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Birmingham, AL, (USNewsLink) December 29, 2004

Religion is for people who are scared of hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there.

"Imagine a 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.

An accretion 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.

Now brace 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)

"Religious 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 individual’s 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 all.

Because these obsessions and compulsions are intertwined in the individual’s 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.

The primary 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 spirituality-Living.

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:

Dearest 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).

"What is 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." - Albert Einstein

"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)

"Creationism's recent 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 jacket."

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


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