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SBNR: Spiritual but Not Religious — an alternative view

By Brian Morris

The dust has not settled on this year’s disastrous Census yet, already, there are calls to amend the question on Religious Affiliation. While the latest change brought Australia into line with most Western countries — by placing ‘No Religion’ as first option — elements of the “not-quite-religious” community feel bitterly aggrieved.

“Spiritual But Not Religious” (SBNR) is a spin-off from the 1970s New Age Movement which, according to one source, is difficult to define and subject to the vagaries of eclecticism. And SBNR is even harder to categorise, yet proponents believe it deserves a separate religious listing in each census. Devotees point to the growth in “Spirituality and New Age Churches and Meet Ups” — more than 150 around Sydney alone.

The current and most prominent SBNR advocate is noted social commentator Hugh Mackay. His new book, “Beyond Belief” is the latest flag-bearer for spirituality — and that raises several questions.

The term “spirituality” is an amorphous concept. It gives a divinely-inspired perception of attempting to gently grasp in both hands a passing plume of purple smoke — the vapour wafting softly between one’s fingers, never to be firmly held.

Mackay’s book ranges through a panoply of spiritual interpretations — through limitless levels of consciousness, and employing the personal experiences of hand-picked story-tellers in an attempt to nail what it all means. In the final analysis one is still left pawing perplexingly at the proverbial plume of purple smoke.

Hugh might well have used my own “spiritual” experience — but as an atheist, my interpretation was never likely to mesh with an SBNR congregation. I’d moved to the NSW North Coast for a 1980s “Sea Change” and initially rented a remote farmhouse West of Coffs Harbour. Driving home at dusk one day, on the deserted dusty track leading to the farmhouse, I saw a large wedge-tailed eagle perched on a fence post. Easing out of the car, and edging slowly towards the majestic bird, I felt that four meters (roughly) was as close as I’d get.

I stood transfixed as we stared at each other for an eternal 2 or 3 minutes — a riveting and vividly freeze-framed moment in time. Finally, the eagle gradually leaned forward and, in ultra-slow motion, spread her enormous wings and gently rode the breeze out over the valley, and away. It was a stunningly dramatic encounter and one that is all-too-easily characterised — by SBNR enthusiasts — as a moving “spiritual experience”.

But, as an atheist, I saw it as an intensely gratifying and exhilarating moment that focused exclusively on one solitary aspect of the natural world — just man and beast, as it were. It was a rare, almost primal encounter — but in no way a “spiritual” or “communion-with-God” revelation that SBNR devotees would infer.

And this is the problem of superimposing the supernatural on nature!

Spirituality — and the fusion of SBNR and New Age — leaves the door wide open for the plethora of other paranormal beliefs which have no basis in evidence or reason. They include astrology, numerology, reiki, homeopathy, crystals, feng-shui, ghosts, psychics, clairvoyance and creationism — among many others. All pseudo-sciences and other forms of “woo” are listed here. Understanding the psychology of avoiding gullibility — and having a healthy level of scientific literacy — are the best defenses against pseudo-scientific beliefs.

There is no question that becoming self-aware is important — knowing at least something about the functions of one’s body and brain (our “mind” is merely a brain function). It’s useful, too, to understand one’s emotions and how we view the natural world we inhabit — all are intriguing areas for reflection and introspection.

But it’s so easy to exaggerate life’s “mysteries”, to yearn for “something greater than ourselves in the universe”, and to become obsessed with the notion of “spirit” — with its religious embrace of “dualism” and the fallacy of an “eternal soul”. It can all be driven, quite understandably, by existential angst. Coming to terms with that issue is far more likely to be a valuable life-lesson than losing oneself in an endless maze of woo woo and gurus.

An example of how the unwary are drawn into cosmic mysticism is shown by the techniques of Deepak Chopra — an internationally recognised exponent of spirituality’s pseudo-scientific psycho-babble. It is dramatically demonstrated in this discussion with science historian Michael Shermer and neuroscientist Sam Harris.

A veritable mountain of spiritual books — and a phalanx of gurus — make extravagant claims about their own particular pathway to cosmic “enlightenment”. Most appear harmless but there is a long history of spiritual cults across many continents that have wrecked the lives of millions. This Vimeo documentary presents a graphic picture of just how easy it is for ordinary and intelligent people to be manipulated by spiritual groups that offer a “profound meaning and purpose” to one’s life.

Spirituality itself is a by-product of religion and if, as claimed, it transcends reality then by any definition it is “paranormal”. Many who may seem genuinely spiritual are more likely to be deists — belief in a god of the universe that (for reasons unknown) doesn’t require worship, doesn’t answer prayers, and doesn’t intervene in any way in human activity or the natural world. But it is supernatural nonetheless.

And it seems clear that the remainder who embrace SBNR are those left marooned on the isolated atolls of their childhood religion — that which is left once the myth and fabrication of each man-made religion has been eroded by science, forensic evidence, and critical examination.

