Earlier this week I tried to make the case that "believing" is what we all do when we give value, meaning, and purpose to our experience and to our work in the world. Believing is fundamentally an irrational act. It draws upon resources that transcend what the brain/sense system can give us with certainty. The scope of what the brain/sense system can give us with certainty is very, very limited.
And if we were to live our lives only within the scope of what is certain on that level, our lives would be very limited and poor. They would revert to lives lived on a purely instinctual level as animals live them, doing their bull and cow thing. There are indeed plenty of people who "believe" that human beings are nothing more than talking animals. For such people any belief system that imputes a spiritual dimension to the human being is delusional, and such beliefs lead to alienation and repression. That's a pretty common attitude among the educated during the twentieth century.
But this view of the human being is aberrational. 99% of the human beings who ever lived would take for granted that they are spiritual beings. I would argue that the instinctualism/materialism characteristic of a certain kind of person who became rather common during the modern period is the result of an atrophying of the soul that directly correlates with the hypertophying of the eye that came with widespread literacy after Gutenberg. This is a McLuhanite idea, and I go into it in some detail about it in a piece I have previously posted entitled "The Hypertrophied Eye." (Go to fifth paragraph.)
The result is that the data available to such atrophied souls is much more limited. Moderns are to the spiritual what the deaf are to the world of sound and music. And it is understandable that they should think that people who have experiences that they don't have are delusional. But it's not just a problem of deafness, but one of knowing how to listen. That's the challenge: The song is playing but we're not paying attention enough to hear it.
The challenge is to make some sense of the world as we experience it, and that starts with taking the world seriously as it is given to us and listening for the song that will help us understand what it means and what we are to do about it. It means taking seriously the accounts given of broader ranges of experience this song, and that includes the experience of the East and that of primitive, shamanic cultures. That experience provides important data that we have to take seriously if we are to break out of the materialist straitjacket in which we now find ourselves.
Taking 'experience' seriously is the starting point for any such project. Otherwise discussion about religion is for the most part pointless palaver. And spiritual experience is rather more common than we suppose; it's not necessarily something extraordinary (although it can be). It's more a question of recognizing it for what it is, and you have to have the right perceptual frame to do so, and that requires having a belief system that provides the mindframe to recognize what is otherwise unremarkable. And you have to have a belief system which enables the habits of mind to work with these experiences to make them fruitful.
People have experiences all the time which are wasted on them, and these experiences are like the seed in the gospel parable that falls on barren ground that sprouts and shrivels. It's not necessarily the individual's fault, because there is no nurturing context for such individuals to help them understand what's going on and to work with it to become fruitful. That's the spiritual dilemma of our time: We're having the experience, but missing the meaning. We have no interpretive framework that is really all that helpful in that regard. The old interpretive frames are not without value, and we have much to learn from them, but they are poorly adapted to our circumstances as postmoderns.
The most important things we know are not facts that have been established with scientific rigor, but rather deeper truths that we recognize with the faculties of the soul that open us up to dimensions that transcend the world of sense. This is not brain knowledge; it's soul knowledge. We hearken to such truths all the time, and surely we have to learn the rules of true hearkening, just as we have to learn the rules of true love. Actually the rules are quite similar because we only truly know what we truly love. But delusion in both spheres is also something we do all the time.