Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

A personal challenge


Over on Clare Flourish’s post on comment policy, Ark asks

Do you think you would be unable to live your life, or even have a life full of equal meaning and quality without religion?

9th March, 2021 at 7:18 pm

to which I responded with

Ark, you really need to stop thinking that “religion is believing in things you know ain’t true”. I won’t speak for Clare – She is quite capable of doing so herself, but for myself, religion adds to life – gives it a little oomph, and I would miss it if it wasn’t there. If you want a materialistic analogy, while I could probably live quite well on military rations, it pales in comparison to the experience of creating and consuming meals with my wife.

My understanding of religion is, and I’ll quote Sir Lloyd Geering: “Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life“. As he explains:
Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life…”

Belief in deities, the supernatural, or any superstition at all is not a necessary component of religion. And while you may consider religion serves no useful purpose, I feel the same about repeatedly whacking a tiny ball over a net.

9th March, 2021 at 9:28 pm

Ark’s response was

Hello Barry. We rarely converse on the internet so this might be interesting.
I will try not to be boring as I know Clare will be monitoring me very closely. 

In order to appreciate my views on religion let’s for a moment consider its origins, and I don’t just mean the Judeo/Christian religions, (though, as we are dealing primarily with Christianity, we can swing back and focus more on it, if you fancy?) but all of them.

Humans have always assigned agency to the things they did/do not understand.
The ‘gods’ were responsible for everything from rain, to thunder and lightening[sic], volcanoes, babies, and toothache.

When we became a tad sophisticated – developing the basics of language perhaps? – it seemed natural that the gods would choose some of the more sophisticated among us – shaman, spirit guides, voodoo doctors, prophets …. maybe a particular rabbi – to convey His / his /her /their wishes to the rest of the unwashed.

And, umpteen years further down the road, what we now have are considerably more sophisticated humans and therefore, the gods or God, even, has naturally. required much more sophisticated intermediaries, with many many more sophisticated arguments.

It is unfortunate that none of these arguments have ever demonstrated one iota of veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. This strongly suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and credulity.
If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.



10th March, 2021 at 8:52 am

Ark has also started a similar line of enquiry over on makagutu’s blog:

@ Barry.
If we are honest there would likely be no Judeo/Christian religion if it were not for the bible, it being highly doubtful oral tradition would have survived intact with out the written word, and certainly Christianity probably would have died a miserable( but welcome ) death.

So, I wonder what specific value religion can offer anyone?

March 28, 2021 at 17:48

I can’t help having a feeling that Ark is trying to “convert” me from religion and Quakerism in order to “save” me from some undefined, but possibly unfortunate delusional fate. Apologies to Ark if that isn’t the case, but leading statements such as “…maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?” leads me to think otherwise.

Rather than hijack Clare’s post on comment policy, I’ve started this post so that Ark or anyone else for that matter can continue the conversation here. However there are some rules (aren’t there always?) that apply to this particular post. Please respect them.

  • Courtesy and respect are paramount. No name calling, insults or denigration, even by implication.
  • Acknowledgement that even where evidence is not in dispute, the interpretation or conclusions drawn from that evidence can be.
  • There are no absolute “truths”. We draw our conclusion from the evidence, wisdom and knowledge available to us. It is open to new insights at any time.
  • Do not frame opinion to appear to be statements of fact.
  • Discussion must be on the basis that all religions are products of human creativity; that there is no “true” religion.
  • If you wish to argue that any sacred works are infallible, non-contradictory or accurately convey all the truth and wisdom necessary to live life according to the desires of a deity, please find another platform on which to express your beliefs.
  • As I don’t have god-like powers of anticipating the content of comments that any contributors might make, I reserve the right to change these rules as I see fit.

Okay, with that out of the way, I’ll get right down to responding to Ark. In reverse order:

I suppose some might say that table tennis is Hell, however, within the rules of the ITTF no one gets sent there for playing badly or deconverting and opting to play badminton.

There are sporting codes where the banishment did occur for playing another code. For example, until fairly recently, anyone who played Rugby League in this country faced a lifetime ban from playing Rugby Union. For many that was the equivalent of being sent to hell.

I would also like to venture that all claims of having the “wrong” religion or none at all will lead to some sort of divine retribution are human inventions. As far as I’m aware no deity has ever stated otherwise. And quoting a passage from a sacred text without some other independent supporting evidence just won’t cut it.

If one needs a religion – in whatever form you choose – to validate one’s life, maybe it’s time for a serious rethink?

My first thought is “Why should I?” The only basis for doing so would be if there was no exception to the claim that all religions are harmful, and I am yet to be persuaded of that. But if I break the whole sentence down into its components (it’s something my autistic brain does in an attempt to be sure I understand the nuance(s) that neurotypical folk include in their communications) I’m left with uncertainty over two words: needs and validate.

I’m uncertain whether Ark means need as in I need to breathe or eat or whether he means need as in I need the companionship of my wife or I need mental stimulation. The former is a necessity for life itself, the latter for a fulfilling life.

What does to validate one’s life mean? I exist. Why is there any need to validate it? On the other hand, for sixty years my experiences as an undiagnosed autistic were invalidated (written off as unsound, erroneous or inconsequential, and my behaviour as a result of being autistic were considered to be wrong, bad, selfish, inconsiderate and rude and that my future would amount to nothing worthwhile), so perhaps Ark means validate in terms of affirming the worth of one’s experiences or even of one’s existence.

By putting it all back together I presume by needs religion to validate one’s life, Ark means that religion is necessary to have a worthwhile life. If so, Ark must be referring to my own religion as I have made it abundantly clear on many occasions that religion isn’t necessary for a worthwhile or fulfilling life. At a personal level, I find religion enriches my life, but I must emphasise that this is my personal experience, and I would be foolish to claim what is true for me must be true for anyone else let alone true for everyone else. The evidence does not bear this out.

Which brings me right back to “why is it time for a serious rethink?” If anyone is still with me after the tortuous workings of an autistic mind coping with a non-autistic world, I’m going to leave this thought for a moment before returning to it.

As an aside, If anyone is wondering why I deconstruct sentences so much, it’s the result of some rather unpleasant experiences resulting my failure to grasp the intended or implied meaning of a communication and instead grasping the literal meaning, and also of others reading far more into what I have said than what I actually said. Self preservation starts to kick in after being on the receiving end of sometimes high levels of violence, not to mention lower levels of assaults and bullying due to miscommunication.

Ark refers to veracity pertaining to any religious/god claim. Immediately I run into a problem. I appreciate that apologists attempt to “prove” that their beliefs are true, but I make no such claim. So is Ark referring to claims I have not made but assumes I might believe or is he referring to the claims of others? I don’t know. As I’m convinced religion is experiential, and doesn’t come from intermediaries or sacred texts, both of which are of human origin, every person’s experience will be unique and not repeatable.

I suppose there might be an issue with my convincement that religion is experiential because that too cannot be verified. However, if I start from the premise that Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion is accurate, then I think one has little option but to accept that religion can only be experiential.

In the very next sentence Ark suggests that our willingness to believe is all down to two things: Indoctrination and/or credulity. I presume “our” does not include Ark, so that leaves me (and others) to believe something (what?), and that I believe the something because I’ve been indoctrinated (by who) or that I’m credulous. So I wonder what I believe that might be false or due to credulity? Let me repeat Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion:

Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life

Where in that definition does it suggest any specific belief is necessary? It’s a mode of living, not a set of beliefs. I’ll grant that many religions do come with a string of beliefs attached, some of which are untenable in this age, but simply holding a belief that one feels one holds out of religious conviction does not mean that the belief is erroneous, false or or not worth holding. I’ll come back to that shortly.

The first section of Ark’s comment contains an overly simplistic, and might I add condescending, “history” of religion as if I was unaware how religion may have originated. I would say that Ark is only partially correct when he states that humans apply agency to the things they did/do not understand. Humans apply agency to everything. It’s where the agency is unknown or unknowable that they use their creative minds to imagine a possible agency.

Even ignoring the fact that there is no hierarchical structure nor authority within Quakerism, I find the association of hierarchical religious structures to “sophistication” inappropriate. It might have been acceptable to19th century anthropologists but not today. Perhaps Ark didn’t mean to imply refined, clever or cultivated but those concepts are often associated with sophisticated.

On the other hand, if Ark means sophisticated as in a concept that is thorough and well-worked-out, I’d venture that some “modern” religions fall very short. Theological beliefs that are obviously contradictory while insisting they are objectively true doesn not indicate a high level of sophistication to me. I’ll add that “unwashed” is a pejorative term, and I’d prefer it not used here to label those without privilege or with less privilege, which is what I presume Ark means.

Now back to Ark’s serious rethink. To me, religion is a mode of living, a way one experiences the world and the choices one makes as a consequence. I can no more choose to be not religious than I can choose to be not autistic. For sixty years society tried to mould me into “normalcy”. All it did was force me to hide behind a mask where I acted out being “normal”, clumsily at first but I got better with practice, although never perfect. However it came at a high cost: exhaustion and burnout. Does Ark suggest I should pretend to not be religious, and if so, how?

I grew up under the influence of two very different cultures. One that belonged to my parents and many of my peers, and one that was very present in the small community I lived in until well into my fifteenth year. I received wisdom from both, and equally important, I learnt of the mythology of both. I wouldn’t have been ten years old when it dawned on me that the two cultures were different in one very important aspect. One culture divided life into the secular and the religious. The other culture didn’t. Additionally, one culture believed, in fact insisted, that it was the only correct lens through which to view the world. The other didn’t.

