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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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Snippet – The Gospel of Thomas – uplifting or obscuring?

via Tumblr – Click for full article and image credit link

Never thought I’d be highlighting my own writing. But life always gives us the unexpected. The above is from an entry I wrote for earthpages.ca this morning. The Gospel of Thomas.


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Excellent video about Neurotheology

I’ve panned Dr. Andrew Newberg in the past for making seemingly simplistic claims. But it’s very possible I was wrong to do so. Either that, or his thinking and scientific humility has developed dramatically. This video reveals an Andrew Newberg that I really didn’t know existed. As Yoda might have said, “Pleasantly surprised, I was…”

But seriously. This video is a must for anyone interested in the interface of spirituality, religious practices, and the brain. Follow the link in the above tweet and scroll down the page to watch.


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Time for “religion” and “spirituality” to bury the hatchet

When it comes to a God, religion speaks of a higher being that is distant from humanity, one that lives in what may be another world, such as heaven. Spirituality stresses that God is within all of us, and there is no separation between humanity and this greater being. (Source: Article in above tweet)

Every time I see this distinction I get the impression that the person making it doesn’t really know what they’re talking about.

For instance, during Catholic Mass it might seem that some people woodenly go through the motions. To an observer they might appear to mumble words and sit or stand from sheer force of habit.  But a mere observer has no idea what’s going on inside their souls.

Speaking for Catholics, some of my acquaintances tell me about their ongoing personal experiences with God, graces, and the spiritual intercession of saints. God is very close for these Catholic churchgoers. Also, the belief about the Eucharist, which many Catholics receive daily, is that the heavenly Christ appears in the flesh, right here on Earth. And for many, that is not just the belief but also the inner experience.

Sometimes when I’m going to Mass and see some unhappy looking passersby near the Church, I’m tempted to say, “Hey Jesus Christ is arriving here in about 10 minutes! Interested?” But I don’t, of course, because I have a pretty good idea what the answer would be.

I bet if a full person, replete with head, arms and legs were to appear out of nothing and broadcast his showtime later that day, the venue would be packed with crowds overflowing out on to the street.  But because the Eucharist is a miraculous and subtle transformation/presence of inner substance but not of gross outward form, only some appreciate it, for whatever reasons. And I get the impression that most non-Catholics, especially non-Christians, just think the whole idea is silly.

Anyhow, I digress. The point is, it does no good to make a black and white distinction between religion and spirituality. Not only is it theologically misinformed but from my experience and from talking with other believers, it is misinformed on an experiential level.


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“Do we all worship same God?”—a multi-faith discussion to be held in Nevada

View of Reno, Nevada, with the University of N...

View of Reno, Nevada, with the University of Nevada, Reno campus in the foreground. (ca. 1982–1993) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special to Earthpages.org

South Reno United Methodist Church (SRUMC) in Reno, Nevada, is hosting multi-faith discussion on the topic of “Do we all worship same God?” on June 12; involving Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha’i, Native American and Atheist leaders.

Interfaith advocate Rajan Zed, who is producing the event for SRUMC, points out: In view of various conflicts around the world arising because of differing approaches/ideas about God, we are planning to bring diverse religious leaders and community together to openly, honestly and friendly discuss the issue—Are we, as different religions, worshipping the same God or does each religion worship an altogether different God?

Per Oxford Dictionary of World Religions: God cannot be described in language, since God is far apart from humanly apprehended categories in time and space…anything which is said about God is approximate, provisional, corrigible, and mainly wrong…The logic of God, therefore, remains, that if God does indeed turn out to be God, it is God that God will turn out to be.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI reportedly stated on September 14, 2012: Jews, Christians and Muslims alike believe in one God, the Creator of all men and women. What about the God of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Confucianism, Daoism, Baha’ism, Shinto, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, etc.?

Dr. Kenneth G. Lucey, Religion Professor at University of Nevada, will be the moderator. All are welcome to this free event to be held at SRUMC, which will take questions from the audience also.

SRUMC, whose tagline is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, which is “rooted and grounded in love” and whose website states:”God is doing amazing things in and through SRUMC”; was officially chartered in 1989. It also runs a faith based preschool and Dawn M. Flower and Becky J. Stockdale are the pastors.

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HRC Arkansas Works to Create Safer Worship Spaces for the LGBTQ Community

N.C. Methodist Church Marries Same-Sex Couple in Defiance of Church Doctrine


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How cults exploit one of our most basic psychological urges

Sigmund Freud saw all religion and the belief in God as a kind of cultic approach to life. However, Freudian lore suggests that toward the end of his days Freud said he would focus on parapsychology if he could do it all again.  Image – Amazon.com (This image and comment added by earthpages.org and is not part of the original article sourced from http://www.theconversation.com)

Lou Manza, Lebanon Valley College

The new Hulu TV series “The Path” – described by Time as the streaming service’s “best show yet” – centers on a cult-like faith, Meyerism, whose adherents seek fulfillment under the guidance of their leader, Cal.

