#007: Thinking Out Loud: Finding the Courage to Talk Candidly about Religion

In “Thinking Out Loud” sessions I’ll share my own views in podcast format. In this first one my main goal is to provide information about my evolving views toward religion and my intentions for starting this show. The purpose of this podcast is, in part, to excavate the many valuable aspects of wisdom traditions from the dogma of organized religion.

In particular, I’m referring to contemplative practices such as meditation and yoga and pranayama, which still present us with some of the most powerful tools for understanding consciousness. I’m also a big proponent of the fact that myths have an important role to play in society, and religious metaphors are a legitimate and valuable source of meaning and identity for many people.

But in order to honestly acknowledge the positive aspects of religion for many people we have to be candid about the serious problems that religious beliefs continue to present to free societies, from terrorism to impeding scientific progress to attacks on basic human rights of individuals.

In having honest conversations about the positive and negative aspects of religion I hope to find common ground between those who find themselves on different sides of the fence. In a world that’s increasingly divided–in which we choose to curate content online that conforms only to our points of view and to ignore dissenting opinions–I think it’s essential to find some common ground.

Even more fundamentally, we have to commit to the project of trying to find common ground, of having constructive dialogue. Collectively, we’re doing very poorly at listening to people with opinions different from our own. We can only reason with those who are willing to submit to the basic rules of rational discourse: of using evidence to support arguments and basing conclusions off of evidence. But to those people who are willing to have the conversation we have to try to reach out.

I don’t intend for this show to be a “political” show, but occasionally and inevitably the issues at the heart of this show will intersect with politics and culture. After all, if we’re going to talk about the benefits of psychedelics on this show we’re implicitly saying that we should have the right to take these substances, even when we don’t always make this point explicitly. And I absolutely will make this point explicitly as well!

In having honest, candid conversations about religion we’re going to bump into political issues. In my view an honest discussion about the benefits and problems of organized religion is inevitably going to lead to positions that will offend conventional thinking across the political spectrum.

Way too many of us are stuck in “group think,” in identity politics, in points of view that not so coincidentally mirror those with whom we surround ourselves, both in person and online. I deliberately seek experiences that take me outside of my comfort zone. Psychedelics are a powerful tool for shattering one’s paradigm. Traveling to a different culture is one of the most effective. We can also harness the power of social media to engage with those with different viewpoints, in addition to connecting with others who share similar interests.

We have to “break the spell,” to use Dan Dennett’s phrase, but not only of religious literalism but in adherence to any ideology that demonizes those who dare to dissent. We have to reaffirm the fundamental value of freedom of speech in our willingness to engage in difficult conversations. We want to preserve the best of our traditions, and to discard that which is no longer useful, when we create the brighter, more hopeful future of tomorrow.

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