The Right-Wing New Age

Describing a Salon article by Mitch Horowitz, there is a post over at Matt Cardin’s blog. He offers a summary:

“But the article’s overall topic is much broader, as indicated in the provided editorial teaser: “If you think New Age alternative spirituality is solely the domain of lefty hippies, you don’t know your history.” In just under two thousand words Horowitz discusses such things as the influence of Manly P. Hall on Ronald Reagan, Madame Blavatsky’s promulgation of the idea of “America as the catalyst for a revolution in human potential,” Donald Trump’s association with Norman Vincent Peale, FDR’s decision to put the eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States on the dollar bill, Hillary Clinton’s visioneering meetings Jean Houston (who once told Bill Clinton that he was an “undeveloped shaman,” at which point he got up and walked out), and more. Horowitz’s basic point is that none of this represents a conspiracy, notwithstanding the claims of the paranoid conspiracy theorizing crowd”

It doesn’t surprise me. And I can’t say that I worry about the media having “characterized Bannon as the Disraeli of the dark side following his rise to power in the Trump administration.” That said, there might be a connection between Bannon’s attraction to both mysticism and fascism, which could cause one to wonder what kind of New Age he might envision. But the general connection between alternative spirituality and the political right isn’t particularly concerning. As Horowitz explains, that is simply a part of the social fabric of American society and far from being limited to right-wingers.

My conservative parents raised my brothers and I in several liberal New Agey churches, from Christian Science to Unity. It was my paternal grandmother, coming out of a Southern Baptist upbringing, who after she moved to California introduced my parents to New Age spirituality. It helped transition my dad from his earlier doubting agnosticism to his present family values Christianity. Interestingly, my parents now attend a liberal mainstream church, even as they remain strongly conservative. Both of my parents are into positive thinking, my dad being a fan of Norman Vincent Peale.

Religion plays a major role on my dad’s side of the family. My paternal grandfather was a minister who was more spiritual than religious, odd as that might sound. Along with reading my grandmother’s copy of A Course In Miracles, I enjoyed looking at some books my dad had inherited from my grandfather. Among those books, I was introduced to world religions and the likes of the two Krishnamurtis (Jiddu and U.G.).

I could point out that there is a common history to Evangelicalism, New Thought Christianity, and Prosperity Gospel. There are a number of books that cover this and other related history. Theosophy took hold in the US during the late 1800s Populist Era. There was a lot of odd mystical and spiritual thinking that arose in the 1800s, such as the popularity of spiritualism.

There have been many diverse expressions of religion across American history. My paternal great grandfather was an orphan in one of the last surviving Shaker villages, having left when he reached adulthood. Also, there was the Quakers, Deists, Unitarians, Universalists, Anabaptists, Pietists, Camisards, Huguenots, Moravians, Brethren, Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, Amanas, etc. Spiritualism and related practices became popular across religions. The Shakers went through a spiritualism phase, during which much interesting artwork was produced.

Multiple strains of dissenter religion influenced American society, in particular some of the radical thinking during the English Civil War when the first American colonies were taking hold. Roger Williams was a rather interesting religious radical in the early American colonies.

Here are some books that might be of interest, including one from the author of the article:

Occult America by Mitch Horowitz, Religion, Magic, and Science in Early Modern Europe and America by Allison P. Coudert, New Age and Neopagan Religions in America by Sarah Pike, A Republic of Mind and Spirit by Catherine L. Albanese, The New Metaphysicals by Courtney Bender, Ghosts of Futures Past by McGarry Molly, Plato’s Ghost by Cathy Gutierrez, The Occult in Nineteenth-Century America by Cathy Gutierrez, Each Mind a Kingdom by Beryl Satter, The History of New Thought by John S. Haller & Robert C. Fuller, Religious Revolutionaries by Robert C. Fuller, Spiritual, but not Religious by Robert C. Fuller, Restless Souls by Leigh Eric Schmidt, Spirits of Protestantism by Pamela E. Klassen, Secularism in Antebellum America by John Lardas Modern, The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912 by Thomas A. Tweed, America’s Communal Utopias by Donald E. Pitzer, and The Kingdom of Matthias by Paul E. Johnson & Sean Wilentz.

On a slightly different note, I would highly recommend The Churching of America by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark. The authors show how, until the 19th century, Americans didn’t have high rates of religiosity such as church attendance. The increasing focus on spirituality was simultaneous with greater concern with mainstream religion.

Another thing that could be added were the Transcendentalists. They had interest in Eastern religious and philosophical thought. Translations of Eastern texts such as the Bhagavad Gita were available in the early 19th century. Henry David Thoreau brought the Bhagavad Gita with him to Walden. See: American Transcendentalism and Asian Religions by Arthur Versluis and The Gita within Walden by Paul Friedrich.

Later in that century, the Theosophical Society translated a large number of Eastern texts. Theosophists came to have much influence during the Populist Era of the 1890s and into the following century. I recall a march on Washington, DC during the 1890s was led by someone influenced by Theosophical thought.

That was a major turning point for American spirituality, fueled by populist revolt and questioning of religious authority. There was a hunger for both new politics and new religion. This was the same historical moment when such things as New Thought Unity Church was organized, specifically 1889. Jackson Lears, in Rebirth of a Nation, describes this era (pp. 237-238):

“Yet the vitalist impulse itself had larger than utilitarian implications. Its significance, like its origin, was religious. It lay at the heart of a broad revolt against positivism, a rejection of a barren universe governed by inexorable laws, where everything was measurable and nothing mysterious. The real problem for many vitalists (and certainly for James) was the specter of a life (and death) without meaning. It is possible to see all the talk about “life” as a way of whistling past the graveyard of traditional Christianity. But the vitalist ferment was also a genuine attempt to explore new meanings for human existence amid the wreckage of collapsing dualities: body and soul, matter and spirit, this world and the next.

“Educated Protestants, dissatisfied with desiccated theology, cast about for vital conceptions of cosmic meaning. Many explored medieval Catholic mysticism as an alternative to the banalities of the typical Sunday sermon, the sort of platitudes uttered by Henry Ward Beecher and other ministers who reduced the Protestant ethic to a mere prescription for worldly success. Buddhism and other Asian religions—discovered, imagined, and synthesized—also began to play a role in focusing popular longings. Vedanta, popularized at the Chicago World’s Fair and after by Swami Vivekenanda, and theosophy, preached by Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were both synthetic expressions of spiritual ferment. Paul Carus founded the magazine Open Court to carry forward the work of the World’s Parliament of Religions, begun at the Chicago Fair, to create a common ground of ecumenical discussion, which might lead to a new synthesis—a “Religion of the Future” that might appeal to believer and skeptic alike.

“The results were mixed. Contributors to Open Court asked questions like “What is Life?” and then stumbled about in a soupy haze of abstractions. “The truth is, there are, as there must be, original factors in the world…and life (or chemical activity and appetency) is like gravity, one of them,” William Salter announced in 1901. “If we wish to account for them, we have to go back to the maker of all things (if there is a Maker) not to any of the things that are made.” One thing was certain: “The only salvation for society as for the individual, is from within—it is more life.” The reverence for “life” could overcome death itself. “Who knows but that that greater death which sooner or later overtakes us all…starts energies into play deeper than we had known before—that it is the death of the body, and freedom, new birth, to the soul?’

“The desire for regeneration led to death’s door and beyond. Yearnings for empirical proof of an afterlife and for communication with departed loved ones accelerated the appeal of spiritualism. Here was another example of fascination with invisible force, impossible to see but unmistakable (to believers) in its consequences—tables rising from the floor, sepulchral voices, mysterious music. Even William James was intrigued. While he remained skeptical of sweaty séances in darkened rooms, he joined the American Society for Psychical Research, providing legitimacy to the quest for connection with “discarnate spirits.” His interest in spiritualism reflected his openness to all manner of evidence, no matter how bizarre or apparently inexplicable—his radical empiricism, as he called it.”

By the way, Horowitz’s article reminded me of a passage in What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank. In a brief but insightful observation, Frank explains why right-wingers would find appealing what otherwise seems the New Age babble of hippies (Kindle Locations 1998-2013):

“Today bitter self-made men—and their doppelgängers, the bitter but not quite as well-to-do men—are all over the place. They have their own cable news network and their own TV personalities. They can turn to nearly any station on the AM dial to hear their views confirmed. They have their own e-mail bulletin boards, on which you can find hundreds of thousands of them plen-T-plaining about this outrage and that, from the national to the local. And although they like to fancy themselves rugged individualists (better yet, the last of the rugged individualists), what they really are is a personality type that our society generates so predictably and in such great numbers that they almost constitute a viable market segment all on their own.

“One more thing about the backlash personality type: every single one of the bitter self-made men of my youth was a believer in the power of positive thinking. If you just had a sunny disposish and kept everlastingly at it, they thought, you were bound to succeed. The contradiction between their professed positiveness and their actual negativity about nearly everything never seemed to occur to them. On the contrary; they would oscillate from the one to the other as though the two naturally complemented each other, giving me advice on keeping a positive mental outlook even while raging against the environmentalist bumper stickers on other people’s cars or scoffing at Kansas City’s latest plan for improving its schools. The world’s failure to live up to the impossible promises of the positive-thinking credo did not convince these men of the credo’s impracticality, but rather that the world was in a sad state of decline, that it had forsaken the true and correct path.2 It was as though the fair-play lessons of Jack Armstrong, Frank Merriwell, and the other heroes of their prewar boyhood had congealed quite naturally into the world bitterness of their present-day heroes, Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry, Gordon Liddy, and the tax rebel Howard Jarvis.”

(Note 2. “In The Positive Thinkers, Donald Meyer comments extensively on positive thinking’s understanding of the business civilization and extreme laissez-faire economics as the way of nature. (See in particular chap. 8.) As for its politics, Meyer points out that Norman Vincent Peale, the movement’s greatest celebrity preacher, dabbled in right-wing Republicanism, and a famous positive-thinking Congregationalist church in California embraced the John Birch Society. It is possible that the universal embrace of positive thinking by the bitter self-made men of my youth was a geographic coincidence, since Kansas City is home to one of the great powers of the positive-thinking world, the Unity Church. But I am inclined to think not. Positive thinking is today a nearly universal aspect of liberal Protestantism, traces of it appearing in the speeches of Ronald Reagan and the self-help entertainment of Oprah Winfrey.” [Kindle Locations 4350-4357])

* * * *

Some of the earliest blog posts I ever wrote was a 4 part series. In those earlier writings, I covered all of this in great detail and included much of my personal experience. They came from my old blog, originally posted on the now defunct Gaia website. I apologize for their needing to be cleaned up a bit, as the transferal of posts was done quickly, but they are readable as is.