As pure entertainment, the show seems promising. But as someone who studies human cognition and why people believe scientifically dubious claims, I’m more interested in the real-life versions of Cal – specifically, the needs that leaders of cult-like faiths tap into that make them so attractive to certain people.

The illusion of comfort

An answer to this question can take a variety of forms. One that has gotten a considerable amount of attention over the years is the emotional comfort cults can provide.

California Institute of Technology psychologist Jon-Patrik Pedersen, in attempting to explain why people are drawn to cults, has argued that the human desire for comfort, in the face of fear and uncertainty, leads us to seek outlets that can soothe our anxieties.

In and of itself, the urge to quiet internal demons is not a negative trait. I’d argue that, to the contrary, it’s an effective adaptation that allows us to cope with the stressors, big and small, that bombard us on a regular basis.

However, cult leaders meet this need by making promises that are virtually unattainable – and not typically found anywhere else in society. This, according Pedersen, could include “complete financial security, constant peace of mind, perfect health, and eternal life.”

Beyond exploiting human desire for emotional comfort, cult leaders don’t always have the best intentions when it comes to the mental health of their followers.

Psychiatrist Mark Banschick has pointed out that cult leaders employ mind and behavioral control techniques that are focused on severing followers’ connections to the outside world.

These methods can actually deepen members’ existing emotional insecurities, while encouraging them to become completely reliant on their cult for all their physical and emotional needs. At the same time, they’re often told to sever ties with any friends or relatives who are not part of the group.

Hulu’s new series ‘The Path’ is about a fictional cult group called the Meyerist Movement.
Hulu

This can result in physical and psychological isolation, which actually exacerbates many of the problems, like anxiety and depression, that attracted people to the cult in the first place.

The anxiety and depression can become so overwhelming and feel so insurmountable that the followers feel trapped.

It’s a vicious cycle that can lead to truly tragic consequences, such as the well-documented 1978 Jonestown Massacre, when over 900 people died in a mass murder-suicide carried out under the supervision of cult leader Jim Jones. Then there were the Heaven’s Gate suicides in 1997, when 39 individuals, including cult leader Marshall Applewhite, willingly overdosed on phenobarbital and vodka in the hope of being transported to an alleged alien spaceship flying behind the (real) Hale-Bopp comet.

The case for reason

So just how can one face his or her fears, but avoid the potential danger of cult-like groups?

In a word: rationality.

Seeking reason-based solutions for emotion-focused conditions is by no means a new concept. Unfortunately, rationality is not as intuitively appealing as remedies that simply exploit sentimental cravings.

Sigmund Freud, in his 1927 text “The Future of an Illusion,” argued that religion was a mere mental trick constructed to comfort believers and help them overcome insecurities – even though their acceptance of dogma was irrational. While Freud’s position was focused on mainstream faiths, his highlighting of the emotional comfort central to them is analogous to the role that this element plays in cults.

His solution? Replace religion (or, in the present case, cults) with rational guides for living that deal with problems directly. Are you anxious about your appearance? Eat healthy and exercise regularly. Stressed about relationship problems? Talk directly to your partner in a clear and honest manner to arrive at mutually agreed-upon resolutions.

One could certainly argue that Freud, by highlighting religion’s negative elements, was ignoring the potential positive outcomes correlated with spirituality such as stable relationships, moral grounding and life satisfaction.

But there is no denying that emotions can cloud judgment and result in poor decisions.

For example, Gerd Gigerenzer, a German psychologist who studies decision-making, illustrated the very real consequences of favoring an emotional response over a more data-driven one. In his 2004 analysis of highway fatalities in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks, he pointed out how people became afraid of flying in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Many who still needed to travel ended up driving instead of flying in order to reach their destinations.

However, this influx of cars on the road led to approximately 350 more people dying in automobile accidents from October to December of 2001. As Gigerenzer noted, these deaths could likely have been avoided “if the public were better informed about psychological reactions to catastrophic events.”

It’s not easy to simply “use reason over emotion.” The fact that cults continue to exist – and that people continue to play the lottery despite the minuscule chance of winning, or insist on subjecting themselves to unproven cancer treatments such as urine therapy – is a testament to the potency of emotions as behavioral motivators.

Furthermore, this should not be taken as a directive to surrender our emotions, which can enhance human experiences in many ways.

But it’s important to be vigilant, and recognize the value of approaching decisions using logic, especially when emotion-driven choices can lead to negative, life-altering outcomes.

Which of these paths will Cal and his Meyerists pursue? My guess is emotions will win the day. In the fictional world of television, that’s OK.

But for those of us viewing their exploits from our living rooms, perhaps it’s an opportunity to think about our choices, and whether or not our feelings had the final say.

The trailer for ‘The Path.’

The Conversation

Lou Manza, Professor and Department Chair of Psychology, Lebanon Valley College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Rethinking Purgatory

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