THE BLACK HOLE OF RELIGIOUS
BY JUDITH HANEY
Birmingham, AL, (USNewsLink) December 29, 2004
for people who are scared of hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there.
trip into a black hole. This tantalizing thought has excited much creative speculation.
There are two
ways to consider the issue. One is to "watch" someone or something -- say a
small robot spacecraft -- fall into the black hole. The odd thing is it never seems to get
there. The closer it approaches the hole's event horizon, the slower it seems to travel.
But for the crew inside, there would be no warning of its impending doom.
disk might warn of an event horizon beyond, but the horizon itself would remain invisible.
And for the crew, time seems to flow normally. Nevertheless, to you, the observer, the
spacecraft appears to halt, seemingly forever suspended at the boundary of the black hole.
The spacecraft begins to turn
orange, then red, then fades imperceptibly from view. Though it is gone, you never saw
where or how it disappeared.
yourself! Imagine that you are venturing into the black hole yourself. As you travel
toward it you may notice nothing out of the ordinary, except an inability to steer
yourself in any but one direction -- which is toward the "invisible" hole. You
would never know when you had crossed the event horizon were it not for the increased
gravitational tugging that draws your body longer and longer, squeezing in from the sides.
You wouldn't last long, which is too bad, because theorists believe that inside a black
hole, time and space are scrambled up strangely, such that even time travel, or travel to
different universes via so-called "wormholes" might become possible, if (and a
big IF!) you could survive the extreme gravity inside the hole.
Einstein's Theory of
General Relativity predicts that though the gravitational field around a massive black
hole is stronger on the large scale, it will exert weaker tidal forces than its smaller
counterpart, at least outside the event horizon. These forces are what would stretch and
squeeze you into spaghetti." (Excerpted from Journey into a Black Hole.)
To know a
person's religion we need not listen to his profession of faith, but must find his brand
of intolerance. - Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)
belief, and membership in a faith community are important factors in the lives of many
individuals. In addition to moral and spiritual guidance, they can provide a sense of
purpose, structure and community. For certain individuals, religious beliefs become
compulsive, joyless behaviors. The individual may constantly worry that he or she might
say or do something blasphemous. He may fear that he has committed sin, forgotten it and
then neglected to repent for the sin. He may spend long hours searching his mind to try to
ferret out evidence of un-confessed sins. He is unable to feel forgiven. Specific
obsessions and compulsions vary according to the individuals religion. An Orthodox
Jew might worry that he did not perform a particular ritual correctly. He might obsess
about this for hours. A Roman Catholic might go to confession several times a day. Another
individual could believe that anything he does might be sinful. This individual might
become so paralyzed with doubt, that he or she becomes afraid to do or say anything at
Because these obsessions and
compulsions are intertwined in the individuals religious life, it may be difficult
for the individual to recognize that he or she has a psychiatric condition. An individual
with religious obsessions often may focus excessively on one particular concern about sin
while neglecting other aspects of his or her religion. Most religions place a high
priority on compassion and being a good neighbor. The scrupulous individual, while
focusing excessively on a few specific rules, may neglect this more general dictum.
Religious leaders within the
Roman Catholic and Jewish community have addressed these issues. Commentators in both of
these groups have writings that label scrupulosity as a sin. One rabbi called it idolatry
because the excessive devotion to a specific ritual (to the detriment of good acts toward
other people) elevated the ritual to a god-like status. In his book, The Doubting
Disease, JW Ciarrocchi reviews Roman Catholic pastoral writings over past centuries.
He feels that some of the things that priests did to help scrupulous individuals
anticipated current treatments for OCD." (Excerpted from Scrupulosity: Religious Obsessions and Compulsions,
Carol E. Watkins, MD )
The path to
salvation is narrow and as difficult to walk as a razor's edge. - Upanishads
"Love is a
process. No soul is ever complete. There is an unfinished quality about human beings that
includes both the tragic and glorious dimensions of human experience. The realization of
these truths led Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, to seek guidance at
a desert monastery located between Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt. The monastery of St.
Macarius continues in modern times the traditions of the ancient monastic orders of early
Christianity. Through desert spirituality, Jones found a way to rejuvenate his spirit and
discover again the meaning of soul. His book Soul Making is an expression of some of the
truths that allowed him to continue his spiritual pilgrimage, and at the same time
recognize his full humanity.
The desert way
is both threatening and fulfilling. On the one hand it demands silence, waiting and
temptation. It is not easy to let the silence speak. On the other hand, there is hope. For
Jones, that hope is based on the possibility of revelation, conversation and
transformation. Revelation means a new way of seeing things. Even the physical experience
of the desert contributes to revelation. Conversation with our inner self and with those
who are on a similar pilgrimage makes possible new understandings about life. Finally,
there is always the possibility that such an experience will lead to transformation.
gift of the monastery was hospitality. The seeker was welcomed without any requirement
that others know who he was or what he had done. With no questions asked, three things
were provided -food, shelter and companionship. The monastery's commitment to hospitality
was based upon the possibility that it might be entertaining an "Angel unaware."
During Jones' visit, there was never any attempt to indoctrinate him. Their belief was
that faith is not a product of indoctrination from the outside; it comes from the Spirit
of God bursting out from inside us.
To be devoted to the
God of the Normal is to miss the joy of living in grace. The normal is defined by custom
and fashion. The normal is an enemy to love, because love is unpredictable. Love crosses
boundaries and always leads us into a deeper experience of freedom, spontaneity and grace.
The work of the
heart involves questioning and wondering. Three words sum up the desert method of
spiritual enlightenment-Look, Weep, Live. Looking means seeing things in a new way with a
challenge to change. It means seeing things with openness and detachment-not trying to
change things, but allowing everything to speak to us. The goal is self-discovery. The
desert way teaches that we either contemplate or exploit. Jones came to realize that there
are some blocks to letting things speak to us. The first is perfectionism-not allowing
ourselves to be human. The second block is the wrong kind of ambition-the need to win, to
come out on top. The third is vindictiveness-the desire to triumph over the other. Jones
calls these forms of religious neurosis, "Terrorist Spirituality." To him they
represent the vices of religious people: high principles and self -righteous
vindictiveness, and are at the heart of many threats to harmony in our world today.
The drive to be
perfect is to be God-like. But the relevant question is, what God? To some people, God can
be the source of vindictiveness. To others, God is the expression of love and
unconditional acceptance. To overcome our neurosis, the desert way encourages us to keep
ourselves open to MYSTERY. The psychotherapist Carl Jung said, "Being in touch with
the truly numinous releases us from pathology."
Weeping is the
second step in desert spirituality. Jones speaks of the "gift of tears." To him
they are the agents of resurrection and transformation. Sooner or later we have to face
the issues of misfortune, pain and death. These issues lie at the heart of religion. It is
true that to have a good cry has a cathartic effect, but the tears of the desert way are
more than that. They are not the tears of rage, self-pity or frustration. They are tears
that put us in touch with the pain of God. Entering into that experience introduces us to
grace. It is precisely at the point where we have been wounded that the presence of God
penetrates our hearts. God is felt in places too deep for words. God is felt in pain,
sorrow and contradiction. The monks of the desert use the Greek word penthos, which
means "puncturing." It is God's word that pierces the heart, cuts to the quick,
but also raises us from the dead. Jones affirms that the puncturing of our heart delivers
us from a false sense of who we are and also provides us with the shock necessary for us
to be who we ought to be. With that, our tears become the tears of truth; insight breaks
in, and our souls are flooded with new life. Then we are ready for the third facet of
To live is to
live in love. Love always comes to us as a gift. Jones, using a poem by Anne Sexton,
creates the image of our playing cards with God, where God always holds five aces. Card
players know that is absurd-there are not five aces in the deck. But God always moves
beyond the normal and trumps us with divine love. The closing words of the poem express
that joyous absurdity:
dealer, I with my royal straight flush love you so for your wild card that untamable,
eternal, gut-driven ha-ha and lucky love.
Jones fills his
book with many illustrations from literature and psychology, but his most effective
offering is the sharing of his own experience as a desert pilgrim. He becomes a most
attractive guide for his readers to join in his journey." (Excerpted from "Soul
Making - Journeying to the Desert with Alan Jones, A Book Review" by The Rev. Dr. Brooks Ramsey).
essential in the existence of a man of my type is what he thinks and how he thinks, and
not what he does or suffers." -
"Atheists have tacitly
conceded the field to theists in the area of philosophical cosmology, specifically, in the
enterprise of explaining why the universe exists. The theistic hypothesis is that the
reason the universe exists lies in God's creative choice, but atheists have not proposed
any reason why the universe exists. I argue that quantum cosmology proposes such an
atheistic reason, namely, that the universe exists because it has an unconditional
probability of existing based on a functional law of nature. This law of nature ("the
wave function of the universe") is inconsistent with theism and implies that God does
not exist. I criticize the claims of Alston, Craig, Deltete and Guy, Oppy and Plantinga
that theism is consistent with quantum cosmology."
People who are interested in controlling and dominating anything are the
least likely to benefit humanity, and history has shown that this has horrifying
consequences. (Excerpted from Genetic
Engineering by Natassja Voltin)
onslaught against science has utilized many novel strategies. They have moved away from
biblical fundamentalism and have all but abandoned young-earth creationism. They no longer
attack the merits of radioactive dating methods and even accept most of what mainstream
science declares as the fossil record.
Creationists nowadays are even
hesitant to use the word "God" in any of their arguments; instead they opt for
phrases such as "intelligent designer" in its place. Instead of attacking
science on specific points, modern creationists rail against the major tenets of the
scientific method. And now that members of academe have been enlisted into the fight,
their arguments appear more sophisticated and have taken on an air of legitimacy.
It seems a new tactic has
emerged in the war against evolution. Creationists are now riding on the coattails of the
biggest names in science. Recently this strategy was employed by the Discovery Institute
in Seattle, and unfortunately they tugged on the coattails of Steven Hawking so hard that
his tailor almost certainly will be spending many hours fixing the back of his
Question posed to Stephen
Hawking in 2001: "Scientists from Galileo to Newton believed in some sort of divine
intelligence that acted at least as a mathematician. What do you feel that the results
from science from the later half of the 20th century have to say about the mind of
god?" Answer by Stephen Hawking: (paraphrased) "...when I talk of knowing God, I
mean what Einstein had meant, knowing the ultimate laws of nature. And I predict that we
will know the mind of God by the end of this century."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This collection of excerpted
articles was unknowingly inspired by M. Ashley McKathan,
a former "angel unaware" who did me a great service by gently, but continually,
shoving his ideas down my reluctant throat during a few telephone conversations in
December, 2004. Because of his intentional proselytizing, and my continuous resistance to
same, and also due in part to Ashley's charm and innate kindness, those conversations sent
me on a journey of gaining a degree of insight into manifestations of religious obsession.
After all was written, spell checked, mulled over, stared at, and thought through to the
extent that my 60-year old, pre-senility, brain would allow, in the end I felt less lonely
during that particular month of my life but no more inclined toward becoming a
"participant" of organized religion. Thank you for spending that time with me
Ashley. I count it as one of the best, and most enriching, experiences of my life. -
Judith Haney, July 23, 2005