Here at last is the first post from the Manchester talk, which some of those attending have requested be posted. It was written twenty years after the paper in the previous fifteen posts during which time I finally found, in 2010, the hard evidence, the neuro-psychological evidence, I knew had to be there but had never been able to retrieve in digestible form. Thanks to Iain McGilchrist, that evidence has been gathered into a form available to anyone in his book The Master and His Emmisary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. More recently, early this year I discovered the work of Margaret Barker, which confirmed some of the rest of the evidence for the theological corrections that must be made if Christianity is to survive.
I have not yet readied this paper for publication so there are footnotes missing and other lacunae, but since I am about to disappear for a week, I beg your indulgence.
Once again the typographical style on blogger is acting up so apologies for erratic typeface and spacing.
NB: The diagram is very small but if you click on it, it will enlarge.
Next Post will be on August 2.
is the Feast of the Visitation, and I hope that during the past 24 hours you
have had good things visited upon you. But by liturgical reckoning it is
already Friday, and while breakfast is still a long way off, I'd like to ask
you to think—or rather to not think—some impossible things: first, please
forget everything you thought you ever knew about theology, religion, and
so-called spirituality, and above all, the word mysticism. Although I think this word has become entirely
useless and should be dropped, I will attempt a definition later on. The reason
for this request is that in the popular mind, and in many scholarly minds,
contemplation and so-called mysticism have become linked with the word experience, in spite of the fact that experience is the
opposite of contemplation. Contemplation entails relinquishing the interpretive
process and all claims to experience; the word experience always, and without exception, entails
interpretation, and language is always self-reflexive.
Next, I'd like to
point out that everything I will say tonight can be confirmed by anyone who is
willing to observe their own mind. Many of the key texts that issue from the
ancient, late antique, and medieval worlds concern the findings of such
observation and are remarkably consistent. As we shall see, this consistency
arises not from what has come to be known as the so-called perennial
philosophy, but its opposite: this consistency is the expression of the
neuro-psychological foundations of the human person.
The material I am presenting has developed over the course of six and a half decades. I can't tell you how many drafts of my forthcoming book I have tossed away because I could not find the appropriate presentation of the evidence I knew was out there somewhere. Then in mid-November of 2010, I discovered the work of Iain McGilchrist, with whom I'm sure you're familiar, which provided neuropsychological evidence; and more recently, in January of this year, Ann Loades pointed me to the work of Margaret Barker, whose work exposes antecedents in the First Temple.
First, let's look at the
diagram. It's just a sketch and not meant to be comprehensive in any way. The
process it symbolises is characterised by continual flow in many permutations;
and while this flow may be more or less cut off by the preoccupations of the
self-conscious mind, it should not be thought of in terms of stages or steps or
stasis or linearity. It is holistic.
tell us that our brains are divided into two unequal parts, with two very
different ways of functioning, having two different, often opposing agendas.
However, by contrast with the simplistic ideas about the divided brain of the
1970s, both hemispheres are always at work in every situation, one side or the other predominating, depending on
the task at hand. It is thought that in general the optimal functioning of the
brain will favour the right hemisphere.
But we must always remember that brain is not the same as mind, though there is a close correspondence between them. Whatever you do with your mind affects the structure of your brain—one of the reasons vigilance figures so prominently in ascetic literature. And with the mention of asceticism, we also should understand that in itself, imposed as a template, asceticism is meaningless and sterile. Instead, it should be understood as an expression of the process I am describing; that is, it is what is necessary to sustain the openness, the praxis, to receive the gifts that are being given. Often a person will not be aware that what they are doing might be considered ascesis at all, any more than an athlete would regard his or her training regime as anything but a means to an end. The same applies to ethics, as we shall see.