Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Epiphany vs. materialism


2014:   In my Epiphany post in 2010, I took a position independent of both traditional Christian belief and scientific materialism. To say more, I do not share Christian belief in Jesus being uniquely divine nor do I share materialist disbelief in spiritual reality.
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An epiphany is a manifestation of divinity. It can happen unexpectedly in any circumstance. Most scientists refuse to believe that real epiphanies happen, which leads me to the topic for today.

Yesterday the Christian feast of Epiphany celebrated the wise men visiting the infant Jesus. In church I was disappointed that the homilist, a learned, highly-respected scripture scholar, spoke of the Magi story in the Gospel of Matthew as if it were fact. I nodded when he encouraged us to discern the direction of divine guidance at this beginning of a new era, expecting him to throw an inclusive light on the subject, but he floored me with his narrow interpretation.

He upheld the Christian claim that Jesus is the only Son of God and savior of the whole world, even adding the self-serving, christo-centric claim that Jesus saves Hindus, Buddhists, etc.etc, even if they don’t know it. I’m sure that, if questioned, he would be quick to agree in a politically correct way that other religions have as much validity as Christianity. But the two assertions contradict each other.
Darn, I was disappointed by the smallness of his vision!

A much more exciting and relevant explication of epiphany happened on NPR this past week. Fingerprints of God. Barbara Bradley Hagerty never speaks the word “epiphany” but that’s what she writes and talks about, somewhat reluctantly. She was a little embarrassed, “spooked” to find herself experiencing transcendence.

An NPR correspondent, Hagerty explores whether science can find physical evidence of God in her book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. She wanted to know,
Does brain activity reflect encounters with a spiritual dimension? 
I’m glad she used terms like “spiritual dimension,” “transcendence” and “spiritual reality” and never reduced God to a humanlike individual or god.

Belief in matter-only dominates science—93% of scientists believe God is a delusion conjured up by the brain. Spiritual matters, it’s assumed, are no subject for scientific observation, but in the last 20 years some neuroscientists have started looking for physical evidence of the spiritual world.

Is God only the result of chemical processes? Of a God spot in the brain? Is it just the activity of nerve cells? Or do people actually touch the Transcendent? Hagerty concludes that science can’t prove or disprove God, but she believes there’s something there.

There is a lobe in the brain that apparently registers awareness of Spirit and there is a phenomenon called temporal lobe epilepsy, which leads some scientists to believe that religious greats like Moses, Joan of Arc, Mohammed, Teresa of Avila, Joseph Smith, the Buddha, and Paul on the way to Damascus merely had this condition. But Hagerty doesn’t buy it. She thinks the temporal lobe mediates spiritual experience instead of causing it, and she uses the distinction between a CD player and a radio to illustrate.

Turn off a CD player and the music is gone; it’s in the gadget. Turn off a radio and you don’t hear the music but it’s still being transmitted by the station. Just so, Spirit is always transmitting, but some brains turn it off or have the volume so low it’s hard to hear. Others are sensitively attuned to it, and a few have the volume so high they actually may need medical help. Hagerty thinks people with better antennae have more transcendent moments.
Added in 2013:  The messagethe thought or ideais independent of CD, radio, and every other physical means of transmission; it is spiritual reality. So are all thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc. 

Right here is the crux of disagreement between non-believers and believers, and here I mean believers who are well aware of religious tyranny, fraud, and foolishness. We think some spiritual entity initiates transcendent events. We believe the epiphanies come from a reality outside of our individual consciousness, although we can cultivate habits that develop better antennae to receive them. We can’t be shaken from our profound conviction of Something Beyond this surface world, and we base this on experience. The philosopher/psychologist William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience quotes such persons:
God is more real to me than any thought or thing or person.
God surrounds me like a physical atmosphere.
And he comments about this conviction:
These feelings of reality . . . are, as a rule, much more convincing than results established by mere logic ever are. . . . if you do have them . . . you cannot help regarding them as genuine perceptions of truth, as revelations of a kind of reality which no adverse argument, however unanswerable by you in words, can expel from your belief.
James addresses rationalist pooh-poohing of anything spiritual.
If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. . . . something in you absolutely knows that [the transcendent moment] must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.
Because William James looks at spirituality as a disinterested observer, his conclusions have more credibility for me than those of any religious writer. The same applies to Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s Fingerprints of God. Both of them console and uplift me.
********  2014

To William James and Barbara Bradley Hagerty I add Eben Alexander. His Proof of Heaven does a good job of answering materialists and I plan on writing more about it.

2 comments:

Vincent M. Smiles said...

The notion that most scientists reject belief in God because of science is not accurate. Elaine Howard Ecklund wrote a book on this (SCIENCE VS. RELIGION, 2010) in which she shows that scientists “self-select … from backgrounds where religion was practiced only weakly” (26), and, among the non-believing scientists interviewed, “it is not the engagement with science itself that leads them away from religion” (17).

John Chuchman said...

Incarnation is Creation is . . .

For Christians,
Revelation starts with the Bible
and a transcendent God
and creation.

Eastern Revelation
starts with
the immanent God
within.

For Christians,
God is perceived as
a Person.

Eastern Religions
perceive God
as an immanent
Presence
beyond the senses,
beyond understanding.

What is the relation
between God, the Divine,
and Creation?

If, as the Eastern Religions teach,
God is
the Fullness of Being,
How does that relate to
Creation?

Many Eastern religions teach
the Non-Duality
of God and Creation,
while Christianity
seems to reside in
God and Creation
being separate.







An Eastern concept
is that
God is to Creation
as
the soul is to the body,
with God being the Soul,
and all of creation,
including us,
the Body

Many in the East
espouse Advaita,
for which Creation and a personal God
are appearances,
superimpositions
on the reality of the Divine,
also known as
Monism.

In it,
there is only one reality
without differences and distinctions
in God,
in pure Being.

In Monism,
my separateness from all else in Creation,
my separateness from the Creator,
is an illusion.

True Self,
Fullness of Being,
dispels all separateness.
In it,
there is no otherness.

Those who do not accept Monism,
while agreeing that there is
only one reality,
think of Creation as
a relative existence,
akin to the sun shining
in pools of water.
There is only one Sun,
one life, one truth, one reality,
manifesting itself
in creation, in you, in me.

We are real,
but in a completely relative reality.

The Hebrews
saw humans as images of God.

Hinduism teaches that
God is hidden in all things,
all-pervading,
the True Self within all beings.

Karl Rahner writes that
humans are constituted by a capacity
for Self-transcendence,
that we are not fully human,
until we transcend our human state
with the Spirit
being that point at which
the human spirit
meets the Spirit of God,
in True Self.

Eastern Theology
is far more mystical
than Western,
with many believing that
Christianity needs to become
a mystical theology once again.

Christianity
has become a philosophical theology of reason
losing its sense of
Contemplative Wisdom
of early Church.

Christians need to re-discover
a mystical dynamism
using science, philosophy, theology
as means,
not ends.

A Quest for Freedom
and Liberation from the tyranny of doctrine and dogma
takes me to God
who is the Light of my own thoughts,
My True Self.