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The Religious Way Of Knowing

Here’s a big-think Douthat post about secularism, modernity, and how it changes the way we perceive the world of phenomena.  [1] The idea he confronts here is that there is something different about the modern mind that closes off areas of perception to modern people. He references the Mr. Ono and the ghosts of the Japanese tsunami story we talked about here a week or two ago [2], and he also references a story about the Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven.

In the latter case, early in his career, Verhoeven was going through a period of intense personal stress, which included the potential end of his nascent filmmaking career and the potential of arranging an abortion for his pregnant girlfriend. At this time, he stumbled into a service at a Pentecostal church, and had a staggering mystical experience. He ended up denying the religious aspect of what happened to him, but he couldn’t deny that something important had happened. Verhoeven consciously chose to turn away from the paranormal implications of what he had gone through, because he was afraid it would make him mad. He deliberately chose to live in a world that made sense to him, rather than the world he had glimpsed through that mystical event. Verhoeven joined that Pentecostal congregation for a month, which was unusual in Holland, but here’s how and why [3] he left that congregation:

When an artist friend heard my problem, he told me that it wasn’t much of a problem. His father is a doctor of anesthetics at the Red Cross hospital in The Hague, and he could help us. So reality and pragmatism brought me out of it. This encounter with spiritual, mystical Christianity had an enormous impact on me. As a result, to get out of this dangerously sectarian thinking in which the subconscious elements of my brain were seeping into my conscious, I felt that I had to close the doors of perception, as Huxley calls it. The subconscious elements can be very powerful, and if one isn’t careful, they can take over the conscious parts of your brain. This is what happened to Nietzsche when he lost his mind in Turin. I wanted to protect myself by concentrating for years of my creative life on reality. That explains something of my enormous interest in the reality of everything, and my sense of the reality of violence, an aspect of my work that some people continue to have enormous problems with.

Notice that for Verhoeven, “recovering” from this mystical experience involved framing it as an irruption from his subconscious — as something generated from within, not as given from without. In other words, he had to think of it as a hallucination. If it had not been a hallucination, then he would have had to accept the possibility that he really did experience the Holy Spirit, or at least a spiritual reality independent of his own mind. That was apparently harder to accept than to believe he suffered temporary psychosis. One cannot know from this distance what was going through young Verhoeven’s head in those days, but it’s not hard to imagine that a man who wishes to arrange his girlfriend’s abortion to help save his film career would have a particular incentive to dismiss the possibility that he had encountered the living God, and instead had suffered from temporary insanity.

In any case, the key thing here is the role of Verhoeven’s will in deciding what is real and what is not. He is up front about his choice to suppress that experience, for the sake of preserving his sanity. What he is not up front about, maybe not even with himself, is his choice to deny the possibility that what he encountered in that Dutch Pentecostal church was objectively real. This too was a choice.

Douthat uses these two stories to talk about the epistemology and the secular mind, namely, to ask whether or not the framework through which we view the world is not only one of interpretation (that is, a structure that helps us make sense of the world we perceive), but also one of perception itself — that is, one that determines which information our bodies let our minds take in. Douthat cites the work of philosopher Charles Taylor, who draws a clear distinction between the way the Self experienced the world in pre-modern times, versus the way the Self experiences the world today. The difference is far more mysterious than a simple matter of working from the same set of facts to reach different interpretations; it’s more the case that the different mindsets produce a different set of facts, which is to say, allow different data to enter into the frame of reference. Here’s Douthat:

This isn’t just an academic distinction; it has significant implications for the actual potency of secularism. To the extent that the buffered self is a reading imposed on numinous experience after the fact, secularism looks weaker (relatively speaking), because no matter how much the intellectual assumptions of the day tilt in its favor, it’s still just one possible interpretation among many: On a societal level, its strength depends on the same mix of prejudice, knowledge, fashion and reason as any other world-picture, and for the individual there’s always the possibility that a mystical experience could come along (as Verhoeven, for instance, seemed to fear it might) that simply overwhelms the ramparts thrown up to keep alternative interpretations at bay.

But if the advance of the secular world-picture actually changes the nature of numinous experience itself, by making it impossible to fully experience what Taylor calls “enchantment” in the way that people in pre-secular contexts did and do, then the buffered self is a much more literal reality, and secularism is self-reinforcing in a much more profound way. It doesn’t just close intellectual doors, it closes perceptual doors as well.

In practice, what he’s raising here is a fundamental questions about the nature of secularism and the experience of reality. Is the “buffered self” of secularism (in the sense that Charles Taylor means) a method of interpreting the same data we all perceive? Or is secularism something that makes it literally impossible to perceive a certain level of reality? Put another way, does the secular mindset help us to see reality more clearly, or does it blind us to things our pre-modern ancestors could see?

Personally, I think it does both, but it’s not at all easy to figure out when it is doing which thing. Douthat indicates that he’s more likely to believe that secularism is only one interpretive choice among many others, and is therefore weaker than some of us may think. The reality of mystical experience has the potential of breaking through the buffers the modern self erects. I’m more inclined to be pessimistic on this front, and to agree with this blog’s commenter Thursday, who holds that secularism fundamentally reshapes our perceptive abilities.

The anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann famously wrote [4] about how embedding herself in the world of modern British pagans caused her to have a waking vision of six druids who came to her as shades. What’s interesting about this is that she still believes that this was an external projection of an internal state — an extreme example, you might say, of confirmation bias. Later, Lurhmann embedded with a (non-Pentecostal) Evangelical Christian community, one that believes you can train your mind to communicate with God. She wrote a book about it, When God Talks Back [5]. In her review of Luhrmann’s book, Joan Acocella notes [6] that Luhrmann’s own position on whether or not the Evangelicals were communicating with a being called God is cagey. Luhrmann, a trained and accomplished social scientist, says she is not a Christian, and give the impression of being a secular humanist who does not believe in a being called God. But this is not definitive; Acocella has the notion that Luhrmann herself might not be clear as to what’s real and what’s not. Acocella is willing to forgive her this, saying that the great value in Luhrmann’s work is that she’s willing to open herself critically but sympathetically to a world and to a set of experiences that most people in her position would not.

