Tag Archives: rationalism

The Next Step: Why we have to move beyond belief and non-belief

If someone came up to me and asked me the question: “Are you a man or aren’t you?” my first response would be to remark that it’s a very odd question. Of course I’m not a man. I’m also not entirely a woman, but that important piece of information is framed as irrelevant by the question. I would wonder why the asker cared only about my man vs. non-man status, and didn’t care about the fact that there are a multitude of relevant classifications related to sex and gender that have nothing to do with being a man. Wouldn’t you?

In debates between the proverbial -ists (theists, religionists, spiritualists, etc.) and non-ists, too much hinges on the question of belief or non-belief. People on both sides of these debates often consider belief to be the the central, crucial component to expansive systems of concepts and behaviors related to the divine and the sacred. By their framing, it’s as though engaging in communion, prayer, worship, devotion, and other behaviors is literally impossible without belief. More disturbing, to me, is the implication that beyond belief how a person engages with the sacred or the divine doesn’t matter.

People don’t need to believe, in the traditional sense, to have a sense of the divine or the sacred, or to engage with those things that they sense to be divine or sacred. Yes, technically a person who has a sense of the divine or the sacred necessarily has some manner of belief; i.e. she believes her own perceptions to be warranted— and spoiler alert: they are. But what if she also doesn’t believe that her senses point to anything in the physical world? or what if she doesn’t have enough evidence to conclude that they point to objective sources beyond the biocomputer in her head? Can she suddenly not pray or worship? Does she lose the ability to sense the wills or the presences of any gods with whom she communes? Of course she doesn’t.

If someone came up to me and asked the question, “Are you a believer or aren’t you?” I would know what they were getting at, but the question implies that they do not consider my ideas, conceptualizations, or behaviors toward my divinities to be relevant beyond my belief status. Like the question about my man vs. non-man status, it reduces a very important aspect of my life to a binary switch that exists off in the corner of a much bigger picture. Of course I am a non-believer as I’ve stated so many times in the past. There’s your boolean false value. Now, would you like to know how many times I prayed yesterday? or how over the past two days my devotional practice helped to keep my mind from running off the rails? Would you like to know about how I exist in a state of communion most of the time? or about why doing so is necessary for me? Do you care that I spoke to gods as a child and heard them talk back in nature? How about the fact that as a child I found the idea of building temples to video game characters very enticing?

Would you like to know that I tried to deny my theistic tendencies for years because I didn’t feel that they were justified without belief? Would you like to know that when someone held a promising vision of god in front of me I took it in part because I couldn’t help myself?

Would you like to know about the damage that wrought years later? Would you like to know about all of the psychiatric medications it took to keep me from spiraling down? How about their side effects? I’ll tell you this much: it wasn’t fun.

I’ve long been a skeptic, someone who questions, someone who can’t accept things without proof. I have an upbringing close to scientific communities to thank for teaching me to question everything. At the same time I’ve always been a person who would have benefited from a practice surrounding my own divinities, who have been there from my earliest years. I’m fond of saying that I was born to be a theist, or even simply born a theist, because my drives always moved me in that direction. With some amount of shame I regularly admit that I was tempted throughout my skeptical years to go to a megachurch just to worship. The aforementioned drives were that powerful.

Because I could not accept a world without gods, and because I was such a skeptic, before the worst of my mental illness I undertook a long and perplexing spiritual search in hopes of finding the Truth. In hindsight, I think what I was looking for was simply a god that I could feel justified in having, a god I could justifiably believe in. Spiritual seekers who claimed to have Found hinted at knowledge that would put all of my questions to rest, and that sounded like what I wanted. I wanted to Know, or at least I thought that I did.

Ultimately I was wrong. I didn’t want to Know. I didn’t even want to believe. All that I ever wanted was communion, and when I found communion everything else worked itself out over a few years. Now, every day I have powerful divine experiences, every day I devote myself, every day I pray so, so often, and from all of this I have created a life, an experience that makes me feel at home, that makes me feel like myself, that finally does not leave me wanting or hollow.