Clutching at some ill-defined ethereal meaning of life is merely a vestige of Christianity’s “God of the Gaps” fallacy — that which cannot be explained must surely be “God’s work”. Or, to an SBNR enthusiast, simply the “unanswerable mysteries” of a spiritual realm. Science has progressively rolled back all the Bible’s primitive explanations of the natural world — no flat Earth, no Earth-centred universe, no Noah’s flood, no miracles.

And science has unraveled far more. We have universal laws explaining Einstein’s General Relativity, Hubble’s Cosmic Expansion, Kepler’s Planetary Motion, Newton’s Gravitation — there’s thermodynamics, evolution, electro-magnetic propagation and quantum physics. All religions are left with just supernatural beliefs created by illiterate men whose provenance is demonstrably questionable. And that leaves SBNR isolated too.

Professor of Philosophy, Massimo Pigliucci, studies the relationship between philosophy, science and religion. His article on SBNR, in Psychology Today, points to the confusion it causes, due to the impossibility of finding a clear definition of SBNR — and he explains why that is. Spirituality and religion has meant all things to all people since the dawn of time. But Pigliucci argues that we don’t require any form of supernatural intervention to live happy, ethical, and productive lives that provide compassion, cooperation and tolerance towards all others.

But it’s entirely understandable that our distant ancestors — over the past 200,000 years — developed wildly different concepts of spirituality. With absolutely no knowledge of science what else could they infer from the terrifying experiences of earthquakes, a solar eclipse or thunder and lightening? It’s no surprise that so many cultures came to believe that those “angry gods” could only be appeased by blood sacrifice. Even today, Catholics perpetuate a primitive spiritual ritual with the communal “body and blood” of Christ.

It’s long overdue that we break this genetic link with our god-fearing forebears. It has been a recurring theme, with each successive civilisation inventing their own gods and spirits — paranormal beliefs to deal with the “real” world, or to seek solace in some kind of afterlife to offset their fear of death. And that fear of death grips the quasi-religious too — succinctly explained in the book “The Worm at the Core“; dealing rationally with death.

But while we now possess the power and knowledge of science, humans remain inherently irrational — prone to error, falsehood and fantasy. It’s why people with religious beliefs — especially those “spiritually indoctrinated” at a young age — have a vast array of religious defence mechanisms to protect and even enhance their beliefs.

It is why the Scientific Method (SM) was finally developed in the 18th century — the techniques necessary to tenaciously avoid confirmation bias, expectancy effect, subjective validation and fifty other cognitive biases. All are tests which expose the “pseudo” in all pseudo-science. The Scientific Method separates fact from fiction. And it’s why, from the Age of Reason, that logic and critical thinking has pushed back the doctrines and dogmas of organised religion — and of spiritual fallacies too!

Spirituality is the last refuge of those clinging to the remnants of religious belief — those who continue to ask; “why are we here?”, or “where do we come from?”, and “what is our place in the universe?” The WHY question is wholly redundant, akin to “why is there a mountain, or why is there wind?” The scientific question is HOW — “how precisely did biogenesis kick-start life.” And science is on the verge of answering that essential question — together with wider discoveries that only temporarily elude us, both here on Earth and across the universe.

So it’s with great consternation — and yawning cynicism — that we continue to hear self-appointed religious hierarchies who still claim sole knowledge of life, death and the birth of the cosmos. But there’s no less incredulity for New Age pseudo-science and the spirituality movements that are based on an illusory truth about spiritual metaphysics. To seasoned sceptics, SBNR is more critically termed “Spiritual but Not Rational“. Science, critical analysis, and healthy scepticism are the primary defenses we have against all irrational beliefs.

Brian-Morris-0-Head-Shot-150x150 About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.



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  1. diannaart

    Perhaps we need a better word than “spiritual” – I am most definitely an atheist, finding the idea of a supreme entity or entities in need of worship as primitive as the first humans who tried to find explanations for the world around them.

    However, I do need something to explain that feeling, as Brian Morris described his encounter with an eagle, I need something to explain the sensation of simply being out and within nature. Whether it is a sunset, or a close encounter with an animal which is clearly sentient and aware. The first time I looked through a decent telescope and saw the mountains on the moon. Whenever there is an eclipse… I know the explanation is not woo-woo supernatural, but is it just my brain firing off synapses – an electrical and chemical reaction? I know it is not something magical, neither are feelings of empathy, love, rage, sadness. We experience all these sensations regularly. That feeling of being part of the universe, something so large it is beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

    Not spiritual, but what? Just chemicals?

  2. kerri

    Good article! The importance in shunning religion is not in shunning the church. Although with all the abuses organised religion has committed and continues to commit that is a fair path. It is more in shunning the belief that something or someone controls our world and by making songs and words and gestures to appease the thing we can’t see or hear or smell but some profess to “feel”, we are performing rituals that bear no evidence of effect beyomd coincidence. When a person spontaineously recovers from some malady or manages to escape some awful situation it is not a “miracle”! Often it is bloody hard work by medical practitioners or simply a fluke. Whilst we credit “God” with having effected these miracles we deny the humans who have worked so hard to achieve change. I mentioned to hubby last week that I would like to see a few separate groups of people claim they prayed to Mussolini or Hitler and their cancers were cured so that the Catholic church could be tested as to whether they deserve sainthood?

  3. Clean livin

    Good read, but we need to be careful.

    Science may not be able to explain, demonstrate, prove everything, so we turn to the God phenonama.

    But it may be that science has not caught up with things we observe or can do, but not explain.

    The danger is that in writing these observation or action as BS, not only does the perpetrator no good, but may well become common knowledge in the future.

    Just because science cannot explain it, does not make it “godly action”, nor does it say it ain’t possible!

  4. Ian Ellis

    Those who have trained in Art Music, particularly those who have embraced polyphonic composition, have no need to seek spiritual ecstasy. It is always close by, ready to eclipse any other ‘Godly’ experience.

  5. silkworm

    Dianna, the term you’re looking for might be “nature mysticism.”

    Clean livin’s response is a typical spiritual one, wherein he argues science can’t disprove the existence of God. Essentially, he/she is still arguing for the “god of the gaps.”

  6. Clean livin

    Silkworm. Not so! I am not a god botherer!

    I am merely stating that if some things cannot be scientifically explained now, then science has not (as yet) discovered the “how” to the matter?

    An example could be the “dark matter” of the universe. We believe it’s there, but don’t know what it is, nor do we put it down to Gods doing! We await until science can show us the answer, which I have no doubt, it will!

    Other examples could be intuition, mental telepathy, and the like, which is easily dismissed as BS, but just may not be! We just need to discover “how”!

  7. diannaart


    Thank you.

    Sometimes I have used the word ‘numinous’ and been informed by religious that it is not a valid term for use by an atheist. True I am not claiming making any claims of sensing any superior being – or a “god of the gaps”, simply that there is a mental and physical reaction to the sunset, or piece of music, or the sensation (which has occurred far too rarely in my life) of painting or drawing or writing so completely focussed that hours pass which feel like minutes.

    Science doesn’t explain that except in purely pragmatic terms. Religion, which is a set of prescribed beliefs and rules in behaviour, does not come anywhere near explaining the ‘mysticism’ of the such events in life – I include art in this as well as the natural environment.

    Finding words here just too difficult. Please forgive – perhaps the fact there are no adequate words is why lesser labels such as ‘spiritual’ or ‘divine’ have been utilised, which implies a religious undercurrent which feels quite wrong.

  8. Tanjil

    Spirituality cannot be accommodated as it’s an intangible concept with variations as numerous as the claimants. There is simply the question if one follws a structured and recognized form of religion. Or not. Trying to accommodate “concepts” would be an impossible task.

  9. Annie B

    A good read from Brian Marsh. …. One however, that in many instances I cannot agree with.

    Sat down to write a kind of longish reply … but find that Diannaart in particular, and all others, have already said so much that resonates, so will not go to my own notes. Much articulate and wise commentary here.

    I am agnostic, …. like to think there is a superior being or ‘something’ out there, that is infinitely wiser than us all put together, but cannot put a name, deity moniker, or form to it. Nor do I think science has yet come close to defining many many ‘mysteries’ that abound on this planet. Cannot consider any part of humanly devised religion ( as that is all religion is ) … groups of humans arguing continually, and often heatedly, as to who has the truth and who has not, from a ‘God’ perspective ( initially ) and then ~ from their own perspective for whatever reason. The reasons can be for good, and also for bad. .. And this new-ish SBNR is just another off-shoot of religious thinking. .. Like a half-way house …. while persons consider which side of the fence they sit .. or want to sit.. or not. ~ ~ One would hope they end up walking away ( again ), to relish beauty, art, nature in all its’ forms, kindness, inspiration from extraordinary human endeavour, and much other ‘good’ that we can still find on this earth.

    The article writer – leapt from ‘spirituality’ to ‘spiritual groups’ …. The two do not merge, do not integrate, have in fact, nothing to do with one another. Spirituality perhaps, is an essence of being. Maybe it is that indefinable quality in the inner guts of a person, closely aligned with instinct. No science, religion or God will ever be able to explain it – let alone any of us every-day hoomans. Spirituality does not have to be rational, nor is it supernatural. The word ‘supernatural’ bows automatically to some form of belief, in various forms as enumerated in the 9th paragraph of this article. And all forms of human enhanced religious followings can also be called ‘supernatural’ by that words’ very definition.

