Atheism Culture Intelligent Design Religion

Silicon Valley atheists falling for new age spiritual flimflam

Spread the love

Further to a recent call for evolutionary psychologists to study atheism, from Caroline McCarthy, a Silicon Valley veteran, at Vox, writes about receiving an invite to a tech entrepreneur event:

“We are bringing together the sacred plant medicine ayahuasca with leaders at the world’s most innovative startups,” the email said. “Together we will go on a journey to deeply explore our individual and collective purpose.”

They were not kidding.

Half of tech workers identified as atheist or agnostic, according to a survey by the Lincoln Network, an organization dedicated to advancing principles of economic conservatism in the tech industry. That’s compared to just 7 percent of the US population who identify as atheist or agnostic (although an additional 16 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated but without either of those two labels), and the respondents in this particular survey skewed slightly conservative.

At Google, I spent every day in a work environment with a specific cultural uniformity — one with its own rituals and deities that have come to feel decidedly contradictory for a population that so fervently rejects “faith.”

One quick scan through the email from the ayahuasca invitation and a pattern of vocabulary emerges: “Sacred,” “purpose,” “transformation” — with this kind of language, you may as well be in church. More.

We need to find out why atheists are a market for flim flam spirituality. Is it the fact that these cargo cults require nothing in terms of intellect, fidelity to principles, or self-discipline? Will it be a sacred animal next year?*

* There are already people claiming to be cats or racoons (a very old shamanistic idea). The furry movement has long been a feature in the Valley.

See also: Sceptic asks, why do people who abandon religion embrace superstition?

and

Call for papers: How did atheism evolve? Evolutionary psychologists now want to study atheism Is it due to natural selection acting on random mutations (Darwinian evolution)? Is it adaptive? A byproduct? A stop on the road to extinction?

17 Replies to “Silicon Valley atheists falling for new age spiritual flimflam

  1. 1
    EricMH says:

    A man who won’t believe in God will believe in anything. – GKC

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Half of tech workers identified as atheist or agnostic, according to a survey by the Lincoln Network, an organization dedicated to advancing principles of economic conservatism in the tech industry.

    Some of the tech workers I know have studied nothing but computer code. It’s difficult to master that area – enormous advances happen frequently. But it’s a one-sided worldview. The same people, recognizing that something is missing, will turn to “spiritual materialism”.
    I heard one of the members of the Grateful Dead describe their message that way. It’s like drug use or any artificial means of getting enlightenment and spiritual peace.

  3. 3
    redwave says:

    A new religion emerges from a milieu of well founded religious beliefs, in which well founded means prevailing, broadly accepted, and codified. This is generally the case and a new religion will have attributes from a religion’s predecessor, yet believed to correct errors in knowledge, advance new interpretations, and extend the experience of the aging religion. The labels called atheism and agnosticism are often used to identify or describe a new religion’s adherents, because the rejection and denial of community gods or a religion’s inability or unwillingness to effectively answer new questions from new experiential knowledge. When there is an expansion of atheism and agnosticism there is a rolling back of continuity between the old and the new, a transitional space broadens. This happens because religious beliefs have both experiential continuity and discontinuity in where a new religion could represent a natural propensity to resolve the discontinuity through reinterpretation of the underlying continuity.

    The present day transitional space for religious beliefs has become fertile ground for speculators, new prophets, avatars, savants, and new messiahs. But within a transitional space for religious beliefs one challenge is the prognostication of which or whom will prevail overtime, which new religion will become the old religion. The old religion could adapt and change in arbitrary ways from the tension with or against the expansion of knowledge and the reinterpretations of accepted knowledge. Yet many adherents of the old religion will migrate to the new religion because of social, cultural, and political pressures, which pressures are typically inter-generational.

    The “generality” of this view has exceptions and the use of the concepts “old” and “new” is imprecise. The imprecision, generality with exceptions, is in part due to the present day existential position in the transitional space and our inability to prognosticate. Atheism and agnosticism, along with old religions, will continue and contract in numbers and import narrowing the transitional space as a new religion develops and expands to fill the space with adherents. Theisms and religious beliefs are not sustainable in isolation from atheism and agnosticism. And a new religion can not emerge outside the milieu of an old religion, or rarely so. The relationships are natural however their oppositional views become.