New Age: Part 1
New Age: Part 2
New Age: Part 3
New Age: Part 4

* * * *

Additional thoughts (5/14/17):

My mother’s all-time favorite preacher is Robert Schuller. He is well known for his having built the Crystal Cathedral, the embodiment of the crass materialism of self-indulgence and cult of personality. Although humbly born and raised in Iowa, he became a mega-church preacher in California and thereby amassed immense wealth.

It’s interesting to learn about how California is the origins of the mega-church movement, along with the modern religious right that took over the GOP. California is also the birthplace of Nixon (infamous Orange County), as Southern California is filled with Southerners. Nixon promoted the Southern strategy and Reagan, a California transplant and professional corporate spokesperson, gave it a voice and a face. I should note that the Southern presence was so influential even in early Californian history that the state was almost split in two during the Civil War.

It was in California that my grandmother, raised Southern Baptist, converted to New Age religion. There is not much distance between the New Right and the New Age. Robert Schuller’s prosperity gospel and ‘old time’ family values easily bridges that distance. It’s why my conservative parents could simultaneously listen to the kindly patriarchal Schuller on television, attend a uber-liberal New Thought church (Unity), and vote for Reagan with his culture war religiosity and Hollywood smile — all part and parcel of the same worldview given its fullest form during the Cold War through the expression of Capitalist Christianity.

I recently learned that a regular guest on Schuller’s televized ministry was Laura Schlessinger, one of the major stars of late 20th century right-wing radio. I remember listening to her when I was still living in South Carolina. It was around the mid 1990s, considering her show was nationally syndicated in 1994 (the year I graduated high school). As the female version of Limbaugh, she was a typical egotist who thought her every ignorant opinion was God-inspired truth. She was a no-nonsense Cold War culture warrior, one of these privileged upper middle class white people who can talk tough because they’ve never dealt with a real problem in their entire life.

One time a caller complained about personal problems and Schlessinger’s advice was that the young woman should either take care of her problems or kill herself. I was shocked that any radio host would be that irresponsible, but that was common for right-wing talk radio. There is a heartlessness to this attitude. I can guarantee you that if this person had killed herself, a sociopathic social Darwinian like Schlessinger would have been happy that there was one less ‘loser’ in the world.

Now consider this mean-spirited asshole was a close personal friend of Robert Schuller, having said of her that she is “A positive voice for positive values without equal in our time.” Despite Schuller’s kind and friendly demeanor, there was a dark cancerous rot at the heart of his prosperity gospel. In the end, prosperity gospel was simply yet more rhetoric upholding the plutocracy and defending inequality. It was a worship of Mammon, in place of God.

This kind of prosperity gospel didn’t die with Schuller. It is still going strong. The mega-church movement has become more popular than ever and, with big money, it is a major political player with impressive clout. Some of Trump’s most outspoken and influential supporters were prosperity gospel preachers, such as Paula White and Joel Osteen (along with many others). This is nothing new. Going back decades, some truly hateful and demented religious leaders have openly supported and socialized with Republican politicians and even presidents. Some of these religious right leaders said things far worse than Trump and associates have dared to say and there was no backlash. Republicans have been courting rabidly reactionary radicalism for a long time.

This is not old time religion, in the traditional European sense. But America has always had weird strains of religiosity and spirituality, a hybrid spawn of Protestant Reformation and Counter-Enlightenment. The descendants of this match made in hell were suckled at the teat of American materialism with its dark history of oppression and inequality. Then driven mad through the delusional fear-mongering of generations of propaganda, from Cold War to War on Terror.

If one were feeling particularly cynical, it could be argued that Trump represents the final endpoint and highest expression of American Christianity. But that would be too dismissive toward the religious diversity that has always existed in North America, even if the ugliest expressions of religiosity too often have dominated. It should not be forgotten that the United States also has a history of radical left-wing religiosity as well. The hard-hitting Christian attitude eloquently put forth by the likes of Martin Luther King jr is alive and well, no matter how much corporate media hacks and corporatist politicians ignore it.

There is another point that should be made clear. The religious right mentality isn’t limited to the religious right, for the simple reason that the religious right itself in America is the product of post-Enlightenment liberalism. The American right in general has long been in love with the rhetoric of liberalism with its focus, however superficial, on liberty and freedom in terms of not just of religion but also of states rights, free markets, hyper-individuality, meritocracy, private ownership, gun rights, civil libertarianism, and on and on. So, in direct connection to this, it’s unsurprising to realize the extent to which liberals, specifically of the liberal class, have embraced right-wing ideology as great defenders of capitalist realism that supposedly liberates and empowers even as it harms and scapegoats so many.

Having been raised in the extreme liberalism of New Thought Christianity, this understanding developed in my direct personal experience. What Barbara Ehrenreich describes in her book Bright-sided is what I absorbed form childhood. And it really does fuck with your head. Ehrenreich criticizes a type of cruel optimism popular in America that is superficial and too often used to rationalize egregiously immoral or otherwise dysfunctional behavior. In my experience, positive thinking just made me feel worse, as if my depression was a sign of personal failure.

The expectation of positive thinking can be a heavy burden to carry. This is much worse when dealing with serious issues involving conditions of poverty and inequality, oppression and injustice, pain and suffering, desperation and struggle. According to prosperity gospel, all problems are to be blamed on individuals. It’s the punishment of having a wrong relationship with God, a carryover from the bleak predestination of Calvinism that involves a God who favors an elect of individuals and damns everyone else. But in prosperity gospel, God’s elect are made clear as his favors are seen in this world through material gifts and blessings, i.e., wealth.

I went into some detail about this in a previous post:

The inspiration for her writing about positive thinking was her experience with cancer. She saw the darkside of positive thinking within the cancer community.

This brings to mind my own grandmother who died of cancer. It’s because of her that I was raised in New Thought Christianity where positive thinking is very popular. She was diagnosed with cancer. She embraced the whole alternative medicine field and she had great faith in positive thinking. My dad says she was utterly crushed when doing all the right things didn’t make her cancer go away. She died of cancer. She was a woman who had a great sense of faith, and apparently I inherited my spiritual interests from her. I’ve seen all aspects of positive thinking and so I have a personal sense of what Ehrenreich is talking about.

But what is different is that positive thinking has become mainstream like never before. It’s not just alternative types. Positive thinking has become merged with the early American ideals of meritocracy, and together they create something greater than either alone.

In one video I saw of Ehrenreich, she made an interesting connection. She was talking about the meritocracy ideal, but I don’t think she was using that term. She was just talking about the ideal of positivie thinking in general within American culture. She connected this with Ayn Rand’s libertarians. If I remember correctly, she was making the argument that Rand was a one of the factors in popularizing positive thinking. She mentioned the book The Secret and how it’s representative of our whole culture. She blames the economic troubles we’re having now with the business culture of positive thinking, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

Also see two other videos:

Barbara Ehrenreich: “Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking Undermines America”

‘Smile or Die” How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World

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.

Quentin S. Crisp’s Metta and the Lord’s Prayer

Here is my response to Quentin S. Crisp’s post Metta:

I’ve read about Buddhism and I’ve practiced various forms of meditation, but for whatever reason that line of spirituality never fully engaged me.  However, Eastern ideas have heavily informed my worldview.

I was raised in extremely liberal Christianity and so I have no distasteful memories of my Christian upbringing.  I’ve never denied Christianity, but I can’t say that I exactly identify as Christian.  I am, however, culturally Christian.  I’ve studied Christianity to a great degree and it fascinates me on many levels.  On a spiritual level, I am drawn too much within Christianity.

It’s hard for me to identify with modern mainstream Christianity as I was raised in counterculture Christianity and so I have an affinity to the early Christians kicked out of mainstream Christianity by the heresiologists.  There is an element within Gnosticism that was picked up by the alchemists and the kabbalists which saw spirituality as being a part of this world. 

My own understandings of this are filtered through the scholarship of many authors, but specifically Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick have influenced me the most.  Those two weren’t Christians in the normal sense as their sense of Christianity was influenced by Eastern thought.  Those two also had a very psychological view of religion.

That mixing of Gnosticism, Eastern thought, and psychology captures my own sensibility… and somewhat resembles the Christianity I was raised in.  I understand the impulse towards the other-worldly, but it isn’t in me to think in those terms.  If there are spiritual truths, then they must be relevantly real to me in this time and place.

I don’t worry about being saved or trying to control my ultimate fate.  I just want to understand, to glimpse the world for what it is.  I don’t think there is any final truth, but there are many truths all around us and within us.  I mistrust anyone who believes they have it figured out.

This leads me on to a few things. Well, at least a couple of things. The first of these is that, even after my rejection of Buddhism, I have found myself again recently struggling with what might be described as variant forms of Buddhism that stress something like the indifference of the cosmos to humankind, the worthlessness of humankind, and so on. It seems that there are some who claim the only significant change is a kind of catastrophic enlightenment, which effectively seems to place you outside the rest of the human race in some way. Well, to this I say balls. I assert that even a small change is worth making and that even a small difference is still a difference. Yes, even a difference within the much-derided human identity rather than one that obliterates it.

I’m a bit split here.  I have had spiritual experiences that blew away any normal sense of self.  It at times did feel like a void that potentially could’ve swallowed me, but I survived to tell the tale.  It wasn’t a bad experience though.  It did feel like I was touching upon some profound truth.  The reason why I feel split is because the experience itself (or rather my reaction to it) made me feel split.  I felt simultaneously intimately close to the world (including everyone in it) and infinitely alone (as in singular or somehow without clear distinction).  But it certainly wasn’t inhuman per se.  If anything, it was more than human.  The cosmos can’t be indifferent to mankind if there is no real separation between the two.  Some might want to make this into a vision of light and love, but it wasn’t that either.  It was just a sense of seeing/feeling clearly… both the good and the bad, the joy and the suffering.

Catastrophic enlightenment has always intrigued me.  It’s a tempting idea.  The experience I had was fairly catastrophic, but there is no way I could claim any enlightenment from such catastrophe.  My experience wasn’t, however, so catastrophic as to permanently obliterate my sense of individuality or my sense of the individuality of others.  It actually gave me a deeper appreciation of the interiority of this thing we call humanity.  I think Jung and PKD also sensed something similar (PKD especially was obsessed with the human and inhuman).  The element of relationship was very important in both of their writings, and I think relationship (whether of human ‘love’ or contemplating a rock) when experienced deeply does point to something beyond (the betwixt and between of the Trickster’s territory).

