« | Main | In the news ... »

Comments

Thanks, Michael. After enjoying your writing on this blog for all these years, spending *six full weeks* writing my own post makes me wonder how you turn out material of such quality on a sometimes daily basis.

Did what I say remind you at all of your history with the Ayn Rand philosophy?

Been enjoying your foray into Seth! Haven't read Seth Speaks in years, but it is a stunning book. Simply put, it doesn't *sound* like it was written by a mind now residing on the physical plane.

Great job, Bruce. I read it. Marvelously written!

(And I too am amazed by Michael's combination of quantity and quality here!)

Bruce - first of all, very well written and thoughtful piece! Much like many of your comments here, I found your blog post to be genuine and heartfelt and enjoyed reading it very much.

Here is the But....:-)

I find it difficult to really believe that you were ever as "millitant" an atheist as you've described in the post. (or at least as committed a militant atheist as many who argue from that position today - genuinely are)

I think there is a searching - a longing - a desperate grasping that underpins any sort of personality that would uproot and move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles for an experimental self help therapy (Primal Scream) that might easily explain a lateral move from rage and resentment at all spiritual believers (as you describe yourself to have been) to a true blue believer in much of the stuff discussed on this blog - over the years I've read your comments.

In some respects - it was the same basic dis-satisfaction I've felt reading Eben Alexander's "conversion" from atheistic to one of the most ardent proponents for the spiritual explanation of the NDE.

It doesnt' really feel to me like he was ever truly atheistic - but rather, always on the edge of craving something to fill that which was missing all along. (which apparently, the NDE, and it's magical elements of faith and forgotten family, finally filled)

While I love the passion with which you write - I don't know that you'd find a hard core, real world NON believer (pick your Randiesque stereotypical skeptic) who is also prone to EST style fad self help strategies like Janov's - or any other similar strategy you could find at Esalen on any given summer weekend back then :-)

I remember a few years ago getting into an "argument" online in a community forum with an Evangelical Christian - a smart guy who had all of the answers....and everything worth knowing had to do with whether it was cool with Christ.

I visited his blog thereafter - and it was full of the same biblical stuff...and hard to swallow how such a smart guy could be so narrow minded.

A few months ago, I bumped into him again - only now....that same vitriol is aimed at believers - he's become a militant atheist, and has no room for believers in "fairytales" of any type or stripe:-)

To me - neither position was ever born of close inquiry - but something far more elusive and difficult to discern - a longing that neither side of the street will supply.


It's hard not to notice that there seems to be an undercurrent of unhappiness and emptiness that underpins much of what is written in these comments - a spiritual sadness - something that seems to long for a wonderful world that awaits, if only we could know it and wish it and hope it to be true.

So I love your passion - and your writing - but not sure that "how a millitant atheist" came to believe is a good perspective for the title and tone of the post.

Show me Sam Harris talking to Art down here in the cheap seats about the Holographic Universe...and I'll be impressed! :-)

Congratulations otherwise - Amazon awaits!

Bruce - great article!

Jon - I sometimes get the impression that even really militant atheists are looking for something, and that their militancy is their defence mechanism against being fooled. They have to have near-certainty before they can allow themselves to believe.

Here's an example. On the Amazon reviews of Chris Carter's books are loads of comments by an anaesthesiologist called Dr. Gerald Woerlee. Dr. Woerlee appears to be an extreme skeptic of NDEs, but he presents his case very politely and with good scientific references. His thesis is intriguing: that NDE experiencers have adequate cerebral blood flow for consciousness because of the cardiac massage employed during resuscitation.

Dr. Woerlee has argued this, over and over again, against equally persuasive opponents. But as I read his comments I actually get less of the impression of someone who wants to convince others, and more of the impression of someone trying to convince himself.

I keep getting the feeling that Dr Woerlee would like to believe but thinks he's found - unfortunately - a reason not to, and that he's deliberately - desperately, almost - trying to provoke someone into providing the one "white crow" case where his explanation could not possibly hold, so that he can finally remove the last obstacle to belief.

I think that if I had Dr. Woerlee's technical knowledge, I might be playing the same "devil's advocate" role myself.

@ Matt. Thanks! Coming from an accomplished writer such as yourself, those kind words mean a lot to me.

@ jon. Thanks for that. You've got me really thinking about what you said. I'll post a reply here soon.

Rupert,

Nice observations. Yes, we on this side of the debate are quite familiar with Dr. Woerlee. We might disagree about his level of politeness, however. :)

Jon,

Interesting comments. I'm going to respond in my own way, if that's OK.

I went through an atheist period when I was 13-14 that came from being disillusioned with Catholicism and then Buddhism, but I changed course pretty quick when my psychic abilities came more to the surface once I entered high school.

I agree that most militant atheists want to believe in *something*. I certainly was that way. If the religion of my childhood wasn't correct, then I had to find what *was* correct--right away! I can forgive my rigid thinking, however, as I was only 13/14!

So, on to your comments:

||I find it difficult to really believe that you were ever as "millitant" an atheist as you've described in the post. (or at least as committed a militant atheist as many who argue from that position today - genuinely are)||

I don't find it hard to believe, for the reasons you yourself stated. Militant atheists want to figure things out, just as do fundamentalists of other stripes. They are not comfortable with ambiguity and not knowing stuff. I don't think Bruce is like that, but it can be a matter of degree, too.