In my twenties, I met and married my wife whose background, being Japanese, is very different from my own. She grew up in an environment where Shintoism and Buddhism are integral aspects of life although religiosity is not., and during university she was exposed to some elements of Christianity. Her perspectives have only enriched my understanding of the nature of religion and how one’s world view and religion are intricately intertwined.

While it’s true I’m a product of the society that I grew up within, and probably hold a great many values and ideas that I’m unaware are uniquely a product of culture(s) I am immersed within, I am aware that everything that I value and the way I perceive the world is the product of my exposure to multiple belief systems and world views.

I reached my current position on religion through a process of continually re-evaluating my perspectives based on new information or insights as they became available – a process that still continues and hopefully will continue until such time as this brain ceases to indicate any sign of life. I’m certain that what I consider My Truth today is not the same as My Truth of five years ao, and is unlikely to be the same as My Truth in another 5 years time. I’m sure that’s true of all thinking people whether they are religious or not. So I see no need to make any immediate rethink based purely on Ark’s suggestion. Unless of course Ark has some important information that I’m not aware of, in which case I might reconsider my position based on the new evidence.

Okay, back to being indoctrinated and/or credulity. For this to be true there must be some beliefs that are unsupportable or erroneous or have simply accepted as truths without giving them much thought, so I’m looking forward to learning what those might be. I suppose this might be the place to ask which comes first: beliefs or values. Are specific beliefs derived from the values one holds, or do values arise from a set of beliefs? Or are they merely different sides of the same coin?

Like 90% of Quakers in Aotearoa New Zealand, I came to Quakerism from a non-Quaker background. I understand the situation is similar within most liberal Quaker Yearly meetings. I was first introduced to Quakerism when my wife was asked to provide translation services for a group of Hiroshima survivors and their descendants who were visiting the Quaker Settlement in Whanganui. What struck me at the time was that the values they held and the way they were expressed were consistent with my own.

It would be many years before I ventured to attend a Quaker Meeting for Worship, but when I finally did I was almost overwhelmed by a feeling of “coming home”. There was no mention of God, Jesus, salvation or sin. The Bible was not quoted from or even mentioned during the hour of worship. If my memory serves me right, two people stood and spoke, each for less than a minute. One spoke on a new personal insight in relation to the Quaker testimony on simplicity. The other spoke on a social justice issue and a concern he had about it.

After worship I was again struck by the absolute equality of worth of every person that emanated from the group. For once, my experiences were not dismissed or invalidated. Of course there were other attractions such as how discussion was carried out allowing someone with very little understanding of social cues to make an equitable contribution. That is something I seldom experience on other social experiences including at times within my whānau. And unless you’re autistic, you possibly have no idea what an hour of silence can mean.

The feeling of “being home” is one I do not experience anywhere else other than within my whānau. So Ark, If you think I should give that up please tell me why and what advantages I will gain.

I have titled this post A personal challenge because I suspect coping with responses to this might very much be a challenge for me.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

50 thoughts on “A personal challenge

  1. Christianity, historically, has been very concerned with belief. Constantine defined the relationship between God and Jesus, and his successors persecuted people who thought that relationship was slightly different.

    In Europe we treat “Religion” and “belief system” as synonymous. America has taken it further, with some Christians believing every word of the Bible is literally true.

    Quakers in Britain are drawn to putting “Other” rather than “Christian” on the census: we are a non-Christian religion. For us, it is not primarily about belief, and our belief varies widely. I am an atheist.

    I trashed Ark’s comments because he repeated himself. “It is about practice, not belief” seems simple to me, but he can’t seem to understand. The practice of sitting in silence for long periods together has value, whether what is going on is God talking to us or some psychological process.

    • On our last census I identified as “non-theist Quaker”, no doubt confusing the statisticians. The question was open ended so it must have been a nightmare trying to classify some affiliations.

      Wasn’t it Constantine who delayed his baptism into Christianity until the last possible moment for fear of sinning between becoming a Christian and death?

      We’ll see what transpires with Ark, but as he’s already asked the same question several times in slightly different forms without any indication that he understands the difference between belief and practice I’m not holding out too much hope for a meaningful conversation, but on a brighter note, I’ve exposed myself to criticism from all my readers, so who knows where the conversation will lead 🙂

      • I am aware of research showing that meditation alters brains, though I am not qualified to evaluate it. Separately, I have the experience of Quaker worship, which seems to improve my own functioning. That is my belief: that this practice is worth continuing, that these ways of relating to others have value, that I want to be part of this community. Nothing to do with homoöusion or the Virgin Birth.

        • In one of my “conversations” with Ashley, i provided a link to research that identified specific brainwave patterns were generated by a group of Christian nuns and a group of Buddhist monks during their respective forms of meditation. The conclusion was that the experience of the divine both groups describe was due to the brainwaves. Unfortunately the article reporting the findings then tried to suggest that this might be proof of a supernatural being or energy, wbich spoilt the entire article. But if you stick to just to the research and findings, it’s worth a read. I think sometbing similar occurs from time to time during meeting for worship. I’ll try to locate the article.

