God’s Presence to Our Consciousness II.A: Common Elements in Cross-Cultural Religious Expression – 1

Eliade uses two major concepts to organize the common cross-cultural elements of religious expression:

  1. “hierophany” and
  2. “homo religiosus”

A brief explanation of each from his seminal work The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion will help to elaborate his theory.

“Hierophany” — from Greek — means “appearance of the sacred.” It expands the more common term theophany (“an appearance of God”) to include all world religions. All world religions are based on a belief that transcendent reality (whether it be God or gods or a quasi-personal force) has broken into the world, bringing with it sacredness or holiness (transcendent goodness, power, and beauty) splitting the world into two parts – “the sacred” (connected to transcendent reality) and “the profane” (not connected to transcendent reality). Eliade described this universal dimension of hierophanies as follows:

It could be said that the history of religions – from the most primitive to the most highly developed – is constituted by a great number of hierophanies, by manifestations of sacred realties. From the most elementary hierophany – e.g. manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree – to the supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ) there is no solution of continuity.

Every religion identifies a place and a time (or places and times) when the transcendent breaks into the world (and world history). When it does, it makes holy or sacred the place and the time of the “breakthrough.” The sacred place does not simply remind (mentally) religious people about the “breakthrough,” it retains its sacredness, so that pilgrims who come to it can continue to have an experience of the transcendent which sanctifies them. Thus pilgrims actually experience the sacred at the place where the transcendent reality appeared. In primitive religions,  villages have centers which imitate a place of sacredness, and then extend out from that center. Eliade notes in this regard:

…Settling in a territory reiterates the cosmogony. Now that the cosmogonic  value of the Center has become clear, we can still better understand why every human establishment repeats the creation of the world from a central point (the navel). Just as the universe unfolds from a center and stretches out toward the four cardinal points, the village comes into existence around an intersection.

The creation or origin story provides an ideal model of place that when imitated sacralizes villages, temples and homes. According to Eliade:

…religious architecture simply took over and developed the cosmological symbolism already present in the structure of primitive habitations. In its turn, the human habitation has been chronologically preceded by the provisionally consecrated and cosmicized… All symbols and rituals having to do with temples, cities, and houses are finally derived from the primary experience of sacred space.

In virtually every culture, the hierophany not only sacralizes space and place, but also time. The time of the hierophany is the origin or creation of reality. It is the sacred time, and like sacred places has the capacity to sacralize people who enter into it. But how can a religious person enter into the sacred time (the time of origin or creation)? With every elapsed moment of time, we pull further away from the sacred time (origin), and so it would seem that we become more and more profane as history progresses. Eliade discovered that most religions do not have this problem because of their belief in what he terms, “the myth of eternal return.”

For Eliade, “the myth of eternal return” refers to the capacity to return to the time of origin or creation by participating in religious rituals or recounting sacred myths. Sacred rituals are not simply a commemoration or mental remembrance of the sacred origin; they are a reliving or “reactualizing” of it. As the ritual is celebrated, the participants enter into the sacred time of origin allowing them to connect with the transcendent reality in it.

Check back next week for the continuation of this topic in “Common Elements in Cross-Cultural Religious Expression – 2”.

April 27th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness II: The Intuition of the Sacred — Mircea Eliade

In part I.D, we discussed the unity and opposition of both poles in our experience of the numen; now we’ll delve into into the intuition of the sacred.

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a philosopher and historian of religion at the University of Chicago who elaborated one of the most comprehensive transcultural and trans-historical theories of the origin of religion. Born in Romania and educated at the University of Bucharest, he became familiar with the work of Rudolf Otto on the numinous experience which influenced his thought on the philosophy of religion.  He is the author of hundreds of articles, the general editor of the sixteen-volume Encyclopedia of Religion,  and the author of dozens of books including The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion,  and Patterns in Comparative Religion,  all of which proved to be highly influential in the contemporary study of comparative religion. After making an incredibly comprehensive cross-cultural study of the history of religions, Eliade concluded that religion originates from an irreducible experience of the sacred (common to most human beings) which seeks to find its outward cultural expression in myths and rituals. These myths and rituals become the communal gateways to connecting with the Transcendent Reality.

The reader may recognize the hand of Rudolf Otto in Eliade’s use of “the irreducible experience of the sacred,” but it should not be thought that Eliade blanketly based his research on Otto’s studies. Instead, he found Otto’s conclusions to be probative and conducive to explaining his own research into the cross-cultural expression of religion. Putting it the other way around, Eliade’s research into myths, symbols, rituals, and the sacred led him to conclude that Otto was correct about the numinous experience because it could explain several cross-cultural common elements in religious expression. It could also explain the drive of individuals  (across cultures) to seek out and experience sacred myths, rituals, symbols, and communities. This last point enables Eliade’s research to expand and corroborate Otto’s findings (which are based on the data of individual interior experience of the holy) by adding the component of outward community expression of the sacred. Eliade worked in the reverse direction of Otto. Instead of moving from individual interior experience to outward expression, he moved from outward communal expression to interior experience. We will examine the significance and corroborative features of his research in three steps:

  1. His findings about the common cross-cultural elements of religion (Section I.A).
  2. His characterization of the religious individual –“homo religiosus” (Section I.B).
  3. His contention that rejection of the sacred will produce a heightened state of existential anxiety in “modern man” (Section I.C).

In our next post, we’ll cover some of the common elements in cross-cultural religious expressions and how they tie into the numen experience.

April 24th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness I.D: The Unity and Opposition of Both Poles in Our Experience of the Numen

The two poles of the numinous experience might be compared to the double-helix characterizing DNA – they are not really separated in the numen, but rather fully integrated, complementing each other, presenting a good and even loving Deity. As Heiler indicates in his seven common characteristics of major religions, the supreme transcendent reality for all major religions is loving, and the Deity reveals this love within human beings.  When we combine the studies of Otto and Heiler, it is difficult to imagine that the numen is not in some sense personal. Even if we concentrate on the mysterious, incomprehensible, and wholly Other characteristics (of the first pole) associated with some eastern religions, we still sense that the numen is making itself felt – inviting us more deeply into itself — and is not simply a passive depersonalized reality (like a metaphysical substrate) into which we are merely and ultimately assimilated. When the second pole (which includes a sense of goodness, love, comfort, peace, and joy) is considered along with the characteristics of the first pole, the personal element of the “wholly Other” becomes more clear, because the characteristics of the second pole are oriented toward relationship – and specifically, fulfillment and joy in relationship. Understating the characteristics of the second pole generally leads to a diminution of the personal qualities of the numen.

There is one other observation that should be made before nuancing the feeling-content of both poles. Otto believes that the first pole (the mysterious, powerful, and daunting pole) is the primary manifestation of the numen in the development of religious consciousness, and the second pole (which is always present but deemphasized in early cultures) becomes gradually manifest as history progresses. The gradual manifestation of this second pole may be a major influence in the progress of culture throughout the world. It seems to come to light with specially inspired prophets, wise men, and enlightened individuals. These enlightened individuals – these external sources of inspiration — do not invent these positive characteristics of the Transcendent Reality, but rather point to It as the origin of their enlightenment. Thus if Buddha, Ezekiel or Jesus speaks about the love of the Transcendent Reality, they are speaking about their experience of that Reality, and not about their theological speculations. We assent to their teachings, not out of blind faith in their authority, but out of an interior conviction that what they are saying resonates deeply with what we know to be intuitively true. They are saying something that we recognize from our experience of the numen, and for this reason, people (both individually and collectively) are willing to allow their thoughts about the numen (at first sensed to be daunting) to evolve toward a fascinating, caring, and joy-filled Being. Otto puts it this way:

It may well be possible, it is even probable, that in the first stage of its development the religious consciousness started with only one of its poles – the ‘daunting’ aspect of the numen – and so at first took shape only as ‘daemonic dread.’  But if this did not point to something beyond itself, if it were not but one ‘moment’ of a completer experience, pressing up gradually into consciousness, then no transition would be possible to the feelings of positive self-surrender to the numen. The only type of worship that could result from this ‘dread’ alone would be that of …. Expiation and propitiation, the averting or the appeasement of the ‘wrath’ of the numen.

The emergence of the second pole in the evolution of religious consciousness is corroborated by the work of Friedrich Heiler’s seven common characteristics among the world’s major religions:

  1. The transcendent, the holy, the divine, the Other is real (from the first pole).
  2. The transcendent reality is immanent in human awareness (from the first pole).
  3. This transcendent reality is the highest truth, highest good, and highest beauty (from the second pole).
  4. This transcendent reality is loving and compassionate – and seeks to reveal its love to human beings (from the second pole).
  5. The way to God requires prayer, ethical self-discipline, purgation of self-centeredness, asceticism, and redressing of offenses (from mostly the first pole).
  6. The way to God also includes service and responsibility to people (from the second pole).
  7. The highest way to eternal bliss in the transcendent reality is through love (from the second pole).

The world’s major religions differ considerably on the interpretation of the above seven common characteristics, and in several cases, some of the characteristics are elevated above others or even mitigate others. However, if one accepts at least traces or fragments of the above seven characteristics in all major religions, it reveals the presence of Otto’s second pole in the gradual evolution of religious consciousness, suggesting strongly that this pole is intrinsic to our common experience of the numen. If the second pole were not present in our common experience of the numen, it would be difficult to explain how the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh characteristics became universally recognized and accepted.

The probable reason why early religious consciousness emphasized the first pole was because its characteristics are powerful and fearful, and like children, we pay most attention to what can harm or overpower us. As we mature and become less daunted by the overpowering and uncontrollable other, we allow the other’s more benign and compassionate qualities to be recognized — typifying Maslow’s need hierarchy.

In that theory, Maslow ranks basic human needs according to five levels – (1) physical needs, (2) safety and security needs, (3) the need for love and belonging, (4) the need for esteem/self-esteem, and (5) self-actualization. Maslow contends that when needs on a more basic level are not met, we will not feel need on higher levels. However, when that more basic need is met, the next level of need emerges as important. Accordingly, when religious consciousness is preoccupied with the daunting, mysterious, and uncontrollable qualities of the numen (safety and security needs), it is unlikely to experience a need for love and belonging from the numen. However, over the course of time, it becomes apparent that the numen is not completely daunting in its interaction with us – and that the numen manifests graciousness and goodness – at which point, the need for security becomes much less important, and the need for love emerges.  At that point, the second pole of the numen’s feeling-contents becomes evident and desired.

As noted above, this is the first kind of evidence for our transcendence and relationship with a Transcendent Being. When we combine it with the evidence from Eliade’s study of the sacred, and Kant’s and Newman’s study of conscience, our conclusion will gain in probative force, for it will be corroborated by four distinct kinds of data, all pointing to the same conclusion.

April 20th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness I.C: The Second Pole: Fascination, Desire, Love, and Bliss in Our Experience of the Numen – Part II

In our last post, we began expounding on the Second Pole of the Numen. For James and Otto, many individuals from virtually every major religion and culture have heightened experiences of the numen. Embedded in that experience is an awareness that our propulsion toward it (being swept into it) is not caused by ourselves, but induced by the Divine “wholly Other” present to us. As we are swept into it, we become aware at once of its supremeness and goodness (including elements of both the first and second poles), and when this happens we are transformed – we no longer think that we are merely physical or material, but that we are transcendent, having a soul which can only be satisfied by supreme goodness itself. This puts all material things into perspective – as merely partial, temporary satisfactions of our sensuous and psychical nature.

Though these heightened experiences are important, it should not be thought that incisive encounters with the numen are limited only to people who have experienced them. The “average person” can enjoy sparks of divine love-goodness-beauty-joy, but it might occur so gently, subtly, and quickly that they fail to recognize what is happening to them until they encounter a book or a conversation which describes the numinous experience. After hearing these descriptions, they might say, “Well, I’ve never had a heightened experience of the numen, but I think I have had an experience of connecting with God that has His distinctive signature in it – some sense of supremeness, specialness, holiness, and goodness which is different from other interior experiences.”

Sometimes the average person can be praying an ordinary prayer like the “Our Father” or a well-known Psalm, and sometimes a few of the words will, as it were, leap off the page – leaving in its wake a feeling of supremeness-holiness-goodness-peace. Sometimes the average person can look at the simplest religious object – a little picture or statue – and it will incite the same special interior experience. Sometimes these same stimuli can cause us to recall a hazy experience of something that happened to us as children or young adults. Frequently young people do not reflect on the specialness of their experience, and therefore have no rational memory of them. Nevertheless, they have a pre-rational memory of them, and when the numen presents itself in a gentle way (say, looking at a picture), it brings to mind the feeling embedded in their pre-rational memory, causing them to say, “That was really strange – I feel like I remembered something profound and good from my past.”

We should not underestimate our proclivity to put pre-rational memories into the recesses of our mind. When we don’t reflect on the specialness of an experience, we don’t remember it as special. It simply gets remembered as a set of intense feelings that can be reawakened when it happens to us again. When C.S. Lewis was a child, he had heightened experiences of the numen, but because he did not reflect on them as special, he simply put this peculiar set of feelings into the recesses of his mind, which he only remembered after having religious conversations and subtler experiences of the same feelings as an adult.

These seemingly strange but subtle experiences should not be discounted, for even though the experience can be gentle, subtle, and brief, it will retain traces of the distinctive signature of the numen (supremeness, mystery, and holiness combined with some sense of goodness, love, and/or joy). The most subtle of these experiences communicates a sense of our true home in the supreme and holy goodness which elicits a sense of peace (absence of alienation) and unity with everything in which time stands still.

Though it seems like a contradiction to suggest that the numinous experience can be subtle or gentle, the numen can relieve alienation gently, can reveal its superior power and incomprehensibility softly, and can overwhelm us with deep beauty and goodness like Elijah’s “gentle breeze:”

[The Lord said to Elijah] ‘Go out and stand on the mountain, I want you to see me when I pass by.’ All at once, a strong wind shook the mountain and shattered the rocks. But the LORD was not in the wind. Next, there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. Finally, there was a gentle breeze, and when Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat (1Kings 19:11-13).

As noted above, when the numen presents itself in a gentle or subtle way, and we do not reflect upon the specialness of the experience, we put the experience in the recesses of our mind. We might say that it becomes subconscious or unconscious. Sometimes we will have stronger experiences of the numen later in our lives and then we frequently bring our subconscious or recessed memory to our conscious mind, enabling us to see a pattern of interaction with the Divine One throughout life. However, if we don’t have a strong experience later in life, does that mean that the gentle presence of the numen is completely ineffective in our lives? Absolutely not. As will be seen with respect to Mircea Eliade’s analysis of sacred symbols and the transconscious, multiple, subtle, unreflective experiences of the numen create a strong unconscious impression which becomes part of our general frame of mind, causing us to desire, seek, and value sacred and religious symbols, community, worship, and revelation. The numen’s subtle and persistent appearance causes us to be naturally spiritual and religious, inciting us to find outward communal expressions of what we interiorly sense and desire. This may explain why the vast majority of people throughout history have had a sense of the spiritual and transcendent, have sought religious communities, were moved by sacred symbols, liturgy, and music, and found their highest sense of fulfillment through these outward expressions and connections to the transcendent and spiritual domain.

April 17th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness I.C: The Second Pole: Fascination, Desire, Love, and Bliss in Our Experience of the Numen – Part I

In our last post, we touched on the first pole of the numen. Just as the first pole is marked by feeling-contents of dauntingness, overwhelmingness, mysteriousness, and energy-vitality, so the second pole elicits another set of feelings – we find the numen attractive, alluring, charming, fascinating, and enchanting.

Otto phrases it as follows:

The mystery is for [the person experiencing the numen] not merely something to be wondered at but something that entrances him; and beside that in it which bewilders and confounds, he feels a something that captivates and transports him with a strange ravishment, rising often enough to the pitch of dizzy intoxication…

So what is so fascinating, alluring, enchanting, and even intoxicating in the numen? It resembles what is fascinating and enchanting in the natural world – love, goodness, beauty, home, and the joy that arises out of them. These qualities are attributed to God in all major religions,  and they are attributed to the experience of God in all major mystical traditions.  When they are experienced in the numen, they have a purer and more integrated reality than when they are experienced in the natural world. Otto states it as follows:

The ideas and concepts which are the parallels or ‘schemata’ on the rational side of this non-rational element of ‘fascination’ are love, mercy, pity, comfort; these are all ‘natural’ elements of the common psychical life, only they are here thought as absolute and in completeness.

In heightened experiences of the numen (such as mystical experiences), the characteristics of the second pole have an absolute or perfect quality which elicits ecstatic joy.

Interestingly, these characteristics are attributed to the transcendent or Divine Being by Platonists and other rational monotheists. Plato not only attempts to prove the absolute and perfect one true good love, and beautiful, but implies that he and others can experience it through the contemplation of love and the beautiful in its highest form:

He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes towards the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty…a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying… but beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things.

Though Plato does not attribute this experience specifically to the numen (the presence of the divine within him), he associates perfect love, beauty, and goodness with the one God, and implies (in the above passage) that he and others have experienced it.

One of Plato’s most ardent followers, Plotinus (204-270 a.d.) sees the mystical experience of the numen flowing directly out of contemplation of the One which is good, loving, and beautiful. His disciple Porphyry indicated that Plotinus had reached “ecstatic union with the One” on four separate occasions.

Evidently, Plotinus and other neo-Platonic philosophers went far beyond the domain of rational philosophy into their inward experience of the One. This led to an experience of the One’s absolute goodness, love, and beauty, which they identify as “ecstatic union with it.”

Inasmuch as this Supreme Being has the qualities of absolute love and goodness, it must in some sense be inter-relational, and this implies personal qualities. Just as numinous energy and vitality (first pole) suggests personal attributes such as will and passion in the numen, so also the alluring, enchanting, and fascinating elements of the numen (second pole) suggests positive personal attributes of openness, love, and goodness. The first pole elicits a relationship of humility, submission, and reverence while the second pole elicits a relationship of closeness, familiarity, and friendship.

Both James and Otto pay close attention to the heightened or mystical dimension of the numinous experience. James describes several cases in which ordinary people (not monks or sisters in a monastery) experienced the numen in a heightened state. One case study described it as follows:

For the moment nothing but an ineffable joy and exaltation remained. It is impossible fully to describe the experience. It was like the effect of some great orchestra, when all the separate notes have melted into one swelling harmony, that leaves the listener conscious of nothing save that his soul is being wafted upwards and almost bursting with its own emotion.

One can see in James’ case study, the contrary elements of both calm and transport – a sense of peace and propulsion. Otto notes that this peace-propulsion can be induced by the presence of the numen through many “gateways.” It can come from reading a passage of scripture, reflecting on a supreme truth (e.g. perfect goodness or perfect love), taking a walk in a natural setting, hearing a bird’s song, looking at religious art or architecture, hearing a religious hymn or glorious symphony, or simply sitting at one’s dinner table or desk. In my case, it once occurred while giving a physics lecture. When the feeling of peace-propulsion occurs, it is generally accompanied by a profound sense of unity with everything which takes away alienation, and feels like we are perfectly at home with the totality. This sense of being “perfectly at home with the totality” is frequently connected with spiritual joy. Otto puts it this way:

….in all these forms, outwardly diverse but inwardly akin, it appears as a strange and mighty propulsion towards an ideal good known only to religion and in its nature fundamentally non-rational, which the mind knows of in yearning and presentiment, recognizing it for what it is behind the obscure and inadequate symbols which are its only expression. And this shows that above and beyond our rational being lies hidden the ultimate and highest part of our nature, which can find no satisfaction in the mere allaying of the needs of our sensuous, psychical, or intellectual impulses and cravings. The mystics called it the basis or ground of the soul.

In this remarkable passage, Otto describes three key characteristics constituting a heightened experience of the numen:

  1. The numen causes a sense of propulsion into itself.
  2. In this propulsion, we sense the numen as perfect goodness and a Supreme Being (known only to religion).
  3. Our temporary connection or unity with this Supreme perfect goodness reveals to us our highest transcendent nature – our soul which can only be satisfied by the Supreme goodness.

In Part II, we will discuss further the heightened numen experiences of many individuals from virtually every major religion and culture.

April 13th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness: The Numinous Experience, Intuition of the Sacred, and Conscience I.B: The First Pole — Mysterium Tremendum in the Numen

In our last blog post we opened the discussion on the Numinous Experience, or the cross-cultural human awareness of the divine. The elements of dread, awe, dauntingness, and creatureliness are the most evident dimensions of the numen in the early stages of the development of individual and cultural religious consciousness.  Since this pole of feeling-content is manifest earlier in history than the elements of the second pole, it makes sense to address it first (as Otto does). However, by putting this pole in a primary position, we do not mean to imply that it is more important or powerful than the elements of the second (more positive) pole in a mature person or culture (to be addressed in a later post).

Otto is in fundamental agreement with William James about the most basic appearance of the numen (though he thinks that James’ analysis is somewhat unnuanced), and so he quotes James as follows:

It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call “something there”, more deep and more general than any of the special and particular “senses” by which the current psychology supposes existent realities to be originally revealed.

