Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/08/2009

A Personal Note to Barbara Bradley Hagerty (Surprisingly Gullible)

The Camp Cross

The Camp Cross

“….the media are quick to trumpet such flimsy science because they are ‘skeptical of any idea that spirituality corresponds to anything outside ourselves, but surprisingly gullible about any reductionist explanation of it” (note 1).  

1962. High school summer camp. Moses Merrill Baptist Camp, Fullerton, Nebraska (Moses Merrill, 19th-century Baptist Missionary to Native Americans). The Chapel, with an old upright piano barely protected from the elements in the rustic (rickety) building. Last evening of camp, the campers giving their lives to Jesus.

I didn’t give my life, already baptized, a Christian as far as I knew.  By then, I’d read Thoreau, Balzac, and Jack Kerouac and wasn’t sure about this religion stuff. I played the piano (“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”) and wept uncontrollably while the others gave their lives, even as I found the scene incomprehensible.

Later I cried alone in the chapel while the others finished their ritual out at the campfire. I would not say I believed something I couldn’t “feel.” I knew religious experience was more than peer pressure. I knew how important “feelings” were. I had “feelings” about God that terrified me because I didn’t understand them. I couldn’t just throw my faggot on the campfire. 

Baptist Camp Moses Merrill, Lovers' Leap

Baptist Camp Moses Merrill, Lovers' Leap

I often saw what was going on in a room around me looking down from the ceiling. I often smelled things that weren’t there. I could not deny that my body and my mind were detachable from each other, and that gave me a view of the world from without and within at the same time. I knew the separation was about to happen when I heard the ringing on B-flat three octaves above middle C that exploded into white noise.

One day I realized this was all a connection to God. I discovered Job, chapter 38:
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

I knew for most people the answer to these questions was, “not me,” but for me it was different. I was often there when these things happened. They happened when my mind and my body were separated. But I had no idea why the separation happened, or if it was “normal.”

Welcome to Baptist Camp

Welcome to Baptist Camp

I wish I’d had Michael Persinger’s explanation for all of this as reported by Barbara Bradley Hagerty back at Moses Merrill camp. They would have answered my questions. Was my fevered, demon-possessed, seizured brain working out its electrical impulses? Did I have abnormalities of my hippocampus? Was I feeling changes of mesial temporal sclerosis? Was it paradoxical mesial temporal lobe epilepsy causing febrile convulsions. Or was it God? 

Did I (do I) have the personality type associated with these phenomena? Am I emotionally unstable with a tendency towards aggression? sensitive to the point of paranoia? given to brooding, and particularly interested in religious, mystic, and philosophical issues? not interested in sex, with a reduced libido (we know that’s not true)? more often depressed than others? depressed because of the sense of insecurity my seizures cause? Are my thoughts of suicide more common than among the rest of the population? 

But wait. What about Job and Me? “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Did I know I was there because instability, sensitivity, brooding, and depression, told me so? Did thoughts of suicide help me to understand the Voice in the Whirlwind? I’ve never heard the Voice, but I know exactly what it says, at all times and in all places. It’s connected to the Big Bang. And it comes through parallel universes and it’s the answer. To everything.

I hope Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s experience with Michael Persinger’s God-Helmet was as exciting as my daily life. And I hope it didn’t leave her as depressed as mine leaves me. And I hope she has some artistic outlet for her sense of religious awe.

Is this so confused that no one can follow it? Am I, even though my therapist says not to use the word, “crazy?” Am I a bitter old epileptic faggot? Or am I not epileptic at all, but simply deranged with psychotic snaps in which I see (well, I never “see”—I’m much too genteel for that) God (or at least God’s angels). Do I want so desperately to feel something so I can give my life to Jesus with the other campers that I make things up in my mind to seem hyper-religious? I don’t know. Moses Merrill Baptist Camp didn’t answer my burning questions, campfire or no.

And then there’s this:  “Conclusion: Bipolar symptoms occurred in 12% of community-based epilepsy patients, and at a rate higher than in other medical disorders…” (note 2) Everyone knows hyper-religiosity and hyper-sexuality are symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Perhaps I’m manically overwrought and mentally unstable. Maybe I’m not the “personality type” of the Temporal Lobe Epileptic. YES! It’s probably my hypomania that caused my delight in discovering that, turning Moses Merrill around, God may well arrive in the form of an Olympic athlete. Take that, Dr. Persinger.

Merrill Moses, US Olympic Water Polo, 2008

Merrill Moses, US Olympic Water Polo, 2008

(note 1) Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary, The spiritual brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (New York: HarperCollins, 2007; from a review by Angus J. L. Menuge. Politics and the Life Sciences 27.2 December 2008.
(note 2) Alan B. Ettinger, et al. “Prevalence of bipolar symptoms in epilepsy vs other chronic health disorders.” Neurology 2005.65:535-540.

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