The Difference Between Faith-Based and Evidence-Based Spirituality
For those of us who are not part of an organized religion but have a strong interest in the research and evidence for life after death, how do we define ourselves when asked about what we believe?
For some, the answer might be agnostic, new-age, or spiritual. For me, spiritual came closest to the truth, though most people equate a person’s identification as ‘spiritual’ with being undecided; believing in a vague and undefined higher power, but going no further in refining one’s beliefs. The term spiritual seemed to insinuate that although I had some belief in a higher power, I haven’t given the subject much thought, much less defined the finer points of astral mechanics. The accepted definition of spirituality is strongly associated with faith and many people who use a faith-based path to spirituality rely on personal and emotional beliefs about their philosophy of life and death as a foundation. Faith based spirituality is a perfectly acceptable path, one that can be extremely rewarding and intensely personal. In many cases, spirituality is also defined through personal development, with keywords of self-awareness, meditation, peace, connection and other types of self-improvement techniques.
Many people don’t realize that spirituality can also be obtained through a different path; one that relies on evidence, logic, skepticism, science and research. What results is a spirituality that is distinctly different from one based on faith or personal development, and it is that distinction that I believe deserves to be defined.
I am certainly not the first or only person to have discovered this alternative way to build a belief system, and yet, this new movement is still anonymous and unrecognized as distinct from the new-age community and faith-based spiritual practices. Spirituality as a catch-all term for what we do and believe doesn’t capture the study and open-minded skepticism that we pride ourselves on.
The problem is, we don’t have a name for what we do or who we are. How do we distinguish ourselves from those who derive their spirituality based on faith or personal development alone?
I have decided to coin the title “Evidential Spiritualist” and “Evidential Spirituality” to create a real distinction for what I, and many others, practice to distinguish ourselves from faith-based spiritualism, or spiritualists who follow the religion of spiritualism.
So with any new term, we need a definition:
The practice of defining spiritual, philosophical, or religious beliefs through study and content analysis of supernatural, paranormal or spiritual experiences of the self or others, scientific evidence and research, or veridical observations relating to the survival hypothesis including, but not limited to; near-death experiences, death-bed visions, after-death communications, mediumship and channeling demonstrations, the philosophy of duality and the study of consciousness, instrumental transcommunication, past-life/pre-birth memories, and certain hypotheses in quantum physics.
Evidential Spirituality is an individual discovery of personal beliefs based on evidence, as follows:
- Spiritual beliefs are not defined prior to study or personal experience but rather defined over time when certain patterns and truths are recognized
- Beliefs may vary from person to person, as the nature of evidential spirituality is highly individualized
- Evidential spiritualists are encouraged to explore the widest possible collection of spiritual beliefs, ideas, philosophies and experiences, including religion and science
- Study includes the eight areas of life after death research as well as exploring personal spiritual experiences
- Evidential spiritualists strive for objectivity through cross-referencing, logic, the study of skeptical and scientific viewpoints, and veridical experiences
- Evidential spiritualists attempt to avoid confirmation bias at all costs and are willing to give up on a belief if enough evidence is found to the contrary, or suspend belief if no evidence is found at all
What are some examples of what you can you learn through the methodology of Evidential Spirituality?
- Gaining evidence that confirms the conscious survival of death
- Discovering the meaning of life
- Understanding the nature of reality and consciousness
- Learning about the possibility and mechanics of reincarnation
- Understanding how the spirit world looks and operates
- What to expect when you or a loved one is anticipating their transition
- Understanding the types of after-death communications that are possible
- Understanding the nature of time
- Discovering the purpose behind soul groups, spiritual contracts, spirit guides and other aspects of spiritual mechanics
- Learning about the science of ITC and research opportunities that exist in the field
- Developing latent psychic or mediumistic abilities
- Gaining insight into a personal spiritual experience such as an NDE, OBE or ADC
- Discovering the relationship between science and spirituality
- Taking control of your own destiny and living a more spiritually guided life
- Developing a better understanding of God and your relationship to All That Is
- Becoming less materialistic, fearful, aggressive or competitive
- Discovering the implications of your past/concurrent lives
Can we learn everything there is to know about the mysteries of spirituality through evidential spiritualism? No. In fact, what we do learn will likely be poor interpretations that we can understand here on earth. However, there is an active interest on both sides of the veil for better human understanding of spiritual matters and whatever we can learn and assimilate can help prepare us to lead better lives here on earth and reduce the fear of death.
