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Q – It’s okay to be uncertain

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve – Wikipedia

The Catholic Monk Thomas Merton once said that the Bible is a difficult, perplexing work. It doesn’t make sense. It has contradictions. And its Old Testament often portrays God as an immature, violent ogre. But with his hallmark Christian optimism, Merton says that’s exactly why he likes the Bible. It’s not fake or flaky. It portrays life as it really is.

Warts Exposed

I admit that some New Age websites telling us that “love is all around” give me the feeling that something not too loving is brewing underneath the surface of all that sugary sweetness. So I tend to agree with Merton. The Bible doesn’t cover up but exposes warts. Its compilers didn’t edit out apparent inconsistencies but left them in. Note the two different accounts of Creation in Genesis, for instance. Or Jesus saying we need to hate our parents, spouse, kids and siblings to follow him (Luke 14:26).

In the New Testament you’d think these difficulties and contentious scenarios would have disappeared. After all, many years had passed since Old Testament times and the relatively modern people around Jesus’ day could have edited everything into a nice, neat package. A package without contradictions.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

What about Q?

Most scholars agree that the New Testament was formed from an oral tradition. Christ lived his life, sometimes solitary, other times with his followers. People told stories about Christ and the Gospel writers collected those tales, probably according to their political and pastoral needs.

Some Gospel writers likely borrowed from existing texts. The words didn’t enter directly into their minds as some fundamentalists would say. At least, that is how it seems from the textual evidence.

10th century CE Byzantine illustration of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia

No one can say for sure. It is possible that the Gospel writers were divinely inspired to say the same things the same way. I considered that perspective soon after my conversion to Christianity. But years of study have tempered my thinking… for better or for worse.

One obvious feature of the Gospels is the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent in Mark.

Different theories try to explain this.

A prevailing idea is Q theory. Q sounds hip and cool but I doubt that’s why religious scholars chose it. The theory cropped up in the early 1900s and, as far I know, marketing wasn’t a burning academic issue at that time.

Johannes Weiss was a German Protestant scholar who first coined the name “Q.” He used Q to refer to some of that shared material found in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. For decades most scholars assumed that Q alluded to the German word quelle, meaning “source.” But recent studies indicate that “Q” might have been chosen on a whim.

So maybe Weiss and his followers were trying to be trendy. Who knows. Before the word Q caught fire, researchers called this material the logia, calling to mind images of stony faced scholars sifting through weighty volumes in dusty old libraries.

What is most important to remember about Q is that it is a purely hypothetical document. Archaeologists have never discovered evidence that it actually exists. Not even a scrap or fragment. Despite this, some scholars carry on as if it were fact.

For and Against

Elaine Pagels is a religion writer who rose to prominence with her 1979 bestseller, The Gnostic Gospels. Pagels believes in Q because, as she points out, Jesus spoke in Aramaic. He, himself, wrote nothing. So Jesus’ actual sayings come to us through translated sources. But not only that. Our earliest existing sources are in Greek

New Testament apocrypha – Wikipedia

Whatever Jesus did say, our version has been translated at least once by somebody else. The fact that Jesus’ sayings are so strikingly similar in Matthew and Luke points to the existence of a textual source from which they were copied—namely, Q.²

Opponents of Q theory say the early Christians would have revered such an immediate record of their savior’s sayings, not allowing it to be misplaced or destroyed.

So where is Q? If Q did exist, how could the early Church have lost a document so important and essential to its formation?

Detractors have a simple answer. The early Christians would not have lost it. Q never existed.

For me it doesn’t really matter if Q existed or not. It is a compelling idea but as Pagels suggests, quite a few links were forged over the centuries from the era of Jesus and the occupying Romans to current, 21st century versions of the Bible. With much uncertainty accrued over two millennia, it would be unwise to fixate on any particular explanation without hard proof. Proof we may never discover.

It’s okay to not know everything

In a way, uncertainty is good. It can help to deflect the kind of fundamentalism that fuses zealous patriotism with a specific, dogmatic take on religion.³

Normally, I wouldn’t care about fundamentalists too much. But the visibility of some sectarians and their facile claims can make it more difficult for the rest of us thoughtful Christians, especially when trying to convey the beauty of Christ. Most caring, sensible people react adversely to fundamentalism. And if they haven’t really explored Christian religious differences, some otherwise good people lump all Christians together into one narrow-minded, authoritarian group.

