Sunday, October 21, 2012

None dare call it Heaven

Nothing illustrates religious division in this country better than all the anger that's falling on a neurosurgeon, who interprets the visions he had during a coma as a visit to the real and true Heaven.

And the pile-on he's getting makes me wish and, haha, pray that somebody in the rationalist community would suggest cutting him some slack. I'm here doing it, but I'm a known Buh-Liever and am therefore suspect as to my motives.

One post railed that he has no right to call himself a scientist after this.

Let's admit that he's declaring an unproven - probably unprovable - interpretation of an experience to have a final-answer meaning, and scientists aren't supposed to do that.  He's not being very scientific about his visions, and the question of whether that disables him as a scientist in any unrelated endeavor is open.  I'd argue that the near-death experience is uniquely overwhelming and is not a general science deal-breaker.  But I'm not a scientist.

Come hither...Ignore the frog...

Let's also admit that the images he experienced in his vision are inane in the extreme. A lovely woman guide in blue robes with flowing golden brown tresses?  It's tempting to say, "Oh, come on."  Do blonde hotties get all the jobs there, too?  Can I have a large, bossy cat guide me?

It's not like this is anything new.  Many other such experiences have been documented.  Our brains are built to have these events under certain circumstances.  They undoubtedly craft them out of images that our history and imagination (or lack of it) resonate to.

But that doesn't mean they're illusions.  They might not come from God but the neuroscience and the imagery are not proof that they don't either.  The occurrence of these experiences can't be pointed to as proof of anything except that we're human.

It means we evolved to have them.  Our chemistry either creates the experience...

...or is the wiring through which God connects with us.

Either way, the chemistry is part of what we have evolved to be, and its reality has to be accepted, no matter its first cause.

I know, yeah yeah. So do LSD trips, so do allergy attacks, so do a lot of perception-changers, all of which should be viewed objectively.

Here's the thing - the near-death experience, once we admit we're built to have it, evolved to be powerful at a level so deep, so central, that reaction can be full, unquestioning embrace of it.  If it were weak enough to allow the person having it to stand back, to say, "This is biochemicals," then it would not be what it is.  It evolved to declare itself absolute.

I keep referencing evolution, not to placate non-believers, but because it's real. Not that I know much more than high school taught me, and it's slightly crazy for a non-scientist to explain anything scientific.

But so much of any science vs. faith debate -- when they are about what ordinary people should be taught and should think -- depends on the understanding we non-scientists have; ordinary schleps like me who need a simple version, and who are in danger of embracing an inaccurate simple version because we haven't the training to comprehend the more accurate complex version.

I need to address it as an ordinary schlep, but I need to do it as a Believer one who is willing to take a scientific explanation as far as it can be taken, because faith is worthless if we're not willing to shine light into every dark corner.  It isn't faith if we've got anything to fear.   So.

It makes sense to me -- with that aforementioned limited knowledge -- that, in a social species with minds complex enough to need hope and wonder and reasons to stay brave against pain, the divine experiences of some members can benefit all, and that this need selects for such an experience, even though it often comes later in, or at the end of, life.

Acknowledging that the evolution of the human species can explain this brain chemistry doesn't answer the God question either yea or nay.  It's about the building's structure, not about what built it.
So, whatever the source, it's ridiculous to rage at the guy for seeing it as real and true.  It's like raging at someone for finding that salt tastes salty.

It.  Is.   How.  Our.  Bodies.  Are.  Built.  By God or by process, the building is what it is, regardless of the builder's moniker.

But this man's experience seems to threaten a lot of people.

It's common enough to label non-believers who get angry or contemptuous about Believer claims, as feeling threatened.  I've run into a few who find it offensive to be told they're acting threatened, but they are.  Why else should anyone care what this man experienced or to what he attributes it?

But more important, why deny feeling threatened, since there's a very real basis for it?  The Visit To Heaven, at a few removes, is a threat to separation of church and state.  At least, it gets used by Believers to further a political agenda.

So.  I wish they'd just admit they feel threatened, O-freaking-kay?  Because that is not a statement that they're being irrational.  They're being quite rational, so let's just admit that too.

I'm not stupid.  The evangelical political right's issues -- abortion, gay orientation, evolution, Israel, SpongeBob -- might seem several steps removed from any issues about near-death experiences and the afterlife, but to deny that anything shoring up claims of God and afterlife strengthens the religious right is denial of reality.

That's the issue.  Increasing Rightwing political power.  The Right Wing has no right to use these accounts for recruitment by leapfrogging them over the whole vast body of faith to land them on Biblical Literalist Christianity, but they try to do exactly that.

If his experience could just be taken as his experience, without the ridiculous and absolutely untrue idea that it has to mean joining the AntiMuslim MegaTemple of Holy Lobbying, we could look at it on its own terms.

My mom was talking happily to people she'd lost, during her last hours.  My mom-in-law was seeing them for days, and this while fully awake and totally lucid in every other way, completely engaged and sharp in conversation with us, able to connect to things previously said and keep track of statements we'd made the day before.

What-the-bleep-ever caused this for both of them, I like.  It brought them peace and joy as they passed.  I can no more prove its source than anybody else can, and I'm more than ready for everybody to stop declaring that the other point of view is absolutely disproven.  If we could get past that insistence, we could all believe what makes sense to us without others fearing that we're trying to use it to force doctrinal compliance on them.

Any theory about these experiences is fully compatible with keeping doctrine out of civil law.

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