I don’t know if small changes matter in any grand way, but it is true that a small difference is still a difference.  The world consists of nothing other than the small, so small in fact that we don’t even notice it.  Whatever such change may or may not mean, I tend to take a more Daoist approach.  Change is change is change.  I’m waiting for neither apocalypse on earth nor salvation in heaven.  I do sense something in the promise that early Christians/Gnostics spoke of, but I just sense that promise as being an eternally present potential (new eyes to see, new ears to hear).

Actually, I’ve always liked the Lord’s Prayer, but then I have the benefit of not having been brought up within any denomination, and therefore do not see the words as doctrinal:

Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us

Isn’t this just a way – a simple and profound way – of saying, “We’re all imperfect, so let’s call it quits and move on”?

Yeah, I’d probably interpret it that way as well because I grew up with a non-traditional translation from the Aramaic (btw here is an interesting direct translation from the Aramaic).  I also don’t see much of Christianity in doctrinal terms because I’ve researched how much of it originated in pagan philosophy and religion.

The Wikipedia article on the Lord’s Prayer is nice, but the interesting stuff is often in the discussion section:

Parallels in the Lord’s Prayer can be found in Spell 125 of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

This subject has been covered in quite a few texts – please look at what I wish to put forth as an edit and comment on what else it needs.

There are similarities between the Lord’s Prayer and The Judgement of the Dead (Ch.125) in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Similarities in the full text are highlighted and phrases are repeated. The full text is available from here

Janzen, W. “Old Testament Ethics” 1994 Westminster/John Knox Press

Address to the gods of the underworld
Hail, gods, who dwell in the house of the Two Truths.
I know you and I know your names.
Let me not fall under your slaughter-knives,
And do not bring my wickedness to Osiris, the god you serve.
Let no evil come to me from you.
Declare me right and true in the presence of Osiris,
Because I have done what is right and true in Egypt.
I have not cursed a god.
I have not suffered evil through the king who ruled my day.
Hail , gods who dwell in the Hall of the Two Truths,
Who have no evil in your bodies, who live upon maat ,
Who feed upon maat in the presence of Horus
Who lives within his divine disk. 14
Deliver me from the god Baba,
Who lives on the entrails of the mighty ones on the day of the great judgement.
Grant that I may come to you,
For I have committed no faults,
I have not sinned,
I have not done evil,
I have not lied,
Therefore let nothing evil happen to me.
I live on maat , and I feed on maat,
I have performed the commandments of me and the things pleasing to the gods,
I have made the god to be at peace with me,
I have acted according to his will.
I have given bread to the hungry man, and water to the thirsty man,
And clothes to the naked man, and a boat to the boatless.
I have made holy offerings to the gods,
and meals for the dead.
Deliver me, protect me, accuse me not in the presence of Osiris.
I am pure of mouth and pure of hands,
Therefore, let all who see me welcome me,
For I have heard the mighty word which the spiritual bodies spoke to the Cat,
In the House of Hapt-Re, the Open-Mouthed;
I gave testimony before the god Hra-f-ha-f, the Backwards-Face,
I have the branching out of the ished-tree in Re-stau. 15
I have offered prayers to the gods and I know their persons.
I have come and I have advanced to declare maat,
And to set the balance upon what supports it in the Underworld.
Hail, you who are exalted upon your standard, Lord of the Atefu crown,
Who name is “God of Breath”, deliver me from your divine messengers,
Who cause fearful deeds, and calamities,
Who are without coverings for their faces,
For I have done maat for the Lord of maat.
I have purified myself and my breast, my lower parts, with the things which make clean.
My inner parts have been in the Pool of maat.
I have been purified in the Pool of the south,
And I have rested in the northern city which is in the Field of the Grasshoppers,
Where the sacred sailors of Ra bathe at the second hour of the night and third hour of the day.
And the hearts of the gods are pleased after they have passed through it,
Whether by day or by night.

Comparison between the Lord’s Prayer and the Maxims of Ani

The god of this Earth is the ruler of the horizon.
The god is for making great his name. Devote yourself to the adoration of his name.
Give your god existence.
He will do your business.
His likenesses are upon the Earth.
(God) is given incense and food offerings daily.
The god will judge the true and honest.
Guard against the things that god abominates.
Preserve me from decay.
(God) is the king of the horizon.
He magnifies whoever magnifies him.
Let tomorrow be as today.

Acharya S – The Origins Of Christianity And The Quest For The Historical Jesus Christ

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Walker says, “Of all savior-gods worshipped at the beginning of the Christian era, Osiris may have contributed more details to the evolving Christ figure than any other. Already very old in Egypt, Osiris was identified with nearly every other Egyptian god and was on the way to absorbing them all. He had well over 200 divine names. He was called the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, God of Gods. He was the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd, Eternity and Everlastingness, the god who ‘made men and women to be born again.’ Budge says, ‘From first to last, Osiris was to the Egyptians the god-man who suffered, and died, and rose again, and reigned eternally in heaven. They believed that they would inherit eternal life, just as he had done. . . . Osiris’s coming was announced by Three Wise Men: the three stars Mintaka, Anilam, and Alnitak in the belt of Orion, which point directly to Osiris’s star in the east, Sirius (Sothis), significator of his birth. . . . Certainly Osiris was a prototypical Messiah, as well as a devoured Host. His flesh was eaten in the form of communion cakes of wheat, the ‘plant of Truth.’ . . . The cult of Osiris contributed a number of ideas and phrases to the Bible. The 23rd Psalm copied an Egyptian text appealing to Osiris the Good Shepherd to lead the deceased to the ‘green pastures’ and ‘still waters’ of the nefer-nefer land, to restore the soul to the body, and to give protection in the valley of the shadow of death (the Tuat). The Lord’s Prayer was prefigured by an Egyptian hymn to Osiris-Amen beginning. ‘O Amen, O Amen, who are in heaven.’ Amen was also invoked at the end of every prayer.

See also:

The Christ Conspiracy by Acharya S

Christ in Egypt by Acharya S, D.M. Murdock

Ancient Egypt, the light of the world by Gerald Massey

Religious Syncretism, Paranormal Experience, and Democrats

I think I posted something about this poll recently, but I noticed something interesting in this article. 

The article is Paranormal Flexibility by Charles M. Blow.  I’m not surprised by the results because I’ve been following various poll and demographic data in recent years.  I noticed alternative beliefs slipping into mainstream religion such as with New Thought Christianity being included (under different names such as Prosperity Gospel) in the messages of some tv preachers. 

Like cultures and races in general, religions are getting all mixed together.  People are believing in whatever makes sense to them no matter what is stated in the official dogma of their religion.  Heck, even the gays are starting to be accepted by mainstream religion. 

I find it rather humorous and it just makes me happy.

Anyways, here is the bit that caught my attention:

For the first time in 47 years of polling, the number of Americans who said that they have had a religious or mystical experience, which the question defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening,” was greater than those who said that they had not.

[ . . . ]

Since 1996, the percentage of Americans who said that they have been in the presence of a ghost has doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent, and the percentage who said that they were in touch with someone who was dead has increased by about a third, rising from 18 percent to 29 percent.

For those keeping political score, Democrats were almost twice as likely to believe in ghosts and to consult fortune-tellers than were Republicans, and the Democrats were 71 percent more likely to believe that they were in touch with the dead. Please hold the Barack-Obama-as-the-ghost-of-Jimmy-Carter jokes. Heard them all.

The report is further evidence that Americans continue to cobble together Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities from a hodgepodge of beliefs — bending dogmas to suit them instead of bending themselves to fit a dogma. And this appears to be leading to more spirituality, not less.

The main thing that interested me was the last sentence.  Moving away from unquestioned religious dogma actually increases religious experience. 

Along with this, Democrats specifically have the highest rates of religious experience.  Does this mean that the Democrats are the Chosen People?  That part wasn’t surprising either.  Liberals tend towards the personality trait that Ernest Hartmann labels as thin boundaries.  Liberals are just more open to new experiences and less fearful of the unfamiliar.  The research shows that thin boundary types not only are more likely to believe in the paranormal but also are more likely to experience it.

The Website of Unknowing: further thoughts

A while back, I wrote a post about a Christian blog.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/intelligent-christian-blog-the-website-of-unknowing/

And that blogger wrote a post about my post.

http://anamchara.com/2009/12/03/aslan-may-not-be-tame-but-what-are-we-to-be/

Here are my comments so far on that post:

My use of the word ‘tame’ certainly wasn’t an insult by any means. It might not have been the best word to describe the writings in this blog. Words such as ‘tame’ and ‘wild’ are relative.

My own sense of spirituality is informed by some more ‘wild’ thinkers: Carl Jung, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, William S. Burroughs, and Philip K. Dick. I’m also fond of many ‘tame’ thinkers, but it’s hard to say who is ‘tame’. Is Ken Wilber ‘tame’? Is Jiddu Krishnamurti ‘tame’? Certainly, Rumi isn’t ‘tame’.

Mysticism seems to be one of the most central themes of McColman’s blog. And an interest that I share. Any mystic worth their salt probably isn’t ‘tame’. But outwardly a mystic may appear ‘tame’.

Partly what I meant in labelling McColman as tame is more about the subject matter of this blog. This blog seems to have a very clearly defined focus and McColman doesn’t seem to stray from it. My own mind wanders far and wide. The difference maybe simply be a difference of personality.

Some people see the purpose of religion (specifically religious practice) as a way of taming the individual (taming the senses, the desires, the will, or the mind), a way of training, of elevating, of directing human aspiration towards lofty ideals.

I understand that perspective, but it doesn’t overly appeal to my own sensibility. I’m more of a “God in the gutter” kind of guy. I’d probably be happier if I were more tame (i.e., disciplined and focused), but as it is that isn’t the way my life is. To me, spirituality feels more like a hunger that can’t be sated.

I have little doubt that “Wicks’ mature, grounded spirituality is better suited for the long haul than Crowder’s colorful but miracle-hungry vision.” Even so, it’s just not my way to be cautiously concerned about the long haul. Not every path is easy, but every person has to follow their own path where ever it leads.

 – – –

By the way, my mentioning “God in the gutter” (or “God in the garbage”) is a reference to the writings of Philip K. Dick. I highly recommend Gabriel Mckee’s book ‘Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter’. This idea of Philip K. Dick’s is essentially the same as the theology of a hidden God. I wrote about it in a couple of blog posts.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/burroughs-pkd-and-ligotti/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/448/

However, the “God in the gutter” isn’t simply the idea of a hidden God. There is also an element of the Gnostic/Kabbalah notion of the divine fallen into the world. The divine, in this sense, isn’t tame, isn’t controllable. The divine is loose in the world and it’s probably to be found where ever you’re least likely to look for it.

This view of the divine reminds me of a vision of God Jung had as a child. It involved God sitting on a throne above a cathedral.

http://www.woodka.com/2008/07/16/carl-jung-and-the-cathedral/

There is something about the interplay between destruction and creation that intrigues me. To Philip K. Dick, God has to fall into the world in order to remake the world. It’s a fecund vision of transformation.

There is a feeling of danger and forbidenness in this portrayal of God. This God isn’t just love and light. Maybe there is even a connection to the Hindu portrayal of Kali dancing on Shiva’s corpse. Anyways, it’s a view that doesn’t easily fit into traditional/mainstream Christian doctrine.

 – – –

As I was considering my second response, I did a few websearches.  Here are some interesting things I found:

A nice article by Gabriel McKee

http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10516

And a Wikipedia article that uses Philip K. Dick as an example

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophany

Psychological Research: Uncertainty and Spirituality

How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect by Benedict Carey

Along with being insightful and informative, this article is also well written.  I always enjoy a good article, but I must admit I’m particularly happy whenever I read about research comfirming my own intuitions and observations.  The article is about how people respond to the unusual, the uncanny… those things that can’t be immediately explained or fit into past experience, into conventional categories of thought.

“We’re so motivated to get rid of that feeling that we look for meaning and coherence elsewhere,” said Travis Proulx, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lead author of the paper appearing in the journal Psychological Science. “We channel the feeling into some other project, and it appears to improve some kinds of learning.”

Researchers have long known that people cling to their personal biases more tightly when feeling threatened. After thinking about their own inevitable death, they become more patriotic, more religious and less tolerant of outsiders, studies find. When insulted, they profess more loyalty to friends — and when told they’ve done poorly on a trivia test, they even identify more strongly with their school’s winning teams.

In a series of new papers, Dr. Proulx and Steven J. Heine, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, argue that these findings are variations on the same process: maintaining meaning, or coherence. The brain evolved to predict, and it does so by identifying patterns.

 So, the same psychological mechnism that lead to personal biases also leads to innovative thinking.  I’ve often thought about those two things separately, but I hadn’t considered their connection.  I think I understand the connection though.  The key isn’t fear.  Rather, the key is uncertainty which may or may not be caused by fear.  The type of person open to uncertainty (thin boundary types) are more likely to respond to uncertainty with curiosity (even to the point of inentionally seeking out situations that encourage uncertainty)… and thick boundary types, being less open to uncertainty, are more likely to respond with fear (thus desiring to avoid and dismiss uncertainty).  However, the psychological mechanism is similar and everyone has their limits on how open they are to uncertainty (and people are more open to certain things or situations than others).

Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.

Yes, a useful point to make.  It’s not helpful to provoke confusion in others in the hope of encouraging learning ability if you aren’t simultaneously teaching critical thinking skills.  On the other hand, critical thinking skills without innovative thought is equally problematic.

Religious Experience Linked to Brain’s Social Regions by Brandon Keim

The article is discussing the research of Jordan Grafman.

People who reported an intimate experience of God, engaged in religious behavior or feared God, tended to have larger-than-average brain regions devoted to empathy, symbolic communication and emotional regulation. The research wasn’t trying to measure some kind of small “God-spot,” but looked instead at broader patterns within the brains of self-reported religious people.

[…] Grafman suspects that the origins of divine belief reside in mechanisms that evolved in order to help primates understand family members and other animals. “We tried to use the same social mechanisms to explain unusual phenomena in the natural world,” he said.

I heard an interview with Grafman last night which is what led me to this article.  In the interview, he explained his theory in more detail.  He mentioned that primates bond through intimate contact.  This is still important to humans, but intimate contact isn’t practical when dealing with a larger group.  Humans had to develop more efficient ways of creating social connection.  In particular, speech became very important for humans.

What fascinates me about this research is that it implies that those who lack spiritual experience will will probably have less ability towards empathy, symbolic communication, and emotional regulation.  This relates to research done on boundary types which confirm these findings.  A thin boundary person feels less separate from others.  So, they will have a better sense and understanding of the other person.  This is important because, as George P. Hansen writes in The Trickster and the Paranormal, thick boundary types are the people who are most likely to attain high positions in hierarchical organization (which means practically all major organizations from corporations to governments, from scientific institutions to educational institutions).  Thick boundary types have most of the overt power in society despite the fact that most of the population has much thinner boundaries than they do (and more spiritual experience, empathy, etc.).  This might answer the question of why our political leaders are so willing to send other people’s children off to die in foreign lands.

The emotional regulation aspect is a bit surprising.  People of extreme thin boundaries can have some psychological issues such as nightmares.  However, considering the average person rather than extreme examples, maybe increased emotional regulation can be explained by the other two abilities.  If someone is highly empathetic, then they’ll be more emotionally self-aware.  If someone is more capable of symbolic communication, then they’ll be better able to come to terms with psychological experience.

Very, very interesting!

PKD on God as Infinity

A favorite passage of mine from Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis which was a journal he kept later in life.  Excerpts of it were published under the title In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis (which sadly is out of print)The following excerpt can be found along with other excerpts at MIQEL.com.  For those interested in this, new excerpts from PKD’s Exegesis can be found on PhilipKDick.com.

 – – –

God manifested himself to me as the infinite void;
but it was not the abyss; it was the vault of heaven,
with blue sky and wisps of white clouds. He was not
some foreign God but the God of my fathers. He was
loving and kind and he had personality. He said, “You
suffer a little now in life; it is little compared with the
great joys, the bliss that awaits you. Do you think I in
my theodicy would allow you to suffer greatly in pro-
portion to your reward?” He made me aware, then, of
the bliss that would come; it was infinite and sweet.
He said, “I am the infinite. I will show you. Where I
am, infinity is; where infinity is, there I am. Construct
lines of reasoning by which to understand your experi-
ence in 1974. I will enter the field against their shift-
ing nature. You think they are logical but they are not;
they are infinitely creative.”

I thought a thought and then an infinite regres-
sion of theses and countertheses came into being. God
said, “Here I am; here is infinity.” I thought another
explanation; again an infinite series of thoughts split
off in dialectical antithetical interaction. God said,
“Here is infinity; here I am.” I thought, then, an infi-
nite number of explanations, in succession, that
explained 2-3-74; each single one of them yielded up
an infinite progression of flipflops, of thesis and
antithesis, forever. Each time, God said, “Here is infin-
ity. Here, then, I am.” I tried for an infinite number of
times; each time an infinite regress was set off and
each time God said, “Infinity. Hence I am here.” Then


he said, “Every thought loads to infinity, does it not?
Find one that doesn’t.” I tried forever. All led to an
infinitude of regress, of the dialectic, of thesis, antithe-
sis and new synthesis. Each time, God said, “Here is
infinity; here am I. Try again.” I tried forever. Always
it ended with God saying, “Infinity and myself; I am
here.” I saw, then, a Hebrew letter with many shafts,
and all the shafts led to a common outlet; that outlet
or conclusion was infinity. God said, “That is myself. I
am infinity. Where infinity is, there am I; where I am,
there is infinity. All roads—all explanations for 2-3-74—
lead to an infinity of Yes-No, This or That, On-Off, One-
Zero, Yin-Yang, the dialectic, infinity upon infinity; an
infinities [sic] of infinities. I am everywhere and all
roads lead to me; omniae viae ad Deum ducent [all
roads lead to God]. Try again. Think of another possi-
ble explanation for 2-3-74.” I did; it led to an infinity
of regress, of thesis and antithesis and new synthesis.
“This is not logic,” God said. “Do not think in terms of
absolute theories; think instead in terms of probabili-
ties. Watch where the piles heap up, of the same the-
ory essentially repeating itself. Count the number of
punch cards in each pile. Which pile is highest? You
can never know for sure what 2-3-74 was. What, then,
is statistically most probable? Which is to say, which
pile is highest? Here is your clue: every theory leads to
an infinity (of regression, of thesis and antithesis and
new synthesis). What, then, is the probability that I
am the cause of 2-3-74, since, where infinity is, there I
am? You doubt; you are the doubt as in:

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly I am the wings.
I am the doubter and the doubt

From the poem “Brahma” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“You are not the doubter; you are the doubt itself.
So do not try to know; you cannot know. Guess on the
basis of the highest pile of computer punch cards.
There is an infinite stack in the heap marked INFIN-
ITY, and I have equated infinity with me. What, then,
in the chance that it is me? You cannot be positive; you
will doubt. But what is your guess?”

I said, “Probably it is you, since there is an infinity
of Infinities forming before me.”

“There is the answer, the only one you will ever
have,” God said.

“You could be pretending to be God,” I said, “and
actually be Satan.” Another infinitude of thesis and
antithesis and new synthesis, the infinite regress, was

set off.

God said, “Infinity.”

I said, “You could be testing out a logic system in a giant

computer and I am—” Again an infinite
regress.

“Infinity,” God said.

“Will it always be infinite?” I said. “An infinity?”

“Try further,” God said.

“I doubt if you exist,” I said. And the infinite
regress instantly flew into motion once more.

“Infinity,” God said. The pile of computer punch
cards grew; it was by far the largest pile; it was infinite.

“I will play this game forever,” God said, “or until
you become tired.”

I said, “I will find a thought, an explanation, a
theory, that does not set off an infinite regress.” And,
us soon as I said that, an infinite regress was set off.
God said “Over a period of six and a half years you
have developed theory after theory to explain 2-3-74.
Each night when you go to bed you think, ‘At last I
found it. I tried out theory after theory until now,
finally, I have the right one.’ And then the next morn-


ing you wake up and say, ‘There is one fact not
explained by that theory. I will have to think up
another theory.’ And so you do. By now it is evident
to you that you are going to think up an infinite num-
ber of theories, limited only by your lifespan, not lim-
ited by your creative imagination. Each theory gives
rise to a subsequent theory, inevitably. Let me ask
you; I revealed myself to you and you saw that I am
the infinite void. I am not in the world, as you
thought; I am transcendent, the deity of the Jews and
Christians. What you see of me in world that you
took to ratify pantheism—that is my being filtered
through, broken up, fragmented and vitiated by the
multiplicity of the flux world; it is my essence, yes,
but only a bit of it: fragments here and there, a glint,
a riffle of wind … now you have seen me transcen-
dent, separate and other from world, and I am more;
I am the infinitude of the void, and you know me as
I am. Do you believe what you saw? Do you accept
that where the infinite is, I am; and where I am,
there is the infinite?”

