Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Those who are emeshed in the flesh cannot understand mysticism

The New Oxford Review links to two stories:

Nuns prove God is not figment of the mind

The idea that there a "God spot" in the brain, a circuit of nerves which could explain mankind's almost universal belief in a deity, is questioned today by a study of Carmelite nuns.

Scientists have been in the pursuit of the brain processes underlying the Unio Mystica - the Christian notion of mystical union with God - and this endeavour is now part of a newly-emerging field called "neurotheology".

But the God module, as some scientists call it, is a mirage, according to the study by Dr Mario Beauregard, of the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal and his student Vincent Paquette, published in the journal Neuroscience Letters. "The main goal of the study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience," said Dr Beauregard. "This does not diminish the meaning and value of such an experience, and neither does it confirm or disconfirm the existence of God."

Fifteen cloistered Carmelite nuns ranging from 23 to 64 years old were subjected to brain scan using a method called functional magnetic resonance imaging while being asked to relive a mystical experience, rather than actually try to achieve one. "I was obliged to do it this way seeing as the nuns are unable to call upon God at will," said Dr Beauregard.

This method was justified because previous studies with actors asked to enter a particular emotional state activated the same brain regions as people actually living those emotions.

Rather than reveal a spiritual centre in the brain, a module of neural circuits specifically designed for religious experience, the study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience.

In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.

In the past, some researchers went as far as to suggest the possibility of a specific brain region designed for communication with God. This latest research discredits such theories.

Speculation about the God spot was triggered when a team at the University of California, San Diego, saw that people with temporal-lobe epilepsy were prone to religious hallucinations.

This led Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Laurentian University in Canada, to stimulate emporal lobes artificially to see if he could induce a religious state. He found that he could create a "sensed presence".

Now, if these regions don't differ from individual to individual, but there is a general area of overlap, all it proves is that the "God spot" is not a small localized area in the brain; it could be a complex activity requiring a larger area of the brain. What needs to be done is to show that correlation is not the same as causal analysis--we who hold to a Thomistic account of the soul maintain in this life, the brain is a necessary instrument or tool of intellectual activity. But while it is a necessary tool, it is not a sufficient or complete cause of intellectual activity, especially contemplative prayer or the higher mystical gifts.

It is good that the Dr. Beauregard points out that for Catholics, authentic mystical experiences cannot be conjured up by the individual at will--they are true gifts from God. This is different from those other religons and spiritual traditions which teach that one is able to achieve a certain state by one's own effort.

The other article:
The Church decries film's focus on saint's sex life

THE church is facing another onslaught from filmmakers.

After the furore of the controversial account of Jesus in The Da Vinci Code, it is now having to contend with an allegedly blasphemous account of the life of Saint Teresa of Avila.

Geraldine Chaplin heads the cast of Teresa: Death and Life, a feature film about one of the world's greatest Christian figures.

Saint Teresa was a mystic who said that Christ frequently conversed with her, and four centuries after her death her writings are revered as spiritual masterpieces. But filmmakers do not do spirituality as easily as sexuality and, in exploring the saint's sex life and virginity, they now find themselves being accused of treading sacrilegiously.

The film, made by Spanish, French and British companies, has been written and directed by Ray Loriga, who worked with Spanish director Pedro Almodovar on the script of Live Flesh and made his directing debut with My Brother's Gun.

Asked whether he expected it to be controversial, he said: "There was controversy in the 16th century and I'm sure it can arise now.

"I think that the vision we have been offered of Saint Teresa is very close to a holy image.

"So far, everybody has been careful not to touch on certain uncomfortable subjects - her sexuality, her relationship with God, which was so close, nearly 'skin-to-skin'.

"These subjects were considered scandalous then and have not been studied much.

"They'll probably seem scandalous now, which does not say much for the progress made by the Catholic Church over the past centuries."

He added: "This is the 21st century and I think certain opinions about Saint Teresa, such as the question of her virginity, could change."

He claimed that these questions had to be seen "with a more courageous view".

Benedicta Ward was less than impressed, asking: "What does skin-to-skin with God mean?"

However, she acknowledged that Teresa had been worldly and very much a woman of 16th-century Spain, and not very pious until she was 40.

"She used to nick 'Mills and Boon' books from under her mother's pillow, which gave her writings her style," she said.

"She was the first great prose writer of Spain."

Come on, Ray Loriga doesn't have a certain take on Catholic Christianity? A collaborator with Pedro Almodovar, uhhuh. I think perhaps he, like many others, may have looked at Bernin's "Ecstatsy of Saint Teresa" and completely misunderstood what a mystical experience is:

The use of erotic love as a figure of divine union goes back to the Song of Songs. But it is a figure, not a literal exposition--divine union is not the same as intercourse or dare I say it, an orgasm. (I remember looking at the work for the first time during Humanities class senior year at CHS--our teacher Mrs. Davis commented upon Saint Teresa's expression. An expression and feeling of intense joy could be caused by an orgasm, but it could be caused by something else, and to identify the two causes as one and the same is "sloppy reasoning." And then there are complexities of the female "orgasm"... it's amazing what one can pick up listening to daytime TV and perusing articles at the supermarket. How many women (and men) watching daytime TV have been corrupted by it? Anyways, what I was thinking of was the fact that an "orgasm" may occur for the female outside of any sort of sex. In which case, perhaps a different word should be used to describe the release of chemicals in the body that lead to certain feelings. But the world is too engrossed with sex to make such a fine distinction.)

Those who do not pray should not speak of mysticism, for they cannot understand it. But the devil does what he can to discredit the higher things.

No comments: