Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything

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Sciborg_S_Patel

#1
Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything

Interview

I was just staring at the woods ... [when] something happened. It's like a layer peeled off the world, the layer that contains all the meanings, the words, the language, the associations we have. Yeah, I was looking at trees, but I no longer could say I knew exactly what a tree was, with all the knowledge and experience that goes into our notion of a tree.

I didn't find it scary ... I guess it is for some people, because I have since, many years since, read about people who suffer from something called dissociation disorder and have this happen to them occasionally, and they seem to hate it. I just thought, well, this is pretty interesting. ...

What if there is a world underneath what we perceive? We're usually in a world of shared "reality." You and I agree on what we see if we're together, we have similar explanations for it, and so on. To leave that behind and just see things without any of those human attributions, well, that's very, very strange, but I wanted to know more. ... I couldn't tell anybody. I had enough sense to think that this would be seen as crazy.
Excerpt

...The conventional term is "mystical experience," meaning something that by its very nature lies beyond the reach of language, except for some vague verbal hand-wavings about "mystery" and "transcendence." As far as I was concerned—as a rationalist, an atheist, a scientist by training—this was the realm of gods and fairies and of no use to the great human project of trying to retain a foothold on the planet for future generations.

So what do you do with something like this—an experience so anomalous, so disconnected from the normal life you share with other people, that you can't even figure out how to talk about it? I was also, I have to admit, afraid of sounding crazy. Try inserting an account of a mystical experience into a conversation and you'll likely get the same response as you would if you confided that you had been the victim of an alien abduction....
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#2
A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment

Thanks to a severely underfunded and poorly planned skiing trip, I was sleep-deprived and probably hypoglycemic that morning in 1959 when I stepped out alone, walked into the streets of Lone Pine, Calif., and saw the world — the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings — suddenly flame into life.

There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it. This was not the passive beatific merger with “the All,” as promised by the Eastern mystics. It was a furious encounter with a living substance that was coming at me through all things at once, too vast and violent to hold on to, too heartbreakingly beautiful to let go of. It seemed to me that whether you start as a twig or a gorgeous tapestry, you will be recruited into the flame and made indistinguishable from the rest of the blaze. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered...
An alternative to the insanity explanation would be that such experiences do represent some sort of encounter. It was my scientific training, oddly enough, that eventually nudged me to consider this possibility. Sometime in middle age, when I had become a writer and amateur historian, I decided that the insanity explanation may have been a cop-out, that I could have seen something that morning in Lone Pine.
 
#3
Ordered! Thanks so much, Sciborg.. as per usual your postings are one of the more interesting on this forum, at least to myself.

I hadn't kept up with Ehrenreich in years and I had always hoped she would write a book along these lines. The last one I read was Smile & Die in 2011, I think about 8 months after she released it. She is always so dismissive towards the idea of religion as a control system but towards something unknown she is always fascinating and imaginative in her deconstruction of events, where most people would let themselves be controlled by bias. Right up my alley lol Thanks!
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#4
Ordered! Thanks so much, Sciborg.. as per usual your postings are one of the more interesting on this forum, at least to myself.

I hadn't kept up with Ehrenreich in years and I had always hoped she would write a book along these lines. The last one I read was Smile & Die in 2011, I think about 8 months after she released it. She is always so dismissive towards the idea of religion as a control system but towards something unknown she is always fascinating and imaginative in her deconstruction of events, where most people would let themselves be controlled by bias. Right up my alley lol Thanks!
I think what makes her work interesting this time around is her noting that simply trying to find the most "acceptable" explanation does feel like a cop out.

I suspect most people who've had the kind of intense experiences she talks about will feel the same, so it's good for her to challenge the materialist paradigm by talking publicly about it. I often wonder about my own religious experience, and how it had a near perfect timing to turn my life around. It might be nothing but brain chemistry, but it certainly doesn't seem that way even after everything I've learned about the ways the mind plays tricks on people.

What’s a Religious Experience?

A committed atheist, Ehrenreich labors to reconcile these experiences with her convictions that they are not religious.

And yet, the most comfortable way of understanding them is through religious terms. Ehrenreich herself compares what happened to her as a teenager to the “burning bush,” one of those definitive encounters with the holy that fueled the biblical prophets. In that way, Ehrenreich’s encounter with the blazing world resembles the beliefs and experiences of a majority of Americans.

Religious experiences of the kind she describes are integral to the beliefs of many. The 2007 Pew survey of the American religious landscape found that 79 percent of adults believe that miracles occur today just as they did in the past and that 68 percent believe angels and demons are still active in the world. Our belief in the supernatural isn’t just historical; it’s active and contemporary.

Ehrenreich’s wrestling with such an experience and her acrobatic attempt to account for it with neuroscience contrasts with the easy acceptance of such mystical encounters by many believers. Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann cataloged this sort of acceptance in her remarkable book When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#5
Paranormalia review:

An Incomplete Mystical Experience

In the end, though, Ehrenreich’s expanded thinking is not just a response to her own experience, it’s also limited by it. It permits her to make a tentative step outside the confines of reductionist science, which to her is daring enough. But it doesn't stop her being dismissive of the idea of a 'caring' God.

This is surprising in a way. I assume she’s read the literature of mystical experience, in which case she will have read of many, many cases of people who had a sudden revelation every bit as powerful as hers, but who, unlike her, felt swept up in the loving embrace of a God of love, that permeated every cell of their being, and convinced them for the rest of their days that love is the real stuff of the universe.

Why does she think that the meaning she derives from her experience is valid, when the meaning that others have derived from theirs – clearly in the same class as hers - is not? She seems to imply that in other people such an experience can still lead to wrong ideas, not to say religious delusions. That doesn’t add up to me.
Though if we're going to accept the mystical experiences that All Is Love, what to make of the darker mystical experiences that suggest a void or even hostile entities perhaps responsible for all the world religions?
 
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