in Skepticism & Post-Faith

A Recovering Yogaholic

The Lure of Yoga

A Chinese Australian, photo by Alex Proimos

A friend asked me recently, “Why don’t you just let people believe what they want if it makes them feel good? After all, belief in things like angels, energy healing, or yogic powers can make people feel good and help them cope with their confusing lives in a scary world”.

We are confronted every day with fantastic, bizarre, and outrageous claims. Your friend tells you she was healed by energy, has spirit guides, or that yoga released the bliss of her soul. Or, your buddy claims some new pills are supposed to help you shed 30 pounds in less than 30 days; or, supplements promise to extend certain male parts by inches; or, a spritz of Paris’s perfume will transform you into the ultimate seducer, complete with gorgeous babes clinging on your buff arms. See a familiar pattern of thinking or the lack of critical-thinking here?

Smart People With Irrational Beliefs

Many smart and intelligent people have irrational beliefs. Especially when it comes to paranormal and supernatural things like- the afterlife, astral projection, chakras, ESP, kundalini, psychics, reincarnation, souls, yogic or mystical powers- all are irrational beliefs. You may revolt at my statement, but it’s true. All these beliefs have no basis in reality. Consider me your case study and read on.

While a child, I believed psychics could bend spoons with their minds, yogis had ESP, and Bigfoot wandered the Pacific Northwest. As a young adult, in college, I discovered yoga meditation. I was lured into yoga by slogans it was the “science of religion” or “science of soul realization”. Eventually, I was ordained a monk, meditated for four hours daily, chanted Om to commune with the great ascended masters, and tried sincerely to open my chakras and awaken to cosmic consciousness.

Expose Yourself to Scrutiny

You too, definitely, have beliefs that others think are weird. Being open about your beliefs to others who may not agree takes courage. You then expose yourself to scrutiny. But, constructive honest debate about the merits or validity of our ideas is the only way we progress as a person and as a human race.

Be rational, Get Real, photo by Leandro Ardissone

Be rational, Get Real, photo by Leandro Ardissone

Some friends and family think I’m strange for being a skeptic, a rational critical-thinker, and for no longer believing in gods or the supernatural. They don’t even know what a skeptic really is, nor how thinking like a scientist leads to the most reliable answers to questions and to solutions to problems. If being considered strange is the price for being constructively honest, and for thinking skeptically and rationally, well, I am good with that. With my history as a gullible meditating monk, who invested 14 years of his life wholly immersed in yogic fantasyland, I think I’ve earned my dues to speak out against wacky claims and to advocate for reason and skepticism.

A flashing red light should go off in your mind whenever someone tries to discourage you from questioning any belief or supernatural claim. The only time it should be acceptable not to question a claim is when we are really, truly in immediate danger of our lives. “Believed” or imagined dangers don’t count as excuses to shut-down anyone’s questions and sincere doubts. Threats of hell, satan, or ego delusion are not immediate dangers. I think deep down we all know our supernatural beliefs will survive only if we don’t question or think about them too much. It’s a slow and painful process to be constructively honest with ourselves and logically examine our long-held irrational beliefs.

Years ago I allowed myself to be lured into believing that I would discover god, soul, and true knowledge through ecstatic yoga meditation. Today, I offer myself as a case study to reliable knowledge which doesn’t rely on irrational beliefs–a path that is wise and wondrous beyond belief.

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Works Cited

Harrison, Guy P. 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True. New York. Prometheus Books. 2012. Print.

Schafersman, Steven D., An Introduction to Science: Scientific Thinking and the Scientific Method, Department of Geology Miami University 1997. Web. 15 Oct 2013.

Leave a Reply

  1. So interesting. I was always a bit of a skeptic. Though raised Mormon and having some crazy beliefs I was drawn to science and critical thinking. Thanks for the article.

  2. I think sometimes some people so strongly want some kind of belief system to hold onto they come to skepticism and science as their religion. I think this is what happened to me. I think truth and facts are good but I think dogmatism is bad. And sometimes people can be just as dogmatic and in your face about science and objective truth as people can be about religion.

  3. @Jeff: I agree. We humans are gullible to all kinds of illusions, emotional tricks, and mental traps.

    Scientists and skeptics are no less gullible or susceptible to cognitive biases. Awareness is half the battle. With the humility to admit we don’t know, that we don’t have all the answers (and we catch ourselves when we fill in the blanks with our biases and assumptions–what we want consciously or unconsciously to believe) we then have a chance keeping open enough to discover reality or truth.


  4. I seek that which is real within my own being. As individual spirit, we all have uniqueness and skepticism is normal. We all have to find peace. Perhaps 14 years a monk was not wasted- just a lesson. When I began to think SRF was THE only dispensation, I began to dream (Pre internet days) of their human weaknesses-too regulated-Guru isn’t an organization. We’re snowflakes, and there’s no true way. The great thought “who am I” is my way to seek that bliss- (Hong Sau). Sanskrit chants to Devi Shiva etc focus my being at times. It is a singular path-no 2 exact. Just my 2 cents!

  5. @David: Would’ve been better for me to learn my lesson in much less time or not have joined the ashram at all. What I know now is that is was a waste of time. Easy to say now in hindsight. Hard lesson learned.