Evidential Spirituality: Methodology and Best Practices
Note: you are welcome to modify this methodology as it suits you. This is simply what I’ve learned and used, but feel free to change or improve it.
The Two Components of Study: Research and Self-Directed Spiritual Experience
The research areas that provide the best evidence for life after death together comprise what I call the Eight Areas of Life after Death Research:
- past-life/pre-birth memories
- out-of-body experiences
- near-death experiences
- consciousness and duality research
- deathbed visions
- after-death communications
- instrumental transcommunication
- mediumship and channeling
Each of these areas have been explored in varying extent by the scientific community, and none have been invalidated by testable scientific proof as of yet. The research, particularly in the areas of near-death experiences and past-life memories are exceedingly rich. In addition, some of the newest discoveries of quantum mechanics have also provided valid theories that support the survival hypothesis.
When beginning your research, it is imperative that you study each topic first independently, looking at both the proponent and opponent sides. It requires learning about how neuroscience currently understands (or doesn’t understand) the theory of consciousness, and really looking at alternative plausible explanations for these experiences. Read any scientific analysis you can find in addition to the actual experiences as described by those who have been first or second-hand eyewitnesses. A healthy understanding of the basic principles of quantum mechanics is also handy in order to understand the implications of the newest research being done by Dr. Dean Radin, Dr. Roger Penrose, Dr. Stuart Hameroff, Dr. Robert Lanza and others.
[See also my posts Groundbreaking Research Shows Conscious Intention Affects Quantum States; Scientific Basis for Mind over Matter? and What Science can Teach You about Spirit as a starting point for important concepts in quantum mechanics]
Evidence vs. Proof:
No one who studies life after death research will claim that there is scientific proof for the survival of death. Science is about measurement and currently there is no way to objectively measure experiences in the spirit world in the same way we measure temperature, electromagnetic waves, or gravity. On the other hand, science cannot disprove any spiritual experience, nor can it prove that consciousness does not survive death. Luckily, scientific proof is not the only way we evaluate truthfulness in our society. The best way to evaluate the evidence of life after death is through the standard of ‘Evidence beyond Reasonable Doubt’, which asks you to determine if a reasonable person, given all of the evidence, would agree with a particular conclusion. Lawyers and judges are very familiar with this technique as it is used in every courtroom in nearly every democratic country to determine ‘truth’ when scientific proof is not available. Judicial systems evaluate testimony, cross-reference against a larger body of experience and knowledge, and interpret the evidence before making a final decision.
Ultimately the only person who needs convincing is you, but it is important that you weigh the probabilities, consider the source, and anything that can substantiate the claims. Research authors. Consider the motivations of mediums and channelers. When evaluating claims from hard skeptics and opponents, find out if their scientific claims have been proven or even tested. Learn to separate fact from opinion, even if the opinion is coming from an authority figure disguised as scientific fact. Most importantly, take nothing at face value. Disinformation and skeptical bias (looking at you, Wikipedia) is rampant. It is important to take your time and consider every viewpoint. Don’t jump to any conclusion right away, and if you find strong evidence that makes you reconsider, don’t dismiss it because it doesn’t fit your expected or desired belief. Confidence in your spiritual beliefs comes from due diligence at every step of the evaluation process. Don’t cut corners.
[See also my posts Media Continues to Spread Misleading Information about Near-Death Experiences and Don’t Believe Everything You Read: Scientist’s Claims to Replicate Out-Of-Body Experiences Completely Misses the Mark for examples of disinformation and bias in the media and online.]
Finally, after researching each topic separately, then you must cross-reference. Here are just a few of the types of questions you might consider when cross-referencing information.
- Are the mediums and channelers that you trust describing the nature of the afterlife similar to the near-death experiencers?
- Is the information gained through ITC relevant to information gained in other ways?
- Are life-between-life regression testimonies consistent with children’s pre-birth memories?
- Do people who visit the afterlife through OBEs have similar experiences to those who visit through NDEs?
