A Buddhist acquaintance of mine asked me where I would experience a sense of transcendence and oneness now that I’ve moved away from religious belief. My initial response was: what could provide a greater sense of oneness with the world than looking at all of life through Darwinian lenses? To appreciate the reality that all life forms on earth have evolved incrementally over millions of years from a common beginning is a far more wonderful and jaw-dropping insight than anything the Bible has to offer.
Plus, transcendence is rather over-rated anyway. Most believers do not spend very much of their lives at all in a state of transcendent bliss. Those religious “highs” tend to be very fleeting and probably don’t have much to do with religion anyway.
Brain scans of Buddhist monks in deep meditation and Catholic nuns in intense prayer indicate unusually low activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe. (See “The Believing Brain”, by Michael Shermer, p. 154)
This finding alone would indicate that states of religious bliss and transcendence have little or nothing to do with the actual tenets of religious faith. Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns hold radically different, and sometimes contradictory, beliefs about the nature of the world and God. So their theology or philosophy could not possibly be the cause of any state of religious transcendence. The simple act of meditation without reference to religious belief can have the same effect.
Scientists have also been able to cause patients to experience out-of-body sensations by electrically stimulating certain regions of the brain.
It really is “all in our head!”