This kind of thing is at the heart of the entire WEIRD phenomenon — the idea that the secular Western mindset is all but unique in the world, and that we in the West, especially our scientists, err in thinking that our perception is normative for humanity. This 2013 article explains. [7] Excerpt:

A modern liberal arts education gives lots of lip service to the idea of cultural diversity. It’s generally agreed that all of us see the world in ways that are sometimes socially and culturally constructed, that pluralism is good, and that ethnocentrism is bad. But beyond that the ideas get muddy. That we should welcome and celebrate people of all backgrounds seems obvious, but the implied corollary—that people from different ethno-cultural origins have particular attributes that add spice to the body politic—becomes more problematic. To avoid stereotyping, it is rarely stated bluntly just exactly what those culturally derived qualities might be. Challenge liberal arts graduates on their appreciation of cultural diversity and you’ll often find them retreating to the anodyne notion that under the skin everyone is really alike.

If you take a broad look at the social science curriculum of the last few decades, it becomes a little more clear why modern graduates are so unmoored. The last generation or two of undergraduates have largely been taught by a cohort of social scientists busily doing penance for the racism and Eurocentrism of their predecessors, albeit in different ways. Many anthropologists took to the navel gazing of postmodernism and swore off attempts at rationality and science, which were disparaged as weapons of cultural imperialism.

Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96 percent of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners—with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the world’s population.

Henrich’s work with the ultimatum game was an example of a small but growing countertrend in the social sciences, one in which researchers look straight at the question of how deeply culture shapes human cognition. His new colleagues in the psychology department, Heine and Norenzayan, were also part of this trend. Heine focused on the different ways people in Western and Eastern cultures perceived the world, reasoned, and understood themselves in relationship to others. Norenzayan’s research focused on the ways religious belief influenced bonding and behavior. The three began to compile examples of cross-cultural research that, like Henrich’s work with the Machiguenga, challenged long-held assumptions of human psychological universality.


As the three continued their work, they noticed something else that was remarkable: again and again one group of people appeared to be particularly unusual when compared to other populations—with perceptions, behaviors, and motivations that were almost always sliding down one end of the human bell curve.

In the end they titled their paper “The Weirdest People in the World?”(pdf) [8] By “weird” they meant both unusual and Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others—and even the way we perceive reality—makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that “American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners—outliers among outliers.”

Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.


And here is the rub: the culturally shaped analytic/individualistic mind-sets may partly explain why Western researchers have so dramatically failed to take into account the interplay between culture and cognition. In the end, the goal of boiling down human psychology to hardwiring is not surprising given the type of mind that has been designing the studies. Taking an object (in this case the human mind) out of its context is, after all, what distinguishes the analytic reasoning style prevalent in the West. Similarly, we may have underestimated the impact of culture because the very ideas of being subject to the will of larger historical currents and of unconsciously mimicking the cognition of those around us challenges our Western conception of the self as independent and self-determined.

Here, thanks to Thursday, is a link to the WEIRD scientific paper [9], for those inclined to read more in-depth.

As Douthat intuits, this is all actually a much bigger deal than you might think, because it speaks directly to related fundamental questions: What is the nature of reality? and How can we know?

There are other questions, of course. Are there some things that can only be perceived by a religious mind, in the sense that adjusting the focus on a lens helps us to see things we couldn’t see before? How can we tell the difference between a madman and a visionary? How can we discern between someone who sees manifestations of God, and someone who sees manifestations of demons, but thinks they are of God? Or are they all the same?

And so forth. My Dutch friend Miriam, who died of cancer late last year, told me last summer that she had recently visited a shaman who induced, as Miriam’s request, an experience with ayahuasca, the psychedelic plant used ritualistically in South America. It was a terrifying event for Miriam, but in the end, cleansing, and healing, she said. I won’t reveal what she told me she learned, but I can tell you that it left me sitting at her table weeping over its profundity — in particular, what she learned about the roots and the character of the intense suffering she had been going through for a decade. The ayahuasca experience did not save her from cancer, but it helped prepare her to die. I didn’t know what to make of it, personally. I had no doubt at all that her experience was real, and healing. But was it entirely contained within the subconscious depths of her mind — or did the chemicals in the plant unlock the doors of perception of a reality beyond her ordinary cognition? Miriam, who was New Agey, would not have seen the difference. And maybe there’s wisdom in that. For her, a woman facing death, it was all useful to bring her to a point of peace.

The question doesn’t resolve itself, however: did she hallucinate, or did she experience a dimension of reality closed off to most of us? I recall someone very close to me once coming out of a depression after trying LSD. He reported that the drug awakened him to the beauty of the world, and to the immanent presence of God within all things. It was a chemically induced mystical experience that made him aware of a reality that he had not been able to see, so focused was he on his depression and rationalism. The interesting thing about it was that he knew that he had been in a drug-induced hallucinatory state, but believed that this artificial state had revealed to him things that existed beneath his standard perception — and that changed his life. He went on to become a Christian.

As I recall — this was college — most of the people he dropped acid with saw it as nothing more than something fun and weird to do. He was the only person I knew who interpreted that drug experience as a theophany.

Here is a riveting account from National Geographic Adventure of an ayahuasca experience in the Amazon. [10]The author, Kira Salek, is an American who was raised atheist, but who struggled with depression as an adult. In his past, she had an ayahuasca experience that freed him from depression. For this piece, she goes back to the jungle for another experience, to write about it. She explains that the experience involves going deeply into one’s psyche — being dragged is more like it — and confronting one’s demons. The thing is, the shamans who administer the drug do not believe the demons are hallucinatory manifestations of internal psychological states, but actual spirit entities that attach oneself to the brokenness inside of us, and try to destroy us. From the piece:

I work on controlling my breathing. But such thick darkness. Clouds of bats and demonlike faces. Black lightning. Black walls materializing before me no matter which way I turn. Closer and closer, the darkness surrounding me, trapping me. I can barely breathe.

“Hamilton!” I belt out. “Help me!”

“On my way, Kira,” he says calmly. “Hang in there. Don’t give in to the fear.”

That’s the trick: Don’t give in to it. But it’s much easier said than done. I must tell it that I’m stronger. I must tell it that it has no effect upon me. But it does. I’m terrified. The darkness presses against me; it wants to annihilate me.

