Friday, May 28, 2010

God teaser # 1

Three Faces of Eve

The Three Faces of Eve

© Brother Greg 5/28/10

This is a story of a woman who found that she had three different persons in her, a bit like God in three persons. She had a mousy, nice self, Eve White; an exuberant irresponsible and sexy self, Eve Black; and later a more grounded, reasonable self, Jane. During the course of a couple of years of therapy, the three Eves integrated into one new self, Evelyn White. Apparently, Evelyn split into three persons as a child, when her mother forced her to touch her grandmother’s body at a wake. There may have been more that led toward the splitting, but this appeared to be the triggering event.

The story, for me, is mostly interesting in terms of what it says about what makes a person a person. What makes us feel we are the same person from moment to moment, day to day, year to year? Are we the same person in our dreams? Do we have secret selves that we suppress? What’s going on when a quiet person gets drunk and then acts in a loud and exuberant way? Is he/she the same person? Can a person radically change, so that he or she is not recognizable as a former person? Apparently this really happened with Eve, under the influence of extreme trauma. But can it happen otherwise? I think most psychological disorders exist on a continuum, and traces of many of them can be found in most of us.

It’s said that when people are hypnotized, they may do some things out of the ordinary, but they will not do things counter to their usual moral sensibilities. Is that because they are still the same people, even when in a trance?

The extremes of psychological change leave open for me the question of spiritual experience. We don’t know what it is. We don’t really know that much about what people experience. How can we, if we don’t really know what makes a person a person?

Corbett H. Thigpen, Hervey M. Cleckley. The Three Faces of Eve. Kingsport, TN: Kingsport Press. 1957

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Neurology and Spirituality

Neurology and Spirituality

© Brother Greg 5/25/10

The book Why God Won’t Go Away describes various functions of the brain and theorizes about how our neurological circuitry enables to have spiritual experiences. The authors focus on a type of spiritual experience they call “Absolute Unitary Being.” To my mind, it sounds like the “all is one, one is all” sort of experience some people describe. It’s a kind of egoless ecstasy of feeling a connectedness with all that exists—all being. The authors argue that this is the deepest and most fundamental spiritual experience that makes its appearance in all major religions. The authors do not claim that the brain structures, patterns of neurologic activity and spiritual experience prove the existence of “God,” but they point out that knowing how the brain processes spiritual experience does not prove that the brain simply generates the experience internally. The brain may really be processing real spiritual experience, just as it does any other perceived experience. In short, scientific understanding of the brain neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. But they lean toward the belief that spiritual experiences are quite real and not self-generated.

It’s an interesting, provocative book that is worth reading. It was written by two neurologically knowledgeable physicians and a freelance writer. I admit, I appreciate a book that basically points out that the doors remain open to consideration of an unknown universe that eludes the reductionistic grasp of scientific inquiry.

I’m not convinced, however, that the “Absolute Unitary Being” experience the authors describe is the be-all and end-all of spiritual experience. There are a variety of vivid spiritual experiences people have described in different cultures and periods of time—some of them nice and warm, some of them terrifying, and some of them startling in any number of ways. The attempt to argue that one particular kind of spiritual experience is the deepest and most profound arrival, toward which all other experiences are merely steps, is yet another narrow assertion of religious truth. It’s another form of religious fundamentalism. I wish the authors had truly accepted the open-endedness of their own neurologic inquiries and not fallen through the trapdoor of religious conclusions.

Andrew Newberg, MD; Eugene D’Aquili, MD, PhD; and Vince Rause. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantine Books. 2001.