    Tanjil also spoke volumes. “Spirituality cannot be accommodated as it’s an intangible concept with variations as numerous as the claimants.” and yes – accommodating ‘concepts’ is an impossible task.

    Not sure that ‘yawning cynicism’ does the writer any favours, or brings much authenticity to the table btw.

    But then Brian Marsh has only offered an opinion – nothing more.

  10. wmmbb

    I cannot define what spiritual is, but I would guess it it the sense of the interconnected with nature – and at a stretch the Cosmos. Our materialist culture defines the scientific fact of our symbiosis of breathing animals with plants and trees. The denial of reality comes with a considerable cost.

  11. Miriam English

    Excellent article Brian.

    Dianna, I have no problem with using the term “spiritual” so long as I can ensure the person I’m talking to doesn’t think I believe in woo. I’ve often been called spiritual by well-meaning religious friends. It has often been a point of much puzzlement for them because I make it quite clear that I’m atheist.

    Clean livin, just because things appear to be mysterious doesn’t mean they are possible. For example, telepathy is clearly impossible. The thoughts, memories, and emotions in our brains derive their meaning from their position in the brain. The difference between visualising an elephant or a mouse can be less than a millimeter apart. Differentiating between the microscopic positions of those low voltage changes is extremely difficult or impossible, even for purpose-designed equipment at very close range and is utterly impossible for another brain to detect given that we don’t have any suitable senses to pick up those fluctuations, let alone resolve the positions. I have to give you credit though, that you didn’t say you believe in such things, but were merely cautioning against dismissing things out of hand.

    As Brian pointed out in his article, exposure to science is key to eradicating belief in woo. What I have never been able to understand about SNBR is why they bother to believe in woo at all. They don’t put any stock in silly religious books or crazy religious organisations. They don’t think a god talks to them or performs miracles or answers prayers. Basically science has left no place for a god to hide anymore. Yet these people still believe in way-out, nutty stuff. I have a few friends who are the most lovely people you could imagine. I am constantly puzzled by the way they believe totally crazy crap. It seems the more impossibly absurd something is, the more enthusiastically they embrace it. Why? There seems to be no sense in it. All three of the people I’m thinking of don’t lack for intelligence, but all three have absolutely no knowledge of science.

    One of my favorite diagrams: a periodic table of irrational nonsense.

  12. Annie B

    Miriam …

    Could not open the link you provided … comes up as “Forbidden” … ( I don’t have permission to view !! ). Have seen that bidding elsewhere on a few occasions.

    Anyway …… I think if a devout Christian person said to me that I was ‘spiritual’ … red flags would be raised ~ I would be on my guard, and would pretty much expect the next sentence to relate to something religious, and how enhanced my spirituality might be, by belonging to ….. etc. etc. etc. … Religious in particular, seem to think they ‘own’ spirituality. I would be delighted however, if a kind, considerate, lover of beautiful creatures / nature, who proclaimed total atheism, told me I am ‘spiritual’. THAT would have meaning.

    Also … am a little confused at your comment “just because things appear to be mysterious doesn’t mean they are possible.”

    Most of scientific research begins with ‘mysterious’ situations. Something that is not yet understood, and the passionate scientists begin their search, until they have not only a possibility, but quite often certainties. … If you include intuition in your response to Clean Livin … perhaps it should be called ‘instinct’ … which is something that most all creatures on earth are born with … ( with the exception of perhaps worms and ameoboid etc. ! 😉 and as yet even that is not for certain ). I have learned to the best of my ability, to never disobey my own instincts … as when I have in the past, it has resulted in a bad or unwanted, situation. On two occasions, obeying my instinct, most likely saved my life. .. This is not fanciful thinking. … It is my ‘self ‘ protecting me …

    Some might term it ‘spirit’ … others not. !!

  13. diannaart

    Annie B & Miriam

    Really like this quote from Annie: And this new-ish SBNR is just another off-shoot of religious thinking. .. Like a half-way house

    Like an each way bet. 🙂

    The reason I do not believe in a singularity of power, a superior being if you will, is because my musings looking around the planet and beyond to the universe (as best I can giving I can’t picture the entire universe) all I see are patterns where the results are greater than the individual parts. Rain falling on mountains (cycle of climate), running down to form the sea. The interaction between plants and animals, the conjunction of events which gave the opportunity for life to evolve on Earth and why we need to stop our exploitation lest we damage this balance, just our own solar system, the birth and death of stars, dark matter and more we cannot even begin to comprehend, any more than our primitive ancestors could understand the phases of the moon or sunrise and sunset.

    Please forgive waffle, I haven’t had my morning cuppa yet…

    Miriam – I’d be careful with black and white claims, your example, telepathy

    “We want to improve the ways people can communicate in the face of limitations—those who might not be able to speak or have sensory impairments,” he says. “Can we work around those limitations and communicate with another person or a computer?”

    Pascual-Leone’s experiment was successful—the correspondents neither spoke, nor typed, nor even looked at one another. But he freely concedes that the test was more a proof of concept than anything else, and the technique still has a long way to go. “It’s still very, very early,” he says, “[but] we can show that this is even possible with technology that’s available. It’s the difference between talking on the phone and sending Morse code. To get where we’re going, you need certain steps to be taken first.”

    Anyway, I'm not eager to use the word "spiritual" any more than I expect science to explain everything. Maybe we can understand everything, if we have enough time… and become a lot more intelligent…. maybe this is where the age of androids takes over from we puny humans…

    Looking forward to reading more from you Annie & Miriam.

  14. Harquebus

    A good article.
    I could tolerate religions if, they didn’t brainwash kids so, as long as they do I will oppose them.
    They say the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of each parliament. That riles me.

    Here is one explanation/theory that I have come across. I don’t go along with it myself but, it is just plausible. It goes something like this;

    It is only relatively recently that we have gained and understanding of gravity and electromagnetism and more recently, discovered the strong and weak nuclear forces and only very recently, dark energy and dark matter which, they are not really sure if it is matter or something else. One can assume that there are also other yet to be discovered forces and that, one of these forces just happens to resonate with certain brainwaves.
    Meditation, prayer, solitude and the like can sometimes filter out the unwanted and allow us to sort of, tune in to one of these dark or yet to be discovered forces and that it is this, that overwhelms one with senses of rapture, enlightenment or other kind out of world experience.


  15. diannaart


    On religions, I don’t tolerate any doctrine concerned with telling people how they should or should not live.

    Good point on meditation, scientists have been working with Buddhist monks for some years now and studying the positive effect on the mind and body of meditation. We are just beginning to understand the impact of our minds upon our bodies.

    As a sufferer of depression I can testify to the negative affects of anxiety and depression. I can also attest to the benefits that mediation brings to me – unfortunately there is no cure for procrastination that I know of, else I would be far more self-disciplined.

    Which, on this little unleashing of the mind this comment brings me to; self-discipline, a common tool used by many religions – I guess it fits the entire disciplinary aspect of religious doctrine.

  16. Miriam English

    Annie, that’s odd that the link wouldn’t open for you. I’ve snaffled it from his site and uploaded it to my files folder where I keep a mish-mash of stuff I want to share with people:

    Dianna, thanks for the link. Very interesting. Back in 2005 I wrote a novel called Insurance. In it the two main characters experiment with technologically mediated telepathy. I covered a lot of the difficulties and possibilities and ramifications in the story. I am quite sure we will develop this in the near future, however I’m quite certain that the standard woo idea of telepathy can not possibly exist.

    Incidentally, that was my first novel and I still have no idea whether it is any good or not. One thing I’m still proud of is the amount of fresh new ideas I inserted into the story — it’s crammed with them. Up until then I’d always written short stories, and it shows — the book is more like a collection of short stories on a theme with the same two main characters. Be warned: there are some explicit lesbian love scenes in the story. I wrote it after binge-reading a lot of lesbian romance novels. [sigh] I love to read them… almost as much as pure science and technology. 🙂

  17. diannaart


    Love the table. Did I tell you I collect crystals? – nothing magical ever happens, but I do enjoy studying them and managing a bit of mindfulness as a result.

    Agree that the popular (woo) idea of telepathy won’t exist… you know, never say never.

    I will be resting for remainder of day, my stupid chronic illness has been stupiding itself again.


    there are some explicit lesbian love scenes… gawd, now I will have to read it 🙂

  18. Annie B

    Thanks Miriam … the new link opened … and I saw the Nonsense Table. Doesn’t leave anything at all that is mystic in any way, does it … LOL.

    I know the ‘aura’ referred to in the chart …. it is a light of some colour or other around another person … a coloured glow, and allegedly ‘gifted’ people see it ???? .. That is highly unlikely. Anyone squinting at an object can ‘see’ an alteration or enhancement to the object ~ perhaps even a glow, as the eyes adjust to the squinting. … Science would prove that I think.

    It is strange though that medical scientists / neurologists define the weird sensations that happen before a full-on … or partial … epileptic seizure ~ as an “aura”. Similarly, a ‘silent migraine’ manifests itself as a an actual ‘>’ with sparkling jagged lights surrounding it, moving from centre slowly outwards. Doctors recognise a silent migraine exactly as described. It is also described as a migraine ‘aura’, and can warn of an impending headache – or not, or an impending seizure – or not … Being epileptic myself, and also suffering occasionally with ‘silent migraines’ ( which are usually NOT immediately followed by an actual headache for me ) … I know what those types of auras are ~ and they are not pleasant.

    Guess the use of the word is because of the many and varied, weird ( and sometimes frightening ) sensations that people with epilepsy get, often before a grand mal ( tonic/clonic ) .. or during a lot of temporal lobe epileptic activity. Perhaps a better medical term could be used – e.g. emanation, or vibe ?

