The traditional religious views
say, believe in God (in this or that specific form), go to church,
and generally be a good person, and you will go to heaven (and
"see" or "be with" God), after you die; miss in any one of these
things, and you may go to a less than heavenly realm after you
die. There seems to be a widespread but generally unarticulated
belief that there is something in the nature or structure of things
which, with a few saintly exceptions, prevents people from seeing
God while alive, but that automatically allows them to see God
after they die, if, while alive, they've generally adhered to
all the rules for being a "good person". (A simple believer's
view often goes, "God is in Heaven, and we're here, and here
and Heaven are two separate places." Of course, more sophisticated
theologians have always realized that such views place limits
on a God Who in fact if God, must be All-Pervading.)
And so the greatest human potential suggested by the traditional
religious views is: be a good boy or girl, and you'll go to Heaven
and see God when you die (or something more or less to that effect).
conventional materialistic view
says there is no God, no Greater Reality, that "when you're dead
you're dead", and thus, the greatest human potential is: "eat,
drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die", or "self-fulfillment
now". A refinement on this view suggests that, through various
forms of self-improvement (whether they are physical, mental,
emotional, psychic, etc.), we can fulfill ourselves better. But
none of these variations finally and effectively relieve us of
the problem represented by human suffering and impending death.
Abraham Maslow, one of the leading thinkers of the "human potential
movement" re-conceptualized a wide array of mystical experiences
as "peak experiences". He "secularized" their description, removing
all references to "God", "Revelation", etc., feeling that this
was a requirement for their scientific study:
it has recently begun to appear that these "revelations" or mystical
illuminations can be subsumed under the head of the "peak-experiences"
or "ecstasies" or "transcendent" experiences which are now being
eagerly investigated by many psychologists. That is to say, it
is very likely, indeed almost certain, that these older reports,
phrased in terms of supernatural revelation, were, in fact, perfectly
natural, human peak-experiences of the kind that can easily be
examined today, which, however, were phrased in terms of whatever
conceptual, cultural, and linguistic framework the particular
seer had available in his time.
by removing all such theistic references, he permanently reduced
his studies to materialistic and brain-based explanations. The
underlying assumption is: If something can
be explained in purely brain-based, materialistic terms, then
it should be explained that
way! But in fact there is nothing anyone could tell you about
the Greater Reality, that can't be "explained" as
someone's personal subjectivity or hallucination.
this particular, behavioristic choice of values eliminates a
priori any view that suggests there is a Greater Reality
that includes Spiritual and Transcendental Dimensions as well
as material. It also rules out any kind of statement connecting
what one does in the present life with what occurs after one's
death, because "after death" just isn't in any way "secularizable"
from a purely materialistic standpoint —
to a Greater Reality! The only view that can be stated in material
terms is "when you're dead you're dead." And it also rules out
the Reality of the Great Spiritual Realizations: "I am God"
and "God and the World are One". In this traditional humanist
view, such Realizations are not different in kind from the "high"
that runners get. The Ultimate Realizations are reduced to mere
subjective “experiences”. Thus Maslow’s framework does not allow
for a distinction between permanent Realizations (permanent
because they are based on a clearer and more direct awareness
of Reality), and temporary (even though “peak”) experiences.
enough, while Maslow doesn't "burn down the house" (which is
how he describes the activity of atheists) per se, he
definitely does rip out the house's foundations and replaces
them with surface-level (behavior-only) dirt instead of concrete
important thrust of this discussion is to underscore, again
and again, the difference between temporary experiences, even
of a very "peak" kind (which come and go), and stable Realization
(which is a permanent shift).