01: The phenomena of people seeing visions of Jesus have taken place throughout history and are more complex than scientific and psychological explanations, according to a recent study.
The new book Visions of Jesus (Oxford University Press, $30) by Phillip H.Wiebe, examines apparitions of Jesus throughout history and in contemporary times and finds as much diversity as similarities in such experiences. Wiebe, a religion professor at Trinity Western University in Canada, interviewed 30 individuals who reported seeing Jesus while they were awake, as well as examined historical records (including from the New Testament) of similar reports.
He found such visions range from fleeting encounters that resemble dreams to experiences that are indistinguishable from those that mark the everyday perception of public objects. Such “Christic visions” often occur spontaneously, rather than being generated by deliberate attempts to produce them (such as through fasting and meditation). Often the phenomena were not confined to the visual dimension, since there was an interplay between several of the senses.
These visions seem to occur to people “who are unlikely to be classified as `saints’ and who would resist being described that way,” Wiebe writes. Wiebe examines these occurrences through the lens of psychological, theological and neurophysiological theories and finds they do not explain all of them. In one of the more dramatic accounts, a whole Pentecostal congregation in Oakland, Calif., claimed they saw a figure resembling Jesus materialize in front of them; one of the members even filmed the event.
Although the film was later stolen, Wiebe saw it early in the 1960s (though he does not recollect all of it) and members still stand by their experience. Wiebe does not come to any final conclusion about these occurrences. He adds, however, that the neurophysiological explanations cannot fully account for such phenomena as mass apparitions nor do the psychological theories (concerning delusions) explain them, since subjects showed few signs of mental disturbance.
02: Far from signifying mental illness, the charismatic Christian experience and practice may be associated with emotional stability and sociability, according to recent research.
In a study of 222 male clergy from the Anglican Church in Wales, T. Hugh Thomas of Trinity College in Carmarthen measured their attitudes against such standard diagnostic scales of personality and emotional well-being as the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. In the Review of Religious Research (September), Thomas writes that the Anglican clergy that responded to the charismatic movement, while diverse among themselves, scored higher on the extroversion scale and lower on the neuroticism scale, with no significant relationship between the charismatic experience and psychoticism.
“In other words, among male Anglican clergy the charismatic experience is associated with stable extroversion,” Thomas writes. Such a finding conflicts with past research which has linked charismatic activity with neurotic behavior.
(Review of Religious Research, 108 Marist Hall, Catholic University in America, Washington, DC 20004)
03: Sexual abuse is committed more often by volunteers and other non-clergy in religious organizations than by clergy, according to a new report.
In a survey of 1,700 congregations by the Church Law and Tax Report newsletter, it was found that volunteer workers are the most frequent abusers, making up half of all sexual misconduct offenses in churches. In citing the study, Christianity Today magazine (Oct. 6) adds that 30 percent of such offenses are committed by paid staff and another 20 percent are committed by another child.
The number of allegations of sexual molestation against children was found to have grown in the 1,700 congregations — from 0.8 in 1995 to two percent last year. While screening of staff and volunteers is said to help in handling the abuse (although only a minority of congregations do so), the rise of peer counseling among adults in churches presents a new challenge. In the growing number of small groups within congregations, members who have little training in counseling are involved in discussing intimate matters with other participants.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)