The manager, the ego, and the spiritual life

Harassed business executives and bank managers resort, in their spare time, to yoga and transcendental meditation. This provides them with periodic “trips” which lack the harmful side-effects of alcohol or drugs; it gets their passions under control, eases nervous tension and reduces the risk of ulcers. But does it necessarily lead to profound inner change and transformation, loss of self, radical redirection of life? Not in the least. All too often it simply increases the power of ego, of self, by “spiritualizing” it. After doing my meditation practice, I “feel” better, and more refreshed. I have plugged in to the cosmic powerhouse and had my batteries recharged. That enables me to return to my daily life and activities on exactly the same basis as before. There has been no change, no sacrifice. I have given up nothing, save a little of my time. Refreshed now, by meditation, I can resume my habitual quest for money, power, influence, the manipulation and exploitation of other people. I have not really thrown away self. I have, in fact, strengthened it, given it more permanence by saturating it with incense smoke and permeating it with cosmic vibes.

From: Cyprian Smith OSB, The Way of Paradox: Spiritual Life as Taught by Meister EckhartThe Way of Paradox: Spiritual Life as Taught by Meister Eckhart. London: Darton, Longman and Todd 2013 (orig. published 1987), 104-105.

My Oxford-lecture on: Why is special divine action a "problem"?

A while ago I was invited by Andrew Pincent of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University to give a lecture on how I see the problem of special divine action, especially on the way divine action is dealt with in the field of science and religion. As many know, I am quite critical about the way divine action is dealt with, as if it somehow is a scientific problem (which it isn’t). In this lecture I was able to explicate in quite some detail the reasons why I believe the discussion concerning special divine action in science and religion arises from a category mistake.

Last Thursday, 22 May, the lecture took place at Trinity College. Alister McGrath introduced me and led the discussion. The lecture and the discussion was filmed and can now be found on Youtube. I received quite some requests for the written version of the lecture, but at present I am looking for a way to publish the text. Eventually, the text will be published online, but that may take a while.

The lectures is about 50 minutes long; the total video is about 1,5 hours.

Nope, there was no first human

Many religious believers still cling to the idea that there must be a first human, somewhere down the line. Creationists even cling to the idea of the biblical parents of humankind: Adam and Eve. However, if you take evolutionary theory seriously, it turns out, there was no first human. The following video explains why this is so, and also makes it clear that this idea is quite counterintuitive, which may partly explain why many people have so much trouble understanding and accepting evolutionary theory. Moreover, this does raise some theological issues, especially pertaining when it comes to theological ideas that emphasize the special status of humanity in relation to God (i.e. ideas pertaining to “human uniqueness”).

My take on the map metaphor

I just came across a note I made in one of my Moleskines, probably from around 2007, in which I wrote the following:

Map Metaphor

Suppose I walk through a big city, using a map of that city. I arrive at a big square where there is a church. However, when I look at my city map, I see no church but only a large black cross.

Atheists and materialists like Dawkins, Harris, etc. are now actually arguing that there is no church, but that there is only a black cross. The church that I am seeing, is an illusion. In reality there is only a large black cross.

What they are doing in such a situation is confusing the map with reality.

I wonder whether anything changed since I wrote this note in 2007…

A musical link between Alan Parsons, Eric Woolfson, and Sigmund Freud

I’m a huge fan of The Alan Parsons Project. I love all of the Alan Parsons Project albums. But in my opinion the best album that the Alan Parsons Project produced, strictly speaking wasn’t an “Alan Parsons Project” (and isn’t listed as such), but for some weird reason, has remained relatively unknown…

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Preaching from a selfish vantage point…

I also see Richard Dawkins differently. I see him as a grown up version of that 16-year-old kid, proud of being smart, unable to understand why anyone would believe or think differently from himself. I see a person so removed from humanity and so removed from the ambiguity of life that he finds himself judging those who think differently.

I see someone doing what he claims to hate in others. Preaching from a selfish vantage point.

This quote is not just meant for the fun of “Dawkins-bashing” (if there were any fun in that). The article from which this quote is taken is titled ”The people who challenged my atheism most were drug addicts and prostitutes”:

Was Mandela an atheist? How atheists are defiling Mandela’s legacy

Not only has the late Nelson Mandela become a source of commerce (t-shirts, books, etc.) but now his name is also defiled by atheistic apologetics. Just read this article: This article, that was retweeted (without comment, but probably with appreciation) by Richard Dawkins, claims that it is “widely understood” that Mandela was an atheist.

Another atheist, one Damian Mogale, states on his Facebook page that Mandela, because of his political role, could not afford to say out loud that he was an atheist. Like Obama, Mandela’s utterances about his personal faith were “for the show”. Again, others say that Mandela was an atheist because he is on the honorary membership list of the Bertrand Russell Society…

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Is Christianity Natural?

In 2011 and 2012, I attended two seminars at Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan) on the cognitive science of religion and Christianity. The seminars were led by Justin Barrett (then at Oxford, now at Fuller).

The goal I had in mind was to develop a top-notch project proposal that would bridge the gap between the cognitive science of religion on the one hand and the philosophy of religion and systematic theology on the other.

The two seminars were excellent. They were very stimulating and we were forced to work extremely hard (we had to read a pile of about 10 books on the subject and a reader of about 600 pages of densely written research articles). I am extremely grateful that I was allowed this opportunity.

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How many earths? Shattering the myth of uniqueness

We are living in very interesting times indeed! We once thought that the Earth was unique in harboring life. Though it is true that scientists have not yet discovered life outside our atmosphere (despite the occasional claims to the opposite, mostly coming from fringe scientists), the plausibility of the idea that Earth is unique in the universe is starting to crumble at an increasing rate.

Today  the New Scientist came up with a startling animated website that illustrates what scientists believe about the abundance of earth-like planets in the universe, based on the data gathered by the Kepler space telescope. The website shows that what started out as an interesting issue has become a mind-blowing journey that dwarves the human imagination.

Indeed, this animated website once again has convinced me that extraterrestrial life is one of the topics that will be on the future agenda of science and religion. Theologians and religious believers can no longer ignore the fact that the uniqueness of Earth may prove to be a myth.

See the animated website “How many Earths?” here:

P.S. For those readers who are able to read Dutch, I recently have written more about extraterrestrial life and Christian theology here: