Review: The Research Behind Our Intimate Relationships With God

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Most people who profess to believe in the existence of God do not pray for groceries to appear in their refrigerators rather than go shopping themselves. Why not? And what explains the difference between this majority and those less common believers who relate to God in a more radical and intimate way? These are some of the questions asked by TM Luhrmann in How God becomes real.

Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford University, has produced serious work of anthropological research, but his conversational tone and fascinating anecdotes will capture the attention of even non-specialists, especially those troubled by the elusiveness of an intimate relationship. with God. This group would seem to include many Catholics, given Pope Francis’ need to insist recently in “Christus Vivit” that “Christ is alive!” We must continue to remember this. “

Luhrmann’s book reveals that this difficulty is not unique to Catholics, but rather a difficulty that they share with evangelical Christians, magicians, Zoroastrians, santeros, Orthodox Jews and other religious people. The central claim of the book is that it takes a sustained effort to believe and act as if the gods and spirits are real, and therefore they must be. do real. However, when this “real creation” succeeds, writes Luhrmann, it changes people. A god come true changes the way they deal with trauma and deal with their thoughts and emotions, their physical health and their overall happiness.

Could Catholics become more attentive to the presence of God if catechists devoted more effort to cultivating the “inner senses” in addition to explaining doctrine?

The heart of the book is made up of four chapters that explore the ways in which this real realization occurs in the lives of believers. In short, Luhrmann observes that people are more likely to ‘ignite’ a felt sense of the presence of gods or spirits (1) when they delve into detailed stories about gods or spirits, (2) when, by disposition and practice, people become “absorbed” in what they imagine about these invisible beings, (3) when they think that their own mind is permeable to others and to the outside world rather than intangible and isolated and (4) when they sense that gods or spirits respond through their personal experiences of hearing, seeing or feeling them.

Luhrmann immediately declares unequivocally that this is an anthropologist’s book and not a believer (nor an atheist). Nonetheless, his observations raise questions fraught with implications for the many Catholic communities where the flame of faith flickers: how could Catholic worlds be transformed if more of them came together each week in small communities to share stories from the scriptures and their own lives? Could Catholics become more attentive to the presence of God if catechists devoted more effort to cultivating the “inner senses” in addition to explaining doctrine? What changes might they experience in themselves and in their lives if they were to develop a prayer life richer in imagination and conversation? Anyone provoked by such questions might find that How God Becomes Real provides a much needed spark.

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