There are also a lot of people out there who are "militant atheists when asked." E.g., there are people who never think about the issue but who would toe the atheist party line if asked specifically about it. Then there are people like Sam Harris who are actively proselytizing for the atheist-materialist belief system.

||I think there is a searching - a longing - a desperate grasping that underpins any sort of personality that would uproot and move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles for an experimental self help therapy (Primal Scream) that might easily explain a lateral move from rage and resentment at all spiritual believers (as you describe yourself to have been) to a true blue believer in much of the stuff discussed on this blog - over the years I've read your comments.||

"Desperate grasping"? That sounds a bit pejorative. I think Bruce was searching for the truth, is all. I think it's a noble path, and those who take it are not psychologically defective or deficient.

||In some respects - it was the same basic dis-satisfaction I've felt reading Eben Alexander's "conversion" from atheistic to one of the most ardent proponents for the spiritual explanation of the NDE.

It doesnt' really feel to me like he was ever truly atheistic - but rather, always on the edge of craving something to fill that which was missing all along. (which apparently, the NDE, and it's magical elements of faith and forgotten family, finally filled)||

I am curious about your concept of "truly atheistic"--what does that mean? I think the belief system is a separate thing from the passion with which it is held. For example, there are a *lot* of nominal Christians out there who simply use their belief system to fill in a blank but who never really act on it. The same thing goes for atheists. I think a second factor is the tolerance for ambiguity and not filling in all the little blanks.

The culture of atheism and "skepticism" (i.e., basically its groupthink) is passionate with very little tolerance for ambiguity. The same is true of fundamentalist Christianity.

Thus, if you were to say that "true" atheists were dispassionate and tolerant of ambiguity, I would wonder who these people are!

I think Bruce is moderately passionate and moderately tolerant of ambiguity. I don't think he fits the militant mold, and I doubt that he simply "flipped" his belief system because he had to believe in *something.*

||While I love the passion with which you write - I don't know that you'd find a hard core, real world NON believer (pick your Randiesque stereotypical skeptic) who is also prone to EST style fad self help strategies like Janov's - or any other similar strategy you could find at Esalen on any given summer weekend back then :-)||

No, because such people have already found their religion.

||To me - neither position was ever born of close inquiry - but something far more elusive and difficult to discern - a longing that neither side of the street will supply.||

Actually, I think he probably closely inquired into *both* belief systems. In my experience, militant atheists are often *very* knowledgeable about their own belief system and those they are opposing (with the caveat that they are often, perhaps unconsciously, selectively ignorant about that against which they are arguing; they are constantly in straw man mode). The problem is not ignorance per se but rigidity. They just can't *allow* anything that violates their belief system to be seen as existing, or even be taken seriously.

||It's hard not to notice that there seems to be an undercurrent of unhappiness and emptiness that underpins much of what is written in these comments - a spiritual sadness - something that seems to long for a wonderful world that awaits, if only we could know it and wish it and hope it to be true.||

To me, the comments here is a salon of people with sharp intellects who take the topic very seriously and who are constantly weighing the evidence and reevaluating their own assumptions. I'd say most people here *are* comfortable with ambiguity and not pinning everything down. I really don't see where you are coming from with this.

||Show me Sam Harris talking to Art down here in the cheap seats about the Holographic Universe...and I'll be impressed! :-)||

I don't get it. Sam Harris would just say it's nonsense and be done with it.

BTW, just to clarify something... I think rigid thinking is a characteristic of younger minds. Young people do not have the life experience to understand that situations aren't always black or white, and their brains haven't fully developed either.

I went through "militant" Catholic and atheist stages because I was young. Later, I was not a rigid thinker.

A lot of people never grow out of rigid thinking or develop negative capability (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_capability). Fundamentalist belief systems are appealing to such people, whether it be fundie Christianity, "skepticism," or Randian Libertarianism. Often these belief systems seem "childish" to outsiders, and I think that is because rigid thinking is associated with children.

"Randian Libertarianism?!"

BTW, just to clarify something... I think rigid thinking is a characteristic of younger minds. Young people do not have the life experience to understand that situations aren't always black or white, and their brains haven't fully developed either.

This definitely resonates with me. I often recall how every issue seemed black and white when I was a young man. Nowadays everything seems fifty shades of grey (if you'll pardon the reference) and very few issues seem black and white.

>> "Randian Libertarianism?!"

This confused me too at first, until I realized that the reference was most likely to Ayn Rand rather than to James Randi.... :-)

Jon, thanks again for your very kind words.

"I find it difficult to really believe that you were ever as "millitant" an atheist as you've described in the post."

I looked over my article again, and I think I described my behavior and attitude without exaggeration.

Now perhaps you mean that the term "militant" itself is overkill. I thought about just calling it "A Skeptic Discovers the Afterlife." But that's pretty bland, not to mention that it's not really accurate. Pseudoskeptic is more to the point, but a bit obscure for a title.

So I ultimately decided on militant, and I think it helps to get across my arrogance (even belligerence) and absolute certainty. While I was never a crusader who spent my spare time preaching about these things, what one blogger boasts of himself was true for me too (I paraphrase):

|The Militant Skeptic believes that faith and belief in the spiritual are an affront to reason.|

For twenty years, I had no tolerance for anyone who felt differently.

"I don't know that you'd find a hard core, real world NON believer (pick your Randiesque stereotypical skeptic) who is also prone to EST style fad self help strategies like Janov's - or any other similar strategy you could find at Esalen on any given summer weekend back then :-)"

I doubt Janov would ever have appeared at Esalen, which, as I think of it, is largely devoted to spiritual approaches. For Janov, spirituality is a crock.

Matt said:

"Desperate grasping"? That sounds a bit pejorative. I think Bruce was searching for the truth, is all. I think [psychotherapy] is a noble path, and those who take it are not psychologically defective or deficient.

Thanks for that, Matt!

Rupert, thanks for the compliment!

The comments to this entry are closed.