From Oliver Sacks’ Lips to the (ex) Pope’s Ear

August 22, 2013




Dear (former) Pope Benedict XVI,


I just wanted to drop you a quick note after I read that you had a “mystical” experience when God told you to quit your job.


Now that you’re retired, you might have a little extra time to catch up on your reading. I don’t know if this book is out in German yet, but maybe you can get one of the Swiss Guards to read it to you. (Most of them speak English, I would imagine.)


The book is called Hallucinations, and it was written by this famous neurologist named Oliver Sacks. Despite the fact that I’m a very public atheist, secular humanist, and skeptic, I’m not recommending this book to you to be a smartass. Indeed, I’ve told many of my fellow freethinkers about Hallucinations because I think it’s important to try to understand the human brain and how it works. We deal with lots of people who have weird experiences and it behooves us to understand as many possible causes as we can.


According to Dr. Sacks and many other modern scientists who study the brain, there are lots of reasons people see and hear things that aren’t necessarily there. Some of these causes can be corrected. (You probably know that schizophrenia can be treated with drugs, for example.) 


But you don’t have to be crazy to hallucinate. Perfectly sane individuals can have hallucinations as well – for lots of different reasons. (I once felt a hand grab my leg in bed one night years ago. I jumped up, startled, but was alone in the room. It turned out to be a hypnogogic hallucination, which can happen to anyone when they are falling asleep.)


All I’m saying is that you ought to consider some scientific explanations for your chat with God before being so sure it was him. Good information and explanations are out there if you’re open to learning about them.


James Underdown