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Nice post, Michael!

This guy sounds like your typical angry atheist a-hole, with the A standing for "ass."

As far as the New Age, I'm going to ask you to take a look at it from a different perspective.

I think you've said you're not a psychic. But what if you were? Who would you hang out with? Would this group tend to converge upon a shared belief system.

I'm a psychic and I tend to hang out with other psychics. I'd say the vast majority fit the New Age label.

To me, it's a belief system that is *not* a religion, i.e., not based on revealed dogma, something that one *must* believe. Rather, it is a belief system that does its best to take in all the data points.

What I like most about it is that it is a belief system based on self-empowerment. Want to have interesting experiences? You don't have to wait for Jesus to grant that. Meditate, talk to your guides, do readings, interpret your dreams, pray, cast spells. Live life and do what works for you.

At its worst, it can be a belief system in which the deal becomes, "You believe my BS, and I'll believe yours." You can have people who try to believe *everything*, the equivalent of an artist who doesn't limit his/her colors and does a Jackson Pollock on the canvas (I love Pollock, but you get my meaning). Although in the minority, there are New Agers who are fear-based and very negative, seeing conspiracies and evil entities everywhere. There are also a-hole psychics who want to compare psychic d*** size with everyone and who are not love-based in their approach.

The skeptical stereotype is that we "woo woos" are freaks with freaky thoughts and doing freaky, erratic things. That the belief system is dysfunctional. In reality, however, my psychic New Age friends are very down-to-earth, cool, loving people who have a practical, empowered approach to dealing with life.

What do you think of the above, Michael, and is your impression of "New Agery" based on interacting with actual members of our species? :)

I would say that P.Z. Myers is mostly vile to be perfectly honest - but this is only my opinion. Even more vile are the acolytes that hang out on his site. I couldnt stomach the experience for more than an hour.

Seriously, do they represent the grounded rational future of humanity?

I hope not, otherwise I fear for the future of the human race!

"When someone tells me that they are “Not religious, but very spiritual,” I want to punch them in the face.

Hard …"

Wow!

Webster will be punching a lot of people, including my self should we ever meet.

That phrase (Not religious, but very spiritual) has become a standard quick position statement designed to facilitate social interactions. I find it handy and I find I use it when I sense I am about to be the target of the preaching of someone who adheres to a dogmatic religion.

It's developed into a socially accepted way of saying "Hey, I've thought about all of this long and hard and I don't have hours or days to explain how or why I arrived at the understanding that I have and even if I did have the time I probably wouldn't want to go into it becvause we would end up arguing, but suffice it to say I do believe in the validity and importance of our spiritual side (so we are not too far apart), but I reject that any particular dogma (including yours) is the The Way with all others being false paths leading to confusion and hell."

As an aside, and beyond the social, psychological, legal and spiritual implications of wanting to punch people hard in the face for making a simple statement, I am embarassed for Webster. Using myself as an example (since I am one who would utter the offending statement) that illustrates on a cold pratical level why you should never threaten bodily harm, I was fighting in mixed martial arts full contact fights before the term "mixed martial arts" and all the pay per view shows even existed. I still train (it gets in your blood I guess). I also break thoroughbred race horses. The image of some little philosophy prof getting all worked up over a little statement and wanting to punch me in the face, but being unable to do so because a) he doesn't really know how and b) his instincts telling him that it would be a very bad idea and thus him left standing there impotently full of rage, is truly pathetic. It makes me sad for the man.

Michael (and "Acolytes", ha),

Excellent posts.

One key characteristic of being "religious" is the tendency of being judgmental about another person's experiences or beliefs. Whether it is a hard punch to someone's face, or dogmatically criticizing or defecating on someone's life experiences, religion, as shown by Webster, is the most dividing and polarizing tool of the human race.

It is striking to me, in its irony, how many atheists, humanists, materialists, or scientists, often feel the need to demonstrate their strong religious beliefs at the expense of others.

