Some Thoughts on
"Psychic" Phenomena, Religion, and Spirituality

I've always disliked the word "psychic" because it almost invariably brings to mind images of tabloid covers that scream at us in bold headlines. Our society has so sensationalized psychic abilities that it's hard to imagine that they might actually be something entirely normal and natural. From the earliest age, however, we are taught limits, and we are told what is real and what, most assuredly, is not real....

Consider, for example, the phrase "There's no such thing as ghosts." I would love to know where this phrase originated, because the wording is really quite odd. If most people were making this statement in their normal speech, they would say,"Ghosts don't exist," or "I don't believe in ghosts" or "There aren't any ghosts." But instead, young children are given the mantra of "There's no such thing as ghosts," and this awkwardly-worded phrase is passed from generation to generation. Watch for this phrase in movies, cartoons, literature, and in everyday conversation; when the topic of "ghosts" comes up, these are, most likely, the exact words that you will hear. Having such a mantra precludes the need--and relieves one of the responsibility--for any serious thought about this.

There are many such "mantras" in our religions, and one of them--repeated by countless individuals--is that Jesus was born on December 25th. The date of December 25th was chosen as the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the 3rd century AD, but no one knows the exact birthdate. Odds are it wasn't in the month of December, however, but at a warmer time of year when shepherds might have conceivably been out in the fields with their flocks, if we are to believe the traditional Christmas story...

There's hot debate regarding the reason that this date was chosen, as many feel that December 25th was decided upon in order to compete with the many pagan celebrations and festivities found at this time of year, including Sol Invictus, the Roman festival that celebrated the "birth" of the sun at the time of the winter solstice. Because of the pagan connections to this date, some Christian denominations don't even celebrate Christmas. But regardless of the reason why this date was chosen, many people firmly believe that the 25th day of December is the actual birthdate of Jesus, and they would not consider thinking otherwise.

On a similar note, in the early 1980s I witnessed an elderly woman's explosive and angry response when a non-King James version of the Bible was read during a chapel service. With righteous indignation--and eyeing the reader as if he were a heretic or one of Satan's minions--she publicly condemned this reading of scripture, saying, "Those are not the exact words that Jesus spoke!"

To this woman, by all outward observations a "good Christian," the King James version was THE word of God, and I figured it was pointless to jump into the fray by mentioning that Jesus didn't actually speak English.... But the words of the King James version of the Bible also function as "mantras," and just as the oddly-worded phrase "There's no such thing as ghosts" permeates any discussion of disincarnate beings, there are those who have a Bible verse mantra handy for any situation.... Also, I find it somewhat strange that an extraordinary number of people alter their normal speech patterns when praying, so as to include the "thees" and "thous" that are found in this version of the Bible. Does God only understands prayers if they're rendered in King James English?

Religion is a cultural phenomenon--not a spiritual one--with each society or sect deciding what is "natural" or "unnatural," "normal" or "abnormal," "good" or "evil," "sacred" or "secular," "divine" or "unholy." During the 3rd century AD when Constantine the Great became the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, many of these decisions were made. The history of the early Church makes for interesting reading, as this was when some of the earliest religious laws were first decided upon, and also when decisions were made regarding what would be included in the collection of books that became known as the "Bible." One can only wonder about the writings that were left out or altered, as the editing process took some 1500 years! But clearly, being out of step with the accepted (or dictated) religious beliefs and laws of one's society sometimes wasn't (and isn't) good for one's physical health....

Despite the persecution that was endured by early Christians, it didn't take too long for them to gain both religious and political power, and this led to some of the most extensive and heinous acts of persecution ever committed--all in the name of God, and in the name of His Son--"The Prince of Peace." The Inquistion and "The Burning Times"--church-sanctioned violence and murder--were aimed at destroying anyone or anything who did not convert to the new law of Christianity, which required all to believe in the divinity of Jesus. Jews, Muslims and pagans were all persecuted, while Mohammed--another religious leader--was busy with his own "Holy War," setting out to exterminate anyone (typically Christians and Jews) who wouldn't convert to Islam....

Throughout history, religious power has been used and abused, and man-made laws have been devised to control and direct the spiritual lives of individuals. While the Protestant Reformation helped to open the door between the individual and the God-force--doing away, for example, with the need for intermediaries such as priests, who had the power to forgive sins--the different denominations and sects that developed after the Reformation quickly established their own man-made laws, which were often just as rigid and controlling.

While most of the spiritual leaders of the various religions had "psychic" experiences--prophetic dreams, visits from angels, and the feeling that they were directly connected to the God-force--it is ironic that sainthood could be awarded to some people who had these abilities, while others were accused of being being under the influence of "Satan".... In the case of Joan of Arc--a woman who heard voices all of her life--she was ultimately burned to death when her "voices" were deemed to be "false and diabolical" by those who had the power to judge her according to religious law. But even as the fire began to consume her, she maintained that the voices she heard were from God, and she continued crying out the name of "Jesus" until she died. Later the church absolved her of guilt, reversed its decision, and recognized her as a saint....

