Why Be a Skeptic?

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

Please refrain from judging this post on its title alone. As I write this now I consider myself a traditional skeptic who has a profound positive interest in occultism. Today I purchased a Tarot deck, and owned one for several years. I routinely practice rituals, and try my best to be a habitual meditator. My last I-Ching reading was within the month.

I hope this is enough to convey that my position may defy many expectations.

At the age of 25 I began college, after dropping out of high school at 17 and spending ages 19 to 25 as a charismatic christian.

I converted to this kind of christianity at age 19 with a very close friend who had done the same as a part of reconciling with his mother, who is very religious. We went to a small church in the city of Lubbock, Texas. At this church the members spoke in tongues, fell to the ground in convulsions brought upon them by the Holy Ghost, and believed that they were given direct communication from God, in their internal dialogue. Most of these folks were somewhat restrained in this, due to their upbringing and social norms in play within this kind of christianity. I had no such self-restraint.

A personal relationship with Jesus was emphasized. For me this meant that the Jesus I was talking to in my head, and that everyone at my church claimed to be talking to in their heads, was the master of the universe.

It was thrilling.

Because Lubbock is such a conservative small southern city, even though to many these beliefs will seem insane, I was suddenly part of the culture that actually ran the town. After spending my whole life as a foreigner, an outsider, a weirdo, I was suddenly accepted and mainstream.

This was also a wonderful perk.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I found most of the new age ideas I had already believed in for years well represented with Christian parallels. I no longer needed my tarot cards, I had access to the gift of prophecy as all Christians did (according to my church), and I could turn to random bible verses. There was a even a kind of Christian version of numerology popularized by books about numbers in the bible.

Speaking in tongues was fun. All of it was fun. I really felt like I was having supernatural encounters with God. Charisma magazine, the magazine for charismatic christians was readily available at our church with all manner of supernatural events proclaimed and written about.

But ultimately the longer I lived in this world the more and more I realized I had not truly been accepted. I began to study church history, the canonization of scripture, and the different denominations, and this caused me to get into many arguments with my peers. For such controversial statements like: “catholics are christians.”

The charismatic christian, for all their new age parallels are very conservative and believe they are the strictest of biblical fundamentalists. Perhaps they are.

I found this dialogue to be a low ceiling, and I despise feeling like I have hit a ceiling in my climb.

I began to experiment with other religions. A practice that colored my adolescence. Then I read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Perhaps what made the words of Dawkins seem so benevolent to me is that I was currently pursuing a scientific degree, I hold a Bachelors of Science in Neuroscience.

Dawkins has been read as being condescending, patronizing, and dismissive. I believe Dr. Dawkins language is more of a byproduct of social norms within science than any kind of disrespect. It is not lost on Dawkins that many brilliant wonderful people are believers, he simply believes that religion is a question that can be answered by reason and science. I agree 100%.

The center stage in the argument in Dawkins view is not Dawkins ego, as it may seem at times to the reader, it is reason itself. How do we disqualify poor evidence and make the conclusion which is the most reliable. If one does not keep the validity of science and reason in a central position in mind while reading the book they are suffering from a malfunction of reading comprehension. Dawkins even gladly submits himself to critique by the same standard.

In fact one of his greatest detractors; Scott Atran, uses scientific arguments to oppose Dawkins and these are worth reading and hearing. But they don’t validate God, only limitations to our current scientific understanding of religion.

While reading Dawkins I had the pleasure of actively studying science in the university.

My professors and visiting reasearchers I encountered in my days in the Neuroscience department of my school were comfortable dishing and taking some harsh language against their ideas. In a world were peer review is king ideas can not be perceived to have rights. And the harsh treatment of ideas is how one makes their career, the ideas that withstand these attacks are those which show the greatest promise. This is a central aspect of the scientific method

This is as it should be.

However, Dr.Dawkins has a profound ignorance. One I think he would agree with, this is the ignorance of the subjective experience of those who experiment with occultism, the New Age and religion. Dawkins himself shows this trying to have mutually respectful dialogue with all manner of people in his BBC Documentaries. I would love to have the pleasure of presenting my ideas to him, and think I could persuade him of their merit.

I have enjoyed many positive effects of these behaviors. I believe that the utility and appeal of occultism, divination and religious experience can be verified. Quantified. And objectively studied.

But I believe that to do this one must embrace a certain kind of rigor of thought. So that you can eliminate the bullshit. Many occultists practice precisely in this way, from some evidence in my internet study of postings of occultists on web sites and other sources. Some occultists see what they do as purely a mental matter, which has a certain kind of effect in their life and productivity, and they have been individually widdling away this kind of thing to an improving utility. A relatively empirical approach, though it does have all the limits that can be applied to subjectivity.

I can yoke myself to two of the four horsemen of atheism with my perspective. I would cite myself and my opinion to be in perfect union with the naturalist Daniel Dennett who thinks religion should be studied scientifically. I could not agree more. It is as we begin to use the tools of social psychology and other measures of affect, including neuroimaging technology, we can begin to truly see what it is that people are getting out of their voodoo. The other is Sam Harris, who is an accomplished meditator ( I am talking regular use lengthy meditation retreats) and suggests that a certain kind of subjective empiricism and approach these experiences cautiously with an attention to self-deception and make personal progress.

I believe in living a rich life. I believe I see positive effects to religious, occultist, and new agey behavior which have been quantified by social psychologists in what is called Positive Psychology. In one interview Positive Psychology pioneer Dr. Martin Seligman said that Positive Psychology tries to see what actually works in the self-help movements and what doesn’t.

Knowing that self-help and new age are often contained with large overlap as genere, and that they share a kind of audience, I am intrigued by this fact.

But I also think that we should not be over eager to believe everything that comes along the way. One must truly delve deeply before being sold on U.F.O.s, parapsychology, Ghost Hunters, psychic phenomena, etc. etc. etc.

If you embrace whole heartedly everything coming down the occult pipeline you are likely to hold untrue ideas, and certainly contradictory ones.

I am not even prepared to dismiss any of things a priori. Merely to consider the body of evidence that skeptics have been providing. Skeptics like Michael Shermer and Joe Nickle are as avid a paranormal researchers as any. They do regular studies and investigations on these matters. Are well published and cited. By any kind of academic standard they should be taken seriously.

I doubt that most people who have a deep and serious interest in the occult want to be guilty of being the gullible new ager duped by every fad that comes along the way. But I do think many occultists are suspicious of science as a part of the oppressive establishment that runs our society.

Some of the best ideas on occultism, which seem to be totally compatible with skepticism are presented by the author Alan Moore. Alan Moore is a comic book writer. Perhaps one of the greatest of history. As academia begins to see with greater and greater acceptance that comic books provide true literature at a certain level, Alan Moore will certainly be considered a kind of H.P. Lovecraft at the least, and perhaps a kind of Lord Byron at the most.

Alan Moore is an avid occultist who makes a simple and beautiful case for this sort of thing as being Art. I capitalize Art in a Nietzschean frenzy. Art has been the best thing in my life and I think few atheists would deny me that Art deserves a pedestal as a true radiance of humanity. Moore ties the roots of art to religion, and shamanism dating back to the cavemen. I think few anthropologists would disagree with that lineage.

Hence I find myself here at a cross roads. Making an appeal to my fellow atheists to avail a certain kind of dialogue with occultists as there are many in this world who hold very little against our critique of faith, and I appeal to occultists that perhaps I am one of your number. What is an occultists besides one who studies and experiments with these matters?

I assure you I have been studying, and experimenting, and have much to report and discuss.

Atheist scholar Tomm Flynn says in the victorian era new agers and atheists made a common lot, and were both collectively known as “freethinkers.” As the days pass I am more and more intrigued by this history.

Hence I propose a universal freethought. Freethought being more loosely defined, as a liberated intelligent mind willing, and actively engaged in experimenting with ideas. I think all atheists would qualify for this definition, but so would all intelligent occultists.

But very importantly, I suggest to all my readers who have not done so yet, make scientific skepticism a part of their work.

If you are experimenting with a new idea, especially if you believe the phenomena is coming from some external energy outside of yourself, try to come up with a way in which the cause of the phenomena could be falsified.

This is science in a nutshell: “I think this causes this, but if this happens in an experiment it would disprove my idea.”

It is only by a series of attempts to disprove that a theory can be established. After the scientist fails to disprove. But an idea can always be disproven.

Too may occultists (especially New Agers) have a unfounded attitude towards scientist as a white male patriarchal racist project which exist to only serve the man. I can understand how one might be cautious about these things, and there have been political controversies in science.

But in the last 40 years these controversies have grown more and more mundane as science strongly polices itself through a strong series of rigorous procedures, competition, and incentives built in to the peer review aspects of the scientific method.

A scientist can’t prove. Only disprove. And whoever disproves a more established theory gets the most prestige.

This is a good thing, and a kind of thinking which should be more widespread and more universal.

  1. […] Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth when injustice, unrighteousness, terrorism etc. ruled the world.  Brothers would kill each other, or a brother killed his own nephew shamelessly etc.  Thus there was pain and sorrow everywhere.  A few extremely wealthy men lived in pomp and harassed the predominantly downtrodden men of society.  People forgot true religion and faith in God.  Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth at that time so as to replace this dire world situation with peace and prosperity.  Even other incarnations of God before Lord Krishna replaced dire situations with recreation of the soul.  They saved world humanity from drowning in the dark gloomy well of materialism and In addition you can check out this related post: https://occultskpetic.wordpress.com/2011/02/28/why-be-a-skeptic/ […]

  2. mindcore says:

    Was that a hare krishna spambot?

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