My Conversion Experience: Real, or Synaptic Misfirings?

My inner Christian?

A commenter to my post I, a Rabid Anti-Christian, Very Suddenly Convert wrote in to share the gist of an article recently published in Scientific American, entitled The Sensed-Presence Effect, which is about how people under great physical and psychological stress sometimes hallucinate a presence being near them. He meant to challenge me with the idea that this “very common chemical explanation” necessarily renders the supernatural aspects of my conversion experience invalid.

These infernal atheist mechanists, with their bloody science! How dare anyone try to wear a lab coat to church!

No, but interesting idea, right? Though so weak it raises the question of whether Scientific American is now being managed by discombobulated interns, the article’s premise is nontheless compelling. If stress can induce hallucinations that are (sort of) just like my conversion experience, mightn’t my experience be just an illusion?

My response to Mr. “That Wasn’t God, It Was Synaptic Misfirings” was … well, this:

I’ve got no issues with there being a hardcore physiological basis for what I ultimately experienced as spiritually transformative. I’m good with the idea of the body beginning what the spirit completes.

But what do you think? If people under stress sense the presence near them of people (whom they may or may not “see”) talking to them, and in my own stress I experienced (as I did) a disembodied voice calling me to accept as reality the Christian concept of God, to what if any extent should that compel me to question the validity of my conversion experience?

The sudden conversion experience: God, or … fully tweaked nervous system?

You be the judge!

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Diana

    Nora: It also allows(forces?) them to lump together events experienced by people under extreme stress with people who are having a regular day at work, or wherever, and experience the supernatural.

    Yes, this is my response to the whole "Synaptic Misfirings" argument.

    It's not as if you were in any physical danger or otherwise under undue stress. It was a pretty ordinary day until you had your religious experience. And, from what you wrote, it was a pretty ordinary day after your religious experience (wasn't your top thought afterwords something along the lines of "Darn! Now I have to get up early on Sunday Mornings!"?)

    • Tommy Jay

      Extreme stress is only one of a number of ways that such effects have been induced.

      • Diana

        1) Apologies to Jill. It was you I quoted, not Nora.

        2) So Tommy, how do you think Mr. Shore’s experience was induced? I’d be interested to hear your speculations.

        • Tommy Jay

          It could have been any one of a number of things. A non-exhaustive list could be:

          - Meditation on his place in the world

          - Suppressed/unconscious unhappiness

          - An aberrant electrical brain impulse (I get them where they affect my hearing briefly)

          - a transient constriction in a blood vessel

          - a visit from God

          - etc, etc, etc.

          I don't deny the experience. It happens all the time. If you are raised in a predominantly Christian environment, the subject typically associates with God/Jesus/ etc. If you are raised in a predominately Hindu environment, the subject typically associates the experience with Hindu gods and narratives. If these experiences were from a genuine god, why do different cultures associate them with different deities? Wouldn't the Christian god tell the Hindus that Vishnu is a myth (and visa versa)?

          As someone versed in the sciences, I take my conjecture only as far as the evidence allows. There is simply no reason for me to discard the common and understood causes in favor of the unlikely supernatural one.

          • Diana

            Okay, I see your point. My personal belief, (which is probably not a Christian belief) is that God comes to us where we are, as we are. Now, there are some exceptions to this. And so, if God shows up to a Hindu as Vishnu, that’s His business, not mine.

          • Tommy Jay

            I would have to say that that is most assuredly not Christian!! :-) Then again, I grew up Catholic. I now realize that half the believing population don't consider Catholics to be Christian either.

          • Tommy Jay

            Ruminating on what you said a bit more….I would find it a bit mind-bending that the author of "You shall have no other gods before me" would masquerade as another god!!

            It seems pretty common for believers to contort and rework biblical Christianity in a way that makes it more defensible/logical/palatable. I often find that many that wear the mantle of Christianity seem to be deists…as you would appear to be with the God-As-Vishnu logic.

            Don't get me wrong…I am totally cool with deism in terms of societal impact. I think society fairly demands an allegiance to the majority religion, but many practitioners dilute it toward deism yet still claim the title 'Christian'.

            I think if someone did a properly conducted study and asked questions about minimum baseline Christian requirements (virgin birth, special creation, resurrection, ?) we would find that less than half of claimed Christians actually fit the definition.

          • Diana

            "Ruminating on what you said a bit more….I would find it a bit mind-bending that the author of “You shall have no other gods before me” would masquerade as another god!!"