The power that religions wield is mighty--and many people are convinced that it is only by following the laws of a religion that the risk of eternal damnation can be avoided. But which religion's laws must be followed? Which particular sect or denomination is "right," when they all claim to be? Does the God-force just make itself known to certain chosen individuals, or is God accessible to everyone?

In virtually every religion, man is encouraged (or required) to talk to God through prayer. Why, then, is it so difficult to believe that God might sometimes talk back--through dreams, through visits by spiritual beings or through other means that have been seen in the sacred writings of the world's religions? If we believe that we are worshipping a living God--rather than an ancient one who is only found in the pages of books--it seems entirely plausible that this living God is going to be responsive. In Christianity, we are taught that God is "Father," and that we are "children." What father (who deserves the title) is going to ignore a child who eagerly seeks to know him through a close, personal relationship that involves two-way communication?

But between what we're taught about "reality" when we are young children, what we learn as "mantras" from our cultures and religions, and what we accept as "laws," we build up walls between ourselves and the God-force. Therefore, most "psychic" abilities are either ignored or repressed, sensationalized or exploited, or viewed as somehow being "evil."

I think that so-called "psychic" abilities are a natural part of our spiritual birthright, but due to the reasons listed above, most people choose not to acknowledge that we are "spiritual beings having a human experience." It's very easy to get caught up in the material world--in fact, it's generally demanded of us by society--and if we give spirituality any thought at all, it's usually through organized religion where someone else does the thinking for us, based on one religious text or another.

But just as some people have special skills in math, and others seem to have natural talents as musicians, I think that some people have developed (or maintained) such a natural, normal, and relaxed connection to the God-force that they appear to have "psychic" abilities.

There is value in virtually all of the world's religions because they offer insights into the realm of Spirit, and undoubtedly, some of the sacred books have passages that are divinely inspired. Similarly, there are (and have been) religious leaders who seem to be divinely inspired. But following anyone's teachings--if it means relinquishing one's own "connection" to and inner understanding of the God-force--can not only be irresponsible, but can also have disasterous consequences....

In the 1950s, a religious leader in a mainstream Christian denomination attracted a large following through his preaching, which advocated love, freedom, equality and service to others. A charismatic man, this leader was heralded for his efforts to promote interracial harmony, and he received many humanitarian awards for the various community programs that he established. Using quotes from the Bible to support his cause, he said that service to one's fellow man was the highest service to God.

While he taught that all people had access to the God-force, he was able to convince his followers that he had found THE way to God, and that he was the manifestation of the Christ Principle. If they followed his teachings--and let him do the thinking--they would, indeed, find salvation.

Instead, the followers of the Reverend Jim Jones found death in the jungles of Guyana on November 18, 1978 when all 900+ members of the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid--or were shot--at the command of their leader.

More recently, another leader--the son of a Texas minister--was able to convince his followers that he was Jesus, reincarnate. Mixing Biblical interpretations with science fact and fiction, Marshall Applewhite and 38 members of his "Heaven's Gate" group participated in a mass suicide in March of 1997. Based on Applewhite's conviction that a space ship was traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet and that it would take them to a physical heaven, members cut their ties with family and friends in order to prepare for their journey. Citing the Bible-according-to-Applewhite, they gave up all of their attachments to the materialistic world, which ultimately meant giving up their bodies and their earthly lives, too.

And so we have major world religions and offshoot religious cults, all claiming to have found THE path to the center; THE way to God. While Christians may agree on some of the main points of their religion, their interpretations of particular "laws" serve to divide rather than unify those who otherwise share similar beliefs. As an example, some Christian denominations teach that immersion is the only valid means of baptistism, making them view their Methodist neighbors' "sprinkling" as questionable, at best. As each religion or sect spreads its unique message and seek converts, it develops systems and specific rules that true believers are required to follow in order to achieve "salvation"....

The spreading of messages and the seeking of converts has become big business, with big money involved--consider the number of television and radio programs that are wholly devoted to religion. In a clear case of religious extortion, who can forget the pleas of televangelist Oral Roberts who said that God would "call him home" if he didn't raise a certain amount of money during a fundraising effort?

The electronic church has the potential to reach more people in a half-hour broadcast than Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed--combined--reached during their entire ministries. Many of the major (and extraordinarily wealthy) televangelists have built shining universities in their--oops--HIS--honor, and for your first "love gift" of $25 or more, you can become a "breakthough prayer partner" with Rod Parsley, a "preacher/entertainer" whom conservative Christians say is preaching the most bizarre theologies ever presented. He's referred to by some groups as "The Raging Prophet" for his onstage antics, and some Jewish organizations have gone so far to say that he is "taking people to hell," citing his fast and loose--and often erroneous--quoting of scripture.

