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What is a Saint?

The word saint (Latin sanctus = sacred or having been made sacred)  has several meanings. In everyday usage, saints are unusually kind, ethical people who perform good works on a local or grand scale which almost everyone can understand and appreciate. Examples would be, “That lady at the charity drive is a real saint” or “Bob’s wife is a real saint to put up with such a grouchy old man!”

The term also denotes the faithful Jews of the Bible and the body of Christian believers. A priest at a parish I attend says in homily that the main point of being a Christian is to become saints in heaven. So going to Mass isn’t only about the social aspects. That’s a part of it, for sure, but the main point is to become a saint worthy of heaven.

For some, saints are Buddhist arhats (monks having achieved Nirvana) and bodhisattvas (monks forgoing entry into Nirvana in order to help others reach that threshold). However, it seems dubious that the realms these saints achieve are the same, qualitatively speaking, as realms created by God. Recall that, no matter which way you slice it, Buddhists don’t believe in God, which is a huge theological difference from religions that do believe in God. And no political correctness will change that difference, not even well-intentioned political correctness.

English: Image of Saint Adalgott. Source Cropp...

Image of Saint Adalgott. Cropped from an image at http://www.unikk.ch/barock/pages/carlen2_1_text.htm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The term saints also refers to Taoist, Confucian and Hindu sages and gurus (Skt. guru = teacher), African and Amerindian elders, as well as the Shamans of Central and Southeast Asia, Oceania, North America and the Arctic.

In Islam the righteous departed are said to mediate between heaven and Earth.

Robert Ellsberg regards great figures like Galileo Galilei, Leo Tolstoy, Stephen Biko and Dante Alighieri as saints in his book, All Saints.

Some believe that all public figures called “saints” are equally holy but this view is probably more about human preconceptions than God’s assessment of individual holiness.

In Catholicism, the canonized saint leads an exceedingly humble and holy life serving God, is often persecuted, may be martyred and performs by the power of God at least two verified miracles. Some critics of the Catholic process of canonization say that the alleged miracles are, for the most part, cooked up by the Vatican when they want to make someone a saint, mostly for political reasons.

Catholic sainthood often involves the idea of intercession. Intercession is the belief that God’s divine power and grace is mediated by souls in heaven to souls on Earth, purgatory and hell.

Catholics also believe in the communion of saints, the idea that all souls, except for the damned, are united in a “mystical body” with Christ as the head. So the idea of interconnected souls is not necessarily something of the occult (unless one views Catholicism as a Satanic cult, as some do).

Another aspect of the Catholic faith is the belief that individuals cooperate with God’s plan of salvation through vocal and mental prayer (interior contemplation). Prayerful saints cooperate with the divine plan but do not effect salvation through their own power.

Catholics may pray for one another but again, they request God’s help. They don’t play the role of spiritual “big shot” or “guru” like some in other religious paths do. At least, they shouldn’t. This unsavory element arguably creeps in with hot shot charismatic preachers who make the rounds in Catholic circles, charging considerable fees for inspirational speaking or guided retreats (some retreats seeming more like middle class getaways, social events or fundraisers than serious spiritual sanctuaries).

Some Protestants object to the idea of the Catholic saint, saying that the saints are nothing but manmade gods or goddesses—that is, pagan. Catholics reply to this misguided charge that saints are friends and servants of God, not a god nor God. Many Protestants pray for others but object to the Catholic idea of interceding saints. To this the Catholic replies: If someone on Earth can pray for another person on Earth, why cannot a soul in heaven pray for someone on Earth?

According to Catholic teaching there are innumerable unrecognized saints. These unsung heroes of the spirit are said to achieve a great degree of spiritual purity without ever having set foot in a monastery or abbey.

This is good to remember. Otherwise we might misunderstand or judge harshly some individuals in contemporary society not primarily concerned with sex, wealth, status or raising a family. In fact, there seems to be a recent trend to call people “mentally ill” if they don’t conform to prevailing norms which, perhaps, are not always in line with trying to follow God’s will.

In a nutshell, the true individual is often misunderstood and sometimes persecuted by the crowd. Considering the tremendous diversity of individuals and spiritual paths throughout our ever changing world, to insist on rigid criteria for sainthood seems both arbitrary and unwise.


