NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity

Last night, I was listening to Coast to Coast AM. The host mentioned a study in passing which caught my interest. The study was about the impact of NDEs on spirituality and religion. He said the results of NDE experiencers was the opposite of those church attenders who never had an NDE. After their NDE, experiencers were increasingly interested in spirituality and yet their church attendance decreased. On the other hand, non-experiencers over time (as they aged?) became less interested in spirituality all the while attending church more often.

I tried to find this study, but was unable to find it. NDEs is the topic of tonight’s show on Coast to Coast Am. The guest is Pin van Lommel who has written about the topic, but I don’t know if the study is discussed in one of his books. I did find other research which was related. In the following paper, I found a description of research showing that belief in the paranormal is negatively related to religious participation.

The Polarization of Psi Beliefs:
Rational, Controlling, Masculine Skepticism Versus Interconnected, Spiritual, Feminine Belief
J. E. Kennedy
pp 31-2

There are mixed findings and opinions from research on the relationship between religion and paranormal beliefs. National surveys in Canada and Iceland found that religious interests or beliefs were associated with belief in the paranormal (Haraldsson, 1981; Orenstein, 2002). These results are supported by other studies (see Thalbourne & Houtkooper, 2002). However, a national survey in the U.S. found that the correlations between religious and paranormal beliefs were largely nonsignificant (Rice, 2003). Various other studies found no relationship or mixed results between religion and belief in the paranormal (reviewed in Irwin, 1993; see also Orenstein, 2002; Rice, 2003).

These inconsistencies apparently reflect the fact that certain measures of religion are related to psi beliefs and others are not. Orenstein (2002) reported that belief in the paranormal was positively related to religious faith but negatively related to religious participation in a representative national survey in Canada. For those who had high religious belief but low church attendance, 78% scored high on 6 paranormal belief questions. For those who had high religious belief and high church attendance, 24% scored high on paranormal beliefs. For those who had low religious belief and low church attendance, 11% scored high on paranormal beliefs.

So, what does that mean? My guess is that this connects to Ernest Hartmann’s research on boundary types. Thick boundary types would prefer organized religion because it’s clearly defined in its social structure and in its belief system. However, thin boundary types prefer more open-endedness and inconclusiveness which goes against most organized religion, especially of the highly organized variety such as the Catholic Church. Research shows that thin boundary types are more open to non-ordinary experiences (i.e., spiritual, paranormal; et cetera). An NDE, by definition, is a thin boundary experience in that it’s a very personal experience of thin boundary between life and death.

Even if you don’t believe in religion or the paranormal, I think this type of research is interesting in what it says about human nature. A thick boundary person simply is less comfortable with spirituality and the paranormal. If the thick boundary person is religious, they’re more likely to label the non-ordinary as evil or at least consider it highly suspect. If a thick boundary person isn’t religious, they’re likely to deem claims of non-ordinary experiences as false or meaningless or else to rationalize them away merely brain malfunctions. In this way, the religious fundamentalist and the atheistic fundamentalist would find themselves in similar opposition to the spiritual believer and paranormal experiencer.

The Elephant That Wasn’t There

I was talking to someone the other day who was telling me about a recent family visit (by the way, her telling of it reminded me of the type of story David Sedaris writes).

It was her older sister who was visiting and they were discussing the past. The older sister claimed that she used to go for rides on a pony that a neighbor had. The neighbor gave pony rides somewhere for money and would allow the sister to ride the pony home. However, the older sister also claimed that this pony owner also owned an elephant who would also sometimes follow along. The woman I was talking to didn’t believe her sister’s story about the elephant and so investigated by asking other family members and some old neighbors from the area. No one else remembered the elephant, but the older sister was absolutely certain about the elephant’s existence. It was real in her mind.

I find that amusing. None of us really knows how much of our memories are correct. Few of us are ever motivated or capable of fact-checking most of our memories. Stories we’ve encountered over our lifetimes (especially when young) can become incorporated into our own personal story. I mean it’s logical that where there is a pony there might be an elephant. Science has proven that we literally re-member every time we recall something. The more often we recall something the less reliable the memory becomes. We don’t remember the thing itself. We remember our own retellings.

