True Believers? Yes. True Knowers? Not So Much

What is knowledge? Is it something that is subjective or objective? What I mean by that is, are claims of knowledge testable or are they opinion? Does it even matter?

Knowledge is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary in this way:

“The fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.”

I think that with the above definition, the most important word is experience. When you experience something and become familiar with it, you have attained knowledge about it. So does this apply to everything? What about religion? Believers say that they “know” that God is real because they experience him, sometimes on a daily basis. Is that not knowledge? According to the definition, it might be able to be interpreted that way. But there is a difference between feeling something you interpret as real and something that can be experienced by others. Also, how do you know that what you are feeling is God and not some other phenomenon that can be explained by natural means?

Let’s take the idea of people who are said to be born again. I was once part of this group. I accepted Jesus into my heart, was baptized and proclaimed publicly that he was indeed my lord and savior. I even experienced what I felt was the holy spirit descending upon me during times of intense prayer and other times while listening to Christian music. I experienced what I was told was the holy spirit, anyway. I experienced what I was told was Jesus in me as well. I experienced what I was told was proof of the divine. So I must have known God, right? Not so fast.

All of the things I experienced were real. The sensations I had in the form of chills down my spine or shaking when I was praying intensely were real. The certainty I had about my prayers being answered that made me tear up was real…and so were the tears. All of these things were experienced, so that must mean I have attained knowledge of the spiritual realm, correct? No. Not even close.

I stopped believing in spiritual things due to unfulfilled promises and nothing to go on but ancient stories based on ancient hearsay. My suspicions about religion, coupled with my time reading, reading, reading and then doing some more reading about the truth of religion, caused the feelings to stop altogether. As I researched and learned more and more about the religion I was born into and was raised to follow, the knowledge I attained about it showed me that I had been believing in it for no good reason. I believed because I was told to and I got so involved that I actually experienced physical effects from it. But once I stopped believing, the feelings were gone. So what gives? Did God remove the good feelings from my life? Did Jesus take away my ability to communicate with the spiritual world? No and no.

You see, when you are brainwashed…or coerced forcefully if that sounds better, you start to accept what others around you have come to accept. The feelings you have as a result of outside stimuli cause you to believe whatever story is given to explain them. In my case, it was God. In others, people may feel a connection to nature or some other world not of Heaven or of Earth. It is often caused by serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemicals in our brains that helps to make us feel good, along with endorphins. Lots of stimuli can trigger a release of it, including religious activities. But you can get the same result from taking a pill or participating in activities such as swimming, walking, biking or even having sex. People who have experimented with LSD have also had similar experiences. Scientists have found a link between religiosity and the amount of serotonin in one’s brain. So what you may be thinking is a genuine religious experience may in fact just be your brain making you feel that way.

According to an article by John Cookson posted on bigthink.com back in 2010:

“The implications of a brain-based origin of religiosity are that the brain’s makeup determines ones level of belief, rather than choice or inspiration.”

Brain damage, differences in brains from one individual to the next and what types of drugs people may be on help to determine how religious a person may become. Some people seem to be anatomically predisposed to belief. The chemicals in their brains convince them that they are truly experiencing God. And make no mistake, the physical experiences are real. However, the root cause of these experiences can be sorted out without resorting to supernatural explanations.

I won’t go into all of the details that scientists have discovered in studies, including some controversial things such as “the god gene” as I am not the expert on such things. But there have been numerous studies done that link serotonin to religion. According to Psychology Today:

“The concentration of serotonin receptors normally varies markedly among individuals. Those whose brain scans showed the most receptor activity proved on personality tests to have the strongest proclivity to spiritual acceptance.”

Again, I am not an expert on these matters, but the conclusions by scientists based on several studies seem to suggest that spirituality is much more prevalent in certain people based on the makeup of their brain. People experience something real and are told by religious groups that what they are feeling is God. The only evidence is a bunch of stories and your own “good feelings.” There is a lot that can be proven based on study, testing and repeatable demonstration. And then there is your own personal feelings on what is happening. Yes, you can have knowledge of what you are feeling and the effects on your body, but to attribute those feelings and effects to an invisible being is not knowledge. It is a belief. You have made a leap from having good feelings to absolute truth and have skipped many steps along the way.

Belief is not knowledge. And knowledge can be tricky if your brain is leading you in one direction or another. Just be aware that there are non-spiritual explanations for spiritual experiences. There is more to belief than just conviction. It might be in your genes. For me, having once believed and now so far from what I once believed, I am sure that outside influences as well as my brain functions can explain my religious experiences. I am now rather comfortable saying that it was all in my head. And there are several studies that help to explain why that is.

