Imagine a world with one government. The focus of the government is making sure everyone is part of “one unified happy family.” The state controls all aspects of life. “Diversity” is celebrated in word, but ignored or pushed aside in practice. The government ignores individual differences between people, whether it be athletic ability or behavioral differences–absolute equality is preserved. Most people in this state believe that, after death, they will merge into oneness with the universe and lose whatever individuality that remains. Does this sound like a utopian world to you?

The European Union, which attempts in its own way to re-establish the unity of Europe before the fall of the Western Roman Empire, is supported by seemingly disparate groups: some (though not all) Marxists, Social Democrats, Corporatists and other big government, Bismark-style conservatives. The UK, which has not totally lost its historic independent streak, tends to oppose the Union. At least those who argue for the EU use their minds; the same cannot be said for the cotton-candy brained New Agers who believe in some utopian unity in 2012 (in 1969 it was the “Age of Aquarius”). New Agers, who “feel” without putting their emotions under the discipline of reason, tend toward a vague form of ontological monism and pantheism that totally subsumes the individual. Sometimes the more “thoughtful” New Agers may useĀ  (still questionable) arguments from quantum entanglement or the Higgs Field to support their position.

Human beings are social animals, and naturally work together best in smaller social groups. The family is the basic unit of human social interaction, followed by friends, acquaintances, and strangers. It is true that Jesus Christ affirms that all people are our neighbors–that is, we are all human persons made in God’s image, thus not considering a person a neighbor because of his ethnicity is wrong. In His time, the conflict was between the Jewish people and the Samaritans The “Good Samaritan” overcomes the prejudice of the Samaritans against Jews and helps a person in need.

Jesus’ parable should not be used to argue against a hierarchy of communities beginning with the family, where we first learn to love people in spite of differences and learn to deal with fellow human beings, sometimes with much conflict. A person’s first obligation, apart from religious obligations, is to his family, and then to the other groups mentioned above. An emphasis on “we’re all really one” to the detriment of individuals and individual families ignores human nature and will only lead to a socially engineered, artificial society that, in the end, must be unified by the force of government power or by the pernicious influence of large corporations on the general culture. Individual identity is subsumed under a monster state (in socialism) or under the influence of corporations through the media (in corporatism, which, as I always emphasize, is not the same thing as capitalism).

Religion that ignores individual human beings is also pernicious. It is true that human beings, as all substances, are, as Father W. Norris Clarke put it, “substances-in-relation.” That includes relation to one another, to nature in general, and to God. But such relationality does not take away from the fact that each human being is also an individual substance with a personal unity whose value comes from God, the Creator. I have heard rebellious Christians claim that desire for individual resurrection is selfish. It can be, I suppose, but understanding human beings in relation to God and each other surely includes a natural desire to be united to God and to loved ones (and later, to others) in a resurrection world. Unity with God or with each other neither subsumes individuals nor subsume individual communities, though many human relationships will be transcended and become something deeper and far more valuable than relationships on earth. Even the Christian mystics, who in the height of their experience often used language suggesting an ontological monism, in the end recognized that they are created beings, individuals, though they are wholly dependent on God for their continued existence.

Recognizing individual families and small groups, as well as acknowledging the individuality of human persons, implies a less intrusive state as well as smaller businesses oriented to the good of their individual communities. Of course there should be a respect for other people, even those who are strangers, but fundamentally no government or corporation should interfere with the hierarchy of love that is natural to human beings and which forms organic, not forced, communities.

New Agers’ Misuse of Quantum Entanglement

August 3, 2011

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Consider the following argument:

Premise 1: Quantum entanglement states that two entangled particles, once separated, can communicate with one another simultaneously, even if they are on opposite sides of the universe.

Premise 2: Since all particles were entangled at the Big Bang, everything in the universe is interconnected.

Conclusion: All people on earth are interconnected with each other and with all of nature.

That conclusion becomes a premise in another argument:

Premise: All people on earth are interconnected with each other and with all of nature.

Conclusion: Therefore nation states should disappear and there should be a world government that guarantees peace and cooperation among all people.