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Sagittarius – Zodiacal sign with pre-Hellenic roots

English: Sagittarius: one of the twelve zodiac...

Sagittarius: one of the twelve zodiacal signs ornating the chevet of the church Saint-Austremonius of Issoire (12th century), Auvergne, France. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sagittarius (November 22-December 20) is the 9th and a fall sign of the zodiac, symbolized by the archer and associated with the planetary ruler of Jupiter. Its earth element is fire.

In mythology the sign can be traced to the legendary battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths.

Persons born under this sign are said to be level-headed, optimistic, lucky and adventurous. Some sites say that Sagittarius enjoys philosophical discussions.

Negative aspects of Saggitarius are often cited as over-ambition and destructiveness.

Woody Allen, Walt Disney, Mark Twain and Sinead O’Connor fall under this sign.¹

Like all the signs of the zodiac, I take commentaries about alleged zodiacal characteristics with a grain of salt. It’s not that I am narrow-minded. I can conceive the possibility of a psychology that includes cosmological interconnections. However, my cosmology includes realms far beyond the stars and planets (i.e. the created, visible universe).

Those extra realms are heavenly realms (not “the heavens” as in the stars above). And for me, the heavenly heavens are incomparably more powerful, direct and beautiful than the possible influences of a planet, sunspot or what have you.

But, I would argue, one has to get there in one’s spiritual formation to appreciate this.

Related » Astrology

¹ A few more celebs: https://www.google.ca/search?q=famous+saggitarius&aq=f&oq=famous+saggitarius&aqs=chrome.0.57j0l3.3119j0&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8


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Sadism – Another one of those old “disorders” turned “alternative”

The drawing dates to 1760, when the Sade was n...

The drawing dates to 1760, when the Sade was nearly 20 years old. It’s the only known authentic portrait of the Marquis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sadism is a Freudian term denoting a sexual perversion in which erotic pleasure is gained by inflicting pain on another.¹

The term is derived from the surname of the French nobleman Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), who candidly wrote about the alleged pleasures of pain and sex in works like The Philosophy in the Bedroom.

The term “Sadistic Personality Disorder” was included as an appendix in the American psychiatric manual for mental disorders (DSM III) but disappeared in subsequent manuals (DSM-IV, DSM-IV-TR, DSM-5).

Wikipedia explains:

The current version of the American Psychiatric Association‘s manual, DSM-5, excludes consensual BDSM from diagnosis as a disorder when the sexual interests cause no harm or distress. Section F65 of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) indicates that “mild degrees of sadomasochistic stimulation are commonly used to enhance otherwise normal sexual activity”. The diagnostic guidelines for the ICD-10 state that this class of diagnosis should only be made “if sadomasochistic activity is the most important source of stimulation or necessary for sexual gratification”.²

Sigmund Freud by wordscraft

Sigmund Freud originally uploaded by wordscraft

Here we have another example, along with homosexuality, of a preference and associated behavior once pejoratively described by psychiatrists as a “disorder”only to be later designated as “normal.”

It doesn’t take rocket science to see that social and political factors come into play here. Some regard this historical change as evidence that psychiatry is a pseudo-science. Others maintain that psychiatry’s willingness to change is scientific and evidence of its strength.

Strength or weakness, one thing seems clear. Psychiatry reflects and informs the status quo. It is both an indicator of, and influence upon, social attitudes, beliefs and practices at a given point in history.

Lasting innovation in psychological theory is usually spearheaded by individuals holding fast to a vision,³ those willing to withstand the inherent inertia of a social institution that seems to follow and, by virtue of its legal power, shape how everyday people tend to see themselves.

¹ Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, p. 145.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadomasochism

³ From a theological perspective, it probably helps if God is on the innovator’s side, this being a perspective usually dismissed by the worldly wise.

Related » Sigmund Freud, Koan, Masochism


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Emanuel Swedenborg – Mystic or Misguided?

Emanuel Swedenborg  (1688-1772) was a Swedish scientist who, after recovering from a psychological crisis, became a mystic claiming to speak on a regular basis with angelic, alien and demonic beings.

Although thought-provoking and laid out in an orderly manner, some of Swedenborg’s writings seem questionable.

Emanuel Swedenborg at age of 75, holding the manuscript of Apocalypsis Revelata (1766)

He writes, for instance, that spirits told him people lived in wooden buildings and tents on the planet Jupiter:

Their dwellings were also shown me. They are lowly dwellings constructed of wood; but within they are lined with bark or cork of a pale blue colour, and the walls and ceiling are spotted as with stars, to represent the heaven; for they are fond of picturing the visible heaven with its constellations in the interiors of their houses, the reason being that they believe the constellations to be the abodes of the angels. They have tents also, which are rounded off above and extended in length, spotted likewise within with stars on a blue ground. They retire into these in the day-time, to prevent their faces suffering from the heat of the sun. They bestow much care on the fashioning of these tents of theirs, and on keeping them clean. In them they also take their repasts.¹

Similarly, a spirit from the moon apparently told Swedenborg that the voices of that satellite’s inhabitants “made a loud thundering sound.”

With no atmosphere on the moon’s surface, necessary for sound waves and hence hearing, one wonders how this could be possible.

It’s easy to assume that Swedenborg’s accounts simply reflect the popular imagination of his day, suggesting that he was a quack, charlatan or, as some might put it today, mentally ill. But one could argue that some of the problems with his far-fetched claims arise from translation and interpretation, along with his human limitations inherent to living in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Swedenborgs Flying Machine (via Thomas Roche)

Swedenborg’s Flying Machine (via Thomas Roche)

Swedenborgians could argue, for instance, that the beings on the moon weren’t physical but composed of energy or spirit—likewise with regard to the apparent “sound” they made.

Whatever the truth may be, the psychiatrist Carl Jung notes that Swedenborg did have an accurate precognition of a great fire in Stockholm.

With regard to Christianity, Swedenborg’s work presents a novel and creative interpretation of that religion. He suggests that everything occurring in this life corresponds to a cosmic body, which he calls “The Universal Human.” And the different races of mankind apparently correspond to different regions of The Universal Human.

Likewise, Swedenborg says individual merits during Earthly life correspond to favorable afterlife regions in the cosmic body, such as the brain or the eye. But those who lead evil lives end up in undesirable, filth-ridden regions, such as the liver or intestines.

Swedenborg wrote copiously about demonic beings whose sole intent is to drain energy from the living, causing severe pain and distress.

With regard to the idea of the Trinity, Rev. Glenn “Mac” at GlennFrazier.com adds:

Since you mention Swedenborg, it might be worth pointing out that he explicitly spoke up against the idea of a trinity of persons. According to his theology (in, e.g., his book, True Christian Religion), Jehovah the Father and Jesus the Son were not only one God, but also the one and only one person of God. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is the activity of that person, and not a seperate person in its own right. This is somewhat similar to Michael Servetus’ ideas expressed a good deal earlier in his “Errors of the Trinity”. Swedenborg’s idea of a trinity of essentials, rather than of persons, should not be confused with modalism—the idea of there being one God that at various times takes on different functions or modes in sequence. To Swedenborg, the Father was literally God’s soul, the Son his body, and the Spirit his influence/activity, not by analogy, but actually. » See in context

Swedenborg was not only interested in the inner life. Like other historical innovators, he tried to devise technological contraptions that would, in due time, appear in some other form, such as a flying machine (pictured 2nd image above).

Swedenborg’s work has been compiled, edited and commented on by the Swedenborg Foundation.

A student of Swedenborg’s works, Judah, adds:

A final thought: while I enjoy pondering the existence of life on other planets, I find it more enjoyable – and meaningful – to explore the ideas in Swedenborg’s writings that have to do with wisely loving my fellow human beings and our creator – the Divine Human. » See in context

Related » Aliens, Angels, Demons, Vampires

On the Web:

  • Rock and roll song dealing with Swedenborg’s ideas:

¹ Earths in our Solar System which are called Planets and Earths in the Starry Heaven: Their Inhabitants, and the Spirits and Angels there from things Heard and Seen from the Latin of Emanuel Swedenborg, Swedenborg Society, London: 1962, par 59.


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Suttee – A violent and cruel remnant of Hinduism that continues today (without any attempt to legitimize it spiritually)

Sati handprint on the entrance to Junagarh Fort. Sati was the practice where a woman burned herself on the her husband’s funeral pyre or when her husband died in battle defending the fort.

Suttee or Sati (Skt. “good woman”) has two meanings, both related to wife-burning.

