Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter


When a family member of our Catholic priest Mary was preparing to start chemotherapy for cancer treatment, she said to him, “You are walking the Hero’s Journey,”
The Hero’s Journey is a tale as old as humankind. An individual leaves home and all that is familiar and secure. He goes out into the world, encountering along the way many challenges, some marvelous and some horrifying, even life-threatening.
At times the person’s path joins with other travelers who can be companions in the experience. At times the journey is solitary, even painfully, agonizingly lonely.

The traveler comes to a deeper understanding of the world and of self. At the end of the journey, the traveler arrives back home to the familiar and the loved, but forever changed. In setting out to seek new discoveries, the seeker has discovered the self.
In her homily for Palm Sunday, Mary likened the Hero’s Journey to the story of Christ’s Passion.
You don’t have to believe the story of Christ to see its hero as a model to motivate humanity, a type existing in all cultures.
When Jesus is entering Jerusalem, the crowds are going crazy with excitement and cheering. It is clear to Roman and Jewish authorities that Jesus is having a destabilizing impact on the populace. And now Jesus has passed a point at which there is no turning back. He feels the immense weight of this realization. His companions lie near him asleep. If only they could be awake with him to share the agony, to help bear the burden.

And yet he is not alone. In his solitary humanness he turns to his Divine Parent, “Abba (Dad),” he begs, “please don’t make me go through this. Let this bitter cup pass. But if it must be, I will continue on this path.”
The Crucifixion follows, and Jesus cries out,
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I said it more than once during my own journey through bitter realizations about my marriage, my youth, and my personal weaknesses. The greater my suffering, the greater my growth in spiritual awareness. 

Continual conversion—death and resurrection—is a repeated theme across religions, showing the abiding purpose of human existence—to become ever better versions of ourselves. The dying-and-rising theme pervades religions in all times and places, flaring especially when nature’s seasons are changing.

“Easter” is derived from the name of a Germanic Goddess, we are told by the venerable Bede, a Christian scholar. Eostre or Ostara (many more variations) and other Great Mother Goddesses were feted in springtime festivals honoring their fertility.

In Judaism, the Exodus memorialized in Passover forms the conversion story, as the Resurrection of Christ forms the Christian one. The Greek world honored the Mother-Daughter pair of Demeter and Persephone in the Eleusinian Mysteries, a religion that lasted almost as long as Christianity. Similar to its rites, the mysteries of Holy Week evoke a transformative journey—Last Supper, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. 

The Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated the rising of Persephone from having been abducted by Hades to the underworld of the dead. This reflects the ancient belief in a 3-tiered cosmology—earth, heaven where the gods lived, and hell where the dead lived. In tune with it, the Apostles’ Creed states,
He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
Father-Son Christianity was preceded by Mother-Daughter religions in the Greco-Roman world.

It was my journey into the underworld that formed my ability to see more deeply, to awaken to the paradoxes of life. I started writing about my new realizations—everyone should know these things! Amazed by my powerful inner drive to write, I said, “I can’t not write!”

Having been touched by the fearsome and wondrous other world, I like to tell the story less well known that pushes people out of their comfort zones. I am driven to challenge the accepted order, to provoke deeper awareness, to subvert official stories.

And I thank readers who encourage me to continue.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SOMETHING MORE


From Time magazine, April 14, 2014:
Activist, atheist and best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich:
I was educated as a scientist, and one of the things I learned was that you do not discard anomalous results. If you have a result that doesn’t fit your theory, . . . you don’t get to erase that. You have to figure out what’s going on.
Materialists, however, ignore evidence of an immaterial realm or dismiss it in the same old predictable ways—drugs, schizophrenia, etc. etc.
Ehrenreich in the NY times wrote about her mystical experience and others’:
[My family] were atheists and rationalists, a stance I perpetuated by opting, initially, for a career in science. . . .  But something happened when I was 17 that shook my safely rationalist worldview and left me with a lifelong puzzle. . . .
It was a furious encounter with a living substance . . . I felt ecstatic and somehow completed, but also shattered. . . .

When the early 20th-century Protestant theologian Rudolf Otto [Das Heilige, The Holy] surveyed the works of (mostly Christian) mystics for clues as to the nature of the “Other” . . . , he concluded that it was “beyond all question something quite other than the ‘good.’ . . . [It] must be gravely disturbing to those persons who will recognize nothing in the divine nature but goodness, gentleness, love and a sort of confidential intimacy.”
This explains the admonition to “fear” God.
I suspect saccharine representations of divinity help to push atheists and materialists toward disgust with religion—the sugar and those damn guys in the sky also push thoughtful Christians out of churches. Ehrenreich continues.
Psychiatry has traditionally disposed of the mystically adept: . . . I suspect we would have more reports of uncanny experiences from ordinary, rational people if it were not for the fear of being judged insane or at least unstable. . . .

Fortunately, science itself has been changing. It was simply overwhelmed by the empirical evidence, starting with quantum mechanics . . .
Ehrenreich’s account is compatible with books I’ve discussed here—Quantum Enigma by 2 physicists, Proof of Heaven by a neurosurgeon, The God Theory by an astrophysicist, many other scientific works, and with religion. Yes, with religion—that is, if you know what nonsense in religion to discard and how to read what’s left.
Don’t be satisfied with these few quotations from Ehrenreich’s article; go there.

I’ve had my own uncanny experiences that I promised to relate weeks ago but they don’t seem as compelling as the evidence from science, which keeps crowding out my less stupendous stories. Maybe some other time.

