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Only 22% Americans know a Hindu

English: Bhagavad Gita, a 19th century manuscr...

Bhagavad Gita, a 19th century manuscript. North India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Only 22 percent Americans know someone who is Hindu, according to a Pew Research Center survey published on July 17.

This number is lowest than any other religion/denomination surveyed.  Catholics rank highest with 87 percent, followed by evangelical Christians, Jews, Atheists, Mormonscial , Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.

Americans express warmest and more positive feelings towards Jews (average rating 63); followed by Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., the survey adds.

Reacting to this survey findings, Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, urged American Hindus to make outreach efforts towards non-Hindu communities, do charity, invite others to visit Hindu temples/ashrams, offer help to neighbors, be good role models, act for the benefit of all, volunteer, try to stay pure and exhibit warmth and love towards fellow Americans.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out that ancient Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord) urged us to act selflessly without any thought of personal profit.

Rajan Zed suggested to each American Hindu to take a vow of undertaking at least one charitable project during this year for less fortunate members of the community. Quoting scriptures, Zed stressed that charity was a duty, which should be undertaken with sympathy and modesty.

Headquartered in Washington DC, “Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world”. Alan Murray is President.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about one billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.


Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Ensuring a Spiritual Approach is in the Treatment Plan

English: Emil Kraepelin

German psychologist Emil Kraeplin first distinguished between manic–depressive illness and “dementia praecox” (now known as schizophrenia) in the late 19th century – via Wikipedia

This article is a good example of how the Catholic Church understands many psychiatric issues. I almost didn’t post it because imo a few points are simplistic. Mental health and illness is a complicated topic, and I think the power of the scientific ethos can have a deleterious effect on some individuals when it is uncritically (or incompetently) applied. Having said that, we must begin the discussion somewhere. And Brother Christopher makes a good stab at it, given the reservations just mentioned. — MC

By Brother Christopher

Once called manic-depressive illness, Bipolar Disorder it affects around 5.7 million American adults or about 2.6% of the population in the United States. According to the literature most people will start to see symptoms of bipolar when they are around 25 years of age or older. Race, creed, culture, gender, social class, and age do not seem to have any bearing on the diagnosis.

According to the study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, more than two thirds of people living with Bipolar Disorder will have a history of bipolar disorder within their family, which typically includes at least one close relative who has the diagnosis or unipolar major depression.

Statistically there are three times as many women over men who experience rapid cycling bipolar. Other studies show that women tend to have more depressive episodes and more mixed episodes than men do.

When it comes to children with bipolar and the teens who present with it, they usually have one parent who has the disorder. Children who have parents with this illness will have a risk of 15% to 30% to be diagnosed with Bipolar. If both of the parents have it then the risk will be increased to 50% to 75%.

So, what are the symptoms of Bipolar? Bipolar Disorder causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior—from the highs of mania on one extreme, to the lows of severe depression on the other. More than just a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycles of bipolar disorder will last for days, weeks, or months. And unlike ordinary mood swings, the mood changes of bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with the ability to function in life’s day to day challenges. The initial symptoms can be subtle and confusing and many people with Bipolar Disorder are often overlooked or misdiagnosed—resulting in unnecessary suffering for all involved. But with proper treatment and support, everyone can lead an abundant and satisfying life.

During a manic episode (the high), a person might impulsively quit their job, charge up huge amounts on credit cards, or feel rested after sleeping only two hours sleep, if that. While during a depressive episode (the low), the same person might be too exhausted to get out of bed, and be full of a self-loathing and hopelessness temperament over being unemployed and in debt or just disgusted with life in general. These cycles of up and then down wreak havoc on not only the individual but the family and friends in his or her circle. And those friends and family, often stressed themselves by the actions of the individual’s disorder, often separate themselves from the afflicted over time. The causes of Bipolar Disorder aren’t completely understood, but it often it appears to be hereditary. A 2000 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry it was reported ‘in those with bipolar disorder, two major areas of the brain contain 30 percent more cells that send signals to other brain cells.’ This report theorizes that ‘the extra signal-sending cells may lead to a kind of overstimulation, which makes sense considering the symptoms of bipolar disorder.’ Other studies suggest that a low or high level of a specific neurotransmitter such as serotonin, norepinephrine or dopamine is the cause of the illness; while other studies suggest that an imbalance of these substances is the real problem, i.e., that a specific level of a neurotransmitter is not as important as its amount in relation to the other neurotransmitters. And still other studies propose that they have identified evidence that a change in the sensitivity of the receptors on nerve cells may be the causing issue. In summation, researchers are quite certain that the neurotransmitter system is at least part of the cause of Bipolar Disorder, but further research is still required to verify the exact underlying cause. What we have determined is that research has found that stressful life events can lead to the onset of symptoms in bipolar disorder. These can range from a death in the family to the loss of a job; from the birth of a child to a move (stress affects each of us differently). The stressful event can be just about anything. Once the disorder is triggered and progresses it takes on a life of its own. Once the cycle begins both the psychological and biological processes take over and keep the illness active.

So to provide an exact cause of the illness the best explanation, according to the current research available, is what is termed the ‘Diathesis-Stress Model.’ (Diathesis meaning’ a physical condition that predisposes a person more than usually susceptible to certain diseases.) The Diathesis-Stress Model states that each person inherits certain physical vulnerabilities to problems that may or may not appear depending on what stresses occur in his or her life. The bottom line in the causality of Bipolar Disorder is something you were born with that lays dormant until something in your life sets it off; at least this is the working model until research finds something new.