I hope that, in light of all of this, it is easily understandable that I put the single issue of belief off in the corner of a much larger behavioral and conceptual picture. Even while my belief switch is “off” I’m capable of having gods, communing with them, worshiping them, and learning from them in so many ways. It was largely because I pursued these behaviors and conceptualizations apart from any belief in objective divinities that I was able to freely explore them, and thereby freely explore myself, so thoroughly.

My highest aspiration in putting my ideas out there is helping others like me: others who may not know that any of this is a possibility; others who feel tied to oppressive religions in part because they need gods; others who seek out oppressive religions in hopes of divine communion; others who feel ashamed for wanting divine communion because they think it goes against logical imperatives. I don’t want people like me to have to suffer through a cult experience and mental illness because they didn’t know that there was another way. In fact I want to erase outlooks that necessitate anything untenable, for anyone, in conjunction with behaviors and conceptualizations that allow people to become themselves, starting with outdated outlooks concerning the divine and the sacred.

The debate has got to move beyond belief and non-belief because there is so much more to the picture, and because — I contend — it is largely within that “so much more” where so many people can find what they need to be themselves. It is within that “so much more” where some of the most fascinating aspects of religious or spiritual practices reside. It is within that “so much more” where people can have transformative or illuminating experiences even without the element of certainty, if they wish to have such experiences. It is within that “so much more” where people can learn to commune with whatever they find to be sacred, or whatever they determine to be divine, if they wish to do so.

Additionally, we have to understand these things if people are going to engage with them. Like all aspects of behavior such practices and experiences should be treated reverently, and their effects should be studied in earnest, because their effects can be profound. People who are interested in offering scientific insight regarding matters of the sacred and the divine also need to look beyond the matter of belief and look into behaviors and perceptions. It’s generally accepted that people are predisposed or “wired” to experience these sorts of perceptions, and to engage in certain behaviors surrounding these perceptions. If that is the case, scientists: shouldn’t we be wondering how we might take advantage of our predispositions rather than outright shunning them?

For people like me a comprehensive understanding of these behavioral matters may actually be life-saving. Perhaps of equal importance, it can mean the difference between a life of interminable confusion and one where meaningful self discovery is possible beyond a very shallow level. I wish, so dearly, that someone had been able to talk to me about my proclivities when I was younger, about what behaviors they may necessitate, and about what they do not necessitate, namely belief. I wish that the debate could have long ago moved beyond the endless arguing over inscrutable absolutes and taken a close look at what we can know, what people can experience.

I don’t often find myself in a position to make such a bold assertion, but here I go: This is the next step. This is where we have to go. For people like me, and for people in general, we have to explore how we can make this work for us. Let’s start to earnestly acknowledge the bigger picture. Let’s begin to have serious conversations about behaviors and experiences. Let’s acknowledge what we know is real about these matters, those parts which reside within us, even as we continue to debate inscrutable absolutes, because it is vitally necessary.

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What is secular theism? and how can it help?

The case that I find myself trying to make to secularists most often is that theism is natural. The drives to deify, to define certain things or activities as sacred, to worship (“We’re not worthy!”), to petition the universe (even atheists will do this, say, when a basketball is teetering on the edge of a hoop), to sense subtle entities, to interpret intentionality behind single occurrences or entire courses of events— all of these behaviors which contribute to a theistic outlook are normal, and they are not, individually or collectively, signs of mental illness or even cause for concern.

Willingly engaging in these kinds of behaviors isn’t something that most secularists would readily do. Because of the stigma associated with theism in secular circles, many secularists wouldn’t even try to imagine valid reasons for engaging in such behaviors. Secularists often decry these behaviors, and theism in general, as “traps” that people can only “fall for”. They implicitly assert that people cannot rationally pursue a theistic outlook.

So what if a person has always just kind of, you know, wanted to? What if they’ve felt drawn to pray? What if they’ve secretly held onto gods their whole life? What if they suspect that they’ve sensed the elusive divine and wanted a closer look? Hell, what if they’re just curious? What can they do then?