    We can view the foregoing process only through an interpretation of our history or living long enough to observe, let us say a life lived over multiple generations, a continuous life observing the discontinuities and transitional spaces. An interesting interpretive observation is inter-generational continuity of singular lives are recounted in the oldest religions, exempli gratia, Sumero-Akkadian, Abrahamic, Hinduism, Buddhism, Aboriginal, Ancestral Taoism, et cetera. The unwritten, or oft unconscious, hope of the new is to become like the old, that discontinuity is overwhelmed by continuity, that the new truths asserted will remain, that we emerge from a transitional space into “the light of day”, that we live forever.

    In an informal manner, one might agree with Qoheleth and say, ” … there is nothing new under the sun … “. A new religion will be as perplexed and perplexing as the old religion.

  4. 4
    doubter says:

    It is not unexpected that the oncoming wave toward the lifestyle of being spiritual but not religious is denigrated in this blog.

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    I don’t find it particularly surprising that such people would be drawn towards spiritual or religious beliefs. Scientific and technical disciplines attract highly-intelligent people who understand that neither physics or computer programming, say, can answer questions about the meaning of life or morality, just as atheism alone cannot provide the comfort and support in times of personal crisis which faith can afford.

  6. 6
    Silver Asiatic says:

    doubter

    It is not unexpected that the oncoming wave toward the lifestyle of being spiritual but not religious is denigrated in this blog.

    Point taken. In my view, ID is open to any kind of transcendence. I don’t see ID pointing to monotheism, for example. It cannot determine if there are multiple designers. ID does not point to any one religion either.
    Probably the best way to view this news item from an ID perspective is that atheists will seek something beyond materialism – and that is a good thing.

  7. 7
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    I don’t find it particularly surprising that such people would be drawn towards spiritual or religious beliefs. Scientific and technical disciplines attract highly-intelligent people who understand that neither physics or computer programming, say, can answer questions about the meaning of life or morality, just as atheism alone cannot provide the comfort and support in times of personal crisis which faith can afford.

    Good comment and I think correct.
    I make the mistake sometimes thinking that all atheists are hardened and anti-spiritual. But many are searching and as you say, they realize that physics or technology alone is not fulfilling as deeper answers to human life.

  8. 8
    Silver Asiatic says:

    redwave

    An interesting interpretive observation is inter-generational continuity of singular lives are recounted in the oldest religions, exempli gratia, Sumero-Akkadian, Abrahamic, Hinduism, Buddhism, Aboriginal, Ancestral Taoism, et cetera.

    In America I think there’s a greater mixture from Eastern cultures (Hindu and Islam especially) and maybe that is moving people to try to find a new religion, as you say.
    Atheism will continue but it will have to become more subtle, or perhaps it will not seek open conflict as it has on the internet over the past decades.
    More people are seeing atheism as a dead-end or even worse. It’s a very difficult idea to defend.
    So something like humanism comes out of that.
    I don’t think people like being determined by evolution and neurology alone. They will seek some sort of magic – something like “epi-neurology” — emergent traits in the brain that cannot be traced directly to neurons, but create spiritual awareness.
    I just read something about Isaac Newton’s experiments with alchemy and how modern science really was a product of magic.

  9. 9
    Charles Birch says:

    I’ve always been confused by the use of the word ‘spiritual’ by people holding to a firmly materialist worldview.

    In such a worldview, surely matter and energy account for all that exists. Where in such a worldview does ‘spirit’ fit in? Is it simply another configuration of matter and energy and if so, how does it differ from the general definition of those terms? If it isn’t matter and energy, how can a ‘spiritual’ materialist actually BE a materialist?

    Perhaps a materialist would argue that it’s more to do with transcendence. But how does one ‘transcend’ matter and energy if, under strict materialism, nothing exists BUT matter and energy?

    Can anyone clarify this for me?

  10. 10
    Bob O'H says:

    Charles Birch – can you give examples of materialists using ‘spiritual’?