7 thoughts on “True Believers? Yes. True Knowers? Not So Much

  1. Grant that something spiritual does exist. Would Christians have any way of knowing it even if they experienced it? What if it turns out that they are wrong about the nature of the “spiritual realm”? The problem is, they would dismiss almost any evidence if it did not fit with their preconceived beliefs. If Ganesh had appeared to you when you were a Christian, would you have taken any heed of that as a spiritual experience?

    Paul told his followers not to listen to anyone that disagrees with him, even if an angel gives them information that contradicts his teachings. If Paul was a charlatan and some spirit, god, or angel had wanted to warn people, well, just imagine. God himself could appear, but because of their blind faith in the charlatan, the followers would not listen. It makes me wonder who but a deceiver would ask for belief based on faith. Who else benefits from that, other than a deceiver?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re right, of course, K. One of the telltale signs of a cult is the leader restricting the information the followers can have because the only way they can prop up their claims is by preventing the followers from finding out the truth. At least until the members are so thoroughly indoctrinated they resist claims that contradict the leaders.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. If someone were to ask me, back when I was a believer, if I knew God was real, I would have said yes. If they had asked me why, I would have pointed them to the experiences I had. Those feelings, given the circumstances in which I experienced them, can now be explained. I felt something. That something was real. The “what” behind the something was up for grabs at that time. The Christians around me jumped on that chance, told me what it was and I believed it. End of story. If I felt the same in a Muslim setting, or Buddhist or anything else, the conclusion would have been different.

      Funny how a nudge in one direction can totally skew your views and lead you down a path where you repeat the actions of others and you, yourself, try to convince unbelievers of what you now believe based on no evidence, but rather feelings.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. We always have to remember that our experiences of the world are not really what we perceive them to be. What we see, hear and feel are what our brains interpret from the nerve impulses the brain receives. And as we’ve learned over the past fifty years or so, the brain is not the most reliable interpreter. The brain censors things, filters things out, can add things that aren’t really there, as a result of being over stimulated, misinterpreting things, becoming confused, or because of physical, chemical or other things. Our own personalities, ideas, preconceived notions, personal experiences, etc. all influence our perceptions of what we experience. Some of the experiments proving this have been down right frightening, where they’ve convinced people they saw things that never happened, didn’t see things that did happen, etc.

    This is why actual repeatable, measurable testing and evidence is so important, because our personal experience of a situation can easily be manipulated or misinterpreted.

    Add in the fact that a lot of people out there don’t want to make decisions. For whatever reason they are uncomfortable with trying to decide what to do. They *want* to be told what to do, how to act, what to wear, etc. Just look at teenaged kids. They all claim they want to be independent, be allowed to make their own decisions, etc. But when you look at what they are actually doing, that’s not true. They, for the most part, dress alike, talk alike, buy the same gadgets, listen to the same music, etc. And adults aren’t much different.

    When it comes down to it, human beings are herd animals. You can talk about ‘tribalism’ and all that, which seems to be the current fad, but let’s call it what it really is, a herd. I worked with cows for way longer than I liked, and human behavior in groups is, to be blunt, a lot like the behavior of a herd of cows. We have this instinctive desire to belong to the group, or a group. We find it comfortable, reassuring. Being different, standing out, thinking in ways the group doesn’t approve of makes us uncomfortable, outcasts, even subject to punishment.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the TV show “brain games” but they had an episode where they had people in a waiting room. They did a social conformity experiment. All of the people were in on it except one. As the people waited, a sound (a beep) was played in the room. Everyone stood up when it was played, except the one who had no idea what was going on. After a few times doing this, the unknowing person joined in, standing each time. When asked later why they did it, they said they thought it must have been the right thing to do and they didn’t want to feel like they were doing something wrong. They then taught others to do the same, and guess what? Everyone did it. This was just one simple experiment that was observable within minutes. Imagine how many people have done the same thing over thousands of years, standing each time that religion sounded the alarm.

      Here, I found a clip of it:

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The experiences are real, that is what the science tells us. “Real” as in something is being experienced. The interpretations are all made up. The simple fact that people report feeling the presence of god all over the planet says that we are all capable of feeling such things. That the god attributed to the feeling is whatever god we grew up with indicates that the interpretations are biased according to our understanding and education. The interpretations are biased and unreliable. Theists just want to know whether what they are feeling is “real.” They want their interpretation to be left unexamined.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Feeling that we are right more often than not tends to override our desire to know with certainty that our beliefs are actually justified. If I think I am right for the longest time, even years, based on my memory of an event, I am left feeling dejected when corrected. I felt this way when shown that my religious feelings were not at all justified. I was so certain that I was right and that I had good reasons to believe that I didn’t want to hear anything that contradicted that idea. During my time as a believer, I would quickly dismiss (usually without investigation) any claims to the contrary. Things like science and peer reviewed study were taboo thoughts to the faithful.

    Liked by 2 people

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