I said, “Yes.”

God said, “And your theories are infinite, so I am
there. Without realizing it, the very infinitude of your
theories pointed to the solution; they pointed to me
and none but me. Are you satisfied, now? You saw me
revealed in theophany; I speak to you now; you have,
while alive, experienced the bliss that is to come; few
humans have experienced that bliss. Let me ask you,
Was it a finite bliss or an infinite bliss?”

I said, “Infinite.”

“So no earthly circumstance, situation, entity or
thing could give rise to it.”

“No, Lord,” I said.

“Then it is I,” God said. “Are you satisfied?”

“Let me try one other theory,” I said. “What hap-

pened in 2-3-74 was that—” And an infinite regress
was set off, instantly.

“Infinity,” God said. “Try again. I will play forever,
for infinity.”

“Here’s a new theory,” I said. “I ask myself, ‘What
God likes playing games? Krishna. You are Krishna.'”
And then the thought came to me instantly, “But
there is a god who mimics other gods; that god is
Dionysus. This may not be Krishna at all; it may be
Dionysus pretending to be Krishna.” And an infinite
regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said.

“You cannot be YHWH Who You say You are,” I
said. “Because YHWH says, ‘I am that which I am,’ or,
‘I shall be that which I shall be.’ And you—”

“Do I change?” God said. “Or do your theories
change?”

“You do not change,” I said. “My theories change.
You, and 2-3-74, remain constant.”

“Then you are Krishna playing with me,” God
said.

“Or I could be Dionysus,” I said, “pretending to be
Krishna. And I wouldn’t know it; part of the game is
that I, myself, do not know. So I am God, without real-
izing it. There’s a new theory!” And at once an infinite
regress was set off; perhaps I was God, and the “God”
who spoke to me was not.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again. Another move.”
“We are both Gods,” I said, and another infinite
regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said.

“I am you and you are you,” I said. “You have
divided yourself in two to play against yourself. I, who
am one half, I do not remember, but you do. As it says
in the GITA, as Krishna says to Arjuna, ‘We have both
lived many lives, Arjuna; I remember them but you


do not.” “‘ And an infinite regress was set off; I could
well be Krishna’s charioteer, his friend Arjuna, who
does not remember his past lives.

“Infinity,” God said.

I was silent.

“Play again,” God said.

“I cannot play to infinity,” I said. “I will die before
that point conies.”

“Then you are not God,” God said. “But I can play
throughout infinity; I am God. Play.”

“Perhaps I will be reincarnated,” I said. “Perhaps
we have done this before, in another life.” And an infi-
nite regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again.”

“I am too tired,” I said.

“Then the game is over.”

“After I have rested—”

“You rest?” God said. “George Herbert** wrote of me:

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessnesse.
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodness leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.

“Herbert wrote that in 1633,” God said. “Rest and
the game ends.”

“I will play on,” I said, “after I rest. I will play until
finally I die of it.”

“And then you will come to me,” God said.
“Play.”

“This is my punishment,” I said, “that I play, that I

* Krishna to Arjuna in chapter 10 of the BHAGAVAD GITA.
** George Herbert (1593-1633), English Christian poet and mystic. The
lines quoted by PKD form the final stanza of the poem “The Pulley.” In
line five, “my” is capitalized in the original.

try to discern if it was you in March of 1974.” And the
thought came instantly, My punishment or my
reward; which? And an infinite series of thesis and
antithesis was set off.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again.”

“What was my crime?” I said, “that I am com-
pelled to do this?”

“Or your deed of merit,” God said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

God said, “Because you are not God.”

“But you know,” I said. “Or maybe you don’t
know and you’re trying to find out.” And an infinite
regress was set off.

“Infinity,” God said. “Play again. I am waiting.”

(17 November 1980)

What is a Mythicist? part 2

I wrote a post a while back that was a response to a blog post by Acharya S (D.M. Murdock).  Here is the link to that post and the link to the post I was responding to.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/what-is-a-mythicist/

http://tbknews.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-mythicist.html

After my initial comment, another commenter just wanted to argue with me.  It was frustrating because the person didn’t even understand that there was actually very little disagreement.  I’m a major fan of Acharya, but some of her fans are a bit too defensive.  I can admire someone and still feel no requirement to subserviently agree with their every thought and opinion.  However, some of Acharya’s fans for some reason are very argumentative and defensive which I personally can find quite annoying.  In discussions, people who would be open to Acharya’s ideas become polarized in opposition partly because of some of her over-zealous fans.  I’ve tried to ignore it, but this discussion on her post was getting to me.

I happened to visit that blog again and noticed she had responded to me.  Even she didn’t understand my perspective which is rather ironic since my review of one of her recent books has the highest rating on Amazon.  So, why am I able write a review that explains Acharya’s ideas so well and yet Acharya can’t understand my view?

If Acharya understood my point, then she probably wouldn’t be disagreeing.  I personally don’t disagree with her general view.  I frankly don’t find my view difficult to understand and so I frankly don’t understand the misunderstanding.  She wrote nothing in her reply to me that actually disagreed with anything I was trying to communicate.  There is an obvious miscommunication.

I’m arguing that there are two issues that are related but not identical.  The scholarship about history informs the scholarhip about mythology and vice versa, but they still can be studied separately.  Neither field is dependent on the other.  If someone doesn’t understand that,  I don’t know how else to explain it.   Maybe the confusion is based in our respective studies.   Acharya wrote that she read widely in mythology and so have I, but we may have focused on different kinds of authors and ideas.  To understand where I’m coming from, someone would probably need to have a detailed comprehension of certain thinkers: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, Patrick Harpur, Ken Wilber, etc.  I’m more interested in the ideas than the history, more interested in the mythology than textual criticism.  My curiosity has drawn me towards the subjects of storytelling, creativity, imagination, and the imaginal.  My interest in history and religious documents is from this perspective.

As I see it, mythology works in parallel with history and yet according to its own mechanisms.  At the same time, history and mythology interact in various ways.  Sometimes history inspires mythology and sometimes mythology interprets history, and it’s impossible to entirely separate the two which is especially true the further one goes back in history.

My main point is that history is secondary to understanding mythology.  I don’t need to disprove a historical argument to prove a mythological argument.  The problem I see in most discussions of biblical scholarship is a lack of subtle insight and a lack of larger context.  Too many people are trying to prove or disprove issues where the data is skimpy on both sides of the argument.  What annoys me is that this ends up just being bickering over details.  People miss the forest for the trees.

The reason it’s dangerous to have one’s arguments rely too heavily on history is that history is never black and white.  We’re forced to assess according to probability.  We have to weigh and measure various documents and weigh and measure the sources (and translations and alterations) of those documents and weigh all of the conflicting evidence.  There is no formula to ascertain a specific probability.  It demands much guesswork and subjective interpretation.  It’s very imprecise.

So, there is no evidence that convinces me of the probability of Jesus existing.  But then again there is no evidence that absolutely disproves Jesus existed.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  And I must admit I feel frustrated that others believe this is the most important issue.  What does matter to me is that if a man named Jesus lived it has little to do with later Christianity.  There may have been a single person who was called or came to be called Jesus and who inspired early Christians, but if such a man existed all relevant details of him have been lost.  Nonetheless, it’s perfectly rational to accept that it’s possible that Jesus actually lived.  I won’t say it’s probable, but neither will I say it’s improbable.  There just is no way to make an objective judgment.

The arguments about the historical proof of Jesus are simply moot.  So, why don’t we just ignore it and focus on more interesting issues which aren’t dependent on it (such as mythology).

I brought up the biblical scholar April DeConick to demonstrate the problem of conflating the debates about history and mythology.  DeConick seems to be a rational, intelligent and educated person.  She is the type of person who should be easy to convince of mythicism, but apparently is wary of it.  My suspicion is that she is wary of it because of how it’s often presented.  She is very far from being a bible-thumping Christian and yet her professional assessment is that Jesus may have existed.  Because of the entangling of mythicism with historical arguments, someone like DeConick ends up judging mythicism based on the historical arguments.  This is very bad news because it could be avoided.  The worth of mythicist arguments doesn’t rely upon any conclusion about history.  DeConick represents the openminded mainstream biblical scholar who is unconvinced about mythicism, but unconvinced because she probably hasn’t studied it in depth.  Part of shifting public opinion is by making one’s actual view clear.  Obviously, mythicists haven’t been entirely successful in explaining their actual position.

There is good reason that mainstream biblical scholars who are open to mythicism such as Robert M. Price also at the same time keep some distance from it.  Price would rather not be identified with a single perspective which I think is a very intelligent attitude.  Like Price, I support Acharya and other mythicists even as I’d rather not be labelled as a mythicist.  I prefer to go where ever the facts take me (along with where my intuition and curiosity take me).  I have no desire to defend a singular position and there is always a weakness to any scholar (whether of the professional or armchair variety) who becomes identified so strongly with a particular argument that they feel the need to defend it against all criticisms even criticisms from potential allies.  The major weakness of mythicists is that they spend as much time bickering with eachother as they do with literalist Christians.

As another example, Joseph Campbell did know how to explain well these type of issues.  He knew how to invite people to consider a new perspectives.  In biblical discussions, there is way too much antagonism from all sides (not just from Christians).  Campbell knew how to avoid conflict because he understood conflict closes minds rather than opens them.  Instead of conflict and righteous debate, Campbell appealed to the imagination.  If mythicists want to actually change public opinion, they need to learn new tactics.  Separate the issues into smaller fights that can be won and look past the superficial disagreements to the fundamental issues that really matter.  Let the literalists waste their time mired in pointless historical arguments and meanwhile undermine their entire position from a direction that they never see coming.

Interestingly, Acharya did quote Campbell briefly in one of her recent books, but she doesn’t seem to reference his ideas much.  I’m not sure how much she has studied him and other similar writers.  In my humble opinion (which so happens to be in line with Campbell), the problems of literalism aren’t merely a religious issue.  Literalism is a problem of any position that becomes taken too concretely.  Literalism is just what happens when people stop learning and questioning.  Materialistic scientism, for instance, is a variety of literalistic thinking.  A literalist takes a model for reality and forgets that a model is always an approximation, forgets that a theory is always open to being improved or even discarded.  Literalism is the bane of modernism because, as Karen Armstrong points, fundamentalists took their cue from science itself.  The literalist argument of either/or is a false argument as there are always more than two sides to every argument.  The difficulty is that objectivity is forever grounded in subjectivity and it’s easy to take the latter for the former.

