Mysticism Is Like Sex

Mysticism is like sex. Let me explain.

I don’t believe in god or gods. I have no belief in an afterlife or supernatural beings. I’m not saying that they don’t exist. I’m open to being wrong. I just have an absence of belief in them. I’m what could be described as a “soft atheist”.

And yet, I also have a lifelong fascination with altered states of consciousness and the experience and practice of mystical self-transcendence. This fascination started when I was a child growing up in a charismatic family.

Altered states of consciousness were common in my family. We all regularly spoke in tongues. My mother would speak in tongues as she drove me to school. My father would speak in tongues as he cooked dinner. I would speak in tongues as I prayed with friends.

If you’ve never experienced speaking in tongues — also called glossolalia — let me try to describe it. There’s sometimes a warm or electric feeling that accompanies it. There is a feeling of complete submission as something else takes possession of your mind and starts babbling through you. You hear yourself, but you have no control over your own words. You feel bliss. Sometimes it’s a small, warm, comforting bliss like a campfire. Other times it is an overwhelming, torrential, unspeakably beautiful bliss, like a waterfall. Sometimes, the feeling of being a separate self would dissolve completely, and I would become one with the strange reality that was speaking through me. (When I say “something would speak through me,” I’m not saying that this is literally true. Instead, it is merely a description of the experience.)

Speaking in tongues was intimately wrapped up in our religious beliefs. We believed it was the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, praying through us. We also believed, unlike some other charismatic Christians, that not every person could or should speak in tongues, but rather that the gifts of the spirit — supernatural powers like prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, discernment of spirits, teaching, etc. — were given to different individuals. We were like holy X-men.

Despite these supernatural beliefs, my family and I weren’t deluding ourselves when we spoke in tongues. The experience itself was real. We weren’t mentally ill. Something incredibly pleasurable was happening in our brains when we spoke in tongues. The experience was real even though what we believed about it wasn’t.

As I became a teenager, my parents and Christian community taught me that another transcendent, pleasurable experience was deeply religious. Sex was a sacred act, reflecting the love between God and his church. It was a cosmic union, bringing together male and female into perfect alignment. It was also only holy and sacred within the confines of a heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman.

I don’t believe in Christianity anymore, but I still have sex. Gay sex, to be exact. Sex is too good, too pleasurable, and too meaningful to let go of simply because I no longer believe that it is a supernatural covenant between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. Sex is a fact of human existence and need not be confined by the limitations of religious belief.

Similarly, I continue to practice mysticism. Just because I’ve dropped my theistic Christian beliefs doesn’t mean I have to let go of the enlightening, beautiful experience of transcendence. I don’t speak in tongues anymore, but I meditate daily and practice meaningful rituals.

Like sex, mystical experiences and altered states of consciousness are materially hardwired into the human body. We can have experiences of incomprehensible bliss. We can experience the annihilation of the self and grow wise as a result. We can attain transcendence through dance, drugs, mantras, rituals, and meditation. Some variation of mystical transcendence occurs in all times, all cultures, and all religions. Just like sex.

And, just like sex, we don’t need to forgo mystical experiences when we no longer hold religious beliefs about them. It’s a tragedy to go without mysticism just because you don’t believe in God.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my discord server. And, if you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a patron and signing up for my newsletter.

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

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