Trying to explain the difference between the goodness of Christ and religious zealotry isn’t always easy. One has to get the listener past the image of aggressive, finger-wagging individuals.4

Worldly people, on the other hand, sometimes say that Christian religious experience is generated by body chemistry. For them, the Christian cannot discern the difference between an endorphin rush, sugar high or caffeine hit as opposed to the indwelling of spiritual graces.

To me, that only serves to tell me something about the mindset of the spiritually ignorant. Hard-boiled skeptics often don’t realize that while they’re looking at us, we’re looking at them.

At the other end of the spectrum, some fundamentalists say mysticism is nothing more than a devilish deception. There’s no talking to these people. They love to cherry pick Bible verses to support – while ignoring anything that challenges – their particular outlook.5

When folks, be they worldly or religious, are so entrenched in a limiting worldview my proverbial b.s. detector often goes from yellow to red. It may be a pastor. A blogger. A doctor. It doesn’t matter who. At those times I find the best thing is to politely withdraw and later on, when the time is right, redirect my thoughts into action.

¹ Some even believe in an original Aramaic New Testament that has been lost in the sands of time.

² See From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians, online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion. Most agree that we have no original New Testament documents. So this would make our present version of Jesus’ sayings third-hand, at best. » 1 » Original Aramaic »  2 »  First but now lost transcriptions into Greek »  3 »  Surviving copies.

³ To me this is like the old Roman Empire championing its state gods.

4 We’ve probably all lived through or heard a story about offensive, overbearing Christians.

5 See Religious people have a brain so why don’t some use it?

For more on Q, see my highlights at LINER.

 Who Is Jesus? (3) (vanguardngr.com)

 Ghetts announces Ghetto Gospel: New Testament album, listen to new single “Slumdog Millionaire” (thefader.com)

 The Reformation Rolls On: (brothersjuddblog.com)

 Just listen (takeaminute.net)

 Sean Carvajal Steps in for Victor Rasuk in JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN at Signature Theatre (broadwayworld.com)

Hug(thedistinctdot.com)

 Is this blasphemous? (quinersdiner.com)

 

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Psi – Good, evil, real or fantasy?

English: Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld ex...

A subject in a psi experiment – Wikipedia

Psi (Ψ, ψ) is a Greek letter that today names frat houses and also denotes the idea of paranormal phenomena.

Coined by Bertold P. Wiesner, “psi” was appropriated in 1942 by Drs. Robert Thouless to indicate ESP

Psi later became an umbrella term for a range of alleged abilities. These include telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, apparitions and other unconventional phenomena involving subtle sensing, near and at a distance.

Around the turn of the century, psi was popularized by the TV program Psi Factor, hosted by Dan Aykroyd. The show dramatized the pros and cons of purported psi abilities. Several other popular TV shows about psi have come and gone. The idea has become more mainstream in sci-fi and fantasy, along with the notion of psychological time travel.

George Noory hosts a popular radio show, Coast to Coast AM, where fringe and more credible callers phone in to talk about psi experiences, insights and most other things paranormal.

toads-fly2

The Skeptics

Psi remains controversial. Skeptics say no reliable scientific evidence supports it. Believers argue that psi is not amenable to science as we know it. The psychologist Carl Jung claimed that some scientific studies gave significant results. But Jung’s claim is debatable.²

More recently, a new breed of thinkers are calling for a reworked science that would

  • assess spiritual and paranormal reports as potentially legitimate data for scientific study
  • develop a holistic approach that would extend our understanding of science but not lapse into scientism
birds final

The Believers

Many religious people question the ethics of psi. Psi may exist, they argue, but we need to ask if enhanced abilities are in line with God’s will. This question implies its opposite; namely, that evil may endow – or seem to endow – individuals with psi.

Psychiatry views psi in terms of mental health and illness. While not absolutely negating the possibility of psi, most psychiatrists would probably say the brain creates some kind of hallucination, giving rise to the false belief that psychic abilities exist.

Catholicism’s take on psi reveals a curious mix of traditional religion and 21st century psychiatry. Exorcism prayers may be recited over those deemed possessed or obsessed by an evil spirit. Alternately, afflicted individuals may be advised to consult a psychiatrist.

Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal

Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal – Wikipedia

Instead of resorting to a black and white scenario like satanic influence vs. mental illness, psi errors and questionable beliefs about psi could be explained by a combination of psychological, social and spiritual factors.

Effective treatments could best involve spirituality, psychiatry, along with the humanities and arts to sort through cultural prejudices – and lies – that could contribute to personal issues.

Lasting solutions to psychological unsoundness would ideally involve a multi-disciplinary approach. But this is rare in most corners of the world. Maybe we’re just not “there” as a species. I’m not sure. But it seems that many religious people, especially fundamentalists, come down heavily on psi. They are convinced psi is of the devil. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist balks if we suggest an angel, demon or dead person might influence us from the other side.

However, psi need not be contrary to religion or psychological therapy. Catholic saints, for instance, reportedly have a gift for “reading hearts”—that is, intuitively knowing what others are thinking, feeling or experiencing.

And belief in organized religious teachings is “sane” according to psychiatry (which some say is a politically charged and culturally relative outlook).

So saying that psi is always of the devil or, on the other hand, a mere psychological fantasy seems a superficial reaction to countless reports that just might be pointing toward the next step in human evolution.

¹ Thouless, R. H. (1942) cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psi_%28parapsychology%29, “Experiments on paranormal guessing”. British Journal of Psychology, 33, 15-27.

² Clark, Michael. Synchronicity and poststructuralism: C. G. Jung’s secularization of the supramundane, 1997: pp. 72, 119-122, 130, 156-157, 177-179.

Related » Akashic Records, Aliens and Extraterrestrials, Clairvoyance, Psi Spies, Pyramids, Michael Talbot, UFO

For more see my highlights with LINER

 

 ‘Stranger Things’ Bits: Candles, Trivia, Sesame Street, Hopper Dancing and More! (slashfilm.com)


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Pythagoras – A lot more than a triangle

Angels

Angels – “In this theater of man’s life, it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers-on” – Pythagoras by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr

We’ve probably all heard of Pythagoras. In junior high the Pythagorean theorem is a mainstay of math class.

For a right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides.

Some might not know, however, that Pythagoras is one of those characters where it really is difficult to separate the myth from the man.

He existed, no doubt. That’s not the issue. But it is uncertain just how much he really knew; what the man actually said and did.

Part of the difficulty in sorting through all the legends is that his followers did, in fact, create a story – actually stories – about him. And those stories, replete with potential errors, fibs and embellishments, were passed on through the centuries, mistakes probably magnified at every turn.

Pythagoras in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy via Wikipedia

One could say the same about Jesus Christ or Buddha.¹ Or any aspect of the Bible and most religious scripture. That doesn’t necessary detract from the overall message but it does make us think.

Hopefully…

Having said this, most see Pythagoras as a Greek philosopher and scientist born on the island of Samos around 570–495 BCE.

He is credited with discovering how musical intervals relate to mathematical proportions, the Pythagorean theorem and a complex system of portraying the universe through numbers.

Pythagoras’ moral teachings include asceticism and a belief in the transmigration of souls–that is, reincarnation. He founded a religious school in Crotona but was forced to move to Metapontum due to prolonged persecution.

S. G. F. Brandon says this persecution probably arose because of Pythagoreanism’s similarity to Orphism

Italiano: Busto di Pitagora. Copia romana di o...

Bust of Pythagoras. Roman copy of the original Greek. Capitoline Museums, Rome – via Wikipedia

On this point social psychologists and sociologists propose an “in-group/out-group” theory of conflict. According to this view, persecution arises when a minority group shares too many qualities with the powerful, orthodox group it threatens or challenges.

Nobody cares if the two groups are entirely different. But when they share some key concepts and practices, that’s when the dust flies.

And as history reveals, the two groups’ respective clout need not be dramatically skewed for this dynamic to take place: Jews and Muslims; Christians and Jews; Christians and Muslims; Liberals and Conservatives; Democrats and Rebublicans; Communists and Capitalists.

The list goes on.

Not just a dry philosophy, Pythagoreanism was a practical guide to living a valuable life. Pythagoras is also credited with providing a threefold theory of the soul. One that combines mysticism and practicality.³

Pythagoras maintained that the soul has three vehicles: (1) the ethereal, which is luminous and celestial, in which the soul resides in a state of bliss in the stars; (2) the luminous, which suffers the punishment of sin after death; and (3) the terrestrial, which is the vehicle it occupies on this earth.4

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The s...

