Comments by Rev. Dr. Steven Epperson

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  • Dear James: thank you for the thoughtful response to my piece on Unusual Beliefs. And sorry about the negative ad hominem responses above.
    Consider the fact that historically, there are at least four “schools” of biblical interpretation going all the way back to the Church Fathers. Knowing that a “literal” interpretation of scripture just wouldn’t cut it with many readers/believers, imaginative and alternative ways of understanding and making meaning of holy writ were created–allegorical, analogical, historical and mystical. Each “school” has found its accepted place, down through the centuries, within the larger community of interpretation. And the Christian world has been richer and more expansive as a result. (Think of how impoverished modern- day literal, fundamentalist reading of scripture is by comparison.)
    You get my drift–the “text” of a person’s life presents us with various interpretive strategies. And, inspired by Tamasin Knight’s work in her “Beyond Belief: Alternative Ways of Working with Delusions, Obsessions and Unusual Experiences,” my congregation has become more sympathetically adept at responding to persons presenting unusual beliefs and behaviours.
    I appreciate what “Lavendersage” noted above, with her reference to the story I shared with MIA readers about the way Arnie Mindell entered imaginatively, empathetically and effectively into the life-world of a deeply traumatized person. He was, in effect, coming up with an alternative “school” of interpreting this person’s distress. Other health workers were seemingly locked into one and only one way of interpreting it, with the outcome that they could not reach this person and walk with her step-by-step from her catatonic state toward recovery, whereas Mindell was.
    BTW: I am not a post-modern relativist. I am not into “truthiness.” When asked, I agree that there are certain laws of nature which necessarily obtain. Octavian decisively defeated Marc Antony’s and Cleopatra’s naval forces at the Battle of Actium. Russian intelligence interfered with the 2016 Presidential election. On the other hand, assenting to the doctrine of transubstantiation requires a considerable leap of faith, as do many religious dogmas. I try at least, to imaginatively inquire what do these unusual beliefs mean to those who hold them? How do they actually impact on the behaviour of a person and community that believes them to be true?
    go well, Steven
    PS-regarding your example of a child who believes that the “toilet is a portal to another universe”? She’s absolutely right, and brilliant! What could be more different than the world “up top” from the universe of sewers and excrementa that we bury, hide and flush away down below? And think of examples from popular culture/movies–Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” and the chase in the sewers of Vienna, Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” and the mysteries in the sewers of Sydney, and the terrifying ordeals Katniss Everdeen and her crew face in the sewers of Panem. That child is imaginatively, definitely on to something! And what is she getting at? Let’s ask her.

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  • I want to thank everyone who responded to this article; I’m sorry for the late reply–but here it goes.
    +For an excellent, insightful and sympathetic film about unusual beliefs–see “Man Facing Southeast” by Argentinian film maker Elesio Subiela But watch it with a friend; it doesn’t have a Hollywood ending.
    +Thanks Matt, for reference to Chestnut Hill. I am aware of this story, but was more immediately inspired and informed by the recent work of Tamasin Knight and her work: “Beyond Belief: Alternative Ways of Working with Delusions, Obsessions and Unusual Experiences.” And keep up with your good work!–I really value it.
    +Fiachra–we have a lot of work to do to disenthrall society of the chemical imbalance delusion; there’s been important movement on this front lately, even within the bastions of the psych establishment. Tide’s turning!
    +Misfitxxx–you keep shining on as well; you hear me?!
    +Dreampainter/Karen–is was a “spiritual crisis.” I was about to leave home, family and go off to university on the other side of the continent. Who was I going to be when I got there? Did I really believe in the worldview I’d grown up with? I thought about this in the summer, tackled the sources of my religious community so that I could say yes, or no to them with integrity, and then ended up having a mind blowing experience. I have interpreted what happened to that younger self differently over time and with experience; but I have never discounted the reality and strength of what happened to me then forty-five years ago. Thanks for asking.
    +Stephen Gilbert–what you described happens way too much. Who are the real experts if not those with lived experience? Instead of collaborative listening and learning; it’s all one way and patronizing–what a waste!
    +FeelinDiscouraged/kindred spirit/Frank Blankenship–I can’t speak for all Unitarians, but for the most part it goes like this: we trace our roots back 500 years to radical Protestant religious humanists. Over time, our faith tradition has developed from those origins into a religion that welcomes all comers–no matter if you believe in god or not. We hold in common a dedication to creating a religious community where we support one another in deepening our spiritual and ethical lives, in our advocacy for social justice and in a reverence for nature and all life. So chucking it all and going off to play golf just isn’t in the cards. We’re in for the long haul as a religion. Thanks for the questions and commentary. (For a brief sketch see

    and yes, I think that class is a big elephant in the room. Glad to see a recent “Guardian” article by MIA blogger Jay Watts who brings this up. It’s a worth reading and sharing.
    cheers, Steven

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