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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 – 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 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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Does science self-correct or perhaps go around in circles?

Here’s a study originally concluding that non-religious kids were more willing to share than kids from Christian and Muslim families. However, the international data was reassessed and a new conclusion was found. Religious (or non-religious) background had no significant effect on outcomes. Rather, it was the country in which the kids lived that was the critical variable.

Psychologist Tania Lombrozzo goes on to praise this event as illustrating how science, as a public enterprise, self-corrects.

This cautionary tale of flawed statistics and questioned claims actually illustrates something quite positive: a virtue of how science works. On the one hand, an initial conclusion was called into question — a move that could erode people’s confidence in scientific claims. On the other hand, the revision was prompted by the kinds of scientific practices that should give us confidence in science: sharing data, revisiting analyses and questioning conclusions in the service of getting things right. Scientific claims can change as we gain access to new data and figure out better ways to make sense of it; that’s a feature, not a bug.¹

I think a very good point is made here. However, her optimism overlooks the seeming fact that many ephemeral, even spurious, scientific claims (especially in pop psychology) have a great deal of influence on how laypeople look at psychological issues within themselves, their relationships and their families. People glimpse the headlines or hear a quick blurb by John Tesh and begin to devise some half-baked, misinformed strategy on how to “fix” problems, often on the basis of a careless, overreaching interpretation and reporting of scientific data.

So I tend to applaud not so much science, itself, but rather, scientists who are willing to admit the limitations of science at every step of the process.

In the study tweeted above, if the researchers messed up once, how can we be sure the revised interpretation is still not egregiously flawed? How many additional uncontrolled, unrecognized variables might continue to influence the observed outcome? As any sociologist, philosopher or theologian worth their salt will tell us, the possibilities here are potentially limitless.

¹ http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/08/15/490031512/does-religion-matter-in-determining-altruism?


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JPMorgan bans Christian group at workplace


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Crisis what Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis?

Crisis? What Crisis? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you might recognize the header for this post as coming from an album by the classic rock band, Supertramp.

The album cover captured, like the best of Supertramp, the irony and alienation of the 1970s. True, the 70s had a fun and optimistic side. But there was also this nagging sense that the world was messed up and there was no turning back.

Pollution, social problems and spiritual angst are nothing new. They’ve been with us in various forms throughout history.

For me, the best approach is to try to understand our somewhat tarnished world and to not judge. The only person I can really judge is myself. And I suspect that God’s standards and expectations differ from person to person.

All fine and dandy. But as Archbishop Sheen suggests, if we just go on blindly ignoring problems, how will the world ever get better?

And this is the crux of the matter. Where should the Christian dictum of do not judge end and the modern idea of social responsibility begin?

Again, each must find his or her own solution. Some of us pray. Some of us write. And some do a bit of both.


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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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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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Scientific Fraud – Antidepression Drugs for Kids and Teens

Some people are so impressed by the achievements of current tech that they assume science can solve all of our problems. They place a great deal of faith in science and scientists without, it seems, fully realizing they are doing so. In a sense, then, science has become something like religion in the Middle Ages. Unquestioning faith. And the consequences if you ask questions? Well, you’re just a flake with issues, right?

That’s the impression I get from some folks whenever I try to explain that science is a human enterprise and something to be studied, in itself.

In addition to what I’ve highlighted above, watchdogs also found that outcomes for this particular drug vs. a placebo were no different.

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