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whompa! whompa! whompa! I first heard of Mark Phillips' book Secrets and Lies: My Journey to Enlightenment on talk radio. Mr. Phillips was doing the rounds promoting his work. Twice, at most, he gave his website's address, that's a nice change from the usual promo circuit rider's hard sell. Mr. Phillips sounded like a regular guy with an unusual spiritual story. He was careful to say that medical reasons could explain some of his experiences, although such explanations are discounted in the book.

Mr. Phillips' worldview was given its thrust during his high school years when a youth counselor at a church camp told him he "can tell when someone is destined to know the secrets of the universe. You are one of those people" (p.23). So, touched by a prophecy, he searched spiritual disciplines for the "secret".

In college this search started with the Russian sideshow Kirlian photography(p.58). By graduation his spirituality widened to include the ability to meditate, participate in successful telekenesis experiments "such as table-lifting and spoon bending", and he had gained an increased control over his body(p.132).

It was during his college years that he rejected atheism because atheists "had to work very hard to embrace the absence of what is obvious" (p.42). It should have been obvious that any so-called scientific technique (p.58) as unpredictable as Kirlian photography in not science. That James Randi was bending spoons as easily as Uri Geller did on Mike Douglas' TV show (the 1960's equivalent of the Rosie O'Donnell Show) but without the aid of Geller's "psychic powers". That table lifting, like spirit table rapping, was discounted and debunked by magician and spirit believer Harry Houdini. That gaining control of yourself is a normal adult skill. In short, that such magic and spiritism isn't real.

The questions that led him to reject atheism all centered on emotion. He asks how the "simple survival of the species [has] anything to do with [any] emotion?" (p.41-42) How rediculous this question is can easily be seen when it is removed, as above, from its emotional context: SIMPLE survival of the species? A species that requires communities to protect and rear its young?

At times, he gives exagerated significance to events, like his calling on the name of god when in trouble in a waterfall's turbulence (p. 114) or in a car wreck (p. 141), but gives lessened significance to the impact of the idea of god in others (p. 208). Or, of "spirit karate" being a sign of a "force" (pp.91-96) on one occasion and of it being a farce on another (p. 222). His treatment of events depends on the emotion he wants to generate in his reader, always to lead the reader to believe in and follow his current, not his past, spiritual discipline. How can the simple survival of the species depend on emotion? He answers his own question by demonstrating emotion-directing story telling being used to seek proselytes to build a, in this case: religious, community.

In the end of his search, he finds a return to Christianity to be the best path toward his prophesied end. To get past the intellectual barricades that block the path he must contort himself, and he records those contortions faithfully. For instance, he avoids all evidence from extremophiles to bypass the blockade of rational biogenesis (p. 206). He postulates a strange big-bang model that peels like an onion (pp. 210-212) unlike anything you can read in a popular treatment of the big-bang like A Brief History of Time or The First Three Minutes. He confuses an attorney's skill (in this case Simon Greenleaf's, not Philip Johnson's) at arguing evidence as truth-seeking instead of case-winning (p.218). He confirms C. S. Lewis' three way paradox avoiding the question of myth-making in favor of the simpler, and incomplete, lord-liar-lunatic formulation. His decision is intellectually bankrupt but emotionally satisfying: "years of empty, aching, yearning, searching, pain flowed out of my heart to be filled with the Holy Spirit of the one and only Source of all goodness" (p.228).

Why buy this book? If you, like me, had read Hermann Hesse's novels in your youth, you will find a real life version of his novels here. To about page 175, the book is attention grabbing, but degenerates to missionary work from there. Sections on New Age Christianity are interesting and informative (pp. 147- 156 and 188-196). There are also general comments about conservatism and spousal love which I found refreshing as they remove the spiritual context so often taken for granted by evangelicals. It also helped me remember and reflect on my own "spiritual" past.

When I was five my father died and I started seeing a ghost. In hind sight, the ghost was father sized but inanimate. It showed up occasionally for a couple years and I'm sure it was a childish creation to fill a hole in my life. For almost three years, I delivered two different newspapers very early in the morning, along with my regular job. It was not unusual to see apparitions by thursday morning of the week. After getting used to them, I ignored the ghosts and learned to refocus and wake up whenever I saw such things. These were not supernatural, but were the result of fatigue. I have had the "Old Hag" dream several times, and, frankly, they scared me. It wasn't until I read about the dream in a book by Carl Sagan, and learned what to call them, that having the dream stopped scaring me when they finished. I haven't had such a dream in well over a decade.

I could probably reflect and come up with others, but this last one is my favorite. The movie The Exorcist was re-released in about 1974 or 75 to theaters. I took my girlfriend to the show on a friday night and had a hard time getting to sleep after I got home. I awoke startled that my bed was shaking and rocking, and there was a terrible noise. I called on jesus to save me and the shaking stopped! At the time, however, we lived in a mobile home...saturdays were laundry days...the rocking bed and noise were caused by an unbalanced washer load in the spin cycle. Calling on a name didn't save me because I was never in danger. It was my mother's pulling the washer's control knob that stopped the possession of my bed.

To my credit, I did not wet the bed or throw up green soup.