"It is striking to me, in its irony, how many atheists, humanists, materialists, or scientists, often feel the need to demonstrate their strong religious beliefs at the expense of others."

because atheism is nothing more than a religion. Like how catholics go to church on a weekly or one a year basis, atheists go to weekly forum or yearly conferences to profess their atheism.

btw I love his paragraph on stupid. I think he's a bit naive as to reality and there being one ultimate answer. Life is not a black and white world as he puts in. Life is more like gray with a hint of orange.

I'm a bit put off by the attitude here, which seems to go something like this: Of course I'm spiritual but not religious, religion is all dogmatic and confrontational, and religious people are gullible and blind followers and they can't even talk about religion because they can't stand other worldviews and they'll get into a fight, and atheism is just another form of the same thing, and generic spirituality offers a middle path with none of the drawbacks.

There are certainly criticisms to be made of traditional religion, but there are legitimate criticisms to be made of New Age too and there are things to recommend traditional religion over generic spirituality, and it's certainly not true that traditional believers are all dogmatic sheep and you're above it all. It's also certainly not true that religious believers all believe their way is the only way and everyone who doesn't follow it will go to hell. Surveys show that most religious believers have a positive view of other religions.

I'm also skeptical of the view, held by a lot of people on this blog, that phenomena like psi and NDEs are going to destroy traditional religion by giving us a rigorous scientific way of answering all the big questions. That just seems like scientism of a different sort. I'm very interested in religious questions, and I'm interested in these phenomena, but I think the meat and potatoes of religion and spirituality is philosophy, theology, and mysticism. And traditional religions all have long histories of philosophy, theology, and mysticism, it's not that they're just old dogmas believed on faith whereas your view is based on science and empirical study. I understand that people here want to defend their belief system, but there's no need to denigrate the followers of traditional religions.

Warron,

To answer in part what you wrote:

I'm a bit put off by the attitude here, which seems to go something like this: Of course I'm spiritual but not religious,

Birds of a feather and all that. The people who comment frequently on this blog are spiritual people who don't belong to a traditional religion. I do think we tend to feel that thinking for oneself is highly important and not thinking for oneself is a bad thing. I would say the vast majority of religious believers are born into their religions and follow them out of a kind of mental inertia.

religion is all dogmatic

Unitarians are not. And there is a wide spectrum going from very dogmatic to not at all. But most religion leans toward "dogmatic." IMO, dogmatism is a bad thing. People should believe something because they have thought about that thing and believe it's true, not because it's part of a set of things they are required to believe--or else.

and confrontational, and religious people are gullible and blind followers and they can't even talk about religion because they can't stand other worldviews and they'll get into a fight,

I think most people believe in religion for the community and not so much the belief system. So, personally, I don't think of the typical religious believer as a gullible fool. In fact, I think most believers don't really take their religion all that seriously. And I think a lot of religions out there are debased versions of the real deal. For example, if evangelical Christians really believed in the words of Jesus, including "love of neighbor," I think we'd be living in a much different country.

and atheism is just another form of the same thing,

Actually, I don't think atheism is the same thing--quite. Most atheists are not born into their worldview; rather, they choose it. Once they get into it, however, there is a lot of peer pressure to deal with that is probably worse than in a lot of traditional religions. In that sense, I think atheism is more like a cult than a traditional religion.

and generic spirituality offers a middle path with none of the drawbacks.

Pretty much. Although I don't consider my spirituality "generic." It's pretty specific. I have specific spirit guides, beliefs, practices, etc.

I don't really have a problem with philosophy or theology, as rational and systematic thinking should be applied to critical thinking anyway. Most people on this site have a problem with dogmatism and blindly following generational views. I do think however that the term 'Spiritual' was merely coined to mop up the difference between religious and scientific ways of thinking, somewhat standard at the time. When really, people have more varied and individualist views than mysticism and spiritualism imply. For example, having had spirits turn up fully formed in front of me, I still feel they must conform to the basic rules of the universe, e.g. quantum physics. So I guess I believe in materialism. Now scientists themselves are having trouble classifying matter these days, as some say 5% is matter and the rest dark matter and energy, and then there's relativity theory and quantum physics and its all becoming difficult to classify. And so I say, its all just matter in some form and we are just discovering that. Cheers Lyn

Good points Lynn. It's all science anyway. We don't even know if 'spirits' are totally omnipotent. Their bodies are made out of 'something' that must abide by laws of physics.

The problem is that spirituality is lumped together with notions of "immaterial beings", a religious heaven or some type of intangible afterlife. Experiences like yours and others suggest a tangible afterlife filled with living conscious entities that may also be rolling their eyes at terms like "Spirituality" that are not clearly definable.

As far as philosophy goes, however, this guy has no moral high-ground. As Michael said, being a spellbound atheist will not improve quality of life. I sometimes look across the aisle at people with strict materialist views of reality and I am amazed how unhappy some of them are. I couldn't be happier with my 'woo' beliefs that are grounded in evidence.

Warron, I don't see the "spiritual but not religious" as being a middle path at all. It is a different path; nothing middling about it. Typically I find it is based on rational deduction as well as intuition arising from the study of the history of religions, evidence of normal and paranormal nature and personal experience.

Also, I don't think anyone here is denigrating traditional religions and their dogmas, or their followers. I am sorry if you feel that way. If a traditional religion works for you and fulfills your spiritual needs, then that is great.

That traditional religions are full of dogma should be quite evident. Even the various factions within christianity hold varying beliefs; beliefs sometimes so at odds that wars have been fought over them. Any how, if you actually read the Bible, read the history of the development of christianity and then listen to what christians say, there is tremendous descrepancy and the descrepancies are mostly dogmatic in nature.

Unless you are one of those who believes the earth was created in 6 days, Moses parted the red sea and anyone not baptized is hell bound, in which case, "Hey, I'm not religious, but very spiritual".

" When someone tells me that they are “Not religious, but very spiritual,” I want to punch them in the face.

Hard …"

I hope he realized punching someone in the face is a crime.

I hope he realized punching someone in the face is a crime.

Not if it's P Z Myers.

I suppose that's ok as long as he doesn't mind being punched back.

And a paranormal punch is so much worse than a mere material punch.

He's simply an angry guy that loves to sling mud.

" When someone tells me that they are “Not religious, but very spiritual,” I want to punch them in the face.

Hard …"

So I'm picturing how this scene plays out. And I'm imagining that, as Webster stands over this guy he's just floored, he looks down and says,

"See what religion has done for me? Isn't this what's missing from YOUR life? Spirituality---HAH!"

I was just thinking. I mentioned a male victim in that scenario. But maybe I'm giving Webster too much credit. Maybe he had a woman in mind. :o)

"Unless you are one of those who believes the earth was created in 6 days"

it's funny because most people have no idea where this came from. I remember reading a while ago that the ancient Hebrew word for "day" was the same for "period" and "cycle."

When the bible was translated to english, the author decided to use the typical definition of that time period so the word "6 X" became "6 days."

Also you never know if moses parted the sea. Low tides + high sandbars create the appearance of parting ways. I remember the author discussing one such path near Egypt.

But then you never know

I get the impression that David Webster sees spirituality as an intellectual exercise in crafting the objectively correct metaphysical worldview. I see it as an experiential exercise in living a subjectively meaningful and fulfilling life. In the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that one doesn’t need to have an objectively correct metaphysical worldview (or anything close to it) in order to do that, nor does one have to combat ambiguity or stamp out paradoxes. I still see belief evaluation as an essential part of this process, but not as an end in itself.

"I'm a bit put off by the attitude here, which seems to go something like this: Of course I'm spiritual but not religious, religion is all dogmatic and confrontational, and religious people are gullible and blind followers ..."

Personally I have a lot of respect for traditional religions, and I find it interesting to interpret their teachings in the light of paranormal phenomena, NDEs, mediumship, etc. I realize that many practitioners of traditional religion would not appreciate this approach, but some would.

Two of the best books I've read on religion were by Edith Hamilton, the classicist best known for her book Mythology. The two books are Spokesmen for God, about the Hebrew prophets, and Witness to the Truth, about Christ and his early followers. Both books make clear how revolutionary and important the moral teachings of the prophets (including Jesus) really were. I think we often do not sufficiently appreciate how much the Judeo-Christian ethic has transformed our world. Yes, there are negatives, like the denigration of the physical body, but the positives are too often forgotten or taken for granted.

