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My Faith: A reluctant churchgoer 'gets the Holy Ghost'
The author (foreground, age 7), his late aunt, Sylvia Blake (left) and other family members outside their Baltimore church.
April 24th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

My Faith: A reluctant churchgoer 'gets the Holy Ghost'

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - I had my first brush with the “Holy Ghost” when I was 9 years old.  I’m still trying to digest what it meant more than 30 years later.

The day began as a typical Sunday. Aunt Sylvia herded me and my brother into her 1972 baby blue Chevy Impala and drove us to church for a service that would often last five hours.

Sunday worship at a black Baptist church wasn’t just long. It was scary. Elderly women who “got the Holy Ghost” during worship would thrash so violently in the pews that their wigs flew off. People shouted, wept and fainted.

This Sunday service started off no differently. But as the frenzy of the worship intensified, an invisible switch seemed to click on. A wave of heat rippled through the congregation as people beside me threw up their arms and shouted.

Suddenly, something seemed to slip inside of me. A tingling raced up my spine. I stood up to clap, scream - I didn’t know what I was about to do.

Is this, I wondered, the Holy Ghost that Aunt Sylvia sang about?

Singing gospel to keep muggers away

Easter Sunday is supposed to be about resurrection. For me, it’s also about remembering. When I see women herding boys in crisp new suits into the pews during Easter service, I sometimes think about the woman and the church that gave me my first lessons about faith.

I also think about an eerie encounter that I kept to myself for years because I knew it would sound so bizarre.

I didn’t join the church. I was drafted. My aunt forced me and my younger brother, Patrick, to go to worship service every Sunday.

We grew up in Baltimore, in an impoverished neighborhood so dangerous that my aunt would sing gospel hymns aloud as she walked us home from the mall at night. She thought church music warded off muggers.

My aunt wasn’t just my protector; she was my anchor. My mother was gone. My father, a rough merchant seaman, spent most of his time carousing overseas. I spent much of my childhood in foster homes with my brother.

Aunt Sylvia gave us a sense of family. She was a short, round woman who wore black wigs and wide, colorful hats with feathers to church. She would watch us on the weekends and buy presents for us when Christmas and our birthdays rolled around.

She never married; never had children. I told my elementary school teachers that she was my mother.

She was my biggest fan. She would collect my report cards, take me to museums and shower me with books that she nabbed from her job as a high school secretary.

I craved her approval even more than her scrumptious coconut cake. Whenever I made her particularly proud, she would give me the same peculiar look. She’d tilt her head to the left, stare at me in silence, and then her dark face would light up with a warm smile.

She was the only adult I knew wouldn’t abandon me.

Shunning church

My aunt’s smile, though, would turn into an icy glare whenever she saw me nodding off in Union Temple Baptist Church.

I thought my church was full of buffoons. I didn’t like the screaming and shouting, and I couldn’t stand the pulpit theatrics.

My childhood pastor, Rev. Churn, would sweat and yell during his sermons while taunting the congregation with lines like, “You don’t know what I’m talking about?”

He was right. I didn’t know what he was talking about; he shouted too much. When I was a kid, I thought that Rev. Churn was literally angry at the congregation because he yelled at them so much.

Once, during a fiery sermon, I thought about standing up and pleading with the congregation: “Just do what he says, and he won’t shout anymore.”

Despite my disdain for church, there was one part of service that I liked: “Testimony time.”

Testimony came at late-night services, as dusk approached and street traffic quieted outside. The services were less heated and more intimate, and during testimony, church members stood up at random to share a struggle and ask for prayer.

People often revealed the most personal details of their lives. But no one seemed to judge. Instead, people in the pews nodded and smiled, or chanted “weeeeell,” to encourage them.

Even as a fidgety kid, I was entranced. I can still remember how people visibly gathered strength when testifying, as if invisible arms from the congregation were encircling them.

Getting the ‘Holy Ghost’

Still, I wasn’t ready for any personal displays of vulnerability when my Holy Ghost moment came at 9.