There are different faces of bipolar disorder in which the medical community classifies the illness.

Bipolar I Disorder (mania or a mixed episode) – This is the classic manic-depressive form of the illness, characterized by at least one manic episode or mixed episode.

Bipolar II Disorder (hypomania and depression) – In Bipolar II disorder, the person doesn’t experience full-blown manic episodes. Instead, the illness involves episodes of hypomania and severe depression.

Cyclothymia (hypomania and mild depression) – Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder that consists of cyclical mood swings. However, the symptoms are less severe than full-blown mania or depression.

The most effective treatment for Bipolar Disorder is a combination of medications and counseling. Physicians often treat the mania symptoms associated with bipolar disorder with one set of medications, and use another set of medications drugs to treat the depression. Specific medications are also used for ‘maintenance care’ to maintain a stable mood over time. And although chemic al (medication) treatment is primary, ongoing counseling is important to help patients, and their families better cope with the disorder.

Today, the recommended treatments for Bipolar Disorder may include medications like lithium, anticonvulsant medications, antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, or a combination of any these medications they are prescribed with the goal of tempering moods without igniting the manic episode. It is important to take the medications exactly as prescribed and not to stop them. Should the patient feel the need to stop the medication both the patient and the family together should consult the doctor. Many of these medications have harmful effects if discontinued suddenly and should be tapered under the care of the prescribing physician.

As a pastoral counselor our role is to be involved with the counseling aspect of the treatment. ‘Talk’ therapy is an important part of the treatment for Bipolar Disorder. During therapy those involved, both patient and family can talk over their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that are causing problems within their lives. It’s easy to feel alone and abandoned by God. But God has not abandoned his faithful. It is the person who abandoned God because of the way their disease performs. It is here that a program which includes not only mind and body approach, but an approach to strengthen the spiritual relationship with God; a renewal of faith must be part of the healing process.

Such a Christian approach to treatment is based on the belief that:

God who created us and loves us (Genesis 1:26)

-Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’

Jesus the Christ who redeems us (Isaiah 53:5)

-But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Holy Spirit who guides us (Acts 1:8)

-But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’

Within this approach the goal is to minimize symptoms, help individuals address life problems that they have in developing their lives, and to provide the tools to live a more fulfilling life. While God certainly has the ability to work miracles and cure any malady, He often allows us continue our journey with a ‘thorn in the flesh’ to remind us that He is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).

2 Corinthians 12:7–9

7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

If a Christian had diabetes or cancer, he would seek medical advice from trained doctors, take prescribed medications and treatments, and seek righteous counsel on how to deal with both his physical and emotional symptoms. The same must hold true for a believer with Bipolar Disorder. Because Bipolar Disorder affects the way a person thinks, finding spiritual counsel and spending time in God’s word are essential to reconnect to God. In order to do what is right, we must identify what is True. Bipolar Disorder alters a person’s perceptions of reality, so a strong and consistent foundation in truth is a necessity when dealing with its symptoms. Followers of the Christ should treat the afflicted with Bipolar Disorder with the same Jesus-like compassion they would show toward everyone else.

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About the Author

Brother Christopher Bashaw OFD, RN, M.Div. is a professed Brother in the Franciscans of Divine Mercy, an Old Catholic Tradition within the Independent Catholic Church of the Americas. He is also enrolled in the Independent Catholic Church of the Americas Seminary studying for the permanent deaconate. Brother Christopher has worked as a RN since graduating nursing school in 1984, with nursing experience including drug and alcohol recovery/detox, psychiatric nursing, physical rehabilitation, pain care, military nursing, occupational health, nursing home care, and pediatric/camp nursing. He has brought these skills into the developing his ministry the Mother Mary Society and Franciscan Pastoral Counseling. In addition to holding a M.Div., he holds certificates in Biblical Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling, and Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery (Level 3) with a Christian approach.

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The Three Poisons of Buddhist Psychology or Christian Teachings Left Ignored

Temptation via Tumblr

By Brother Christopher

There are what is known as the three poisons in Buddhism, ignorance, attachment (greed), and hatred. This concept of the three poisons is important whether you consider yourself Buddhist or not, and by understanding this concept of the Three Poisons both your pastoral practice and the client will benefit to wholeness.

Greed, anger and ignorance are treacherous toxins which can build and destroy our life, are noted as the cause of human suffering. Buddhist psychology reveals that not only are these ‘poisons’ the source of our material greed in wanting more and more possessions, and the root cause of all of our harmful illusions of the ego, but they are also painful pollutants, which bring both physical and mental illness.

From the Christian angle, the core definition of greed or attachment defines the term(s) as the obsession with accumulating material goods; a greedy person values material goods more than they value God.

Luke 12:15 New International Version (NIV)

15 Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’

Greed’s buddies are desire and lust; these appetites and attachments cause us to want to ‘get hold of’ things, and to have more and more of them. Leading to never being satisfied. In essence greed and his entourage separate us from the One True God; Greed is that Golden Calf of the Old Testament.

Hate, simply put from a ‘Jesus perspective’ is when we stop considering another’s welfare. Hate is when we simply don’t care. Hate includes ‘when my thing is more important than your thing’.  Hate kills harmony. Hate kills inspiration. Hate kills others. Hate is suicide.

1 John 2:11 New International Version (NIV)

11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.


God&Window (Photo credit: Tallapragada)

Hatred’s cohorts are anger, animosity and loathing, which trigger us to reject that which displeases us or infringes upon our ego. Again we create and divide the separation to the Divine as we promote hatred.