If you read the full interview with Webster, you'll see that while he is an atheist, he has more respect for traditional religion than for popular "spirituality." In part this is because religious institutions often perform charitable works and engage in social activism. I suspect it is also because some religions have a rich intellectual history. Webster may not realize that spiritualist movements have also done good works; 19th-century Spiritualism was one of the driving forces behind the abolitionism and women's suffrage, for instance. And if you look at the history of "the perennial philosophy," which is essentially a history of mysticism, you can find many notable thinkers. It's not quite as narcissistic and vacuous as he makes it out to be, though it can have those qualities.

"In reality, however, my psychic New Age friends are very down-to-earth, cool, loving people who have a practical, empowered approach to dealing with life."

I know only a few New Age people, Matt, but I agree that for the most part they are more grounded than one might expect. Some of their ideas strike me as far-fetched or illogical (as mine probably do to them), but they seem to run their lives in a practical way, and they often show a lot of care and concern for other people. For instance, when one woman broke her leg, I was amazed at how much daily, practical help she got from her friends during her recovery.

I think we often do not sufficiently appreciate how much the Judeo-Christian ethic has transformed our world. Yes, there are negatives, like the denigration of the physical body, but the positives are too often forgotten or taken for granted.

This is so true. For one thing, the parable of the Good Samaritan is the ultimate ethical lesson. There is no improving on it.

Surely the idea of universal rights owes a great deal to Christianity. If you read pre-Christian Roman authors, their ethics and their way of thinking in general it truly alien to us moderns, whether we believe or not. And the idea of one universal truth under one God surely contributed a great deal to scientific progress.

That's another thing about atheists. They espouse unbelief but are swimming in the water of belief. What would the world look like if, say, atheism were "true" and people accepted that there is no God and no Afterlife in the year A.D. 1? We would have avoided all those religious wars and have a planet of perfect peace now, right?

I think not. You would have had the same nihilistic and nationalistic movements like Genghis Khan's horde and Nazism because power would have been the only thing to be meaningful to people.

Atheists play the tough guy and *say* they accept all the implications of their belief system, but I don't think they really do. Because that belief system drives people mad. If you truly, truly believe that, in time, absolutely everything that exists will be annihilated without any witness, without any record, as if it all had never happened in the first place... I think you would go insane.

Of course, any atheist would say, "Of course I believe it, you weaklings!" But talk is cheap. I do not think they do.

Matt Rouge:
”If you truly, truly believe that, in time, absolutely everything that exists will be annihilated without any witness, without any record, as if it all had never happened in the first place... I think you would go insane.”

I have wondered about this a lot after realising that my belief system has slipped from the position of prominence to one that has practically no bearing on how I live. The key, to me, seems to be a change of focus, a different appreciation of what makes life worthwhile. It doesn’t seem to me that it has much to do with permanently remembering one’s past or preserving it for posterity, but simply with the intensity of positive emotions experienced in the moment. The greater the incidence of such moments, the less of a need there is to look beyond them for something with which to make life worth living.

"I think we often do not sufficiently appreciate how much the Judeo-Christian ethic has transformed our world."

Quite true. Also, at a highly practical level, the church served as the bastion of learning and repository of knowledge for a thousand year or so while the European feudal lords ran about killing and plundering each other like a bunch of barbarians. Too often atheists only want to highlight the ways in which the church opposed and hindered learning and advancement of science. Overall, i think the contributions outweigh the roadblocks.

I always thought that the golden rule (do unto others......) is a candidate for the ultimate ethical lesson.

As far as atheist as tough guy, I don't see it that way. I think that is a shallow and poorly thought out perspective. Which is easier? 1. To go to sleep forever, never to dream and never to wake up. 2. To live forever and have to face, in excruciating detail, all of one's misdeeds (even mis-thoughts) and to have to go through all of this countless times until one has had the courage and faith to face internal and external "demons" and overcome them with pure love?

no one,

For me the terror would lie not so much in personal annihilation but knowing that *everything* will cease to be.

I think atheists sometimes rationalize things by thinking, "Well, I'll be gone, but my family will live on, and I've made a contribution." Stuff like that.

