The Real Alternative

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The youth of today… faster, sharper..?

In response to the above tweet, I get a little tired of harping on the same theme day in and day out. So I thought I’d just link to something I said yesterday. The following tweet pretty well sums up how I feel about the hegemony of science in the early 21st century. The older I get, the more it seems young people are hoodwinked by the splendor of science and especially tech. Their minds may seem faster and sharper than the previous generation. But are they really THINKING?

Some are, thank God. But some others, OMG!

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Mysticism needs a reality check

This is one of the better articles on mysticism I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it gently rebuke those Christian fundamentalists who proclaim that mysticism is “of the devil.” But it also mentions how Evelyn Underhill, one of my favorite writers on mysticism, points out as far back in 1914 that the word mysticism means different things to different people.

To a Zen monk, mysticism might mean stopping one’s thoughts and living in the moment. To a Hindu, it might mean feeling a psychological expansion, making the ego and worldly affairs appear trivial.

Most conventional Catholics interested in or claiming to be mystics seem to frame their approach, experiences and understanding within some – but usually not all – of their Catholic teachings, legends and practices.

Over the years I’ve heard some pretty questionable claims from some self-proclaimed Catholic mystics. One element that unconfirmed mystics seem to have in common is that they believe they have no need for dialog or spiritual direction. In their minds, they are right about practically everything.

English: Evelyn Underhill. Author given as Wil...

Evelyn Underhill via Wikipedia

But who among us is without some kind of human limitation?

Because we are all limited, I believe it is essential for budding mystics to receive some kind of direction from another person or persons. I don’t believe a Catholic must necessarily see a Catholic spiritual director. That may help in traditional situations where everyone shares the same beliefs without question. In common parlance, if it’s a good fit, why change it?

But for Catholics uncomfortable with aspects of the greater Catholic culture, guides and critics from other traditions and with different perspectives might be more appropriate in keeping them real.

This reminds me of another type of mystic I have encountered. I call these creative souls “wildflowers.” Unlike the well cared for “hothouse flowers” of traditional Catholicism, the wildflowers are just out there. I’ve found them in the most unusual places, each different but definitely tuned in.

One had pink hair and worked in a record store, another was a ‘normal’ looking man who owned a milk store. And yet another lived in my apartment building back in my student days. These wildflowers seem to be able to access subtle, interior insights without really having to go to any kind of church or temple.

Sometimes I wish I was more like the wildflowers. But it seems I am something of a hybrid between a wild and a hothouse flower. I need the Catholic Eucharist to stay on top of things. However, I do approach my religion in my own way. I don’t do this to be rebellious. On the contrary, I feel it’s important to approach one’s religion by the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

~ 2 Corinthians 3:6

This is a basic Christian teaching that sadly, I think many Catholics have forgotten with the rules, regulations and hypocrisy that might be turning so many thinking people away from discovering something truly glorious.

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A good, non-denominational Sunday read

For a while I tried out doing Christian New Testament commentaries on Sunday. But that didn’t really go anywhere. I find it more interesting to compare different religions than to just write about one.

Today I updated my entry on Ram Dass, someone pretty popular back in the day, and who still has some devoted fans. The update came out pretty good, if I do say so myself. So I thought I’d list it here as “non-denominational” Sunday reading:


Today’s Top Tweets – At one time considered part of psychiatry’s dark history, ECT is on the rise again

English: Portrait of Mary Shelley

Portrait of Mary Shelley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was an undergrad student taking psychology courses in the mid 1980s, ECT was portrayed as something from one of the dark chapters in psychiatric history.

“We know better now” was the general message put out by psychology textbooks.

So when I recently heard that ECT was on the rise again, I was truly surprised.

Actually, ECT never entirely went away, despite what those psychology textbooks claimed.

I understand that only those who are severely depressed undergo treatment. But surely there’s a better way.

Scientists don’t even know why it works. Some theorize that it temporarily blunts the emotions by decreasing blood flow to a region of the brain.

Critics say that ECT usually causes disorientation and memory loss and when the treatment wears off, things are even worse.