            "Masquerade" is the wrong word. "Masquerade" implies that there is a "real Vishnu" and that "Yahweh" dressed up as "Vishnu" in order to fool the Hindu people. This is not what I believe.

            To me, God is God. But God is big. Mere mortals can not hope to understand God–not at least without divine intervention. So God comes to us as we are, where we are, and makes himself (herself?) understandable to us.

            So God is Vishnu. God is Yahweh. God is Jesus of Nazareth. God is God and no one has the right to tell him what to do.

            I've been accused of being a Deist before. There may be some truth to that. If I call myself a Christian, it's because I cling most closely to God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. Never-the-less, I'm certainly not orthodox in my viewpoint.

          • Tommy Jay

            “Masquerade” is the wrong word. “Masquerade” implies that there is a “real Vishnu” and that “Yahweh” dressed up as “Vishnu” …

            Point taken…but still definitely not Christian.

          • overlord

            Faith begins w/ doubt, so you are not a lost cause. Christians are commanded to "itness" or spread the Word of God. Rather than this misguided disdain, remind yourself that given the choice between a Christian and virtually any other denomination possible in a potential neighbor, most anyone would opt for the Christian as their hypothetical neighbor. The incessant, projection based castigation aside, the root cause of all the inane persecution lies in the critics' unnerving realization that Christians are moral beings and citizens by nature; they see right through the smoke and mirrors bullshit liberal rationalization spew to mask their collective sinful existence. Sin is real if you conveniently avoided noticing in the daily news. etc. The truth hurts lost souls, but it will ultimately set you free. God will put a bulls eye around who or whatever stands between you and Him; then he gets the buzz saw out to modify your self defeating perspective. When you sink to desperation point the proverbial "foxhole prayer;" effectively needing Him to reach out to; the necessary mission is accomplished; late bloomers and all. A staggering number of Americans are unable to specifically identify their personal higher power. The mortifying spiritual bankruptcy plaguing our culture is patently obvious to the most casual observer.

  • Matt

    As you've already stated, God normally works through means undistinguisable from everyday events. Christianity can be spread by mere people, people can be healed by doctors, and he can make the plants grow by rain. It would have been so much cooler if Jesus had walked through your office, but he chose this way instead. Either way, you have faith, and that's pretty awesome!

    • John

      Matt, you think and speak. When others speak words in the language you understand, you can immediately "see" what they've said to you. Pretty amazing, if you think about it. Theoretical math and computer science have proven that those aspect of language cannot be physically originated.

      The gospel of John asserts, very first verse, that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." So those conversations – which by the way are non-physical in their essence, though manifest via the physical phenomenon of air pressure and electricity among others – are manifestations of God. And they happen all around you, all the time.

      Do you have a nose? Can see it without looking in a mirror? God is just as present, just as obvious – in my opinion.

  • Nora

    Even if that were the case, how would that premise explain the lasting effect?

    Honestly, I am pretty skeptical about road-to-Damascus-type conversion experiences, but I think the proof is in the pudding. Does the initial experience lead to extremist behavior or thinking, or does the experience initiate a change in perspective, a change in one’s heart, while leaving the individual in a relatively normal state — are they still a person their friends and family recognize, so to speak?

  • brdonaldson

    I'd say, if you've been "bearing fruit" of repentance there is something more to your "conversion experience" than misfiring synapses.

  • Jill

    In general, I’ve got a problem with what “science” has become. It’s starting to look like a pre-teen girls’ club gathered by right-minded individuals to explore ideas that are comfortable to them. They reject those who don’t look like them or adhere to the standards. They seem to exist solely to pat one another on the back and affirm one another hypotheses, any of which are acceptable, as long as God isn’t one of them.

    But if you reject one of the possibilities, are you still using the scientific method?

    Now the club has become more outward. Unable to stop people from using their own experience and brains to draw conclusions, they have now set about “scientifically” explaining apparently supernatural events. Of course the event is ALWAYS approached from the point of view that there must be something wrong with experience itself, or the individual who experienced it. Never is accepting a person’s experience as true one of the hypotheses. This allows them to simultaneously ignore ideas which they do not like, and continue to feel superior to those not allowed in the club.