But, really, that isn't true either. Or it's not true enough. Everything will be destroyed, and there will be an eternity of nothingness.

"For me the terror would lie not so much in personal annihilation but knowing that *everything* will cease to be."

Hmmm....I never thought about it that way. At first glance that doesn't bother me at all, or not nearly as much as infinite existance (which I accept to be true, yet troubling in some profound ways).

I guess I had already assumed that all forms, even heaven and earth, will pass sooner or later and that the only thing that doesn't change is the axis itself. So, athiest or believer, we are faced with that common reality, IMO.

Back to Webster, it's been a long day waiting for data to analyze and I went and read the interview in its entirety. He really does seem to have created a straw man out of the worst of pop psychology and New Age culture. This is unfair. I mean, here we have matt Rouge, self professed New Ager, thinking deeply, arguing and debating with all of us; acting quite contrary to the image of an all inclusive loony New Ager that Webster portrays.

All groups and cultures have their foibles, idiocyncracies and their odd ball members and using Webster's (or Fox New's or MSN's approach) we could stereotype any of them and make them appear in a bad light.

Webster's book appears to be merely yet more scatological fodder to fuel the shallow "culture wars" in which americans love to waste their time and freedom indulging, to the debasement of the potential laid before us 225 years ago.

"Back to Webster, it's been a long day waiting for data to analyze and I went and read the interview in its entirety. He really does seem to have created a straw man out of the worst of pop psychology and New Age culture. This is unfair. I mean, here we have matt Rouge, self professed New Ager, thinking deeply, arguing and debating with all of us; acting quite contrary to the image of an all inclusive loony New Ager that Webster portrays."

Because to think otherwise would mean we have to spend time and money on evaluating each person individually. Such thinking is not productive. Generalization is the best way of doing this. Pick an individual, say a westboro baptist protest, make them to be the entire Christian faith. Boom generalization.

It's not hard, racists and bigots do it all the time. Look a black person robbed a grocery store. Conclusion: blacks have a natural tendency to rob grocery stores

"Not if it's P Z Myers."

who is PZ meyers

And for my first attempt at italicizing failed

PZ Meyer is a white guy who robbed the grocery store of the soul.

Uh oh, another Typepad punishment.

white guys are always doing that! What's wrong with all these white guys??!!??

"PZ Meyer is a white guy who robbed the grocery store of the soul."

In the end, he's mostly robbing himself.

lol, given that comment Matt, I think no one should take back that comment about you not being "loony".

Thank you, Sleepers.

I take it back sleepers......barking mad, he is, barking mad

Whenever I see atheists making generalizations about religious people, it reminds me of this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHyug2PvpB8


read the comment section

Looks like it's getting a bit racist there, Passenger. Ach, humans.

Wow passenger. Good analogy. I hope it represents a minority of atheists. Most people I know are extreme about something. When you get down to the nuts and bolts of how a person thinks and why they say the things they do, I have to believe people really are just not thinking about what it is they are saying. Its emotion, anger, or just the plain ol need for attention. We all probably do it, even the best of us. The dramatic pull of an extreme perspective makes everyone stop and say "what the ...?" However I do believe that extremism is nothing more than creative "fronts" for all the world to see. They might actually start to believe their own "fronts", but they know deep down most of what their saying is hogwash.

I don't think the majority of atheists are like dawkins or wiseman.

Rather I think most atheists are like most christians. Christians call themselves chirstians, do charity, and good to church weekly or annually. Most atheists are probably the same. They call themselves atheist, do charity, and don't go to church. To both, religion is second to life. They have no idea what occurs at death and chooses sides because they have to. There is no such thing as having "no religion." It's either you're atheist or religious. There is no "i don't really care option."

But like everything in life, there are a bunch of crazies. Christians become fundamentalists; opposing anything against the bible. In the alternative, there are fundamental atheist who opposes anything religious or "superstition" (ghost, NDEs, psi, etc).

I think it's best to analogize religion to racism. During the 60-70s i was with the black panthers. Our mission was equal protection through election. We helped blacks register to vote and fought for equal pay/commerce. This was the main goal of the black panthers. However, there was a separate group of people who called themselves the "black panther." These people basically wanted to kill all white people and make the US into a Muslim state.

