[Paleopsych] religion

Paul J. Werbos, Dr. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Sun Feb 27 02:39:15 UTC 2005

At 02:50 PM 2/26/2005, Michael Christopher wrote:

>I ask that latter question because in my own spiritual
>experiences I've come across Jesus once or twice, and
>he never said anything about gay marriage destroying
>civilization. But if I'd had the same religious
>experiences, which you would call intrinsic, while a
>member of a Christian group, I might have ended up
>coating what Jesus really was to me, deep down, with
>some extra layers of dogma about what Jesus wants.

This does move in an important direction.

Personally I think that any truly serious
study of the psychology of religion should cite the classic study by
Greeley.... But I don't have the citation at home... in the New York Times
weekly magazine, circa 1972... the article "Are We a Nation of Mystics?"
After a very lengthy, large and careful study of the deep values of 
Americans (funded by NSF)...
they had some results which seemed very counterintuitive at first.
In a pretest, they asked the question "have you ever had a 
religion-mystical experience?",
30 percent said "yes." The survey-takers laughed, assume people didn't know 
a "mystical experience" was supposed to be, and rephrased the question to 
make it
more concrete, clear and even shocking, something like -- "Did you ever 
have an experience
in which a great spiritual force descended upon you, and pulled you up out 
of your body, revealing..."
And then, when they asked it that way in the full survey, sent to 
thousands... 40 percent said yes.
The statistics showed a higher "yes" rate with more education, clear on up 
to PhD, and
social status, and so on. The really entertaining part came when the 
results came back,
and the university review committee tried to make sense of it. One guy 
says:"There must be a gross
error here. this is impossible. If this ANOVA formula is right, 70 percent 
of the people in THIS room
right now would say yes to THAT question. And we certainly know THAT can't 
be true."
After silence, another guy says:"OK, you put me in a very awkward situation.
This is a confidential proceeding, right? In the interest of science, and 
of not demeaning
this survey we have all worked so hard on, I must confess.." And then 
another, and another, until it was
70 percent. And then they did a kind of informal follow-on "survey" (no 
names) on the twelve "yes."

ALL of them felt both grateful and scared. They all became more loyal to 
religion they happened to belong to, as if to say:"PLease, God, I'll be a 
good boy, whatever you
want, just don't do THAT again, I'm really not ready."

I remember having very similar reactions myself during prep school, at a 
time when I was
a truly committed Amazing-Randi type skeptic... and the ghost my mother
warned me about did put me off guard... such an inner turmoil... I don't 
believe ..
but please don't take it as an insult... how can I sleep?...
I certainly am not ready for this...

But years passed, and I gradually realized that one is more secure with eyes
open than with eyes shut, in the light rather than in the darkness, even if 
one starts out seeing
only fog.

And... years later... I remember the young woman from rural Korea telling 
me about their regular
family procedures, trying to use a "ghost-calling bell" and other 
meditative techniques to TRY
to call the spirits of their ancestors to communicate with them, to stay in 
It is a more natural attitude than fear, I think, and it is weird how our 
officious textbooks
brand those people as "just another nation of soulless atheists..." and the 

But then again, OUR attitude of really wanting to understand what is going 
on here,
and avoid being fuzzy and to maintain a scientific attitude... well...
we do have our own special angle for viewing the elephant, and it is useful 


There is also another aspect to your email.
I think Freud said a lot about how our "subconscious mind"
often communicates "to us" via whatever symbol system we happen
to have gotten ingrained. Thus there are aspects of such experience which
need to be interpreted very carefully, in much the same way as one 
interprets dreams.
This is no small matter. And it is a challenge to try to
evolve one's inner symbol system so as to facilitate more exact
communication, less dependent on metaphorical colorings.

>Biblical infallibility and literalism seem like a huge
>stumbling block, and when politics is added, even more
>so. These days, Christians who interpret the Bible
>"wrongly" (for example, if they reconcile the New
>Testament with gay marriage the way many Christians
>forego the admonishments in the NT for women to cover
>their heads, or if they reconcile evolution with
>Genesis) are treated not just as theological heretics
>but as political heretics as well. I've had numerous

Indeed. Organized religions often do more to oppress and
weaken and ultimately kill the soul than to facilitate its growth
and health.

But... I have often been reminded lately of an old saying...

"I don't belong to any organized religion. I am a Quaker..."

>right wing Christians tell me that evolution is a
>"lie". Not just criticizing the theory, but claiming
>that everyone who supports it is deliberately
>deceptive. And a roughly equal number of Christians
>have told me that it's impossible to reconcile gay
>marriage with the Bible. What does one do if one has a
>genuine spiritual experience involving Jesus, but
>cannot conform that vision to the "political
>correctness" of scriptural literalism and

In a case like this, thinking for oneself is only a beginning, though an 
important one.

I have sometimes wonder what life would be like, if the 70 percent
did not feel compelled to lock up their real thoughts within themselves,
due to fear of gestapos both of the Amazing Randis and of the
TV preacher pharisee types?

But then again... if our 70 percent do not really desire to see more...
well, it really is a question what we are ready for...
and opening Pandora's Box can have its perils, depending on how
it is approached.



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