The sad thing is that a New Ager can examine the arguments and believe that the conclusion of a world government follows from the premisses. But higher level structures can have attributes that are not found in lower level structures. At the level of the most basic subatomic particles, there is very little individuality; they are interchangeable and may indeed interact with one another via quantum entanglement. But the more complex and organized the structure, the more individuated it becomes. This is not to deny interconnectedness in nature and among people–human beings evolved from simpler forms of life (I believe under the guidance of a Creator who constantly sustains everything in existence), and human beings share a common human nature, Sartre notwithstanding. However, human beings are far more individuated that other objects in nature, including other animals, because of their rational nature, their moral sense, and their freedom to make their own decisions. A bee has very little individuality–the most important thing is the hive. A dog or cat is more individuated; dogs and cats have unique personalities. But human beings are the most “selved,” to use the British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins‘ term, of any animal in our experience. This does not imply that human beings are isolated individuals pursuing their own individual happiness, as classical liberalism believes. Human beings naturally come together into communities–as Aristotle said, “Man is by nature a political [or social] animal.” But human communities are individuated by a common history and a commonality of place–by nature they are organic unities–another thing both classical liberalism and social democracy have forgot. It is difficult enough to govern the United States with its vast diversity of communities. I would not be surprised, once the American empire inevitably falls, to the country divide into autonomous regional states. To think that human diversity can be unified under a world government in some kind of utopia is naive. It ignores place, it ignores history, it ignores human weakness. The only way a world government could be established is by force, whether through economic pressure toward centralization or by military force. Even if a world government were established, it would not last, for it violates human nature. Human beings have a hierarchy of obligations–to the family, to friends, to strangers in the community, and to the world at large–in that order. Ultimately social responsibility and government should be as local as possible. Bureaucracy is bad enough in the United States where bureaucrats do not know the communities they regulate, sometimes with near dictatorial power. Imagine what a bureaucracy in a world government would be.

Quantum entanglement has nothing to do with world government–to argue such is to argue to a non sequitur. New Agers need to begin balancing their emotions with good reasoning. It is poor reasoning to argue from entanglement to world government (New Agers also argue from entanglement to pantheism, another non sequitur, but that would have to be the subject of another essay.

Survival Research and Culturally-Based Conclusions

October 30, 2010

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I have just returned from an excellent talk presented by Dr. Pamela Rae Heath, a medical doctor and leading researcher in parapsychology, at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina. She spoke on a number of issues in mind-matter interaction (MMI) or what is also termed psychokinesis (PK). I was pleased that her talk, while containing some of her conclusions that go beyond current evidence, was for the most part based on the best current research in parapsychology.

However, prior to her talk, I browsed her book, Handbook to the Afterlife. The quality of her talk was a surprise given the loose extrapolation from the survival evidence I saw in her book. Basically, life after death is envisioned as a process of personal growth that parallels growth and development (at least mental and spiritual development) in the present life and which includes a reincarnation component. This goes way beyond the actual survival evidence and was based, to some extent, on “channeling.”

How could someone give a scholarly presentation to the lay public and yet have a book that would fit into any fluff-brained New Ager‘s library? I fear that Dr. Heath was guilty of the same thing of which she accuses religious interpreters of MMI–that they interpret their experiences in terms of their cultural expectations. Now if Dr. Heath said, “That’s okay–we cannot avoid cultural expectations when interpreting data,” I would have no problem. But she seemed to assume (and I may have misunderstood) that parapsychological lacks such cultural expectations when it examines the data. That is simply false, and when we are dealing with survival research, cultural assumptions are unavoidable.

Take Dr. Heath’s position on the afterlife. It fits well into the American idea of evolutionary progress which has continued, unlike in Europe, to heavily influence American thought. Europe has suffered through two World Wars on its soil; America has 9-11, which was but one attack, and the War Between the States, which is distant to most Americans. Thus Americans buy into the idea of progress–and a life after death of continual evolutionary progress fits into American culture. The notion of multiple reincarnations, which in Eastern religions is something to be avoided if possible, becomes a positive thing in American New Age thought. A Hindu or Theravada Buddhist would be horrified by the American New Age interpretation of reincarnation.

I will be the first to admit that I am biased against reincarnation. As an orthodox Anglican Christian, I cannot accept reincarnation unless the evidence for it were so overwhelming that only a fool would reject it. That is not currently the case, even with Ian Stevenson‘s research. Stephen Braude has pointed out serious methodological flaws with the Stevenson research (for which see his book Immortal Remains). The problem of super-psi also plagues survival research; it seems to me that the best mediumship evidence (Leonora Piper‘s readings, for example) and the best near-death experience cases support at least a minimal survival of death of the individual personality in some form. But this does not justify a specific picture of the afterlife, at least at this stage of the research. Current research would be incompatible with non-survivalists and with the “no-self” view of Theravada Buddhism in which only five aggregates survival with no survival of the self. Beyond that, the research paints a picture of survival that is compatible with some Jewish views, some Christian views, with Pure Land Buddhist views, and even with the American progressive view that Dr. Heath espouses. But the evidence does not clearly support one of those views over another. For me, the evidence is a preparation for faith–it removes a barrier to my acceptance of the full Christian revelation on life after death. For Dr. Heath, the evidence supports a more “secular” or “natural” developmental view of life after death in which we evolve to higher levels of human accomplishment, with reincarnation being a part of that process. My point is that both Dr. Heath and I, to some extent, interpret the survival evidence in terms of our own cultural expectations. To expect that anyone could do otherwise is naive.