A Moment of Clarity?

Question from Chris:
I’m an atheist and have been all my life but I went to church with my girlfriend who is also an atheist to watch her sister and her husband give a talk at the church her mum and dad run.

But I had a weird moment of clarity were I felt that I was loved and everything was going to be ok. I wasn’t thinking about anything so it wasnt an emotional feeling it just randomly happened, its something I’ve never felt before and it’s made me question my ideas on religion. Got any advice for me??

Answer by SmartLX:
What you had sounds like a textbook “religious experience”, if not an exotic one. No visions of holy figures, no voices in your head, just a sudden good feeling. It may be unexplained, but it’s not inexplicable.

I’m sure your girlfriend’s sister would want you to think God snuck up and hit you with a joygasm. That would be a more credible explanation if similar episodes of “religious ecstasy” weren’t common to churches of every denomination, as well as other religions entirely. If it were really a god handing them out without any further information, wouldn’t he restrict them to members of whichever subgroup was “right”, or at least to his own religion?

You were lucky enough to get yours spontaneously, but people usually have to work for them. Buddhists and members of other Asian religions meditate for years to get closer to the divine, and experience that feeling of peace. In the Philippines people get themselves temporarily crucified to feel closer to Jesus, or to atone for their sins. American televangelists and megachurch pastors tailor their services to create an emotional journey for their audience, culminating in an explosion of joy and praise (sometimes accompanied by fainting, speaking in tongues, faith “healing” and other shenanigans).

So, why did it come so easily to you? My guess is based on one of the only things I know about you: you’ve been an atheist all your life. Perhaps you’ve never been to that kind of enthusiastic, charismatic church before, and never been surrounded by a crowd of people so fixated on the words of someone preaching worship. Never mind the crowd, maybe you’ve just never been subjected to flat-out proselytising as a captive audience member long enough for it to have an emotional impact. If you weren’t concentrating, it could have hit you as if from nowhere. A church service can be a powerful thing, no doubt about it, though probably not for the reasons churchies would like to think.

Whatever caused your “moment of clarity”, it was at least based on something true. You are loved, I’m sure, by your girlfriend and probably by many others. A sense of optimism for the future is justified even if it flows from that alone.

2 thoughts on “A Moment of Clarity?”

  1. I don’t know if what you experienced was a moment of clarity or a melting mood.
    I experience melting moods when I am in certain “holy” places. I do not for the life of me feel that things are going to be alright, but I feel light and uplifted when I go to the sikh place of worship for e.g. (I am a Hindu but I don’t really like Hindu temples – too gaudy for my aesthetic sensibilities).
    If they have the opening likes of the Japji Sahib (their holy book) being recited I get chills down my spine before I get a melting mood.

    I don’t think all this has anything to do with god existing though. It has more to do with human psychology.
    I think what happens is that one relaxes in environments like churches and places of worship. One stops thinking for a moment about the future. Memories of the past rush up. Or worries about the future stop their relentless assault for a while and one feels at peace.

    Being rooted in fact and reason may not give you too much inner peace or calmness or a feeling that everything is going to be ok. But nobody ever said the truth is easy. Religions shield us from bare facts and make us feel happy just like fairy stories make children feel happy. Ultimately one has to grow up and come to terms with the real world and appreciate its strange beauty without the crutches of fairy stories or religions.

    My melting mood experience and your clarity of thought experience is probably basically comparable to adults falling into a nostalgic state when they listen to some old fairy story. Even if you haven’t listened to one before, the fairy tale sounds interesting since it momentarily transports you to another world in your mind.
    The power of the fairy tale is just that – the influence it has on our minds.
    But at the end of the day, its a fairy tale.

  2. I also felt a sudden rush of clarity and happiness for no reason. About a dozen years ago. My wife and I were staying at a small B&B halfway between Southern and Northern California; in the cool morning I strolled alone for a moment outside; even though there was a slight mist in the air, everything suddenly looked unusually colorful, light, clear; flowers were the most beautiful I had ever seen; I felt very, very happy. The feeling lasted a minute at the most. I don’t recall having this feeling before or since.

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