To me, the whole thing sounds like something frightening out of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle era or perhaps further back to Mary Shelley.

Sociologically, statistics show that late middle aged women receive this treatment significantly more than men.

No wonder I abandoned psychology as my undergrad major and switched to sociology. As one sociology professor put it while I was contemplating the change, “psychology is hindering your intellectual development.”

Of course, sociology fell short too. As did philosophy and, as you may have read yesterday, the academic study of religion.

That’s why I like to talk about the issues. Nobody has everything all figured out. And anyone who emphatically thinks they have are probably insane, naïve, brainwashed or fanatical.


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Today’s Top Tweets – Great but missing the proverbial top floor

These are all great stories but they seem to overlook one important factor: The spiritual. For me, human beings are a mix of biological, psychological, social and spiritual elements. Why some people are not attuned to the spiritual dimension is a bit of a mystery to me. I used to be like that when I was a kid. But life changed me. And it still is.

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Sexism and the impressionable human being

The above tweet points to some obvious cases where men are victims of sexism. But discrimination occurs on many levels, in many different ways. Men can perpetuate sexism against men, just as women can perpetuate sexism against women. Sexism isn’t only about one gender disrespecting and oppressing another. And what about “pretty” people discriminating against the “ugly.” Or that thin against the obese? The tall against the short? The “normal” against the “weird”?

The unfortunate dynamic of discrimination occurs because, well, people are impressionable. So a situation often arises where we are sort of brainwashed, I guess, into believing in things and acting in certain ways that are not based in reality nor good for humanity as a whole.

Another routinely overlooked example of believing in things that may not be good for us, I would suggest, is found in some of the darker corners of psychiatry. Some people abuse psychiatric drugs, or perhaps their doctors are incompetent and abusive in prescribing drugs when they shouldn’t be.

Instead of dealing with all the causes of depression, for example, some take pills because that seems to help. I am not sure how much of that help is due to the well documented placebo effect and how much is actual. But the problem with taking pills that affect your brain is that, over time, the brain will likely try to compensate for whatever is altering its systems.

The brain is not a fixed, metal machine but a living organ. So when strange chemicals enter into its everyday workings, it grows new receptors or makes other changes to try to compensate. Now, down the line, if someone wants to go off their pills, they may find that their brain has actually changed. And whatever those pills were once “fixing” may now be even worse because the brain changes (as a result of taking the pills) have made the brain more sensitive to whatever was contributing to the issue in the first place.

Doctors realize this. So what do they do? Many prescribe a new set of pills to fix the new problem. They do this knowing that over time, even more biochemical issues will likely arise. So it’s sort of playing “patch up” the problem, knowing that in doing so there’s a high probability that they will be contributing to a whole new set of problems. But it’s no game. It’s your brain.

This may seem like a bit of a diversion from the tweet about sexism, but I think it’s a good example where people believe in something that in the long run may not be good for them. I write about scientism a fair amount at earthpages. I guess some think I’m just a nut with my eyes closed to the wonders of science. But in reality, not all science is pure. In fact, much of it is politically, ideologically and economically driven. But that’s a topic for another day!

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Me, myself and I – A balanced approach makes the most sense

Today’s featured tweet points to a surprisingly good, balanced article about different conceptualizations of the human self. I wrote about this at university but, in all honesty, I don’t think the professor in question understood what I was talking about. S/he immigrated to Canada from a communist regime and the years of military oppression seemed to taint his/her thinking and sense of fair play. Either that, or s/he was just always tainted. I’m not sure.

I say this because I had another professor, quite well published, who came to Canada from the same region, under similar circumstances. And s/he was fair and open-minded.  So it seems some can resist the iron grip of communist ideologies while others don’t really care to—or perhaps they are totally unconscious of it. As Carl Jung would have put it, they’re identifying with an archetype or, if you will, they are children of a lesser god.

But I digress. The point is, politics and psychology may be linked, but not necessarily causally. Natural authoritarians may actively seek out and choose to participate in authoritarianism and not simply be victims of it. Whereas others seem to have a clearheaded openness that acts as an safeguard against authoritarianism.