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

37 Jesus replied: ‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

Ignorance, which is ‘not knowing,’ our true nature, sets the path for delusion or in our believing something that is false when it is not or in believing lies in order to support our ego and avoid hurt.

Mathew 7:21-23 New International Version (NIV)

21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

With ignorance we breed fear, co-existence with others diminishes, our intolerance of people, ideas, and practices grows. Out of ignorance we have bigotry, lack of understanding, lack of compassion. Ignorance is a choice that can be overcome through acceptance and education, and is something that is continual in our human life- ever evolving. Ignorance does not allow us to live in God’s Light.

Christ and the devil via Tumblr

Countless numbers of us are most likely to be dominated by at least one of the poisons. These poisons fill our lives with suffering, unhappiness and our ability for tolerance and co-existence.  They are the reason we make poor decisions that upset our future.  They are the source of our self-serving and dishonest intentions, which lead us to act both unethically and immorally.  They are the roots of not only our own pain and misery, but the cause of the pain and suffering to those who love us. They bring ruin upon society itself.  Fortunately, there is an antidote, a treatment, a cure to these three poisons.  The practice of loving kindness and compassion and the connection to God, serving God,  is the medicine.

If we become aware of the Three Poisons, their causes and their cures, we can bring about a wonderful metamorphosis to those we serve as well as to our self.  Through the practice of loving kindness and compassion poison is transformed into nectar. And from the nectar evolves true happiness and righteousness that God intended each of us to behold.  When we realize our interdependence on each other, our connectedness to each other and to the Divine Source, as well as our unique oneness, we rid ourselves of the poisons that keep making us sick.  With pastoral counseling guidance can be offered, lessons can be given, but each one us must take the hand reaching out to us, embrace the tools being given to us, and then use those tools. This is God’s way.  As pastoral counselors we must look at how these poisons are affecting our clients… and unlike many other counselor types use the teachings of the Master, Jesus the Christ to teach our clients how to rid themselves of the poisons and bring harmony and wellness back into their life.

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About the Author

Brother Christopher Bashaw OFD, RN, M.Div. is a professed Brother in the Franciscans of Divine Mercy, an Old Catholic Tradition within the Independent Catholic Church of the Americas. He is also enrolled in the Independent Catholic Church of the Americas Seminary studying for the permanent deaconate. Brother Christopher has worked as a RN since graduating nursing school in 1984, with nursing experience including drug and alcohol recovery/detox, psychiatric nursing, physical rehabilitation, pain care, military nursing, occupational health, nursing home care, and pediatric/camp nursing. He has brought these skills into the developing his ministry the Mother Mary Society and Franciscan Pastoral Counseling. In addition to holding a M.Div., he holds certificates in Biblical Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling, and Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery (Level 3) with a Christian approach.  

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Pope Francis could be from several names

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint and ...

St. Francis de Sales, the gentleman saint and patron of St. Francis de Sales High School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CNN has mentioned St.  Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier, but there’s another one: St. Francis de Sales.

Francis de Sales, C.O., T.O.M., A.O.F.M. Cap., (French: François de Sales) (21 August 1567 – 28 December 1622) was a Bishop of Geneva and is honored as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

You heard it first at!

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British Cardinal says priests should marry

Image via Pinterest / BBC

Cardinal Keith O’Brien: ‘Allow priests to marry’…

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New Pope will have to face same old Church

Image via Tumblr

A lot of people entirely dismiss the Catholic Church. But that’s not really fair. True, there are problems. And many of them will take a long time to repair. But there are about 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. And it seems unlikely that all of these people would attend Mass merely for aesthetic or sociological reasons.

If Catholicism were just a crazed cult like some folks say, it would have died out after its founder (Jesus Christ) died. Sociologists note that cults always dwindle away and die after their charismatic leader passes.

So what’s going on? Could it be that, as the Church claims, the Holy Spirit lives and breathes within the ancient liturgy? I, myself, believe that it does. But that doesn’t mean that there’s still not a whole host of very human problems in need of repair. – MC

Whoever he may be, the 266th pope will inherit a gerontocracy obsessed with turf and Italian politics, uninterested in basic management practices and hostile to reforms. (

Read more news clips at Pinterest – News, Today, Digital Age


The Vatican Christens Telescope on Mount Graham “Lucifer”

NGC 5775

NGC 5775 via Wikipedia

Author: Cynthia Long

The Vatican, the Jesuits and the University of Arizona unveiled an optical telescope on Mount Graham in Arizona named ‘Lucifer’.  The Vatican’s Mount Graham Telescope was named ‘Lucifer’ by the German team who built it.  Not only was this constructed, with great objection by the Apache Nation, on sacred ground, but left everyone with zero explanation as to naming it Lucifer!

Placing unauthorized and un-welcomed telescopes, or anything else, on Indian sacred ground without permission or the blessings on the Apache Nation is truly a nightmare and typical.  A Dan Brown novel could not add more problems to the growing concerns and finger-wagging facing the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church may not ‘believe’ in the ancient laws of the Indian culture, but these laws are as old as the moon.

For decades, Hawaiians have kept their sacred lands without criticism.  To this day, thousands of people send lava rocks and sand to Hawaii for karmic cleansing.  Many of these items come with attached notes of desperation.  For decades, kahunas have agreed to perform sacred ceremonies in the ‘healing garden’, placing these lava stones and sand to rest there.  This practice continues, to this day without conflict or opinions from the outside world.

