Beyond Atheism

Chapter Highlights


Part I: The Intelligent Design of God by Man

Chapter 1. Genesis – How I got to the doorstep of this book; the logical case against religious belief; the therapeutic case for spiritual practices; God as a souped-up Santa;       the bankruptcy of atheist or religious beliefs without practices; spirituality as connected consciousness; the responsibilities of atheists; grab the spiritual baby, then drain the religious bathwater.                                                  

Chapter 2. Spiritual Abuse and Religious Terrorism – The dangers of dogmatism, which feeds prejudice and intolerance, which fuels terrorism; the divine mission of the chosen ingroup; the Holy War exception to the prohibition of murder; crusades and inquisitions; the marketing of hell as soft terrorism; the basis of prejudice against atheists; the branding of atheists as immoral.

Chapter 3. Death Anxiety and the Birth of Immortality – Survival as our basic motive; predatory vs. existential death anxiety; death as the worm at the core of the human dilemma; the need for denial – the vital lie feeding the fantasy of literal immortality; consciousness outlives mavia the soul; existential dread/guilt fueling symbolic immortality; gratitude for life versus greedy lust for immortality; Ernst Becker and Irving Yalom.                                                    

Chapter 4. Anthropocentrism: Prejudice Hiding in Plain Sight – our need to be at the center of the universe, as God’s favorite pet; narcissistic pride vs. humility as a species; our separation from our animal selves and from nature; the exploitation of nature; opposition to heliocentrism, evolution, and alien life; ingroup/outgroup thinking: otherness and dehumanization at the core of prejudice; overlapping prejudices: racial/ethnic, misogyny, and speciesism; flesh eating; the intelligence of plants; anthropomorphism in religion.

Chapter 5. The Build a God Workshop – Other human needs that beg for a god; the mind/body split; the primacy and immortality of consciousness; our need to belong, and to be loved and parented from above; eschewing or tolerating ambiguity; the easy download of morality, meaning, and purpose; projection galore; make Him invisible so He can’t be tested; promote blind faith over reason and curiosity.

Chapter 6. Beyond Reason – One God with many faces; parsimony applied to creation; the problem of infinity in time and space; the incompatibility of human suffering/injustice and an omnipotent, all-loving God; free will; faith as a flimsy epistemology; mystical experiences as evidence; possession and dissociation; the burden of proof for fantastic beliefs; scientific evidence versus the Bible.

Chapter 7. Darwin Destroys Creation – Darwin’s threat to anthropocentrism at the core of his threat to religion; challenging the cosmic pyramid of God, man, and animal; explaining complexity; natural selection versus intelligent design; creation of the Creator; unexplained gaps in evolution; holes in evolution don’t constitute proof for creation.

Chapter 8. Rebels and Heathens: From No to Yes – religious prejudice and the justification for atheists’ anger; but atheism is just an oppositional first step, so what do we replace it with; the responsibility to build your own spirituality, cosmology, moral code, self-soothing, and meaning and purpose; types of atheists; beliefs are cheap, practices count; spiritual alternatives.

Chapter 9. Spiritual Atheism: A Celebration of Consciousness and Connectedness – religion is just one form of spirituality; transpersonal psychology; autonomy and attachment; self-transcendence and the need for spiritual connectedness to the All; spirituality as shared consciousness, with or without disembodied spirits; existential awe and gratitude; the road ahead.

Part II: Building Secular Spirituality

II A: Celebrating Consciousness

Chapter 10. The Nature of Consciousness – The awesome gift of awareness; matter vs. consciousness; brain and mind as interacting parallel systems; the mind as a data reduction filter; reality vs. subjective perception; our prioritization of rational, goal-directed thinking; progressive splits in identity; types of consciousness; shared, self, physical vs. mental, unitary vs. divided, conscious vs. unconscious, physiological correlates, daydreaming, dreaming and its functions, rational vs. intuitive; thoughts beget feelings; associational thinking; suspending thinking.

Chater 11. Altering Consciousness – chemical vs. mental and physical approaches; the psychedelic road to spirituality: value and dangers, gateway vs. destination; pleasure vs. satisfaction; craving and attachment; drunken monkeys vs. self-denying ascetics; the middle way; the bankruptcy of chemicals as a primary, default method for managing feelings or spirituality.