  11. 11
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    Scientific and technical disciplines attract highly-intelligent people …

    How intelligent can one be who thinks our existence is just an accident? Not very.

  12. 12
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Bob O’H

    There are many examples. You can just Google either “spiritual materialism” or “materialist spirituality”.
    Most Buddhists are materialists.

    But of course, any Darwinist who explains human spirituality as a material emergence is doing the same.

  13. 13
    groovamos says:

    Yours truly is maybe the only person on here who has had feet significantly in everything and every position discussed here. I feel like warning everyone participating in this verbal mileau including the writer of the piece, you guys here, the young atheist tech workers and New Agers of all kinds. Here is where I come from:

    A. raised Southern Baptist
    B. Conservative in high school and first 1-1/2 years college

    C. became politcal and social liberal, obtained MSEE
    D. Atheist during TWO life periods early and late ’70’s.
    E. Student of mediatation and rudimentary Vedic principles, pre-New Age early ’70’s after hanging with meditators woke me out of atheism.

    F. New Ager in the ’80’s in Austin after the New Age movement jostled me out of my 2nd materialist unhappy stupor. Which was itself brought on by materialist based psychotherapy. Became libertarian during the 2nd materialist phase

    G. Worked in Silicon Valley (Sunnyvale) for Lockheed Missiles and Space.

    H. built a sweat lodge in a ravine on my property in Austin and collaborated with a couple of people experienced in leading them.

    I. Hung out in hot tubs and engaged in too much easy sex in New Age Austin.

    J. Became social conservative slowly during the ’90’s and 9-11 was the final blow for me to abandon the libertarian naivete which had held me, and abondoned the New Age after seeing so much ego and hucksterism plaguing the ‘movement’ if you want to call it that.

    K. This is a key one. It is what prompts the desire to be in the middle of all participants in the discussion and warn: WARNING: You are taking a much too simplistic view of all of these social trends even though some of the criticisms are valid. Here is why I give the warning: During the Austin period ca. ’83, began to study intensely the results from consciousness research in many books, essays, bulletins, newsletters, personal endeavors and whatever could get my hands on. Here are my bullet points:

    1. You mainstream Christians if you think New Agers reject Christ and Judaism think again. Most don’t, what they reject is the church dogma of a vengeful god who can mete out eternal damnation and who is unforgiving until forgiveness is somehow earned, like what Dennis Prager thinks. And most of them accept multiple incarnations. As does yours truly based on a wide study of clinical evidence from consciousness research, extensively documented for decades.

    2. You young tech workers going to Latin America for ayahuasca sessions have no clue of the danger of coming to it as a product of western culture taking part in a powerful group ceremony of tribal peoples with a powerful substance. Tribal peoples are closely connected/related and can work through psychospiritual issues in a group. Westerners have to develop their own model for psychedelic application to personal development, and the dominant one is the clinical model. There is another model for westerners that I am not free to discuss here, and the clinicians don’t want you to know of, for political and self-interested reasons. But to summarize, personal psychospiritual issues coming up in group setting is dangerous and can be debilitating long term for westerners. And holding on to materialism at any cost is always debilitating for any person using these powerful substances, and the ridicule of historical religious figures is a symptom of spiritual immaturity and will be a major block at some point.

    3. To the writer of the article I would say: You probably have no clue to the efficacy of microdosing, nor to the power of certain substances to not only enhance and unlock spectacular creativity but to obliterate severe mental aberration and addiction, correctly applied. A high number of people in California are somewhat aware of both points, if somewhat hazily. Most of the psychedelic research is conducted in CA and funded by ultra wealthy CA venture capital types. And all of the training of professionals for clinical application of these substances is in CA, under license from the U.S. government. I am referring to ibogaine and psylocybin. Also many people, yours truly included, have unfortunately observed many committed Christians locked into debilitating mental disease and severe personal problems for whole lifetimes without resolution, many on psychiatric drugs, again without resolution.

    4. To materialists: good luck – you are on the wrong side of history as anthropology and consciousness research plainly indicate.