Back to the telescope (constructed on Mount Graham on sacred Indian land) why would the Vatican have an interest in something like this?  Would the Wormwood star be involved? Could it be due to a warning from the New Testament, in the book of Revelation saying:

‘And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.’ (Revelation 8:10, 11 — King James Bible)

English: Representation of the astronomy in Va...

Representation of the astronomy in Vatican City via Wikipedia

Jesuit Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory, indicated that he could not find an authentic Apache who thought the mountain was sacred.  Although there were numerous lawsuits filed by the Indian Nation rejecting the construction on Mount Graham, stating it is sacred land.  Father Coyne went on to state that he needed to see proof of shrines and would not accept Apache oral history as evidence.

While he dismissed any probability of Mount Graham being sacred, many would like to hear an explanation that could even remotely justify the Vatican christening an optical telescope ‘Lucifer’.

Father Coyne (who headed the Vatican Observatory sites at Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome and Mount Graham in Arizona) also stated:

‘Science is and should be seen as ‘completely neutral’ on the issue of the theistic or atheistic implications of scientific results, while noting that ‘science and religion are totally separate pursuits.’

Does this statement negate any connection between the name of the telescope and Revelation?

Father Coyne has since stepped down from this position and has been succeeded by Father Jose Gabriel Funes.

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About the Author

Cynthia M. Long has written many articles and stories related to spirituality. Her new book: ‘The Red Gown: Love, A Dress Rehearsal?’ will be available in 2013. Cynthia’s site, is dedicated to healing, nurturing and celebrating the soul.

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The spiritual and practical aspects of discernment

Mysticism by gianluca.nastasi

Mysticism by gianluca.nastasi via Flickr

The following originally appeared as an entry at – Think Free.

One Aspect

In Catholic theology one aspect of discernment is the use of reason and experience coupled with divine gifts to distinguish between true and false interior perception.

As Henri Martin P.S.S. puts it:

The charism of discernment is “a kind of supernatural instinct by which those who have it perceive intuitively the origin, either divine or not, of thoughts and inclinations submitted to them.” (J. de Guibert, Lecons, p. 306). It is to be distinguished from revelation of the secrets of hearts, properly so called, made directly by God. In such revelations, which is extremely rare, objective certitude is absolute. In the case of discernment the chances of error lie in the subjective interpretation and use of the supernatural light received. Lacking an infused charism, ordinarily “God will assist by special interior light a gift of discernment acquired by experience and prudence in the application of the traditional rules of discernment.”¹

On the need for seekers to be sincere, humble and rational in the discernment process, the scholar of mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, says:

Ecstasies, no less than visions and voices, must, they declare, be subjected to unsparing criticism before they are recognized as divine: whilst some are undoubtedly “of God,” others are no less clearly “of the devil.”²

Likewise, the Protestant William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, suggests that some lower forms of mysticism may have “proceeded from the demon.”³ The Lutheran Rudolf Otto also talks about different types of mysticism. See, for instance, “An Outline of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy,” Chapter XVI – The ‘Cruder’ Phases.

In Protestant and Catholic Churches discernment is described as a gift and developed ability where a person learns to differentiate among

  • divine spiritual influences
  • evil spiritual influences
  • one’s truest self.

But a problem arises in that many religious people claim to discern. And often different religious and New Age enthusiasts discern differently on the very same issue, citing the “Holy Spirit,” “Allah,” “Angels” or “Objective Truth” as their source of authority.

Discernment often seems to mean taking an alarmist, knee-jerk view of issues that one doesn’t understand, projecting bad habits and transferring the unsavory contents of the unconscious onto scapegoats. This can happen on an individual level or through a kind of institutionally reinforced hypocrisy, as we’ve seen time and again in the history of religions, cults and spiritual movements.

Indeed, unconscious anger, resentment and unresolved psychological complexes may color discernment. And it seems that psychological pain, immaturity and the potential influence of fantasy or evil influences can all be intertwined.

Another Aspect

Another related meaning of the term discernment is to discover what God wants an individual to do in life, to find one’s calling, as it were. This relates to the first meaning of discernment because we can’t do the right thing in life if we’re following imaginary voices, fantasy desires or the promptings of an evil power.

Thomas H. Green S. J. notes that, within Catholicism, this second form of discernment of finding one’s calling was once premised on sheer authority. A spiritual director would simply tell a religious what to do. Today, however, the relationship between discernment and spiritual directors has evolved. Emphasis is now given on “co-discernment” and, in the larger sense, communal discernment. Authority figures only provide general guidelines, as plainly evident in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ultimately it’s up to each individual to flesh out God’s will for his or her life.4

A Synthesis

Father Edward Malatesta, S. J. definition of discernment combines the two previous aspects:

By the discernment of spirits is meant the process by which we examine, in the light of faith and in the connaturality of love, the nature of the spiritual states we experience in ourselves and in others. The purpose of such examination is to decide, as far as possible, which of the movements we experience lead us to the Lord and to a more perfect service of Him and our brothers, and which deflect us from this goal.5

Interestingly, some believe that a higher power or spiritual gift can override personal biases, enabling an imperfect person to make perfect discernments. This dynamic may, indeed, occur from time to time but for the most part it seems that the development of accurate discernment is a lifelong process.

And, quite possibly, we may continue to sharpen our powers of discernment in the afterlife.

¹ (ibidem). (Jacques Guillet, Gustave Bardy et. al. (trans.) Sister Innocentia Richards, Ph.D., Discernment of Spirits. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1970, p. 104.)

² Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, New York: New American Library, 1955, p. 361.

³ London: Penguin, 1985, p. 423.

4 Thomas H. Green S. J., Weeds Among the Wheat – Discernment: Where Prayer and Action Meet, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1984, pp. 11-17).

5 Cited in Green, p. 41.

Copyright © Michael Clark.

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History: The Power of the Idea and the Idea of Power

Knowledge is Power by Tobias Higbie

Knowledge is Power by Tobias Higbie via Flickr

By Jeanne Belisle Lombardo © Copyright 2012 Center for Future Consciousness

Early on in Preface to History, Carl G. Gustavson refers to the philosopher George Santayana’s famous lines on the relevance of history.  He does so with good cause for his own underlying approach to history builds on Santayana’s message.  This becomes clearer if we extend the philosopher’s quote: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness…when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it…this is the condition of children and barbarians…”  When Gustavson says, “Our ideas seem to be drawn to the more primitive level by a mental force of gravity unless the person consciously assists the more complex and true explanations to gain the supremacy” (15), he extends Santayana’s warning. While Santayana exhorts us to leave childishness behind by first remembering history, Gustavson tells us that we must look at it with the eyes of an adult, that is, in a critical and more complex way.  We must leave behind the “childish and primitive mind.”  We must grow up.

To grow up in this sense involves first the ability to build with the obvious facts of history a frame of reference, and to apply to this picture principles such as causation, comparison and motivation.  It further requires the development of a historical perspective.  A key element in this endeavor is the increasing capacity to conceptualize duration in history. From duration, one builds to recognizing continuity – the flow and growth – of the narrative of history. When a person has developed this capacity, what Gustavson calls historical mindedness, she will exhibit the following characteristics, all aspects of a mature and critical thinker: a natural curiosity as to what underlies any historical event; looking to the past when seeking answers to present problems; recognizing forces dynamic in society; stressing the continuity of society; recognizing that society is, at the same time, undergoing change; approaching the subject with humility; and knowing that each situation and event is unique (7). It is only when historical-mindedness is developed that a person can hope to achieve the twofold purpose of history – to discover the origins of our society and culture, and to apply what we have learned to solving present problems.

Among the characteristics listed above, Gustavson focuses on the principles of change and continuity, causation, the uniqueness of historical events and the importance of recognizing forces dynamic in society.  Early on he lists six primary forces: economic, religious/spiritual, institutional/political, technological, ideological and the physical force as embodied in the military or police. In operation in all of these forces are two other driving forces – the idea and power.  In the following section, I will explore these last two forces more in depth and attempt to see how they are connected.

Ideas are subject to the historical principles of continuity and change, and causation.  Like everything else in history, ideas evolve and both shape and are shaped by other forces.  An example of each of the above is the way the earlier collectivism in Russia allowed the idea of socialism to thrive and be converted into a social movement, or how absolute power inherent in the divine right of kings was later transformed into the absolute power of the state.  Gustavson compares ideas to inventions in that ideas are a response to a particular set of social conditions and once germinated are open to modification and improvement (154). In the way an invention moves from the drawing board to its realization in the physical world, ideas move from the realm of speculation to the world of action.  They manifest themselves in “large scale action” such as social movements and institutions. They also frequently deviate from the search for truth to an instrument of power.

Among the large scale actions in which we see the power of ideas are those Gustavson highlights: The divine right of kings, democracy, socialism, progress, nationalism, liberalism and toleration. In our time we could add to these individualism, feminism, globalization, environmentalism, and the offshoots of individualism and democracy – human and animal rights, among others. In many of these arenas, the powerful idea became a tool that enabled certain groups to gain dominance. When the idea becomes rigid and crystallized, when it serves the purposes of a group as its primary function and substitutes loyalty to a cause for the search for truth, the idea crosses over into ideology and dogma.

Much could be said here of the ways ideas are transmitted and of the mechanism that transforms an idea into a tool of power or into an entire institution.  Gustavson uses the examples of the spread of nationalism and socialism to illustrate how this works (158, 159). I would like to focus, though, on what happens to ideas that become agents of power and the control of such ideas.  To do so, we first need to understand some of the operating factors at work in the force of power.

Gustavson defines four ways in which power is manifested:  Physical force, economic power, spiritual power, and technological power. Throughout the book, Gustavson illustrates these forms of power with a rich variety of examples from European history, and supplies us with a means to recognize them in periods and places not discussed in the book.  Gustavson’s example of the brute strength evident in the power of the feudal lord, is equally recognizable in what Winston Churchill called “the terrible 20th century”, the clanking of armor and hooves now replaced by the thunder of tanks and goose-stepping fascists. This same historical example supplies us with another look at how physical power is magnified by technological power. Reading a newspaper with even a cursory eye today must convey to the reader the role of economic power in a society as well and give pause to those who worry about the decline in the spiritual power of both our established religions (as with the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church) and our political ideals.  These four forms of power are everywhere evident and in constant interplay, with one at times dominating the scene to be replaced in the next instance by another.

Gustavson uses the example of European colonialism in Africa to illustrate the tremendous force of all four forms of power in combination.  It is difficult to look at any number of events in history and not find a similar combination at work.  The Spanish Conquest of Mexico with its superior physical force enabled by advanced technology (the horse and the gun,) the moral force of its religion, and the need on the part of the Crown to replenish its coffers, is but one example. It should be mentioned that forces can also work against the group; the Aztecs were disadvantaged by their belief that the god Quetzalcoatl, whose representations in art bore a striking resemblance to a mounted Spanish cavalier, would return at precisely the moment in history when Cortez arrived on the scene. Thus they were defeated not only by the power of the Spaniards’ spiritual idea of the supremacy of Catholicism, but also by their own belief in an idea whose time had passed.

While the physical form of power, brute strength, has been a continuing factor in the history of the world, Gustavson points out that there has been an evolution away from brute strength towards power wielded through political rights and associations. Gustavson sees the preservation of free associations as integral to the maintenance of a balance of power (195), the more so in light of the increasing power of the state and the changing nature of liberalism.  Building on Gustavson’s insight, I would add that the preservation of free associations also contributes to the free flow of ideas, a phenomenon very much in evidence in the history of the United States where associations in the form of private enterprise both fuel and feed off of the flow of ideas.  The capitalist system, relying as it does on competition, could not function without it.

In making his point about the importance of free associations, Gustavson commented about the changing nature of liberalism. Where a liberal once fought for freedom from governmental controls, Gustavson argues that the liberal now increasingly looks to the government to achieve necessary measures (193).  Gustavson’s example suggests that it is possible for the meaning of ideas to change.  Could there be any connection between the level of power an idea attains, (and hence its move towards institutionalization,) and its ultimate corruption?  In this case when liberalism moved away from the philosophical realm into the world of institutions, it changed, as did socialism and nationalism, both of which experienced a gross distortion into fascism.   In our current age, we might look at what is becoming of the idea of progress.  Progress has come under attack in the last half century and serves as a good example of the way an idea changes meaning in light of evolving social forces and developments in the body of knowledge.  An environmentalist today has a very different idea of progress from that held by an industrialist a century ago. Perhaps it is the nature of the powerful idea, like the powerful nation, to reach a zenith and then decline.  And if it is true that power corrupts, we should not be surprised then that that what gives ideas power also opens them up to corruptibility.

How are we to recognize a powerful idea? Gustavson makes the point that rigid control of an idea is an indication of its power. He further believes that “…the persistence of rigid controls…is an indication that …control of ideas is not wholly possible” (195). The Cold War struggle of ideas would bear this out.  Gulags could not stop the spread of the ideas of democracy, individualism and freedom nor could persecution and witch hunts during the McCarthy years deter intellectuals in Western Europe and the United States who were committed to Communism. In the fifty years since Gustavson wrote this book, the control of ideas may be even more difficult.   I say “may” because of the susceptibility of people to misinformation and the fact that while new technologies may come and go, I also tend to agree with Barnum when he said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.” Gustavson writes, “Because of the higher development of education …and the improved means of spreading ideas, the government must provide the masses with ideas or see the masses permeated by thoughts not to the liking of the authorities” (196). This still rings true today.  With the Internet, the masses may have improved access to information and a greater range of sources, but it is also the sheer amount of information, much of it trivial, which makes manipulation of the large common mass of people possible.  We live in the age of information and misinformation.  As every other age has witnessed, technology may make our activities faster, more convenient, and more accurate but it will still be at the service of, and a reflection of, the human will with its love of ideas and its drive towards power, and with all of its conflicting impulses towards good and evil.

With these varying impulses so evident today, I think the question is not how historical thinking can be used profitably in everyday life, but how one can go through life without reference to the events, decisions and personalities both great and flawed of our collective past.  How can a citizen vote without a sense of the history of democracy?  How can we get through the news day and still have hope without an understanding of the similar challenges that faced people in the past?  How barren to live in a world where the origins of our customs remain concealed in a distant mist. As I read Gustavson, I began to place my siblings and friends in various lights- my twin sister the nun as an extension of the long history of the Roman Catholic Church, my brother the policeman as one more in a long line of those who favor physical force as a means to societal control, my elder sister the Gay, conservative, CEO of a large Christian organization as a wonderful product of varying lines of development, myself too as just such a product of forces. A sense of history allows us to see ourselves and others in a truer light. It gives us insight as to why a person acted in a seemingly irrational way, or why events in our time seem to be careening out of control. Historical thinking gives us a context in which to live our lives, a context infinitely more varied and rich than the narrow field of the present. And in it, I believe, lies the only hope for our future.

Work Cited

Gustavson, Carl G. A Preface to History. New York: McGraw, 1955.


ETs, UFOs and the Psychology of Belief

Uncanny things are thought to happen at night ...

Uncanny things are thought to happen at night in desolate places via Wikipedia

© Michael Clark. All rights reserved.

ETs and UFOs

The acronym ET (extraterrestrial) points to the idea that living organisms might exist somewhere beyond our Earth. And the acronym UFO (unidentified flying object) means that something unidentified appears in the sky.

Sometimes UFOs are eventually identified as a weather balloon, parachute or jet plane, so a mystery becomes an ordinary event.¹ But other times we never understand what’s up there. When we can’t understand, it’s tempting to see a UFO as an alien spacecraft piloted by creatures from the far reaches of the universe.

The distinction between UFOs and ETs isn’t ironclad. Again, the U in UFO stands for unidentified, and it’s possible that some UFOs could be ETs. During World War II, for instance, airborne glowing balls were observed and photographed by Allied pilots. These phenomena came to be called Foo Fighters (the rock band came later…), and suggest that some UFOs might be intelligent life forms. The life forms might not be as we normally understand them. They’d be more like those energy creatures we see in Star Trek and other science fiction stories. And they’d probably be able to survive any kind of atmospheric conditions.