When I felt that tingling race up my spine, I became afraid. I didn’t want to lose control. So when I involuntarily stood up in the pew during the service, I caught myself. Then I quickly left the church and took a walk in the cold night air until I calmed down.

As time went on, I resisted church even more. After entering high school, I mustered the courage to tell Aunt Sylvia I didn’t want to go anymore.

She was furious. She prayed aloud to Jesus. She tried to spank me. Then she retreated into silence as she drove me to church one last time with tears in her eyes. I never saw her so sad.

Soon, though, my time for tears would come.

In my sophomore year of college, I found my way back to church. A series of remarkable coincidences took place in my life. I made new friends and joined an interracial church full of people my age. And I shared it all with my brother, who quickly followed my example.

I also gained more respect for the black church. I attended college when there was a national debate about making the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday. The debate prompted me to start reading about King and the civil rights movement.

The more I learned about the movement, the more I realized how crucial the black church was to its success. It gave the movement its spiritual fuel and many of its most courageous activists.

But my intellectual awakening didn’t quell my emotional insecurities. I had inoculated myself so much against organized religion as a kid that I began to think it just wasn’t for me. I didn’t think I was good enough.

One night, it all came to a head. I decided I was going to quit. How, I thought, would I tell people? What would my aunt say? I went to bed in despair.

Then, something strange happened.

I bolted awake, tears streaming down my face. I was on my back, right arm over my closed eyes, but I squinted anyway because I felt as if I were looking directly into the sun.

I felt a presence within that light. I was crying because I had never felt so exposed. This light seemed to bore through me, revealing my most sordid deeds, my inadequacies and my fears. I felt like an insect.

Despite that feeling of shame, I felt something even more powerful: love. It seemed as though this presence, something as immense as the universe, was telling me that I was accepted.

What do you do with such an experience? Was it a dream, a breakdown, youthful foolishness? I don’t know. But that moment changed me. I couldn’t quit. I had encountered something else besides my aunt that wouldn’t abandon me.

One last smile

As I think about that nighttime experience now, it takes on another meaning as well.

If my aunt was my childhood anchor, the black church was her source of strength. How could I reject the institution that nurtured her?

I thought all of the shouting in my childhood church was for show. I didn’t know the history behind the shout: slavery, segregation, people who “got happy” because life was so grim.

Faith, without emotion, is dead - that’s the lesson I absorbed from the black church, and from my aunt.

I never saw my aunt “get happy.”  But I can’t imagine she would have sacrificed so much for me and my brother if she wasn’t driven by a powerful emotion - love.

And I would have given up on my faith if I had not been overwhelmed by the emotion I experienced during my night of tears.

I never shared my nighttime experience with my aunt. It was too embarrassing to share with anyone. Yet she saw me and my brother return to church.

Three years after I graduated from college, though, I had to say goodbye to her.

She was 60, and dying from liver failure. I took a week off to visit her in Baltimore, but I didn’t go to the hospital to see her for several days because I kept making excuses. I didn’t want to accept that I was losing her.

I finally went to the hospital with my brother to see her one sunny afternoon. She was in a hospital bed, her once stout body shrunken, her dark complexion yellowed. She was unconscious.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt guilty for taking so long to see her. So I started to babble. I don’t know if I told her I loved her, or if I even thanked her.  But I do remember this: Though I went there to comfort her, she ended up comforting me, much like she did when I was a boy.

As I looked down at her, trying not cry, she opened her eyes.

She was too weak to talk. But she gave me that peculiar look - the tilt of her head to the left and the long stare - and then she smiled.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Black issues • Christianity • Easter • Faith • Houses of worship • Lost faith • Opinion

soundoff (1,716 Responses)
  1. dave

    B.S.

