Friday, May 30, 2014

A Foresty Excursion

Earlier this week I got to visit (very briefly) a Presbyterian retreat center in Montreat, NC.
The air was so fresh and clean, I felt all vivified and renewed.
A few pictures from the trip:

Takeoff in Tampa

Mystery tree on the right with white flowers. Wondered if it could be dogwood (state flower) but seems the leaves are too wavy(???). If anyone knows, please help!


Fraser magnolia? (Or maybe bigleaf magnolia?)

And this is some kind of "mountain laurel"

Friday, May 9, 2014

Why Americans See Fewer Miracles

There are primarily two explanations I've heard as to why we seem to see fewer miracles in the U.S. (and other developed nations) than in third world contexts:

1. People there are more credulous--they describe things as miracles which westerners would explain in a more scientific manner.

2. We have less faith.

Neither of these explanations has ever felt entirely satisfactory to me. In my experience, it's usually been western missionaries who make the comparison between the prevalence of miracles here vs. there--so a kind of culturally conditioned credulity wouldn't completely explain the difference. And as for faith: it's such a poorly defined term, it just doesn't seem very meaningful to use as an explanation without further elaboration.

But I was thinking the other day about the utility of religion (in general) as a sociological phenomenon. And as I asked myself whether "secular humanism" should be considered a religion, since it is a set of beliefs and values, I considered that there are no ceremonies or rituals associated with it. And I then thought to myself that religious rituals and ceremonies are primarily a way of putting people in touch with, and perhaps shaping, the unconscious mind. Chanting, singing, meditation, memorizing and repeating liturgical statements in unison with a group, symbolic actions, dancing, "speaking in tongues," etc. are all intended to help people enter something of a trance-like state in which the power of the unconscious can be accessed. 

And that's actually very important. As we learn very definitely from the (scientific) study of hypnotic states, some things that are impossible for the conscious mind are quite easy for the unconscious mind to accomplish.

But most Americans don't seem to be at all aware that trance or trance-like states are desirable or even possible. I wonder if people in other countries who experience more miracles may have cultural practices that help trance states to become a normal, everyday occurrence. If so, it would make sense that they'd be able more easily to access the unconscious mind in their prayers for healing.