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What Am I?

I am an atheist in that I don’t believe in a literal, all-powerful person who created the universe, or that any part of my cognitive function will survive the death of my body.
I am an agnostic in that I am always open to new evidence.
And I am a believer in that I believe that the ancient scriptures were more than just superstitious nonsense. Yes, they contain all manner of error, contradiction, superstition, and local custom, as well as countless rewrites, arbitrary editing, and political contamination.


They also contain deep insights into human nature that science has yet to refute, or even improve upon, in some cases. The difficulty in seeing these pearls of wisdom is that we post-Enlightenment Westerners are accustomed to taking virtually everything we encounter literally, or dismissing it as gibberish. We seem to have forgotten how to interpret allegory or how to engage symbolic meaning.

The ancients were not idiots. Not much human evolution takes place in a couple thousand years. They were, genetically, virtually identical to 21st century humans. Their smartest were as smart as our smartest, and their dumbest outnumbered their smartest in similar ratios to our own. The only thing of substantive difference was their culture, and the fact that science, as we know it, was still some sixteen hundred years (in the case of Christianity) in the future. But that didn't render them incapable of keen observation. The ancient foundations of science stretch to thousands of years BC. By a hundred fifty to a hundred years before Christ's purported life, the Greeks were already building complex, miniaturized, mechanical computers for calculating astronomical movements.

By Jesus' time there was already a well developed understanding of human psychology, from a behavioral perspective, much of which is still unsurpassed. What they lacked was the scientific language we use, and the Western, materialist perspective. They thought, wrote, and spoke not only in Aramaic or Greek instead of modern English, but also often in metaphor or "poetry" rather than the "literalese" we take for granted.

When unpacked linguistically, God looks a lot like the collective forces beyond our control, sin looks like behavior that has negative psychological consequences, hell translates to depression, guilt, envy, despair, etc., life after death is life after the death of ego identification, heaven is an advanced stage of cognitive development only hinted at by 20th century psychologist Jean Piaget, and so on. There is reason to believe they were in some ways ahead of us in understanding how to manage their psychological challenges. It's no mystery why this information was misunderstood, butchered, suppressed, and perverted by subsequent generations; in what arena have humans ever not done that?

So I am, above all else, a believer. I believe the true essence of religion is, and probably always has been, simply whatever practice we use to maintain our psychological health, regardless of how many people think otherwise. I believe this does now and always did include learning the truest facts available to us in our time. I believe most major ancient traditions contain useful insights into our own human nature if we have the patience to tease them out and the humility to learn from them. I believe a significant degree of relief from personal, as well as societal, psychological ills can be achieved through certain time-honored (and in some cases, forgotten) disciplines, such as meditation and other practices. I believe there is not necessarily any substantive, fundamental conflict between ancient religions, properly understood, and modern science, once we account for linguistic and other cultural differentials, and I believe the truth today can indeed, set you free, as it always could.

skado 9 Jan 23

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As a scientist, and a physicist at that, I have been impressed with the idea that scientific method is the best approach to solving problems. But in my later years, I have come to recognise this as what some people call 'scientism'.

In the final chapter of his book The Mind of God, published in 1992, the physicist Paul Davies remarks:

'There is no doubt that many scientists are opposed temperamentally to any form of metaphysical, let alone mystical arguments.'

I would put myself in that group of scientists, but perhaps I should be more open-minded. Davies goes on to say:

'We are barred from ultimate knowledge, from ultimate explanation, by the very rules of reasoning that prompt us to seek such an explanation in the first place. If we wish to progress beyond, we have to embrace a different concept of "understanding" from that of rational explanation. Possibly the mystical path is a way to such an understanding. I have never had a mystical experience myself, but I keep an open mind about the value of such experiences. Maybe they provide the only route beyond the limits to which science and philosophy can take us, the only possible path to the Ultimate.'

Like Davies, I have never had a mystical experience, and, to be honest, have tended to scoff at the supposed value of such a thing. But now I am less sure. Perhaps I have been wrong.

The scientist Fred Hoyle touched upon this also.

@Skyfacer Yes, Davies has a bit to say about Hoyle in the same chapter that I just quoted from. Hoyle did have a mystical experience (which he described as 'religious' ) while hiking the Scottish moors.

[I had to add the space after the closing quote because otherwise it becomes an emoticon!]

@Skyfacer And yet... and yet... as I described in another post somewhere, it was through the writing of Hoyle himself that I discovered that it was OK to doubt Christian beliefs.

"Keep an open mind but don't let just anything fall in.". I think that's the right quote? Nothing wrong with thinking outside the science box.
I suspect a great many things ascribed to the supernatural or mystical experiences will one day be explained by science. We just don't have the means to comprehend or measure them yet.


Why do we have to call that practice "religion"? Couldn't we simply call it mindfulness?

We certainly could. We could change what we call it as often as we feel the need, or leave it alone, but the concept behind the word remains useful.

To marmot84 Religion is very different from mindfulness. In particular it makes conclusions which you are expected to follow without real thought to your own special circumstances. Women must be in charge of their own body - having respected the full range of rights that men deserve. Religion is repressive & just tells you what to do. We can achieve a lot more for mankind by NOT telling you what to do or invent sins to scare you away from the fictitious flames. Men and women are capable of working things out for themselves. The sad thing is that some people think they are not capable .

@Mcflewster So just so you realize ... I know all of this. I was responding to skado's post which claims to say that he accepts the concept of "religion" but not God.

@Mcflewster Just playing the devil's advocate. Religion doesn't have to be that way. Buddhism is the least that way, at least in its modern enlightened form. But then one could argue that Buddhism isn't actually a religion. So we're back where we started. If religion means the three Abrahamic religions then yes, they are oppressive. Why do they have to be?

@marmot84 To clarify... I said I didn't accept a literal god, but I do accept a metaphorical god just as I accept religion as metaphor. I think these metaphors can help lead people to a mindfulness practice, and I agree that it doesn't matter what we call them as long as we understand them properly. The shame is to completely discard them because we don't know how to interpret them other than literally. Of course, if people can find deep and lasting peace in their lives without the aid of ancient metaphors, that's fine too.

@skado I absolutely agree! πŸ™‚


Skado, I'm happy to share, but you really need to ask for my permission first before you get inside my head and help yourself to my thoughts. Those are my thoughts, exactly. Just a little respect is all I'm asking for! πŸ˜‰

πŸ™‚ Oh gettin' grabby now, huh? ...and things were going so well.


I heard you brother... it's gotten to the point that whats happened me has distroyed my concern of who , what, and why. I say if they were as we are now then why haven't non believers gotten a hold of things back then. It's because they all had their hand out for a piece of the pie. Control from fear for money and land. What a racket!!!


Fascinating assessment of the history of mankind and how it relates to the evolution concept-how the bible is a summary of philosophy of life at that time. We can get some ideas of what life was like back then. Interesting that primitive computers existed back in the time of Ancient Greece.


Very insightful, I had encountered that data before a lot of it anyway , a refresh is always welcome. Had seen they unearthed Aristotle tomb not that long ago will be most interesting what they pull out of that.


Hi Scado,we are all just a trillion cells that have evolved to be able to think.


I'm seeing a whole lot of words in the commentary that I need a dictionary for. Um. Thanks.


. "I believe this does now and always did include learning the truest facts available to us in our time."

Really? Most modern (post BCE) religions do the exact opposite. They set up institutions of learning, but when those institutions dared to question the known facts of life, the universe and everything, they were excommunicated, pilloried and often imprisoned. Islam was at one point the centre of scientific learning, developing our current numeric system which led to algebra and modern mathematics - then religion took over again and those centres of learning closed down as they contradicted the teaching of Muhammed.
Religions were invented to control the masses. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sounds like prayeranoia to me. πŸ™‚

The older the institutions are, the more likely they are corrupt, but I’m not talking about institutions here. I’m talking about the human needs those institutions grew up around. You can’t enslave people by offering them something they don’t perceive themselves to need, and you can’t make them perceive a need just by telling them to. I’m open to any new evidence you want to throw my way, but it doesn’t look that way to me. There have been times and places where participation was forced, but in places where it isn’t, it keeps on going anyway. John Wathey’s book sheds some light on why. When over 80% of the human population, across all recorded history, and in all locations on the globe continue a behavior, science says it’s most likely an adaptive behavior. No conspiracy has ever been that tight.


I too am a believer but in modern humans (including you) and their ability to reach better conclusions through science. This does not put down the ancients but to rely on them could be folly. Properly peer review science did not exist then and prophets levered themselves up above the importance that they deserved - but then that IS history.


I am a Pantheistic, Einsteinian Atheist with Agnostic tendencies toward Deism.

No Hyper-Moral, Super-Sentient, Omnipotent, Omniscient Being that hears prayers and performs miracles.


I respect that your thoughts are ...well thoughtful. It is obvious you have put a great deal of critical thinking into your perspective. I can't help but think you have worked really hard to glorify something that doesn't deserve it. Yes two thousand years isn't much evolution wise but the concepts you ascribe to the religious text as subtext the concepts weren't conceived yet. Man hasn't evolved much but mans society has. The ancients may have been as smart as us but we have knowledge that they didn't have access to. The enlightenment would not have been possible without the renaissance which would not have been possible without the Greeks who built on Persian work. I don't know it just seems like you're polishing a turd.


" It's no mystery why this information was misunderstood, butchered, suppressed, and perverted by subsequent generations; in what arena have humans ever not done that? And the name of that destructive element ? Religion in all it's many forms but mostly the organise form.


There you go again, making all kinds of rational statements, and showing uncommon sense. πŸ˜‰


What he said.....


I don't call it religion To me, religion is too dogmatic and extremely conservative. I think too much dogma ruins the stew. I like to think I can get where I believe all paths lead to GOD. it does not men your go, but the God you seek..I believe that God allows us all to put our belief system together, and as log as our heart and love is in the right place, who cares how it is seen or heard, your heart bridges the differences and allows us all to come together.


If you don't believe in a deity, you are an atheist. I often say this as a joke; All Catholics are atheists.

Curious. How do you mean that all Catholics are a joke?


Wow, you state a lot, but you seem to assume that everybody knows actually where you are talking about. …… I do not.
First of all, I would suggest to go to the Christian community to tell them the essence of how you believe. After that go to the Muslim community and do the same. Then come back and tell us how they reacted.
I have the feeling that you are trying to blur things. You don't believe in a god, but you declare yourself religious in a different way. Stating all kind of things that you don't give examples of, apparently supposing that we as smart readers will understand what you mean. You use terminology of both religion as of atheism and agnosticism.
You state that ancient scriptures are more than nonsense (In general I can agree on that). You don't determine about what scriptures you are talking about. Even Christianity has the old testament based on the Torah and its historic content and the new testament based on magical stories that in essence could well have happened. But both are ancient scriptures and both of a different era. And as long as you are not clear about that, I am hardly able to reply.
You also state that a lot of the ancient scriptures should not be taken literally but more interpretative and with feeling. Here you do the same as Christianity does (its where my personal roots are). You make your own interpretation of how you want to see god and also all kind of other standard elements of the Christian religion you translate to you own idea. It looks as if you are creating a personal religion, using the old terminology adding new meanings to it.
I have the feeling that you try to replace the religion that you can't understand but love so much, in a system of your own that still gives you that good feeling.
It's confusing and I think I don't like that. It's like preaching a new religion. I'm not open for that. Sorry.
But if you want to be more specific, I'm still willing to read it, think things over and comment on it. But for now …………… no. Sorry.

Gert Level 7 Jan 31, 2018

I think you are most definitely what I like to call a "human", they are this amazing creature that thinks and ponders about life and it's own existence and the very best of them try to find a way to mesh all this together in a way that furthers their own connection to themselves, to humanity and, yes, sometimes a diety(ies).

It's not a bad thing, these humans, so don't let anyone tell you that you got into this box or that one, because I've interacted with enough of them to know there are infinite boxes and each one doesn't wholly exist in any one box, but instead exist in a great many of them, sometimes all at once and sometimes just bouncing from one to another.

Embrace your humaness, you may find it makes you a better person if you try to help other people embrace their humaness as well. You will find them sometimes sharing your boxes with you, and sometimes thinking outside them.


I agree with you very much


Young children constantly make up little "religions" for themselves..even their games often make claims such as, that if you land on a certain number, you'll get married to the next boy you see, for example. Adults carry or wear items they imagine influenced winning a game, or some other benefit.

Humans seem to long to depend on something bigger than they are-stronger, wiser, with all the answers, so they can relax and just go along with it.
In fact, that's the thing I miss most about my former beliefs.
It not fun having to take responsibility for your own mistakes, and the outcome of your life (sigh).


I don't disagree too much with what you've said, except that it is not "science's" job to refute what religions have said. The one's making the claims must demonstrate that their claims are correct.

That being said, I think most religions offered stability to individuals, families, communities, nation's, even empires. They laid the framework for systems of ethics and morality that could bind societies together. The flip side of that coin is that they also laid the framework for complex in and out groups, the result of which have been some of the most horrendous acts ever recorded. I don't think it is wrong to acknowledge the stabilizing role religion has played, as long as the opposite is acknowledged as well.

"... it is not "science's" job to refute what religions have said,"

I really think it is. All claims should be processed in the same way. We know that those making religious claims will not perform any kind of falsifiable inquiry, but regardless of whether it is a scientific claim or not, it should be considered something to be "peer-reviewed", if for no other reason than it truly has an efffect on the World. I'm not suggesting that we have to devise experiments to falsify religious claims, but there is certainly already enough scientific knowledge and data to perform such a task. The real trick is dumbing-it-down for the masses to understand it more easily.
I'm sure we all know plenty of people who get mental fatigue when trying to explain something complicated to them, but I'm also aware that most very learn-ed people also have the inverse deficit - they lack the ability to simplify what they know into easily digestible terms.


A linguist


Since you've got it linguistically figured out, go with God.

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