We all live in our own private fantasy worlds. I’ve been drawn to this idea. I think I first encountered it with Robert Anton Wilson’s writings about reality tunnels. It’s not just individuals but whole societies that get caught up in reality tunnels. In the case of personal memories, another person who knows us can offer a reality check. A collective reality tunnel is different because everyone within the society will reinforce the shared view of reality. Our collective retellings are rituals that remake the world in the way the Australian Aborigines remake the world by retracing the pathways of the gods. What if there is some truth to this? Maybe scientific laws and evolution are simply forms of collective memory.

This avenue of thought is explored in great detail by Philip K. Dick and by those influenced/inspired by PKD (for example: Jonathan Lethem’s Amnesia Moon and Ursula K. Leguin’s The Lathe of Heaven). I just finished reading PKD’s Eye in the Sky. I was mostly reading that novel while at work which led me to contemplate the world around me. I work late at night and staring into the concrete interior of a parking ramp (where I work) offers an interesting opportunity for contemplation.

My job at the parking ramp is cashier. In the large picture, it’s kind of a pointless job. With developing technology, it’s almost obsolete for all practical purposes. I sometimes envision myself working there in the future after the robots have taken over the job and my only purpose will be to wave and smile at the customers as they drive out. My job is merely representative of most of the pointless work humans occupy themselves with… but is it really pointless? Or is there some purpose being served that is less than obvious? Work is a ritual that sustains our society, the reality tunnel of our culture, of our entire civilization. From a practical perspective, most jobs could be eliminated and many things would run more smoothly and effectively without all the wasted effort of keeping people employed. But if all the pointless jobs were eliminated, there would be chaos with the masses of unemployed. Employing the mindless masses keeps them out of trouble and keeps them from revolting. Make them think their life actually has purpose. Still, a purpose is being served even if it’s simply maintaining social order. My point is that social order is merely the external facet of any given collective reality tunnel.

In PKD’s stories, the protagonist is often faced with a true reality that is hidden behind an apparent reality. This true reality isn’t somewhere else but is instead all around us. This is a gnostic vision of the kingdom on earth. PKD had a few spiritual visions which inspired his theologizing and his fiction writing. I too have had some visions that have made me question the status quo of normal reality.

In enacting our social rituals and retelling our social myths, what kind of reality are we collectively creating? When I look upon a structure like an ugly parking ramp, what kind of world am I looking upon? Why are we creating such a world? What is the motivation? If we stopped enacting these social rituals and stopped retelling these social myths, what would happen to this consensus reality of civilization we’ve created and what would replace it? Or what would be revealed?

“As long as we keep ourselves busy tilling the earth, there is no fear of any of us becoming wild.”
~  J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur

National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional

ProfMTH — April 30, 2010 — A look at the recent decision that declared the federal law establish the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.


1. Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. v. Obama and Gibbs http://www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/assets/p…

2. The National Day of Prayer Task Forces website http://nationaldayofprayer.org/

3. Federalist #78 http://www.constitution.org/fed/feder…

ProfMTH — April 30, 2010 — The second part of my look at the recent decision that declared the federal law establishing the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.


1. Freedom from Religion Foundation, et al. v. Obama and Gibbs http://www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/assets/p…

2. Lemon v. Kurtzman http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

3. Christian activist Tony Perkins talking about the National Day of Prayer (from JesusSavesAtCitibanks channel here on YouTube) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0Vqd6…

4. Engel v. Vitale http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

5. Marsh v. Chambers http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

6. Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York http://scholar.google.com/scholar_cas…

Why I am no longer a Christian by Evid3nc3

This video is an atheist explaining how he lost his faith. It’s long, but I found it worth watching. The guy is very respectful of Christianity and he is far from being dismissive of his past faith.

His example reminds me of Robert M. Price who also began studying with the hope of strengthening his faith. The risk of apologetics is that it uses the methods of the enemy (logic, argument, questions, doubts, intellect, etc). There is a real danger to opening yourself up to any and all doubts and following questions to whatever answers they may lead. This is true for any person, whether religious or not. Intellectual inquiry isn’t for the contented. Questions aren’t for those who wish to remain in comforting certainties.

Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?

Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?
By D.M. Murdock

god calling abraham to his covenant image

Archaeologists working in Turkey have unearthed an Assyrian tablet dating to around 670 BCE that “could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.” […] 

Ancient treaty resembles part of the Bible

Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.

The tablet, dating to about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.

Although biblical scholarship differs, it is widely accepted that the Hebrew Bible was being assembled around the same time as this treaty, the seventh century BC.