Hamilton is standing over me now, rattling his chakapa, singing his spirit songs. Inexplicably, as he does this, the darkness backs off. But more of it comes in a seemingly endless stream. I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming. Hamilton calls over one of his helpers—a local woman named Rosa—with directions to hold me down.

“Tell the spirits to leave you with ease,” Hamilton says to me.

“They won’t!” I yell out. And now they appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it. I’ve read nothing about this sort of experience happening when taking ayahuasca. And now I see an image of a mountain in Libya, a supposedly haunted mountain that I climbed a year and a half ago, despite strong warnings from locals. A voice tells me that whatever is now leaving my body attached itself to me in that place.

Haunted mountains. Demonic hitchhikers. Who would believe this? Yet on and on it goes. The screaming, the wailing. My body shakes wildly; I see a great serpent emerging from my body, with designs on Hamilton. He shakes his chakapa at it, singing loudly, and after what seems like an infinite battle of wills, the creature leaves me. I grab the vomit bucket and puke for several minutes. Though my stomach has been empty for over eight hours, a flood of solid particles comes out of me.

The visions fade. My body stops shaking. Hamilton takes his seat again and Rosa releases her grip on me. I examine the vomit bucket with a flashlight: Black specks the size of dimes litter orange-colored foam. The shamans believe that what we vomit out during a ceremony is the physical manifestation of dark energy and toxins being purged from the body. The more that comes out, the better.

“Good work, Kira,” Hamilton says to me from across the room.

My entire body hurts. My head throbs. I can hear the others in the room, whispering to each other. I had barely been conscious of their experiences, they had seemed so quiet by comparison.

“Is Kira OK?” Christy asks Hamilton.

“She just had a little exorcism,” Hamilton explains with relish. “She’s fine.”

“Bloody hell; was that what it was?” says Katherine.

“She just picked up some travelers,” Hamilton says. “We had to get rid of them.”

“Bloody hell!” Katherine says again. “Is this what you’d consider a normal ceremony, Hamilton?”

“About one out of a hundred ceremonies is as intense as this one. We kicked some real demon butt tonight.”

The apprentices agree that they’ve never experienced anything as intense as tonight’s ceremony. I hope it’s not true, though. It’s hardly a distinction worth celebrating.

“Once you get the upper hand over demons energetically,” Hamilton says to me, “they leave you without any trouble. That’ll come. One thing at a time.”

Read the whole thing, all the way to its startling end. [10]This is an exorcism, and close to what Christian priests do when they engage in ritual exorcism. Yet it was accomplished with a hallucinogenic drug administered by a pagan shaman. I do not know what to make of this; I am a believing Christian, after all, and would never open myself to this kind of ceremony. Nor do I accept the shamanic cosmos (read the story to the end for more explanation). But I suspect the shaman’s account of what happened there corresponds more to the truth than a Western psychologist’s account. Still, there is enough in this piece to make just about anybody want to put it on a shelf and not deal with it.

But there it is.

The most important sociological question Douthat raises is about the future of faith. If it is the case that individuals and cultures can lose the ability to perceive the numinous, then it follows that the religious sense can die, as a matter of sociobiological evolution. That is, having lost the ability to perceive spiritual reality, it will not be possible under normal circumstances to regain it, because it will literally not make sense.

Think of the Piraha tribe of the Amazon, written about by the American linguist Daniel Everett, [11] who went there as a young missionary to learn their language and convert them to Christianity. No missionaries prior to him could figure out why this tribe was so immune to the Gospel. What he found out was that they had no way to conceive that the Gospel story could be true. For the Piraha, the only way a story is believable is if it is related to them by someone who experienced is himself, or who heard it from someone who experienced it himself. The entire past is cut off from them, then, and in most respects, so is the world outside of their jungle habitat. Their minds simply cannot process what they are not prepared to consider. The natives ended up deconverting Everett from Christianity, but he did not come to believe in their own cosmos of jungle gods, whom they saw among them. This experience living for 30 years among the Piraha did leave Everett still mystified by the connections between subjectivity, culture, and knowledge of ultimate reality. (Everett’s theories are not without controversy; read about it here [12].)

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: Here is Kira Salak’s National Geographic Adventure piece from 2006 about her visit to Libya, and her ascent of the “haunted mountain.” [13]Excerpt:

We rendezvous with the Tuareg man who is supposed to guide us for the next few days. But after Magdy explains our plans, he says, “To hell with you,” and walks off. This becomes the usual reaction whenever we approach any Tuareg about guiding us, and all because I want to visit to the “Devil’s Hill.” Kaff Jinoon. It’s a curious series of eroded sandstone peaks jutting from the dunes north of Ghat. Unique not only for its two obelisk-like spires, or horns, it’s also believed to be Grand Central Station for genies—spirits—from thousands of miles around. And not just any spirits, but those most wicked and base. The spirits of torturers and murderers. The spirits of those wrongly slain. Lost and sickened souls, attracted to the vortex that is Kaff Jinoon.


Clapperton and his companion Dr. Walter Oudney camped near the mountain, to the terror and vexation of their Tuareg guides who believed that small, red-bearded devils lived on it and caused mischief to all who passed, while spirits taking on the appearance old men materialized out of the night to terrify lone travelers. It was considered akin to suicide to go anywhere near the dreaded mountain. Wrote Clapperton, “[My guide] Hatita said he would not go up it for all the dollars in the world.” And it’s the same story now in Ghat, no Tuareg willing to travel with us to the mountain, no matter how much we’ll pay. They all have their own stories. There were the French tourists a few years back. They drove out to the mountain, thinking it’d be a good joke to climb it, but as soon as they got out of their car they were attacked by swarms of wasps. Libyan authorities found the group wandering along the road, unable to get in their vehicle, their faces covered with stings. And this, I’m told, was minor. Much worse has occurred. Like the Libyan soldier at a checkpoint near the mountain who saw something so awful, so terrifying, that he went into shock and couldn’t walk for a year. To this day, he is unable to speak of what he saw. And then there is the man who swore by Allah that he saw an entire army division march around the base of the mountain one night—a ghost army, that disappeared before his very eyes.