ETs and UFOs in Popular Culture

Among all the uncertainty, hoaxers and confused thinking we find today, it remains true that ETs and UFOs are a part of popular culture.

Different web sites arguably reflect various human myths, dreams and expectations about aliens and their alleged spacecraft. Given the limits of our human consciousness, it’s not surprising that most of the talk about ET/UFOs is colored by personal bias and cultural filters.

Religious fundamentalists, who usually see the world in black and white, often say that aliens are manifestations of the devil. At the other end of the spectrum, some ET/UFO enthusiasts claim that aliens are here to save the planet.

In addition, some individuals believe that they, themselves, are alien emissaries, born of a human but really, so they say, from another planet or cosmic dimension.

While it’s good to be open-minded, the topic of ETs and UFOs requires careful, critical analysis. The following list outlines some of the main questions that any serious researcher should ask:

  • Are ETs/UFOs the stuff of myth and fantasy?
  • Can they be explained by normal, everyday phenomena?
  • Do ETs have physical, energy or spirit bodies?
  • Could ETs/UFOs travel through space and time?
  • How intelligent are they?
  • How much more of the universe can they see?
  • Is every ET kind and helpful?
  • Could some be harmful to other ETs and to human beings?
  • Could this harm be psychological, and not just physical?

It seems probable that ETs do exist in some shape or form. Both the Catholic Church and the CIA endorse inquiry into the possibility of alien life. And Library and Archives Canada has an online resource called Canada’s UFOs: The Search for the Unknown.

There’s a lot of material on the internet about ETs and UFOs. Here’s a sampling of what can be found today. Some of these web sites might seem sort of far out and questionable, while others appear quite sober and raise some good questions.

ETs, UFOs and Spiritual Discernment

UFOs and common sense - see image notes, below.

Arlan K. Andrews summarizes a good number of reports suggesting that psi abilities (ESP, clairvoyance) increase after a person believes they’ve had a first ET/UFO contact.2

Although inadequately explored in the ET/UFO literature, from the perspective of interfaith mysticism it’s conceivable that unfriendly ETs or, perhaps, demonic spirits posing as ETs impart paranormal abilities on psychologically vulnerable individuals, leading them to develop a kind of inferiority/superiority complex (as spelled out by the American psychologist, Alfred Adler).

It would be easy for a vulnerable individual to overlook painful personal issues if meddling ETs or demons were (apparently) feeding them other people’s thoughts, along with false prophecies and delusional ideas about being special and better than everyone else.³

Indeed, some people seem convinced that they’ve been sent to Earth as sacred rulers over the unenlightened masses. And they’re willing to ignore or patch up false prophecies with ad hoc explanations to prevent their (most likely) delusional bubble from bursting, which would probably bring painful personal issues to the fore.

While the powers that be tend to see false prophecy in terms of a delusion or mental illness, there’s nothing wrong with this approach when it’s right. A problem arises, however, when that kind of explanation might be wrong or, at least, incomplete.

Along these lines, contemporary and ancient religious traditions suggest the, perhaps, related approach of discernment. Admittedly, discernment is a tricky concept with a meaning that really depends on who’s using it. But I believe it still has some value.

The anthropologist I. M. Lewis notes in Ecstatic Religion (1971) that saints, sages and shamans from all walks of life agree that the psyche is not an island. This may have a positive aspect. Figures like St. Anthony, for example, reportedly have guided individuals toward lost articles and missing children.

However, personal openness to being guided has a downside. A good number of spiritualists and theologians believe that the mind can be obsessed or even possessed by spiritual hackers, traditionally regarded as demons, tramp souls and ancestral spirits.

For convenience, the possibility of evil ETs and demons will be grouped under the single heading of Negative Spiritual Influences (NSI). While some believers in NSI might be paranoid reactionaries, it’s improbable that all of them are paranoid and deluded.

Different spiritual traditions suggest that NSI can produce hallucinations and manipulate individuals. Existing in a more comprehensive space-time than human beings, NSI might see future possibilities, influence a person’s choices, and compel them to accept false explanations as to why certain events occur.4

Most of us have probably met someone with an underlying inferiority complex or unresolved psychological trauma who parades around telling others they’re an achieved saint. This kind of thing seems quite common in both organized religions and cults, where not a few borderline – or perhaps insane – individuals hide out under the safe, well-defined and socially legitimate structures of their particular religion or cult.

To avoid this kind of scenario, interior influences allegedly of ET origin must be painstakingly discerned. Discernment in the religious sense means the use of reason, experience and divine gifts to separate true and false interior perceptions. As Henri Martin P.S.S. puts it:

The charism of discernment is “a kind of supernatural instinct by which those who have it perceive intuitively the origin, either divine or not, of thoughts and inclinations submitted to them.” (J. de Guibert, Lecons, p. 306). It is to be distinguished from revelation of the secrets of hearts, properly so called, made directly by God. In such revelations, which is extremely rare, objective certitude is absolute. In the case of discernment the chances of error lie in the subjective interpretation and use of the supernatural light received. Lacking an infused charism, ordinarily “God will assist by special interior light a gift of discernment acquired by experience and prudence in the application of the traditional rules of discernment.” (ibidem).5

On the need for spiritual seekers to be sincere, humble and rational in the discernment process, the scholar of mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, says:

Ecstasies, no less than visions and voices, must, they declare, be subjected to unsparing criticism before they are recognized as divine: whilst some are undoubtably “of God,” others are no less clearly “of the devil.”6

The Next Step

When approached with an appropriate degree of care, the notion of ETs and UFOs can be thought-provoking and good material for sci-fi tales. The possibility of ETs and UFOs point to a broader canvas and, for all we know, the next stage of humanity’s journey through the cosmos.

