Thinking with You



Experience: How the Religious and the Atheists Are the Same - Part 2

Continued from Experience: How the Religious and the Atheists Are the Same - Part 1.

There were some interesting observations that came out of the analysis of these categories according to identification of one’s belief system, i.e. Islamic, Jewish, Atheist and Christian.

  • All participants from the monotheistic faiths described God in terms of an Interpersonal, Autonomous, Theoretical Phenomenon;

  • none of the participants from the monotheistic faiths described their experience of God as Incongruous.

  • Only Jewish & Christians participants utilised Metaphysical descriptions to describe the experience of the phenomenon of God.

  • Atheists interviewed had an articulable experience of the phenomenon of God in a way which the religious participants did not.

    • Their experience of God can be described as being incongruent with their experience in the world; but,

    • like their religious counterparts they did articulate a deep systematic theoretical experience of God.

    • However, their experience was vastly different to the religious participants in that there was no description of a Metaphysical, Autonomous or Interpersonal phenomenon arising out of their experience.

So, ‘how is it, then’, you ask that, ‘the religious and atheists are the same?’

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What is curiously interesting (to me at least) is that often religious people are accused of drawing their perspectives/belief of God from their own subjective experience. This is stated by non-religious as a negative thing.

However, through been exposed to the vast data in the field of the psychology and then conducting interviews for my study - I’ve found that the Atheist largely does what they accuse the religious of doing. They draw their perspectives/beliefs about God from … their experience.

And every conversation I have had since this same condition has surfaced.

They point to their experience as ultimately the stumbling block for why they don’t believe.

Now, as a religious person I don’t blame them – because psychologically speaking that is how the human psyche works. We all form our beliefs systems from experience (But that is a topic for another article). There is no way around this, e.g. a 3 year old ‘uncontaminated’ by religiosity will still ‘know’ what God looks like when asked to respond to the corresponding stimuli through the drawing of pictures and then provide an explanation.

We started off, in the 1st article, by talking about contamination.

What is interesting is that according to one of the seminary thinkers in the human ‘Stages of Faith’, James Fowler; Fowler posits that the theist and atheist alike are similarly religious.

To keep to the language used in this article Fowler would agree that all of us are contaminated; not in the sense that the blank slate for all humans has been corrupted.

Rather, it is because the structure of the human psyche is programmed, in some way, for the phenomenon of God.

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He would tell you that every human’s view and disposition towards God is not a result of someone else contaminating the subject, i.e. because you are a victim of a white, male, religious hegemony and it was expeditious for a European colonial empire that you be infected with a God concept from a young age.


On the contrary, Fowler assumes the psychological framework is so deeply embedded in the human psyche that whether the 3 year old has heard about God or not is irrelevant.

If they are asked to draw God they going to draw a picture that displays similar elements that a ‘contaminated’ adult would.

What you have to grapple with now is:

  1. how you have come to your current position of what you conceive God to be; and,

  2. If approached honestly, you will have to realise that it is directly linked to your deepest, though not exclusively, earliest human experiences; how you perceived those experiences and how you make meaning from those experiences.

  3. This in turn shapes the way you interact with and what expectations you have towards God.

My Question to you (The religious and non-religious alike),

have you sold yourself short?’.

  • Have you ever seriously analysed the impact of your negative and positive experiences in life and how these may have impacted the way in which you experience the phenomena of God?

  • Have you considered how they may shaped your expectation of, attitude and/or predisposition toward the phenomenon of God?

Your very own experiences may be the colours through which your vision has become tainted or distorted rather than the arguments/reasons you bring to the surface in any serious conversation about God. It may be that you have a blind spot that you’ve never realised or admitted. The disparity might be that you’ve allowed something that’s happened to you dictate how and on what terms you interact with the phenomenon of God.

The world around you and your deepest human psyche might be pointing to the phenomenon of God; but you have let the emotional content of your experiences dictate your acceptance or rejection of God.

Can I encourage you, beyond my desire that people be familiar with my study, to revisit the five categories of my study below (written in a different way from the first explanation).

This time,

Reflect on whether the original category you identified with on further analysis is unsatisfactory to you; or you see one or more of the descriptions below as envious and curiously lacking in your own experience.

Would you make an agreement with yourself to treat the endeavour into the greatest conceivable construct ever comprehended in human history, God, with the respect and dignity you deserve.

Be honest about confronting which experiences have ‘contaminated’ your perception, expectation and attitude towards God.

Then take a step further and like the biblical story of Job, put a cricket box down your undies, get the rest of your gear and go out on the field and have a no hold barred dialogue with God; and start with, ‘Who are you God? If you are real – I am up for experiencing you for who you are and am even willing for it to be on Your terms!’

Consider the Five descriptions of how people experience God:

1.      A two-way interaction with another entity. God is seen as engaging them; as well as, available to be engaged by them at an individual level.

2.      An entity that is self-existent and independent of any individual. God is experienced as a being acting and mediating in the world in and of Himself. An existence which is not contingent upon validation by your human experience.

3.      A theoretical understanding, a phenomenon that is experienced cognitively internally and through various external means and mediums.

4.      As a phenomenon transcending the material world experienced in ways that are intangible, but described through the various human senses.

5.      A phenomenon that is at odds with the world as they experience it and though conceivable hold a deep incongruency with the phenomenon.

‘Who are you God? I want to experience you for who you are and I’m willing for it to be on your terms!’.

No scarier prayer can be prayed and no greater adventure ever taken!

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Nathan Harding