Friday, January 11, 2013
I have recently read two books that shed considerable doubt on scientific assumptions that the supernatural does not exist. The first is by Kyriacos C. Markides, The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality (2001). The book explores the beliefs and practices of Orthodox monasterial life as practiced by monks and hermits. In particular, he follows a remarkable larger-than-life priest named Maximos to the island of Cyprus and reports on his actions, his views, and his spiritual practice. Most important for this post, he reports on numerous phenomena that can only be called miracles.
I read this book in a reading group. One of our members knows the author and vouches for his integrity. After reading the book, I became convinced that scientific materialism could not possibly explain the events reported, and I very much doubt that the events were concocted, were dreams, or were otherwise fictitious. That said, I think the theology embraced by these monks, though sometimes qualified, too often seems to subtly denigrate those who care for and act in this world whether it is action for social justice or caring for children. I resist the suggestion that one has to be a monk to lead a fulfilling religious life though there is an impressive spiritual intimacy in monasterial life and, in fairness, the monks would not explicitly denigrate those who choose a life engaged in the world. I am reacting to a tone and a usually unspoken attitude.
Another book explicitly challenging scientific materialism currently sits atop the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list: Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (2012) by Eben Alexander. Although the book is somewhat repetitious, the story is riveting. Alexander, an academic neurosurgeon was struck by a sudden illness and was in a coma for seven days. He had previously thought that near death experiences felt real but were fantasies produced by the brain under severe stress. His case was unique because the experience he had during his coma in his view could not have been produced by the brain because the part of the brain that produces thought and emotion was not functioning during his coma. His recovery from the illness was unprecedented. But his near death experience was even more impressive. Alexander richly details what he experienced and he has since learned that his experience is similar to those who also have had near death experiences. His experience has led him to the conviction that heaven and God are real. Proof of Heaven is a powerful book that will strengthen the faith of believers and might give second thoughts to those who think belief in the supernatural is simply nonsense.