The key to understanding what spirituality means to you is by assimilating all of the phenomena as a whole after consistent study of the individual topics. We have thousands of people having spiritual experiences every day and what they report over time is emerging as a baseline set of truths. Unlike a religion which tells you what to believe as soon as you walk into the door of the church, temple or mosque, Evidential Spirituality asks you to decide what you believe after both study and experience. Only after you have devoted time to gathering a large amount of data through reading, study and research can you begin to aggregate that data into specific patterns that make sense.
Self-Directed Spiritual Experience:
Research in the eight areas of life after death research is important, but it is not the only way to gain insight into the nature of life after death. The other is participating in certain spiritual experiences yourself. The four activities below are spiritual experiences you can actively participate in, thereby granting a kind of knowing that you will not gain from simply studying the experiences of others.
The Four Self-Directed Spiritual Experiences:
- Out-of-Body Experiences
- Past-life regression
- Instrumental Transcommunication
Each of these activities are self-directed. You can learn how to have an out-of-body experience, attend a past-life regression, start your own research into instrumental transcommunication, or visit a reputable medium. If the results are profound and personal, your spirituality will be bolstered by these personal experiences in a way that cannot be replicated by research alone.
Right about now you might be asking why near-death experiences, death-bed visions and after-death communications are not on the list of direct spiritual experiences. The reason is because these are not self-directed. NDEs happen when we are usually in a life-or-death situation, certainly not something that should ever be self-directed. Death-bed visions are always second-hand reports unless you yourself are experiencing them, in which case your research is about to be first-hand knowledge anyway. Lastly, after-death communications are directed by spirits and are not in any way directed by us here on earth (no matter how much we beg and plead for signs).
Nevertheless, if you have had an NDE or ADC, these powerful personal experiences likely provide a cornerstone to your spirituality which can be enhanced by further study and by participating in one of the self-directed spiritual activities listed above.
Beware of Fraud
The most difficult aspect of relying on second-hand personal experiences for evidence is weeding out the liars and frauds. People who submit NDEs, death-bed visions, after-death communications and out-of-body experiences have little reason to lie as there is no monetary incentive to it (unless publishing a book, see The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven hoax). Statistically, the fact that a large number of experiences are available in each of the eight areas of life after death research helps to minimize the impact of any one delusional or deceptive report. Over time, the outliers will be easier to spot but it is impossible to avoid altogether. This is why there is an emphasis on gathering a lot of data from many sources; it avoids any one source from contaminating the big picture.
Mediums and channelers require far greater discernment. With time and experience, you can begin to tell the honest and the dishonest apart. Mediums who are simply out to gain a buck are easily pointed out for their constant questioning, badgering, cold reading techniques and obvious desire for fame above helping those in need. Channelers who are not really in touch with high level teachers on the other side will spout useless platitudes and recycled new-age word salad meant to make you feel good, but offers little else in the way of original teaching. After two decades, I have only found two channelers that I trust enough to incorporate their teachings. When in doubt, don’t.
Tips for Beginners:
Here are a few tips to keeping your head while being mired in a lot of conflicting testimonies, experiences, and scientific arguments:
- Start with a clean slate.
Do not begin your search for life after death with preconceived notions and beliefs. Make sure you are okay with the possibility that the outcome of your research may not be what you initially hoped for. Promise yourself that if you encounter opponent viewpoints or scientific reasoning that disproves life after death, that you will give it the same consideration and weight as something that supports life after death. Only then can you feel reasonably sure that you final conclusions were as objective as possible.
2. Don’t take everything literally.
Know that life after death experiences are highly personal to the experiencer. The symbols, visions and experiences are likely unique to the individual, however you can derive information based on the structure and context of the experience. There are many people who see Jesus during their NDEs. Others see Buddha, or Vishnu, or even Elvis. Try not to draw too many conclusions from the symbolism.
3. Do not assume the spirit world functions like earth does.
The afterlife does not seem to be an objective reality (up for debate, of course). It is consistently described as a thought-based reality, subject to change. In addition, the spirit world is multidimensional and spirits are not all-knowing (also up for debate).
