04/21/2017 12:12 EDT | Updated 04/21/2017 12:48 EDT

After Religion And The 'Woo-Woo': Now What?

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USA, Hawaii, The Big Island, Milky Way from Mauna Kea Observatory (4200m)

Recently a friend sent me an article that fascinated me. It's penned by a woman with a similar religious upbringing, and, having abandoned "the faith," now finds the world regurgitating religion -- in new forms -- all over again.

Her article got me to thinking.

Teaching my regular university course on Christopher Hitchens and Religion, this is an issue that regularly comes up with my students. They get themselves free from the entanglements of religion, only to get re-ensnarled in the New-Agey sort. From the gibberish of Deepak Chopra, to the pseudo-science of "energies" and talk of universal consciousness. (Sorry. No free links offered).

As Michael Shermer famously coined them all, "Woo-woo."

It seems to me, as people shed traditional religion, they sometimes can't avoid the hangover, often then being susceptible to woo woo. A world of various expressions, from the extreme to the banal.

How come? For two reasons.

First, this lure into woo woo is to be expected because religion, depending how long and how deeply the believer was immersed, can take years to get over. Years to establish new ways of thinking; new thought processes; years to re-channel feelings, thoughts, and, of course, to work though all the old feelings of guilt and sin.

We can't be surprised at the feelings that well up as we do it.

Coming out of religion can be very similar to the feelings of those who come out of abusive relationships. The abuse resulting from being taught things that retarded your emotions and intellect. Once you wake up, your entire world, and way of thinking, gets overturned.

It shouldn't surprise.

So as you work through it, beware of the religion-hangover and the temptation to move into new, usually disguised variants of religious thought. Always scratch and sniff, because if we look closely at these variants, they all have the same themes that run through traditional religion.

It comes from the same place: It's the need to make sense of the awesome natural world we experience each day.

But we have to base it one what can be known, not on what these people don't know.

And it's on that point of ignorance that these new forms of religion are no different from the traditional sort. Fortunately today, we don't have to make it up. We have made great strides understanding. From the astronomical to the infinitesimal.

Still, what can people do to escape the dread and sense of loss after realizing religion, pre and post forms, are empty?

Here's the second part. Because religion can retard the intellect and learning, since much of it is hostile to religion, learn what they don't want you to learn.

So I'd say, sit back and learn. Not about a world made up by people with no answers -- but about a world, and universe, that has given up its many secrets to us humans who have investigated its wonders!

I speak from experience. I grew up in fundamentalist Christianity. I was a Creationist. I was taught to believe the universe was about 10,000 years old. I knew nothing of the natural wonders of evolution. I didn't read science. I didn't read the classics. I didn't trust "the secularists" in the universities.

But, over the past 30 or so years, I've slowly sloughed off religion. Now, with it almost all gone, I think the therapy is right in front of our noses: learn about the world -- and the universe -- from the perspective of being just a human being. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Here's what I did.

Having been completely stunted in my science education, I've had to educate myself in the sciences. But I was in for a surprise. Watching a documentary about the size of the universe, I suddenly sensed a feeling I experienced at 15 when I had my first religious experience at summer Bible camp. It was an overwhelming feeling of euphoria, awe, and excitement.

Except this time, it was because of the rawest of human emotions: the awe of being conscious, standing in wonder at the natural world. And this time, with the awe I had, I didn't feel like early Homo sapiens, with no understanding. They had to invent the gods, and with it, religion.

Instead, I was thrilled because I also understood what I was looking at! And so the awe only increased.

Watch Sagan's Cosmos. Then watch Tyson's new Cosmos. Watch some docs about what we've discovered about the universe in the last decade. Read a few books about evolution. Watch some videos from the physicist Brian Cox. Read Dawkins', The Magic of Reality.

Read about how evolution took us, for one part at least, from a fish to a human. Read what we are finding out about the brain. Think about how huge the universe is -- and how our own special sun is really pretty tiny compared to the Big Boys out there.

Start to fill up your heart with the natural awe of our real world. Sit under the stars at night. And think about this:

"After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked -- as I am surprisingly often -- why I bother to get up in the mornings." -- Richard Dawkins

And then, whenever those old thoughts come back to haunt you, clear your mind with the best antidote you can find. The real world, and the awe that permeates it!

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