Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Trance, dream, prophecy and revelation

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It puzzles me that altered states of consciousness should be necessary for prophecies and revelations - I mean for real prophecies and revelations.

Because, this fact of happening during 'altered states' is nowadays taken to confirm that prophecy and revelation are bogus, a pathological product of a malfunctioning brain - and that is indeed pretty much how I used to see things before I was a Christian, e.g.

http://medicalhypotheses.blogspot.co.uk/2007/07/alienation-and-animism.html

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But that wasn't how people saw things through most of human history.

Past societies knew perfectly well that abnormally functioning brains could and did produce hallucinations, delusions and the like - but they also believed that altered states of consciousness were associated with genuine prophecy and divine communications.

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But why the association between prophecy, revelation and altered states?

Most plausibly, it is as if altered states are necessary to overcome some bias or resistance in us - some resistance to divine communications - that is, to communications which come neither from the external environment nor from inside our own brains and bodies but otherwise.

The bias is that attending to environmental and personal stimuli is 'biological' - and seems to overwhelm other possible activities; the resistance is - in a nutshell - sin: that we do not want to perceive divine communications, we resist divine communications, and therefore these must come when our resistance is down.

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It is important to consider this question in terms of the absolute reality of human agency, of free will - and that God is not able (or perhaps will not allow Himself) to overcome human agency, but rather that free will is a fact of the situation - free will must be 'worked around' because it cannot/ will-not be overcome.

So even though God can force a communication to be seen or heard, He cannot force it to be understood correctly.

And even when God is able to communicate his will on a matter, He cannot force the prophet to agree to that will - the prophet might (because he is free) hear the word of God, understand it, yet and oppose God's will.

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Therefore, the mode of divine communication needs to take into account that the prophet is a free agent, and mode must therefore be persuasive of choice; because free will, if properly understood, is the kind of thing which simply cannot be coerced.

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(Indeed, some persuasive techniques - ancient and modern - exploit this fact, in that they may successfully persuade free will and result in the desired choice by asserting that free will has no choice! That free will does not exist, or can be/ has been, coerced - 'therefore' the agent 'might as well agree' to what is being asserted. This is, indeed, a routine of the modern era - telling people they are blank slates formed by the environment and/or helpless robots controlled by their genes, and 'therefore' they 'ought' to choose to do whatever propaganda tells them!)

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Among genuine divine communications, it is notable that there are some prophets who see God (in some form) and receive direct communications while wide awake, in clear consciousness;  some who receive messages brought by angelic visitations; many example of receiving a message in a dream; and also there are visions during prayer of possible trance states.

Probably, an interesting approximate typology could be devised which examined the nature and circumstances of these modes in the context of the strength and weaknesses and roles of the specific prophets concerned, and the needs of God - maybe even a hierarchy of prophets, ranked in terms of their openness to God's communications... but I don't know enough even to begin this.

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