Here are my proposed ways to foster theistic outlooks which are in line with the values of secularism:

1.) Begin by dividing the components of theism into two categories: things which we can measure, and things which we cannot know.

Things we can measure: We can observe how theism affects people on a large scale, and we can analyze individual case studies and stories, theists’ practices, their perceptions, and the course of their reported experiences. On an individual level people can observe their own thought processes and emotions as they adopt new practices, or interpret their experiences in different ways.

Things we cannot know: We cannot know if there is some objective or material divine force, or universal gods that exists in the natural world. We cannot know whether there are supernatural forces which drive these stories, these perceptions, and the changes in thoughts and feelings which come from adopting theistic practices.

By making no assumptions about that which we cannot know, and focusing on what we can observe, secular principles can be preserved in the exploration of theistic practices.

2.) Next, experiment with perceptions and practices, for science!

While there’s no way of knowing for certain whether any material gods exist out in the world, people can still experiment with theistic perspectives. They can seek out gods in mythologies or through other sources, like video games! They can also create gods in their own minds, imbuing them with properties, personalities, and other characteristics as they see fit. After finding or creating such entities they can observe how the entities affect them, whether they are inspired by them or indifferent toward them, and how they are or aren’t moved to commune with them.

Even the most shunned perceptions in secular circles are not off limits in this kind of experimentation. It’s okay to interpret life events as the work of one’s gods. It’s fine to hear the voices of gods, or to perceive gods as subtle entities, and to interact with them. Idol worship, whether it be of bronze sculptures or colorful vinyl figurines, is definitely on the table— or the altar! Try it all; see what happens.

So long as interpretations of any god’s involvement in a person’s life aren’t regarded as objective truths, and so long as perceptions of gods are understood to be subjective, there really isn’t much room for secularists to shun these aspects of theism, especially when there is valuable perspective to be gained from such interpretations and perceptions. For example, if a person interprets a certain life event to be the doing of a god, they can also consider why that god may have willed the outcome that they did. What would that god want for them to learn or deduce from such a life event? The age old art of discerning the wills of personal gods can lead to insights that may not have appeared on a person’s proverbial radar otherwise.

Beyond insights, there is also the matter of fulfillment in general. If people find that they are more fulfilled after adopting or creating gods to pray to, to interact with, or to help them glean greater insight, that’s also very important to consider.

3.) Compare the experiences of others, or look to history and anthropology.

By looking at common threads in experiences, among contemporaries or throughout history, we can deduce common behavioral and perceptual threads in various theistic outlooks. Many of these threads, like those I covered at the beginning, were things that I had to deduce for myself as I struggled to understand my own theism.

There’s another important aspect to this practice of comparing, and that is simply listening to the experiences of others without biased judgment. As I try to explain myself to secularists I run up against antitheistic walls time and time again. According to many secularists: I should not perceive gods, I should not interpret my gods as having any significant role in the events of my life, and finally I should not need gods in the first place.

It’s because of this attitude that I have to make almost pleading posts like this one, from which I quote the following:

This wasn’t delusional behavior, but rather natural behavior that inherently theistic people may exhibit. These tendencies didn’t point to any objective truths, but there were consequences for suppressing them, like never feeling in touch, at peace, or at home with the things that actually stood some chance of helping me to grow into myself. (When I finally accepted that I had gods I finally felt like I was able to achieve some sense of self-assuredness.)

My gods are not delusions, and calling them such is highly disrespectful, like calling the fact that I don’t fully identify as woman or female delusional is disrespectful. These are all things that I need, for reasons which people who don’t need them cannot fathom.

My reality is not a fantasy. I am less in denial and more myself than ever before.

Atheists may be hesitant to accept that people like me exist. People whose lives make more sense after they adopt a theistic outlook defy presumptive assertions that gods are dangerous and pointless. Same with people who find personal fulfillment by way of divine communion. I’m a much happier person now that my life feels more like an ongoing dance with divine forces than anything involving carbon atoms and laws of physics. If that doesn’t sound like heresy against rationalism, then I don’t know what does!

