In the 1300s, an unknown Christian mystic wrote lines such as this, from The Cloud of Unknowing:
"And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge...On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love rest."
This seems something like zen, or taoism, or some strain of Buddhism. Go after experience.
We can delve into the neuroscience of religious, mystical, or ecstatic experience, and find some relation to activity in the temporal lobe; we may look at dogmatic religious recitations and find other areas that light up on an fMRI. Of course. But what we all want is something like the experience, right? The dogma, the paint-by-numbers phoning-it-in generic "faith"may act as security blanket or allow the illusion you have Fire Insurance or a Free Get Out of Hell Card in your hip pocket, but deep down, don't we all know that's just bullshit?
"Oh yes! I tried to have a religious experience and nothing came, but I have faith that it will come, if I just keep praying and saying the right words." Yep. I hope it works for you eventually, but I won't hold my breath. Experience of something extraordinary and Other takes work, usually.
of Max Weber's "religious virtuosi."
The Negative Way, by Jalaluddin Rumi the Sufi
In the presence of the drunken Turk, the minstrel began to sing of the
Covenant made in eternity between God and the soul.
"I know not whether Thou art a moon or an idol, I know not what
Thou desirest of me,
I know not what service to do Thee, whether I should keep silence or
express Thee in words.
'Tis marvelous that Thou art nigh unto me, yet where I am and where
Thou, I know not."
In this fashion he opened his lips, only to sing "I know not, I know not."
At last the Turk leaped up in a rage and threatened him with an iron
"You crazy fool!," he cried. "Tell me something you know, and if you
don't know, don't talk nonsense."
"Why all this palaver?" said the minstrel, "My meaning is occult."
Until you deny all else, the affirmation of God escapes you: I am deny-
ing in order that you may find a way to affirm.
I play the tune of negation: when you die death will disclose the mystery ---
Not the death that takes you into the dark grave, but the death whereby
you are transmuted and enter into the Light.
O Amir, wield the mace against yourself: shatter egoism to pieces!
-Rumi, 1207-1273, translation by R.A. Nicholson
DIY Scientific Approaches to Religious Experience...
...Seem best developed by The Most Evil Man in the World, according the British press at the time of the Evil Man's flourishing. He died in 1947. His name: Aleister Crowley. I can't go into it here - and many of the readers of OG are probably ahead of me here anyway - but Crowley developed a dizzying array of methods of systematic Faith, then systematic Doubt, with much alteration between the two poles until Something New happened to one's organism: ecstatic experience. However, we must not "lust after results," and always note the findings of any experiment, even if unexciting. Keep a magickal diary. Most scientists toil in agonizing dead-ends, but their work is still valuable: they know what did not work after hypothesis X23 was creatively implemented into a testing procedure. Write up your findings. Note the amount of time put in, the conditions in the room, any unforeseen problems or effects. Note it all, and keep working at it. And my word: how much Crowley will have you work!
The thing is, and the reason I'm including Crowley here, after The Cloud of Unknowing and Rumi: Faith and Doubt are fine, but they only get you so far. If you want experience, that is. Use both Faith and Doubt as an means to an end: experience. Crowley sees Doubt as more powerful though, being trained in the Sciences:
I slept with Faith and found a corpse in my arms upon awakening; I drank and danced with Doubt all night and found her a virgin in the morning. -The Book of Lies
The following lines seem also to come very close to the spirit of the modern magickal mode:
You already know what to do, but please be careful. And you know what? You really ought to pay attention to the Law of all Pharmacology: your mental set and the setting in which you do your experiments really ought to be considered, deeply, before you go into it. With recent findings on the weirdness of the placebo effect, this Law probably holds even with aspirin. There are some Adepts who say one ought not take anything unless it's been used in a general population for a considerable amount of time; the species-wide knowledge of its effects are a hedge against a Very Bad Time. Other Adepts - often the same ones I just mentioned - urge the use of substances that have not passed through a pharmacy, but are biologically produced by Gaia, straight from Her to your nervous system.
Here I urge you to Know so that you will have an experience of Unknowing.
You do these all the time, but do your work in tuning into them on a much deeper level: music, breathing, doing math, reading Finnegans Wake, drumming, fancy bathing techniques, learning a new language, not speaking for three days. There are many ways up. I just now thought of our friend Douglas Rushkoff's first book, Stoned Free: How To Get High Without Drugs.
It seems true that all theology and atheology is better termed "neurotheology" and "neuroatheology." Why? Because we don't "know" for sure about God, Goddess, Gods, etc. Especially the Pope: he does not know. The Dalai Lama seems to know a bit more than the Pope, but who knows? We only know what impinges on our sensoria, and passes through and gets sifted by our nervous systems. Some of you assert you have "faith," which has always seemed to me oh-so appropriately a private affair.
I know, I know: you want to see infinity in a grain of sand. We all do. Let's get better at figuring out how. And share your work!