Tuesday, September 22, 2009

 

Psychology of "Conversion"

A snippet from an online discussion board in one of my classes.

ER wrote:

Although I find (A.D.) Nock ("Conversion") difficult to read in general, I appreciate the way he weaves psychology into the conversion experience. His discussion of different kinds of conversion hits me personally: from my "deliberate turning from indifference" as a child, and later conversion from "an earlier form of piety to another," in my case my association with the generally liberal United Church of Christ from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. I can attest to Nock's observation, "the man who returns with enthusiasm will commonly feel that he has never before fully grasped the import of the faith of his childhood. The bottles are old but the wine is new." (all quotations from page 7).

I also appreciated Nock's mention of "emotions ... often accompanied by hallucinatory or quasi-hallucinatory phenomena." (8). Some of my UCC friends would cringe to hear me say this, but even now I can sometimes get so emotional over what I consider the depths of God's love and expansiveness of God's grace that I experience "quasi-hallucinatory phenomena" -- but I also have an appreciation for what the human mind and its emotions are capable of during times of stress or as Nock puts it, paraphrasing William James, the removal of "the feeling of anxiety, a sense of receiving truths not known before, a sense of clean and beautiful newness within and without and an ecstacy of happiness ..." (7-8).

--ER

Comments:
Seriously, LSD aids in the removal of "the feeling of anxiety, a sense of receiving truths not known before, a sense of clean and beautiful newness within and without and an ecstasy of happiness ..."

How many hallucinogens have been used over the centuries to aid our visions of salvation?
 
Well, peyote comes immediately to mind. And then there's phentermine on an empty stomach taken while so ready for a religious experience you can almost conjure it. And, of course, there's the empty stomach and the combined effect of 12-15 minutes standing improperly during the singing of "Just As I Am" all the way through three, or four, times. But what is your point again? God, such as God is, works through DUST, according to our inherited concepts. God can surely work through everything else!
 
An insightfull post. Will definitely help.

Thanks,
Karim - Creating Power
 
First, thanks for sharing your learning experiences.

"But what is your point again? God, such as God is, works through DUST, according to our inherited concepts. God can surely work through everything else!"

Yes. Flirting with heresy again?

"But what is your point again?"

So we are driving down the road and talking about shelter and I say, "Look, there's a castle." and then you grump, "So?"

Some show, others tell. You're a teller. Me, I just point out stuff along the trip.

'And, of course, there's the empty stomach and the combined effect of 12-15 minutes standing improperly during the singing of "Just As I Am" all the way through three, or four, times.'

Hang on to that insight, it is not an accidental technique is it Elmer?

How many times does the Bible plainly discuss hallucinogens that we 'read past' I wonder?

Conversion by pharmacology?

What effect would there be of a big sip of a very strong wine on a ninth century European woman who had never had any other stimulants?

Just things passing by the window, these are.
 
:-)

I don't think I'm flirting with Heresy. But I see her around.

You know, I never really *got* what was going on when American Indians first encountered liquor until I read accounts of what went on when they encountered candy for the first time -- just candy, confections.
 
Not exactly off-topic, I think, but Neil has done you a great service!

http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2009/09/23/christian-pluralists-self-refuting-oxymoronic-and-arrogant/

Heading over to check out all 122 comments.
 
Ah, I see yours is the first comment. Ignore my previous comment.
 
Dude, look closely. Neil has recycled a post from 2007 back when he wasn't a total control freak and "let" me comment over there.

The more I consider actual biblical scholarship, the more of a kid playing with blocks Neil is.
 
I didn't realize he was in to recycling. I read the whole thread - Lord, but those people do go on, don't they - and came away with the general feeling that all of you were talking past one another. As usual.

I was honored that Neil quoted me. Gives me a warm fuzzy.

As far as a kid playing with blocks, yeah. Considering that he's up against professional architects and contractors, it's kind of funny. Oh, well.

I know you're getting all sorts of book advice, but since you mention the role of psychology in conversion, you should check out the book Paul the Convert. Written by a Jewish psychoanalyst, it explores Paul's faith through the lens of our contemporary understanding of religious conversion, and traces both the consistencies and changes in Saul's thought. It's kind of dense and long, but you might find it worth your time.
 
Sounds interesting.
 
Recycling blog posts? How green!

I believe the term for recycling manure is composting. Heh. I guess in this case "composting" is sort of a portmanteau, isn't it? :)
 
"Conversion by pharmacology?"

Man, you mean my tri-weekly visits to the wild mushyroom patch is basically just 'church-goin' ?
 
As children, we have high neuroplasticity-- sort of in input mode-- for first concrete facts, which give way to more abstract thinking. As we hit adulthood, we "crystalize" our neurons, and our in more of a processing mode of life's data. That would suggest that we often have two distinct ways of experiencing and pondering life's questions. Conversion experinces included. One's religious identity is handed to a child, and reached for as an adult.

The mystical experience spans across all religions, regardless of chemicals. Thomas Aquinas, Sufi Whirling Dervishes, hypoxia induced delirium at choir practice after going through the barritone line of the 'Messiah' six straight times (mebbe that one's just mine) come to mind.
The psychology (or psychiatry) of the mystic experience is fascinating, although I'm not sure if understanding a serotonin surge from the locus cerelus doesn't take a bit of the mysticism out of the whole thing.
 
Re, "The psychology (or psychiatry) of the mystic experience is fascinating, although I'm not sure if understanding a serotonin surge from the locus cerelus doesn't take a bit of the mysticism out of the whole thing."

Sure it does. But it can come back. I grew up in awe of thunderstorms; then I took a meteorology class in college and lost my awe for them among the isobars and anenometers and pressure systems and all. Took years for me to be awestruck by storms again. But it finally returned.
 
Dr. Bill: "Man, you mean my tri-weekly visits to the wild mushyroom patch is basically just 'church-goin' ?"

Say, next time you go to church, can I go with you?

Doc: "The psychology (or psychiatry) of the mystic experience is fascinating, although I'm not sure if understanding a serotonin surge from the locus cerelus doesn't take a bit of the mysticism out of the whole thing."

Not in the least. As the Fundermetalist do, I claim the promise that "ALL things work for the good of them that love the Lord and are called according to his purpose. (sic)" I think we would all be a bit more tolerant and accepting of our mystical side if we could get a small boost, say a little natural kick (rye fungus or mushroomey in type), in the bread or the wine of the sacraments.

Say, Doc, what kind of chemical input to brain function would constipation and the added gases of an enclosed toilet have on theological?
 
Drlobo,

LOL.

The effect would be two-fold, constipation would reult in a vasovagal response causing a number of possible symptoms including lightheadedness, cardiac slowing, and syncope (fainting). It's the same action as seen in childbirth, which has been reported to have out of body experiences.

In Zambia, the combination of fermented urine and feces has been mixed into an abused substance called Jenkem. It was posited to cause hallucinatory experiences, and enjoyed media attention in the late 90's, when in was reported to have gained popularity amongst teenagers. While this was basically a hoax, the quote of one teenager calling it "butt hash," has to be one of my favorite printed lines of all time.

While I'm not sure what impact such things had on theology, I can report that my father used to call out to the Lord on extended trips to the loo.

I would also speculate that perhaps such gastrointestinal induced mystic experiences may have led to the decision of Thomas Aquinas to stop writing in his old age, and perhaps even in the nirvanic advancement of Elvis, who looked like Buddha, and died on the throne.
 
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