    I only mention this, because a neurologist advised me to keep my epileptic condition to myself as much as possible, as “many people still attach great stigma to the condition ~ and literally do not believe the sensations that accompany seizures”.

    I now have to wonder if a few religious ( and others ), work themselves up into such a state through intense prayer or concentration ( Pentecostals are best at this ) … in fact mess with their brains and released endorphins, to such an extent that they create what they think they feel, which is often euphoric, analgesic, and hallucinatory ?

    Just a thought or three ………. even if a bit ‘out of ‘left field’ !! 🙂

  19. Miriam English

    🙂 Let me know if you enjoy the story… or even if you don’t.
    Hope you’re feeling better soon.

  20. Harquebus

    What parents do is their business. I am talking about institutions and religions in particular.
    Brainwashing children is not okay. It is an evil insidious betrayal of innocent trust and religions are the best at it. Only by opposing religions at every opportunity will we have any hope of sending them and their practitioners to the lunatic fringe where they belong.

  21. Miriam English

    I used to have migraines too, though thankfully less so as I age. The women in my family are very susceptible to them. I found the light shows that preceded the migraines fascinating. They are in effect pins-and-needles of the brain as the blood vessels constrict in the first phase of the migraine, denying the energy-hungry brain the nutrients it needs. Later when the blood vessels inflame and stretch is the painful part.

    You’re in good company with many historically very important people who had epilepsy. The Wikipedia list of important people with epilepsy makes fascinating reading. A surprising number of writers have epilepsy. Epilepsy has had a very strong effect on religion. There is circumstantial evidence that Paul of Tarsus was epileptic and quite good evidence Mohammad was too. I seem to recall Joan of Arc was also.

    Is there still prejudice against people who get epilepsy? I wouldn’t have thought so today, but I’m a hermit so I wouldn’t really know.

  22. Annie B

    diannaart … your September 24, 2016 at 10:48 am .. comment, only just came into my Gmail account ! …

    And I did enjoy reading that, and the following comments you made.

    I so wish there really COULD be a cure for pro-crastination … I seem to have lost all self-discipline I once had … and wander from project to project, getting little done these days. I blame aging for that !! Slow as a wet week, I am. And getting off the computer might help, but it is demanding in many ways – especially when it plays up, and I am absorbed in fixing the damned thing again. ( overdue for a visit to my tech. actually ).

    I do hope this finds you feeling better – and that your chronic illness which is ‘stupidying’ again ( like that terminology 🙂 ) … goes and has a looong nap and stops niggling at you, and ( I am guessing ) causing you pain.

    All the best …..

  23. Annie B

    Miriam …. yes, apparently there is remaining stigma attached to being epileptic.

    I suspect however, that people who watch a full on epileptic seizure for the first time, would be frightened out of their wits, and seek some rational explanation for what they witnessed. … Thus bad tales are told.

    Guess ignorance is bliss, and they retire to that state to cope. …

    Saw a video recently of a man in a transport depot, awaiting departure of ( bus / plane ? ) … down he went, and it took minutes before someone actually stopped to assist. 99.9% of people looked – and moved on, mostly very quickly.

    And yes, there is an impressive array of people who were, or are, epileptic … it sure is a weird condition, and almost impossible to explain afterwards, as the brain short circuits and fires off impulses all over the place.

    A nurse once told me about her husband who is epileptic saying to the family ” don’t talk about me when I am fitting, I can hear every word” … they didn’t believe him. …. But it IS true for many epi’s, and for me. ,, It is the only remaining normal sense I have in the semi conscious stage – I hear – too well at times, like a loud speaker is blaring. The sound of the kettle boiling can be terrifying, at times also.

    Perception distortion –

    Cheers ……
    p.s. … my epilepsy is under good control now, and I no longer have to take specific anti-eps. I take a calmative twice a day – and also if I feel ‘something odd’ happening or a warning aura …

  24. Secular Spirit

  25. Secular Spirit

    I have to say I think ‘science’ secularists get a bit smug about stuff they’ve never actually contributed to. It took ‘us’ the best part of two thousand years to appreciate what it means to be truly ‘scientific’ (understand induction) and only a couple of hundred to get all pompous about it. The slow development of integrating our ignorance of how the world works in mundane ways with empirical models has been just that – slow. But as we’ve seen from many Indigenous cosmologies it hasn’t exactly lacked significant aesthetic force and pathos.

    Secularists may be on the right side of the argument, technically, but they’re not always on the right side of the argument diplomatically or psychologically.

  26. Miriam English

    Secular Spirit, I can’t really see what you’re getting at. Yes, some secular people are pompous. Some religious people are too. Some secular people are loving, tolerant, and modest to a fault. Some religious people are too. Ummm… so what?

    You sound like you’re smugly sneering when you say that “I think ‘science’ secularists get a bit smug about stuff they’ve never actually contributed to”.