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The sum of two squares whose sides are the two legs (blue and red) is equal to the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (purple) – Wikipedia

Muslims believed that Pythagoras was initiated into the sacred mysteries by Hermes (Egyptian Thoth). His thinking, and that of his followers, also had a profound influence on the work of the mystically inclined Plato.

Some maintain that Plato’s Republic, which outlines the ideal community, is based on a Pythagorean community established in Croton.

Pythagorean ideas resurfaced in Rome and Alexandria from the 1st century BCE onward. Many have written about Pythagoras.5 But again, this only confuses the story. Are we hearing about the man or the myth?

¹ Christians are often criticized for this; Buddhists, rarely. Christianity, after all, is the most persecuted religion in the world today.

² S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 520.

³ Most mystics would dispute this distinction, arguing that mysticism is supremely practical, given the eternal or everlasting nature of existence and the prospect of a favorable or unfavorable afterlife.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras#Timeline_of_sources

Related » David Bowie, Music of The Spheres, Numerology

For more see my highlights at LINER


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Psychological Projection – When fiction becomes fact

Freud exhibition

Freud exhibition by Amira Elwakil via Flickr

If we’re all projecting onto one another, where is true, authentic relationship? – Lee Beach

Lee Beach was a professor at Trent university. He taught psychology but was also interested in English literature. Dr. Beach’s reading list contained just about every neurotic in literary history, categorized by the psychoanalytic system of the day.

It was a great course. A bright moment amidst a sea of competent but sometimes superficial psych professors.

Two types of projection

Projection is an old idea, alluded to in religious scripture, literature and philosophy since ancient times.¹

Sigmund Freud conceptualized projection within a systematic theory of mind. Freud had a knack for doing that. Many of his ideas had been around for centuries. He was just the most successful in naming and fitting concepts into a larger theory of his own making.

Signboard of Freud Museaum

Signboard of Freud Museum – Wikipedia

Projection for Freud has a dual meaning. The most popular use in everyday speech refers to attributing our good and bad qualities to someone else. We “project” our own overlooked qualities onto another.

If it’s Tiger Woods, for example, some might project their own impulses toward infidelity onto him. Woods becomes a bogey man and the projecting person feels self-righteous and justified.

Likewise, a good deal of Trump detractors seem to project their own undesirable, unconscious shadow onto the American president.

That sexist, unstable Man is not a role model nor fit for office!

On the other hand, Trump supporters may project their own desire for prosperity onto equally simplistic images, tropes and slogans.

Make America Great Again!

The second meaning of projection is similar to the first, but more disturbing. Here a person believes that what is going on inside their head is outwardly real. For them a dream or hallucination becomes reality.²

Gulácsy, Lajos – The Madman and the Soldier (1909-11) via Wikipedia

A tragic aspect of the second type of projection is found in the violent psychotic who cannot distinguish between their turbulent inner fantasy world and personal acts of violence.

These people walk around in a kind of waking dream state, not realizing they’re harming real people as they live out their twisted desires, defend against non-existent threats or blindly obey inner voices.³

Positive aspects

Projection is often perceived as negative. Freud, in a letter to his disciple Carl Jung, jokes that one should not be “led like Faust see a Helen [of Troy] in every woman.”4

However, projection can be positive. When projection involves our first love, we tend to project our own idealized hopes and aspirations onto another. Love is blind, the old saying goes. Bodily chemicals rush through our system and our love object becomes a goddess or god. We are supremely happy, even exhilarated. For a while, anyhow. Once reality kicks in our dreamy cloud-like romance usually comes tumbling down.

Jung and the mythographer Jospeh Campbell also believe projection can be positive, providing the activated material is mutually beneficial and facilitates What Jungians call the individuation process.

John Duncan – Tristan & Isolde via Wikipedia

A (usually) young man and woman under the spell of projection reenact the archetypal contents symbolized in tales like Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolte. Here we see the perfect, idealized other in our lover’s eyes—again, for a while.

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Like professor Beach, some ask if we can ever entirely rid ourselves of our projections. If not, human relationships are mostly mutually agreed upon fantasies or temporary infatuations.

Thinkers like Erich Fromm disagree. They say our ability to love makes us uniquely human. For Fromm, reducing this divine mystery to a psychoanalytic or philosophical dynamic does great injustice to the beauty and sanctity of love.

Perhaps the goal is to progressively move beyond projection to develop more profound relationships, realizing that we will always fall short of true, selfless love.

¹ See my highlights at LINER for more. http://lnr.li/0zfjV/

² (a) For some, dreams and hallucinations are also real. This issue is touched on elsewhere at earthpages.ca. (b) Charles Rycroft says projection literally means “throwing in front of oneself” and both types of projection are one of Freud’s defense mechanisms. See Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977, pp. 125-126.

³ These voices are imaginary or demonic, depending on your belief system.

4 Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, New York: Vintage, 1965, p. 363.

Related » Eros, Agape, Artificial Intelligence, Book of Job, Denial, Diamond Sutra, Philia, Symbol, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Transference, Witch, Witches Hammer

 My Conversation with Mary Roach (marginalrevolution.com)

 What are your desert island philosophy essays? (ask.metafilter.com)

 Maryland Democrat will speak to group which says Trump is mentally unfit for office (hotair.com)

 Untangling the Complicated, Controversial Legacy of Sigmund Freud (thecut.com)


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The Pyramids – Afterlife portals or symbols of worldly power?

Inside the Pyramid

Inside the Pyramid: Ricardo Liberato via Flickr

Pyramids are really just a big billboard that says “the richest guy in Egypt is buried here” – Quora

In the 1976 playoffs the Toronto Maple Leafs made it to the semi-finals against the Philadelphia Flyers. This was pretty rare back then because the Leafs had been floundering for years. The fad at the time was pyramid power. All along the Leaf bench pyramids could be seen. The club thought it was bringing them good luck. They lost anyhow.

A couple of years later the British musician Alan Parsons released an album called Pyramid. Pink Floyd had already released Dark Side of the Moon (1973) with a prism – a miniature pyramid – on the album cover.

Pyramids had taken off in pop culture. They moved from an esoteric curiosity to a commercially viable symbol.  Soon after, the 80s New Age movement put a new spin on everything weird and wacky associated with the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids. And whatever was said, there was always a price tag on it. That is, something to buy—a workshop, book or cassette tape.

Louvre – Paris

A whole new mythology about the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids was born in the 70s and 80s. It was a myth intricately linked to consumerism, as we find today.

We only have to turn on the TV or search the web to find out how ETs built the pyramids with special tech unavailable even in the 21st century. Or we might discover some elaborate theory about the End Times, allegedly predicted by the geometry and placement of the pyramids.

Fantastic scenarios aside, it is true that nobody is entirely sure how the Egyptians moved those huge stone blocks. A prevailing theory maintains that wooden sleds were hauled over wetted sand, the added water reducing friction.

What we do have is clear archaeological evidence, through graffiti, that real human work gangs with specific names – like Toronto Maple Leafs or Philadelphia Flyers – not only did the hauling but took pride in their achievement.

So much for ETs and their laser beams.

Aztec human sacrifice, art circa 16th century – Wikipedia

New Age pundits glorifying the pyramids also tend to overlook or rationalize the fact that in Mesoamerica these structures were used for human sacrifice. Moreover, pyramids in Egypt were built for the Pharaoh, not the common people. Egyptian rulers believed a pyramid would facilitate their transit to the afterword. But commoners didn’t get a pyramid of their own. Only those with money could afford such a royal link to the afterlife.

So much for the glory.

Admittedly, the pyramids are impressive. But so is the Roman Colosseum. And we know what went down there. Feeding live Christians to lions. Sickening… nay, horrifying.

The pyramids were mostly about two things: Worldly power and a selfish desire to attain personal immortality. Foreign visitors to Egypt wrote that the pyramids inspired not only awe but fear. These structures spoke clearly about who had power and what would happen if the average gal or guy stepped out of line.

Carl Jung, a Swiss depth psychologist, tends to gloss over the cultural context of historical symbols like the pyramids in favor of developing his theory of the collective unconscious. This isn’t necessary wrong but I think it is incomplete.

Jung believes the architectural similarities among the Egyptian and Mesoamerican pyramids support his concepts of the archetypes and the collective unconscious. However, Raymond Firth questions Jung’s archetypal theory. Firth says any symbol, be it a pyramid, a totem pole or a national flag, conveys as many possible meanings as there are individuals to interpret it.¹

This debate brings to mind the philosophical problem about innate psychological structures vs. regional and individual forms of creativity. Jung had his own way of resolving this issue by differentiating the archetype proper (common, underlying structure) from the archetypal image (cultural expression of that structure). But something still seems a bit too easy with his theory.

Jung, himself, admitted that he didn’t have it all figured out.