As with any new and uncharted territory, however, it’s usually unwise to act on blind impulse. Those who believe they inwardly perceive and, perhaps, possess special abilities from ETs would probably do best to err on the side of caution.

Unconventional interior perceptions and alleged psi abilities should be soberly evaluated in the spirit of humility and, in whenever possible, within the context of informed and qualified peers. Predictions should be checked with actual outcomes. Either something happens or it doesn’t. And no amount of ex post facto fudging can change the fact that an ET prophecy didn’t come true. And interior perceptions should be checked within a larger group of qualified peers so that mistakes are identified and corrected. A genuine conversation among real human beings could result in coming to terms with personal issues or, perhaps, revealing faulty information that contributed to a false interpretation of an interior perception.

To rigorously examine a given truth claim is hardly a groundbreaking idea. It’s prominent in religion with the discernment process and in science with the peer review. And there’s no reason why sincere ET and UFO research should be any less responsible.

Image Notes

Image copyright © Michael W. Clark. All rights reserved.

See photo in middle of this article

These lights appear about ½ – ¾ inch below the moon in the original photo posted in the middle of this article (detailed here with enhanced contrast). This is not a UFO but at first I thought it might be. After taking several pictures of the same scene it was clear that the three lights moved in some kind of mathematical relation to the camera angle. I concluded that these lights were a quirk of the camera and am compelled to ask how many other UFO images could be explained this way.


¹ See, for example, Steve Hammons’ article, Extraterrestrials curious about American football?

2 “Psychic Aspects of UFOs” in Ronald Story, ed. The Encyclopedia of UFOs. Doubleday & Co. Garden City, New York: 1980, pp. 286-289.

³ On the belief in reading other people’s thoughts, see Have some people just lost it?

4 (a) George P. Hanson discusses this area in The Trickster and the Paranormal (New York: Xlibris, 2001, pp. 210-248).

(b) The belief in demonic influence is found in almost all religions, myths and folk traditions. See, for instance, Sir J. G. Frazier’s The Golden Bough. Some have attempted to integrate the spiritual view with perspectives from contemporary psychiatry and psychology.

(c) Spiritual seekers sometimes believe that a divine voice foretells the future or outlines the best course of action. Others say God appears to them personally. However, in some cases it’s unclear whether these voices and visions are from God or perhaps a NSI that phrases things and applies specific emotional tones (e.g. firm and domineering or perhaps gentle and loving) to prey on psychologically vulnerable individuals. Similarly, destructive cult leaders manipulate disciples through prolonged psychological, sexual and/or cultic abuse. Victims compensate by believing they’re special or ‘chosen’ vehicles of the divine when, more likely, they’re being duped and exploited by the charismatic leader (and possibly a NSI). Moreover, a cult leader or alleged spirit guide may give victims new names and even induce extraordinary numinous experiences to reinforce a delusional sense of superiority and holiness. Chrystine Oksana points out that victims of prolonged abuse often denounce their families and form ties with a new family, creating new names for themselves to fit with their new self-image. This may be a necessary stage in the overall healing process but the question remains: How many victims abreact their pain and heal from the initial abuse? In addition, Catholics and Muslims accept new names when entering a monastic community. So the issue of taking on a new name is potentially complicated and jumping to the conclusion that it indicates pathology seems unwarranted.

5 Jacques Guillet, Gustave Bardy et. al. (trans.) Sister Innocentia Richards, Ph.D., Discernment of Spirits. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1970, p. 104. Learn more about discernment »

6 Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, New York: New American Library, 1955, p. 361. Likewise, William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience, suggests that some lower forms of mysticism may have “proceeded from the demon” (London: Penguin, 1985, p. 423). See also, An Outline of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, Chapter XVI – The ‘Cruder’ Phases.

Further Reading

Ashpole, Edward. The UFO Phenomena. London: Headline, 1995.

Bletzer, June G. The Donning International Encyclopedic Psychic Dictionary. Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Co., 1986.

Dennet, Preston E. One in Forty: The UFO Epidemic. Commack New York: Nova Science Publishers, 1997.

Frazier, Kendrick et al. (eds.). The UFO Invasion. Amherst New York: Prometheus Books, 1997.

Godwin, Malcolm. Angels: An Endangered Species. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Hanson, George P. The Trickster and the Paranormal. New York: Xlibris, 2001.

Hough, Peter A. and Jenny Randles. The Complete Book of UFOs : An Investigation into Alien Contacts and Encounters. London : Piatkus, 1994.

Howe, Linda Moulton. Glimpses of Other Realities, Volume II: High Strangeness. New Orleans, Louisiana: Paper Chase Press, 1998.

Lewis, James R. (ed.). The Gods Have Landed: New Religions From Other Worlds. Albany: State University of New York, 1995.

Matheson, Terry. Alien Abductions. New York: Prometheus Books, 1998.

Story, Ronald D. (ed.). The Encyclopedia of UFO’s. Garden City, New York: Dolphin Books, 1980.

Thompson, Keith. Angels and Aliens: UFO’s and the Mythic Imagination. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1991.

Vallee, Jacques. Forbidden Science. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1992.

Wright, Susan. UFO Headquarters. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Zukerman, Ben and Michael H. Hart. (eds.). Extraterrestrials: Where are They? (second edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


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