    Your comment about slow progress has me scratching my head. I have no idea what you meant there. It’s actually taken us about a thousand years to get to where we are; religion retarded us for a thousand years of Dark Ages. In some ways, yes, that’s a long time, but from another perspective it has been very fast. The pace has been constantly ramping up, and continues to accelerate. Some would argue that it’s all moving too fast (not me — I want it to be much faster — I want AI now, I want mind-backups now, I want the space elevator now, I want petaflop computers that run on ambient energy and are tapped directly into my nervous system).

    Lastly, The line “But as we’ve seen from many Indigenous cosmologies it hasn’t exactly lacked significant aesthetic force and pathos” seems like you intended it to mean something different from what you wrote and were perhaps tripped up by the use of double negatives. Maybe you could clarify.

    Incidentally, when posting a link to something, especially a link to a video, it’s a good idea to give some idea of what the link leads to. You probably think I’m nitpicking, and perhaps I am, but I have a strict downloads budget and have to be very careful of such things. That said, the video was interesting.

  27. Secular Spirit

    I take your point about the absence of description of the link I posted. You are quite right about that. Sorry.

  28. dmc17

    With regards to experiencing auras, some research suggests that, in some cases, it is a form of synaesthesia – one sense triggering another – and that some alleged psychics exhibit both. Unfortunately, that idea was distorted to “show how science has proved psychic abilities are real” although it does nothing of the sort.

  29. diannaart

    Annie & Miriam

    Interesting your thoughts on migraine & epilepsy. Can’t say I enjoy the opening stanza of the jagged edge light show which precedes my migraines, although people I have described it to have also said it sounds entertaining. Me, not so much, I am grateful if I get a migraine in the safety of my own home. Who needs to feel as if they are peering into the real world, sealed off in some kind of dimension, a straight jacket of a dimension; I’m the only one there. After about an hour, when the light show is over centre stage head in vice pain. On special occasions I get a nose bleed – like around this time of year when hay fever sensitises the nasal membranes.

    At least I’m not epileptic, Annie, although I do have be careful around strobe lighting, not a problem any more as I no longer go clubbing.

    Imagine describing migraines or having epileptic fits in the days when women were judged to be witches – thanks religion close your door on the way out.

  30. diannaart

    Tried 4 times to do a bit of editing on above post and was timed out due to computer gods a bit tetchy and not saving changes.

  31. Matters Not

    Having the same problems. Can’t post re Gonski.

    Will keep trying because I saved the post.

    Again it fails. I’ll post here.

    Labor’s “corruption” of the Gonski funding.

    Actually, he has a point, albeit he is being very, very selective – forgetting that Pyne was in the mix and all that. As Boston points out:

    We therefore proposed that a National Schools Resourcing Body should be established immediately to proceed with this necessary work. It would be similar in concept to the former Schools Commission, owned jointly by all the ministers rather than the Commonwealth alone, and supported by an advisory group from all three sectors.
    The federal government immediately buried the concept of a National Schools Resourcing Body, ruling out any possibility of a jointly owned roundtable to test and develop the Gonski model.
    It drew up a National Education Reform Agreement, or NERA, to be agreed by the Council of Australian Governments, under which government school systems would receive funding, while non-government systems and schools would be funded under a National Plan for School Improvement, or NPSI.
    This model provided additional funding to all schools, providing that the state governments (under the NERA) and non-government schools and systems (under the NPSI) would undertake to apply the funding to projects approved under certain headings: quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, greater transparency and accountability to school communities, and meeting need within the sector.
    Now, this was not what the Gonski review recommended. It was not sector-blind, needs-based funding. It continued to discriminate between government and non-government schools. It maintained the AGSRC, under which public funding for new places for children in disadvantaged government schools automatically generates public funding for non-government schools, without any consideration of disadvantage. And although empowered school leadership, greater accountability, greater transparency and so on and are all worthy objectives, Gonski was about funding for what happens in the classrooms of each individual school – about money going through the school gate.

    When it comes to matters educational, I refrain from giving serious consideration to the LNP. They are beneath contempt. The ALP is the only hope, but re Gonski they f@cked it up. They were far too late in getting the Gonski ‘inquiry’ underway and then compounded their error by ‘playing politics’ when it came to crucial elements of the Gonski Recommendations just before they had to face the electorate.

    Gonski’s recommendations are now ‘toast’. Confined to the historical scrapheap. A monumental failure that Shorten must wear. A real opportunity lost.

    What Gonski really meant, and how that’s been forgotten almost everywhere

  32. dmc17

    Clean Livin: before the “how” it needs to be determined “if” the supposed phenomenon occurs, otherwise it is a waste of time. It’s a form of circular reasoning: suggesting science is yet to find out how telepathy works assumes that telepathy exists. The scientific method has been used to investigate the veracity of numerous alleged paranormal phenomena and has always been found wanting. What’s more there’s usually a more prosaic explanation for whatever it is that is alleged to be occurring.