Otto concurs with James that the numen appears as an objective presence – and that it is distinguishable from every other object we experience because it is more deep and more general (all-encompassing) than all other objects. However, Otto goes further than James noting that this deep and all-encompassing objective reality appears to be very powerful and spiritual, causing us to be respectful, humble, and submissive before its presence. Otto calls this reaction “creature consciousness,” and distinguishes himself from Friedrich Schleiermacher who implies that the self-conscious act of being a creature is primary. Otto contends that the presence of the powerful and overwhelming numen is primary, and this causes us to react to it with a sense of reverence, humility, and creatureliness.

There are two special characteristics of this first pole of experience — overwhelming power and spiritual presence. Notice that these two characteristics are categories of thought, and Otto insists that such categories are not primary to the experiencing subject, but rather are derived from more primary feeling-contents. So what are the feeling-contents that give rise to these categories of overwhelming power and spiritual presence?

For Otto, the first response we have when the numen becomes present to our consciousness is fear – but not the fear we might have toward a natural object. Rather it is the fear we have toward spiritual presence – such as ghosts. The fear of natural objects (that can threaten survival or safety) tends to produce a hyperactive state (induced by adrenaline) raising blood pressure, inciting panic, making us feel warm and causing the face to flush. The fear we feel when confronted by a ghost or spirit (or hearing a ghost story) is quite different – it makes us feel cold, causes our blood pressure to drop, the blood to drain from our face, and our flesh to creep or crawl.

Otto terms this special kind of fear toward a spiritual presence “daemonic dread.” “Daemon” here does not mean “demon” in the sense of a malignant or evil spirit, but only “spirit” in a general sense which can refer to a benign or good spirit. When we feel the presence of a benign or good spirit, it evokes a sense of uncanniness, of being beyond our control or power. Its other worldly character makes it unpredictable and feels daunting.  Though the numen does not present itself as evil, it does present itself as “beyond us” and capable of overpowering us.  We sense its’ overwhelming or superior power even if it is manifest in a “gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship.”  William James recounts a case study in which the superior power of the numen manifested itself gently and sublimely:

The perfect stillness of the night was thrilled by a more solemn silence. The darkness held a presence that was all the more felt because it was not seen. I could not any more have doubted that He was there than that I was. Indeed, I felt myself to be, if possible, the less real of the two.

This higher power carries with it a profound sense of mystery and incomprehensibility. Otto describes our experience of this incomprehensible mystery as “stupor” which he distinguishes from “tremor:”

Stupor is plainly a different thing from tremor; it signifies blank wonder, an astonishment that strikes us dumb, amazement absolute.

We are tacitly aware that we cannot comprehend this higher power, and so we view it as wholly Other. In its overwhelming presence, we sense our creatureliness – what Otto and Schleiermacher term “creature consciousness.”

There is one additional element in the feeling-content of the first pole – Otto describes it as “energy or urgency” which betokens passion or will within the numen. The felt presence of the numen not only indicates spiritual presence, overwhelming power, and incomprehensible mystery, but also something personal and passionate in its energy. Otto states:

…and it everywhere clothes itself in symbolical expressions – vitality, passion, emotional temper, will, force, movement, excitement, activity, impetus.

Terms like “vitality,” “passion,” “emotional temper,” and “will” are concepts — what Otto terms “symbolical expressions” – representing our experience of the more fundamental feeling-contents within the numen. So how does the numen appear to us through the feeling-contents of spiritual fear, dauntingness, overpoweringness, mysteriousness, and vitality-energy? It appears as a wholly Other superior, incomprehensible, and mysterious power with passion, emotion, and will which elicits from us a sense of creatureliness, humility, submission, respect, reverence, and worship.

From Otto’s descriptions, we can infer four layers in our encounter with the numen – (1) a fundamental layer of feeling-contents – spiritual fear, tremor, dauntingness, overwhelmingness, stupor, mysteriousness, and energy-vitality, (2) a layer of intuited appearance of the numen – as a wholly Other, spiritual, superior, incomprehensible power with passion and will, (3) a layer of reaction to the presence of this mysterious higher power — a sense of diminution, humility, respect, and creatureliness, and (4) a layer of action following our reaction – reverence and worship. This constitutes our initial or primary response to the numen. Some people, religions, and cultures do not move beyond this initial encounter with the numen (which Otto terms “the first pole”), but most major religions do move beyond it to the second more positive pole of feeling-contents. This is borne out by the fact that most contemporary religions today share seven common characteristics, four of which are derived from the second pole a discussion to be had in another post.

April 10th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

God’s Presence to Our Consciousness: The Numinous Experience, Intuition of the Sacred, and Conscience – Introduction

The evidence for our interior awareness of a Transcendent Reality is primarily subjective – though it is not limited to our personal subjective experience alone. It can be correlated with the subjective experience of thousands of others in different cultures and religions to detect similarities and patterns which show their virtually universal presence in both history and the contemporary age. Though this is not strictly speaking objective evidence (grounded in a similar extrinsic publicly accessible data source), it is persuasive because of its multiple occurrences. This evidence, as William James notes, is not dissimilar from much of the evidence for neurosis, psychosis, and other mental disorders described in the annals of contemporary psychology. As we shall see, the evidence strongly indicates that human beings have religious experiences that have a common root. But does this common root indicate the presence of a Transcendent Other or only a manifestation of hyper imagination or hyper emotion arising out of merely natural causes? If one contends that the cause of the numinous is merely natural, then we will have to find completely naturalistic answers to the following questions: Why is 84% of the world religious?  Why do most world religions share seven common beliefs amidst many differences?  Why do people from every culture throughout history believe that something “wholly Other” is present to them and inviting them into itself?  Why do people from every culture throughout history believe that this “wholly Other” is fascinating, wonderful, and desirable amidst its mystery and overpowering energy?  Why do the vast majority of people from every culture feel a call to worship – both privately and publicly?  Why do people of virtually every culture naturally connect with symbols of transcendent mystery, power, and glory?  Why do people of every culture throughout history have a sense of sacred origins, places, times, and history?  Why does religious belief come so naturally to children of every culture?  Why do divine goodness, divine power, personified evil, and evil power appear in the dreams of virtually every religion and culture with similar symbols?

