Will Secular Students Eventually Turn to ‘Anxious Trembling’?
Posted on 09 October 2023, 7:55
When I see polls or surveys stating that more and more people in Generation Z are counted as secularists, atheists, humanists, or whatever label is applied to them, I react with ambivalence and mixed emotion. On the one hand, I see it as a positive sign that so many have recognized the apparent myths and distortions of various religious teachings, but, on the other hand, I fear that they have become nihilists, not understanding the difference between secular humanism and Cartesian mind-body dualism, the latter expanded to include the survival of consciousness at death.
To put it another way, in rejecting religion and its God, the secular humanist has seemingly assumed a concomitant relationship between God and an afterlife, and therefore has also repudiated the idea that consciousness survives death in a greater reality. The person has taken the common deductive approach of “no-god, no afterlife,” rather than an inductive one in which the evidence for consciousness continuing after death is overwhelming, thereby suggesting a Creator or Creative Force of some kind, even though it is probably beyond human comprehension. (Some of the best evidence is summarized in my book, No One Really Dies, even though it exceeds the boggle threshold of many skeptics.)
A recent release by the Secular Student Alliance introduces readers to 22 student activists scholarship recipients. Of the 22, at least 16 mention having been raised in a strict or devout religious environment, one in which the prejudices and bigotry they perceived conflicted with reason, compassion, and progressiveness. Fourteen of the 22 listed LGBTQ equality as a primary goal. One student states that her Catholic teachings “were weaponized to promote traditions of silence, shame, sexism, sexual abuse, and homophobia.” Another student was motivated by the need for “women’s reproductive justice,” A graduate student who received her bachelor’s degree in religious studies explained that “witnessing racism within her white Christian community during the Black Lives Matter protests further fueled her journey away from religion.” A number of them point to the need for science to prevail over religion.
Whatever motivates or inspires those 22 people or others in their generation, I have seen nothing to suggest that their secular humanism is not synonymous with nihilism. While there are some atheists who are not nihilists, the distinction is rarely recognized. An atheist rejects a higher power but not necessarily the idea that consciousness continues after death, while a nihilist rejects both and sees life as meaningless, beyond “having fun” and making it more comfortable and pleasurable for future generations. Such a worldview provides some meaning for young people who are not prepared to dig too deeply into the matter and ask, “to which generation full fruition?” or “to what end the progeny?”
Although seemingly having a purpose in life, one rooted in equality, the students do not see the bigger picture. For the most part, Carpe Diem (Seize the day!) is their philosophy and epicureanism their life style. At least that’s the way I see it from my distant porch (or perch).
Plodding, Pondering & Persisting
In his 2016 New York Times best seller, When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi, a California neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at age 36, addressed the “one day at a time” philosophy adopted by many nihilists by saying that such an approach didn’t help him. “What was I supposed to do with that day?” he asked, pointing out that time had become static for him as he approached the end. He considered more traveling, dining, and achieving a host of neglected ambitions, but he simply didn’t have the energy. “It is a tired hare who now races,” he explained. “And even if I had the energy, I prefer a more tortoise-like approach. I plod, I ponder. Some days, I simply persist.”
Kalanithi added that his medical training had been “relentlessly future-oriented” and all about delayed gratification, what one might be doing five years down the line. However, in his terminal condition, he wasn’t prepared to give much thought to what he would be doing beyond lunch.
In his 2010 book, The Undying Soul, Stephen J. Iacoboni, an oncologist who had witnessed thousands of deaths over some three decades of medical practice, stated that the real enemy facing terminal patients is not death, but the fear of death. He observed that many of his cancer patients had unrealistic expectations and didn’t want their hopes dashed. They pleaded for or demanded a cure. While trying not to extinguish what little hope there might have been, Iacoboni tried to be more honest with them than other doctors. Most of the terminal patients were, however, unable to accept the truth of their condition and lived their remaining days in a state of despair.
Iacoboni devotes separate chapters to different patients, using pseudonyms, and beginning with those who most feared death and died in anguish, before discussing several patients who quietly accepted their fate and departed with a puzzling serenity, seemingly even with eagerness and wonder.
Phillip, one of the patients in the first category, was 60 years old and had just retired from a career in computer technology when he was diagnosed with an aggressive case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Like me, Phillip had long before abandoned religious faith in favor of modern science,” Iacoboni writes. “Unlike faith, however, science provides no refuge when hope is gone.” As Phillip’s condition deteriorated and he marched toward the abyss in “utter isolation,” Iacoboni felt helpless, unable to offer him any comforting words. It was Phillip’s spiritually deprived death – so like many others he had attended – that prompted Iacoboni to search for answers outside of mainstream medicine. But he was so locked into the dogma of science that he didn’t know where to look. “It wasn’t so much the fact of their deaths that bothered me,” Iacoboni explains. “Rather it was the fact that they died without the comfort of finding peace within their hearts and souls before they passed on.”
Iacoboni observed that many people, so wrapped up in the “materialists’ narrow, spiritually crippling world view” had dismissed spiritual considerations in all the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, then when facing imminent death, were desperate but didn’t know where to turn.
As I further see it, tunnel vision has always been a characteristic of youth. Members of Generation Z are simply too young and inexperienced to fully grasp the worldview they’ve bought into. They are too focused on surviving in this world while being indoctrinated in hedonistic ways by the entertainment and advertising industries. They’re coached by professors not much older than they are and are further influenced by older professors stuck in the muck and mire of scientism. In embracing secular humanism, they celebrate a certain freedom from the moral fetters that were imposed upon them by their parents or religious communities. It’s not until a loved one is afflicted with a terminal condition or actually dies that so many permit death and all of its ramifications to rise to the threshold of consciousness.
As Michel de Montaigne, a 16th Century French statesman and philosopher wrote: “They come and they go and they trot and they dance, and never a word about death. All well and good. Yet when death does come – to them, their wives, their children, their friends – catching them unawares and unprepared, then what storms of passion overwhelm them, what cries, what fury, what despair.”
These secular humanists see science and religion as polarized positions, not realizing that some very renowned scientists have devoted countless years to studying psychical matters supporting survival under scientifically controlled conditions and independent of religion. The science may not be exact or pure, but it is as much science as we have with meteorology or with most of medicine. Professor Raynor Johnson, a British-Australian physicist, was one of them. “To sum it up,” he wrote in concluding one of his many books, The Imprisoned Splendor, “we have enough trustworthy evidence to anticipate our survival of the change called death.”
But the students will go to their computers and find a couple of primary encyclopedic reference that claims Johnson was clearly duped in all of his research, as were Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Barrett, Sir William Crookes, Dr. Richard Hodgson, Professor William James, Professor James Hyslop, and other esteemed scientists and scholars right up to the present day. They will dismiss the research and conclusions as bunk, not realizing and indifferent to the fact that many of these encyclopedic references are editorially biased in a materialistic and academic direction. Psychic phenomena are opposed to natural law and therefore none of them can be true is the position that some popular references offer gullible readers.
And so the secular humanist students continue with a nihilistic worldview, perhaps questioning it 50 years later after awakening to the twisting, distorting, misleading, incomplete, and uninformed explanations they have accepted over the years. The former students then rationalize that oblivion or total extinction of the personality will not bother them, as it will be just like sleep. They continue to repress the idea of death and extinction, all the while shaking in their boots when no one is looking.
As Professor William James, one of the pioneers of modern psychology, put it: “The luster of the present hour is always borrowed from the background of possibilities it goes with. Let our common experiences be enveloped in an eternal moral order; let our suffering have an immortal significance; let Heaven smile upon the earth, and deities pay their visits; let faith and hope be the atmosphere which man breathes in; and his days pass by with zest; they stir with prospects, they thrill with remoter values. Place around them on the contrary the curdling cold and gloom and absence of all permanent meaning which for pure naturalism and the popular-science evolutionism of our time are all that is visible ultimately, and the thrill stops short, or turns rather to an anxious trembling.”
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.
Next blog post; Oct. 23
As I just recently mentioned Dr. Raymond Moody’s newest book and because it ties in with this blog, I will put this link to the comment just left yesterday by Janek on my blog of October 4, 2010, which dealt with soul mist. It can be seen at
Michael Tymn, Fri 13 Oct, 19:34
I’m a secular humanist but not a nihilist. I don’t believe in God or afterlife, but this doesn’t mean I insist they’re unreal. “Believing in” is more than thinking something is or might be real. To me the challenge is what else to believe in, and I think of Robert Lifton’s different modes of seeking, not immortality, but continuation, e.g. kids, creative work.
/, Thu 12 Oct, 17:57
I also don’t find (some) secularists approaching death with equanimity puzzling.
For those who haven’t seen Braude’s ‘Super-Psi’ Hypothesis, here is the link. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Thu 12 Oct, 16:53
The 1.2% doubt that goes along with my 98.8% conviction factor is because of living-agent psi or super psi. How does one disprove it?
As you know, William James called it the “cosmic reservoir.” Accepting it as spirit communication would have been much too “unscientific” in that early era of scientific materialism when “intelligent” men and women were trying to put religious superstition behind them. However, most of the pioneers came to accept the spirit hypothesis, which was totally consistent with the survival hypothesis. It was one thing, they reasoned, for the medium’s secondary personality to access information from minds around the world or from some cosmic computer, but quite another for the information coming from the alleged spirits to actually dialogue with the sitters. There was too much personality and too much volition to conclude that it was anything other than spirit communication. Moreover, the researchers could see no logical reason why the subconscious of so many mediums would pretend to be spirits of the dead. How did they all collaborate in this worldwide deception?
I’m OK with 98.8% conviction and 1.2% doubt. As I define it, conviction is very strong faith, much higher than the blind faith of most people who say they believe in an afterlife. As with almost everything else, there are various shades of gray. If I am wrong, I apparently will never know it.
Michael Tymn, Thu 12 Oct, 03:18
I’m really getting sloppy in my old age. Meant to say “allude,” not ‘elude” in the last comment. I shouldn’t be watching the baseball playoffs and typing at the same time.
Michael Tymn, Thu 12 Oct, 03:01
Here is the information from the Pew Research Center
https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/06/29/religious-beliefs-2/#:~:text=Although many people might consider,say they believe in reincarnation.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 11 Oct, 22:24
There are many sources of Hindu population. I don’t remember which one I used. But here is a link to World Population Review 2023.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 11 Oct, 22:19
I agree with Stafford that the link mentioned by Michael Schmicker is worth reading. However, I struggle with some of it, especially the comment that the atheistic movement was derailed by the fact that some of them wanted to be called “brights.” I had never heard of that label before and thought that “humanist” was the preferred name for the non-believer who still wanted a moral world. Also, Justin Brierley, like so many others, focuses on the need to identify some kind of creative force, i.e, the deductive approach, and does not allude to the inductive approach of examining the evidence for survival while concluding that God can forever remain abstract. He makes no reference to psychical research or the evidence for survival.
Michael Tymn, Wed 11 Oct, 21:16
According to a November 2021 Pew Research Foundation survey,
“More Americans believe in heaven than in hell
Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in heaven. (The survey did not immediately offer a definition of heaven, though subsequent questions explored what respondents think heaven is like.)”
The poll went on to say that 38% of Catholic adults believe in reincarnation, while 47% of Hispanic Catholics believe in it. Surprised? I am.
According to an earlier Pew poll—the one Amos cited—only 40% of Hindus believe in reincarnation. Another big surprise if correct. But is this finding to be trusted? In the same poll 47% of Hindus said they believe in moksha, freedom from the reincarnational cycle. Apparently more Hindus believe you can be freed from reincarnation than in reincarnation itself. This makes no sense. How did the pollsters frame the question?
In any case, the first poll makes it clear that three quarters of American adults believe in an afterlife. There is much more information in the first poll that would be of interest to most of you.
Stafford Betty, Wed 11 Oct, 20:50
As to “Super-Psi” (what you call “living-agent psi”) even Stephen Braude, who was at one time perhaps its most committed proponent, had at the time I wrote my first book (see page 154) begun to move away from it, in favor of the “survivalist” interpretation. To the best of my knowledge, this still seems to be the prevailing trend…
Don Porteous, Wed 11 Oct, 20:46
Amos, where did you read that, although reincarnation is a major “tenant” (you mean tenet) of Hinduism, only 40% of Hindus actually believe in it. There are now 1.4 billion Hindus on the planet, so your source is at least ten years old.
Stafford Betty, Wed 11 Oct, 19:52
Having lived through the “New Age”, I think that the “New Agers” were just a style fad of the 1960s, maybe into the 70s. As surprising as it may have seemed at the time, the New Age really had no substance but was merely a good merchandising scheme to sell tie-dyed T-shirts, bell-bottom pants, leisure suits, incense, tarot cards, crystals, candles, pendulums, black lights, posters, books about meditation, pet rocks, marijuana, LSD and other drugs and their paraphernalia. The ‘New Agers’ became a cult, worshiping at the feet of Jane Roberts and “Seth”. (Been there, done that!) I am not so sure that most of them were really ‘spiritual’ as we think of survival of consciousness today. That was before Raymond Moody and NDE’s, Stevenson’s research on reincarnation in children and Mediums who say they are speaking to the dearly departed.
As the New Agers finally grew up, once they got to be 50 years old, the demand for New Age paraphernalia disappeared and business suits became the style. New Age shops had to close because they lost their cash flow. A few New Agers may still be out there today surfing the internet, but most young people now are followers of whatever the media promotes, advertising gurus, and producers and directors of Hollywood movies and TV shows.
Ah Michael, you are making me negative too! - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 11 Oct, 18:46
I think it’s important to distinguish between two kinds of sceptics: (1) those who don’t believe in supernormal phenomena because they can’t happen under a materialist paradigm, and (2) those who acknowledge supernormal phenomena but find them unconvincing as an argument for survival after death. William James and Stephen Braude belong in the second category, which constitutes the only kind of scepticism that readers of this blog need take seriously.
I hope that Michael will write some new blog entries on so-called living agent psi, the interpretation of supernormal phenomena as the products of unknown human psychic powers in this world, as opposed to communications emanating from human beings in the next.
What would it do to our convictions about an afterlife if it turned out that the living agent interpretation was correct, which seems to me, like to James and Braude, entirely possible. Here’s where a faith-based position looks more solid and secure than one resting solely on the interpretation of brought82evidence.
Newton Finn, Wed 11 Oct, 18:37
Yes, Michael you really do live in paradise, at least that’s what people like me think about Hawaii. But really, Hawaii does provide a special environment that makes it easy to ignore the harsh realities of living in other less favorable climes. And for all of those young fresh sun-tanned tattooed bodies fresh off of their surfboards, religion is the farthest thing from their minds. Most likely, they think they will live forever!
There are of course other places in the world where spiritualism and spiritism are the dominant belief systems, e.g., Brazil, India. According to the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Spiritism is a fast-growing religion in Brazil with 3.8 million self-declared members in the 2010 national census. But reportedly, of the 1.1 billion Hindus in the world, only approximately 40% believe in reincarnation, even though reincarnation is a major tenant of Hinduism.
I am wondering, “How does one identify someone who is ‘spiritual’ and not ‘religious?’ There is no outer appearance to identify them and since they don’t go to church or other special buildings, wear no religious symbols—-how does one know who is spiritual and not religious. Well, I guess if they are not religious, they don’t participate in religious rituals, as being spiritual and not religious is an inner understanding that has no buildings, rituals or other outer appearances.
