Are Mystics Atheists?

In an interview with John Gray about his book Seven Types of Atheism, this exchange took place:

[Questioner:] You finish with the mystical kind of atheism. It sounds almost like people who have a big drug experience and talk about the oneness of everything.

[Gray:] Well, it’s a radical kind of atheism that asserts that the nature of reality is ineffable—it can’t be embodied in words. Schopenhauer thought the ultimate reality of things was spiritual, but we couldn’t really grasp it with our reasoning. He didn’t have any need for a creator God, but actually, he isn’t so far from certain traditions in mysticism and different religions. Some types of mystical religion come close to atheism in their understanding of God as unimaginable.

What did he mean that some “mystical religion is close to atheism”? Aren’t mystics supposed to be people who find union with God, who become one with God? How could that possibly be “atheistic”? Here is my interpretation.

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Armella Nicolas’s “First Vision” Account

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Portrait of Armella Nicolas, known as “the good Armella” (17th century)
Armella Nicolas (1606-1671) was a serving-maid who lived in France in the 17th century, who came to be held in high veneration in the Catholic church. She could not read or write, but told friends of her spiritual experiences, including sister Jeanne de la Nativite, who wrote down her experiences. The following is one of her recorded experiences: Continue reading “Armella Nicolas’s “First Vision” Account”

Einstein’s Misquote on the Illusion of Feeling Separate from the Whole

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Albert Einstein

This morning I came across a quote in an excellent essay by Daniel Christian Wahl, frequently attributed to the renowned modern theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. Wahl did not misquote him, but it seems to be often misquoted when cited in full. It is this:

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

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