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A good, penetrating article about mysticism, insanity, and a possible socio-cultural connection

martin luther

The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight. – Joseph Campbell

This Joseph Campbell quote comes from the tweeted article, above. Campbell was a great popularizer of mythology whose work was, for the most part, in line with Jungian psychology. But in my view neither of these men fully understood Christian mysticism. Sure, they talked about numinosity and the experience of grace. And Jung talked about relationships as being somewhat “alchemical,” meaning that different personalities interact a lot like two chemical substances. On contact both are transformed.

However, there is a lot more to Christian mysticism than a mere mingling of elements. At best, Christian mysticism and the interpersonal dynamic that goes with it entails an upward ascent. But it’s an ascent that is not without its pitfalls, stumbling and backward steps.

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church.

St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church. He wrote about the “dark night of the soul.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to what the Campbell quote seems to imply, Christian mystics are not always free from suffering. In fact, suffering – and even momentary confusion – are part of the purification process.

So to say that mystics “swim with delight” is only partially true. And this is not really a great metaphor because any graces that the Christian enjoys come to him or her. He or she doesn’t invoke or control them, as a swimmer would consciously jump into a lake and take purposeful strokes.

As the dedicated mystic goes deeper and deeper, all they can really control, to varying degrees, is their reaction to what God subjects them to, which is usually a mix of wonderful and difficult internal states and external situations.

Unlike the psychotic, however, the Christian mystic does have an overall sense of personal meaning that can be grasped by qualified others. If she or he is genuine and not fooling themselves, the overall logic and coherence of their quest should become apparent to, again, qualified others. So in Catholicism, we have the spiritual director.

The genuine mystic rarely goes it entirely alone. There is often another person who can understand what they are going through to some extent and suggest so-called course corrections. And this makes genuine mysticism to some degree a social phenomenon.

However, the notion of a spiritual director has its own difficulties. Possibly we have two or more insane people who share the same delusions. Alternately, in Catholicism we have the possibility of immature or even corrupt priests unable to understand a true mystic because their minds are so darkened by sin and worldliness.

Some see the medical psychiatrist as the answer. However, the last I checked, the psychiatric manual tends to recognize major religious beliefs but not so much individualized spiritual paths. So there’s a potentially significant problem there too (unless I’ve missed something present in the latest DSM update).

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

Portrait of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sociologically, we can say that psychiatry remains in a monolithic stage of institutional development, not unlike the Medieval Church. Licensed practitioners who dissent within or deviate from APA norms could find themselves under professional review and, perhaps, lose their legal right to practice.

Seeds of discontent are out there. But still, the power and, in many countries, the legal power of the APA continues to dominate the hearts and minds of many.

This might change, not unlike how Protestants split away from the Catholic powerhouse, as it were, back in the days of Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. Or possibly things might not change so dramatically and the future will evolve into, for better or for worse, an increased state of ideological homogeneity.

Philosophically, we can ask: Do some people see or hear things that simply do not exist in the way they believe they do? With this question, it seems that the issue of mysticism and madness cannot be fully resolved through a mere socio-cultural lens. Some folks might really be insane, and no sociological theorizing about “cultural relativity” or “observer bias” will change that fact.

If genuine insanity does exist in some individuals, its causes probably involve an interplay of physiological, psychological, social and, in some cases, negative spiritual influences. This last aspect is often overlooked in Western culture. And I think that’s a serious mistake, one born of ignorance and spiritual immaturity.

I apologize if my writing here is a bit technical and not as accessible as in other places. This is an area I’ve been thinking and writing about since my undergraduate days at university. And it would be too time consuming to dumb things down and maintain the necessary level of detail. Simple sentences may leap off the page but they rarely do a topic justice.🙂


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Vacation over — Oh well, I enjoy writing about psychology, spirituality and religion

Last night I was pooped and went to bed unusually early. Waking up unusually early, I felt it was a good time to update earthpages.ca. I enjoyed working on the above. As I research and revise these entries, I’m not only brushing up on my general knowledge but also on my ability to (hopefully) communicate fresh ideas to as many people as possible.


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A Little End of Summer Arts and Culture

Last night I had two scary dreams. One was that some burly stooges posing as workers for a home security company came to my childhood home to physically abduct me. I awoke startled.

The second dream had me back in university. My dorm room had been changed from a distant, satellite dorm at the edge of town to another room more central within the university village. All the books and items in the room looked vaguely familiar but not quite right. Next thing I knew, some creepy people came in, began to set up a portable operating table, and told me I was scheduled for an operation. When I asked an attendant “What operation?” she replied “I don’t know.”

Sensing serious danger, I asked to make a call and woke up, thinking I would have had to be like that guy in The Fugitive to escape something horrible.

Truly scary dreams. I hope they just mean slow down and take it easy for a while, which is what I intend to do today. Everyone else gets summer holidays and, although I’m not going anywhere physically different, I think I’ll just take in some arts and culture for a while, and post my discoveries here.

The most recent discovery is tweeted at the top of the page. I like this painting. Notice how the more important guy has better, more ostentatious clothing and bigger, more expressive eyes. What really struck me, however, was the larger globe in the picture. Fascinating how mythological creatures are intertwined with the scientific mapping (zoom in to see). We’ve lost that mythic connection to science, although some writers like James Hillman suggest that we’re just fooling ourselves. The mythic is still present and even science is a kind of mythic pattern.

