Review: Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A. Helminiak

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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


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Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

You're Not A Wave

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles

The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash

Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Cutting Through the Arguments

Review: Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration

by Daniel A. Helminiak

State University of New York Press, HB, 418 pages, $95.00
August 2015

Also available for kindle and ebooks.

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Research into the workings of the human nervous system and the brain has given birth to a modern-day meme: "God in the Brain." Stories appear on TV and in magazines and newspapers, even those at the grocery check-out, reporting on "latest findings" in this search. It's a perennially interesting question because it involves both our personal experience of being embodied and having brains AND our collective experience of being immersed in a culture of religion and talk of "God": How our brains work is a mystery. What God is is a mystery. Mysterious things are fascinating. We want to know the answer. "Inquiring minds want to know."

This topic seems divided into those who argue that the fact that people are naturally religious and have experiences of God proves that God and the whole world of religion and religious thought is true AND those who argue that the fact that psychedelic drugs or stimulation of the brain in certain places results in religious experience proves God is an hallucination and merely an artifact of the nervous system.

This topic is also addressed, much more seriously, in scientific and academic circles and has resulted in a body of work that deals with brain theory. At the base of all brain theory is the mind-body question: How does the self-aware and immaterial mind arise out of the physiological operation of brain cells? How do mind and body connect? And what is the mind? What is consciousness? Does consciousness really exist? The only place anybody ever experiences consciousness is inside their own mind. We never see anybody else's consciousness, and we don't especially need them to be conscious to explain their behavior. Since science only looks at what it can see and measure and test, science doesn't need to affirm the existence of consciousness at all.

Brain, Consciousness, and God by Daniel Helminiak cuts through all those arguments by addressing what they actually mean--or don't mean. This is a challenging book. It's not easy reading, though it is generally very interesting reading. It's academically styled--with copious references in parentheses embedded within the text and with outside works identified by the author's last name as it appears in the extensive bibliography. But Helminiak's writing style is, in fact, conversational and even occasionally funny; he routinely uses the first person "I" and never contorts sentences into the more traditional impersonal third person style of academic writing and uses virtually no academic jargon.

Daniel Helminiak is a student of the Canadian, Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984). Lonergan is regarded by many as one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century. Lonergan is credited with updating Aristotelian/Catholic Scholastic/Thomistic philosophy to the modern scientifically and psychologically-sophisticated world. Central to Lonergan's thought was epistemology, the branch of philosophy that deals with how human beings know: what does it mean "to know," where does "knowledge" come from? how do we know what we know and if it's true or not?

Helminiak assiduously and consistently applies Lonergan's epistemology to the brain science questions about the relation between brain and consciousness. He observes that a main reason these questions exist at all is because of confused epistemological assumptions and erroneous logic. This is heady stuff, and sometimes difficult to grasp--which is why there is so much confusion in the field--and why it is important to do this kind of rigorous analysis of what's actually being talked about.

An ongoing example in the book is the right triangle and the Pythagorian theorem. One way of thinking about a right triangle is to picture one in your mind; that is the sensate-based model. Most of us, most of the time, rely on sense experience as the basis of our knowledge, so it's almost automatic to "see" a triangle in your memory and imagination when you think of the Pythagorian theorem. Another way of thinking about a right triangle is as the relations between the lengths of the line segments, i.e., a2 + b2 = c2. This is the cerebral intellectual-based model; it's an idea; it can be thought without any picture in your mind. Helminiak observes, repeatedly, that most of the books about the brain-consciousness relation repeatedly violate the Lonerganian distinction between sensate and intellectual models. Imagining the brain as a storehouse and trying to figure out just where a particular experience is stored and in which cells is an example of confusing an intellectual concept with a sense-based image. Much of the book is spent defining terms. It may seem tedious at times and mind-stretching, but this is important foundation for the discussion.

That Helminiak comes out of Scholastic/Thomist tradition is demonstrated in his careful analysis and rigorous refutation of the other writers. This was a pattern in the writings of Thomas Aquinas: present what other people say, then present what you say, then show how the others are wrong. To his credit, Helminiak
frequently points out what's right in others' ideas and is seldom argumentative in his refutations, though he is rigorous.

The book is nearly 400 pages. It's daunting here to try to describe it; there's so much in the book. I certainly can't say I understood everything in it, but it was good to try to. I can't say I agreed with everything in it; I thought Helminiak gave short-shrift to animal consciousness--he doesn't think non-human creatures are technically "conscious" at all, at least in the way humans are "conscious." He says animals live in a more sensate, perceptual, psychic world, not a thinking, intellectual one.
That's probably true. (But I don't think my cat would necessarily agree.) Helminiak does apply findings from studies of animal intelligence very productively to discuss brain structure.

A central concept in Daniel Helminiak's work is that human consciousness is spiritual. He argues that spirit has nothing to do with God, supernatural entities or religion. "Spirit" is perfectly natural and an aspect of being human. Spiritual experience, transcendental experience--through religious belief and practice or through drugs or brain-stimulation--is consciousness being conscious of itself.

While carefully removing religion and piety from the whole discussion of consciousness, Helminiak derives a notion of God by application of Lonergan’s epistemology to the fact of existence and the need for an answer to the question about how it could possibly come about. But one doesn't have to be religious or "believe in God" to be a spiritually developed--and perhaps naturally mystical--human being. "In the broad picture," he writes, "transcendent experience--mysticism as a way of living--would then appear to be the ongoing experience of the common dynamism, the "finality" or "teleonomy," that runs through the successive levels of cosmogenesis and evolution toward the integration of all things in consciousness… When in humans what is intelligible becomes intelligence itself, it can experience, explicate, and know itself and, then, more deliberately and more surely--that is, attentively, intelligently, and resonably, and responsibly (it can only be hoped)--guide its own subsequent unfolding: to a large and sometimes frightening extent, the future of the universe lies in human hands. Accordingly, when transcendent experience is understood to be nothing other than wholistic, integrated, healthy human living, spirituality--apart from all entanglement with conflicting religions, beliefs in other-worldly entities, or appeal to divine interventions--becomes essential to human life, culture, society, and the budding global community."

The next sentence in the paragraph I've quoted says, "Such is the full, sweeping vision of Lonergan's analysis of human intentional consciousness." Helminiak is crediting this vision to Lonergan. As I have read this book--and learned and grown from doing so, in spite of, or because of, the effort--I'd credit this vision to Daniel Helminiak
and say this book is a foundational piece of the evolution of consciousness becoming aware of itself.

I recommend this book.

rainbow line

Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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