Repost: Making the Spiritual World Real

©2009 Gary W. Priester – Image used by permission of the artist

Is the spiritual world real? Yes. Can I prove it. No, of course not. But I think I can offer here an explanation that at least explains why belief in the spiritual world is plausible, and not counter to reason. At the risk of sounding immodest, I believe that what you are about to read represents the best thinking I have done thus far in my life on the subject of spiritual things. It is quite simply my favorite of all my original ideas.

I am a teacher.  My goal in life is to take concepts and ideas that can be difficult to understand, and make them accessible to people.  A few months ago, in an email conversation with an atheist friend of mine, I came up with a way of explaining the spiritual world that may not convince atheists to become theists, but I think can at least help them see why belief itself is valid.  I also think this is a good way of helping believers through times of difficulty and doubt.

The image above is a stereogram.  Stereograms are pictures that are not what they appear to be.  On the surface they can look like almost anything, but if you look at them long enough, stare kind of into them and kind of past them, (go ahead, try it!) a whole other 3D reality emerges and once you see it, it’s as clear as could be.  This is not magic, though it appears to be.  The truth is that the dots in the picture above have been placed in the way they are specifically so that the richer image inside can emerge if a person is looking at it the right way.  There are some people, I understand, who will never be able to see the richer pictures inside a stereogram.  Therefore, they will never have a single bit of evidence beyond the testimonies of those who have seen.

Among those who do see, some see with great ease and others see with great difficulty.  And for the sake of the analogy, let’s say that the picture in the stereogram isn’t of a dinosaur or a picnic basket, but an incredible 3D Rorschach inkblot.  In other words, something extremely real hidden in the plain random dots on the canvas, but then once a person sees it, people might be inclined to impose their own understandings as to what the image is.  No debate whatsoever that it is real and that the shape itself is exactly the same for everyone who looks at it, but people will take different things away from it when they look at the picture.  But nonetheless, they would be seeing, in spite of the protests of those who either do not see or simply have not seen yet.

Some would say, “I saw a frog.”  Others would say, “I saw breasts.”  Others might say, “I saw a house,” and others, “I saw what looked like random shapes and patterns.”  Of course that’s what’s actually there. So the person who gives what seems to be the least clear description may be telling you most accurately what is actually there.

But what would you make of someone who refused to even try to see?

Perhaps someone has it on good authority that not everyone can see, and that reports on what is in there are diverse, so therefore the conclusion is that there are only meaningless dots on the picture and don’t even try to see further.  Seeing what’s in there requires not only looking, but looking PAST and BEYOND – looking in a way that is so different from how you usually look that it might take you ten minutes, or twenty minutes, or an hour of looking before the picture emerges.  If after ten minutes you say there is nothing, you are wrong.  If after twenty minutes you say there is nothing, you are wrong.  If you stare for ten days straight and say there’s nothing, you are wrong.  If you NEVER see it, and maintain that it cannot be seen, you are wrong.  Others have seen it.

My point is that there’s something there that can be seen, but there are conditions for seeing it:

  1. Someone must believe there is in fact more to be seen than what is immediate.  Without this belief, the person will not only not bother, but will probably be critical of those who try to see.  Until a person looks for himself, all he/she has is the testimony of others that there is in fact something to see that goes beyond appearances.
  2. Someone must want to see the hidden picture.  Without the desire, they will never take the time to try.
  3. Someone must then actually make a decision to invest the time to stand in front of the picture.  Stopping and taking the time to see what, on report, is actually there.
  4. This one’s huge.  Someone must next be willing to learn to “see” in a very different way.  Typically we see by looking straight at things, and the straighter on we look the more seeable something is.  This is exactly the opposite and the harder you try to see in the usual way, the longer the deeper picture will elude you.
  5. Once one is willing to learn to see, one must keep at it.  Typically the pictures take a while to emerge and the “seer” can kind of lose them as his eyes adjust to a new way of seeing, but with patience most people can learn to truly see what is in there.

The person who stands in front of the stereogram, using the way of seeing that he has always used, will never see what is in there no matter how many questions he asks or how hard he tries.  However stereograms are made, they are simply of the nature that you have to “look at it” differently.  Refusal and unwillingness to do this says nothing about whether or not something is actually in there to be seen.  And of course, the effort to see can be very frustrating and some who might be able to see with enough time will give up before the picture ever emerges and will go through life declaring that they’re one of the people who simply can’t see those images.  Others will experience great frustration but exercise great patience and eventually reap the reward of seeing.  When they do, they will be able to share the wonder of that 3D image only with others who have seen it, because the experience is so unique that the richness of those pictures can never really be described to those who have not seen, regardless of the reason.

The same is true with the spiritual world. If you do not want there to be a God, you will simply never take the time to see, or train yourself in the new way of seeing that is necessary in order for you to see what many others do in fact know is there. Of course simply wanting there to be a God is not sufficient evidence that there actually is one, but it is the necessary condition for being able to ever see him if there is.  Then, once one has seen, one knows.

Here’s what we know beyond doubt.  Millions of people claim there is a richer, spiritual world beyond the physical one, and there are many different descriptions of what that world actually contains.  Some try hard to see and don’t.  Others could but never try.  Some will not make the very subtle perceptual shifts that are required in order to learn to see in new ways and will then insist that those who do see are deluded.

I think I have provided here a clear demonstration, based in plainly physical things, of how the spiritual world can be accessible to  human beings, as well as accounted for how people could see the same thing in different ways and why there might be different accounts of the same thing, while also accounting for the fact that people have various levels of faith (the ability to “see” in that different way), as well as no faith at all.  I think I have even offered an explanation for why those who are least able to describe what they have seen might actually apprehend the reality of the image the best.

I hope this has been a helpful way of explaining the spiritual perspective itself, based on something you can see in the physical world.  I have also tried to work in my opinion that this is not magic or miracle, but is simply the nature of spirit and the way the universe is actually arranged.

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  • I’m an agnostic keenly interested in engaging in dialogue/dialectic with the academic, or ‘moderate’ expession of faith (which you seem to express well). Your arguments are compelling and your insights are redressing.

    Yet I’m puzzled by your statement:

    ” … the person who gives what seems to be the least clear description is the one telling you most accurately what is actually in there.”

    Really smacks of relativism to me.

    • Thanks for commenting, Lars. My meaning is that if there were a Rorscach inkblot in the stereogram, then the person who is vague in describing what they see is closer to capturing it’s reality than the person who sees something specific. If one person says “I saw a dog” and one says “I know I saw something but I couldn’t make out what it was,” then that person comes closest to what is actually in the stereogram, which in reality is simply a blot of ink.

      This was my way of explaining how it is that fundamentalism, which seemingly has the clearest descriptions of God, could actually apprehend less of the truth about God than a person or religion who is far less clear and specific. Just a possible way of explaining what would otherwise appear to be contradiction to some, and paradox to others.

      My stereogram example is actually meant to account for relativism in religious perspectives. It gives a possible explanation for how it is that people can see such vastly different things with regard to religion. The image in the stereogram, by nature, reflects back much of what is already in you to begin with. Of course ultimately it is just an analogy and, like every analogy, breaks down at some point.

      I hope that addressed your concern.

      — Sent from my iPod touch

  • Elizabeth Morin

    Remarkable.

  • You’re having to much fun with this.

  • Okay, undo everything I’ve said above about a shark. I changed the image, now you can see under the stereogram what it is you’re looking for inside of it.

  • Dave,
    I used this idea im my sermon this week and quoted you a little (full credit to you where it was due). It worked out great. The sermon was the full armor series from Ephesians 6 and I talked specifically about truth. I found a couple sights that allow me to make your own stereograms. I threw the images up on the screen and gave a prize to the persons who could see it first. Thanks for the great idea!

  • no, its a trap!

  • I really liked this blog. When I looked at the picture, I couldn’t see anything. Yet, I didn’t give up, I was persistent that I could find something. I got discoraged, but I was honest enough to myself to not make something up to feel normal. I think that helps alot with faith because I view my faith in the same way as the picture; I may not fully understand it or see the big picture, but unlike others, I take the next step which is learning more about my faith, rather than lying to myself and pretedning I knew the picture all along.

  • Jan

    I promise you that I will use quotes from this for the rest of my life! It’s a great “word picture” that can be told to any one. I can very well beleive that this came from some great thinking (at the risk of encouraging you to think you’re being immodest)….but also great writing. You penned it in such a way that it flowed easy & it’s very understandable. The thing that really hit home with me is “must be willing” – a lot of people don’t WANT to know because it might make them accountable! Then there’s the “invest the time….”. In this immediate gratitification world, some folks don’t want to invest anything in the something that is worth everything.

    • Thank you, Jan. I’m glad to have you as a reader. Your comments add value to my work, casting it in new lights, and communicating a clear understanding of what I’m trying to say.

  • The wanting to and hoping to and needing to see God is so much more vital than the appearance of the stereographic image. The higher level of importance seems to muliply the struggles you’ve mentioned above. If a person doesn’t care or doesn’t want spiritual things to be apparant, that person will be even more opposed to expelling the effort to see. And a person who really wants to see it seems to revert, finding it so hard to change the way they’ve always looked at things. I always see the stereograms easiest when I relax a little.