Encounters with the Other Side really are not rare among ordinary people and stories of them like to come my way. I have heard many NDE (near death experience) accounts, beginning with my mother’s story overheard when I was a child. Many years later I realized Mother’s story had the classic features of an NDE, including the turn back to physical life on earth.
Kevin Kling—storyteller, humorist, playwright, poet—said after his NDE to Krista Tippett.
For the rest of my life, I will have a foot in another world.
I often tell people that I tried to be an atheist and failed. That’s not actually true because I’m still an atheist. Although a Catholic, I do not believe in a god or gods, idols that Christian God-talk forms in our imaginations.
I am an atheist but not a materialist because I believe in immaterial or spiritual reality, which is not supernatural; it is part of nature. 

This word “spiritual” is a problem for materialists who cannot separate it from religion.
There is this unconscious process that I recognize from my own journey. You figure out that the Christian story is myth.  Consequently you lose respect for religion and despise Christian talk still saturating our culture. You reflexively deny the possibility of any good in religion and you keep hearing “spiritual” and “religious” used as if it were the same thing. So the word “spiritual” seems like just naïve religious belief.

I wish atheists could move past their understandable distaste for religious naïvete (conspicuous in our media) and soberly consider the scientific evidence for non-physical reality. To my observation, materialists despise religion but not religious people. I think they feel sorry for them. And spiritual people feel sorry for atheist materialists.

I can understand both perspectives.

Friday, April 4, 2014

We need SOMETHING MORE


People closest to me have heard my grievance against computer powers-that-be dictating that I replace my computer, which was only 6 years old. The past few weeks have been a comedy of errors for me as I’ve transitioned from Windows XP to Windows 8, which was not built for serious writers. It panders to tech whizzes who love playing with apps.
Technology intimidates me. Learning how to manipulate new gadgets—so delightful to young people— befuddles me. I find it easy to swim in abstractions and advocate for change in patterns of thinking, but I resist change in the use of objects.

As I move past this Great Lurch in my life I find myself still dwelling on the subject of scientific materialism, which has occupied my blog since 2014 began. So forgive me for continuing to express my stupefaction over apparently reasonable people believing that reality consists of nothing but atoms and molecules in random combinations. The presence of SOMETHING MORE fills my life.

I have to admit I like materialists, maybe because they reject the same things about religion that I do. When I reacted against Christian falsehoods I almost succeeded in being a materialist. I too denied God because the gods of Christianity were discredited.  Disillusioned, disgusted by naïve Christian belief in those dumb guys in the sky, I too turned to science for direction. But, like all facts, the facts of science require interpretation, and here emotions play a role.

In my conversations with materialists I invariably hear “spiritual” conflated with “religious.” I point out the difference, but the idea of immaterial reality is associated too closely with foolish religious belief for the prejudice to go away.  I keep hearing about silly religious belief, which really is beside the point.

It turns out that scientific materialism resembles religious fundamentalism in avoiding evidence that challenges its dogma. Scientific facts like the just-right physical conditions for life in the universe. Or the undisputed role of consciousness in deciding the outcome of quantum experiments. Or the testimony of ancient mystics encapsulated in the Pali Canon c. 500-250 B.C.:
All that is comes from the mind;
it is based on the mind,
it is fashioned by the mind.
Mystics, psychics, and ordinary people having direct communication from the immaterial realm are not all naïve or fraudulent.

I think emotional distaste for religious fraud and foolishness gets in the way of rational  thought when materialism is born. Having rationally established that heaven and hell, Father and Son, do not literally exist, and knowing that religions often do an awful job of teaching moral sense, materialists reject anything having to do with religion. It's repellent and has no legitimacy besides its cultural and artistic contributions. I ask them to move beyond aversion to religious dogmatism and avoid another kind of dogmatism.

However, I like what my materialist friend Will said. (He has become my online friend through our disagreement about materialism—a benefit brought by computers, I have to admit.)
I believe I understand why most people are religious or spiritual and find comfort in their belief and don't wish to dispute them except where their belief is harmful.
Amen. I hope Will and I have performed a worthwhile service for fellow thinkers by igniting deeper reflection on these questions And I hope this discourages dogmatism of every kind. Reader comments like this assure me:
“Thanks for making me think in new ways. . .”
“Your writings are so thought provoking...”
Here is a thoughtful reflection on materialism, and it comes from an atheist.
From what I’ve read, reality could not exist without consciousness. Call it god, non-locality, a prime mover or whatever.  The idea that the universe can be explained by reducing it to its physical elements and explaining existence by mechanistic formulas died with the discovery of quantum physics. That’s going on a hundred years ago. But the general population has not caught up and does not understand what science has shown us in the last hundred years.

Reality is very strange and it takes consciousness to exist. I’m reading a fascinating book called, The Physics of Consciousness: The Quantum Mind and the Meaning of Life by Evan Harris Wallace, in which he talks about the history of quantum physics and also his personal life. He relates the two, giving his own view of life.

It’s a personal statement by a physics professor discussing experience, belief and knowledge, and it’s very thought provoking. All of our religions developed in tribal times and the messages had to fit the understanding of those people and times.  It doesn’t mean the messages are wrong. It just means that, as our knowledge grows, so may our understanding. We do not have to be trapped by dogma to believe. Nor do we need a church to sanctify our belief, for each of us is conscious and therefore part of the greater conscious universe.
Dave Steeves
Thank you, Dave.  I agree with every statement here, even though I still participate in religious services. 
(SORRY.  I'm unable to fix the color problem.)

Change of topic—this interesting fact from a letter to The Nation:
The language of Jesus, Aramaic, is not a dead language but in danger of extinction.
It is still spoken in parts of Syria, northern Iraq, Kurdistan and Israel (by Kurdistani Jews)—and even in the United States. Most Aramaeophones are Christians. Some of them are referred to as Assyrians or Chaldeans . . .
Interesting.
I just finished The God Theory by astrophysicist Bernard Haisch and hope you’ll soon read about it here.