The religious or spiritual experience of many people includes experiences of “sacred” emotions or eminent “spiritual” states of mind, of a feeling of a contact with something beyond the normal world, or similar experiences. Such states of mind might be experienced during rituals, when hearing music, dancing, perceiving art or being in touch with nature, on in other ways.
I know such states of mind and such emotions and I am a “spiritual” person in the sense that I value them and that they “elevate” my life. However, I think there are two different things involved here that should be looked at separately.
On one side, there is a certain state of mind that makes a time, a place, a thing, a situation or an action feel “sacred” and subjectively creates meaning by that. On the other side, there is an interpretation attached to this experience within the framework of a given belief system. The interpretation comes from a religion or, more general, a belief system.
I think the experience of sacredness is real, but the religious interpretation is artificially added and can be left away, without desacralizing the experience.
I don’t think such experiences are caused by something like the contact with something supernatural at all. The metaphysical interpretation of the “spiritual” or “mystical” or “sacred” experience is an artificial add-on, and, in my view, an unnecessary one.
Therefore, I avoid giving such experiences any such interpretation. Their interpretation inside the framework of a religion or other belief system is, in my view, an as-if-construction. However, people learn and are taught to think of this as reality. They are convinced to “feel the presence of god” for example, and this convinces them and stabilizes their belief.
In my view, however, humans are able to self-sanctify themselves without the necessity of any “other world”. I have a view of the human being that is, in a sense, materialistic or monistic. But I look at life and human existence from a subjective point of view and from that point of view, such experiences give value to the human existence.
Imagine scientists had found an explanation of what causes a feeling like love. Would that change anything in the feeling you have and what it means to you? You will still love your partner or your child. So it would be wrong to say “it is only this or that chemical process in your brain, so it has no value” because by saying so, you would be putting yourself on an “objective” point of view that is not actually your own. Doing so is not not necessary. You are standing on your own subjective point of view, there is nothing forcing you to acquire an objective point of view and from there, devalue your emotions by saying “that is only…”. For the subjective value of any emotion or state of mind, it is therefore simply irrelevant what it is, viewed from an objective point of view (see https://asifoscope.org/2012/11/27/almost-a-poem/). This is also true for “religious” emotions, i.e. those emotions that many people have been taught to associate with their respective believe systems.
The interpretation of spiritual feelings in the context of a belief system is an attempt to make them objective. This is unnecessary, and I think it is a confusion of categories, because such experiences are just that: experiences, i.e. they are intrinsically subjective. As subjective experiences, they are giving meaning and value to your life already, so you don’t need to construct a seemingly objective theory on top of them. If you abstain from constructing such a theory and instead acknowledge the subjectivity of your experiences as a starting point, a scientific explanation of the feeling or of yourself also stops being a threat. It does not desecrate you. You don’t need to insist in a dualistic theory of mind or anything like that because the ontological status of the mind is irrelevant from the subjective point of view. It simply does not matter whether the soul is something fundamentally different or a material phenomenon, because these are distinctions made from an objective point of view. They are interesting philosophically or scientifically, but not from the point of view of subjective existence.
In this view, religion is an unnecessary add-on. The human being and its existence is subjectively sacred and instead of constructing a religion as a seemingly objective basis for this, we only have to recognize and respect the sacred subjectivity of each other.
At least that is my view.
(The picture is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:V%C3%A4imela_Alaj%C3%A4rv_2012_08.jpg)