A deep spiritual quest from NPR religion correspondent Hagerty.
After renouncing Christian Science, the stoic religious heritage of her New England upbringing, Hagerty remained a spiritual seeker. She writes that she experienced numinous episodes in which she physically felt the presence of something not of this world. The author’s debut is an attempt to straddle two schools of thought: reductionist materialism (voiced in the extreme by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens et al.), which denies the validity of natural phenomena yet to be explained; and organized religion (James Dobson, Pat Robertson et al.), which discourages serious inquiry into science’s understanding of the brain, mind and consciousness. Hagerty offers neither church sermon nor secular argument. This is a serious journalist’s courageous, ambitious investigation into what science says about “a spiritual world…that eludes physical sight and hearing and touch?” Hagerty weaves together interviews with scientists, psychologists, neurologists and dozens of people who share her metaphysical experience, including mystics, or “spiritual virtuosos.” She also explores the so-called God gene, drug-induced vision quests, the neurochemistry of faith, out-of-body experiences and the psychological aftermath of near-death experiences. Ultimately, the book ends where it began, echoing psychologist and pragmatist William James, who said that science can’t prove or disprove God. At best, science is agnostic. While this may be comforting for believers, Hagerty’s conclusions may prove ordinary for dedicated students of science and philosophy.
A commendable, witty attempt to ground spirituality in established fact that will provide deeper understanding to people of faith but few surprises for nonbelievers.