So full marks for his honesty.

¹ An anthropologist, Firth emphasizes the immediate, sociological aspects of symbols while not negating the possibility of deeper levels of meaning. See Raymond Firth, Symbols: Public and Private, New York: Allen and Unwin, 1973. Postmoderns like Jacques Derrida would agree with Firth on multiple interpretation. Symbols connote countless meanings. Rarely is anything actually denoted. And even if it is, there is always room for connotation.

Related » Alien Possession Theory, Archaeology, Atlantis, Aztecs, Mythic Identification, Mythic Inflation, Mythic Subordination, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie


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Possession – Another spiritual idea largely ignored by consumer culture

The controversial figure, Rasputin. Depending on one’s worldview or politics, he was mad, possessed or inspired – via Wikipedia

The idea of spiritual possession is found in many different cultures. Some see it as entirely involuntary, unwanted and evil. Others take a less extreme view.

Depending on the cultural context in which it is found, possession may be considered voluntary or involuntary and may be considered to have beneficial or detrimental effects on the host. Within possession cults, the belief that one is possessed by spirits is more common among women than men.¹

In Catholic teaching possession refers to the belief that a person’s body – but not the soul – is inhabited or controlled by demons or other evil influences. Possession in this sense may be temporary or permanent.

Over the centuries diverse exorcism prayers and rituals were developed by the Catholic Church to repulse what are regarded as spiritual attacks from Satan. An example of an exorcism prayer still in use is Prayer Against Satan and the Rebellious Angels, published in 1967 by order of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII.

The Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung used the term possession to describe the unhealthy influence of an archetype on the ego. Jung’s discussion suggests that many archetypes are equivalent in character to pagan gods, which for many are perceived as lesser than a monotheistic God.

Psychiatry complicates the belief in possession. When explaining this belief, contemporary psychiatrists look to delusional systems possibly rooted in faulty brain functioning.

Hacker – Hacking – Symbol by Christoph Scholz via Flickr

However, most psychiatrists do not consider the prospect that faulty brain functioning and spiritual attack may go hand in hand.

Just as a hacker finds weak spots within a computer operating system, the devil, some maintain, exploits physiological and psychological vulnerabilities within human beings.

Could possession be permitted by God to bring about some greater good? If God permits evil, as most traditional theologians say, and if possession is another instance of evil, then it follows that God does permit the possession of souls for some unknown reason.

It’s hard for us to understand why God would permit evil when a seemingly possessed person commits an enormous sin against others. Where’s the logic in that? most cry out afterward.

For me, it is less challenging to consider the “greater Good of good and evil” when we make small mistakes, mistakes that might be at least partially explained by the notion of temporary possession.

Huh?

Let me explain.

In times of extreme stress and fatigue most of us have probably experienced or witnessed someone being “beside themselves,” as the old saying goes. People say or do things they normally wouldn’t do, like hurting another person’s feelings or sparking an argument. This dynamic fits with an idea I’ve been thinking about since the 1980s—The notion of the necessary mistake.

Philosophically speaking, the necessary mistake is nothing new. It’s another way of saying inevitable sin, a concept that has been talked about since the dawn of ethical thinking. Because we are all imperfect, we are going to make mistakes (or commit sin) in life. But some believe that God may bring about a greater Good, despite our blunders. And hopefully the timing of our mistakes fits within a larger dynamic of overall improvement. That is, we all learn together.

BK via Flickr

The difference between a healthy and unhealthy response to a necessary mistake hinges upon how we respond. Do we resolve to do better next time or simply not give a damn and carry on, repeating the same mistake over and over to the detriment of self and others?

It may seem like I’ve wandered pretty far from the idea of possession. But again, possession can be temporary and, as psychiatry suggests, at least partly brought about by factors like genetics, personality, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, drug use and stress.

Conceivably, a dark spiritual force could influence us toward making mistakes if we let our guard down. And I think psychiatry, its patients and the general public would do well to consider this possibility.

In a world becoming more techno-crazed every day, it is time to bring soul, spirit and God back into the discussion of mental health and illness.²

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_possession

² I once had a professor who, almost like Rasputin, seemed to have enormous powers of influence over other people. I’ll call him or her “Raspy” (not the real name). In Jungian terms, Raspy seemed to be gripped (or intermittently possessed) by an archetypal power. Raspy almost had me fooled for a while, until I saw through her or him. As the New Testament puts it, you can always judge spiritual powers by their fruit (i.e. moral outcome). In Raspy’s case, the fruit seemed rotten.