“Those documents…seem to reflect very closely the formulaic structure of these treaty documents,” he told about 50 guests at the Ottawa residence of the Turkish ambassador, Rafet Akgunay.

He was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt on the condition that they worship only Him and follow His commandments.

But it will be interesting for scholars to have this parallel document.

“The language in the [Assyrian] texts is [very similar] and now we have a treaty document just a few miles up the road from Jerusalem.”…

[…] Although the article states that the archaeologist Timothy Harrison “was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt,” it is nonetheless raising that very issue in a manner which breaks with the centuries-old tradition of bending all finds in the “Holy Land” and other places of biblical interest to fit the Bible, in attempts to prove the “Good Book” as “history.” It is obvious that this sort of bibliolatry appeasement from the more scientific segment of society is losing ground precisely because of such discoveries – and the implication of this one is a doozy.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 4/1/10

You’d be mad to support climate change science

In a recent forum debate, a poster suggested I wouldn’t look at science that didn’t agree with my position – that I displayed confirmation bias. I have a standard response to this, which is that I’ll look at anything that isn’t junk science. If it’s credible science, why would I not study it?

The poster who challenged me did so on the basis of how he sees things. To him, this is a debate to win, and because he thinks that’s what I’m here to do, that I have an agenda, it seems obvious to him I’m going to select only that science which supports it (and I have to add that in all likelihood, that’s what he’s doing). This assumption is made because the denialists do have an agenda, and it is largely political. They attack the science, because for them, climate change science is a proxy for socialism, or a token of some movement towards a ‘world government’ that is essentially socialist in nature.

They oppose this, and because the basis for climate change is scientific, they end up attacking the science because they take it as a tool of ideologues. In making this unfortunate conflation, they also project the same motives and concerns on people like me, because if their agenda is to oppose the left, in their eyes I must be another lefty ideologue opposing the right, supporting climate change as a means to my own ideological ends.

Parliament’s investigation: Stolen e-mails reveal no wrong-doing by climate scientists

As Galileo might have said, “Still the planet warms.”

A committee of England’s Parliament released its report on Hadley Climate Research Unit’s (CRU) stolen e-mails earlier today.  The reports you heard that the scientific case showing global warming with human causation had died, were exaggerated, significantly in error, and hoaxes themselves.

The report comes from the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.  Press release with links and previous releases from the Committee, below:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia

[…] The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. […]

How to split up the US


As I’ve been digging deeper into the data I’ve gathered on 210 million public Facebook profiles, I’ve been fascinated by some of the patterns that have emerged. My latest visualization shows the information by location, with connections drawn between places that share friends. For example, a lot of people in LA have friends in San Francisco, so there’s a line between them.

Looking at the network of US cities, it’s been remarkable to see how groups of them form clusters, with strong connections locally but few contacts outside the cluster.

Millennials and Postmodernism in TV Comedies

I recently read a fantastic but dense essay by David Foster Wallace drawing connections between fictional literature and television, emphasizing the commonalities between the genres’ narrative structures. The essay was written in the early 90s but is oddly premonitory, particularly with reference to reality shows and on-demand programming. He frequently cites the increasingly self-referential nature of television programs (and fiction), and it piqued my interest in postmodernist television narratives. So I wanted to think and write a bit about how postmodernist comedy writing on several contemporary TV shows shares many elements with the Millennial Generation’s defining traits. This isn’t really a new revelation, but it’s one worth exploring in more depth – it may help us supply Millennial qualities with some context.

So, first, a few key factors of literary postmodernism that I will consider, as described in Literary Theory:

  1. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.
  2. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random-seeming collages of different materials, and, contrary to modernism, celebrates the ensuing incoherence and nonsense.

Millennials —yes, they can

They have not generally gotten involved with candidates or issues because “Millennials perceive politics as a polarized debate with no options for compromise or nuance,” in the words of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. They don’t want to be limited by political party affiliation. They care about issues important to their “community” and will work with anyone who can get something done.

But they are impatient. That is why so many seemed to drift away from President Barack Obama as the healthcare debate dragged on and partisanship in Washington got out of hand. For nearly a year and a half their parents’ and grandparents’ generations argued over what — to many — seemed like petty details. They tuned out not because they didn’t care but because they were bored.