    5. To New Agers – sorry too much of that stuff is a sham, maybe not all of it. There may be some hidden gems somwhere for you but the corruption of money is overwhelming the scene as are the leftist politics.

    6. To the folks reading this blog, forgive me for the preaching, but I’m witnessing a lot of ignorance on all sides here. I just read an article today on a psychological study of yoga and meditation practitioners which indicated ego boosting after practice which is the opposite of what the traditions are meant for. And I must mention that I’ve known many Buddhists and most of them are atheist but NOT materialist. Buddhism is concerned with the soul growth of the practitioner, if you read the actual literature. Here is the yoga study mentioned: https://www.dailywire.com/news/31967/study-yoga-meditation-makes-people-more-paul-bois

  14. 14
    Silver Asiatic says:

    groovamos @13
    That is significant – thank you.
    I’m not sure where your journey has left you in the present day. I appreciate the details and your learning on this topic.

    Most of the psychedelic research is conducted in CA and funded by ultra wealthy CA venture capital types. And all of the training of professionals for clinical application of these substances is in CA, under license from the U.S. government.

    It’s been that way since the first introduction in the 60s with CIA experiments on human beings. The purpose was to control people, presumably enemies of America at first, but then later was used for social engineering purposes on the youth culture of the USA. I have read some older analysis of Carlos Castenada, for example, and promoters of peyote and it extract, mescaline. There were many fraudulent claims about the supposed tribal spiritual history of such.
    As for Buddhism, I guess it depends on what we mean by “spiritual” but there is teaching on the eternal presence of souls, so yes. But like Hinduism from whence it came, Buddhism does not attempt to logically reconcile its own cosmology. It just asserts an infinite regress of spiritual beings, without explaining origins or how contingent beings can exist without a cause. It’s compatible with materialism since there is no creator and matter can be viewed as having spiritual qualities.

    I just read an article today on a psychological study of yoga and meditation practitioners which indicated ego boosting after practice which is the opposite of what the traditions are meant for.

    Ego boosting is a major problem and a contradiction, as you say. It's supposed to be the annihilation of ego and desire but that is a very difficult exercise to undertake and I would guess that very few new-agers actually attempt that.

  15. 15
    Silver Asiatic says:

    groovamos

    1. You mainstream Christians if you think New Agers reject Christ and Judaism think again. Most don’t, what they reject is the church dogma of a vengeful god who can mete out eternal damnation and who is unforgiving until forgiveness is somehow earned, like what Dennis Prager thinks. And most of them accept multiple incarnations. As does yours truly based on a wide study of clinical evidence from consciousness research, extensively documented for decades.

    This is a key point and I agree. Most New Agers I’ve known do not reject Christ and they make his teachings (to some degree) part of their belief. What happens is that there is a desire for mysticism – something that reaches into unknown areas. And that is a subject area that has been very closed off by many mainstream Christian teachers. Contemplative prayer is viewed with suspicion also.

    Of course, there is such a mixture in New Age. It can go from gnostic Christianity to satanism, spiritualism, wicca or neo-pagan beliefs.

    From my faith tradition (Catholic) we would praise the contemplative, meditative and mystical interests – but we would also have to say that worship of any created being or thing, other than the true God – is a very serious problem because it damages the relationship between the person and God. It’s self-destructive, like idolatry. The human person has so much excellence and has such an immense potential for union with God, that the worship of anything less than God is degrading to this purpose.

    This is not even to mention the interference and conjuring of various spiritual beings, some who could be very evil and very difficult to get rid of once invited in (requiring exorcism).

    So, some good elements, but some very dangerous and bad ones.

  16. 16
    EricMH says:

    I vote for Silver Asiatic and Groovamos to write some articles here.

  17. 17
    Silver Asiatic says:

    wow – thanks for the vote Eric. 🙂
    I did write an article for UD some years back, taking up KF’s invitation, and the theme was something humorous, taking a look at the absurd and funny ideas that come out of Darwinism.

    … in any case, thanks again for the vote of confidence! I agree that Groovamos’ esoteric journey and adventures would be very good to read more about. The New Age movement from the inside. And the question – wouldn’t New Agers be more generally open to ID rather than not?

Leave a Reply