Related » Mental Illness, Obsession, Occam’s Razor, Psychosis, Sibyl, Tramp Souls, Undoing, Vampires

 Boom time for fortune-tellers and tarot card readers in Italy as economic crisis bites (telegraph.co.uk)


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Who’s got the power?

The Power of Choice

The Power of Choice: Simon Greening via Flickr

Way Back

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defined power in a way that remarkably prefigures Sir Isaac Newton‘s three laws of motion.

Aristotle says power is

  1. The agent causing a change in something
  2. The ability or potential in an object enabling it to act
  3. The ability in an object to remain unchanged

Image – Wikipedia

Today

In the social sciences and political life power usually means the ability to make decisions that influence, regulate or coerce.¹

For democratic countries political power is limited to the extent that the next elected representative has the ability to change or modify a set of power relations, as we see with US President Trump trying to unravel or remedy, depending on how you look at it, many of former President Obama’s initiatives.

But power goes far beyond big politics and weighty issues. It is found in the doctor’s office, the workplace, the schools and our neighborhoods. And thinkers like R. D. Laing suggest that power manifests within family dynamics.

Oliver Twist – Wikipedia

A Little Theory

Different cultural critics hold diverse views of power and how it is best applied. From Machiavelli to Marx, power is always present. But just how it is interpreted is a uniquely human act.

Postmodern and other social thinkers often overlook the fact that power, as a noun, is ethically ambivalent. Both good and bad can things be modified by the adjective “powerful”—for example, powerful love and powerful hate.

The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that knowledge gained from philosophical understanding creates power. Hobbes added that such power should be applied in ways good for the Commonwealth. His argument is echoed in the G-8 countries’ rationale behind military strikes against the enemies of democracy and freedom. In Catholicism, this is called the “Just War.

Good and Evil – Wikipedia

Michel Foucault says power is embedded in our social relationships but he doesn’t emphasize an ethical dimension to power. Rather, Foucault sees power as an ongoing struggle of competing intentions.

To some observers, it is almost as if Foucault portrays ethics and morality as historically relative products of social power.

If true, good and evil are not absolute, timeless and universal truths. They are relative to a given social time and place. That is, good and evil are social constructions.

However, Jules Evans argues that Foucault’s later work, such as The Care of the Self (1984), reveals a developing interest in an ethic of wellness. As Foucault says:

Perhaps I’ve insisted too much on the technology of domination and power. I am more and more interested…in the mode of action that an individual exercises upon himself by means of the technologies of the self.²

Whether or not Foucault’s interest in wellness was purely intellectual or, perhaps, an emerging practical concern remains open to debate.

Anthropology, Depth Psychology and Religion

Supernatural – Juliana Coutinho via Flickr

Terms like mana, numinoustapas and orenda refer to a form of magical, mystical or spiritual power originating from beyond the realm of scientific predictability.

In keeping with Max Weber‘s idea of charisma, individuals with a lot of social power may possess, command or mediate a good deal of spiritual, otherworldly power.

I think Weber’s concept of charisma is important because, for some, it links spiritual and political power.

Science vs Religion

Power ON – Wikipedia

Another central question is whether or not a given set of otherworldly powers are good or evil. This issue was once of great importance. It is now pretty well passed over by the media and most everyone else.

In its place we have the popular mindset of “health” and “illness.” In a nutshell, science and technology have moved in where religion and ritual once held sway.

So the 21st century mass murderer is “mentally ill” and not “possessed by Satan.”

At least, this is how the courts see it. And they, to return to our initial topic, have the power

¹ See my highlights at LINER for some recent distinctions in the ongoing dialog about power:

Hard Power – http://lnr.li/C0mV7/

Soft Power – http://lnr.li/IQQXv/

Smart Power – http://lnr.li/0rJdk/

² Michel Foucault, lecture given in 1982 cited in Jules Evans, “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” Eurasian Home Analytical Resource, August 15, 2007.

³ Most traditional theologians would say the courts only hold as much power as God permits, God being the bearer of all power.

Related » Counter-discourse, Discourse, Poststructuralism

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 The last sacred kings (aeon.co)

 What are your desert island philosophy essays? (ask.metafilter.com)

 If Time Is Money, They’re Both Lies (therooflesschurch.com)

 Porn stars go mainstream (foxnews.com)