    It also allows(forces?) them to lump together events experienced by people under extreme stress with people who are having a regular day at work, or wherever, and experience the supernatural. Anything, and whatever it takes to cling desperately to the idea that the world is only material. Arrogance? You got it. Dismissive? Anytime. Scientific? Never.

    They are perfectly willing to demand that I prove the immaterial, but unwilling the prove the exclusive existence of the material. When the facts don’t prove their hypotheses, they make up new ones, or cover the facts. But if they insist that the universe is only material, then I demand they prove where all the material came from. It is only fair, after all. If they reject my hypothesis, then they had better have a superior one. One that doesn’t dismiss me and others like me as stupid or deluded.

    • Tommy Jay

      Jill,

      I let your comment go for a while, but it deserves some constructive ridicule. The scientific method is about falsifiability and peer review and controlled testing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

      To say something is false because ‘I don’t believe it’ is not science. To say something is so without providing supporting evidence or hypotheses based on proper science…again…is not science. Personal revelation or subjective experience cannot, by definition, be part of science because 1) it cannot be tested, measured, repeated, peer reviewed or quantified and 2) the biases of any individual’s mind make that mind the weak link is scientific endeavors. It is the scientific method that does the best job of negating those human biases. On top of all that; there are Hindu and alien personal revelations along with the Christian ones. What makes the Christian ones correct and the others incorrect?

      Without jumping to conclusions; I would suspect that there are several very specific things where you challenge scientific consensus. Might you share what those things might be?

      • Peter

        "The scientific method is about falsifiability and peer review and controlled testing."

        I would argue that this definition also contains its very weakness. Life doesn't happen in controlled testing. It's easy enough to see the trees – never mind the forest and the entire ecosystem it happens to inhabit at this moment – but when we get down to the bark, it could be anything. The moon, the desert and a baby's used diaper.

        The scientific method separates the body from the mind. If faith is the evidence – physical, factual manifestation – of things hoped for, how would this method do a controlled test on hope? How would it even begin to test the imagination of a child?

        Science isn't the be all end all perspective, logic, rationale for existence. And neither is a belief system seed by religious perspectives. They both seems to be coming to grips of the same "thing" but from completely detached belief systems that tend to mutually exclude the other.

        And that's what controlled testing is about: exclusion of the very variables that allow something to manifest. That's my take only though.

        • Tommy Jay

          Peter,

          If I read you correctly, you touch on something that is vitally important to understanding science. The scientific method is [arguably] more about eliminating wrong answers than discovering final, absolute truths (if such a thing exists).

          I would argue, though, that what you see as a weakness, I see as the greatest strength of the scientific method. Revelation and personal experience is about the least reliable source of knowledge as the mind infers meaning where none may exist. Science takes its conjectures only as far as evidence will allow. It admits…even assumes…ignorance on matters out of its reach. It is infinitely better to confidently know little than to erroneously think you know everything.

          Science gives us the intellectual dry land as a launching point for philosophy. For instance, we know confidently now, that the earth is over 3,000,000,000 years old and that the universe as we know it exploded into existence about 13,700,000,000 years ago. To argue otherwise isn't merely a different interpretation of facts…it is objectively and demonstrably wrong. We can wax hypothetical and mystical and philosophical about what happened before the Big Bang, but discussions of cosmology and universal origins cannot be in conflict with the dry land of of what we actually know.

          Will science quantify things like 'love' or 'well-being' or 'morality'? …probably not to a meaningful degree…but we will/do know some things quite reliably. (i.e. brain activity and physiological phenomena when someone is in love).

          I would go farther still: Does one doubt that we can objectively determine that the Taliban throwing acid in the face of a girl having the temerity to seek an education is immoral? I think, to some degree, we can.

          Is John's conversion experience a visit from the beyond? …or was it an electrolyte imbalance? Are near death experiences a vision into the afterlife? …or is is the result of oxygen deprivation? (there is much documentation to that effect). Science stops you at the fork in the road where you have to decide the correct route (cause) so you can consider all the options before you commit.

  • Tommy Jay

    I am not predisposed to the ad hominem attack, but I shall use your own words…

    Your refutation is “thought so weak” that it makes the wholly erroneous conclusion that anything I or SciAm said some how says you are wrong. It merely says that there is this well documented phenomenon that could be an explanation for these sensed presences. Occam’s Razor would suggest that, of the two possibilities, the simpler explanation (electro chemical) is probably the answer in lieu of the complex answer (God suspending physical laws of the universe).

    It may be that you were called to God by one of his underlings in the closet but, now that you know other explanations, one has (in a sense) some responsibility to justify their dismissal of the simple answer….which was my only point.

    @Nora

    …So if I have a revelatory experience and was told that I was the King of Siam, it would be given credence as long as I was still a nice guy? I am not sure how you define your proof.

    • Tommy Jay

      Ooops! I misquoted you John. I thought you said "Thought" when you said "though". I don't know how do undo the damage. Sorry.

  • Nora

    Merely conversational nonsense on my part, darling — I am not one of those folks who goes through life boring the crap out of people throwing boring, pedantic tantrums insisting everyone “prove” everything, right now, right here, blahblahblah.

    Take it or leave it, sweetie, makes no nevermind to me.

  • Karen

    Your so-called conversion is just synaptic firings, your love for Cat is just lust, your faithfulness is neurotic, your imagination behind your writing flows out of …… I don’t want to consider what in your brain gives rise to that!

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Tommy: Are you a young man—say, under 25?

    • Tommy Jay

      Nope. More than twice that. What else would you like to know?

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        Nothing. I was simply wondering if you were a young person. Sometimes youngerish people think as I thought maybe you did, which is that life is on the whole rational and explainable. You know how young people tend to sometimes see life in such relatively clear blacks and whites. But you know how it is, really: the older you get, the more irrational you come to understand so much of life–and definitely so much of the human experience–to be.

        That's how it's been for me, anyway. The older I get, the crazier I think life is. But maybe in that regard your experience has been different than mine.

        • Tommy Jay

          I don't think I would describe it as 'crazier'. I would say the more exposure I have to the sciences, the more I seem myself as ignorant. Every question answered creates two new questions.

          • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

            Same thing: "crazy" = "incomprehensible."

  • http://steveinmarines.blogspot.com steve

    Everyone seems to think we need hardcore science to prove our minds play tricks, or we need hardcore science to bring that fact to its logical conclusion. We're silly for thinking that.

  • textjunkie

    As a firm believer that your conversion experience definitely correlated with something going on in your brain–everything in your conscious experience is correlated with *something* going on in your brain–I have to ask about the cause and effect model, here.

    We don't currently have a model or measurement device that would let us say "these neurons are firing because God is working in this person's life!" We might have other models for why those neurons are firing, or we might not see any reason why those neurons are firing. But the scientific method doesn't allow for causality of the type you would like to assign to the situation. It's off the table, because it doesn't allow anyone to make other hypotheses that can be tested.

    So we are talking apples and oranges. You may have experienced or interpreted your experience as God interacting with you–no one can prove otherwise. Were you having a mild seizure in your temporal lobe? Probably. Was the cause of that stress, or divine intervention? Can't prove it either way, in this case, not to an external observer, not using logical rationalist methods. I might be able to set up a lab situation where I can prove that people under stress raised in a believing environment tend to interpret their internal states as the presence of some God-like being. I cannot prove that God wasn't there, nor can I prove that every time someone thinks God is near that they are under stress and God was NOT near.

  • Tommy Jay

    Well said textjunkie. Any perception…be it electro-chemical or divine…is the result of neurons firing. No neurons=no perception.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    I once had a guy explaining to me that love (for God and my wife) was simply a product of brain function. I joked that it may not make a very good anniversary card… "You fire up my hypothalamus" just sounds a bit too Vulcan.

    I'm fine with this actually being the case. I mean, if all the nuances, complexities, and perturbations is programmed into such a small piece of grey matter, I would conclude: amazing.

    • Tommy Jay

      The brain and its working ARE utterly amazing. In the same issue of Scientific American mentioned earlier, there was a an article on 'blind sight'. Blind Sight is a phenomenon that can occur when there is specific damage to the visual cortex of the brain that renders the subject blind…at least in the conscious sense. Below is a video of a subject that is completely 'blind', but he navigates a cluttered hallway avoiding all obstacles … all the while being completely unaware that he is doing so!!

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?i

  • Shadsie

    Hi. I followed here from HuffPo (I post comments under a different name there).

    I felt compelled to respond to this because your perspective reminds me of my own perspective of something that happened to me recently.

    By all rights, I probably shouldn't be alive right now. I survived a work accident via a very *weird* convergence of small, lucky things – a sort of luck that isn't typical for me. Now, everything that happened has a *completely* naturalistic explaination, and I am aware of this. There is nothing about my experience that I can hold up as a "miracle" to people who do not believe in miracles, and I'm okay with that.

    Now, the accident… is something I think needed to happen to me, too. I learned some valuable lessons from it, but the fact that I was not injured any more than I was – via some frankly weird little lucky things speaks for itself for me. I see what happened as a miracle, even though I know there are perfectuly mundane explainations. I see it also as something "for me, not for others," anyway.

    People who see miracles in the mundane can see them anywhere. Those that close their eyes to the possibility will see them nowhere. It's all in how you see life.

    • Diana

      “People who see miracles in the mundane can see them anywhere. Those that close their eyes to the possibility will see them nowhere. It’s all in how you see life.”

      So true! Thank you for saying that!

      • Shadsie

        I'm actually writing a novel to that effect. (Don't get exicted. I'm a nobody and have had nothing of signifcane published yet. I have another novel out with the first agent to give me the time of day, but I haven't heard from her in months). Also, I write Fantasy-genre, so that kind of tells you something about my imagination and "thinking with the heart rather than the head" which, in the eyes of the "rationalists" automatically makes me stupid. I do have my stupid in-progress thing up at a website for anyone interested in honest concrit.

        Anyway, to my recent "miracle," since I actually feel somewhat *safe* in sharing it here….

        Back in December, just after Christmas, I had an accident at my job. I work part time as a stablehand for a horse ranch. I was coming down the stairs from the hayloft with I slipped. I fell down about fifteen steps onto a concrete floor. Also, for some inexplicable reason, someone else at the barn decided tha the bottom of the stairs would be a good idea to store a cinder block. (It has since been removed). I wound up busting up my right arm (cracked bone, not a clean break) and bruising a kidney (which I had to sort out later at the local Catholic hospital).

        That was the bad bit. The little "convergences of miraculous luck."

        1. When I slipped, a split second before, I felt myself slip, in that instant, accepted that I wasn't going to catch myself, and tucked under (possibly saved me some damage). This is attributable to simple human instinct, of course.

        2. My head did not hit that stupid cinder block. I hit my head on something – a stair or concrete barn floor, I am not sure, but I completely missed the jagged little skull-buster.

        3. I was wearing a ponytail that day and I'm sure it protected my head. (Felt the pain of hitting right where the ponytail was). I do not *usually* wear a ponytail. This was just a whim-decision I'd made that morning, when I usually let my hair go free.

        4. It was winter. The barn was cold. Thus, I was wearing four layers of clothing that day, including a thick military-stype P-jacket. I know that if I had not been wearing that jacket over a thick sweatshirt over a shirt and thermals, my arm would have gotten a much nastier clean-break than the little bone-crack it took me only a month to recover from. (Didn't even get casted).

        5. Sometimes, my work in the barn was completely alone. Everyone who works there, including the liason who got me the job (she was taking care of horses she kept there) was there. And she told me to "STAY DOWN, YOU'VE GOT A HEAD INJURY!" when I'd tried to brush it off, thinking I was fine, to go back to work. I could have made myself worse if they hadn't been there. It's probably miraculous in and of itself that I managed to fall down a flight of stairs onto a flat, concrete floor and remain completely concious and talking and feeling like I *could* get up and go right back to work, actually.

        6. Probably the most miraculous thing at all: I found out I had a caring boss. She visited me in the trauma ward and she payed all my medical bills. I didn't technically fall under Workman's Comp because I was an agricultural worker. I think my boss actually had to pay some of the billing from her own pocket. Now, this for me, is special, because I've never had a boss like that before. All the bosses I've ever had before would have said "You're clumsy, you're fired, rot!" (in fact, I had a graphic design job – newspaper, that fired me one week before they were supposed to give me regular health benefits. They gave me a reason, but it was shady ) and I would have had to *sue* to get anything out of them. When I was recovering, the boss I have now talked of her own physical therapy experiences and flat out said she loved me. (She loves all her people). So much for there being no/little value in emotion!

        All of this is…. miraculous to me, and no one can tell me otherwise, even though there are perfectly rational explainations for ALL of it. This kind of thing just tells me that "someone wants me alive/ my life is meant to be" more than "your parents were in lust and you're just soulless replicated DNA"

        Sommetimes, I feel stupid for being a Christian (though I'm skeptical of the American church and haven't been to church in years. If I go for the first time in forever tommorow depends on if I decide to get up in the morning) – I now I'm not "Christian" enough for many. I've encountered many people/conversations that make me feel downright evil for being a theist at all…. But the conclusion I always come to is that they just don't see the world the same way I do. Maybe the way I see things is stupid – but it's the only way I can see things.

  • John

    Hi John – been reading your stuff for a while today, coming from HuffPo…

    Since you ask, my standard terse answer to your question is Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum – I think, therefore I am.

    Background – my discipline is computer science (Ph.D.), with lots of science underneath (grad minor in math logic, bachelor’s in math/physics). So I qualify by the skin of my teeth as a scientist. I’ve also had a near-death experience, years ago as a young atheist. I became a Christian about a year later, and have been one since. I self-describe as a fundamentalist charismatic evangelical socialist Christian.

    Anyway, what “cogito, ergo sum” asserts is that sentience precedes material evidence, not the other way around. Many scientists and atheists make the mistake of presuming that material evidence is axiomatic, when in fact the process by which such “evidence” is received is entirely intellectual.

    Put simply, the spiritual precedes the material. Descartes was smart enough to have realized that.

    Moreover, being a computer science (and an original contributor to Linux), I would assert that the intellectual substance of my discipline is non-material – and therefore spiritual. It gets manifest in various material forms, but its essence is decidedly non-material.

    It struck me once upon a time how similar to Descartes’ assertion – I think, therefore I am – is the Tetragrammaton, which supposedly roughly translates “I am that I am.” I.e., it’s about existence, and is nothing if not axiomatic.

    Another observation you may find interesting. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Logos” (Logos being “word in the sense of thought or idea”), and 1:14 continues, “and the Logos” was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Again, intellect precedes material existence.

    More specifically, though, as a former atheist, this is something I have always found particularly compelling, and it is the core of my own discipline of computer science: I would assert that the phenomenon of language (beginning with logos, continuing with rhema, etc) is the very intersection of what I’d call the spiritual and physical realms.

    I myself had a “supernatural” conversion experience, following by about a year a near-death experience, which years later I was startled to realize was very much like what Paul described in 2 Corinthians 12. One of the remarkable things was that in what Paul described as being pulled up into the third heaven, it seems to me that I saw literally everything, and everything had a visible, explicit name. It was too much to hold in my mind (long story, as Paul suggested – too much to describe). But the takeaway was the constant amazement I still have at how humans can not only communicate, but literally think – via the phenomenon of symbolic language. Computer software is only the tip of that iceberg.

    So I would suggest to “scientists” that assert that the physical is axiomatic and that spiritual phenomenon requires proof, simply are not as scientific as they imagine, and need to study their craft a bit more.

    Could a God have inspired the writing of Scripture? No doubt in my mind. In fact, from my experiences, I believe God exists more than I believe that I exist, and I mean that more seriously than I can tell you.

    I’ve heard that the body completes renews over about 7 years, and that is evident from appearances. But I still perceive myself to be the same person I was a number of bodies ago. Truthfully, I look at my body sometimes and am startled that it’s not what my mind tells me I am, at all. My consistency, what little there is of it, is not in my flesh, but in my spirit.

    That’s part of what I think… Certainly not all of it.

  • Tommy Jay

    John [not Shore] said:

    “So I would suggest to “scientists” that assert that the physical is axiomatic and that spiritual phenomenon requires proof, simply are not as scientific as they imagine, and need to study their craft a bit more.”

    I would suggest that you are wrong. Nobody denies the ‘spiritual’ experience. I don’t know anyone that asks for proof of that experience. Everyone can have such experiences. I (a former believer) have had ‘spiritual’ experiences. The failure is to claim specific knowledge of a supernatural source for that experience when there are know naturalistic sources for similar experiences. The claim of the known source is what demands proof.

    Without going into more on near death experiences; here is a funny take on it…

    http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=271286&title=space-near-death-experience

    • Diana

      OK, that video was funny.

      I've never had a near-death experience myself (no long tunnel, no clown with electric guitar, nothing.) My faith is something that has built up over time and is based primarily in ordinary, day-to-day experiences (the National Enquirer would find my faith story to be boring indeed!) Still, I believe.

  • Lisa

    When I was four I heard a voice as well, that told me to pray that my brother (just born, in the Neonatal ICU) would come home the next day. I tried to ignore it, and I heard it again. So I knelt down in my room, where I was supposed to be quickly fetching my coat so that Mom and I could go to the hospital to visit brother, and I said the quick prayer. An hour later we got the news that he was coming home the next day, ahead of everyone's expectations. Scientific explanation doesn't phase me; I don't believe that science and religion are pitted against one another. I knew in my heart at four years old that it was the voice of God.

  • Rachel in California

    I'm a hospital chaplain. People do have amazing experiences, especially as they near death. Many on the medical staff regard these experiences as mere hallucinations, indicating drug effects or brain dysfunction. Of course the experiences have a physical substrate (and I report them to medical staff to make sure the patient is not being overdosed)–all of our experiences, including being in love, seeing what's around us, and tasting our food cause physical parts of our brains to light up, and chemicals to suffuse our bodies.

    As a chaplain, serving spiritual needs, I take the experiences seriously. They often lead people into a larger and more meaningful understanding and experience of what they are going through. They seem usually to be given in the service of wholeness and love.

  • Karen

    Dan — good way of putting it. That's the essence of what I preach and teach on this topic. Do we really think humans can know everything about the universe?

  • Dan

    How about this

    “the universe is Big, like really big, and it is complex, at least 4-6 jigsaw puzzles worth. A God who could come up with this, could also I assume make it so that our emotions/feelings/spirituality were grounded in our bodies, emotions, chemicals”

    for me I look at the flip side. If love, faith etc. are the result of our bio-chemical selves, do we really lose that same self when we suffer senile dementia, or a TBI (traumatic Brain Injury) I am a therapist in the real world and I find people love to excise the bad parts of their self, and ascribe some external identity to them, yet the good, being internal is just a part o theri “self”

    my oppinion is mixed. I think God is way smarter than I am, and I hope he is not going to dumb down his world, just to give me a reason to believe blindly in him. that wouldbe like cheating at cards to convince a 5 year old you can do magic. I find the more I know about the unlimited complexity of the universe big and small, the more it supports my belief, not because I can’t understand it, but because there will always be more to find out. maybe we will find some proof of God, maybe not, it don’t matter to me. I’ll keep being a born again who believes in science, it’s menthod, evolution, the big bang etc, and allow God to have done all of it, for his/her own reasons.

  • http://www.unscrewingtheinscrutable.com Brent Rasmussen

    John Shore: "I was suddenly converted into a Christian by Christian God-magic in a closet. Wow!"

    Commenter: "Uh, your experience is very easily explained by a well-known chemical phenomenon called the "Sensed Presence Effect". Sorry."

    John Shore: "Well, I agree that it makes perfect sense that it was probably the Sensed Presence Effect…

    …but it was also GOD-MAGIC! Booya!" *fist pump*

    Commenter: "Sigh."

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Wow. Dickish much?

    • Tommy Jay

      You should cut Mr. Shore a bit of slack. If all Christians of were of the ilk of Mr. Shore, there would be far less reason for non-believers like you and me to be concerned about religion and its most insipid aspects. Mr. Shore recognizes church/state separation as invaluable, dismisses literalism, and thinks believers should cool their jets on homosexuality.

      You do, however, touch on one of the most intellectually frustrating aspects of the believing mind. Even the most liberal believers often wholly divest themselves of rational thought and reason in order to maintain their faith system. For instance; from recent perusing of this blog, it would seem that Mr. Shore is as 'tolerant' of homosexuals as any Christian can be. He can pretty much dismiss anything in the Bible yet claim that the standard position on homosexuality is "unassailably Christian"…when, in fact, it is tooooootally assailable. In another blog post he made much of a miraculous earthquake tremor at the moment he mentioned to someone that he was a Christian author. He defended his position saying he liked to see miracles everywhere. Non-believers like you and I see little or no light between that and seeing miraclesanywhere. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2008/07/29/earthquake-almost-converts-lady-in-my-apartment/)

      In one of his most recent posts he complains that Christians fail by being "Too quick to abandon logic."; yet is oblivious to the gross ways he has already done so.

      …but let me make myself clear….This is not an indictment of John Shore at all. It is an indictment of supernatural belief. It would seem that it is unavoidable that one must discard some very basic tenets of rational thought in order to maintain those beliefs. The liberalism that Mr. Shore embraces, however, is at best an uneasy equilibrium. The fact that he gives credence to a holy book that he frequently dismisses lends support to those that don't dismiss the pernicious parts. Even the 'harmless' Christians like Mr. Shore provides support for the dangerous literalists.

      Humankind has always invented gods to explain the unexplainable and mythology to create comfort where none might otherwise be available. It is not realistic to think that we can debate ourselves into a society without unfounded supernatural beliefs. We should be thankful that the likes of Mr. Shore can argue within their circles to draw believers toward the benign end of the spectrum.

      • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

        In one of his most recent posts Tommy Jay complains that Christians fail by being “Too quick to abandon logic.”; yet is oblivious to the gross ways he has already done so.

        • Diana

          I'm sure he has, however, I would be interested in having you elaborate on that.

          No fair slinging a one line criticism and then walking away! :-)

          He does seem to be damning John with faint praise, though. (Or is that "praising him with faint damns"?–line courtesy of Andrew Greeley.) I get those two mixed up.

          Peace!

          • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

            I think fairness went out the window a few of comments ago, Diana. And it is not that he *seems* to be damning John (and all “like” him).

          • Diana

            I guess what I was saying is that sinking to the same low as those around us doesn't really help our case. For instance, Brent Rasmussen's comment (which is what started this latest tangent) served only to make him sound like a jerk. It could have easily been left to just sit there (like the proverbial pink elephant in the living room) without making John look bad at all. In fact, that's why (I think) Tommy Jay struck back at him–because he was making the atheist viewpoint look bad, not the theist viewpoint.

            Also, since logic is not my strong point (and never has been), I was interested in hearing you elaborate on what was illogical in Tommy Jay's post. I had the sense that there was something wrong with it but not the insight to figure out what that was.

          • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

            Diana, I subtly replied to your concern… damning John and by extension all "like" John is bigotry at best. Condescending fundamentalism at worst. … which, of course, requires abandoning logic.

            Sorry for sinking to his level (making unsubstantiated claims about a person's character)… but maybe I could defend it as meeting him where he's at. Yeah. No.

          • Diana

            Okay, I see your point. Thanks!

      • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

        If you're going to put yourself forward as a champion of logical thought, Tommy, then get your quotes right. I didn't say the standard position on homosexuality is “unassailably Christian.” What I said was

        I know many of us understand our stance on the matter to be unassailably Biblical.

        Big, big difference.

        You wouldn't want people to think you were twisting the truth in order to support your unwarranted assertions, right? Because only people blinded by the dogma of their prejudices do that, right?

    • Shadsie

      Just because I know the flowers of Spring are just a bunch of plants getting their sex on doesn’t make them any less beautiful to me.

      Nor does knowing that the Earth turns and the sun doen’t actually “set” make sunsets any less special.

      My own miracles have been far more mundane than voices in closets, but I still count them miracles. Can you blame John? Especially if the results have been peace of mind and good things in his life?

  • Allie

    This argument has always perplexed me. Usually it’s presented in the form of, “Science has found that crazy religious obsessives have activity in certain brain regions, and if you stimulate those regions, you can cause normal people to have ‘revelations’ which they insist are religious. Therefore all religious revelations are just hallucinations.”

    That’s like saying visual hallucinations disprove the existence of sight. Or more specifically it’s like saying visual hallucinations prove that all seen objects are only hallucinations. Whereas for a slightly more logical person, visual hallucinations indicate that there is in fact something out there worth seeing – that part of the brain evolved for a reason, it does something, and it malfunctioning doesn’t mean it doesn’t sometimes work correctly.

  • http://Www.unnameablecuriosity.wordpress.com Christine

    I think you’ve got it right on this one, John. The science only shows it *could* be nothing more than an affect in the brain. As far as proof goes, before the science, it *could* have just be you dreaming the whole thing up. I don’t think it moves the bar in either direction on how likely or not your experience was to be real. If anything, a biochemical reaction would show something real was happening to you, at least, and can’t explain where it comes from. This only shows your experience is not objective proof of God – but we knew that already.

    By comparison, we know there are biochemical reactions in the brain that correspond to essentially all of our emotions, as well as falling in love (which is more like an addiction than an emotion bran-chemical wise). We know what happens in the brain when we feel or love, and fairly thoroughly. But you don’t see the average person claiming that emotions or love aren’t real,

    important or meaningful.

    On that subject, I saw a TedTalk by someone studying love in the brain. She had the most romantic way of describing chemical reactions. Love was more real, more solid to her because of its physiological basis, not less. It was quite inspiring.


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