Jinoon and its vicinity has been considered a stomping ground for evil genies for centuries. Intrepid Arab traveler Ibn Battuta first wrote about this desert in the 14th century, describing it as a place “haunted by demons; if the [traveler] be alone, they make sport of him and disorder his mind, so that he loses his way and perishes.” Western explorers journeying in the Fezzan regarded such tales with derision, determined to see the mountain and to try to climb it. In 1822, Dr. Oudney made the first recorded attempt, reaching the mountain’s 4,500-foot-high saddle and returning without incident. “The Doctor has got a high reputation for courage for his visit to Jinoon,” Clapperton wrote about his friend’s successful climb, “and every newcomer is sure to ask him about it.” Later explorers were less successful. British adventurer John Richardson attempted the climb in 1853, getting lost on the descent and wandering in the desert, near-death, for two days. Robust German explorer Heinrich Barth had an almost identical experience in 1857. I am determined to see the place. I want to climb the mountain. we decide to go there unguided.

Magdy tells me that Omar No.2 pulled him aside last night to ask if I’m crazy. Don’t I know that it’s lunacy to climb Jinoon? If Magdy were a truly responsible guide, he would advise me against it before something awful happens. But Magdy shrugged. He is a cosmopolitan with a degree in French Literature. He lives as far from this corner of the Fezzan as a person in Anchorage lives from Tucson. What does he know? If I want to risk my life climbing a mountain haunted by demons, so be it. Insha’allah, God willing, I’ll make it to the top and back down again.

They did make it up and back again, these WEIRDoes. But if the Peruvian shamans are to be believed, Kira Salak brought something down the mountain with her.

Did the Tuaregs know something Salak did not? Were they superstitious … or wiser?


87 Comments (Open | Close)

87 Comments To "The Religious Way Of Knowing"

#1 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 26, 2014 @ 8:29 pm

[NFR:… It’s pride, and contempt. But also, I think in the Libyan mountain case, it is the result of a materialist worldview. Why should a modern atheist believe in ghosts or demons or haunted mountains? — RD]

Put aside pride, contempt, materialism and atheism for a moment. Other cultures have myths and legends that seem extremely odd and implausible to outsiders. For example in Iceland they believe in elves.


They’ll take actions that indicate that they believe the elves are real. Now independent of any philosophical commitments the concept of elves seems odd to someone from a culture that doesn’t have that concept.

Conversely, I know from personal experience that explaining Groundhog day to someone from a culture that doesn’t have it gets raised eyebrows. They’ll act with incredulity at the concept of a weather predicting rodent. It doesn’t even help when you explain it’s a game, and people don’t really believe that the groundhog can predict the end of winter. It just seems weird to them that it’s on TV.

#2 Comment By Gus On February 26, 2014 @ 8:34 pm

“I had no doubt at all that her experience was real, and healing. But was it entirely contained within the subconscious depths of her mind — or did the chemicals in the plant unlock the doors of perception of a reality beyond her ordinary cognition? Miriam, who was New Agey, would not have seen the difference.”

I’m with Miriam. Profound LSD experiences have had a similar effect on me. They’ve also had the effect of making me sure there is a divine presence and just as sure that it is impossible to define in it in communicable terms. I spent a long time trying and am now content to believe I’ll never know in an intellectual way.

#3 Comment By charles cosimano On February 26, 2014 @ 8:37 pm

C.S Lewis had it totally wrong, which is not surprising, it was C. S. Lewis after all. Materialist Magicians do not worship the “forces.” When was the last time you saw someone pray to electricity? We use them. So you have the purely material forces, such as electricity and then you have forces that are defined as spiritual, but respond to the proper technologies and can be harnessed.

So, for the sake of an example, ghosts can drain batteries. Now, assuming that ghosts exist, this is an interesting quality that can be useful in the material world. Who would not like to see the look on the next door neighbor’s face when he goes to his car in the morning and finds his battery drained? So the approach is study this phenomenon and figure how how to duplicate it by a living person. We don’t worship ghosts. We learn how they work and then adapt that to ourselves.

#4 Comment By AnotherBeliever On February 26, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

The Wet One, I’m glad you stayed with us.

NickP you bring up some very good points.

#5 Comment By Irenist On February 26, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

@charles cosimano:

Plenty of folks worship sex or money or power or prestige or whatever, and will use whatever techniques, no matter how abjectly degrading to their own dignity (e.g., pickup artistry, financial chicanery, political corruption) necessary to get more from their demonic gods. If magic is just change in conformity with will, well, some people are willing to abase themselves before some very dark things to get the changes they want. Lewis was right.

#6 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 26, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

To add to Charles’ comment about electricity. Lightning was once considered a manifestation of divine power:


But now it’s demystified, and we see it as the movement of tiny parts of matter from the outside of atoms. But it wasn’t the only natural phenomenon to be demystified and shown to be the result of impersonal forces.

So we WEIRDoes got this way because the world just seems less mysterious than it used to. Now it’s still a mysterious place, but the mysteries are more abstract and less visible than they used to be.

#7 Comment By Renee On February 26, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

But it [lightning] wasn’t the only natural phenomenon to be demystified and shown to be the result of impersonal forces.

Why, even if we accept the scientific explanation of lightning, must we jettison any other explanation on a different level? I certainly accept the scientific teachings about, e.g., my body, but that in no way precludes my also seeing it as a “temple of the Holy Spirit”. Different spheres. One does not cancel the other.

#8 Comment By Turmarion On February 26, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

I’ve only had very, very minor weird experiences myself; but I’ve known plenty of perfectly sane, down-to-earth, stable, ordinary people who’ve had some majorly freaky experiences. I have no reason to doubt them. I also know some freaky people who’ve had even freakier experiences, and in some cases their being freaky didn’t, in my judgement, affect their reliability.

Thus, I don’t doubt that there are things out there that are real but to which we’re not properly “tuned in”. I think secular modernity is one factor in this, but there are probably lots of other things in play (for example, the Reformation, as mentioned), not all of which we even understand.

I don’t necessarily dismiss shamanic or other such phenomena on religious grounds. There are a lot of things in the supernatural realm, and only a small number are specifically “mapped out” by Christianity. Some practices are sinister; others are more or less neutral–it depends. One has to use discernment, as with anything. Even Christian prayers can be dangerous without supervision (e.g. the Jesus prayer, which the Orthodox say should be used intensely only under guidance).