Religious believers and mystics assert with certainty that our interior awareness of the absolute, the transcendent, the spiritual, and the sacred comes from a divine source because this interior awareness is of something other, something higher, something not controllable by us. Though we sense this presence within us, we are aware that it is outside of us, and if we allow it, it can sweep us into its energy, mystery, and love.

Secular psychologists and anthropologists contend the opposite. Some think that they have never had an experience of a divine Other which incites humility, excitement, fascination, and worship. Others contend that they have such feelings, but are certain that their origin is from their unconscious minds and their free floating imagination.

It is interesting to note that both groups come to the investigation of religious experience with a considerable number of presuppositions. Religious people not only come with openness to faith, but also with a desire not to reduce spiritual or transcendent data to materialistic or physical categories (they are methodologically non-reductionistic). Alternatively, secular psychologists and anthropologists tend to be closed to the possibility of transcendence and faith, and feel the need to be reductionistic in order to be “honestly scientific.”

There is a problem from the outset with attempting to reduce and explain transcendent and transphysical realities in terms of physical and material categories. Transcendent categories, by definition, go beyond the physical, and so we can never be sure whether physical categories are capable of explaining what lies beyond them. Scientific honesty does not require forcing square pegs into round holes. Should scientists ask whether transcendent experience is reducible to physical processes or should they ask whether transcendent experience can not be adequately explained by physical processes? Should science be focused on how to make transcendent experience explicable by physical categories, or, should it ask if transcendent experience has a dimension of the transphysical in it? Should people’s experience of an absolute spiritual Other be respected as having a quality of genuine “Otherness?” The enterprise of honest scientific inquiry is a matter of interpretation – but we should bear in mind that every reductionistic system falls prey to one of logics most fundamental precepts (discussed earlier) – that there are far more errors of omission than commission. These errors of omission can come from innocent ignorance or from willful aprioristic assumptions. But whatever the case, they generally produce history’s most egregious intellectual and methodological blunders.

For this reason, we have chosen to discuss the topic of our interior awareness of the transcendent from two authors who are open to the transcendent, not governed by reductionistic, methodological assumptions, acquainted with a vast number of transcendent experiences from virtually every culture and religion, have understanding and respect for the symbols and expressions of those cultures and religions, and draw their conclusions from their vast empirical and historical studies — Rudolf Otto and Mircea Eliade — starting with our next post on the topic.

April 6th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

Dr. Robert Kurland’s “God’s Periodic Table…And Evolution”

Introducing the first Magis Center Guest Blog post! The author of this particular post, Dr. Robert Kurland (AKA, Dr. Bob), is a retired professor who taught Physics and Evidence for God at both Harvard and Carnegie Melon. As a member of the Magis Center Board of Academic Fellows, he is called on from time to time to evaluate new materials and also addresses the occasional question sent to us by our followers.

“God’s Periodic Table…And Evolution” is reposted from his site with his permission. It is written as a response to a question sent to our site by a writer who shall be referred to heretofore as John Doe.

The Crab Nebula and the Periodic Table from NASA/ESA Wikimedia Commons

“Those distinct substances, which concretes generally either afford, or are made up of, may, without very much inconvenience, be called the elements or principles of them.” 
― Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”  
–Fred Hoyle (who predicted the triple-alpha process), The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics: 20:16

“Through his Word and wisdom he created the universe, for by his Word the heavens were established, and by his Spirit all their array. His wisdom is supreme. God by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding he arranged the heavens, by his knowledge the depths broke forth and the clouds poured out the dew.”
–St. Theophilus of Antioch, Letter to Autoylcus

Evolution:   “The process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth.” –Oxford English Dictionary (OED)

Evolution: “The gradual development of something.”–OED


Evolution–is it true?   A few weeks ago an email was forwarded to me by Father Robert Spitzer’s Magis Institute (I’m on the Academic Advisory Board) for comment    The correspondent–let’s call him “John Doe”–insisted that evolution violated Catholic Teaching, was in fact heretical, and cited the following pronouncements of  the Ecumenical Councils–Lateran IV,  Vatican I–and of Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis, to support his claim.

God…creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body.” [emphasis added by John Doe]Lateran IV (D.428).

If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God; or holds that God did not create by his will free from all necessity, but as necessarily as he necessarily loves himself; or denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.” [emphasis added by John Doe]–Vatican I (Article 5).

“Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.” [emphasis added, RJK]–Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis

John Doe agreed that “microevolution” could occur by mutation (slight changes of phenotype and genotype within a species due to mutation of genes}, but disagreed with the central tenet of evolution that all living things today descended from one primal original living thing.

Here are general arguments that will be given in more detail below.

Evolution–the gradual change into different kinds from a single kind as per the second OED definition–is not limited to biological things, but to matter in general, so if evolution is forbidden for biology by John Doe’s interpretation of the Council pronouncements, it is forbidden also for matter in general, and thereby is forbidden all of physics and chemistry.

The evidence for evolution of living organisms is impressive.  Without going into detail, I’ll cite the convincing features and also note that evolution–in the sense given by the first Oxford English Dictionary definition–is NOT the same as the proposed neo-Darwinian mechanism for evolution, which is a theory.

The Council pronouncements and the quote from Humani Generis have to be parsed very carefully to understand the full scope of the meanings of “at once” and “out of nothing”;  moreover, the quote from Humani Generis must be put in context and related to other statements in that encyclical.

The position of the Catholic Church on evolution has been well stated by Pope St. John Paul II (see also “On Pope St. John Paul II’s Feast Day) that evolution is a fact, for which various theories have been proposed to explain how it is achieved.  Neo-Darwinism is one such theory, and one not universally accepted even by some atheistic scientists and philosophers.


Cosmic History for the Universe–not to scale from Wikimedia Commons

In trying to reconstruct how the universe has evolved (pardon that word!), we have to keep in mind that before a time of about 380,000 years after the Big Bang (the presumed origin of the universe from a singularity, i.e. “Ex Nihilo”), the history has to be reconstructed–speculatively–from what we know about the physics of elementary particles–the so-called “Standard Model” (see God, Symmetry and Beauty I and Philosophic Issues in Cosmology 1).   The reason we have to infer what happened before this 380,000 year benchmark is the opacity of the early Universe to radiation–it consisted of a high energy plasma of quarks, gluons, photons and, in the later stages, elementary particles such as protons, electrons, neutrons.  (See Luke Mastin’s Timeline of the Big Bang for a complete, if perhaps somewhat speculative account  of the early stages of the evolution.)

For purposes of this discussion, I’ll accept (as do most physicists) that “In the Beginning” there was a super-hot tiny ball of energy, “one thing”, that changed to quarks, anti-quarks, gluons and then yielded elementary particles–protons, neutrons, electrons.   Subsequently gravitation induced star formation with protons and alpha particles (helium-4 nuclei) present in early stars.   There would have been a serious obstacle to further formation of the elements because a three-body collision of three alpha particles would be required for the formation of carbon-12 (the next step in formation of the elements) and as those of you who have shot pool know, the probability of a triple collision from random motion of particles is small.

Fred Hoyle (who had derisively labelled creation from a singularity as “The Big Bang”–the name stuck) saw a problem in the abundance of carbon-12 and other elements in the universe and the lack of a mechanism for their creation.  He predicted an excited, higher energy state of carbon-12 nuclei that would enhance the formation of carbon-12 by the so-called “triple alpha process” (see the diagram below).  His prediction was verified experimentally.

Triple Alpha Process from Wikimedia Commons

In this process, two alpha particles (helium-4 nuclei) collide to form a beryllium-8 nucleus, which is unstable.   However, the likelihood of forming carbon-12 from a collision with an alpha particle is enhanced by a resonance effect.  This effect comes about because an excited, high energy level of the carbon-12 nucleus has almost the same value as the nuclear energy levels of beryllium-8 and helium-4.

Carbon-12 formation would be the bottleneck;  if carbon-12 could not be formed, then no oxygen, nitrogen, or heavier elements.   All these reactions take place at a very high temperature in the interior of giant stars.    When these stars implode, go nova (as with the Crab nebula picture above), all the heavy elements formed in the interior are scattered through the universe for the formation of planets and living organisms.

Here’s the important point to be emphasized in this: it is fundamental physics that enables the formation of the elements, the evolution of the Periodic Table, if you will.   It is NOT a simultaneous creation of each element.   It is a much more wonderful thing to have this occur as a consequence of “natural law”, rather than an ad individuum, separate and simultaneous creation of each element.   It is evolution, not creation all at once.  And it is God who created the rules of physics that enables this evolution.


That evolution of biological organisms, gradual changes in species and groups, occurs, is based on two types of evidence:  fossil evidence of transitions between different types of organisms (see here)  and similarities in DNA and protein composition.   Perhaps the most illustrative of the transitional record is that of dinosaurs to birds.

Nevertheless, there are large gaps between groups in the fossil record, such that the paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge proposed a modification of the Neo-Darwinian theory, Punctuated Equilibrium.   Their theory posited large, discontinuous changes in species, rather than the gradual changes given by Darwinism.

Here’s a question for those who propose an instantaneous creation of all species: why does the fossil record of more than a billion years ago contain indicators of only microbial species, and why do the fossil records of different geologic eras contains a progression of types, with no recent phyla (e.g. mammalia) in older records?

The table below gives example of changes from species to species in the composition of DNA coding for proteins and random DNA.

Chimpanzee 100% 98%
Dog 99 52
Mouse 99 40
Chicken 75 4
Fruit Fly 60 About 0
Round Worm 35 About 0


Note the similarities between mammalian species, and the differences between different groups (e.g. round worm vs chicken).   Also note that the differences are much greater for “random (non-functional?) DNA” since mutations here won’t affect survivability as much.

I want to emphasize again: evolution is the change of species one into another, along with the supposition of common descent from some single celled organism in the distant past.   Many people–including scientists–confuse evolution with the neo-Darwinian proposed mechanism for evolution, mutation leading to small changes that enhance survivability and thus gradually yield different species.   Many scientists and philosophers do not think the neo-Darwinian model is sufficient to explain evolution.  Some of these critics are atheists or agnostics, so it isn’t a question of violating their religious beliefs.   (See, for example, Thomas Nagel’s book, Mind and Cosmos.)


“John Doe” emphasized the phrases “at once” and “each creature from nothing” in citing the dicta of Lateran IV against evolution.   Now there are two ways of getting at the meaning, parsing, “at once.”   First, if we believe the universe evolved from an instant of creation, The Big Bang, Creatio ex Nihilo, as described in the section above, then we can believe, along with St. Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Catechism (CC 308),  that God is a First Cause, and that He can operate through both primary and secondary causes.   As St. Augustine posited

“…each one [type of creature] fulfills its proper function, comes to creatures from those causal reasons implanted in them, which God scattered as seeds at the moment of creation  [emphasis added] ... Time brings about the development of these creatures according to the laws of their numbers, but there was no passage of time when they received these laws at creation.[emphasis added] –St. Augustine of Hippo, de Genesi ad Litteram (the Literal Meaning of Genesis.)

Second, God is eternal, timeless–like a photon of light, time does not exist for God.   He sees our future and our past and our present simultaneously, so the term “at once” to imply a single moment in past time is a limitation on this Godly timelessness.

With respect to the phrase “out of nothing,” I can’t believe that God, like a magician conjuring a rabbit out of a hat, made each individual species out of nothing.   Certainly God created the whole universe out of nothing; I firmly believe in the dogma of Creatio ex Nihilo, but again–we have to consider not only primary but secondary causation.


The Dogma of Original Sin and the Dogma/Doctrine of monogenesis  are crucial in determining the present position of the Church on evolution, I’ll use quotations from Pope Pius XII  and Pope St. John Paul II to illustrate this.   (Unfortunately John Doe’s quote from Humani Generis was out of context and thus did not reveal the full import of what Pope Pius XII was trying to impart.)

“…with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter [but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.” [emphasis added]–Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis

“Pius XII underlined the essential point: if the origin of the human body comes through living matter which existed previously, the spiritual soul is created directly by God…” Pope St. John Paul II, Address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences:”On Evolution”. 

“And to tell the truth, rather than speaking about the theory of evolution, it is more accurate to speak of the theories of evolution. [emphasis added] The use of the plural is required here—in part because of the diversity of explanations regarding the mechanism of evolution, and in part because of the diversity of philosophies involved.

“As a result, the theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man…”  ibid.

I’ve given a more detailed account of this in a post, Do Neanderthals have a soul?


Pope St. John Paul II in his Encyclical, Fides et Ratio, said:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”

Because we do not understand at present how evolution works are we to reject it as a magnificent work by God and rely on a literal interpretation of Scripture and Medieval Councils (which required Jews to dress differently from Christians)?   We don’t do this for the creation of matter and the universe, for which physics gives a clearer explanation than molecular biology does for evolution.   The Church today does not require that we do so;  the Church requires only that we do not fall into the trap of believing materialistic theories that attempt to explain evolution.

I’ll close with a quote from my favorite saint, St. Augustine of Hippo, that says it all for living with science and faith:

“Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances,… and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do all that we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn.” –De Genesi ad litteram; the Literal Meaning of Genesis.


*This topic and the position of the Church on evolution is explored in greater detail in Chapter 6 of my ebook, “Science and the Church–‘Truth Cannot Contradict Truth’.  (Please pardon the shameless self-promotion.)

Bob Kurland


April 3rd, 2017|Categories: Guest Blogs|0 Comments

Evidence of the Soul from Our Transcendental Desires III: Final Conclusion

If the reasoning in our past few posts is correct, then God is not only the unique unrestricted uncaused reality who is the cause of everything else; he is also perfect intelligence, perfect love, perfect justice (goodness), and perfect beauty. Furthermore, he is present to our consciousness as the source of our awareness of perfect truth, love, justice (goodness), and perfect beauty – and as such, he incites us to creativity in every form of human endeavor – in the striving for greater truth, love, justice (goodness), and beauty. God not only gives us a transcendent soul (manifest in the evidence of near death experience), He also fills our soul with the horizon of his perfection which causes us to be everything that we are – an image of himself.

Check back next week for the start of a new blog topic on God’s Presence to Our Consciousness: The Numinous Experience, Intuition of the Sacred, and Conscience.

March 30th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments

Evidence of the Soul from Our Transcendental Desires II.D: Perfect Beauty

In line with our previous posts on the topic, the very same reasoning applies to perfect beauty as to perfect truth, love, and justice (goodness). At this juncture, it will only be necessary to present the first step of the argument, and you can figure out the other three steps from the line of reasoning given above.

  1. We have the capacity to recognize imperfection in every dimension of every kind of beauty – artistic beauty, musical beauty, architectural beauty, literary beauty – and even beauty manifest in the human heart, human ideals, and human aspirations. Even when we are immersed in the most beautiful of nature walks or along a beautiful seascape, we always seem to strive for another angle – something more interesting – more beautiful. We try to enhance beauty in music by making it more complex – and sometimes by simply “turning up the volume.” We see endless imperfections in the beauty of ourselves and others, and strive to overcome those imperfections.
  2. How can we notice virtually every imperfection in all of the above forms of beauty – continuously and endlessly? You should be able to answer this question – without even being a Platonist philosopher.
  3. What could be the source of our tacit awareness of what perfect beauty would be like? Again, you should be able to answer this question.
  4. What is perfect beauty? Once again, it is the same God we proved in a previous post.

Now you draw the conclusion – what does this say about who God is and how he is present to our consciousness?

March 27th, 2017|Categories: Our Immortal Soul and Weakened Nature|0 Comments