The debate about the historical proof of Jesus is a game that will continue endlessly.  That is fine if everyone were having fun, but they’re not.  However, pointing out the uselessness of such a game falls on deaf ears because apparently it’s the game many people want to play.  I was suggesting to Acharya that she simply refuse to play this game, but it almost seems like she thinks its the only game in town… as if everything were riding on that one issue.

In the end, I find myself arguing with (or being attacked by) both literalist Christians and mythicists.  The reason for this is that both of these kinds of people are defending a specfic position and I’m not.  I’m only defending curiosity and wonder, the freedom to question and doubt, the desire to explore new possibilities and consider new perspectives.  The problem is that someone defending a position is constantly on the defense because they can never absolutley prove their position.  There are always further doubts and questions.  On the other hand, my perspective in a sense can’t ‘lose’ because my perspective allows for the possibility of my being wrong.  The inevitable doubts and questions are what inspire me.

My heroes are people like Charles Fort, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick.  These are people who valued questions over answers, people who considered every possibility and continually discarded each possibility for the next one.  The true believer (whether a believer in Jesus or Darwin, theism or mythicism, or whatever) can’t help but be perplexed by the person of a Fortean bent.  Neither Acharya nor some of her fans, apparently, can understand someone like me.  I’ve read her work and understand it, and yet have my own opinion.  The fan of hers who was commenting in that post couldn’t comprehend how I could disagree if I understood Acharya.  The idea that Acharya’s argument could be improved was blasphemous.  It’s not even a matter if I was right or wrong.  The issue was that I dared question Acharya’s authority.  It sometimes feels like Acharya believes that all disagreement is based on ignorance and that if she could enlighten the world everyone would agree with her (trust me, I understand the temptation of thinking this way).  She doesn’t seem to get the real issue.  I’m not even in disagreement with any of the facts she brings up or even her general interpretaion, but her view is just one view.  Nothing more and nothing less.

To me, it seems she is more certain of her position than is necessary.  I think she relies a bit too heavy on astrotheology.  I personally love the insight astrotheology offers, but there are many other perspectives that offer insight.  As for even deeper insights, I prefer the ideas of integral theory and of depth psychology; I prefer ideas such as the archetypal, the imaginal, and the daimonic.  I think studies of the trickster archetype, for instance, may offer more insight than most theories from mainstream religious textual criticism.  For me, I separate religion from spirituality.  The problem with biblical scholarship debates is that the line generally gets drawn between theists and atheists.  To many (most?) theists and atheists, you have to be either one or the other.  However, in the traditional sense, I’m neither theist nor atheist.  Furthermore, I grew up in an extremely non-literalist Christianity and so I have a hard time trying to make myself care about historical debates that never go anywhere.  History didn’t seem to matter much to early Christians and so why should it be made the primary issue of almost every single discussion about Christianity?  What does someone like Acharya think she is gaining by seemingly trying to make this the pivotal issue on which all of Christianity either stands or falls?

 – – –

Note: I just wanted to clarify what I mean by being a fan of Acharya S.

I guess it was in the late 1990s when I first read her work.  It was about 1999 and so I’ve been studying her work for at least a decade.  She has written quite a bit (thousands of pages) and it’s difficult reading, but I’ve read most of it even her various online articles.  I’ve spent massive amounts of time studying mythicism and buying books by mythicists.  I’ve spent time on many different forums discussing mythicism in general and Acharya in particular.  I’ve been on all of the major forums and have studied all sides of the debates.  At one time I spent a fair amount of time on the forum that Acharya runs and I got to personally know her most loyal fans (many of whom were quite friendly and one of whom actually was familiar with Joseph Campbell).  I’ve read all of Acharya’s opinions of other biblical scholars and I’ve read the opinion of other biblical scholars about Acharya.  I’ve written about mythicism and Acharya’s scholarship numerous times in this blog and in Amazon reviews, and I’ve often gone out of my way to defend her scholarship.

I enjoy and highly respect her scholarship and consider her to be a very trustworthy source.   On top of this, I’ve personally interacted with her numerous times on her forum and blog and she emailed me a couple of times (one of those was in response to my Amazon review which she quoted on her publshing site).

My studies of mythology and religion go beyond Acharya and mythicism and include years of study prior to my discovering Acharya.  I’m not an expert in this field, but this subject is one of my personal obsessions and I take my obsessions very seriously.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve studied more widely and in more depth about this subject than most people will do in their entire lives.

So, my criticisms aren’t offered lightly.  Even with these criticisms, I still respect Acharya’s scholarship.  But I also respect the scholarship of many writers and not all of them agree with eachother.  My criticisms aren’t insults.  They’re just differences of perspective.

My point in bringing all this up is that there is a major problem if Acharya can’t accept constructive criticism offered by one of her more vocal admirers (i.e., me).  Does she just think everyone is out to get her and every criticism is either someone attacking or someone who is ignorant?  If so, that is a very odd way to view other people.

The Paranormal and Psychology

A hallucination may occur in a person in a state of good mental and physical health, even in the apparent absence of a transient trigger factor such as fatigue, intoxication or sensory deprivation.

It is not widely recognised that hallucinatory experiences are not merely the prerogative of the insane, or normal people in abnormal states, but that they occur spontaneously in a significant proportion of the normal population, when in good health and not undergoing particular stress or other abnormal circumstance.

The evidence for this statement has been accumulating for more than a century. Studies of hallucinatory experience in the sane go back to 1886 and the early work of the Society for Psychical Research [1][2], which suggested approximately 10% of the population had experienced at least one hallucinatory episode in the course of their life. More recent studies have validated these findings; the precise incidence found varies with the nature of the episode and the criteria of ‘hallucination’ adopted, but the basic finding is now well-supported.[3]

[…]

The main importance of hallucinations in the sane to theoretical psychology lies in their relevance to the debate between the disease model versus the dimensional model of psychosis. According to the disease model, psychotic states such as those associated with schizophrenia and manic-depression, represent symptoms of an underlying disease process, which is dichotomous in nature; i.e. a given subject either does or does not have the disease, just as a person either does or does not have a physical disease such as tuberculosis. According to the dimensional model, by contrast, the population at large is ranged along a normally distributed continuum or dimension, which has been variously labelled as psychoticism (H.J.Eysenck), schizotypy (Gordon Claridge) or psychosis-proneness.[25]

The occurrence of spontaneous hallucinatory experiences in sane persons who are enjoying good physical health at the time, and who are not drugged or in other unusual physical states of a transient nature such as extreme fatigue, would appear to provide support for the dimensional model. The alternative to this view requires one to posit some hidden or latent disease process, of which such experiences are a symptom or precursor, an explanation which would appear to beg the question.

 
 

A person diagnosed with fantasy prone personality is reported to spend a large portion of his or her time fantasizing, have vividly intense fantasies, have paranormal experiences, and have intense religious experiences.[3] His or her fantasizing may include extreme dissociation and intense sexual fantasies. People with fantasy prone personality are reported to spend over half of their time awake fantasizing or daydreaming and will often confuse or mix their fantasies with their real memories. They also report several out-of-body experiences.[3]

Research has shown that people who are diagnosed with fantasy prone personality tend to have had a large amount of exposure to fantasy during childhood. People have reported that they believed their dolls and stuffed animals were living creatures and that their parents encouraged them to indulge in their fantasies and daydreams.[3]

 
 
 
Transliminality (literally, “going beyond the threshold”) was a concept introduced by the parapsychologist Michael Thalbourne, an Australian psychologist who is based at the University of Adelaide. It is defined as a hypersensitivity to psychological material (imagery, ideation, affect, and perception) originating in (a) the unconscious, and/or (b) the external environment (Thalbourne & Maltby, 2008). High degrees of this trait have been shown by Thalbourne to be associated with increased tendency to mystical experience, greater creativity, and greater belief in the paranormal, but Thalbourne has also found evidence that transliminality may be positively correlated with psychoticism. He has published articles on transliminality in journals on parapsychology and psychology. 
 

The categorical view of psychosis is most associated with Emil Kraepelin, who created criteria for the medical diagnosis and classification of different forms of psychotic illness. Particularly, he made the distinction between dementia praecox (now called schizophrenia), manic depressive insanity and non-psychotic states. Modern diagnostic systems used in psychiatry (such as the DSM) maintain this categorical view.[1]

In contrast, psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler did not believe there was a clear separation between sanity and madness, and that psychosis was simply an extreme expression of thoughts and behaviours that could be present to varying degrees through the population.[2]

This was picked up by psychologists such as Hans Eysenck and Gordon Claridge who sought to understand this variation in unusual thought and behaviour in terms of personality theory. This was conceptualised by Eysenck as a single personality trait named psychoticism.[3]

Claridge named his concept schizotypy and by examining unusual experiences in the general population and the clustering of symptoms in diagnosed schizophrenia, Claridge’s work suggested that this personality trait was much more complex, and could break down into four factors.[4][5]

  1. Unusual experiences: The disposition to have unusual perceptual and other cognitive experiences, such as hallucinations, magical or superstitious belief and interpretation of events (see also delusions).
  2. Cognitive disorganisation: A tendency for thoughts to become derailed, disorganised or tangential (see also formal thought disorder).
  3. Introverted anhedonia: A tendency to introverted, emotionally flat and asocial behaviour, associated with a deficiency in the ability to feel pleasure from social and physical stimulation.
  4. Impulsive nonconformity: The disposition to unstable mood and behaviour particularly with regard to rules and social conventions.
 

Psychoticism is one of the three traits used by the psychologist Hans Eysenck in his P-E-N model (psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism) model of personality.

High levels of this trait were believed by Eysenck to be linked to increased vulnerability to psychoses such as schizophrenia. He also believed that blood relatives of psychotics would show high levels of this trait, suggesting a genetic basis to the trait.

Critics of the trait have suggested that the trait is too heterogeneous to be taken as a single trait. For example, in a correlation study by Donald Johnson (reported in 1994 at the APT International Conference) Psychoticism was found to correlate with Big Five traits Conscientiousness and Agreeableness; (which in turn correlated strongly with, respectively, MBTI Judging/Perceiving, and Thinking/Feeling).[citation needed] Thus, Costa and McCrae believe that agreeableness and conscientiousness (both which represent low levels of psychoticism) need to be distinguished in personality models. Eysenck also argued that there might be a correlation between psychoticism and creativity[1] .

 

Openness to experience (Wikipedia)

Openness to experience is one of five major domains of personality discovered by psychologists.[1][2] Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.[3] A great deal of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait consisting of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.