    April 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  2. Kanati

    I'm not a religious man by any means. But I loved your story of your aunt.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  3. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    Sunday worship at a black Baptist church wasn’t just long. It was scary. Elderly women who “got the Holy Ghost” during worship would thrash so violently in the pews that their wigs flew off. People shouted, wept and fainted.
    ....................................
    Apostle Eric says; People observing these things will begin to weigh this resulting activity on their own ‘reality scale’ and struggle with the existence of God. Many true manifestations of God if not understood are exploited by Satan to appear as emotional out bursts induced by synthetic tools (music,and speakers blasting and shouting) and not God. Paul said this that “charity does not behave itself unseemly.” 1 CORINTHIANS 13:5 Doth not behave itself UNSEEMLY, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
    http://apostlestoday.net/

    April 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  4. Rainer Braendlein

    Dear Mr. Blake,

    nothing is more unpleasant than uncertainty in divine issues. I favour a clear doctrine, because God likes it to help people, thinking simply, but I have a question:

    A lot of ordinary people (Jesus loves particularly ordinary people, thinking straightly) don't make experiences like you. Will they never get saved?

    I agree with you, it is extremly important to get the Holy Spirit. A Christian life is not possible without the Holy Spirit. However, I am convinced, the triune God has prescriped an easier way to get the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given near-tearms to Holy Baptism (this statement is according to the doctrine of the famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and of course according to the Holy Scripture). Reading "Epistle to the Romans" Chapter 6 you could see, what happens during Baptism.
    When someone approaches Jesus Christ (recognizing Him as Son of God) and expects to be set free by Him, he or she can be baptized. The Baptism is not a magic-mechanic act, but nevertheless God acts during Baptism and creates a new man. Do you know "The Chronicles of Narnia; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"? The basic idea of Narnia is that children enter the beloved land of King Aslan and get converted to Aslan (in our world Aslan in Jesus) over there. One of the children was called Eustace and he was somewhat a bad boy, allways trying to spite other people. Nobody in our world could help him to become a good guy. Once upon a time Aslan called him to Narnia, where he was bewitched into a dragon, in order to show him the state of his soul. For a certain time he had to suffer, but thank God Aslan had a plan with him and the bewitching was just the first step on a good way, Eustace had to go. Aslan led the dragon to a most beautiful fountain. When he entered the water, layer by layer of his ugly skin droped down and after a while Eustac had reconverted to a nice boy. When he met the other children, having entered Narnia together with him, they realized that Eustace had experienced a big change, not solely outside, but even inside. That was it. Aslan had cured Eustac by Holy Baptism. Before Baptism the only thing, Eustac could do, was it, to believe the words of Aslan that the fountain will provide health by His (Aslan's) power.

    If you feel pain about your sins, dear reader, come to Aslan's fountain and get delivered. He loves you so much.

    Kind regards,
    Rainer Braendlein
    http://www.confessingchurch.wordpress.com

    April 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  5. crowded

    I was forced to church as a kid and will never go back now as an adult, but I have maintained a spiritual life. One thing in this article really stunned me. I also had an experience where I 'saw the light' and it was EXACTLY as he described his experience. It was late and I was about to go to bed. Last thing I remember thinking was that I felt ashamed for allowing myself to get so overweight. Suddenly, the light, the presence. There were no words, but the message was loud and clear. I SEE you (the feeling of being totally exposed, seen in all my inadequacy and right down to who I really am) and I LOVE you anyway. I'm a middle aged man and I sat there and cried like a baby. When I feel down or like I just can't take the pressures of life, I think of that presence telling me I see you and I love you anyway, and it fills my heart with courage and strength.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  6. James Nwobu

    I’m sorry, but I must disagree vehemently. Love means nothing unless its source is recognized. What Mr. Blake experienced sounds amazing; that God would reveal His love Him is indeed the greatest reality one could be enlightened to.

    Specifically, “God demonstrates His live towards us in that while we were yet sinners [and still are], Christ [and Christ alone] died for us”—the ungodly. God reconciled a sinful rebellious creation to himself when we preoccupied ourselves with other gods that were and are not HIM.

    God alone saves by grace through faith in Christ alone. By His Spirit we are set free to pursue Him now be loosened from the pain, pressure and penalty of sin.

    Blake, if you read this, it DOES matter what you believe. Jesus saves, for He alone is the God-man set forth to absorb the wrath stored up for us who are sinners and prone to rebel against the God of the universe. For this reason, God has revealed that reality to you, so that you might pursue Him, know Him, love Him and live for Him.

    That’s true love. Anything else is a selfish rendition of it. If it doesn’t point to the loving Father who created all, long-suffered, reconciled and redeemed; it’s all in vain. Be encouraged.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  7. realworld95

    Blah blah blah nEws flash miserable one, the entire human race are hypocrites. Have fun staring at this positive article. LOL by hater wah wah wah cry baby. Jesus Rocks!! WOOO HOOO! Bye Haters signing off now because I have a life and Jesus is lord so there :p lmao I am laughing at you atheists what a bunch of losers lol GOD IS GREAT GOD RULES atheists loose! Lol dummys.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  8. HGfromOmaha

    @HeavenSent,
    This is my first time posting on this board. You don't know me nor my experiences, but as so many others have pointed out, you somehow feel as if you need to make assumptions about people. From reading the posts, you seem to be unequivocally wrong but you don't allow that to stop you.

    I'm not here to argue or put-down people. I'm here to state facts. Facts are truths that can be supported through evidence.

    Here is a fact. If you have a caged pen full of dogs, and a rock is thrown into the pen with force, the dog that gets hit will cry out.

    I made general comments to the forum. Only one person yelped out. That was you. I feel sorry for you. You are so blinded by your arrogance and piety, that if it rained, you would surely drown. Spreading the Word of God and the love of Jesus isn't good enough for you.

    While you may want to make the CNN forum your personal pulpit, I would think that your posts would encourage those who don't know Christ to find Christ by seeing your example. Coming out and accusing people of being atheists, lost, sinners, backsliders, etc is not something you should do lightly. Know who you're talking to and what their spiritual experience is before you make an assumption that makes you seem unGodly.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Yeah right

      HeavenSent is to emotionally immature to take your comment seriously.

      April 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  9. Alex Daniel

    Very Good one, Hope people understand Jesus is real and faith in Him works all the time

    April 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  10. realworld95

    atheists atheists atheists poor you blah blah BlAh your words are like dust. BorING get a life. You are a bunch of haters....let the article be what it is and go discuss your miserable nothingness to someone who cares.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Yeah right

      "atheists atheists atheists poor you blah blah BlAh your words are like dust. BorING get a life. You are a bunch of haters....let the article be what it is and go discuss your miserable nothingness to someone who cares"

      LOL – bunch of haters....yet your comment is exactly the same thing! Hypocrite!

      April 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  11. Louise

    I enjoyed the article, I am not African American, have never been filled with the Holy Ghost but know people who have and I think it is ok. I did give my life to Christ as a 15 yr old and have felt His presence during bad times in my life. Thanks so very much for your Memories.

    April 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  12. robert ray

    IMAGINARY FRIENDS,IMAGINARY PLACES,,THIS WORLD IS INHABITED BY IDIOTS.

    April 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  13. Alex

    Most of you totally missed or chose to ignore the main event described in the story – the encounter with the LIving God.
    I want to see you try to "fake" such experience or act crazy enough to make it up, knowing its fake, trying to pass it off as the real thing. Then, have enough courage to stand by it, defend it all the while being mocked by the hundreds... All of you who are dismissive of religion and this man's testimony are pretty much saying that he is a sociopath, lier or a nutcase, 'cuz you need to be at least that to publicly express such a fantastic story thinking it real. I chose to believe that the man's experience was true. Moreover, I and many people I know had similar experiences, near death experiences or other where the presence of the supreme being was truly felt and he was communicated with. To conclude: its better to die a believer and see God, rather than die as non believer and see God. Evolution does not answer simple questions like what drives growth and life in the first place? It keeps ending up in highly speculative places and resolves all fundamental questions with a simple "it all started by itself" when nothing ever does. Even things created by man, like a BMW has an authorship, intelligence and personality behind it. If I see it parked on the street I don't deny that it has an author simply because I don't see him/her. Instead I simply conclude that since I am observing an object intelligently put together, there must have been an intelligent author behind it.
    Why not look at nature and cosmos that reflects supreme intelligence the same way and realize that all this is simply a reflection of the supreme intelligence (God) who created it, reflecting some of its qualities in it? I want to see all you guys who claim that there is no creator wait till you car or computer fixes itself, next time something goes wrong or wait till it "evolves" into something. May be a toaster? )) Anyway, my two cents. Blessings.