Note: Although the last two statements are things that I learned after years of confusion and are ultimately my interpretation of the evidence, I bring them up here because it could prevent you from going through the same years of confusion. Here on earth, we are used to living in an objective environment, where we can all agree on what we see (for the most part). From my own understanding, it is important to evaluate the source of the information based on whatever context you can gain from their circumstances.
4. Keep your faith separate from your evidential beliefs.
You might privately have faith in life after death and live your life according to your faith. However, until you have enough evidence, you must keep your faith and your belief separate. I’ll use myself as an example. Privately, I have believed in life after death for a long time now. I don’t allow my unsubstantiated faith to pollute my evidential search for life after death, however. Faith doesn’t require evidence, but in my opinion, belief does. It can be hard to hold two opposing views in your head at the same time, but it is important that you don’t let your faith get in the way of being objective about the evidence. My faith is an emotional component of me, but I have to be willing to let it go if the evidence points in a different direction. That is why it is vital to carefully delineate the two.
Keeping Yourself Objective Through Diversification
Discernment is extremely important as you – the Evidential Spiritualist – study these vast resources to determine what you believe. You can very easily get bogged down in bullshit if you cling to one source or resource to the exclusion of others, or do not examine the merits of any particular experience against the larger body of experiences.
For example, many people may become enamored by a particular spiritual teacher or teaching and then cling to that as the ultimate truth without ever comparing it to other teachings or rightly using it as just one component of an overall study. ‘Abers’, people who follow the Jerry and Esther Hicks philosophy and ‘Tealers’, people who follow Teal Swan sometimes grant their spiritual leader with god-like powers, believing in everything that comes out of their mouths as ultimate truth to the exclusion of everything else.
This is dangerous and anathema to healthy evidential spirituality, which relies on cross-referencing sources to get closest to the truth as possible. As any wall street investor would tell you, “Diversify, Diversify, Diversify!”
That is the beauty of evidential spirituality: we interpret the evidence the best we can, and are free to change our core beliefs as more evidence is revealed to us. Unlike religion, which asks you to follow one book or statement of faith without daring to research alternative viewpoints, evidential spirituality makes the assimilation of diverse knowledge a cornerstone of its philosophy. It also helps to study religion and history to round out your knowledge of how spirituality relates to our experience of being human.
Evidential Spirituality is Not for Everyone
The only drawback to building your spirituality from evidence is time and effort. It easily takes years, if not decades, to read and research much of the spiritual literature is out there, discern what is real and what is garbage; what is truth and what is lie. Additionally, it takes time and energy to devote yourself to the four self-directed spiritual experiences. You won’t do it all, and that is okay.
That is in part why I created this website – in order to help distill much of the information as I learn it, and hopefully save you time by bringing up research and talking points that can get you thinking in new ways about spiritual topics.
Unfortunately, the path of discovery must still be borne by you alone. The whole point of Evidential Spirituality is finding your own interpretation of the evidence that exists and coming up with your own conclusions. There is no shortcut, unfortunately.
I can help you with where to start, however. There are two links in my menu, one is Resources for Afterlife Research and Recommended Reading. Begin in Resources for Afterlife Research with the books listed in ‘General Afterlife Studies’. These books are great starting points that will give you an overview of the evidence and the research in life after death that has been done. From there, you can use this information as a springboard for additional research and for seeking out self-directed spiritual experiences.
For those that desire to follow a faith-based spirituality, there is nothing at all wrong or inferior to that path. The choice is deeply personal, and ultimately any path that leads to greater spirituality is a good one.
If you do choose evidential spirituality, know that it is a life-long personal endeavor that demands much in mental and emotional attention. It could throw everything you previously believed into chaos. On the other hand, evidential spirituality will grant you a foundation of belief that can be extremely empowering, perhaps granting you that holy grail of moving from faith, to belief, to the ultimate in spiritual attainment… the knowing that death is a great illusion that needlessly shadows our life and cloaks our dreams in fear.
Questions for the reader:
- Do you have a system or methodology to studying life after death?
- Do you prefer to study one topic in-depth instead of generalizing?
- Do you prefer a more organic path to spirituality, using feeling, intuition and faith to guide you?
- Have you ever had a personal experience that you have used to gain certain insights? What did you learn?
- Would you consider yourself an Evidential Spiritualist?