Openness tends to be normally distributed with a small number of individuals scoring extremely high or low on the trait, and most people scoring near the average. People who score low on openness are considered to be closed to experience. They tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests. They could be considered practical and down to earth.

People who are open to experience are no different in mental health from people who are closed to experience. There is no relationship between openness and neuroticism, or any other measure of psychological wellbeing. Being open and closed to experience are simply two different ways of relating to the world.

The NEO PI-R personality test measures six facets or elements of openness to experience:

  1. Fantasy – the tendency toward a vivid imagination and fantasy life.
  2. Aesthetics – the tendency to appreciate art, music, and poetry.
  3. Feelings – being receptive to inner emotional states and valuing emotional experience.
  4. Actions – the inclination to try new activities, visit new places, and try new foods.
  5. Ideas – the tendency to be intellectually curious and open to new ideas.
  6. Values – the readiness to re-examine traditional social, religious, and political values.

Openness has also been measured, along with all the other Big Five personality traits, on Goldberg’s International Personality Item Pool (IPIP). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) measures the preference of “intuition,” which is related to openness to experience.

 

PSYCHOSOMATIC PLASTICITY: AN “EMERGENT PROPERTY” OF PERSONALITY RESEARCH?

by Michael Jawer

Proceeding from this framework of mind-body unity, let us return to the Boundaries concept propounded by Hartmann. The mind of the thin-boundary person, he suggests, is “relatively fluid,” able to make numerous connections, more flexible and even dreamlike in its processing than the thick-boundary person, whose processing is “solid and well organized” but not prone to meander or make ancillary connections.23 It is not surprising, therefore, that thin-boundary people exhibit the following characteristics1:
 
● A less solid or definite sense of their skin as a body boundary;
● an enlarged sense of merging with another person when kissing
or making love;
● sensitivity to physical and emotional pain, in oneself as well as
in others;
● openness to new experience;
● a penchant for immersing themselves in something-whether
a personal relationship, a memory, or a daydream;
● an enhanced ability to recall dreams; and
● dream content that is highly vivid and emotional.
 
The fluidity evidenced by the thin-boundary personality roughly equates to Thalbourne’s concept of “transliminality,” defined as “tendency for psychological material to cross thresholds in or out of consciousness.”24 Thalbourne has found that the following are part of the personality cluster of the highly transliminal person:
● creativity;
● a penchant for mystical or religious experience;
● absorption (a bent for immersing oneself in something, be it a
sensory experience, an intellectual task, or a reverie);
● fantasy proneness;
● an interest in dream interpretation;
● paranormal belief and experiences; and
● a heightened sensitivity to environmental stimulation.

 

Thin and Thick Boundaried Personalities

Studies show that one’s personality type plays a big role in the intensity of the dream experience and the amount of dream recall present in our waking life. The two types are described as thin boundary and thick boundary personalities. A Hartmann study shows that those who are classified as the thin boundary type tend to experience longer dreams, with a higher intensity of emotion, feeling, color, vividness, and interaction in them than did those classified as thick boundary types.  Those who are considered to be thin boundary personalities tend to have a heightened emotional sensitivity within their dream states.  The best way to describe this idea is that every type of emotion a thin boundaried person has is much more exaggerated within their dreams, which leads to the possibility of more nightmares.  They do not differentiate dreams from reality like a thick boundaried person does.

What differentiates the the two boundary types is a separation between mental process, thoughts and functions. Those with thin boundary type tend to often merge thought with feeling, have a difficulty with focusing on one thing at a time, daydream or fantasize, experience forms of synaethesia, have more fluid sense of self and tend to “merge” more with those who are close to them.
Those with thick boundaried personalities have much more separation between what is real and what is imaginary. They tend to have a distinct focus on one thing at a time, differentiate between thoughts and feelings, real and fantasy, self and others, lack strong memories from childhood, well organized and has a strong sense of self.
It is not to say that thick boundaried people do not suffer from nightmares, it is just that they seem to seperate the two worlds of dreams and thier waking life much more so.  They also tend to do the same between their emotions and thoughts.
 
 
by Ernest Hartmann, Robert Harrison, and Michael Zborowski
 
There are a number of suggestive studies indicating that people with thin boundaries may be not only creative and open, but may have a series of other interesting and so far poorly understood characteristics.  For instance, there appears to be a relationship between thin boundaries and multiple chemical sensitivities (Jawer, 2001).  There is also a correlation between thin boundaries and a belief in or tendency to experience paranormal phenomena. Factor V of the BQ – see table 3 – appears to pick up this aspect of thin boundaries and has been labeled “clairvoyance.”.  Groups of people who characterize themselves as shamans or psychics score thin on the BQ (Krippner, Wickramasekera, Wickramasekera, & Winstead, 1998).  Thalbourne and his collaborators, in their studies of persons who experience paranormal phenomena, have devised a “Transliminality scale” to measure these traits ( Lange,  Thalbourne, Houran, & Storm 2000;  Thalbourne, 1991).  Preliminary analysis suggests a high correlation (r = 068) between thin boundaries and the Transliminality Scale.
These relationships may be worth exploring further, since two very different hypotheses may explain them.  The most parsimonious view would be that all “paranormal” phenomena are imaginary, and that people with thin boundaries simply have better or looser imaginations, are more suggestible, or are more sensitive with a tendency to elaborate creatively on their sensitivities.  On the other hand, we could consider the possibility that phenomena such as telepathy, now considered paranormal could be related to transmission of information using perhaps portions of the electromagnetic spectrum which we are not usually able to detect.  Under unusual circumstances our ability to detect such information could be altered slightly, and quite possibly there might be inter-individual differences in the ability to detect information of this kind.  If so, it is possible that persons with thin boundaries who are sensitive in so many other ways, may also be sensitive to detecting such portions of the spectrum.

 

You don’t have to be crazy to believe in the paranormal but does it help?

by Chris French

Psychopathological Tendencies and Paranormal Belief/Experience 

    * Paranormal beliefs/experiences correlate with tendency towards bipolar (manic) depression

Dissociativity 

    * Dissociativity has been shown to be related to the tendency to report a wide range of paranormal and anomalous experiences

Fantasy Proneness 

    * fantasy-prone individuals spend much of their time engaged in fantasy, have particularly vivid imaginations, sometimes confuse imagination with reality, and report a very high incidence of paranormal experiences

Schizotypy 

    * Multidimensional
    * Different factors of schizotypy relate to different factors of paranormal belief/experience in complex ways (e.g., Irwin & Green, 1998-1999)
    * Unusual Experiences factor most consistently related to paranormal beliefs/experiences
    * Concerned with aberrant perceptions and beliefs
    * Sub-clinical tendencies towards hallucinations and delusions

Does Paranormal Belief/Experience = Psychopathology? No! 

    * High levels of belief/experience in general population
    * Correlations around 0.6
    * Believers scores raised but not typically to pathological levels
    * Atypical groups of believers (e.g., psychical research groups) have quite low levels of schizoptypy

A Link with Childhood Trauma? 

    * Both fantasy proneness and tendency to dissociate are associated with reports of childhood trauma
    * Defence mechanism?
    * Paranormal belief also correlates with reports of childhood trauma

 

Dissociations of the Night: Individual Differences in Sleep-Related Experiences and Their Relation to Dissociation and Schizotypy

by David Watson

I examined the associations among sleep-related experiences (e.g., hypnagogic hallucinations, nightmares, waking dreams, lucid dreams), dissociation, schizotypy and the Big Five personality traits in two large student samples. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that (a) dissociation and schizotypy are strongly correlated―yet distinguishable― constructs and (b) the differentiation between them can be enhanced by eliminating detachment/depersonalization items from the dissociation scales. A general measure of sleep experiences was substantially correlated with both schizotypy and dissociation (especially the latter) and more weakly related to the Big Five. In contrast, an index of lucid dreaming was weakly related to all of these other scales. These results suggest that measures of dissociation, schizotypy and sleep-related experiences all define a common domain characterized by unusual cognitions and perceptions.

 

by Shelley L. Rattet and Krisanne Bursik
 
Do individuals who endorse paranormal beliefs differ from those reporting actual precognitive experiences? This study examined the personality correlates of these variables in a sample of college students, 61% of whom described some type of precognitive experience. Extraversion and intuition were associated with precognitive experience, but not with paranormal belief; dissociative tendencies were related to paranormal belief, but not precognitive experience. The importance of conceptualizing and assessing paranormal belief and precognitive experience as separate constructs is discussed.
 
 
by J.E. Kennedy
 
Paranormal beliefs and experiences are associated with certain personality factors, including absorption, fantasy proneness, and the Myers-Briggs intuition and feeling personality dimensions. Skepticism appears to be associated with materialistic, rational, pragmatic personality types. Attitude toward psi may also be influenced by motivations to have control and efficacy, to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life, to be connected with others, to have transcendent experiences, to have self-worth, to feel superior to others, and to be healed. The efforts to obtain reliable control of psi in experimental parapsychology have not been successful. Given the lack of control and lack of practical application of psi, it is not surprising that those who are by disposition materialistic and pragmatic find the evidence for psi to be unconvincing. When psi experiences have been examined without a bias for control, the primary effect has been found to be enhanced meaning in life and spirituality, similar to mystical experiences. Tensions among those with mystical, authoritarian, and scientific dispositions have been common in the history of paranormal and religious beliefs. Scientific research can do much to create better understanding among people with different dispositions. Understanding the motivations related to paranormal beliefs is a prerequisite for addressing questions about when and if psi actually occurs.

 

by Joe Nickell
 
Despite John Mack’s denial, the results of my study of his best thirteen cases show high fantasy proneness among his selected subjects. Whether or not the same results would be obtained with his additional subjects remains to be seen. Nevertheless, my study does support the earlier opinions of Baker and Bartholomew and Basterfield that alleged alien abductees tend to be fantasy-prone personalities. Certainly, that is the evidence for the very best cases selected by a major advocate.
 
 
 
by Per Andersen

While most of the studies of the psychopathology of UFO witnesses have demonstrated no pathological patterns in general, many of the studies nevertheless have discovered some specific personal traits for various groups of witnesses.

It has been difficult in most studies uniquely to characterize these personality traits of UFO witnesses and to describe them in a simple way. To that it should be added, that traits described in different studies vary a great deal from each other.

In a [U.S.] Fund for UFO Research-sponsored experiment, 9 witnesses were tested for psychopathology (MMPI) and their personalities were described by Dr. Elizabeth Slater. All nine had reported UFO abductions. The most significant aspect of the experiment was, however, that Dr. Slater did not know what the 9 persons had in common (if anything) (Bloecher 1985).

