.

Have you ever participated in sensory deprivation experiments, or simulations of the deeper parts of the caves where the cave paintings were done (they were not painted in the living spaces)? Cave explorers and miners trapped for prolonged periods in absolute darkness have reported what can be described as spiritual experiences, not possible if spirit does not exist.

Moody's psychomanteum is another research tool used to obtain similar results. Sensory deprivation tanks, or Isolation tanks, are used for similar purpose. The psychological results are consistent, and to my way of thinking strongly suggest why pre-historic humanity bothered with the pursuit of spirit.

Psychological effects of sensory deprivation have been noted under terms such as: Prisoner's Cinema, Ganzfeld Effect, Dark Retreat and Closed-Eye Hallucination.

The only thing that comes remotely close for me is fasting. Many indigenous people have strong spiritual experiences with vision quests.
 
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Which I haven't read (yet). He lived not too far from my place. What is your takeaway from his work?

Wow, that is interesting! Is it just the area he came from or have they preserved something of his former residence?

His works are unique, obscure; written with a certain compelling feverishness at times, as if he couldn't get the words down fast enough. Like a flash of light that was filtered and edited through the prism of the man himself and his Lutheran upbringing. Also incorporated some alchemical language from time to time. I haven't read him in a while, but will almost certainly go back there at some point.

May roles, I would say: Setting the mood for contemplation. Providing an object for contemplation. As a memory aids, to remember. Lastly, as a vis-a-vis to observe the back-and forth between being apart and wholeness, across the ostensible divide between outward and inward senses.

This bridging of the gap, so to speak, is very appealing to me. As time passes, I grow more and more weary of things and long for more pure experience of wholeness.

Another question if it is not too personal: When did you come to be aware of your mystical tendencies? Were there certain stressors in life that brought them out or perhaps magnified what was already there? Was it sudden, gradual, etc.?
 

juantoo3

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Hmm . . . I'll have to think about it and where you're going with that statement.
OK, to start I don’t wish to derail Cino’s thread. The line of inquiry is valid and worth pursuing and I don’t wish to hijack, I wish to participate. I think we should carry the Roman history discussion to another board, if that is agreeable with you? Perhaps here: Rome in transition | Page 10 | Interfaith forums If not, then we should drop it for now as it takes away from the OP. I will simply say I disagree with the historical assessment and move along.

My motive is to follow where the evidence leads, as any scholar worthy of the title would do. Cino invited (look at the end of the first post), I am merely *politely* accepting the invitation.

I would say that being against a path is not the same as being for a path. It is a point that troubles me intellectually that someone would choose a path not because it is what they believe to be the correct path, but because they are against some other path. This is a striking difference, one that psychologically closes the mind to other possibilities, as anger and hatred and all negative emotions do. I see it as akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I’m not out to save your soul, I couldn’t care less. For all I know I’m going to be doing the slow roast, so I am not the one to tell you what you should believe. I can only share what I believe and why, and question a person’s choices as to whether they believe they are on the correct path *for them* and why. I question myself daily, constantly, to make sure I am on the correct path for me. If your path cannot bear analysis, what does that say about your path?
 
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