Many rational people benefit from adopting outlooks similar to my own, even if it’s just from the relief of mysterious dysphoria that visits people who are not well suited to atheism. If such people don’t adopt outlooks like my own, then they pursue established religions or Truth-seeking circles, trying to find that which they need.

I suggest that everyone, theistically inclined or not, look to people when seeking the truth about gods. Nobody can be certain about the nature of any objective or physical gods, but people can give you valuable insight about the gods that they themselves experience and engage. Look at their religious needs, their divine experiences, and see how their gods and their practices affect their lives. There’s meaningful data there. Trust me on this.

4.) Advocate giving theistic people room find what they need in the context of secularism.

Secularism is vitally important to society. Advocating for science- and reason-based public life has allowed far more people to become and to be themselves than reliance on tradition or dogma. Everyone should embrace secular values. Of this I am certain.

However, secularism needs to get its act together regarding understanding the natural tendencies underlying theism, and understanding theists themselves. There is room for theistic people to exist comfortably within secularism, but at this point neither theists nor secularists believe it! That’s a shame, because in welcoming theists to secularism we have an opportunity to promote meaningful understanding about perspectives and behaviors that have long vexed advocates of reason. Furthermore, in welcoming theists to secularism we can expand secularist influence and promote meaningful understanding about who we as secularists are, and why we do what we do. That outcome sounds far preferable to dismaying theists by giving them the impression that they are defective, and that there’s no point to the self-development that they’ve done within their own paradigm.

I’m asking for secularists to think seriously about theism. Don’t succumb to antitheistic intellectual laziness. Don’t mock theists for doing what comes naturally to them. (Mocking people for espousing harmful dogma is a different story, but harmful dogma isn’t an integral part of all theistic outlooks, and it doesn’t inform the greater part of all theistic drives.) Accept that this god stuff is an integral, meaningful part of some people’s lives, and deal with it a way that rational people strive to approach all manner of life’s complexities:

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”  — Marie Curie

Secular theism has the potential to bridge much of the science-religion gap, by reframing theism as just another natural tendency, by studying it in this light, and by incorporating the “knowns” in theistic perceptions and practices into the scientific understanding of what makes people tick. It also has the potential to do a great amount of good otherwise. So think about it! #SecularTheism

On filling god-shaped holes with gods

I understand that the idea of the god-shaped hole is contentious among atheists, agnostics, rationalists, freethinkers, humanists, and whomever else may be able to fit on such a list. So, before I delve into how to best fill a god-shaped hole, I understand that I have some explaining to do regarding my assertion that such a creature may naturally exist in the first place.

Because there aren’t many others like me who are willing to speak out on issues like this, to an audience like the one I’m addressing, simply saying that I had one for a long time isn’t going to cut it. Being a living anecdote has its disadvantages, though I imagine that more people like me would speak out from a rational and agnostic standpoint, if not for mainstream religions co-opting them because of their needs. In hopes of developing some kind of understanding, I’ll begin by answering some expected questions regarding my experience of a god-shaped hole.

“How did you know it was god-shaped?” Because I spent a lot of my free time pursuing gods, writing about gods, and trying to stick the word “god” on damn near every phenomenon to see if it made any difference to me. Because I wanted to go to megachurches just to worship. Because I sang praise songs to nobody in particular, and doing that helped alleviate the dysphoria, as did Christian radio. Also, I became profoundly jealous when I witnessed theists around me just being themselves and professing “God”. I wanted to understand why I would never be able to have what they had, as I found that prospect thoroughly unfair.

What did it feel like? Most of the time it felt like being lost— it felt like having no foundation whatsoever. It felt like I had no real self in addition to having no gods, as though gods were a crucial part of myself. It felt like weakness in so many ways, and shame, because I didn’t understand that I was allowed to want gods. I felt like I was weak because I needed them at all.

