Monday, March 19, 2007

The most challenging aspect of mystical experiences

The 10-year anniversary of the Heaven’s Gate suicides is a few days from now. It’s the sort of thing people think of when they read about someone hearing from God. There are so many cults. There are stories like those of Jim Jones and David Koresh, where there were signs of disaster very early on in their egomania. There are more functional cults like Scientology. Will they be mainstream religion in 100 years? Even with the most established religions, weren’t there plenty of people calling their founders nuts at the time?

Yes, and with good reason. I’m sure many such founders were nuts. Maybe you have to be nuts to found a religion. Otherwise people would see through it. But the successful religions had people to make whatever craziness there was into something that could endure. Cults where everyone kills themselves aren’t going to be able compete in the cultural evolution of religion. Even circumcision was a significant obstacle, one no doubt done away with for Christians both from a sense of what is good marketing and reasoning about why people should be free from rules, sometimes. Someone who can manage that is not entirely crazy.

People who express fear about mystical experiences turning into suicide remind me of people being afraid of someone losing all their money in the stock market, being afraid of a policeman being killed on the job, being afraid of a chute not opening if they go skydiving. Actually I’m afraid of that last one. It may be less than one chance in a million, but since I lack any desire to go skydiving, that’s enough of an excuse for me. I’m afraid of heights as it is.

For all those sorts of fears there’s the same answer. There are rational, prudent things anyone can do to try to avoid the dangers that have been demonstrated through the misfortune of others. I’m not sure why so many people were taken in by Marshall Applewhite claiming to be the new Jesus, but disagreeing with him would not be hard for most of us.

So the fact that many people having mystical experiences are crazy isn’t what I think is a great challenge. It’s not essential for those having mystical experiences to leave their rational side behind. That first big experience of mine I had no skepticism for four hours, but then it came back. It hasn’t gone away again completely. If we’re otherwise healthy, we can integrate experiences of things that aren’t physical into everything else we are, emotion, experience, reason. Some people have trouble with that, but people also have trouble with their semi-rational thought being filled with logical fallacies. That doesn’t negate the fact that there is such a thing as good reasoning. You have to learn how your own experience fits with those of others, whether that’s mystical experience, emotional experience or intellectual experience. Otherwise you start from biology alone, and human beings have not accomplished much that way.

Bad mysticism is like junk science. Someone can beat up on all mysticism because of the former. Someone can beat up on all science because of the latter. Neither means much. It can be difficult to explain the difference to someone who knows nothing of healthy mysticism or the beauty and strength of a large, replicated, randomized, double-blind controlled study, but one can learn from experts about either.

Instead, I see the greatest challenge in mystical experiences as how one can take them seriously when different people meet different Gods through them. There were many experts on Christian mysticism until the scientific revolution came along and questioned who and what God really is, unless there is some strange metaphysics that makes science an illusion. Religion in general has not adapted well to that. Some liberals try to follow a God compatible with science, as I do, but there are almost as many Gods that way as there are liberals. Traditionalists deny the problem. New Age believers create an entirely new set of beliefs that conflict with science, as if it escapes the problem of the scientific revolution to fantasize about where science is headed.

I’ve mentioned Neal Donald Walsch here a few times before. I’ve mentioned other New Age writers, writers of Eastern mysticism and traditional Christians who quote God directly, as well, all of whom describe a God who is not the God I know. Sometimes the God I know knows more about science that theirs knows, knows better than to say there’s only one reason for something, has different priorities than theirs, has needs to be loved that others don’t know about at all. It’s suspicious that this is mostly what I know personally that these other people don’t. Is God just about me?

Consider a being named Kryon that author Lee Carroll channels. Here is a speech Kryon gave at the UN last year – well, actually it was at the library auditorium for a New Age group, but doesn’t it sound like sci-fi where the alien representative comes to the UN to address the people of Earth? I can translate some words that came out of Lee Carroll’s mouth into different words I use. Carroll speaks of “the angelic realm” as other New Age believers do. Since I don’t know there are angels I might say “the spiritual side of reality” or “the non-physical side of reality”, which mean the same to me.

Carroll uses the word “vibration” a few times, which I can’t read as the physical meaning of that word but a metaphor about someone influencing someone else, knowingly or not. I can almost hear a similar metaphor for the way Carroll uses “energy” as many New Age believers do, a word meaning some sort of power sometimes, but virtually meaningless other times.

No matter how much I try to translate Carroll’s words and concepts into mine, though, he says things about God I don’t believe at all. He says God can predict the future. I haven’t found that to be the case, apart from what God plans to do Himself. The future hasn’t happened yet, which Kryon actually agrees with. His prophecies are of a potential future, but still closer to an omniscient God than the God I know.

Yet beyond points like that, this is a simple message that Lee Carroll delivers for his alter ego. It’s simply about hope, about the Illuminati providing money to cure AIDS, about economic growth in Africa similar to that in China, about Hamas acting less like terrorists, and that 2012 will bring an end to war instead of the catastrophe others are predicting.

Is this enough hope to be God? Do the details not matter? God tells me the details do matter. It does matter whether hope is true hope or false hope, even if false hope is better for us than no hope at all, as Karl Menninger believed. But is this the only part of God that can get through to Lee Carroll, some sense of hope that turns into all these New Age ways of saying it? God tells me He doesn’t know. Lee Carroll feels hope because his biology favors hope, his culture favors hope, and/or God favors hope. There’s no meter in our brain or our consciousness to tell the difference.

I am sufficiently rational that I would like to document a reason for my hope better than Lee Carroll does, even it were the God I know that tells me to be hopeful. I’d like to have some reasons that there likely won’t be economic or ecological problems in our future to overturn our gradual progress technologically and growing understanding that people are the same everywhere. I don’t think I can find convincing ones, or I might be writing about that today.

So what does it mean that someone else doesn’t do that? One thing it means is that I’m not convinced by Kryon’s speech. Another thing it means is that human nature is more intuitive than what the culture of science has taught me. And if people say that intuition comes to them from God, does it? I doubt it. The God I know knows science as well as I do and values its reliability.

So is there another arm to God that wants this New Age group to receive hope Kryon’s way? That’s what I don’t know. My God says no, that’s not what He wants. Such hope has no staying power. There is no God that would settle for this.

In the end, there are things I cannot know. I know I have mystical experiences that eventually became God speaking to me in brief responses to issues as in these recent paragraphs. I’ve asked Him for a straight story of everything about the world, about life, and about me, but that’s beyond Him, as it would be for Him to suddenly become flesh. Do I know who and what that is? No I don’t. I just know the God I know is consistent, loving, speaks in my words and concepts, lacks the ability to give me facts I don’t already know, and has a capacity for cutting to the heart of an issue I don’t understand at all. That is just one way I experience the Spirit. She never will want me to commit suicide or do anything risky. If some other voice ever says the opposite, it won’t fool me, not after this much time. She agrees with me about how few human beings can be trusted, spirits, too. Is She just me? Maybe, but the really interesting answer would be if She is not me, not my brain, not my dream, but something yet to be understood.

In the meantime I need to make sure that I do the best I can to integrate my mystical experiences with the rest of me. I would suggest Lee Carroll do the same thing. Why does his God have to ramble so? We humans do that, but shouldn’t God be better? I don’t expect him to listen or anyone else. I listen to myself and to God. It is suspicious that we don’t all get the same message from one God, but it’s still worth exploring.

No comments: