Anti-Epiphanies

So I’ve walked away from the church after they said some nasty things about gay people. Which is odd, because it’s not exactly as if it’s the first time something like this has happened. I think the statement on same-sex marriage was different in some way, but that doesn’t exactly explain the severity of my reaction.

I remember the exact day of the statement. My mind was on it the whole day, thinking about what it meant, and what I should do. The intensity of feeling has faded with time, but not the certainty that things had changed, or that I had to do something. In many ways, it felt just like a spiritual epiphany.

I may have previously mentioned Kevin Nelson’s excellent book on neuroscience, The God Impulse, in which he looks at many different spiritual experiences. One intriguing story he relates revolves around a group of people playing pinball. The basic thrust of the story is that as the game went on, they all got the impression that every movement seemed to be synchronised with the music playing in the background, right down to the ball shooting down between the flippers as the track ended.

There’s no suggestion that this rather unusual epiphany had any spiritual significance (although I must admit, I’d be quite tempted by a Church of Pinball), but it made a profound impression on all of them, even though they were embarrassed to talk about it in those terms. They couldn’t deny that they all felt as if something remarkable had happened, even though they could make no sense of it.

I wouldn’t exactly speak in those terms, but I feel that I could describe my experience in a similar way. When I heard the news of the statement that morning, it seemed that my whole perspective changed in an instant, like a switch being flicked. I’d previously had experiences that I’d have described as epiphanies, but this felt like an anti-epiphany. Rather than being drawn into a belief, I was suddenly repulsed by it.

I can rationalise my reaction, and it seems perfectly reasonable, but wonder if that’s missing the point. This wasn’t a conscious decision, as far as I can see, but an instinctive one. Just like a transcendent vision or the more prosaic examples of infatuation or love at first sight, it feels like my conscious mind is trying to catch up with a purely unconscious impulse.

This doesn’t bother me, just as it doesn’t bother me that I fell in love with my wife without consciously assessing her suitability as a mate, but I do think it’s interesting.

Photo by mojo-jo-jo, used under Attribution License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

4 responses to “Anti-Epiphanies”

  1. Joan Barleycorn says :

    What you describe sounds like a kind of reverse epiphany. But actually it’s your own personal epiphany; a significant realisation, a moment of enlightenment.

    I have struggled with the church’s announcement on gay marriage and was on the verge of leaving my local parish church for good; my attendance had been truly atrocious but an invite to a Christian group that had been ‘rested’ by mutual consent of its members, of which I was one, at a really ironic point in my thinking/experience followed by a very honest reply and helpful response to my concerns by the new leader has tempted me back.

    Of course, the feeling of being ‘called back’ could just be co-incidence or a manifestation of the psychological need for gestalt experience. It may have really been a sort of illusion of meaningfulness, rather like what might have been experienced by the players in the experiment you use by way of example.

    I hope your time out, be it temporary or permanent, is fruitful. Like I said, I have been away from church apart from the odd communion for about 18 months. Unlike you, my absence wasn’t based on deep soul searching, more a combination of laziness (I have a job which is both absorbing and stressful and takes over, leaving me wanting to relax and chill on Sundays) combined with a stronger and stronger feeling that I’m a bit of fish out of water within the congregation. Yet at the same time I was waiting, though in a way I’d given up expecting it, for a sign or at least a prompt that God wanted me and my beliefs on homosexuality in the Parish mix.

    So…what am saying to you? I think what I am saying is keep going with your own sense of what is right and meaningful. See what it brings. Empty belief has a lot less to offer than being open to seeking the truth.

    (Please ignore if you find my homespun wisdom patronising.)

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      That’s fine, and quite interesting.

      I like the idea that it’s my own epiphany. I think of it as a sort of reverse because this sort of thing is usually meant to be about positive things and euphoria, which is a long way from what I felt, but I can go with your description.

  2. 2012 and all that says :

    Epiphany? Or the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

    You are going about it the right way, thinking the issue through and coming to your own conclusions. That is very commendable

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I’m going to stick with epiphany, because that’s what it felt like. It wasn’t so much deciding that this was something I couldn’t put up with as a sudden and complete change in my perspective.

      The straw that broke the camel’s back would make a lot of sense as well, but I think that’s more how I rationalise it than what actually happened, if you see what I mean.

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