  33. diannaart

    Tech Gods – I have not been receiving comments notifications.

    Thank you


  34. Michael Taylor

    Dianna, there have still been a few hiccups since the WordPress upgrade. Should be temporary. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting my emails for all posts either. I just have to wait until WordPress fixes the glitches. 🙁

  35. Existentialist Society


    In non-supernaturalist terms, ‘Spirituality’ is merely another name for human nature. Or, in other words, Spirituality refers to the Human Spirit. The higher or positive aspects of human nature are, for many people, symbolized by metaphorical personifications known as gods. (‘God’ in the monotheistic Abrahamic religions). Another way of putting it is that the gods are fictional representations of these aspects.

    What is it? I will list, in non-supernaturalist terms, some of the wide-ranging variety of answers humankind has given to that question.

    1. Our highest values – Goodness (the moral and ethical realms). Truth (the objective and scientific realms). Beauty (the subjective and aesthetic realms).
    2. Our loftiest ideals – e.g. Love, compassion, mercy, perfection, justice, freedom, creativity, certainty, power, etc.
    3. Our peak experiences – e.g. Wonder, awe, mystery, gratitude, uniqueness, oneness, interconnectedness, security, risk-taking, etc.
    4. Our areas of ultimate concern – e.g. Self, family, community, nation, humanity, nature, planet, universe, etc.

    What could constitute a non-supernaturalist religion? Here are some of the usual requirements.
    First, the veneration, reverence, honouring and upholding of the positive aspects of our spirituality.
    Second is the apprehension and realization of these aspects; in simpler words, getting to know and understand them.
    Third is the manifestation and actualization of these aspects; in simpler words, bringing them into being in our world, both in ourselves as well as in others.

    However, we must take into account all our values, all our ideals, all our experiences and all our concerns. Even low values, mundane ideals, devastating experiences, base concerns, as well as vile impulses and crass desires, etc. Within the Abrahamic religions, most of the latter are labelled as ‘Demonic’. These religions use the Demonic as a metaphorical personification of humanity’s lower or negative aspects.

    In non-supernaturalist terms, ‘Spirituality’ is merely another name for human nature.

  36. Annie B

    A very interesting analysis there Existentialist Society

    Agree … largely – that ‘spirituality’ is indeed merely another name for human nature. …. It is the essence of ‘ being ‘- which is individual and unique. … Makes for every person ever born, different in small or many, ways.

    Fascinating subject – whichever way we approach it.

  37. Miriam English

    Interesting idea Existentialist Society. I would argue that you’re only giving a one-eyed view of spirituality though. How do people who believe firmly in gods and spirituality become the most bitter, hateful members of our society? There is much more to spirituality than this idea that it is our highest, most lofty natures. I think I’d characterise it differently. Spirituality is something that lets us feel bliss associated with some concept. That concept may be objectively high-minded and beneficial to those around us, or it may involve hurting others and deeply wounding society. Whether spirituality results in good or bad doesn’t affect the feeling of bliss and devotion it evokes in the subject.

    This is, I think, is why genuinely devout people can create deep evil, and in fact do so far more often than non-religious people. (Their rates of homicide are considerably greater than atheists, for example.)

    Atheists can also feel bliss at the awe-inspiring grandeur of the universe, at the intricacy of an ant’s mind, at the marvel of photosynthesis, but as this bliss and devotion is less often based upon myths and delusions it is correspondingly unlikely to result in damage to those around them. Of course there are bound to be some atheists who believe in idiotic eugenic notions and who might then go on to hurt those around them, but those people seem comparatively rare. (For some reason, fundamentalist religious people seem more likely to believe the discredited social Darwinism of eugenics, while weirdly rejecting fact-based Darwinian evolution.)

  38. Pingback: Opinion: Daily Telegraph - 22.9.16: Spiritual But Not Religious - the alternative view | Plain Reason

  39. Susan

    My guess is, as Marx pointed out, the great religions were like opiates for the people.
    With olden day needs to prayer, and being terrified of god, the people were likewise robbed, beaten, enslaved and otherwise exploited for the benefit of rulers and kings.
    Nowadays, it’s anyone’s guess and in a somewhat more leveled playing field, the conmen are taking over the minds of many, who were raised with religions but found them hurtful or lacking.
    But the god who rules us is money.
    And neither religion, science, or woo, or sbnr, are providing an alternative.
    And so the earth being destroyed at the altar of capitlistic gain, is also being sacrificed.
    No matter where on the spectrum of God vs Science, or Woo versus Nature, one might claim to be,
    There is the Earth, Wind, Fire, & Rain, that we All need to Survive.
    What else matters?
    All of it, even my own words, are just fiddle notes while Rome burns.

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