Could you have filled it another way? say with respect for your fellow persons or for science? No. I tried for years and wound up miserable. Furthermore, as I hope I can convince people by the end of this essay, filling a god-shaped hole like the one I had with something like science may actually be a very unhealthy thing to do.

Now, to explain more why this phenomenon may be entirely natural, I’ll appeal to a very simple observation about people the world over. People have gods, lots of gods. People have always had gods. I challenge any historian or anthropologist to point me to a pre-industrial culture without gods of some kind. (For all I know something like that may exist, because I wasn’t a student in either of those fields; I’m just now getting into them.) People conceive of higher powers, and the drive to do so arguably enables us to determine the properties of physical forces which are beyond our control. But people also have the sense to imbue those higher powers with wills— to extend their capacity to theorize about the minds of others, which they acquire around four to five years of age, to the higher powers. Theory of mind applied to the world in all of its perplexing material and experiential features may have given us primal gods—numerous spirits of animals and the landscape, as well as higher beings and the spirits of the dead, all dwelling and moving alongside people as they go about their lives—and subsequently classical gods—heroes and titans, celestial nobility and gods of the great epics. Then came the monotheisms, which stamped out a number of divine mythologies the world over.

As surely as people have gods, it is clear that people throughout history have deeply desired to connect with these gods, to know them, understand them, learn from them, and walk among them more or less. It is baseless to assert that every devout person, every shaman and monk, who freely pursued a closer walk with their gods did so out of being brainwashed.

There are drives which are often connected with conceiving of gods, and one of those is the drive to regard certain things as sacred or holy. Sacred objects and holy grounds are almost always sacred or holy, to their respective cultures or religions, in connection with some kind of divinity. However, the same drive to regard things as sacred may be applied by agnostics to brands, like Apple, or to political ideologies, like Communism or Libertarianism. People who apply such drives to mundane things can do so entirely unaware, and perhaps at a cost to themselves and others.

To bring all of this back around to the idea of god-shaped holes, these drives, and the cultural and religious trappings connected with these drives, are so prevalent across the world that one has to wonder whether some people may even be wired with an innate sense that there exists a god or gods. One has to wonder whether, for people who may be naturally driven to pursue gods, theism is more of a natural and comfortable fit than atheism or agnosticism. Even for people who don’t have proverbial god-shaped holes, the drives to deify and sanctify may well appear in other contexts, and in less-than-healthy ways. Would it be better for those drives to be applied to more suitable targets?

What gods to pursue?

There are many, many kinds of gods in the world, and even if those gods exist in the world solely by way of neuronal processes, they also affect the world by way of the people who experience them and assert their existence and their divinity. From the perspective of theists this is especially important, because our lives depend in part on our ability to comprehend our gods’ natures, and to understand how we can relate to them, and how to best do that.

When people in the West ask questions about “God”, it’s assumed that such questions concern the nature of a perfect, eternal, omnipotent creator of the universe. However, that god is but one type of god, and it is a mistake to assume that such a god is the only kind of god worth bringing to the table in discussions about theism. Talking about the vast variety of extant and historical gods offers far greater opportunities for understanding the phenomenon of divinity.

Cultures all over the world and throughout history have produced evidence that they recognize the existence of gods. Most cultures produced pantheons of some kind, but the structures of the pantheons varied in terms of which numinous entities were considered gods, and which were considered intercessory spirits. One could say that a good way to identify gods is to look for the cultural and behavior trappings that have surround gods throughout history and all over the world: things like temples and shrines, prayer, worship, devotion, veneration, offerings, and idols.

Even though these constructs and practices were and are offered to entities not considered to be gods by many outlooks, like honored dead and meteorites, the consistency with which they surround gods is astounding. It wouldn’t be off the mark to posit that these are very natural tendencies which surround people’s perceptions of gods, as they have been present throughout history unless, in the case of idols, they have been banned by religions. Perhaps in looking for gods to pursue, some people are looking for potential objects of such practices.