Benny Hinn is another televangelist whose teachings have been called into question by anyone who is not one of his followers. Dressed in a white suit, before a crowd of thousands--and with the repentant gathered onstage--he will whirl around, point and scream, "Fire on you!" and "shoot" them with the Holy Spirit. Soon the stage is littered with twitching and convulsing bodies, as he continues to sing, whirl and "shoot"....

While I do not doubt the reality and power of the Holy Spirit, I, personally, find the theatrics, glitz and ...showmanship... of many electronic church productions to be very contrived and disturbing. If we are to believe the Bible stories that involved healing miracles, Jesus often told the people that he healed to tell no one about it (Matthew 9:30, Mark 6:43, Mark 7:36, Luke 5:14, etc.). It just seems strange to me that today's healing ministries are frequently built around the sensationalizing of these things....

When (married) televangelist Jim Bakker sexually seduced a young woman by convincing her that it was "God's will," and then when he was convicted of misspending millions of dollars of his follower's donations to the ministry and was subsequently sentenced to 45 years in prison, Jimmy Swaggart--another televangelist--told his flock that he was appalled at the scandal. Of course, this was just shortly before Jimmy was found visiting a prostitute and had to confess to his own "moral lapses." (While I haven't cited sources for all of these statements, they are easily found on the web by using any search engine, and many of these televangelists can be found on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.)

Is it any wonder that many young people are being drawn to earth-based neopagan religions--bypassing traditional religions like Christianity, completely--lured by the Wiccan rede that simply says, "And it do no harm, do as you will"? That's a lot easier to understand than all of the rules and regulations, histories and controversies found in traditional religions--and it sounds like a lot more "fun," too....

It appears, then, that one faces a dilemma: Do we trust, verbatim, the words of the Bible--and must it just be the King James Version? Do we implicitly trust the teachings of Buddha or of Mohammed or of Joseph Smith or of the Pope or of Martin Luther or of the televangelists or the various pagan and neopagan groups? Can we trust those who declare, with authority, that they have found the "one way" to God and that in order to avoid damnation, we must follow that way and no other? Which Christian sect or denomination are we to trust when one is sometimes pitted against the other--making accusations of heresy and blasphemy and demonic possession--while inciting frenzy-whipped congregations to open their minds, hearts, and pocketbooks to their teachings?

I don't claim to have the answers to these questions, but it's interesting to note that the core teaching of almost all of the world's religions involves love--love for the God-force, and love for others. What if the "way" to God doesn't really matter?

What if God speaks to some people through the Bible, and to others through the Koran? What if some are led to the universal concept of love through the teachings of Buddha or through the celebration of the changing seasons? What if the God-force is too awesome to be contained in any one religion or philosophy or science? What if God still reaches out to the individual through dreams and flashes of insight and by sending spiritual emissaries? What if all that is required to find one's way to the God-force is a receptive heart and mind?

My primary path is Christianity, but it is a Christianity of my own understanding, and one that incorporates the sane, sensible and loving elements of many of the world's religions. It is a path towards God that is sometimes like a labyrinth--always leading to the center, but rarely in linear fashion. And it is a path that recognizes and accepts that mutual communication is a normal and natural part of man's relationship with and connection to the God-force.

Will I, therefore, start my own church and seek to convert others through proselytizing and witnessing and convincing others that I have found THE way? No, of course not. There are many paths that lead to God, just as there are many parts of the "elephant." I cannot choose a path for another, and my own path continues to be revealed as I travel through life and its experiences.

But the God to whom I pray speaks quietly and doesn't usually rely on charismatic interpretters who claim to understand that which I cannot--although sometimes their interpretations give me new insights. The God to whom I pray--in my everyday speech--recognizes that I am a child who sometimes learns best by touching the hot stove or by having tantrums or by learning who and what I am through the whole range of life experiences. The God to whom I pray--as Father/Mother God--has given me a curious, questioning mind and encourages me to think for myself and ask questions, while being open to what can be learned from divinely inspired writings and from the people who try to help make them clear.

The God to whom I pray is always accessible, and often finds some rather remarkable ways to let me know that "where I am is where I need to be."

Does this make me extraordinarily "psychic" or "perfect," blissfully enlightened or able to face all of life's challenges with a calm and serene attitude? No--far from it! Sometimes it's very, very hard to understand why things happen, and even with the passage of time, my "hindsight faith" doesn't always measure 20/20.

Some wounds are incredibly slow to heal, but when I cry after burning myself on the stove, or hurt my head from beating it against the wall in frustration, or try to cope with some of life's crushing disappointments, I know where to turn. All I have to do is listen--and pay attention.

© SBK 2000
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