    April 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Alex,
      Perhaps you misunderstand, evolution is not possible without reproduction. Cars and appliances don't reproduce.

      April 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  14. vel

    I'm always wondering, why do only certain people get this "holy ghost"? Why don't I, who was raised a presbyterian and who prayed and prayed as I lost my faith for God to help me in my teens? Am I not praying "right"? Am I one of those damned intentionally by God as a useless "jar" only meant to be an example with never any chance of redemption? Or is it that those who claim the "holy ghost" don't at all, only having an emotional occurence brought on by guilt, fear and the desire to fit into a group that values anyone who claims to have been "touched" by God? Who would want to be the one person that God didn't touch?

    April 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  15. HGfromOmaha

    Well, I understand where the author is coming from. I grew up in a similar situation.

    After reading quite a few of the posts here, it only reinforces in my mind how messed up this world truly is. The people who call themselves "Christians", seem to be some of the most vile and hateful people on the planet. These "Christians" are of the same mentality and disposition as the Pharisees and Sadducee's that were after Christ during his ministry.

    We have some that say you must speak in tongues, others say you don't need to, others say you have to be baptized in water using specific terms, others say you have to confess, and the list goes on and on.

    The Pastor who wrote that religion was created by Satan pretty much has it right, in my humble opinion. If the "Christians" on this board lived up to the name they claim, there wouldn't be name calling and outright hatred directed at some of the posters. But most of you can't help yourself. Out of your mouths come what is in your heart. You "claim" Christ, but yet you pour things that are "unlike" Christ from your mouth and fingertips.

    There's nothing sadder than watching a group of people destroy each other verbally over religion. This forum is a prime example of such destruction.

    April 25, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • HeavenSent

      HG, Christians stand for Jesus' truth against those that follow satan's lies. You non-believer refuse to hear His truth that's your problem. You are responsible for your souls being destroyed, on earth as it is in Heaven, Day of the Lord, still want to act like arrogant punks refusing Jesus' truth, he'll oblige all of you of your wishes/beliefs and to the eternal flames, blotted out. No eternity for any of you if you don't repent your sinful natures, ask Jesus for forgiveness to save your souls. All the lies you believe will not save you. Only Jesus can do this. You don't like us being salty Christians giving you a taste of your own medicine. Too bad. Get over it.

      Amen.

      April 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Amen

      Amen Brother/Sister...

      April 25, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Amen

      That was an Amen to you HGfromOmaha...

      April 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Kati

      HG, you are absolutely right about some of the Christians acting so differently from the ways of Christ. You talk of different acts that people do to try and bring themselves closer to God, that's not what faith is about. There is only one Truth, and it will set you free. Read the Bible in its entirety and then try and have an intelligent discussion about our Lord. The book is a living breathing Word of God and if you only read it, it will heal your soul. The so-called self-professed Christians will be judged, but it is not up to us. May God help them.

      April 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  16. YeahRight

    "you have been warned."

    You have been warned you are a fake. There is no hell only in your imagination, created by the imaginations of other men. Prove there is a hell other than using a book of fairytales.

    April 25, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • HeavenSent

      YeahRight, you're the one that wants to chase your own tail with your circular arguments. Christians will tell you His truth. It's up to you to save your soul by believing His truth. We can't or care less to enforce your foolishness. You own this all on your own. You loose. Christians are on the winning side with Jesus.

      Amen.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      The bible says so because the bible says so because the bible says so because the bible says so isn't a circular argument isn't a circular argument no really no really.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Up Your Rear Admiral, the non-believers say so because the non-believers say so because the non-believers say so because the non-believers say so is a circular argument, is a circular argument, yes really, yes really.

      Amen.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • YeahRight

      "We can't or care less to enforce your foolishness. You own this all on your own. You loose. Christians are on the winning side with Jesus."

      Thanks for your foolish judgment. LMAO!

      April 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  17. CW

    Loved the story,

    Glad to hear that this man returned to God. I think we all have that one life changing e-xperience where God really tries to get close to us. Its up to us to recognize it and change and follow him.

    April 25, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Yeah that god, he's a slippery character for sure – no one has found valid evidence for it yet.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  18. Will

    I grew up in the Christian church. The fact is, I have gained more understanding by reading Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World than I got from 12 years of religion classes in school and at church. I find it irresponsible that the Christian church so vehemently denies evolution as a farce, yet claims that Noah put two of every animal in a boat while the rest of the world drowned (as well as hundreds of other outrageous fables that are reported as fact). That's not to say that the church and Christianity are harmful to society, it's quite the oppositte. But the way I see it, Christians are afraid to look at the evidence subjectively, and they are afraid to admit that their parents may have been wrong. It's comforting to think that you and everyone you know can live forever in paradise, and that's why belief comes so easy for some. This becomes dangerous when Christians feel that they know who is going to heaven or hell, as I have seen in these comments. They are doing a disservice to their savior.

    April 25, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Will, you may have attended a Christian church but viewing your writing, you did not grow up. Noah's flood was not global, but regional. The katabole was global, which was the flood that destroyed the 1st earth age ... . Noah's flood was in the 2nd earth age to save Noah's family that would bring forth Emmanuel, God with us via His mother Mary.

      Amen.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Jason

      Don't you mean objectively?...by the way, it was 7 of every "clean" and 2 of every "unclean". I have examined the same evidence that you are talking about. I choose to believe what I believe just as you have chosen to believe what you believe. The fact is if you can't tell me where life originated than you don't know. At least believing in a God that created, gives me a thought as to how life began. Evolution...the origin of species still gives no clear source of life. If we came from sludge, than how did the single cell come into being? The big bang can't account for life's origin either. Explain "Ex nihilo" using evolution or any other method you choose. Research it objectively without calling me a small minded or closed minded individual. Prove without name calling and you might win my respect.

      April 25, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Jason

      Sadly I'm not sure where heavensent came up with earth ages...? The flood would have been global. Studying the original hebrew of Genesis, you will find that land (not lands) was separated from water. This actually gives a credible reference to the theory of Pangea. When the flood happened, it says that water came from sky and up from under the earth (land), the Hebrew gives a description similar to wringing out a sponge. It's as if the world twisted and wrenched. Since there was one land mass surrounded by water, it would be considered global and not regional. Just a thought...

      April 25, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Jason,
      You are correct that there is no definitive evidence yet for the origin of life, although that is different than the Theory of Evolution which has a huge amount of evidence. There are a few hypotheses that show promise, but nothing definitive. I do wonder however, since you ask for proof, what about the Genesis account convinces you of its truth?

      April 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So Jason, what you're saying is that you'd rather have an easy answer than a correct one. You believe that god created life because science hasn't yet proven how life began. So when the proof does come (and it's getting closer every day as researchers learn more and more) will you cease to believe in god and realize that questions can be answered without supernatural involvement?

      April 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Craig

      @Nominus –

      Don't forget about the flaws in the theory of evolution. To name just one:

      There is the contradiction between “punctuated equilibrium” and “gradualism.” This flaw in the theory of evolution occurs because these two ideas are mutually exclusive, and yet there is evidence suggestive of both of them. Gradualism implies that organisms experience a relatively steady rate of mutations, resulting in a somewhat “smooth” transition from early forms to later ones. This was the original as.sumption derived from the theory of evolution. Punctuated equilibrium, on the other hand, implies that mutation rates are heavily influenced by a unique set of coincidences. Therefore, organisms will experience long periods of stability, “punctuated” by short bursts of rapid evolution.

