Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Having Faith and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (Part 1)

I have labelled this as Part 1 not because I am planning a series at the moment, but because this is a rabbit hole that shouldn't be left alone.

A Google search for Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Religion makes it clear that people with TLE have weird or exceptional religious experiences more often than people who don't. Much more often. (Go do the research yourself and come back if you need details.) In many cases, their inner experience and what outside observers see (or video shows) that there is a completely rational and neither religious or magical explanation for what happened and/or that they were having a seizure at the time of the experience.

I have had a few experiences that converted me from Agnostic to seeker/believer. They weren't of the level of Saul on the road to Damascus, but little things like having a wave of peace and safety come over me in a touchy situation where calm was hard to come by but much needed. As someone with TLE, all of those moments are suspect. Yet they inform my beliefs and how I react, share and exemplify them. On a macro level, those experiences have nothing to do with my faith - I became a Christian through reading and studying and finding something worthy of following. I would also say true, but again, my moments and leaps of religious faith are suspect. I am a better human for following Jesus, though I would be a better human if I followed Jesus more closely. But the triggers for the reading and studying that led to my conversion (and the triggers that kept me reading and studying) are most likely brain misfires, hallucinations even, that I took as religious experiences in an attempt to make sense of what was going through my brain.
It would be easy to say "But God gave you those experiences and ..." However, even if MY faith experiences that were actually TLE had beneficial or benign outcomes (reading and studying to find something that makes me a better person), there are plenty of examples of non-benign outcomes from TLE induced faith experiences. All those hateful and divisive things Paul said? Very likely TLE. (I could give more examples, but that would require work.)


Doree said...

My daughter believes that she has TLE but I am not sure the tests have confirmed that yet. She majored in religion but currently does not follow a particular religion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Julie Baumler said...

Interesting Doree! I majored in Religious Studies. Epilepsy is a hard disease to diagnose because seizure activity doesn't always show up in an EEG even if you have it, so sometimes all they can do is rule out everything else and then they still might not know where in your brain the seizure activity is coming from. (Lucky for me, they had me attached to the EEG at the right time.)
Your daughter may enjoy the book Surviving Wonderland: Living with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
which is about TLE. I found it a bit far out, but I think if my TLE experiences were more like the author's I'd probably love it. It's lendable on Kindle, so PM me on Facebook if she wants to borrow it.