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.

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The Bound and the Unbound: Religion and Transcendence

I recently listened to a fascinating conversation between the Catholic writer Arthur Brooks and the atheist Sam Harris about the role of spirituality and religion in a healthy life. You will need to get a subscription to either the Waking Up app or to Harris’s private feed to listen to the section in question. I leave your support of Harris up to your own discretion.

For the time being, let’s set aside the political and ideological differences I have with both these men. I’d like to focus on a fascinating difference between Brooks and Harris. 

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Reactions to Satanism: A Field Guide

I’ve been a Satanist long enough now to notice some patterns in how people react to the news that I’m a Satanist.

What I find most fascinating about these reactions is how inflexible they are. They seem to be manifestations of buried beliefs that are incredibly resistant to change. With very rare exceptions, I haven’t seen any of these attitudes shift in response to new information or perspectives.

Without further ado, here is my field guide to reactions to Satanism.

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Sacredness in a Godless World

Theists often struggle to understand how I can maintain a deep sense of sacred awe without believing in the supernatural. They seem to assume that a life without God is a dry, artless, wonderless existence. As I discussed with Matt Langston in a recent episode of Sacred Tension, my personal experience is much the opposite. I feel like nontheism has ripped away the veil between me and the fundamental mysteries of reality. The utter inexplicability of being, without a God to rely on as an answer, is the most sacred and mysterious thing I have ever experienced.

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Breaking Down God

I live in a strange, interstitial space between atheism and theism. While I no longer consider myself a Christian, I refuse to cut ties with the Christian world and my progressive Christian community. At the same time, I feel a great deal of kinship with the pagan and witchcraft communities, as well as the atheist and skeptical communities. My own religious home is The Satanic Temple, and I consider myself a practicing Satanist. I call myself a nontheist and reject unverified claims of the supernatural.

To many people, the question of God’s existence is simple: either there is a magical sky daddy or there isn’t. For me, however, this question is getting increasingly complicated. God is about more than just existence or nonexistence: it is also about definitions, worldview, and culture.

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