Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I went out with a group of friends Monday night to see Amazing Grace. It's an extraordinary movie, and I think we would all highly recommend it, even the one who said she usually hates historical movies and, I guess, would have chosen the Hugh Grant option. I'm afraid I forced the issue, because I was decidedly not in a Hugh Grant mood.

None of my friends asked why I was behaving so badly. (Perhaps I always behave that way? A sobering thought.) We are experiencing simultaneous situations of great joy and great heaviness of heart in our family at the moment. That simultaneous juxtaposition has been the defining feature of our family's existence for some time now. It can be wearing.

There is a fabulous article in last Sunday's Magazine about belief in God as a question of evolutionary process:

"Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God — evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident? Is there something about the cognitive functioning of humans that makes us receptive to belief in a supernatural deity? And if scientists are able to explain God, what then? Is explaining religion the same thing as explaining it away? Are the nonbelievers right, and is religion at its core an empty undertaking, a misdirection, a vestigial artifact of a primitive mind? Or are the believers right, and does the fact that we have the mental capacities for discerning God suggest that it was God who put them there?"

I happen to be confident in the truth of the final clause of the excerpt, but the whole article is fascinating.

I'm working on . . .

a request to people I don't know for something I don't have . . .

a Powerpoint and presentation on prayer . . .

a document with respect to the Presbyterian Church's ordination controversy . . .

a class paper on the book The Mantle of the Prophet, with which I desperately wish the President of the United States and his Secretary of State had familiarized themselves BEFORE treading eastward (and the book is about Islam and Iran ~ it's not too late, Mr. President and Madame Secretary!) . . .

our state's standardized graduation tests for 10th graders, which I have to ensure proceed without a hitch over the next two weeks . . .

the gutter and soffit disaster on the front of the house, for which the repair estimate went from $2500 to $5000 in, oh, the blink of an eye . . . .

Yes, it's definitely the middle of the week. In March, a month in which I should be in St. Augustine. I would have other things on which to focus there.


Carol said...

So many responsibilities and choices in your life right now. I hope that the beautiful sunset photo helps brighten your mood just a bit.

Kathryn said...

I am much enjoying the article on God and evolution. I am almost finished because I've been savoring it and thinking about it since Sunday.

An interesting quote about prayer at our scriptural reflection group today. I like it because it is more experiential than most definitions which is how I often pray.

"Prayer is any act whereby we consciously attend to the presence of God within us or around us."
- Prayer a Practical Guide by Rev. Martin Pable

Cynthia said...

Your plate is definitely full. You have my thoughts and prayers for it all. That spin from heart heaviness to great joy takes its toll.

Presbyterian Gal said...

change the words a little on Mr. Taylor:
"In my mind I'm going to St. Augustine"

My doctor's prescription for such times is "healthy pleasures. Self care at least once a day". Prayer is one of the things on my self care list. Even better in a bubble bath.

Sorry you're having a hard time. I can relate. Only way out's through. They tell there is an end. Race you to it!

Lisa :-] said...

I would really like to see that movie. Heard a whole thing about it on NPR a couple weeks ago...

You are the busiest woman I know. Good luck with it all...!

Theresa Williams said...

I used to believe in the latter. But time and experience have me leaning toward the former part of the hypothesis, that religion is a manifestation of the brain and is part of our evolution. I don't think this diminishes the importance of religion, though. The spiritual life is very important, however one conceieves it, whether through an established religion, a personal religion, even one such as art. Sadly, as it has turned out, organized religion seems to be the main cause of disagreement and violence (perhaps this was always so). I think I believe as Salman Rushdie does, that humans have a biological need to lead a meaningful life, a purposeful life, and religion is a foundation for that, as a way to carry out that urge. But the biological urge came first; religion came afterwards. You can see Rushdie's views on the Moyers special about faith. He interviews many writers with different views on this subject.

Anonymous said...

"religion is a manifestation of the brain and is part of our evolution."

Hi Theresa!

I will have to look for the Rusdie interview.

But as far as the above, it seems to me that the universe would be a much dimished place if all that lay behind it were our human brains, no matter how evolutionarily evolved.


jodie said...

Hi GG,

Gerald May talked about the "God hole" in our brains in his book "Addiction and Grace". It must work something like a USB port.

He really understood grace.

Maybe a little bit about addiction and the brain too.

Thanks for the reference. I have been working on a program for my church to start exploring Jewish/Muslim/Christian relations. I think it has been 500 years since Christianity has had to really deal with Islam, and the first time ever that Protestantism has. It’s a great opportunity to re-think who >we< are, and if we talk more, maybe we will kill less. One can hope. It’s hard to tell where to start though.


Kathryn said...

I hope the heaviness of heart passes quickly and that the joy helps to offset the pain. It all sounds overwhelming to me.

Theresa Williams said...


Those Moyers interviews are excellent. The name of the series is faith and reason. I don't discount the possibility that a god/spirit created the biological urge toward a spiritual life. But I have been reading about some curious truths about bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia, that part of the brain gets over-stimulated, and this is the so-called "God" part of the brain. People with these brain disorders suddenly develop hallucinations about hearing/seeing/or being god. As I am coming to understand this, many of the "saints" or yore could have been manic-depressives or schizophrenics. I would have been doubtful of this, except that our son was diagnosed with schizophrenia a little over a year ago. He has no memory of church and has never participated in any religion. But now he hears a voice, which he mistakes to be god, telling him to do sometimes awful things. It was the same with Vaslav Nijinsky: when I read Nijinsky's diary and my son's writings, I see almost the same mind. My personal experience of dealing with our son's illness has convinced me that there is indeed a "god" part of the brain. Sorry to go off on all of this. I don't write about it in my blog because I use my real name and I want my son to his his privacy; Although this comment is public, I doubt many would find it and make the connection, so here I am talking about it. It has been painful for us and confusing, so I have read a lot and paid a lot of attention to this subject. Still, as I said, I don't discount the importance of a spiritual life. My writing is a very spiritual act for me. And one of the reasons I love Robin's blog is that it makes me feel closer to my spiritual life. Her writings and her photography do give me a feeling of connection to spiritual matters, even though I do not participate in an organized religion.

Gannet Girl said...

Theresa, I forgot to respond to this, and I meant to say two things, and I'll email them, too, in case you don't see it.

One, it has certainly occurred to me many, many time to wonder about the connection between mental illness and the behavior and claims of great figures of all the religions of the world (every single one of them). I expect there are many articles about that topic somewhere. That statement is probably offensive to most of their adherents, but if you come to faith later in life, there is nothing to take for granted and eveything to question.

Two, I am so terribly sorry about the turn your family life has taken.

Theresa Williams said...

You: "That statement is probably offensive to most of their adherents..."
I know, and I don't make the statement lightly. I have read a lot and thought a lot.

I also have thought about this scenario: If God created humans, then God created us in a way that we would be able to hear and feel and understand God. Since humans are made of flesh, we experience God through our senses. The brain is in charge of senses. God created the brain in a fashion that we would be able to receive God. Things can go wrong with the brain just like any other part of the body. To compare: God created our skin so that we can feel the sensation of the spirit. If we get a disease of the skin and can no longer feel, we don't say this is a controversy regarding God. Why is the brain different?

I know what my son is experiencing is not God. I know that his intense need for conversion, to the point of running into churches and throwing himself on altars and crying and praying is not of God. I know the voice speaking to him is not God. I know that his sudden vegetarianism is not of God. It is an illness. It is unhealthy.

Recently in a church (I think it was in Romania), a schizophrenic woman was tied to a cross for hours, an exorcism. They thought the devil was in her. In another place and time, people would probably think our son was either an agent of God or the devil. Neither is true. Our son has had *hallucinations* about God and the devil.

Where do these hallucinations come from? It is not from previous knowledge. He has never read any biblical literature or had the least interest in religion. He has never gone to church or cared the least for spiritual matters.
I don't belong to any organized religion and I don't go to church, although I used to many years ago. But I still have a need for spiritual experiences. I don't believe in rules or doctrine, but I believe there is a spiritual consciousness. I don't pretend to understand it, and doctrines just get in the way of my understanding. But I think each person has to figure those things out for himself/herself. I just know that what my son is experiencing is not spiritual conversion. It is like the psychologist once told James Joyce about his schizophrenic daughter: "Where you swim, she drowns."

I may delight in spiritual matters, but my son is drowning in them.

Thank you for your blog, Robin, and your good wishes. We are doing the best we can.

sunflowerkat said...

As busy as you are...I don't blame you for dreaming of running to St. Augustine.