In the ancient and medieval Hindu tradition, suttee occurs when a husband dies, is cremated and his wife enters the flames to be consumed along with him.

Although usually seen as horrendous by non-Hindu standards, the practice was formerly legitimized with an alleged spiritual significance.

The wife entering into the flames was once seen by Hindus as an act of sacred devotion to the husband—a devotion that continued into the afterlife. At least, this was the official take on things. It’s hard to know if women were simply forced or if they voluntarily entered the fire.

17th century Muslim rulers showed some opposition to suttee¹ and British colonialists outlawed it in 1829 while occupying India.

"Ceremony of Burning a Hindu Widow with t...

“Ceremony of Burning a Hindu Widow with the Body of her Late Husband”, from Pictorial History of China and India, 1851. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suttee also refers to the contemporary and illegal practice of wife-burning in apparently accidental kitchen fires.

As mentioned in the Indian media and elsewhere,² unscrupulous husbands murder their wives by faking kitchen fires. That is, some Indian men apparently marry and murder women merely to obtain dowries.

This may sound incredible but one must remember the considerable geographic size and massive population of India, along with developmental issues which can make the enforcement of social justice difficult.

1 The complexity of the situation is outlined here:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice)#Attitudes_of_Muslim_rulers

² See http://www.kashgar.com.au/articles/life-in-india-the-practice-of-sati-or-widow-burning and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_burning

Related » Yoga


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Skepticism – An old way of finding out new things

skepticism by Christina

Image – Christina B Castro via Flickr

In philosophy skepticism is the notion that we cannot know things beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Extreme skepticism contends that we cannot be certain about the truth of any belief, including the belief in skepticism.

Softer forms of skepticism point to specific branches of inquiry or to a method of doubt that attempts to clarify uncertainties, even if imperfectly so.

One can believe and still be a skeptic, as outlined in the following:

The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.

It’s thus inaccurate to say “Skeptics don’t believe in ghosts.” Some do. Many skeptics are deeply religious, and are satisfied with the reasoning process that led them there. Skeptics apply critical thinking to different aspects of their lives in their own individual way. Everyone is a skeptic to some degree.¹

The notion of skepticism is, perhaps, traceable to the apparent humility of Socrates (469–399 BCE),  as opposed to the use of Socrates as a literary character by Plato to advocate the theory of Forms. However scholars usually say that the first known skeptic is Pyrrho of Elis (365–275 BCE).

English: René Descartes, the French philosophe...

René Descartes, the French philosopher, by the French engraver Balthasar Moncornot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The influential Islamic philosopher and psychologist Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)  promoted a type of skepticism that some say may have influenced René Descartes method of doubt as found in his Discourse on the Method. Here, Descartes starts off as a skeptic, finds himself in intellectual hot water, so relies on his essentially theological beliefs about the goodness of God to bail himself out.²

Another type of skepticism is geared more toward corrective social practice—namely, professional skepticism. A professional skeptic would be hired to discover and help prosecute frauds, hostile infiltrators and unduly corrupt individuals hiding out under seemingly legitimate covers.³

¹ The reference to this quote also mentions the popular usage that to be a skeptic is to, more often than not, bash certain ideas: https://skeptoid.com/skeptic.php

² Descartes looks into the problem of solipsism, which I don’t think requires a belief in God to reject. The mere uncertainly should be enough. For what if the solipsist is wrong? Can he or she be a truly ethical person with no respect for the (possible) reality of others?

³ http://www.answers.com/Q/What_is_professional_skepticism

Related » Gorgias, Hellenistic, James Randi 


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Synchronicity – A concept that may become increasingly important in our emerging quantum worldview

Chambre de glace dans le pays

Chambre de glace dans le pays by Sýn En via Flickr

Synchronicity is a term coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung to represent the idea of meaningful coincidence. Implicit to Jung’s idea of synchronicity is the belief that all of creation is somehow interconnected, not only through space but also time.

Whether or not synchronicity is a truly scientific concept remains open to debate. If science is understood as something that must be predictive, then synchronicity can probably never be a scientific concept. If science, however, is understood as acquiring knowledge and wisdom though trial and error, then synchronicity might play into a new kind of scientific rubric, one that believes in an essential connection between consciousness and the world in which it resides.

