My parents split when I was very young, and I grew up living with my mother and her parents. They were all Catholic. My dad, on the other hand, scorned organized religion and had lots of new agey beliefs. I don't ever remember a time when I didn't question the Catholic stuff. My dad's beliefs stayed with me much longer. He believed in telepathy, speaking with the dead, reading auras, astrology and tarot readings and other sorts of divination, the healing power of crystals, reincarnation, a vague 'God is energy' sort of belief in the divine, etc. He believed we could "know" these things were true because they "felt right". Did he ever believe that. And he spoke with such conviction and authority, so much more than my mother's family, that I was convinced of these same things until my late teens.
Then, when I was eighteen...I experienced a terrifying mental state. It was a form of mild dissociation called depersonalization, and it stayed with me for about three months. During that time, I felt very detached from my body and my experience of the world. Like my mind was a million miles away. When I moved, I felt like my body was moving on it's own, and I was watching it from far away. Food stopped being pleasurable, because I felt disconnected from my lips and tongue. I'd spend time just staring at my hands, wondering how these strange appendages could be mine. At times I was gripped with the strong sense that my mind, my 'self', was about to fly away and disintegrate, that this could happen as easily as a feather could be swept off the back of my hand on a windy day. Like most others who've experienced this, I became obsessive about "checking" myself to make sure I was still there. I'd repeatedly run my fingers along the back of my other hand to make sure I could still feel, shift around my feet to make sure I was still connected to the ground....it became a full-time job.
The experience also made me obsessive about questions of the soul, the afterlife, what happens when you die. More than ever, I desperately wanted to be assured that I would continue to exist after death. If I could feel this bizarre while I was still alive and still myself and still in this body, then how could I possibly expect to feel anything like myself after death?? I just couldn't let go of trying to imagine all sorts of possibilities of just how the soul could be real and what 'came next' after death, and trying to intuitively "know" the truth by which possibility "felt right" as my dad had taught me. But it led me to no clear answer. I went around in circles, saying to myself, 'This!', and 'No, THIS!' and 'No, not that, this!'.
I eventually found an internet forum for people with depersonalization (DP, they all called it). One woman had recovered after being in this state for many years. She would stress, over and over, that obsessing about the experience, how you feel every moment, what it all means, 'checking' yourself all the time...was one of the worst things you could do. It kept you locked in that state. Better to focus outward, as much as you could, no matter how difficult that was. Slowly and gradually, I returned to feeling like myself.
But the glue that had been holding my faith in the supernatural together - the idea that I could "just know" what is objectively true based on my intuitive feelings - that was never the same. After all, it was so very wrong throughout that whole experience. I had felt a strong intuitive sense that my mind was just about to fall apart...and it turned out I was never in any danger of that (it had not happened to anyone on that message board, although many felt like it would and feared it like I had). I had felt a strong intuitive sense that I needed to focus on myself to hold my mind together...and that turned out to be one of the worst things I could do. I had felt a strong intuitive sense that there was something physically wrong with my brain, that this just had to be a physical health problem...and all the tests had come back clear. My father had been so keen to make me understand that authority figures could be wrong, and that people should question and challenge them at times. He had never told me that our own feelings could lead us just as astray, and that we should question and challenge them also. He never realized that himself.
So, "I know it because I feel it" was no longer a valid argument in my mind. And really, that was all I had against everything that told me that god and an extracorporeal soul and paranormal phenomena etc. probably did not exist. Once I let go of that idea, I was able to hear and seriously consider all the rational arguments against all of that. I didn't want to at first. The idea of being alone in the world without any higher power, and the idea of ceasing to exist after death..those still frightened me. After I recovered from the DP I just shoved all that stuff in the back of my mind and tried to put the experience behind me and just focus on living my life. Years later, I was browsing the internet and came across an interview with a well-known psychologist was asked if he believed in the afterlife. He bluntly replied that the probability was very low, and people believed in it mostly because they were afraid to die. I was shocked and horrified...because I had no argument against what he'd said. Nothing. Years before I would have smugly thought, I know it because I feel it. These people may be blind to the truth, but not me. Not anymore.
I've pretty much made peace with it all now, but it for a while it was painful and difficult to accept. That's one of the reasons I normally stay away from these types of discussions: all the assumptions that atheists and skeptics are "closed-minded" and have never considered other points of view and just follow along with whatever science tells them piss me off. To an extent that sort of thing is quite natural when people encounter those who disagree with them, but it gets to me when it comes to this topic. This was somewhere my mind really didn't want to go at first, and I went there anyway. That is the opposite of closed-mindedness. Whatever anyone may think of my conclusions, I sure as hell didn't arrive here through closed-mindedness or refusing to question things.
Well, that was quite the wall of text, wasn't it?. I think I'll just make short posts for a while.