Chapter 12. Meditation, Mindfulness, and Control of Thinking – The process vs. content of thinking; distorted thinking; spontaneous flow vs. directed thinking; concentrative meditation: suspended thinking, restricted awareness, and breathwork; walking, eating, and body scan meditations; mindfulness as nonjudgmental attention to the present moment, increased internal and external awareness, and acceptance of pain and impermanence; loving-kindness meditations.

Chapter 13. Spiritual Awakening – nature of mystical experiences; William James and Abraham Maslow; self-transcendance and self-actualization; introvertive vs. extravertive mysticism; savoring; spiritual emotions: awe, humility, gratitude, love, and existential joy; union with the All: regression or transcendence; spiritual awakening and crises; existential guilt leading to epiphanies; perennialist vs. common core theses; pure vs. cosmic consciousness; spiritual gateway practices.

II B: Connecting Inside and Out

Chapter 14. Inner Parenting: Secularizing the Power of Prayer – Prayer as projection and infallible divine downloading of our own internal wisdom and talents; positive impact of prayer; bogus research: intercessory prayer; activating the healthiest parts of self without divine camouflage; ego states, higher parenting, self-soothing and inner-child work.

Chapter 15. Attuning to Your Body – The mind/body split; possessing or being a body; alienation from the body due to abuse, disease, aging; compulsions as abuse of the body; turning toward the body via meditations; the relaxation response and calming the autonomic nervous system; yoga and its benefits; biofeedback, Tai chi, martial arts, physical exercise, progressive relaxation, dance, massage, sensate focus exercises; nutrition; fasting.

Chapter 16. Ecospirituality: A Question of Balance – Finding balance within adult/child, masculine/feminine, and man/nature dichotomies; reconnecting with childlike wonder and fascination, and counteracting desensitization; celebrating the fertility of women and nature; embracing human diversity and the interdependence of nature; humility as a species; the nature and cultivation of awe; stargazing.

Chapter 17. All You Need is Love – Romantic and social connectedness; love vs. infatuation; neurochemistry of love and lust; Pat Love and John Gottman: stages of love and research on marital failure vs. success; nurturing relationships; novel dating; the blame game vs. accountability and simultaneous change; unfair fighting; commitment; buildup to betrayal; the path to forgiveness; sex vs. affection; polarized parenting; enhancing family units.

II C: Morality Revisited

Chapter 18. Debunking Objective Morality and the Religious Monopoly on Morality – Moral integrity vs. compliance and avoidance of consequences; top-down vs. bottom-up morality; emotions and situations vs. intellectual and divine principles; religious vs. atheist behavior; distrust of atheists; moral outsourcing; good and evil as human inventions; subjective morality as a societal risk; Frans de Wall: primate cooperation and morality; Jonathan Haidt: moral foundations for liberals vs. conservatives; empathy and consequences; morality predates religio

Chapter 19. Ungodly Morality: Listening to Your Own Conscience – The intersection of morality, spirituality, and mental health: attachment; the limits of moral instruction; John Bradshaw: ethics based on emotional and social intelligence; improving empathy; proactive vs. passive guilt-based morality; behavioral love; moral values, e.g., the Golden Rule; science as a new objective morality, or personal responsibility for bottom-up moral choice; focusing on differences vs. similarities.

Chapter 20. Managing Guilt and Shame – The difference between the two: behavior vs. identity; moral vs. codependent guilt; guilt and anger/blame as imported or exported responsibility; guilt as fuel for behavior change of excuse for self-trashing; toxic shame/humiliation vs. healthy humility; shame and secrets: a foundation for a false self, depression, and social anxiety; authenticity and intimacy.

Chapter 21. Meaning and Purpose – Using existential death anxiety and existential guilt as fuel; meaning vs. purpose, values vs. action; meaning vs. pleasure and happiness; Viktor Frankl: transforming suffering into meaning and purpose; giving as the coinage of morality; life has no inherent meaning/purpose – you find and choose it; spirituality and meaning as attachment to something larger than self, while purpose is acting on it; stage of life challenges.

 Part III: The Psychomechanics of Everyday Life

Chapter 22. A Structure of the Mind – Mind vs. brain: biological reductionism vs. a two-way street; medication vs. therapy; negative feelings as positive feedback; changing feelings via thoughts and behaviors; therapeutic models; defenses vs. coping skills; contents vs. layers of personality; EWC zones of personality.

Chapter 23. The Wisdom of Vulnerability – risks and benefits of vulnerability; emotions as input to protect long-term needs vs. short-term distress to be eliminated; healthy and unhealthy forms of emotion; anxiety = threat, sadness = loss, anger = injustice, frustration = violation of expectation; do you have a right to your feelings; owning feelings; shared vulnerability = emotional intimacy; interplay between partners’ personality zones.

Chapter 24. Am I Crazy? – statistical vs. healthy normal; the subjectivity of criteria, and hidden imposition of societal values/biases; Thomas Szasz and the myth of mental illness; homosexuality and antisocial or schizoid personality disorder as mental illnesses; circular reasoning: abstractions as causes; criteria of craziness: loss of reality contacy, loss of control over perceptions, beliefs, or behavior, extent of distress; mental health as a combination of opposite skills on various dimensions; normalcy as internal and external connectedness; the stigma of mental illness.

Chapter 25. Stress and Confusion – Biological roots of the term; Hans Seyle and common reactions to various stressors; Walter Cannon: homeostasis and fight or flight; the autonomic nervous system; cognitive factors in stress; stress as a product of arousal, aversiveness, and uncontrollability; personality impact on stress; what we control: power lies in focusing upon our internal response to an external stressor; confusion as opposite, conflicting feelings; tolerating ambivalence; identifying sources of feelings.

Chapter 26. Managing Sadness and Depression – Sadness and grief vs. depression; counteracting the behavioral withdrawal that maintains depression; exercise and nutrition; Aaron Beck’s cognitive triad: negative thoughts about oneself, the world, and the future; shorter yardsticks; learned helplessness; self-nurturance, affirmations, and loving-kindness meditations; mindfulness: nonjudgmental acceptance of setbacks, and being in the present; managing losses and grief.

Chapter 27. Managing Anxiety and Avoidance Behavior – The cure is worse than the disease: the impact of avoidance; anxiety = threat; “what if…” and the role of thoughts in fear; worrying and the Serenity Prayer; hyperactivity and lifestyle issues; the first thought is free; exposure and response prevention for OCD; mindfulness for anxiety; meditation, exercise, progressive relaxation; managing panic attacks; dealing with stages of social anxiety.

Chapter 28. Anger and Frustration – Anger as a healthy response to injustice or a character defense; anger as a secondary emotion concealing a vulnerable feeling; frustration vs. anger; frustrations as a discrepancy between expectations and reality; frustration plus blame = anger; E/R = F + B = A; the Serenity Prayer and the 20-30% rule for frustration; expect reality; indirect vs. direct anger; owning anger vs. blaming; catching anger quickly, dampening arousal; the myth that you need to get your anger out; identifying underlying vulnerable feelings; unresolved issues and transference; distorted thoughts; assertiveness; forgiveness.

Chapter 29. Trauma Recovery – trauma-focused vs. symptom-focused therapy; PTSD symptoms; dissociation and DID/MPD; flooding vs. numbing; recovery skills: containment, self-nurturance, catharsis, integration and exposure; moving from victim to survivor; ego-state approaches; finding meaning and purpose in one’s trauma; resources.

Chapter 30. Positive Psychology – The disease model: health as the absence of disease; creating positive mental health; health benefits; strengths and virtues, e.g., gratitude, humility, awe, and authenticity; Martin Seligman; positive psychology in 12-Step recovery stepwork; resilience; approaching the negative while developing the positive; runaway happiology.

Chapter 31. Finito – Counteracting death anxiety and greed for immortality vis gratitude and existential joy; counteracting anthropocentric pride via humility; mindfulness meditations for aging and impermanence; using mortality to enliven life; rippling, modes of transcendence; celebrating spiritual emotions; 40 spiritual and psychological principles; my gratitude list; goodbye.