And even so, if asked the question, “Do you consider yourself to be religious or spiritual?” I think many people would be reluctant to claim either one these days. To claim the ‘spiritual’ choice opens one up to the question ‘why’ and often it is difficult if not impossible to explain in a few sentences during an interview or a poll (if it is one of only two choices) why one considers one’s self to be spiritual when one might believe in a combination of both. If one check-marks ‘religious’, all one has to say to simply explain is to say, “I am Catholic, Jewish, Protestant.“etc. I think that more and more people who claim to be agnostic or atheistic, deep down, really have a spiritual inclination whether they admit it or not. Afterall, how embarrassing would it be for Richard Dawkins to acclaim that he has some spiritual predilections? - AOD
P.S. Google Chrome is not letting me post to your site. Apparently I am not authorized to post.
Amos Oliver Doyle, Wed 11 Oct, 17:50
Yes, you’re right of course about Podmore—my 82-year-old brain had forgotten about him.
Interestingly though, after a VERY brief search through some of the available literature, it seems that his “conversion” from belief to scepticism was based not so much on a negative reassessment of the evidence—as upon the now standard “fear of the establishment” after a somewhat scathing review of one of his works by H.G. Wells which appeared in the journal “Nature.”
Quite a different animal from an evidence-based retreat from belief…
Don Porteous, Wed 11 Oct, 15:54
I was giving further thought to my observation that the number of people calling themselves “spiritual but not religious” has not really increased in the past two decades. My reason is that before around the year 2000, most of those “spiritual but not religious” people called themselves “New Agers” and we had a New Age book store here and several organizations, such as IANDS, Edgar Cayce study group, Swedenborg study group, and at least two others the names of which I can’t remember. The New Age book store is long gone as well as the organizations. Also, there were several national magazines appealing to New Agers, all of which are not defunct. I didn’t like being called a New Ager, but some of their interests were consistent with mine, so I attended some meetings and subscribed to various publications.
Also, I was a member of the Academy for Spirituality and Paranormal Studies for nearly 20 years. When I joined during the late 1990s, it had over 1,000 members. By around 2017, it was down to about 250 members. Covid finally did it in. Part of the problem was that one man, one of the founders of the organization, dedicated himself full time to organizing the annual conferences, producing the journal and newsletter, etc, but when he could no longer handle it, nobody had the time to do it all, so it just gradually fell apart.
The collapse of all the New Age stores and organizations was thought to be the result of the Internet. People could get the information for free rather than pay annual dues to some organization and they got more on the Internet than they could handle.
All those New Agers may still be out there and just surfing the Internet. I don’t know, but that is what I was using as a gauge in concluding that the number of “spiritual but not religious” had declined or at least was not growing.
Michael Tymn, Wed 11 Oct, 13:30
I encourage all to click on the link provided by Michael Schmicker above. I had no idea the “New Atheism” had disgraced itself and fallen apart. There is much else in this article that was new for me. Thank you, Michael.
As far as I know, however, those who describe themselves as atheist still disbelieve in an afterlife—in a poll I read a few years ago only 30% said they believed in one. So Michael Tymn has a point. This is another well-researched blog—I think of it as an essay—with the usual great quotations, the best this time from William James to close the essay.
Stafford Betty, Wed 11 Oct, 00:36
Yes, I’m probably too negative. I’ve been hearing about the gradual change from religion to spirituality for 30 or more years, but I haven’t really seen it. Then again, how does one measure it. It may be that living on a rock in the middle of the Pacific I am not in a position to see it, but I definitely don’t see it in the mainstream media or in the people I come in contact with on the rock.
An additional comment about Dr. Moody. He has come off the fence he was on in previous books and now says, yes, definitely, there is afterlife. His final chapter is on mirror-gazing in the psychomaetreum (sp?). He provides some very interesting stories relative to it. However, I don’t think I’ll be experimenting with it or writing about it.
As to Don’s comment about identifying a single case where the evidence caused someone to actually abandon their belief, the first name that comes to mind is Frank Podmore, co-author with Myers and Gurney. He was a devoted spiritualist and then became a Randi-like skeptic. There was also someone who wrote a book about 25 years ago in that category, but I can’t think of his name. He ended up killing himself. But the examples are few. The problem is that few want to put in the “work” to understand it. I have known many people nearing the end of their lives who want nothing to do with familiarizing themselves with the evidence supporting survival.
Michael Tymn, Wed 11 Oct, 00:04
I just read Dr. Raymond Moody’s latest book, “Proof of Life after Life.” I had reservations about reading it as I had read all his prior books and doubted there would be anything new in this one. It was a great refresher and added some stories that I had not heard before. I’m glad I read it.
To quote Moody: “When NDErs say they have lost their fear of death, they most often mean that they no longer fear the obliteration of consciousness or self. That isn’t to say that they want to die anytime soon. What they say is that the experience makes life richer and fuller than ever before. The ones I know want more than ever to continue living….”
Michael Tymn, Tue 10 Oct, 01:00
See attached article
There are extremely few nihilists in the world (as you define them)
Many self-defined atheists are rejecting the God as defined and offered up by their former religion. Their “atheism” is necessary and reasonable. If God were defined differently, many would not claim to be atheists.
There are a growing number of people who are not religious (do not attend church; do not believe in their former religion’s definition of God; and do not believe in their former religion’s interpretation of morality.
There are a growing number of people (per Gallup polls) who define themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Dogma will always be under attack by reason- But that includes the dogmas of fundamentalist atheists or militant nihilists.
We’re all her in this reincarnation to learn, grow, and figure it out for ourselves. And we have as many reincarnations as we need to do so.
Life is good! 😎🍷👍
Michael Schmicker, Mon 9 Oct, 20:15
Well Michael, I don’t know that I would be so negative about things. There are 332 million people in the United States so 22 young whippersnappers, probably under 25 years old, is an inconsequential number to base a trend, when certainly none of them have experienced the fullness of life and its vicissitudes.
I do think that “religion” is in a period of major change. Of significance is the decay of the Catholic religion facilitated currently by the Vatican. With the advent of the internet, ideas about God and survival of consciousness are readily exchanged by people all over the world. And there are a multitude of websites that provide evidence of survival of consciousness, e.g., mediums, reincarnation, near death experiences. People are beginning to pay attention to this information to the extent that many people now consider themselves spiritual but not religious. And I think that is a good thing! God is no longer thought of as an old man with a beard, demanding obeisance from harp-playing spirits floating on a cloud in heaven. Only the immature uninformed think that. And, people no longer want to follow religious dogma that is hundreds of years old when new revelations are seen on the horizon.
A new understanding of survival of consciousness is taking place and a new understanding of how each consciousness may be a part of, or ‘spark’ of ‘God’ and that ‘God’ is not an old human being but an incomprehensible vastness of consciousness of which we all are a part, a connectedness with each other which makes us all truly part of a oneness, regardless of race or culture.
One only has to look at history, world history over the ages, to see the effect of religion upon civilization both the good and the bad, actually the very bad perhaps has destroyed more lives that it has saved. I don’t know!
Everything is unfolding as it should. It is just that God’s timeframe extends across millennia of earth time and those of us alive today will not see the changes in this lifetime. Perhaps the next time I take some trips around the sun, I will see the fruition that the changes we are seeing today have eventually wrought! - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 9 Oct, 20:03
The obvious thread-in-common tying your sad litany of the all too prevailing disbelief among our younger (and even the older) generation—is the the almost universal failure to actually examine the readily available evidence. Whether by absolute refusal on dogmatic grounds, or the pseudo justification of a brief scan of an obviously biased Wikipedia, the impetus for putting any actual WORK into the question is lacking.
To me, the most salient point of interest is what happens when someone actually DOES put the work in. We can all recount numerous cases of NON-believers who felt they had no evidentially-based choice but to convert to some form of spiritual belief—but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a single case where the evidence caused someone to actually abandon their belief, and move to the dark side…
Don Porteous, Mon 9 Oct, 16:10
Add your comment