Religion: Toward Evidence-Based Spirituality

In a discussion groups of parapsychologists I host, we’ve been thinking about why religion, Western religion in particular, is often against the paranormal.

There are a couple of obvious reasons, such as an establishment of priests (human being with their own hopes and fears) not wanting possible competition from people directly dealing with spiritual and paranormal things, or an absolute either/or attitude: Our religion is The Truth and anything else is Heresy!

This opposition still seems strange to me, for, as I argue in my last book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, the reality of paranormal phenomena shown by rigorous, scientific parapsychological research provides a solid, empirical basis for taking spiritual possibilities seriously, rather than dismissing all science and religion as inherent nonsense, as dominant scientistic attitudes do.  Yet spiritual people show almost no interest in my argument.

But where could we go if we developed a positive use of genuine, essential science to clarify spiritual ideas?

I’ve contributed the following to my discussion group, and I’ll share it here.

As to tolerance among religions, I take, among other attitudes, what I think is a sensible and scientific attitude toward the beliefs of all religions.

–    People have transpersonal, spiritual experiences.
–    Such experiences are usually overwhelmingly important to the experiencers.
–    We humans are designed to “make sense” out of everything we experience, so
–    People create spiritual and religious beliefs to “explain” their experiences and help them deal with them.
–    I treat these experiences as “data” in a scientific sense, and the beliefs as “theories” to make sense of the data.
–    Since the “data” is very complex, hard to remember, hard to describe, sometimes just plain ineffable, the theories, the religious beliefs are pretty crude at this stage of the game.
–    Refinement of these theories, as would happen in ordinary science through testing predictions from theories and obtaining more data is seldom done, because our intense human need for help and comfort makes us get to attached to our initial theories – they become “sacred truths” rather than theories to be tested and refined.  Not to mention prohibitions against examination from those who have become powerful in the existing belief system…..
All of those gets quite distorted by our hopes and fears, needs for safety, power seeking, social adaptation, etc.
But as a transpersonal psychologist and parapsychologist, I think we can study and refine the original data, the experiences, learning to produce them now instead of just relying on accounts from long ago that have been worked over for doctrinal compliance, and thus slowly develop a spirituality that is much more in accord with the rest of what we know about reality, that works better for living people, and that is less distorted by ordinary human needs.  That hope is why the theme of the rest of my life’s work is going to be working toward an evidence-based spirituality.

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