  2. Ark, you really need to stop thinking that “religion is believing in things you know ain’t true”.

    Your post is quite long( for me) so I consider it best that you offer me your definitive meaning of religion. otherwise we will be conversing at cross-purposes from the word ‘Go’.

    And if you can keep it concise, and succinct I’d appreciate it.

    Over to you -…..

    • Sigh. It’s highlighted in bold in the paragraph immediately below the one you quoted from above. It is very short – just one sentence. If you find reading that far too much, I dont see much prospect of a meaning discussion. But, it’s over to you…

      • I read the quote, when I initially read your post. I asked the question to avoid any ambiguity and potential misunderstanding, Barry and to ensure clarification.
        So, do you consider this is your position/understanding regarding regarding religion?

          • Excellent ! So we now have a foundation for a discussion.

            Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life

            In that case, what religion do you consider I follow/adhere to?

            • Let’s assume for the moment that you accept without reservation Geering’s definition of religion, and that that definition applies to you, what on earth possesses you to think I might possibly know what your religion is? Perhaps a supernatural entity has whispered in my ear? I’m sorry but I cannot make any statement to either confirm or deny that possibility.

              Note that I phrased my answer differently from your question. I answered as if your question was “what do you consider my religion is”. It was deliberate. I do not follow Quakerism, nor do I adhere to Quakerism. I am a Quaker and if you wish to give my religion a name rather than receiving an info-dump (an art perfected by autistics) on my experiences, values, practices (and beliefs that arise out of those), call it Quakerism.

              I’m aware that some people might fail to grasp that following implies the taking up the practices and beliefs of another person, and adhering implies obedience or allegiance to a set of beliefs, But I’m confident you already knew that.

              And while I jest about a supernatural entity whispering in my ear, I am genuinely curious to understand why the question was posed in the first place. Care to enlighten me?

            • Defining terms and meanings is what language is all about. It is how we understand.
              And the less that is left open to interpretation the less chance misunderstandings occur.
              I’m sure you can appreciate this and also acknowledge that wars have been started over such misunderstandings, not least among the ”religious”.

              I would have replied earlier but we are having anither round of intermittent power cuts down here. Anyway, while we did have power and while waiting for your reply I took the opportunity to read the discussion/s on this topic you had with Tildeb ( and Consolreader) on a couple of similar blog-posts
              The explanation of your personal interpretation of Quakerism more or less sums up my frustration with those who consider themselves religious and i reckon Tildeb covered more or less everything that you and I might discuss on this topic, including his views regarding religion, the torture of language, and its meanings – all of which pretty much echo my sentiments.

              As one of the threads appeared to remain in limbo, if you feel there is something/anything you would like to add which might present this religion in a more positive light then I am more than willing to discuss it.

            • While I gather my thoughts into something that makes sense in written form, I’m still curious to know why you asked the question “In that case, what religion do you consider I follow/adhere to?” Your answer will possibly dictate how I proceed from here.

            • Because of this quote you featured:
              Religion is a total mode of the interpreting and living of life

              Hence my question.

            • I should have added as a qualifier. You do know I am an atheist and antitheist, yes?
              This makes the quote even more ridiculous and why I asked the question.

            • Yes, am aware that you are an atheist and an antitheist, neither of which preclude the possibility of you still following a nontheistic religion, but from what I know of you that seems very unlikely. So just humour me here. If you did follow a religion, again, as I asked above, what on earth possesses you to think I might possibly know what your religion is?

            • You seem to be missing the point. Your quote is quite explicit in describing what he/you consider a religion to be, some sort of all embracing mode of life, thus knowing l am an atheist and anti theist I wondered what religion I could possibly be, hence my question.

            • I am clearly missing the point. I still am.

              From what I know of you, you are also against all forms of religion (which I am not), but it still does not inform me whether you have a religion (which, on the face of it, seems improbable), and if you do, what that religion might be.

              If your opposition to religion is so all embracing, all consuming, that it influences your every action and how you relate to others then perhaps it might be a form of religion (as Geering defines it) which perhaps we might label “anti-religionism”. But you know yourself better than I do.

              I also think you’re missing the point of Geering’s definition of religion. I have yet to find a dictionary definition that covers all forms of religion. In fact in almost any discussion on religion, a definition of what religion is in the context in which it is to be discussed seems to be mandatory.

              Geering’s definition is appropriate in the context of discussing religion, as (in his words) it includes every known religion, and he is convinced it includes every possible future religion. I’m not sure if it would be an appropriate replacement for dictionary definitions. Perhaps as an additional description.

              As you agree, this definition can be taken to mean an all embracing mode of life. But knowing one’s stance on deities, does not inform others what, if any, all embracing mode of life one has. It just informs others what one’s stance on deities is.

              Here’s two articles discussing the problem of defining religion:
              What Is Religion? …and the Problem of Defining Religion
              Defining Religion and Spirituality

              It seems to me that religion is one of those things that could be described as “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it”.

              I’ll sum up this way: Having a belief in the existence of deities does not necessarily mean one is religious or follows a religion. It just means one believes in the existence of something I do not. Likewise, being religious or following a religion does not necessarily mean one believes in the existence of deities. It just means one lives religiously.

              On a personal level, I passionately embrace a set of tenets that influence every aspect of how I live, how I interact with others and what causes I work at. That is why I describe myself as religious. If you prefer to use some other term, that’s fine with me.

              Here’s some examples of why I think your question is odd:

              Knowing my father’s intense dislike of (organised) religion and proselytising, that he was either agnostic or an atheist and was an avid surfcaster doesn’t mean he had a religion (unless you were to consider fishing a religion). It tells you nothing about how he viewed life, whether he had any superstitious beliefs, how he interacted with those around him or what causes/issues he was passionate about. It tells you nothing about whether or not he had a religion.

              Knowing Clare is trans and self identifies as an atheist does not inform you what her religion might be and how she practices it.

              Knowing I’m an anti-realist, a nontheist and and a “soft antitheist” (it would be better for humanity to understand that deities are a creation of the human mind) does not tell you what my religion is.

              From the information contained within this comment, can you tell me what are the religions of my father, Clare and myself? Now do you understand why I cannot see the point of your question?

            • I do not consider anything that is generally understood to be atheistic to be religious and as far as i’m concerned the use of the word over and above the colloquial sense, as in “I follow Liverpool religiously” for example, to be a misappropriation of the term. I would have thought it obvious I was being facetious when I asked my question

            • It was not obvious to me. I am autistic. That is why I asked.

              Facetious may be defined as “joking or jesting often inappropriately” or “not serious.” Sarcastic, on the other hand, while still concerned with humor, tends to imply a more caustic or biting quality that is often intended to cause pain

              I take most comments at face value and I wouldn’t recognise facetiousness if it bit me on the arse. I often don’t pick up on satire and irony for the same reason, as with colloquialisms, idioms and metaphors.

              So I take it that to you, being atheistic means more more than just having a lack of belief in the existence of god(s), In almost every discussion I’ve had with atheists they labour the point that atheism is not a belief that there are no gods, but simply a lack of belief in the existence of gods. They compare their lack of belief in gods to their lack of belief in the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster – there’s no evidence of their existence.

              On the other hand, I compare my belief in gods to a belief in the existence of Platform 9 ¾ or Frodo being a real hobbit. All three are products of human creativity. They have their place in storytelling but that’s where it should end.

              Where we definitely part company is over the relationship between a belief in deities and religion It would appear that you consider there is a direct relationship while I don’t

              For example many deists are in no way religious, follow no religion and have no theology (apart from the existence of a watchmaker entity) yet they still accept the existence of a deity.

              And in many religions, a belief in deities is non essential, including Unitarian Universalism, Quakerism, Buddhism, some schools of Hinduism and many forms of animism.

              also see:
              Cline, Austin. “What Is Religious Humanism?” Aug. 28, 2020

            • And I reiterate … my views regarding use of the word/term religion align with those expressed by Tildeb in the extended discussion you and he had on a separate thread.

              Without reading through the entire dialogue again, I seem to recall he used the word ”torture” in reference to the way the word has been misappropriated.

              Personally, I see no point in labelling oneself an Atheist Quaker, for example, and still regard oneself as religious.
              But each to his or her own.

            • I Think I can safely say that my religiosity is based on what I personally experience, not on what I believe in “theological” terms. I don’t see them as being different from the experiences of many others. While for some who are religious, their experience of the “divine” is attributed to supernatural forces, typically a deity, while for myself and many others at the liberal or progressive end of the religious spectrum it’s attributed to entirely natural “forces” – the complex operation of our minds as a result of evolution and social conditioning.

              I disagree that I’m torturing or misappropriating words. Language is dynamic, in a constant state of flux. Words gain new meanings all the time. Other words become wider or narrower in in meaning. Sometimes it’s necessary to invent new words. Other times an existing word can be appropriated or repurposed to label new concepts.

              Unlike some people I do not consider that dictionaries define words. They report on accepted and common usage. I use words as I find them in common usage in the communities in which I am immersed. These are not the same communities that you are immersed in so I can understand why some terms mean one thing for me and another thing for you.

              I accept you have a different perspective on religion, but my thoughts on the subject are not new – they’ve been around since before the Enlightenment in various forms. The understanding of what religion is continues to develop, and I believe you have an understanding of religion that is too black and white and overly simplistic. Clearly you and Tildeb see it differently.

              But I’m just as guilty of insisting some words are being tortured. Two of the many that set me off are the use of the word “kiwi” and the other is using the word “pavlova” to describe a meringue concoction that definitely isn’t a pavlova. You’d be surprised by how many non New Zealanders have insisted that I really have no idea what the word “kiwi” means. Such is the nature of language.