So media headlines normally went "black panthers destroying america" or "Negros want to genocide whites."

ah the great old days

I was watching this show I found on netflix called "Destination Truth", its suppose to be a paranormal related show (whatever that means given hollywood's need to entertain).

Season 1, Episode 2 had an interesting EVP that was taken from a crematorium graveyard in Thailand. They had the tape recorder and tape analyzed by some techno wizards who ruled out radio noise, malfunctioning equipment, etc. All that the techno wizards and the show's host could say was, "this sounds like speech" (on the tape). They took it to a Thai translator, to ask her what she heard, and she said, it sounds like the voice is saying - she then says the Thai phrase - and when asked what that meant she said it means "get out of here" or something similar.

I'm always skeptical, but it was pretty intriguing. In the same episode, they pretty much "debunked" the superstition of an equivalent lochness monster living in a Thai river. And in the previous pilot episode, they also "debunked" a dinosaur living in papua new guinea as well as a mermaid (despite sightings by the locals). I thought after the first episode, "its actually not entertaining if they don't find the dinosaur." Lol. I only watched the following episode because it said, "haunted village" in the episode's title. I was surpised they did not have an explanation for the EVP.

Interesting - if someone with a knowledge base of EVPs wants to take a look at the episode and render an opinion, I would appreciate it.

Sleepers,

There is a lot online about EVPs. Art Bell's radio programs on the topic are up on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdeyP_6JANg&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PLAA435E75DC1B7CDE

That's just one of them to get you started (use search on there to find others).

My take: They are the voices of people who don't know that they're dead = ghosts. Yes, they're real.

That's really good stuff Matt. I'm impressed. I disagree, in many cases, about what is actually said and don't think the investigators know either, but are trying their best to make it out and are really making guesses - as I think they would admit they are doing. There appears to be a lot of unanswered questions with the content of EVPs (including whether the voices are actually children or adults), but I think we can agree that:

1) there are definitely voices and

2) they have no natural explanation for being on there.

If its an intercepted radio signal, other human voices, a transmission from afar, etc, could they detect that? In other words, can tech people determine with certainty that nothing else (that is natural) is being picked up from other electronic devices? I mean are these "ultra sonic sound detectors" just picking up random people talking in the area, or even the world?

As Art says, to me, it is pretty much absolute proof if we can rule out the above questions.

Sleepers,

I have read that they have done EVP research in conditions where no radio signals could have penetrated and have still gotten positive results.

But I think that's beside the point. What kind of radio signal is there in which a person is saying a snippet of text in an eerie voice? Have there ever been "EVPs" that turned out to be verifiable radio signals? If that were the case, then one would expect to get snippets of music and obvious radio chatter all the time. It seems that that never happens.

So I think the objection that it could all be stray radio signals is specious.

Also ludicrous is the claim by some skeptics that we're just falsely making sense of the voices amidst the static. They are clearly voices, and often what they are saying is perfectly clear. Also, it just so happens that they find voices in the appropriate foreign language when they go to those countries. That's some coincidence.

A better title for this thread would have been "Pow!" It connotes a punch better than "Bam!"

Matt, has anyone recorded EVP in a Faraday cage? Because the Faraday cage prevents access to much of electromagnetic waves, but not all.

Also, regarding EVPs, some recording appear to be personalsied and even to actually answer specific questions posed by the experimenter in some cases.

What this means is anyone's guess, but it may be due to some fundamental aspect of our reality - if it is true that our physical reality is run via a blueprint that is ultimately generated by the mind, then it's possible to see how these reality bending phenomena could take place.

I'm reminded of the 'there is no spoon' scene from The Matrix. I think the film hit a few truisms in a metaphorical way - for the computer generated reality, read our reality.

Roger, the most common sound graphic in Batman fight scenes was "KAPOW!". I always felt it connoted a certain instantaneous terminal power surpassing even "BAM!".

Maybe I should've titled it, "Yer goin' to the moon, Alice!"

"...to the moon...."

LOL!

The Honeymooners remains politically correct to this day. :|

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