What do gods look like, then? From primal societies, to classical antiquity, to modern Hinduism and Shinto, many gods are highly mythologized, and can be understood through their legends. Other deities’ natures are learned by way of sources more akin to biography than legend. Most deities have personalities, or are generally anthropomorphized to some degree, and even the divinities which people perceive in natural features are not immune from some amount of anthropomorphosis. Many gods are believed to have the power to grant their followers blessings, and to smite. They’re also portrayed to be exemplary in many ways, even though they oftentimes have their infamous foibles.

Delving into the historical properties of gods can give ideas for the kinds of gods people can pursue, but historical features do not have to dictate what gods are today, and perhaps more importantly what they can be today.

My ideas surrounding the nature of modern gods are based in an objectively agnostic outlook, and arise from the many experiences in which I’ve noted my own and others’ objects of theistic veneration. Hence, I assert that gods can look like just about anything today, so long as they’re consciously regarded as gods. By “consciously”, I mean acknowledged with the word “god”/”deity”/etc., and by “regarded as gods” I mean that the same drives involved in recognizing divinities through the ages are active in recognizing them. The same drives which have moved followers to prayer, temple and shrine offerings, and other forms of worship and devotion through the ages are going to be involved in recognizing and venerating gods of the present, and even though non-traditional theists may not desire to pray or worship, their “god senses” will nonetheless heighten. I’ve heard others who are inclined toward perceiving the divine describe this heightening as “getting godfeels”. Godfeels can alternatively be thought of as the drive to deify someone or something.

With such a drive one can find gods just about anywhere: comics, video games, novels, as well as present-day and ancient pantheons. In choosing various forms of pagan worship over monotheistic religions, practitioners may remark upon feeling drawn to the deities of their pantheon of choice from an early age. Perhaps they wanted to deify their gods of choice at an early age. For people who choose have nontraditional gods, like fictional character gods, their sense of the characters’ sacredness and venerability may move them to deify the characters, and that kind of thing can happen at an early age as well.

Any source of such “godfeels” can probably be pursued as a god. However, living people, historical figures such as politicians and philosophers, and political ideologies and philosophies themselves make for dangerous gods, and I’ll go so far as to say that in the vast majority of cases it is absolutely not okay to deify them. Fictional characters and non-anthropomorphic works of art are much better choices for deification, in that their natures are not matters of historical and physical fact, nor are they assertions with potentially vast consequences; they are, rather, matters of individual conceptualization and interpretation. Natural wonders are also fine choices for deification, if one is so moved by them, because while their forms can be understood by way of the natural sciences an individual can easily choose to perceive them as works of art. Flexibility, inherent in individual conceptualizations and interpretations of fictional characters and works of art, is important to expanding one’s own understanding with the help of divinities.

I am myself, with gods

What does one do after they acknowledge that they have gods? Whatever they want! When a person acknowledges that they have gods, they may do so with the understanding that they already have have longstanding goals in mind. Perhaps they want to pursue a closer walk with those gods, or they want to become more godlike theirself. Perhaps they simply want a greater being to relate to, or to pray to. Everyone’s needs and goals with regard to the divine are different.

As for me, I needed a foundation in my gods, and my gods continue to provide a foundation of sorts— a model by which I can determine how to optimally act, and what kinds of arts to pursue. I need a natural fit for a moral code, and sometimes I need advice, reassurance, and guidance. My gods provide all of these things.

The flexible aspect of my gods’ natures—since they were originally familiar fictional characters—has gone a long way toward their evolution and optimization. My gods began as personal conceptualizations of fictional characters, and it was in those conceptualizations which I originally perceived the divine at a young age. Attempting to bend my personal interpretations to be more in line with their original canon, if anything, detracted from that perception of the divine. In fact, veering further from the original canon imbued them with more power and sagacity in my mind, so I allowed my gods to evolve. As they evolved so did the foundation and the guidance which they provided.