            • The notion that my atheism and indeed my worldview is in any way religious is simply ridiculous.

              This is why I find it baffling why you wish/need to consider what you are / believe is religious, especially as the underlying understanding of the word (in Western culture especially) is in some manner a form of worship or reverence of the divine?

            • We clearly have different styles of communication. Your first sentence seems to imply that I think you are in some way religious. I don’t. It was you that asked me to label your “religion” – three times. As I have stated from the outset, religiosity is what I experience. It’s not necessary for everyone to have a similar experience. As Geering’s definition states, it is a mode of living, not the mode of living.

              Your second sentence is confusing as it starts as a statement with “This is why I find it baffling…” but ends with a question mark. If I ignore the question mark and view its entirety as a statement with no question posed then my response is as follows:

              Your assumption that “Western” culture is a homogenous entity is mistaken, but before I go any further, I must point out that “Western” culture has been heavily influenced by Christianity whether we like it or not.

              I can’t speak for others, but I find American culture more “foreign” to me than Māori culture, Japanese culture or Pākehā culture. “Western” culture has no place for individuals who for no fault of their own are unable conform to a narrow concept of “normality”. In my formative years, I was someone who was tolerated at best, and it was socially acceptable for me to be a target of bullying. Quite simply, my experience and understanding of the world was coloured by my neurology and by how I was treated by “Western” society.

              I was befriended by a kaumātua whose property backed onto ours. I don’t know her age precisely, but I as best as I can calculate based on her childhood experiences, she was probably 85 to 90 years older than I was at the time. She lived through the New Zealand Land Wars. From her and other Māori in the small community where I lived, I learnt to view the world differently, where there’s a reverence for all life that seems to be absent from “Western” culture. All life is sacred. Entire ecosystems such as rivers, forests, mountains are living entities. They are treated with the same respect “Westerners” reserve for human beings. I learnt their myths, and as oratory is a highly valued art form in Māori society, the storytelling was more compelling and alive than that I heard from “Western” sources.

              Then in my early twenties I meet (and eventually married) a person whose worldview is definitely not “Western”. Her world view is derived from Shinto and Buddhist perspectives. Having shared my life with her for almost fifty years, I have learnt to understand another way of viewing the world.

              In more recent decades, the renaissance of Māori culture is influencing the development of “Kiwi culture” in ways many Pākehā are reluctant to acknowledge. Some oppose it, while others such as myself embrace it. I think our understanding of what religion and spirituality is and how to view concepts such as deities, the divine, storytelling in religious form (the Bible being one) and religion itself is very different from what might be termed an “American Christian” perspective.

              So my understanding, experience and reverence/awe of “the divine” (whatever that means – a topic for another time perhaps), nature, social structures, communities – humanity – is coloured by my experiences. They have had a profound effect on how I relate to everything around me. I am always conscious of that fact, which is why I believe the term “religious” applies to me. If you prefer to use the word “spiritual” instead, so be it. I acknowledge that these words now have slightly different connotations, but in the days when I first started examining such concepts around 60 years ago, the two words were used synonymously.

              May I conjecture that for many, and especially in the “West”, “religion” is a prescribed set of beliefs. Accept those beliefs as Truth(s) and bingo! you’re religious. Those Truths are set in stone and are unalterable for all of time. Whether or not one practices the meanings/values behind that set of beliefs often seems to be irrelevant.

              For others, what we understand is derived from a personal interpretation of our experiences. Those understandings are the basis of our beliefs. As our interpretation of our experiences are subjective and can change over time, so too are any beliefs derived from them. Our religiosity or spirituality is derived from how we interpret our experiences, not by adhering to a set of prescribed beliefs. When we share those beliefs or the interpretations (or both) we have formed or joined a religion. A religion is a collective of shared beliefs derived from the religiosity of its members.

            • This is the key sentence ….


              blockquote>Our religiosity or spirituality is derived from how we interpret our experiences

              My (life) experiences) in no way whatsoever lend themselves to the labels, religiosity and spirituality.
              And to borrow one of Tildeb’s terms, they smack of nothing but woo.

            • Sorry. No idea why some of your comments end up in moderation.

              In effect, what you are saying is that because you do not experience what I experience, my experiences and how I interpret them are meaningless and/or invalid. Is that correct?

            • No. What I am saying is that, as humans, there is every likelihood we will experience a great many things that are similar; joy, love, anger, laughter, hurt, etc etc. even down to similar circumstances.

              The major difference being you are attributing terms to these feelings/emotions/experiences – religiosity and spirituality – that are, in context, effectively meaningless.
              The question that ‘baffles’ me is why on earth would you use such terms?

            • I think we are getting somewhere. I have alexithymia, sometimes referred to as emotional blindness. Around 10% of the population have it to some extent but it is much more common within the autistic community. For the most part, I can not recognise emotions in others, and I am even worse in recognising my own emotions.

