It’s a lot like hunting Sasquatch, this intense business of parsing distressing near-death experiences. We’ve been covering a lot of ground, yet continually seeing the quarry lumbering off into denser woods just ahead. For a while in the previous post, ‘The Descent Experience,’ I was seeing flickers of comprehension and hints of correspondences (thank you, Sheila Joshi and Barbara Croner!); but then I lost the trail and have only now stumbled onto it again.
Part 1 of 3
The subject of this post results from a small crowd of blog comments and emails following the posts about my conference presentation,“Untangling Hellish Visions,” and the documentary Hellbound? For example, here are quotes from two typical comments:
- It’s terrifying that such a god might exist and is actually believed to exist by millions and millions of people. I agree with the other poster who said they pray that religion isn’t real: such a possibility is a nightmare.
- I don’t know what to believe any more, and I am so afraid. What is wrong with religion?
The June, 2012 issue of Nature magazine carried an interesting report about the closeness of our genetic relationship with apes. Scientists have known for several years that we share almost 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our closest relatives. Now bonobos, the chimps’ sibling species, have joined them in our DNA pool. It seems we share 98.7% of the DNA of both species.
Reading further on the topic, what I find most fascinating is the behavioral complexity of this news. Chimpanzees are known to be aggressive, hostile toward strangers, power-hungry, often violent to the point of murderous. Male dominated, they form attack gangs to roam their territory looking for outsiders to fight and kill; a male will kill unprotected infant chimps not his own.
Bonobos, the siblings from the opposite side of theCongo River, are the only peaceful ape. They are reported to be cooperative, curious rather than hostile toward outsiders, and alpha-female-dominated. Unlike chimps, bonobos share easily, even sharing food with strangers; they do not patrol the borders of their territory or practice infanticide.
It is not that bonobos do not experience conflict; they do. However, saysDuke University researcher Brian Hare, bonobos will bite, but they won’t kill. Primatologists say they are hyper-sexual, preferring to “make love not war” as a way of resolving conflicts. Whereas chimps tend to address conflict with violence, bonobos of both genders prefer to settle scores with (non-procreative, sometimes homosexual) sex. Journalist Andrew Sullivan reports about one laboratory experiment that “at times the chimps were too busy fighting each other to complete tasks. But the sexually hyper-promiscuous bonobos could focus…” How very intriguing. [Read more…] about What about religion and distressing NDEs?
Much of contemporary talk about spirituality is taken up with the importance–even the essentialness–of positive thinking, of accepting only the light and believing we can refuse pain and difficulty. It is easy to forget that there may be something to be said for a more existentially open view. In the weekend marking the Christian observance of the brutal death of Jesus, here are the great psychologist William James and Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann:
William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, casts his lot with existential honesty:
“The method of averting one’s attention from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it will work…But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes. [T]here is no doubt that healthy mindedness is inadequate…because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.”
Walter Brueggemann, in his book The Message of the Psalms, sees purpose in those that are cries of anguish (emphasis in original):
It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. The reason for such relentless affirmation of orientation seems to me, not from faith, but from the wishful optimism of our culture. Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the larger number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about an incoherence that is experienced in the world…I believe that serous religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that acknowledgement of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith, as though the very speech about it conceded too much about God’s “loss of control”…The point to be urged here is this: The use of these “psalms of darkness” may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith and failure, but for the trusting community, their use is an act of bold faith…