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Dr. Darrel Ray is an atheist, humanist, and psychologist. He is the author of The God Virus, and specializes in issues relating to religious deconversion. [ more ]
If you have an issue relating to religion but no one to talk to, ask Dr. Ray. He doesn’t promise that he has all the answers, but hopefully he will be able to provide insight and experience that will be beneficial for both you and for the many other young people in similar situations.
New Age

 

Dear Darrel,

I was raised in a traditional religion and I no longer believe in it; but I think a lot of Buddhism, Wicca, Eastern Medicine, and New Ageism makes sense to me. Is there a reason I shouldn’t believe in these things, especially if it isn’t hurting anyone? Can I believe in these things and still be an atheist since I don’t believe in God or Allah, but rather a benevolent karmic force that guides and shapes the universe?

From Dr. Ray

You can believe whatever you like. If it makes you feel better to participate in religious rituals that don’t infringe on the rights of anyone else, then it is your right to do so. On the other hand, belief in something does not make it real. If someone said, “I believe that every raindrop has a tiny unicorn in it, and that they love to eat elves for breakfast” would you be convinced that unicorns and elves exist? Or would you think this person might need to visit a mental health professional?

Just as you would require strong evidence of unicorns and elves, you should require equally strong evidence for New Age beliefs. When New Age practitioners claim they can heal people with crystals or alternative medicines, they are making claims that can easily be tested by science. If they won’t submit their claims to scientific testing, then know that they are either swindling you or fooling themselves. Remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

While these alternative religions may seem less harmful than the Abrahamic religions, they are still based on unverifiable claims. Call yourself what you like, but I would not refer to you as an atheist if you still believe in the supernatural. All of the religions you mention are based on some type of supernaturalism.

When you go to your doctor, you probably want him or her to use modern science and base your medical treatment on something more reliable than prayer, karma, energy-flow or astrological predictions. If not, I would be genuinely concerned for the long-term future of your health.

You say these religions “make sense” to you. I would encourage you to put these to the same test you would want from your doctor or car mechanic. Can it be tested empirically? Can the results be reliably repeated? Are their claims backed up by peer-reviewed studies? The scientific method is the only way we know to test reality.

We humans are amazingly good at fooling ourselves. Our brains and senses are in many ways poorly adept at perceiving the lines between reality and fantasy. That is why magicians can do so many things that seem impossible: magicians take advantage of your mental and perceptual blind-spots. Religion does the same thing. The human brain can be tricked into seeing and feeling things that are not there. Religion creates certain feelings and perceptions, then tells you how to interpret those sensations.

Neurological science has found that many so-called spiritual sensations can be reproduced by medically stimulating certain parts of the brain. Out of body experiences have been created with electrical probes in the brain. Feelings of universal love and warmth, have been reproduced with brain stimulation. More and more evidence shows that what religion claims to be supernatural or spiritual is nothing more than your brain responding to situations, chemicals and stimulation.

It is not uncommon for people who leave well established religions to find comfort in more alternative or fringe faiths, but I urge you to examine every belief system with as objective and critical an eye as you did toward the one you were raised in.

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