              Of the emotions you mentioned, I have no idea what joy feels like, and I’m not sure whether I fully understand love. I recognise anger when it’s at a very high level, but feelings such as irritation, annoyance or frustration I’m oblivious to. When I do recognise emotions it’s due to the physical effects they cause, not the mental state I’m in, so laughter is very obvious, but feelings of hurt are not.

              Most people can pick up on the emotions of others around them and there is an effect often referred to as “herd mentality” in a positive sense, and “mob mentality” or”gang mentality” in a negative sense. Autistics often joke about this as a type of communal bio-feedback loop where the collective emotions of a group are amplified and fed back to the individuals within it. Autistics generally are unaffected by this phenomenon. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

              As I have indicated I have very little awareness of my own emotions, but there is one emotion or feeling that I am very much aware of. It strikes me often and sometimes in ways that are almost overwhelming. I suppose it’s a sense of awe or reverence, but as I’m not entirely sure what those really are, I can’t say for sure. This feeling is hard to describe, but the best I can do is describe it as being one with the “divine” although perhaps one with the cosmos or perhaps one with the universe would be other ways of describing it. It seems very much like what others describe as a “religious experience”, so until a better term comes a long I will continue to describe it as such. Note that I’m referring to the experience and not the cause.

              I believe I am (mostly) a rational person and whatever I feel/experience is purely the result of brain activity. Research has shown that gamma waves are often associated “feeling of blessings”, “one with the universe” or “in the presence of God”. I must emphasise that this is an emotion/feeling/experience and not an objective reality.

              If I lived in another time, or perhaps even if I lived in the present time but in a society where religion is particularly strong and science is devalued, then perhaps I might associate the experience with a “higher power” of some sort. But I live in a largely secular society where the majority have no religious affiliation, so I look to science to explain, at least partially, what it is that I experience.

              When I feel particularly religious or spiritual, I’m guessing there’s a higher level of gamma waves within my brain than at other times. I have had a number of EEGs over recent decades, the results of which have often confounded neurologists. For example, I produce exceptionally high levels of low frequency waves in the region of 4 – 5 Hz, which according to one specialist meant that I should be either unconscious or catatonic, yet there I was discussing the results with him. Likewise, the level of alpha waves produced while in a relaxed state changes depending on whether one has one’s eye open or closed. Except mine are the reverse of what should happen. Perhaps my neurology influences how I experience some aspects of life.

              Back to the herd mentality effect. Research involving Carmelite nuns shows that the amplitude of gamma waves increased markedly during contemplative prayer as a group. I daresay something similar occurs from time to time during Quaker Meetings for Worship. This seems to be the only situation where herd mentality affects me. No idea why it should be so as I’m otherwise unaffected.

              Particularly, this experience is strongest at times of contemplation about the principle values of Quakerism – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality and Stewardship and this motivates me to act accordingly. As they occur during occasions of considering values and the urging to act as a result is another reason why I refer to them as religious. What I experience doesn’t seem to be all that common, and on occasions when it has been described, it’s often been interpreted as originating from a “higher power”. Because I experience this in the context of religion I think that describing the experience as religious is appropriate.

              I suspect religiosity/spirituality is no more than another human emotion or perhaps a collection of less esoteric emotions that humans have attributed to something other than originating within themselves – in other words a “higher power”. We now live in an age where that is no longer a viable proposition, but it does in no way diminish the nature of the experience – only what we attribute it to. And because the emotion/feeling/experience has always been described as a “religious” experience, it makes sense to me to continue using the same word for the same experience. The difference is that we now understand that it does not originate from a “higher power”.

              You could perhaps invent a new word to replace “religious” or “spiritual”, but I prefer to be part of a trend to re-purpose an existing word. In time hopefully the word “religion” will cease to refer to deities or “higher powers” or the supernatural at all. This is already happening within many sections of New Zealand society. Whether or not it will occur elsewhere is open to speculation.

              As to whether everyone has religious experiences, no I don’t think so, nor is it necessary to have them. And in the case where someone is convinced that they have received revelation directly from a deity, it has the potential to be very harmful, as history has shown repeatedly.

            • Thank you for the explanation. It has made things clear for me now. Or, at least, somewhat clearer.

              It seems very much like what others describe as a “religious experience”, so until a better term comes a long I will continue to describe it as such.

              There is a better term and that is My (One’s ) humanity.

  3. For me, religion is a set of rules of do or don’t, follow or don’t. Faith, is finding hope, comfort, strength in what brings you peace. It is not a religion, but a relationship of the heart. In what ever you believe.

  4. Incidentally your definition of religion is not far from what p’Bitek called philosophy of life-

    • The fact that he was “unpopular” with the Idi Amin regime means he’s worthy of further investigation 🙂

      • I hope you can find his books in your local library. Or bookshop.

        • Bookshops? What are they? They’ve gone the the way of the dodo especially outside of cities. We have one “bookshop” that sells some paperbacks along with magazines, stationery and greeting cards. Anything more “cerebral” requires a journey to the city.

