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William Gibson’s influential “Neuromancer” – A thought-provoking review at Stuff Jeff Reads


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From stone cold and lukewarm to beautiful flames of love – you’ll find it all in today’s Catholic Church

“Jesus was a radical who challenged the establishment, while Christianity has been so successful that in much of the world it is the establishment.”

This quote stood out as I went through this morning’s news. It’s from the tweeted article, above.

As a converted Catholic coming from a non-churchgoing Anglican past, I can say that my experience of Catholicism has been layered. On one level the Catholic Mass is a social event, even if you don’t say anything to others. Looks and glaces are exchanged, and anyone who knows the ABCs of non-verbal communication will acknowledged that a lot can be said without saying a word.

Monks have commented on the very real, ongoing relationships they have without saying a word. And I think some parishioners would attest to a similar kind of interpersonal (and sometimes) spiritual dynamic at the Mass.

Others would not, of course. These people tend to make up the chattier, socially visible and physically active layer of the Church. When these folks are nice we call them social butterflies, organizers, leaders, and so on. When they are nasty we call them busybodies, gossips, and backbiters. I have met both types (and combinations thereof) in today’s Church.

On a deeper layer, I always have indisputable spiritual experiences within the Catholic Church. A worldly person might attribute these to “memory,” “association” or “social belonging” but they are dead wrong. The Holy Spirit is strong in the Catholic Church. And it almost instantly enables me to see myself better. But not only only see. The Holy Spirit is also a healer and purifier. Moreover, the heavenly beauty of the Eucharist is something that, sadly, I don’t think all Catholics experience to the same degree. I would venture to guess that it’s their own worldliness, status seeking and the love of prestige that blocks their reception of this heavenly gift.

In a nutshell, if we keep our noses to the ground like animals grubbing in the dirt, we won’t be able to receive gifts from above.

And this is where today’s tweet comes in.

I see humanity as an evolving species. And worldly attitudes, ideas and behavioral routines are a large part of that. I think it was the philosopher Santayana who spoke of well worn paths or psychological channels that humanity trudges along. Almost like rats in a maze or, if you will, horses with blinders, many individuals have erected high walls around their minds. They plod along in the same old direction without thinking about it too much.

This might be necessary to keep things moving in an orderly fashion. But as time goes on, the psychosocial walls, that is, the conventional order, must either fall down or, less drastically, be rearranged or transformed. Otherwise society and the people who comprise it will become blocked, stagnant and fall short of their full potential. — MC


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

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 inner 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 – can be 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 induce 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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Thanks for the Follows

Hanging out on the second floor balcony of Yonge/Eglinton Centre, Toronto – Two Jehova’s Witnesses doing their thing – Image via Tumblr (click for fullsize… next time I’ll get my finger out of the way!)

I’m taking a bit of a vacation from my usual blogging. Yesterday I moved the lawn, talked to my neighbors, played some electric guitar, started a new midi composition, and generally did a few things that can get overlooked when I’m at the height of my research and writing. One of those things that can get overlooked is checking my followers, and returning the favor.

This morning I went back several years in my followers list and found some bloggers who, for whatever reasons, I hadn’t followed back. Sometimes it seems that I do follow back but it doesn’t register at WordPress. I’m not sure if this is a glitch or due to some other human or tech reason. Anyhow, I just followed those forgotten followers at earthpages.org.

Another point. I know that I can take a while to get back to your site if you have liked or commented at mine. The reason I do this is because, well, I am a busy guy. But more essentially, I like to really focus in on a person when I visit their blog. I’m not the type who can just casually visit hundreds of bloggers, hardly read their stuff, and click the “like” button. So… I know who you are. If you have recently liked or commented on my stuff, I do plan to get back to see what you’ve been up to.

That’s all for now. Back to my “vacation.” Today I think I’ll attend a midday Mass and then do a little housecleaning! Not most people’s idea of a holiday. But believe it or not, I can have fun even doing that. It’s all in where you’re at.


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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/