Synchronicity takes three main forms:

  • The coincidence of a psychological state with a corresponding, simultaneously occurring external event with no evidence of causality
  • The coincidence of a psychological state with a corresponding, simultaneous external event that occurs at a distance, beyond the observer’s normal range of perception
  • The coincidence of a psychological state with a corresponding event that will occur in the future and which may be verified after its occurrence

Also a point of debate is whether or not synchronicity is a causal or acausal phenomenon. Jung says it is acausal but also suggests that the archetypes of the collective unconscious can lead us toward synchronicity, implying some kind of causality.

This uncertainty might result from different understandings about the nature of consciousness—particularly, what constitutes the locus of consciousness. From the perspective of the ego, synchronicity is acausal. But from the perspective of the unconscious, particularly the collective unconscious, synchronicity could have seemingly causal elements. Jung touches on this ambiguity but, as far as I can see, never fully resolves it. Some might see this as a weakness or, more favorably, as a reflection of our essentially mysterious world.

seaorange by shannon kringen

seaorange by shannon kringen via Flickr

Concerning ethics, synchronicity is ambiguous in the sense that nasty people, even murderers, experience synchronicity along with saints, seers and holy people. Because the concept of synchronicity bears some similarity to the notion of the religious sign, it is not surprising that various attempts have been made to link this aspect of Jungian thought to theology.

The following represents an attempt to synthesize Christian belief with the concept of synchronicity:

The natural universe, in the Jungian sense of the term natural, contains physical and spiritual dimensions. A person who acknowledges only the reality of the physical realm is incapable of recognizing how synchronicity operates in the New Testament and in our world and cannot see the power of the spiritual. By contrast, a person who goes to the other extreme, who sees reality only in the spiritual realm and denies reality in the physical world, will not spend much time bettering the world and will fall readily into superstition.¹

Some philosophers dismiss the entire notion of synchronicity with the idea of “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias is described in Wikipedia as

the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.²

However, we can turn the idea of confirmation bias right back on those who adhere to it as if it were some kind of sacrosanct universal principle. The idea of confirmation bias is certainly worthy of consideration; nevertheless, Jung stressed that one doesn’t look for synchronicity but simply witnesses it. So people who actively seek out “signs” in every bird that flies across the sky, for instance, are not really candidates for the legitimate experience of synchronicity, as defined by Jung.³

Synchronicity (album)

Synchronicity (pop music album) via Wikipedia

Moreover, some theologians consider the possibility that a biased mind, which we all most likely have, could be informed by supernatural influences transcending one’s psychological makeup.

So to reduce all synchronistic experience to a humanly constructed idea of “confirmation bias” is arguably limiting and not scientific in the fullest sense of the word. This is especially so since Jung says synchronicity often involves the inner experience of numinosity along with the observation of external data.4

The following graphic about synchronicity came up through the Zemanta blogging assistant plugin. I haven’t fully reflected on it so am hesitant to say it accurately depicts Jung’s vision. But it is thought-provoking and might help to illustrate some, if not all, of the issues that synchronicity could involve:5

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

¹  Morton T. Kelsey, Christo-psychology, New York: Crossroad, 1982, p. 131.

² Compare to the Wikipedia definition provided at the time of the last update for this entry: a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and avoids information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs (2009/04/15).

³ (a) See https://epages.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/carl-jung-a-complicated-guy-in-a-complicated-world

(b) Not unlike religious people and their signs, believers often feel that synchronicity confirms choices they’ve made, that they are still on the right path, even if they’ve been through a trying time. I must admit that I have felt this way in my life. But we should keep in mind the possibility that had we made different choices along the way, we still might have experienced synchronicity. A friend once suggested this possibility to me. And although I still do feel comforted by synchronicities from time to time, I think my friend’s suggestion is a good, healthy reality check to keep in mind.

4 I am fully aware that using the term “external ‘is problematic, especially in this context. But a discussion of this complex philosophical issue is beyond the scope of this entry.

5 Compare to Jung’s own diagram, reproduced on p. 197 here http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/nq21958.pdf

On the Web:

Related » Akashic Records, Causality, Divination, Shakti Gawain, David Hume, I Ching, Joachim of Fiore, Melanie Klein, Arthur Koestler, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Miracles, Morphogenetic Fields, Ram Dass, Michael Talbot