          The local library has nothing, but I haven’t checked the National Library Service (a sort of nationwide library for libraries)

  5. Barry, there is a comment in moderation

  6. The psychologist C G Jung maintained that humans have a religious instinct. If you suppress it as atheists do (and I was once one) it will always come back in some form, not always useful.

    For example, many atheists, who usually identify as ‘scientific’, have an irrational attachment to the creation story called the ‘Big Bang’, even though the evidence for it has always been weak, and the evidence against it is growing. The refusal to look at other possibilities is not scientific. I would call it pseudo-religious.

    I like your idea Barry that ‘belief’ is not necessary. I call myself an agnostic on most things. Do I believe in God? I have no idea what God is. But I’ve felt that religious instinct all my life. I remain sympathetic with Christians, Muslims, Hindus, native people, etc because only they seem to recognize that there is something bigger than us.

    I don’t see any point in arguing with someone like Ark. Anyone who uses meaningless phrases like “validate one’s life” is just playing word games. That’s not someone searching for truth. Whenever I encounter this type I’m reminded of a long argument I had with a Marxist in the Naples, Italy youth hostel in the winter of ’65-66. When I finally realized that he would argue black is white if he thought it would help his case, I got up and walked away. That’s the only way to deal with them.

    Finally Barry, your description here of how you came to be a Quaker was very moving, and interesting. The Quakers have this remarkable below the surface presence that has been there for a long time – one of the few things that give me hope in this time when lying and misinformation have become political tools. How many Quakers are there in New Zealand?

    • Thank you for your comment. I do appreciate it.

      As for how many Quakers there are in NZ, there’s somewhere between 1000 and 1500, so we’re relatively thin on the ground.

      • Now that got me interested – depending what site you look at there are 350,000 – 400,000 in the world. According to Wikipedia, where someone has done a lot of work, there are 73,360 in the USA where you would expect the most, but 146,000 in Kenya! There’s a story I’m sure. Although 400,000 isn’t a large number, Quakers seem to have a stronger voice than many larger Christian groups. I think you Barry are one of their best voices.

    • As a rule I will always follow where the evidence leads.
      No evidence has ever led to a god.

      • Why bring up gods? And why bring up evidence? Discussion of how one interprets ones experiences of the world around us requires neither.

        I’m satisfied that many people have experiences that can be described as religious. I do. You don’t.

        Here’s a way of looking at it. I’m sure you know I’m autistic. According to autism experts, autistic people have a number of deficits, one being in social communication. And to them and and most neurotypical people that’s what they see. Put an autistic person amongst a group of nonautistic people they do indeed struggle. A bit like a fish out of water. The evidence is based on an interpretation of what nonautistic people observe about the autistic person. But is that accurate?

        Autistic people say all people struggle with communications when they are required to communicate in a style that is different from their neurotype. Autistic people don’t struggle when communicating with another autistic person.

        Both nonautistic people and autistic people see the same evidence. The interpretation, meaning, and significance of that evidence differs considerably between the two groups. I think something similar occurs between the way religious people and non-religious people interpret their experiences. In some ways you’re like the majority of autism experts who see autism only as a pathology, a disorder and refuse to accept any other way of understanding what autism is.

        • Alan raised the subject of religion and included God ( sic) so I responded.
          He was also having a dig at atheists, him claiming he was once one. I wonder what his emotional issue was that caused him to ditch critical thinking in favour of woo?

      • You can’t talk about evidence until you have a definition of a god. If you define it as I do for myself – “something bigger than us” – there is a mass of evidence for that.

        • Mass of evidence? Really? Then I am fascinated. Please, be my guest and present some of this evidence.

          • If you go to my website ( and look up a March 9/21 post ‘Paranormal World | Dreams entering reality’ you’ll find a little example of what I mean – if you’re interested, there is another at Nov 5/2019 ‘Paranormal World | God likes Tolstoy more than me’.

            • I read the post you linked.
              However, how mouse fetuses or any other example you suggested/alluded to are in any way indicators / evidence of God(sic) or “something bigger than us” is simply wishful thinking.
              Or, if you prefer: attributing agency A term that fits the bill nicely, I think.

              Whichever term you like to use, you have not produced this “mass of evidence” you asserted exists.

              I know you will likely be tempted to fire off some asinine quip but this won’t demonstrate the veracity of your claim.
              Perhaps you could present more direct ( concrete) evidence rather than the paranormal ( sic) examples you favour?

            • I don’t talk about God at all – when I say something bigger – I’m referring to the complexity of what surrounds us – if you can’t see that this includes intelligence that exceeds ours, at least in the sense that it operates far beyond ours, no one can make you see it. I won’t waste my time trying to do that.

            • What do you mean by

              You will have to define the term precisely if you wish to make an argument for it.

  7. Any dictionary definition of intelligence I have ever seen was inadequate. Trying to define it, people just get into arguments about it. Yet we all recognize intelligence when we encounter it.

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