Skeptical atheist has Spiritual experience?

Setting the Scene: I was sitting on the El this morning on my way to work. I’d nabbed Ms. Absimia’s MP3 player on the way out the door and was listening to it while looking about the train car (Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire). I was wearing my sunglasses which are still a bit of a novelty to me as they are prescription and I can actually see while having UV and glare protected eyeballs.

“I love my sunglasses”, I think to myself because they let me examine people without feeling like I’m intruding. On the Nomad, Andrew fires up “How Indiscreet”, one of my favorites. I’m looking at this woman standing by the door. She’s tall, very light brown hair which is crinkly curly and pulled back into a loose ponytail. She’s dressed simply, a dark blue cloth trenchcoat sort of thing with a fuzzy scarf, wearing little or no makeup and she has large lips (kind of like Angeline Jolie lips). I’m looking at her pretty intently, she looks vaguely like somebody. I can’t really place it though…hmmmm…the Bam! It happens.

She becomes beautiful, like an inner glowing sort of beautiful, like an angel sort of beautiful. I’m glad I’m wearing my sunglasses now or I’d really be caught staring. I look around the car. Standing next to me (I’m sitting down) is a shortish guy, sort of sad looking, reminds me a bit of Jonathan from Buffy and he is beautiful too!. The clean cut lawyer guy with the brushed metal coffee cup, beautiful. The hispanic mother with her lovely child, beautiful.

All over the train, well what I could see of it, everyone looked perfect. Not perfect in an Aryan-Pretty-People sort of way. Not perfect in a Lincoln Park Trixie sort of way. Perfect in a Shakespeare sort of way (“In form and moving how express and admirable”) or in a Plato looking beyond the world of forms sort of way. It was like I could see their ideal selves, maybe the way they see themselves or the way they would want to be perceived. It was like seeing their souls. It was wonderful.

I don’t know how long it lasted, just a few minutes I guess. It faded away as I was watching all agog. Those wondrous creatures became plain old people again just like you and me. But the memory lingers on. I love humanity.

I usually credit feelings like that to gas.

Fermented soy beans … they get me every time.

I am not an athiest, and feel as though your (interesting, well-written) post deserves a thoughtful reply, but right now all I can think of is the Hair soundtrack, where they’re singing “What a piece of work is man.”


So anyway, has this experience changed your (non-)beliefs at all (specifically in terms of any sort of deity)? Do you think the experience was noteworthy because you are an athiest, or just because shit like that doesn’t usually happen to you?

Thanks auntie em on the compliment. I’ve never seen Hair, although Ms. Absimia has and liked it very much, I’ll ask her about the context of the song you’re talking about.

I can’t say that it has changed my non-beliefs, I’m afraid it would take a considerable amount more than just that, but it was a very unique experience. The closest thing to what some of my friends have described as Spiritual experience that I personally have ever had.

It does reinforce my humanism a bit, I think. Makes me want to be less cynical or something. Makes me more Sagan-y and less Randi-esque. (Except for the dead part of course.)

Make sure Mrs. A knows you’re talking about the Broadway soundtrack; the movie soundtrack doesn’t have that song.

As a believer in . . . something (though I’m not quite sure what it is most days) who is romantically involved with a skeptical athiest, I always wonder what it would take to make an athiest into a “believer” (or, frankly, vice-versa, if the believer were completely without any doubt in his/her faith).

I know it would vary from person to person (similar to, say, the amount of money it would take for someone to trade places with Michael Jackson right now . . . but for the record, I don’t think I’d do it, even for all of Michael’s money), and my SO is really big on “Scientific Proof.” Barring that possibility, however, what kind of personal (“spiritual”, if you will) experience do you think it would take for your views to change?

Just curious.

I’m a skeptical atheist and I have no problem with your experience. It was worthwile because you saw people in a way you wouldn’t normally; for the better, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

As to it being “spiritual,” well, I’m always willing to concede possibilities, though I personallly think what you experienced came from within you not from without.

Doesn’t make it any less valid or valuable.

Enjoy. Hope it happens again.

I’ve had that experience, and others, several times, and I still consider myself to be vaguely anostic/atheist. I would call such experiences of mine “spiritual” if only to differentiate them from every day life. But these experiences haven’t brought a conviction that there is an intelligent fatherly God or such thing. But they do remind me that there are doors to perception and sometimes they open. With all of them, I have felt an increased awareness of compassion, and of the humanity of other people…a kind of unconditional love, for lack of a better phrase.

Been there, done that, felt all tingly afterwards. As with FranticMad, these experiences haven’t persuaded me to rush off to the nearest church/synagogue/mosque, but have served to remind me that there’s more to life that humdrum, mundane existence. A pity they don’t happen more often.

I agree that it came from within me and not without. In a sort of answer to auntie em it would take a lot more to make me a believer than shifts in my perception. Maybe a series of independently verified miracles would do it. But as to what it would take for others, I don’t know. I do think that faith at its best is something that you either have or do not have. That it does not and should not require proof. That’s what makes it faith.

Martin Gardner, skeptic extraordinaire, believes that in the absence of all proof, taking a leap of faith is acceptable. Credo consolans. Some people can and do take the leap and others cannot or will not. I tend to be of the cannot variety.

Groovy. I’d call that a blast o’ kensho, but that’s just the compass-side of jargon of such things that my needle most gravitates to. Belief is overrated; living experience is where it’s at. So good for you, and go and have more! :slight_smile: