December 20, 2018

Can neuroscience debunk mystical experiences? Should we dismiss them as a matter of misfiring neurons, or are they something more something more? In the first two posts of this series (here and here) I reviewed novels that explore these questions with nuance and complexity. Here, I argue that neuroscientific explanations do not threaten mystical experiences, once we reject a false materialist framework. What is mysticism? First, we have to define our terms. Mysticism is the tendency of the human soul toward... Read more

December 16, 2018

What does it mean to feel God’s presence, and how is this related to brain activity? If psychopathology is involved, does this mean it’s not an authentic religious experience? In the age of scientific reductionism, it’s tempting to dismiss mystical experiences as mere abnormal patterns of neural activity. But is mysticism a matter of misfiring neurons, or something more? In the first post of this series, I reviewed a novel that explores similar questions: Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy. But... Read more

December 13, 2018

What is the relationship between pathology and holiness? In recent years, scientific studies have sought to draw a link between psychopathologies — such as epilepsy and schizophrenia — and mysticism. And when science finds a mechanism, it seems to shatter an illusion of mystery. Does this relationship dissolve religious experience into disinhibited temporal lobes? Could altered brain states explain away the long and rich tradition of Christian mysticism? These are questions we must raise and explore; science alone will not... Read more

December 8, 2018

Advent is a season of preparation in joyful hope for the coming of Christ. We remember His first coming 2000 years ago, anticipate His coming in glory at the end of times, and so make our hearts ready to welcome Him in the moments of each and every day. Advent is a season of preparation. But preparation is difficult and uncomfortable. It’s hard to listen to John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way for the Lord. It’s tempting to... Read more

December 6, 2018

The Nativity is astonishing. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of a woman. The King of the Universe entered the world as a fragile infant, a bundle of needs who was utterly dependent on his mother. What a terrifying fact. The vulnerability of Our Savior’s gestation and early life is enough to take your breath away. The Advent and Christmas seasons are an invitation for us to examine our own dependence on relationships of love, a dependence... Read more

November 29, 2018

Here are four things that have challenged, informed, and fascinated me lately. 1. Tapping Into the Brain’s Star Power, from Nature (here). Astrocytes are a type of glial cell, brain cells that are not neurons. They comprise 20-40% of your brain, and yet their function, origin, and structure remain incredibly mysterious. But more and more studies are coming out implicating astrocytes in almost every developmental process, and almost every disease. This feature article is a great overview of research on... Read more

November 25, 2018

Our culture views fear as a sign of weakness. The fearful person is told to “not be a baby,” our boys are instructed to “man up.” Sometimes fear is maladaptive, distancing us from reality and paralyzing us in front of the challenges of everyday life. But what if a healthy fear, one correctly ordered, by Fear of God, was the starting point for an authentic faith? What is fear? Fear is an instinctive response to potential danger. The experience of... Read more

November 18, 2018

Lately, I’ve been relying more heavily than usual on my friends – or at least, more attuned to my dependence on them. I’ve been blessed with incredible, unexpected friendships during my time at Notre Dame. And I need them. I need this companionship that I’ve been drawn into. So I’ve been wondering, what exactly is our friendship? And why do I need it? Two great accounts of spiritual friendship Of the many eloquent accounts of friendship, two really stick out... Read more

November 15, 2018

What if I told you that there was a prayer perfectly suited to your biology? There is: The Liturgy of the Hours. This prayer of the Catholic Church is a powerful way to lean into how you are wired. But to understand this, you first need some science. What is a circadian rhythm? The circadian rhythm is your body’s inner biological clock. It’s regulated by genes located in cell throughout your body, but the master biological clock is a cluster... Read more

November 11, 2018

There has been a surge of interest, in recent years, in identifying the neural correlates of religious experience. Some scientists, particularly Sam Harris, have used this as a methodology to attack religion and portray it as a backward set of biased assumptions. However, we need not be afraid of this line of scientific exploration. When conducted well, and when its limitations are understood, it can enrich our understanding of prayer, and perhaps improve our prayer lives as well. So what... Read more


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