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NOTE that while this page is still active, we now have a messageboard which is better suited for these discussions - if you can use that place instead.

This page is dedicated as an index to conversations between the editors here and visitors, particularly theists who wish to comment on our work. We welcome feedback as long as it's productive and not the same 'ol long-winded preachy religious FUD that we've all heard a thousand times before.

If you wish to contribute, add an entry to the list below and then go to that page and start talking. If your writing is interesting, it may prompt us to add a new section to the site based on your arguments -- we're always looking for that.

Theist Conversations

  • User:RobertPaul - "There are many people angry even hostile at the mention of "God" and even more so at the name of "Jesus"".

Misleading Statistics

The article entitled "Percentage of Atheists", located at http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Percentage_of_atheists, is midleading. The article lumps atheists in with people who say they have "no religion." When people say they have "no religion," they usually mean they have given up on organized religion. They have not given up on theism. Most people who say they have "no religion" still pray to god. Many still consider themselves spiritual. For a detailed analysis, see the study based on the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by Hout and Fischer. Hout, M. & Fischer, C.S. (2002). Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations. American Sociological Review, 67(2), 165-190.

Atheists constitute a much smaller percentage than Americans with "no religion." The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which randomly sampled over 50,000 residential households in the 48 states, found less than one percent of people identified themselves as atheists and less than one percent identified themselves as agnostics. Around 13-14 percent identified themselves as having "no religion." You can obtain a research brief on ARIS at http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris.pdf. You can also find the results of ARIS published in Table 73 of the 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau.

Psychological Mysticism

Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, offers a very critical review of religion. Yet, Harris remains positive towards the practice of mysticism from a psychological perspective. He does not believe mystical experiences put anyone in touch with god or ultimate reality. He believes mystical experiences are purely psychological phenomena. But Harris also believes the practice of mysticism can have beneficial effects in terms of personal well-being.

A similar view is expressed by Ronald Havens in his book, Self-Hypnosis for Cosmic Consciousness. He writes:

"My foundation position is that the experiences described in this book are generated by and occur totally within the brain. I do not believe that we are tapping into some external source of light, energy, or wisdom, nor do I believe that we are opening a connection to one god or another or communicating with the spirit of some ancient guru or ancestor - although that obviously is how many people have interpreted such experiences in the past. No matter how it 'feels' or what it might remind us of, I have no reason to believe that what we are experiencing during a mystical episode (or during any type of so-called 'psychic' or 'supernatural' event for that matter) is anything other than what the brain is inherently capable of generating and experiencing on its own." p. xii

Havens goes on to set up a truce with people who insist on giving religious interpretations to mystical experiences. Why? Because he wants to focus on "how to help everyone access these experiences and benefit from the enormous potential they seem to offer." (p. xiii) Havens believes mystical experiences have great potential for psychological benefit.

I happen to agree with Harris and Havens. I interpret mystical experiences as psychological phenomena. Mystical experiences are generated by and occur wholly within the brain. Yet, the practices used to induce mystical experiences, and the mystical experiences themselves can have psychological benefits. The practices used to induce mystical experiences--meditation or hypnosis--can help people feel more relaxed and achieve more positive moods. Relaxation and positive mood have positive effects on psychological well-being. The mystical experiences themselves can increase empathy for others and can satisfy psychological desires for sense of belonginingness and sense of self-expansion (among other things).

So, here are my questions: Should atheists adopt a negative attitude toward mysticism as a holdover of religion? Or should atheists develop their own tradition of mysticism to gain the psychological benefits of mystical practices and mystical experiences?

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