Through this evolution, and the experimentation which accompanied it, I gradually discovered how to fulfill those desires of mine which are tied in with the divine. I actually discovered a lot of fascinating things: how to think better, how to pray, how to dance like a somewhat quirky boss (some gods give good dance advice), and how to get off my too often troubled ass and get down to business are some examples that come to mind. (I’m still working on the last one.) It’s remarkable how many practical things I’ve learned and enjoyed, thanks to simple metaphysical interactions. I am more myself, now, thanks to my gods.

Because of my desires and needs that are tied in with divinity, I could not have found such fulfillment by substituting science, or respect for nature and my fellow persons, for my gods. I needed a very specific kind of god to be fulfilled, and by accepting my original fictional character gods and allowing them to evolve, I eventually found the kind of god I needed. In turning to science for a foundation or for advice, I could have found the consistent push to question everything, or to experiment, but I would not have gotten a good sense for how to best experiment. My personal progress would have languished for that, perhaps giving way to the same desperation and confusion I’d run up against in the past. In turning to respect for my fellow persons, I may not have discovered that which makes me particularly valuable, or that which satisfies me apart from the rest of the world.

If I had tried to continue to make those kinds of uncomfortable substitutions, which are pushed by a lot of rationalist circles, I would have still been unfulfilled, and I would have still been vulnerable to the influences of divine absolutist cults— organizations that would not have had my best interests in mind.

Five hypotheses

Now I want to proceed with the risky business of putting forth some hypotheses about what my experiences may imply for the greater population. I’m well aware of the risks of projection; I’m also confident enough that it would be better for someone to put forth such ideas that I’m going ahead with my hypothesizing.

First: as I mentioned at the outset, I’m absolutely certain that there are other people like me—people who are rationally inclined and deeply troubled by the state of religious affairs today—who are nonetheless swept up by mainstream religion because of their divine yearnings.

Second: related to the above hypothesis, if parts of our god senses tie in with our perceptions of authority, it could be that people are naturally drawn to gods with the backing of earthly authorities.

If both of the above points are the case, then it is important that I make the case here that divine perceptions are legitimate at an individual level. If people are going to turn to potentially dangerous institutions to fill their god-shaped holes, then they need to know that they don’t have to, and that doing so may actually perpetuate their dissatisfaction where the divine is concerned. Third: this is something that everyone has to figure out on their own, for the most part.

Fourth, and this will be the most controversial, for good reason: people who sanctify institutions, philosophies, living people, ideologies, and other objects which are unhealthy targets for such ideation, might do better if they consciously redirected such behaviors toward gods of some kind. They don’t have to be all-powerful, all-seeing gods; they could be gods as simple as, say, that fetching person with a mysterious allure in a hung painting, or the vinyl anime figurine on a work desk. Instead of assuming some political discourse to be Bast’s pajamas—on an unconscious level, of course—it’d be better to run a check on it against something which speaks to one’s highest ideals on a more personal level. This is just something I’ve discovered in my own experiences, and perhaps those experiences are solely my own.

What it all comes down to is (fifth): people are wired to experience the divine. I’ve experienced it in places where nobody would have told me it was possible, and from what I’ve witnessed in others I gather we’re wired to perceive the divine just about anywhere. However, that does not mean that everyone can experience it everywhere, or even experience it in the places where most people happen to experience it. Where and how a person can have such experiences likely has considerable bearing on several other facets of their life.

I would love for rationalists and agnostics, people who are steeped in the sciences, to understand the unexplored potential here, to take a critical look at the unfounded claim that there aren’t really any god-shaped holes. Take a look at history, take a look at the present population, take a look at people’s gods, and in particular take a look at how people experience their gods.

Rationalists need to ask theists they know: how do you know your god exists? Do you just believe? or do you experience your god? I bet, more often than not, they would receive the latter answer, and that would be very important to acknowledge.

This has been a part of us for as long as there has been an us. It’s in our best interest to understand it, and to understand how it can help us— to be fulfilled, to understand ourselves, and to best guide our personal courses of discovery in this vast and complicated life.