Dr. Slater did in fact find some similarities between the nine subjects, although these were played down by the sponsors. She described the subjects as a very distinctive, unusual and interesting group. They did not represent an ordinary cross- section of the population from the standpoint of conventionality in lifestyle. Several of the subjects could be labelled downright “eccentric” or “odd”. They had high intellectual abilities and richly evocative and charged inner worlds — highly inventive, creative and original.

What then about “ordinary” UFO witnesses that have not been abducted or in regular contact with space beings, but have experienced what I would label low strangeness sightings of UFO phenomena? For these groups of witnesses also some special personality traits have been identified in various studies.

Over [a period of] 17 years, Dr. Leo Sprinkle [University of Wyoming] tested 225 persons reporting mixed UFO experiences ranging from a light in the sky to being abducted. A study of these 225 witnesses showed that they had profiles with certain unique characteristics. Witnesses exhibited a high level of psychic energy, a tendency to question authority or being subject to situational pressure or conflicts, and to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Other characteristic were: above-average intelligence, assertiveness and a tendency to be experimenting thinkers (Parnell 1988).

Another major study of 264 persons did not find any significant differences between witnesses of various types of sightings (Ring 1990). However, the research showed that UFO witnesses reported more sensitivity to non-ordinary realities and having a higher tendency towards dissociation. It also documented that UFO witnesses and people with near-death experiences had very similar personality traits. There also seems to be a significant relationship between having UFO sightings and the personal belief system of the witnesses. This has been documented by T.A. Zimmer who found relationships between sightings and belief in occultism and science fiction (Zimmer 1984, 1985) as well as Spanos et al from the University of Ottawa. They found that witnesses to low-strangeness sightings had a tendency to esoteric beliefs and belief in UFOs (Spanos 1993).

 

by Martin Kottmeyer
 
It seems logical at this point to ask if the psychology of nightmares can throw any light on what is happening in alien abduction experiences. While not all the puzzles of nightmares have been solved, psychology has recently made significant strides in understanding why some people develop them and others do not. In building a profile of nightmare sufferers Ernest Hartmann developed a conceptual model termed boundary theory which expands on a set of propositions about boundaries in the mind formulated by a handful of earlier psychoanalytic theorists. It is from Hartmann’s study “The Nightmare” that we will develop the blueprint of our argument. (8)
 
Boundary theory begins with the axiom that as the mind matures, it categorises experiences. It walls off certain sets to be distinct from other sets. Boundaries become set up between what is self and what is non-self, between sleep and waking experiences, between fantasy and reality, passion and reason, ego and id, masculine and feminine, and a large host of other experiential categories. This drive to categorise is subject to natural variation. The determinants of the strength of that drive appear to be biochemical and genetic and probably have no environmental component such as trauma. When the drive is weak the boundaries between categories are thinner, more permeable or more fluid. When the boundaries become abnormally thin one sees psychopathologies like schizophrenia. Hartmann discovered individuals who suffer from nightmares have thin boundaries. >From this central mental characteristic one can derive a large constellation of traits that set these people apart from the general population.
From earliest childhood, people with thin boundaries are perceived as “different”. They are regarded as more sensitive than their peers. Thin character armour causes them to be more fragile and easily hurt. They are easily empathic, but dive into relationships too deeply too quickly. Recipients of their affection will regard them as uncomfortably close and clinging and they are thus frequently rejected. Experience with their vulnerability teaches them to be wary of entering into relationships with others. Adolescence tends to be stormy and difficult. Adult relationships — whether sexual, marital or friendships — also tend to be unsettled and variable. A slight tendency to paranoia is common.
 
One-third will have contemplated or attempted suicide. Experimentation with drugs tends to yield bad trips and is quickly abandoned. They are usually alert to lights, sounds and sensations. They tend to have fluid sexual identities. Bisexuals are over-represented in the nightmare sufferers’ population and it is rare to find manly men or womanly women in it. Macho pigs apparently do not have nightmares. They are not rule followers. Either they reject society or society rejects them. They are rebels and outsiders. There is a striking tendency for these people to find their way into fields involving artistic self-expression; musicians, poets, writers, art teachers, etc. Some develop their empathic tendencies and become therapists. Ordinary BLUE or white collar jobs are rare.
Hartmann believes the predominance of artists results from the fact that thin boundaries allow them to experience the world more directly and painfully than others. The ability to experience their inner life in a very direct fashion contributes to the authenticity of their creations. They become lost in daydreaming quite easily and even experience daymares — a phenomenon people with thick boundaries won’t even realise exists. This trait of imaginative absorption should also make nightmare sufferers good hypnotic subjects. (9)
Boundary deficits also contribute to fluid memories and a fluid time sense.
 
To be considered a candidate for the hypothesis that one is a victim of alien abduction a person must present certain symptoms. Among the factors which are looked for are conscious memories of an abduction, revealing nightmares, missing time, forgotten scars, or dramatic reactions to seemingly trivial stimuli like distant nocturnal lights. The last four factors act as screening devices to yield a population of boundary deficit individuals. This is blatant in the case of people whose candidacy is based on nightmares of aliens. It is subtler in the other symptoms.
People who have thin boundaries in their time sense virtually by definition will experience episodes of missing time. People with fluid memories could easily lose track of the event that led to the creation of a scar. People with weak ego-id boundaries and a sense of powerlessness probably would over- react to distant inexplicable lights as symbols of power. These candidates, in turn, are subject to further screening by their performance under hypnosis. The thicker the boundary, the less likely it is that a convincing narrative will emerge or be accepted as emotionally valid. We would predict the final population of abduction claimants would be biased in favour of a high proportion of boundary-deficit personalities.
 
The evidence that abductees have boundary-deficit personalities is, if not definitive, reasonably convincing. The points of correspondence between abductees and nightmare sufferers are several and consistent.
Ufology regards the Slater psychological study of nine abductees as an experimentum crucis for the view that abductees are victims of real extraterrestrial intrusions. It affirmed not only the normality of abductees, but offered a hint of traumatisation in the finding that abductees showed a tendency to display distrust and interpersonal caution. It is time to remind everyone, however, of what Slater’s full results were reported to be. Slater found abductees had rich inner lives; a relatively weak sense of identity, particularly a weak sexual identity; vulnerability; and an alertness characteristic of both perceptual sophistication and interpersonal caution. (10)
All four of these traits are characteristic of boundary-deficit minds. Clearly the abduction-reality hypothesis is, in this instance, unparsimonious. It fails to explain the presence of rich inner lives, weak identities and vulnerability. (I reject Slater’s post hoc attempt to account for the weak sexual identity via childhood trauma induced by involuntary surgical penetrations as undocumented, and just plain weird.) It should not be over- looked that Slater volunteered the opinion that her test subjects did not represent an ordinary cross-section of the population. She found some were “downright eccentric or odd” and that the group as a whole was “very distinctive, unusual, and interesting”. (11)
This nicely parallels Hartmann’s observation that boundary- deficit personalities are perceived as “different” from “normal” people. Slater’s study does indeed seem to be an experimentum crucis, but the conclusion it points toward is perfectly opposite from what ufologists have been assuming.
The boundary-deficit hypothesis evidently can also be invoked to explain the unusual proportion of artist-type individuals that I discovered in testing Rimmer’s hypothesis. Roughly one-third of abductees showed evidence of artistic self-expression in their backgrounds in my sample population, as you may recall. Hartmann’s study would also lead us to expect an unusual number of psychotherapists among abductees. In a recent paper, Budd Hopkins reported that in a population of 180 probable abductees he found many mental health professionals: two psychiatrists, three PhD psychologists and an unstated number of psychotherapists with Master’s degrees. (12)
 
by Neil Douglas-Klotz
 
Recent studies in cognitive psychology suggest that Western psychology still struggles for the language to describe the difference between a “psychotic” and a “spiritual” state in a nuanced way (for instance in the new anthology on psychosis and spirituality edited by Isabel Clarke, 2000). For instance, Claridge (2000) and others have sought to define a new personality type called “schizotypy” which is neutral with respect to illness or pre-disposing to illness and yet describes a person prone to “skinlessness” (or weakened cognitive inhibition), enhanced access to internal and external events, the reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness and “transliminaliy.” In this view, the difference between non-pathological “psychoticism” and actual “psychosis” depends on history, circumstances and genetic pre-disposition.
 
Clarke herself (2000) proposes a “discontinuity” theory, which states that polarization of psychotic states and spiritual ones is a false dichotomy. She combines work by Kelly (the “personal construct theory”) as well as Teasdale and Barnard (“interacting cognitive subsystems,”1993) to suggest, among other things, that a “transliminal experience” means operating beyond a construct system and that, from an informational processing model point of view, a transliminal experience is created by a breakdown between the implicational and propositional subsystems of the mind. According to Clarke, the advantage of mystics of all traditions, many of which also include a very practical ability to this model is that it brings psychosis into the realm of universal human experience.
 
In both of these models, however, the attempt to describe a spiritual or mystical state in terms of modern psychology suffers from the need to begin with the Western language of pathology. In other words, does the mere presence of transliminality, reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness, and the other definitions offered really describe the diverse experiences of the great mystics of all traditions, many of which also include a very practical ability to handle interpersonal relationships and accomplishment in the world?
 
Recent studies in cognitive psychology suggest that Western psychology still struggles for the language to describe the difference between a “psychotic” and a “spiritual” state in a nuanced way (for instance in the new anthology on psychosis and spirituality edited by Isabel Clarke, 2000). For instance, Claridge (2000) and others have sought to define a new personality type called “schizotypy” which is neutral with respect to illness or pre-disposing to illness and yet describes a person prone to “skinlessness” (or weakened cognitive inhibition), enhanced access to internal and external events, the reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness and “transliminaliy.” In this view, the difference between non-pathological “psychoticism” and actual “psychosis” depends on history, circumstances and genetic pre-disposition.
 
Clarke herself (2000) proposes a “discontinuity” theory, which states that polarization of psychotic states and spiritual ones is a false dichotomy. She combines work by Kelly (the “personal construct theory”) as well as Teasdale and Barnard (“interacting cognitive subsystems,”1993) to suggest, among other things, that a “transliminal experience” means operating beyond a construct system and that, from an informational processing model point of view, a transliminal experience is created by a breakdown between the implicational and propositional subsystems of the mind. According to Clarke, the advantage of handle interpersonal relationships and accomplishment in the world?