Pivotal mental states

Spiritual highs and mental breakdowns are both products of the same evolved brain system granting us the power to transform Ari Brouwer is a PhD student in the department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came: ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and … Continue reading Pivotal mental states

Existential Comfort Without God

Can natural explanations to life’s big questions be as consoling as religious ones? BY TANIA LOMBROZOS Last month, Harvard University named a new Chief Chaplain: Greg Epstein, an atheist. As reported in The New York Times,1 Epstein, the campus humanist chaplain, was unanimously elected to “coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious communities on campus.” Perusing the hundreds of reader comments generated by the Times article revealed broad support. While some questioned whether an atheist could be a “real” chaplain, others suggested that appointing a humanist was a clever move—a way to … Continue reading Existential Comfort Without God

How to pray to a dead God

The modern world is disenchanted. God remains dead. But our need for transcendence lives on. How should we fulfil it? Ed Simon is a contributing editor for the History News Network and a staff writer at the literary site The Millions. His books include the anthology The God Beat: What Journalism Says about Faith and Why It Matters (2021), co-edited with Costica Bradatan; An Alternative History of Pittsburgh (2021); and Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology (forthcoming, 2022). He lives in Washington, DC. On an evening in 1851, a mutton-chopped 28-year-old English poet and critic looked out at the English Channel with his new bride. Walking … Continue reading How to pray to a dead God

10 Years of Rituals

Inside an exorcist’s diary. BY JOHN LAST We are living through a golden age of exorcism. Since the 1990s, when the famous Italian exorcist Gabriele Amorth revived the rite, the number of exorcists in the Roman Catholic Church has exploded, with training courses running in Rome forced to turn would-be exorcists away. The pope himself has endorsed the practice, as a growing number of Protestant churches promote “deliverance ministries” and other exorcisms as a central part of worship. And Hollywood has embraced it as a plot device, pouring cash into endless feature films, one tragically canceled TV series (and another critically acclaimed show that’s still ticking), and spending $400 million on a … Continue reading 10 Years of Rituals

Tales Of Technology And Faith

Sci-fi enables us to think about science and religion as mutually supportive elements of what it means to be human. BY AMANDA REES – Amanda Rees is a historian of science at the University of York. In 1948, L. Ron Hubbard is reported to have said, “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” Two years later, he did just that. His short story, “Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science,” which appeared in the May 1950 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, laid the foundation of what evolved into the globally significant (and … Continue reading Tales Of Technology And Faith

New study uncovers consistent patterns in the metaphors that people use to describe God

by Beth Ellwood A new study from PLOS One sheds light on the way people conceptualize God by exploring the metaphors people use when asked to describe God. According to the findings, people commonly use human imagery and power-related terms to describe God, with metaphors of God as power, human, and male. The way people view and understand God has been widely studied by religion researchers. The assumption is that the way people think about God’s character has psychological repercussions. A research team wanted to contribute to this field of study by exploring people’s use of metaphors to conceptualize God. God is an … Continue reading New study uncovers consistent patterns in the metaphors that people use to describe God

Three Reasons “You” Won’t Return After This Life

The idea that “you” persist after death does not hold up to the current understanding of memory and identity. by Derek Beres Many people are deeply invested in what happens when they die. Entire religions are constructed around theories of the afterlife. Christianity and Islam promise special places to go to while Buddhism prescribes breaking free from the hamster wheel of existence to leave the cycle of death and birth. Is any of this actually possible? Stephen Batchelor is skeptical. In Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist the former monk points out that the Buddha avoided discussing body-mind dualism, which the notion of … Continue reading Three Reasons “You” Won’t Return After This Life

The 7 new classifications of religious styles

The Pew Research Center has classified Americans into seven distinct religious types. by Derek Beres Religious typology has never been accurate. The range by which one can claim to be Christian, for example, is much broader than one simple term can encompass. The same holds true for Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — not the umbrella term, per se, but the level of devotion. Religious Buddhists can be as fundamentalist as Evangelicals; they can also be secular and even atheistic. Instead of defining Americans in terms of stated religion, the Pew Research Center created a 16-question survey about the participant’s level of practice and … Continue reading The 7 new classifications of religious styles

Are we born evil? St. Augustine and “original sin”

Augustine’s theology came to define Christianity, but there was a rival theology. by JONNY THOMSON St. Augustine is considered one of the main “Church Fathers,” but his life was surprisingly salacious before his turn to Christianity. He was one of the major proponents of “original sin” — the idea that we are born with a natural inclination toward sin and evil. Augustine also was largely responsible for the “Neoplatonism” that infused so much early Christian theology, namely, the notion that the further something is from God (as perfection) the lesser it becomes. A lot of secular and religious morality hinges … Continue reading Are we born evil? St. Augustine and “original sin”

Where the rivers meet

Pilgrims have long sought in India’s holiest city an antidote to the modern West, but Varanasi is more dream than reality Manini Sheker is a scholar and writer interested in religion, the arts, social justice, the environment and the good life. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, open Democracy and Litro, among others Edited by Sam Haselby On a sweltering summer’s day five years ago, as I returned to my rented home in the holy city of Varanasi in India, I was greeted by an astonishing sight: a blue-eyed white man, dressed only in a thin orange cloth knotted around his … Continue reading Where the rivers meet