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.
Question from Chris: