A Pagan's Blog

A Pagan's Blog

Spirit, Science, a Frozen Waterfall and Sacred Immanence,_Slovenia_fs.jpg
Photo by Guy Edwards
Sam Harris, a meditating Village Atheist, has a letter in the latest Nature. He takes the magazine to task for praising a Christian scientist, Francis Collins, for “engaging ‘with people of faith to explore how science — both in its mode of thought and its results — is consistent with their religious beliefs’.”
Harris continues:
“But here is Collins on how he, as a scientist, finally became convinced of the divinity of Jesus Christ:
‘On a beautiful fall day, as I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains… the majesty and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed my resistance. As I rounded a corner and saw a beautiful and unexpected frozen waterfall, hundreds of feet high, I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.'”
Harris has conniptions because Collins’ account is so far removed from scientific thinking. Which it is. But there is no rational reason to argue that scientific knowledge is the only valid knowledge, especially since a very high percentage of theoretical breakthroughs in science initially come via dreams and intuition. Scientific methods are only good – and here they are very good – at weeding out unsuccessful arguments about how then physical universe works. This is important, but hardly the whole show.
While Harris’s arrogant brand of atheism is notable for its ignorance of other than monotheistic faith based religious traditions and its author’s apparent disinterest in learning about them, I want to focus on something much more interesting.
What is striking about Collins’ account is how little it has to do with either Jesus or even monotheism. The power of Collins’ experience is unmistakable, and I have frequently had such experiences myself (as well as far stronger ones – but that is another story). But these experiences are devoid of specific doctrinal content.
Fifteen hundred years of state backed monotheism has largely eradicated any way of describing the sacred for most Westerners – except through Judeo-Christian frameworks. If we have a experience of the sacred, we have to put it into Christian terms because we do not know any others. What an impoverishment, of human experience of the sacred.
What Collins is describing is an encounter with the Sacred as immanent. His was a powerfully Pagan experience of the world as sacred and filled with intrinsic meaning. Of course this need not be an anti-Christian experience, but it had no Christian content. And hundreds of years of religious suppression of any but institutionally approved descriptions of the sacred put Collins in the bind of trying to integrate faith in revealed text, his own religious experience that had nothing to do with texts, and science.
I find myself wondering how many Americans’ belief in God is based on this kind of experience of sacred immanence, an experience they then interpret in terms of transcendental monotheism, which has nothing to do with the experience and a lot to do with the cultural impoverishment rooted in 1500 years of state suppression of anything not approved by the church.
I suspect a great many.

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posted November 26, 2007 at 7:07 am

I was not sure how to get a letter to you. I saw your instructions on how to get hold of you for art requests, and figured it might work the same to send you a note. I just wanted to thank you for your book “Pagans and Christians”. It has been a great help to me, and has added irreplaceable ideas and opened up new avenues of
thought for me.
I grew up in a Christian home, but had always felt at odds with their teachings. I had tried many different churches, yet each new place left me feeling more alienated from their way of life. I felt that my questioning and natural curiosity were an abomination in their eyes. I have done so much research over the years, searching in some way, for an explanation of my
I chanced upon your book through the library, along with another Pagan spirituality book. The two have helped me understand a greater depth and beauty to humanity and our relationship with the world than I ever thought possible. I can now see a wonderful path ahead of me, and I can teach my children to grow and flourish in their own curiosity. I can live a fuller life, and no longer worry about my inevitable damnation which religion had forced me to believe. The new life that your writings have enabled me to accept and embrace is what I have been searching for. The contents of your book coincide with many half-formed thoughts that had been reeling through my head, and up until now, I had associated them with “evil” or wrong. In turn, I thought that maybe I was in error. I have had a Pagan perspective for almost my entire life without
knowing what to call it, and until now, I had been ashamed of it. It has caused a great deal of frustration and confusion for me, between my stance and my family’s standard Christian views.
I just wanted to let you know that your words meant alot to me. You have helped me break through a barrier which has been hampering my ability to grow spiritually. I am now ready to begin the long and wondrous journey through life
with a fresh, new, and open mind. Thank you for helping me realize that there are other approaches to the Divine rather than the standard boxed version of Western theology. Thank you for helping to pry open that door which for me has
been stuck for so long. Thank you for helping me begin my own spiritual journey. Thank you for helping me not be afraid to venture out into new
territory. Thank you for a breath of fresh air to my soul.
Your Growing Pagan Friend,
Whitney tohruatcoxdotnet

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posted May 30, 2009 at 1:00 pm

A little late to the show here…
I’m surprised this blog didn’t garner more responses. That moment of “sacred immanence” is indeed the oft touted moment of the truth of Jesus etc for most of my Christian friends. And yet that moment guaranteed for me that I would never be Christian, never be Wiccan, never be any other prescribed religion.
It was early November of 1978, I had borrowed a big telescope with which to view Jupiter with my sons, then 6 and 8. I got it set up, focused the lense and “Wham”- paralysis. Jupiter and three moons suspended in all their glory.
It made the constructs of any and all religions meaningless to me.
That moment of insight and my personal conviction that creation is and only can be intrinsically male/female is what makes me a pagan. It doesn’t always sit well with those pagans who would insist that I needs must follow a narrower path. It has given me some nasty moments with certain individuals in the past. Fortunately, I’m getting to the age finally when their opinion ceases to matter (much).
It’s been interesting going through all your blogs. I’m more than a day late, as usual. *eye roll* I’m having to ponder them a bit before responding and that’s usually within Wiccan Web where a member keeps your blog visible to everyone there. Congratulations of the Beliefnet spot. I think it’s well deserved.

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Gus diZerega

posted May 30, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Thank you ladyhawke4.
I agree with your interpretation. I am a Wiccan because I had an extraordinarily powerful experience with the Goddess at my first Sabbat, one that changed my outlook on life forever. But it was certainly not doctrinal, and is in keeping with both Wicca as I practice it, and what you describe as your own path.
I think the Gods, whatever they may be, are well beyond worries about theology or getting the details of practice just right according to someone else’s standards.
On another matter – I sure wish Beliefnet was as simple to integrate pictures into as my old but far less visited platform!

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