I’m not a Perennialist, though I’m sympathetic, but I’ll play devil’s advocate for how seemingly contradictory religions can all be true. A wave and a particle are very different things, as can be seen by observing the tide come in as opposed to a baseball. However, light is both. With some experiments, it acts exactly like a particle; with others, exactly like a wave. Macroscopically, this is a perfect contradiction; and yet it’s perfectly true. Interpretations of what this means vary, as MH often points out; but it’s true for all that.

Or, let’s continue the Flatland theme. You have two-dimensional creatures in a plane. A 3-D being places a cube so that it intersects the plane. Depending on the angle of intersection, the cube will be perceived by the Flatlanders as a square, a rectangle, a triangle, a line, or a point. It would seem like totally different things, and if someone told the Flatlanders that all these shapes were actually one thing, they’d think you were crazy. However, the cube itself never changed–just their perception of it.

This is the basic Perennialist stance: What we perceive as different or even contradictory spiritual teachings that are indeed vastly different and mutually exclusive from our perspective, are all manifestations of the same Divine. I’m not necessarily endorsing that; I’m just saying that it’s not necessarily intellectually incoherent to hold it.

#9 Comment By Thursday On February 26, 2014 @ 10:44 pm

When was the last time you saw someone pray to electricity?

A really large number of Europeans claim to believe in some kind sort of “force” instead of a personal god, if you believe the surveys.

#10 Comment By KD On February 26, 2014 @ 11:01 pm

Andrea Jones:

I don’t think our point of view is actually incompatible. I think that religions, ideologies like atheism, communism, etc., and perhaps even conspiracy theories, are all efforts at finding meaning, safety, sustenance in the world.

To overgeneralize, I think there are two basic ways of seeing things:

1. The world is fundamentally good, and that human life has a true meaning and purpose (love).

2. The world is ultimately neither good nor evil, and that human life has no true meaning for purpose, other than perhaps one we invent.

We are talking here about attitudes, not propositions (neither is empirically verifiable). Whichever attitude we take is essentially an act of faith, without justification (you could say our faith is our justification), whether it be faith in hope, or faith in heroic despair. If someone choose the first attitude, they might benefit from reading Augustine or Aquinas, and connecting this way of seeing the world, with a conceptual framework for understanding the world (not that it is good, but why it is good).

But I don’t know what you can do for the person who chooses despair, or perhaps, due to circumstances, has despair foisted upon them. You certainly can’t prove that their despair is wrong, and if they are terrified of the mystery of life, you probably aren’t going to convince them that we can only come to detect the hidden light of redeeming love by passing through the darkness with open eyes and an open heart. Will it help to tell them they should place their hands in the hands of someone else, unknown, invisible, and trust during that dark night? I don’t think so.

Although I don’t regard what faith reveals as ultimately propositional, because faith ultimately rests on something unknowable, I don’t think moral and spiritual growth is possible without regarding another person as the paradigm or the manifestation of the Good. (Just as we can’t measure the temporal duration of a physical process without a clock, which we don’t measure but treat the manifestation of time itself). If the Good can only be revealed in the paradigm, then we shouldn’t be surprised that different cultures adopt different historical and cultural paradigms as the incarnation of the Good. At the same time, we can only believe in one ultimate paradigm (otherwise, it is like measuring a temporal duration with two clocks that run at slightly different speeds).

#11 Comment By KD On February 26, 2014 @ 11:18 pm

The fundamental need for paradigms in ethics and morality perhaps also suggests why most secular ethical philosophy composed in the last 250 years in the West would be more useful if converted to mulch.

#12 Comment By Michael Guarino On February 26, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

I think KD mentioned Wittgenstein, which is interesting because this post also made me think of his later philosophy. One of the central points he wanted to make was really a refusal, that he was not making a “thesis.” In his day, this was exemplified by the Russellian idea that all knowable truths are logical constructions from sense-data, but it could also be the more prevalent forms of naturalism we see among popular writers. Instead, he wanted to describe our beliefs as “language games” within a web of vague family resemblences. Those games are not justified by correspondence to reality so much as they are by their place in a “form of life.”

The benefit of this refusal to make strong metaphysical claims on purely philosophical grounds (as opposed to religious grounds, which Wittgenstein would have been quite sympathetic to as another form of life which is sincerely important) is flexibility. You can receive new experiences, and all that is incumbent upon you is what you want to do with them, how you will incorporate them into your life. You don’t have a philosophical burden of insanity which must be crossed when experiencing what appears to be the presence of God, or less dramatically a ghost or whatever. I think this is a much healthier and ultimately more intellectually fruitful mindset than the sort of reductive dogmatism a lot of people carry around today.

This also opens a really interesting take on scientific knowledge as well. The practice of taking a subject out of context is not useful when discussing human behavior, because that behavior is often reacting to and creating context, it is relational. But if you are going to create a machine or some reliable tool, you have to think about how something behaves independent of context, because it is not useful if it only works on the Tuesdays in a prime numbered month. So, in a lot of ways, modern science can be understood as an information gathering project for modern engineering. It is a tool for making other tools, which have very strict performance standards as a matter of custom.

#13 Comment By Aaron Gross On February 27, 2014 @ 12:08 am

@Beyng, I didn’t mean to suggest that enchantment, for Taylor, was only a matter of spirits speaking through you and such. I appreciate your quote – I’d forgotten that passage – but I don’t see that it contradicts my point, that it was the Church, long before secularism, that disenchanted the world.

I just skimmed the comments, so if anyone else replied to me and I missed it – sorry!

@TCarlin, I agree with what you said about psychedelic drugs. We also did LSD, mushrooms, etc., for fun, and we didn’t go blabbing about the philosophical implications; this was in the late 1970s, which were self-consciously not the 1960s. I still think remember thinking, after doing LSD, that maybe this really was cleansing the doors of perception. Maybe the way I perceive the sun shimmering on the lake while I’m on LSD really is closer to reality. It definitely shakes up the naive, materialist worldview.

I recommend trying psychedelic drugs to anyone who’s not mentally unbalanced or something and is more or less responsible. (Yes, that includes my own children when they get older.) It really is mind-expanding.

#14 Comment By Mark Christensen On February 27, 2014 @ 12:16 am

Rod: That is, having lost the ability to perceive spiritual reality, it will not be possible under normal circumstances to regain it, because it will literally not make sense.

Yes, and no. It never did make sense, insofar as it is radically subjective and transcendent, which has always been the key (political) problem. Religion made out revealed truth could overcome the dilemma, but it can’t. And now it is is losing its grip.

We obviously can’t recover the situation using language, or force. Describe what, force what? Unfortunately, secularism makes it worse, using language and technology to attempt to force us – most especially religionists – to let go and tap that unknowable ultimate reality that it actively denies.

#15 Comment By Michael Guarino On February 27, 2014 @ 12:34 am

Regarding Perennialism, I am actually a bit ignorant, so I naturally looked to wikipedia, which defined it as saying that incompatible religious philosophies shares a single, universal truth out of which they all grow. Or at least grow in some sense.

Honestly, this should be a truism. That a number of theories, metaphysical claims of religious traditions in this example, are incompatible simply means that if you take the union of all of them, you get an inconsistent set of propositions. But there is no reason why the intersection of all those theories must be either empty, inconsistent, or only containing trivialities, which is the simplest form of what they are saying (they are also claiming that the smallest set forms a sort of kernel from which the rest of the traditions can be built). In order to argue otherwise, you would have to say that for any truly important moral or metaphysical claim, there is at least one tradition that has decided to deny it. That seems really unlikely to me. Some things are just too difficult to live without, like laws against killing without just cause (although there are societies that really bend this). I guess another is the claim that we are not simply animals.

#16 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 27, 2014 @ 6:51 am

@Renee, for concepts like God or the soul you’re perfectly free to view them and science as nonoverlapping magisteria. But we’re talking about the effect of scientific inquiry on the culture as a whole. In the case of lighting, earthquakes, and volcanism, the scientific explanation seems adequate for the observations. So it doesn’t seem necessary to postulate someone pulling the strings behind the scenes. On average that’s going to demystify reality because it expands the scope of one magisteria while contracting another.

@KD, someone choosing what you call despair wouldn’t necessarily see it as such. So you would have to convince them that they are in despair in the first place.

@Turmarion, remember that in the book Flatland the protagonist eventually does understand that the many aspects of sphere was because of its cross section in two dimensions.

Also particle wave duality was one of the mysteries I was thinking of that’s generally too abstract to explain to many people.

#17 Comment By Laurie On February 27, 2014 @ 7:17 am

I have a son who has studied shamanism and used ayahuasca. (He is not a Christian.) His life has become one of imbalance, rigid thinking, and focused on the ‘trauma’ that everyone carries. He has come to see the material world as so unimportant that his actions (regarding money, relationships, etc.) have hurt many as he has tossed them aside. How can a spiritual practice that places so much emphasis on the dark side offer healing and redemption?

#18 Comment By KD On February 27, 2014 @ 7:48 am

Michael Guarino:

I disagree that religion is propositional (even when strictly confessional). The truth of religion does not consist of a true picture, but of a true gesture, like the arrow striking the target. If you try to polyglot all the religions of the world, what you end up is something like an inconsistent collection of saints (holy persons), and their inconsistent teachings, and divergent sets of social institutions, sources of authority, and rituals. (Do you feel that you should follow what the Dalai Lama tells you or the Pope? Should you donate to the Buddhist monastery or the parish? What is the rule for what you should say before you eat?). There are some Orthodox Christian writings about whether St. Francis is really or should really be a saint–this discussion really hits on the issue, which is about identity and authority in Orthodox Christianity.

Why is Protestantism so splintered? I think in part because a Confession is meaningless unless you have an authoritative human paradigm to show its implementation (and if you have a rule barring recognition of human paradigms, you have a recipe for fragmentation). Part of secularism may be cultural or economic or even taste, but perhaps we can question how many true paradigms of the spiritual life can we find today?

#19 Comment By Anastasia On February 27, 2014 @ 7:48 am

Paul Verhoeven is a member of the Jesus Seminar, whose members insist that what we think we know about Jesus from the Gospels is mostly false. He’s written a book about his understanding of Christ, “Jesus of Nazareth.” From the Amazon blurb: “Building on the work of biblical scholars—Rudolph Bultmann, Raymond Brown, Jane Schaberg, and Robert Funk, among others—filmmaker Paul Verhoeven disrobes the mythical Jesus to reveal a man who has much in common with other great political leaders throughout history—human beings who believed that change was coming in their lifetimes. Gone is the Jesus of the miracles, gone the son of God, gone the weaver of arcane parables whose meanings are obscure. In their place Verhoeven gives us his vision of Jesus as a complete man, someone who was changed by events, the leader of a political movement, and, perhaps most importantly, someone who, in his speeches and sayings, introduced a new ethic in which the embrace of human contradictions transcends the mechanics of value and worth that had defined the material world before Jesus. “The Romans saw [Jesus] as an insurrectionist, what today is often called a terrorist. It is very likely there were ‘wanted’ posters of him on the gates of Jerusalem. He was dangerous because he was proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, but this wasn’t the Kingdom of Heaven as we think of it now, some spectral thing in the future, up in the sky. For Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven was a very tangible thing. Something that was already present on Earth, in the same way that Che Guevara proclaimed Marxism as the advent of world change. If you were totalitarian rulers, running an occupation like the Romans, this was troubling talk, and that was why Jesus was killed.” —Paul Verhoeven, from profile by Mark Jacobson in New York Magazine.

This is the picture of Christ that the well-buffered mind can live with. I find it interesting, though, that Verhoeven is apparently still haunted by Christ, even though he insists on seeing him through this very rational, secular lens.

[NFR: It tells you something about the Jesus Seminar that they would consider the director of “Showgirls” a paid-up member in good standing. — RD]

#20 Comment By KD On February 27, 2014 @ 7:56 am

Is science better than religion, because scientists can agree on a uniform standard of measurement for what they measure, and religions can’t? Or is it that the question of the ultimate good of humanity is a more important issue than the question of how to measure temporal duration (even if it is resolved in an equally arbitrary fashion)?

#21 Comment By Turmarion On February 27, 2014 @ 8:39 am

Aaron Gross: I recommend trying psychedelic drugs to anyone who’s not mentally unbalanced or something and is more or less responsible. (Yes, that includes my own children when they get older.) It really is mind-expanding.

I’ve never done so, myself, but I think this is a valid idea. My fantasy is that we get together an in-person gathering of commenters here and set up ayahuasca experiences for everyone, and then debrief, seeing how people’s views have been affected. Would be interesting, anyway….

#22 Comment By Franklin Evans On February 27, 2014 @ 9:27 am

The following may rightly be seen as unsolicited advice. It is respectfully offered and I will gladly take change for my two cents. 😀

Renee: Why, even if we accept the scientific explanation of lightning, must we jettison any other explanation on a different level?

That is the question that must be asked, but who is asking and to whom it is directed are critically important.

“Jettison” is perhaps too extreme. “Devalue” or “relegate to secondary importance” is how I would choose to look at it. My answer, though: Because the other explanation(s) don’t work.

Sticking with the lightning metaphor: If I believe [a] God controls lightning, if my belief includes some sort of purpose in it, then chances are rather good that if I go outside in a lightning storm I’m going have an excellent chance of being struck. If, on the other hand, I contemplate that explanation in the safety of shelter, but either stay inside or consciously use the appropriate cautions when I go out, the causal relationship explained by science is the controlling explanation.

I’m not reducing this to utilitarianism as a priority. Context is all, is what I want to emphasize.

Laurie: How can a spiritual practice that places so much emphasis on the dark side offer healing and redemption?

It can’t. I am a “hard” dualist, I believe in contrasting realms of existence (in the abstract) that form a dynamic process where balance is the most stable point. I also believe that good and evil are not logically connected to dark and light, but form an independent dynamic… but that’s a very personal view that doesn’t seem to be shared by many others.

In any event, given the very short description you’ve shared, I would suggest to your son that he is deliberately out of balance in his view, and that his life (as you put it) is unbalanced is the necessary result.

We can focus on something without being rigid. Rigidity implies a rejection of the ongoing effort that life requires of us. Life does not serve clarity to us, not even moment to moment. More focus is rarely better, let alone always better.

#23 Comment By Turmarion On February 27, 2014 @ 9:41 am

MH, it’s true that A. Square eventually grasps the concept of 3-D objects; but if you recall, he had help (the sphere pulled him out of his plane), and he became a pariah because no one else believed him.

My point, though, was that from the perspective of physics and math, it’s quite easy to see how ideas that may be totally contradictory on one level are actually the same thing on another. Thus, whether one agrees with Perennialists or not, their contention that all religions, no matter how different, are really the same underneath, isn’t necessary fatuous or a dereliction of the intellect.

#24 Comment By Mark Brown On February 27, 2014 @ 10:03 am

To those that have, more will be given, to those that have not, even what they have will be taken away. (Matt 25:29)

Or St. Paul about the course of sin as being turned over to ourselves (Romans 1)

It would seem to me that the disenchantment continues until either repentance or God relents with an outpouring of grace.

#25 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 27, 2014 @ 10:07 am

@Turmarion, yes but the book was written before Einstein. I imagine it would have been a different book if it was written later and the author knew more about non-Euclidean geometry. He could have dispensed with the sphere character entirely by making their space spherical.

Also the ruling priestly class did believe him, but they wanted to keep up appearances and suppress that knowledge.

#26 Comment By Jim On February 27, 2014 @ 11:10 am

The Verhoeven experience, and how he reconfigured it to conform to a secular world view, reminded me of a friend who had a remarkable healing experience. My friend is a Friend (that is to say, a Quaker). Decades ago he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was deteriorating. He was having difficulty walking, but still attended Meeting regularly. One day all the members of the Meeting decided to ‘hold him in the light’ during their gathered silence. My friend reports that during that Meeting he felt a healing warmth descend upon him. After the hour of silent prayer he felt much better and was able to walk unhindered. He didn’t think much of that, though, since he had better and worse days. But then his Doctor subsequently told him that all signs of deterioration had disappeared; there was now no indication of MS.

The intriguing thing to me, and what is relevant to your post, is that my friend is a very liberal Quaker, which puts him at the extreme end of liberal religion in the U.S. And he said to me, without my prompting, that he refuses to interpret what happened as a miracle, or due to God’s intervention, or some kind of religious blessing. When he said this, I asked him ‘why not?’ He responded that to do so just didn’t make sense with his world view, didn’t mesh with his understanding of science, etc. I asked him if, perhaps, challenging that view might be a part of the blessing he received, but he simply dismissed that idea.

I have to admit I was surprised at his reaction. I have subsequently met someone who was present at the Meeting my friend has spoken about and verifies what happened there. Yet my friend adamantly refuses to re-examine his secularism and materialist world view. In a way, I find this charming; he is what he is. At another level, I find it baffling that someone who is given experiential evidence simply refuses to consider its implications.


[NFR: I know someone who was at the center of something just like this, though not quite as dramatic. He was witness to a stunning and undeniable manifestation of spiritual reality, the kind of thing that many people long for all their lives. It happened to him. He doesn’t deny that it happened, either. But it changed his life not one bit. I simply do not understand that. It was like he wandered along a beach, found a message in a bottle, opened it, read it, understood it as a communication from across the ocean, but compartmentalized it and pushed it aside, because if he took what happened seriously, he would have to change his life. He couldn’t bring himself to deny what he experienced, but neither could he draw the obvious conclusion from it, because that would have required him to do something he didn’t want to do. This is why I take it with a massive grain of salt when people say they would believe in God if they were just shown proof. They won’t, unless they want to believe. If they don’t want to believe, they will find some way to explain the “proof” away. — RD]

#27 Comment By Ken On February 27, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

Thanks for this post. Post-Enlightenment rationality leaves not only unanswerable but unaskable many questions that most of us must struggle with at some point in life. I was startled out of my satisfaction with atheism at the age of 21 by a minor mystical experience and the starkness of Heidegger’s question in What is Metaphysics: Why is there anything in existence at all and not much rather nothingness? For me, this led eventually to on again, off again (once I had young children) Buddhist meditation.

But I can’t get past a question that your post raises but does not address: If experiences that break through the defenses of our post-Enlightenment subjectivities can lead to or be taken to confirm New Agey Shamanism, Christianity, Buddhism, or any of a number of other religious traditions, how can it be taken as evidence for the truth of any one of them? Doesn’t this kind of thinking either leave us in a non-committal muddle or facing the contingency of our particular belief/practice even while believing/practicing it? What are your thoughts on this?

[NFR: Short answer (because I have to run pick up my kid from his class): I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t know. The shaman story stays on my mind because I am not prepared to dismiss it as an obvious drug-induced hallucination, nor am I prepared to endorse it as wholly true, because if that were the case, it would obviate at some basic level what I believe to be true as a Christian. The best I can say for it right now is that it is a mystery, and I need to think about it some more. One great thing about Orthodox Christianity is that it teaches truth, but it doesn’t feel obliged to define everything down, and to draw sharp lines. It is comfortable saying, “We really don’t know.” God contains vastnesses that are simply incomprehensible by us, and I am certain that He can use forms that people can understand to reach them. Still, I would stay away from ayahuasca for fear of being deceived by hallucinations or evil spirits. But I’m not prepared to say that it is *entirely* a hallucination, or a demonic deception. I am eager to know what religious believers wiser than I am have to say about this. I want to learn. — RD]

#28 Comment By stef On February 27, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

Aaron Gross: In other words, I think that a devout, almost mystically inclined, supernatural-believing Christian like Rod experiences the world very much more as Richard Dawkins does than as a 15th-century Christian did.

I don’t want to personally remark on Rod, but I do think that modern, even “traditionalist” Christianity, is just that: modern(ist.)

Medieval Christianity, to my knowledge, was far more concerned with schism, heresy, and maintaining imperial and church power than the folk customs of the agricultural peasants.

These people didn’t debate theology. They lived with the everyday vagaries of non-petroleum-based, non-pesticide-based agriculture, which meant that the productivity of fields, livestock, and farms needed to be sustained over generations, often under highly unpredictable circumstances.

So if they left out a few eggs or bowls of cream to the Landvættir, it’s understandable. Arguing about whether or not they existed wasn’t in the husbandmen’s interests, nor in the interests of the goodwives.

#29 Comment By KD On February 27, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

Augustine wrote about memory, intellect, and will. If the will is directed to the ultimate Truth, then the intellect will eventually catch up. If the will is directed to something less-than ultimate, then the intellect is stunted, it will never see the obvious.

#30 Comment By KD On February 27, 2014 @ 1:23 pm


You write:

@KD, someone choosing what you call despair wouldn’t necessarily see it as such. So you would have to convince them that they are in despair in the first place.

No I don’t. I’m offering a description, not a sales pitch. I’m not telling people what they should believe, I am suggesting a way to look at what it is they believe.

A person is free to take attitude no. 2 and call it whatever they want. In fact, if you don’t believe in the possibility of a cosmic sense of hope, I don’t know how you could even talk about a cosmic sense of despair, it would just be the way it really is.

I think the idea of a “choice” in attitude is over-stated and I tried to express that in what I said. What we believe is not usually a choice. Sometimes people feel a sense of choice, but others never do. If someone wanted to know hope, but couldn’t bring them selves to actually believe in hope, then I suppose they could do something like what Pascal suggested, fake it to make it. But in my experience most people are not interested in changing what they believe, they go out their way to avoid cognitive dissonance (whatever their religious or philosophical affiliations).

#31 Comment By Ken On February 27, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

Thanks for your response.

I was just looking at a review of A Secular Age by David Brooks that Douthat links to. Brooks summarizes Taylor, writing, “We are not, Taylor suggests, sliding toward pure materialism. We are, instead, moving toward what he calls a galloping spiritual pluralism. People in search of fullness are able to harvest the intellectual, cultural and spiritual gains of the past 500 years.”

If we try to make some sort of systematic intellectual sense of this de facto pluralism, how does this not lead toward some kind of Traditionalism/Perennialism? A school of thought that I find off-putting and untenable.

#32 Comment By John On February 27, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

Hi, Rod,

I read the Kira Salek article on her weird ahayusca/exorcism experience in Peru and, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, found the following quote from the shaman rather interesting:

“Everyone hears the voices of spirits,” he tells me. “They’ve just convinced themselves that they are hearing their own thoughts.” We must, he maintains, practice choosing which thoughts we pay attention to.

This is precisely in line with the Eastern Orthodox concept (re: The Philokalia) of “logismoi” (assaultive or tempting thoughts which can come from external sources, even demons) and the need for discernment and “nepsis” (an alert guarding of the heart and mind from logismoi) on the part of a Christian. The Jesus Prayer is meant to help with this issue.

Happy Lent and Dantean blogging!

#33 Comment By The Next to Last Samurai On February 27, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

Hi Mr. Patrick: I am not college educated and don’t watch TV except for the local news. I do have a car. So I have 2/3 right to talk about dumb WEIRDos. Could someone who doesn’t have a car handle the other 1/3, please?

#34 Comment By sue On February 27, 2014 @ 8:39 pm

He was witness to a undeniable manifestation of spiritual reality

Undeniable? That’s awesome (literally).

However: What makes that particular manifestation undeniable? What action did the spirit take? What information came from the other side that no one could possibly have had before?

#35 Comment By KD On February 27, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

“But because charity believeth all things (that is, among those whom knitting unto itself it maketh one), I also, O Lord, will in such wise confess unto Thee, that men may hear, to whom I cannot demonstrate whether I confess truly; yet they believe me, whose ears charity openth unto me.”

Augustine, Confessions

#36 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 28, 2014 @ 10:11 am

sue said:

However: What makes that particular manifestation undeniable? What action did the spirit take? What information came from the other side that no one could possibly have had before?

It does sound a bit like Fermat’s notes scribbled in the margin of a book.

#37 Pingback By (with all that mind of Christ) Why Don't Christians See This? – Old Life Theological Society On August 13, 2015 @ 12:55 pm

[…] contemporary life to a higher norm. A while back, Ross Douthat picked up on this and Rod Dreher extended the conversation in reference to Charles Taylor’s account of secularity. In essence, Douthat […]