Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mysticism and science

Reflections on a article in theology and science by N.M. Laurendeau entitled 'Christian mysticism and science: the psychological dimension' (Routledge 2013).

In my own mystical experience (labelled the baptism in the holy spirit), I experienced power like electricity in a what I can only describe as outer space, dark and black but without any fear. The author quotes a number of mystics who describe God in the darkness similarly: Gregory of Nyssa, The Cloud of the Unknowing, John of the Cross and Louis Dupre (who talks about ascending the ladder of darkness).

A few quotes:
the inferior temporal lobe and amygdala, in particular, were found to contain dense neuronal fields along the neocortical surface that could fire selectively in response to visual images infused with religious emotions, similar to out-of-body experiences (p.13)
we might say that while the brain is created by God, God is also created by the brain (p.14)
monks experienced timelessness using meditation while nuns experienced unity using contemplation...meditation activates the arousal function and inhibits the quiescent function, whereas contemplation inhibits the arousal function but activates the quiescent function...however, persistent activation of both produces functional disequilibrium resulting in a feeling of no space and time, an altered state of consciousness and trance state (p.14)
Bernard of Clairvaux says there are 4 degrees of love, (1) loving oneself for our own sake, (2) loving God for our own sake, (3) loving God for God's sake and (4) loving oneself for God's sake.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A short exploration and review of Christian humanism


Adams, R.J., 1989. So you think you’re not religious.

Freeman, A., 2001. God in us.

Windross, T., 2004. The thoughtful guide to faith.

Ritchie, A. & Spencer, W., 2014. The case for Christian Humanism

Quotes and reflection:

  1. The primary business of Christianity is making sense of the world, “not meaning that we can show that it makes sense, but with the more literal and radical meaning of making into sense what, till it is transformed, is largely non-sense” (William Temple, 1943 cited in Adams, p.8). I think it was Tertullian that said theology is faith seeking understanding. In other words, I use my faith framework to try and make meaning of the world as I experience it recognising that it may be my framework that needs changing.
  2. Simon Weil suggested that the great blasphemy is not in doubting that God exists but in making believe that the hunger is not real (Adams, p.11). I strongly identify with this quote. I struggled to accept the views of Freeman of non-deity as I cannot quench the hunger I have deep within that there is something/one beyond that which I completely understand. In some ways it echoes the title of a book, ‘he placed eternity in their hearts’ by Don Richardson.
  3. Latin word credo is translated ‘believe’ but literally means ‘to set the heart’ (p.17). Kardia (heart) is never about logic or analysis (p.20). Verb pisteuo usually translated ‘believe’ while noun pistis is translated as faithful, reliable, faith (p.23). The opposite of amen is not doubt but denial. To doubt is to ask questions, to weigh evidence (p.27). Can apply an age of reason upon what were oral traditions (p.45). They studied the Bible to find analogies (p.49). All of these explanations encourage a faith that grows and develops (changes) not holding to orthodoxy as rules or doctrine.  
  4. I believe God is real…a reality that is neither the subject nor the object of a theological discourse…I experience this God; I do not explain this God. I offer no prayers that are designed to manipulate this God so that this God becomes my servant. I do not spend my hours in worship praising this God as if my liturgical flattery will serve me well by winning me some divine favour. I do not find this God even inside the Trinitarian formulae of the creeds that I recite. These traditional words do not capture God, they only point me towards this God. I take seriously the warning of the Second Commandment that human beings are to build no graven images of this God that they will then confuse with God. It is now obvious to me that graven images can be constructed with human words. Such things as the Bible, the creeds, the doctrines and dogma’s are not divine revelations, they are graven images made with words. They are human constructions which we have frequently confused with the God to whom they can only point…to enter the human experience of God, which drives language to breaking point (forward by Spong in Freeman, p.xiii). Although Spong (as I do) share the contents shared by Freeman, we do not share the same conclusion (there is no God and no eternity, p.45). As Cupitt put it, “I am a verb, not a noun” (2010, p.4).
  5. Do you believe in God? Tell me what sort of God you have in mind and I will tell you whether I believe in him (p.11). Freeman uses the categories of liberal, conservative and radical. If you are a non-theist (theist where God is supernatural and non-theist where God is ‘the ground of our being’ or ‘sum of our values’ or the creative and healing power of love), then prayer will be more like an exploration into the mystery at the heart of human life (Windross, p.30). Windross is in favour of a post-theistic model rejecting the theistic idea of God – personal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, creator and sustainer, a being with no cause, beginning and end (p.177). Instead being – symbol; transcendence – immanence; love experienced in community (p.179).
  6. Resurrection is not a matter of speculation, but an explosion of meaning (Windross, p.69).  
  7. Amsterdam declaration, Christian humanism is rational, affirms human dignity and is ethical (p11). Humanitas (Latin) means human nature, virtues of an educated and cultivated existence (p.15). Associated with Unitarianism and positivism (pp.17-18). Based on this document, I suspect I resonate more with radical Christianity/progressive Christianity than I do with Christian humanism which for me shares to many of the modernist characteristics.  


An explosion of meaning (6) is the hunger that drives me (2). I have a hunger to make sense, to be engaged in meaning making (1) and what consequences that has upon me and my actions as I share this planet with others. I can say ‘amen’ to Spong’s creed (4) affirming that my heart (3) resonates with what I read. I can no longer naively support a supernatural understanding of God with trappings of sin, atonement theories and exclusive truth claims. If these trapping define theism then I reject theism but rather than then simply embracing non-theism (with its trapping of no eternity or personal God) I will explore post-theism.  Christian humanism for me is a return to modernistic epistemology.   

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Living the Questions by Felten & Procter-Murphy (2012)

"The more fully God is present, the more fully we are human" (p186)
I like this phrase. I like it because it resonates with the ideal of education namely human flourishing. I like it because it is a litmus test for real religion. We have all experienced it, a situation where humanity is at its best. Responding in compassion to a crisis. Taking life risks rescuing someone. Lavish charity to help someone. When we live at peace with each other. When we honour one another and truly offer each other grace. Yes, when we are at our best, God is fully present.
Now consider the opposite, when in the name of religion we control and devalue individuals, when we respond in judgement and exclude, when we are violent and take life with no thought for our actions. In the name of religion, a different kind of god is present.

So how do we live and practice our faith towards human flourishing?

Well, one such practice is prayer and I like how it is presented here:
"I do most of my prayer in dialogue with other people" (p195)
I like this but I admit, I don't know what this looks like? I hope I have lived this, perhaps without even knowing it, but I aspire to live my faith in such a way that it is intricately linked to my faith and humanity. My prayer is only 'fully God present' when in my conversation with others, I seek their flourishing. And the reality of this dialogue is the most illuminated among those I don't like.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A homage: Loss and Pain

My wife and I are expecting our first child on 7 April 2015. My wife is an only child and since her twenties, her parents have hinted they want a grandchild. We got married on 12/12/12 and were delighted to announce in 2014 that we were expecting. Thursday 19 March 2015, at our last scan, it was conclusively confirmed that our baby would be a girl. My wife's parents always wanted a girl. My father-in-law, only 10 years older than me, is like a father and older brother to me. He accepted my daughter from another marriage like his own and was a caring, generous and good man. Sunday 22 March 2015 he died of a heart attack while shopping online for an outfit for his new grand daughter. My wife being so pregnant cannot fly home to support her mother, cannot grieve out of concern for the baby and feels helpless as the only child in how to help. I cannot imagine how her mother feels losing her husband, I cannot imagine how my wife feels losing her father. I cannot imagine how they both feel knowing a grand child is on the way!

Life is cruel.

My homage: Vladimir, you were a kind, generous man who always put family first. I remember how you threw a snow ball at my daughter the first time you met her; I remember how you taught me how to drink vodka, how you always bought us beers to try together; how you would always organise a braai for me when we were visiting; how you helped us paint our house, fix things and buy us things.

Who will help me board the loft, put legs onto the boxes to make them tables, leave pounds for Skye, take Kaia out for walks and throw snowballs at her too?

I miss you.

Who said it is better to love and lose than never to love at all,
I have loved and lost
I was loved and lost
Will my heart ever recover

Every time I look at her
I will remember your absence
Three women at loss
A wife, a daughter, a grand daughter

I don't understand
I struggle to accept
Why the good die young
While evil men live to decapitate another innocent life

If your god loves
And yet allows this to happen
Then either he has no control of life
Or if he does, I don't want to believe in him

Life is what it is
And then we die
Love and loss

Vladimir Filiptsik, husband, father, grand father, 'father and brother' (1963-2015)