Now that there actually is a healthcare bill, it will be fascinating to see if they are willing to re-engage. The Obama campaign showed how to communicate with and motivate this generation in 2008. Re-engaging them will be crucial to the president’s reelection and, arguably, to Democrats’ congressional future. There are 44 million Millennials eligible to vote, which is about 20 percent of the electorate. Most of them are independents — at least in their voting patterns. Recent polls show independents drifting away from the Republican Party as a result of the angry debate in Washington.

Millennials do faith and politics their way

[…] The core finding of Pew’s “Religion Among the Millennials” report is that young Americans are “less religiously affiliated” than their elders. In fact, one in four of Americans ages 18 to 29 do not affiliate with any particular religious group. This is not entirely unexpected, since it is a sociological truism that young people cultivate some distance from the religious institutions of their parents, only to return to those institutions as they marry, raise children and slouch toward retirement. According to Pew, however, “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle … and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults.”

This is an important finding because it provides strong evidence for the loosening of religion’s grip on American life. Or does it?

[…] This liberal turn will not necessarily convert young people into Democrats, however, because “Democrat,” too, is a brand most Millennials are unwilling to call their own. Even so, the new data do lay bare the so-called new conservatism of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party not as the next new thing but as the last paroxysm of a spent revolution.

Both the Tea Party activists and their beloved Palin are as white as Alaskan snow, but the American population is increasingly brown; 19% of Millennials are Hispanic and 14% are black. No religious or political movement propelled by white rage (or for that matter by the fury of retirees) will have legs in the America this new generation is making.

One of the big stories of the past few decades in American religion has been the decline of the mainline denominations at the expense of evangelical megachurches. One of the big stories of the next few decades in American politics could be the decline of the major political parties at the expense of grassroots (and “cyberroots”) initiatives. As Boomers yield power to Millennials, the political movements that succeed will look less like the Southern Baptist Convention and more like your local non-denominational church. They will be browner, more comfortable with rapid change, higher tech, more upbeat and unworried by tattoos.

The Coming End of the Culture Wars

The term “culture wars” dates back to a 1991 book by academic James Davison Hunter who argued that cultural issues touching on family and religious values, feminism, gay rights, race, guns, and abortion had redefined American politics. Going forward, bitter conflicts around these issues would be the fulcrum of politics in a polarized nation, he theorized.

It did look like he might have a point for a while. Conservatives especially seemed happy to take a culture wars approach, reasoning that political debate around these issues would both mobilize their base and make it more difficult for progressives to benefit from their edge on domestic policy issues such as the economy and health care. This approach played an important role in conservative gains during the early part of the Clinton administration and in the impeachment drama of the late 1990s, which undercut progressive legislative strategies. And the culture wars certainly contributed to conservative George W. Bush’s presidential victories in 2000 and 2004.

Yet these issues have lately been conspicuous by their absence. Looking back on Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008, culture wars issues not only had a very low profile in the campaign, but where conservatives did attempt to raise them, these issues did them little good. Indeed, conservatives were probably more hurt than helped by such attempts— witness the effect of the Sarah Palin nomination.

Attempts to revive the culture wars have been similarly unsuccessful since the election. Sarah Palin’s bizarre trajectory, culminating in her surprise resignation from the Alaska governorship, has only made culture war politics appear even more out of touch. And culture warriors’ shrill attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have conspicuously failed to turn public opinion against her.

Authors Connected?

Authors Connected?

Posted on Dec 26th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
I’ve been repeatedly mentioning several authors in my recent blogs.  While I’m at it, I want to bring in two other authors that I haven’t mentioned in a while.

The two other authors are George P. Hansen and Patrick Harpur.  I wrote about them when I was thinking about the paranormal and they influenced my ideas in my blog about the Enactivism Symposium.  I was thinking about these two specifically in reference to Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson.
The connection might not be obvious even for some strange person who spent their time closely reading my blog.  Hansen and Harpur write about the relationship between “reality” and the paranormal.  Nelson and Wilson write about the relationship between culture and religion.  The connection between them revolves around the mythological and the archetypal.
There is a reason I wanted to bring in Hansen and Harpur.  They both speak to what the spiritual means in terms of our actual experience and our attempt to objectively know reality.  I admire the insight of Nelson and Wilson, but speaking in terms of culture can put a distance to the ideas.  Wilson does resonate with my personal experience fairly well.  The main limitation to his writing is that he is so focused on certain traditions… even if they’re traditions that I’m attracted to.
Harpur, maybe more than any of them, has helped me to understand what exists beyond our physical senses and rational knowledge.  The concept of the imaginal is centrally important to me.  It gives a point of reference to understand where both atheists and theists can go wrong in their beliefs.  The imaginal also gives a point in between story and reality, the source of mythology.  
Harpur refers to Hillman’s polytheistic psyche, and Hillman would be opposed to Campbell’s Monomyth.  I, however, don’t feel certain of any conflict.  There is an autonomy of archetypes that can’t be unified in a simple manner, but neither are archetypes exactly like Platonic ideals.  Still, archetypes are all related.  I’d even argue that archetypes are primarily relational before anything else.  Its this relational dimension that grounds archetypes in stories.  Also, for whatever its worth, it brings to my mind the Buddhist notion of dependent co-arising.
I’m starting to confuse myself.  That is fine.  I’m sure it all makes sense somehow.
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Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