I guess that’s in line with what I’ve been arguing all along here at Earthpages.org and Earthpages.ca. But as I said, it’s my holiday, of sorts, and I don’t feel like going into it any further right now!

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora...

Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora Stock during Mozart’s visit to Dresden, April 1789 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other discovery, made last night, is something I’m listening to right now: Venice Classical Radio. I almost feel like I’m living in some little flat in Venice while listening to this excellent station. The selections are accessible but relatively uncommon. I’ve only heard one Mozart staple, which I enjoyed anyhow (pretty hard not to like Mozart).

 


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Tit for Tat – One silly scientific claim gets an amorphous religious response

Many scientists do not seem realize that they are influenced by a tremendous bias having to do with two related ideas: The principle of parsimony and  Occam’s razor. Basically, the bias prevalent among scientists today is: If something can be explained with less, this is better than using more.

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the ...

Cartoon about a fortune teller contacting the other side. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a way I can understand this. Consider the sham fortune teller who is dead wrong with his or her prediction so creates all sorts of ad hoc explanations to try to explain their goof. But in another way, I think this reductive bias can lead to problems, especially in the area of mental health.

I have discussed the topic of science elsewhere and really don’t feel like going into it all again. A lot of effort usually gets met with blank stares. So I’ll just link to my entry about science at earthpages.ca and add the following quote which doesn’t really solve the problem of making religious experience scientific, but does point out that the current scientific attitude is based more on fashion than fact.

The medieval formula ‘philosophy the handmaid of theology’ and the associated idea of theology as ‘the queen of the sciences’ are seldom taken seriously today…Yet neither philosophy nor science have ever refuted the claim during the past seven hundred years. It has been dismissed by fashion, not by reason. If God is, and is our ultimate end, then the science of God must indeed be the queen of the sciences.¹

¹ Source, and a few more paragraphs explaining what this quote is about: https://javipena.com/2015/04/29/theology-the-noblest-science-thomas-aquinas/


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So I guess I’m “uneducated” for believing in spiritual powers?

I usually don’t like the Huffington Post too much. The articles often seem sort of safe, mainstream and politically correct. But this article, well, I don’t know where to begin. Maybe it’s mostly about promoting a film, I’m not sure. If so, it’s a film I admittedly haven’t seen. So my comments are based solely on the article.

When I read articles like this I usually think skip it, it would take too long to critique. Too many reservations. And how much good will it do to write down my opinions, anyhow?

English: A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an i...

A Roman Catholic priest baptizes an infant as his parents look on. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So maybe I’ll just leave it at that. And if anyone wants to discuss this through the comments area, please feel free to do so. Every now and then I get tired of trying to dismantle a thick, brick wall.

If people want to believe that mental unwellness is predominantly some kind of medical ailment, let it be. I wonder, however, how many folks adhering to that belief will really get better. As one Catholic priest I discussed this with once said, “Satan likes to use psychiatry.”

Not that I want to get caught up in a polarized discussion between materialist psychology on the other hand, and uncritical Catholic orthodoxy, on the other hand. I think both perspectives could learn from each other. But unless I have totally misunderstood the intent of this Huff article, it seems to give emphasis to one side of the debate, which for me is inadequate.


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Can we escape interpreting the holy books – or anything else?

I’m not oblivious to the power of religious experience. When reading the Bible I’ve felt a tremendous sense of peace and certainty from time to time. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything the Bible says. Or that I believe it all comes directly from the mind of God.

Call me irreverent if you like. But I just can’t wrap my head around the sexism, chauvinism, and violence advocated in a lot of holy books (the Bible included). True, the New Testament talks about love and peace. But at the same time it gives legitimacy to the Old Testament, which often runs counter to love and peace.

However, one thing I can say about the Bible. It’s realistic. It’s not some phony baloney sugarcoated gloss. All our human failings are found there. And maybe that’s partly why it has lasted so long. People can relate to it. It’s a human story. With God intervening and (apparently) showing us the way.


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Forget loving the alien… AI raises new questions about consciousness, the soul and love

Back in the 80s David Bowie’s song, “Loving the Alien” anticipated an idea which would become more mainstream with the proliferation of specialty TV and radio channels: Would it be possible for a human being to fall in love with an alien?

Today’s hot question again reflects pop culture and recent tech. Aliens are old hat. But computers, well, that’s a whole new vista. We’re seeing a lot more stories about the possibility of artificial intelligence possessing actual consciousness. And sci-fi movies and novels about human beings and machines falling in love are on the rise.

Whether or not AI really possesses consciousness is something we may never know. One could say that AI is just organized energy. And so are we. Therefore both have consciousness created by our respective degrees of energy organization.

Others, usually religious people, insist we have souls but machines do not. And the soul, they say, is the true center of consciousness. So soulless machines simply mimic consciousness.

But how do these religious believers know that God would not bestow souls on machines?

Can religious traditionalists be 100% sure?

Artificial Intelligence (John Cale album)

Artificial Intelligence (John Cale album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look into the human body, it really is an electro-chemical apparatus. Those nerve impulses scientists are always talking about, well, they are transmitted through electrical changes within the body.

So fear not. If you happen to be falling in love with your computer or talking car, you just might not be a social misfit compensating through imaginary love.  And even if we never know for sure, the future no doubt will see closer links among men, women, and machines.

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