34 minutes later

Marmalade said

I think that my mind as of late is a bit split between two lines of thought.  

First off, part of me wants to make some sense out of what I at times perceive as a hellish world.  Horror isn’t really a genre.  Its an experience that you’ve had and understand… or else not.

Secondly, I’m just fascinated by stories and myths.  This relates to suffering but isn’t limited to it.  We use stories to make sense of suffering it is true.  Stories wouldn’t make any motivating force without suffering even if only on the level of basic conflict.  If there is no antagonist, there is no story.  However, I don’t think this is what attracts me to stories.  Stories can make me forget suffering, make the world seem to have some kind of purpose or order… and sometimes a really good story (such as The Fountain) can offer a deeper insight.

These two aspects conflict.  Stories represent enjoyment and meaning.  Suffering, when experienced deeply enough, undermines any sense of order or insight that a story might offer.  However, is this problematic.  We’re all drawn to stories about characters (real or fictional) like Jesus, but in our suffering we feel drawn beyond the story itself.

I don’t know.  Does that make sense?

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

Here is a comment that I think I meant to put here, but I’m not quite sure. It should fit in.

There is another blog of mine that has very similar subject matter. Its about a specific archetypes that are related:Trickster, the Primal Man, the Titan/Giant, the Hero, and the Savior… also, the Divine Child and Shadow. These archetypes are especially central to the Monomyth.

Myth, Religion, and Social Development

Religious Scholars and Horror Writers

Religious Scholars and Horror Writers

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
This relates to the connection between Gnosticism and the Gothic.  Many Horror writers study religion and spirituality.  Some even practice it or are members of churches.  Some horror writers go so far as giving up their horror for religion… such as Anne Rice’s conversion.  Most Christian horror writers find a middle-ground because Christian theology gives plenty of space for the horrific… especially Catholicism.

A Biblical scholar I enjoy is Robert M. Price.  He is very well respected as a Biblical scholar, but he is also an expert on Lovecraft and writes horror himself.  Not surprisingly, he is very knowledgeable about Gnosticism.

Some other examples I’ve heard of:  Russell Kirk wrote ghost stories, but he was more famous for his influential political theories.  Charles Williams is best known for his horror novels (or supernatural thrillers as  T.S. Eliot described them), but he also wrote widely on many nonfiction subjects.

Thomas Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp have both been highly influenced by religion and spirituality.  They’ve both studied diverse topics, but I do know that they were highly attracted to Buddhism.   As far as I understand, both had done spiritual practices such as meditation and so their interests aren’t merely in the abstract.

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Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

Thinking about it, Catholocism and Buddhism are good religions for horror writers. Catholocism obsesses about original sin, evil, and demons. Buddhism has strong tendencies towards world-denial in their idealization of non-being and I’ve heard that they traditionallyhave rituals for funerals but not for weddings.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

There is another connection between the Horror genre and the traditional world religions. Both are a bit wary of sexuality and often don’t portray it in the most positive light. I won’t generalize too much about horror and sexuality, but I will say that it seems common for people (especially sexually attractive girls)to bekilled in horror movies after making out. And then there are dark writers such as Kafka where sexuality is almost entirely absent.

I don’t feel up to speculating why this connection exists. I do know that Crisp and Ligotti have spoken disparaging about sex (and procreation)on more than one occasion. In fact, Ligotti has written a lengthy treatise that revolves around this and relatedsubjects. Ligotti is more articulate in his philosophizing, butone of the more amusing quotes about sex is from Crisp (in an interview with Martin Roberts):

“…I am interested in the erotic potential of sexual unfulfillment.”

I enjoy Crisp’s self-deprecating humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at.