      Gradualism seems to be contradicted by the fossil record. Organisms appear suddenly and demonstrate little change over long periods. The fossil record has been greatly expanded over the last century, and the more fossils that are found, the more gradualism seems to be disproved. It was this overt refutation of gradualism in the fossil record that prompted the theory of punctuated equilibrium.

      The fossil record might seem to support punctuated equilibrium, but again, there are major problems. The basic as.sumption of punctuated equilibrium is that a very few creatures, all from the same large population, will experience several beneficial mutations, all at the same time. Right away, one can see how improbable this is. Then, those few members separate completely from the main population so that their new genes can be passed to the next generation (another unlikely event). Given the wide diversity of life, this kind of amazing coincidence would have to happen all the time.

      While the improbable nature of punctuated equilibrium speaks for itself, scientific studies have also cast doubt on the benefits it would confer. Separating a few members from a larger population results in inbreeding. This results in decreased reproductive ability, harmful genetic abnormalities, and so forth. In essence, the events that should be promoting “survival of the fittest” cripple the organisms instead.

      Despite what some claim, punctuated equilibrium is not a more refined version of gradualism. They have very different as.sumptions about the mechanisms behind evolution and the way those mechanisms behave. Neither is a satisfactory explanation for how life came to be as diverse and balanced as it is, and yet there are no other reasonable options for how evolution can operate.

      April 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Craig,
      I would suggest that evolution is more complex than you are implying, and your portrayal of this as a "flaw" is misleading in the sense that neither punctuated equilibrium nor strict gradualism is required for evolution to be true.

      There are many mechanisms that drive evolution, from natural selection to se.xual selection to genetic drift and even, possibly, some gene transfer . I think most scientists in the field consider natural selection to be the main driver, but I don't think any of them would claim it to be the only mechanism. Likewise there is more than one mode of speciation, e.g. allopatric, peripatric, parapatric, etc. So, perhaps evolution isn't limited to just either "puntuated equilibrium" or "gradualism", but both, or many, are in effect and that explains the seemingly contradictory evidence.

      April 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  19. samurai_lincoln

    Some of these comments are making me laugh hard; some are just emphasizing what an incredible loose grasp of reality and rationality they have. I've also seen people on those conspiracy/ufo websites who truly believe the government secretly has and uses a stargate for intergalactic travel like in stargate SG1.. It goes to show you there will always be a great deal of people in the world who display certain traits that make them more susceptible to all sorts of beliefs whether it's religion or some other belief. Regardless it doesn't matter what you write here, I'd bet money that an infintesimal number of them get more than a sentence into an alternate viewpoint.

    April 25, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Some of these comments are making me laugh hard; some are just emphasizing what an incredible loose grasp of reality and rationality they have"

      Yeah, like the idiots that actually think that WW Wrestling is real. LOL! It's all staged, but you can't no matter what tell some people it's just not real! LOL!

      April 25, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  20. pw

    I loved your story. I have no idea what all these posts about speaking in tongues have to do with belief and wonderment at the ways of the Lord but I know that experiencing the realization that God loves YOU – despite your faults and inconsistences – he loves YOU – is the most powerful life experience you can have. I wish the posters would all remember that God's greatest desire was that we love one another as he loved us. I don't care if you believe in Buddha, Mohammad or the beauty of a lily, LOVE is the most important thing you can do in your life.

    April 25, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • vel

      Yep, god wants people to believe so much that he makes them hit their children if they dare to not want to go to church or believe in such a being. What a "great" faith community that African-Americans have......

      April 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Michael

      I really appreciated John sharing his spiritual journey. I was raised to be an anti-Christian atheist and went on to earn graduate degrees in the health field. Along the way my studies in cell biology and human anatomy / physiology turned me into an agnostic. It was not until my 30's, and had achieved everything I was taught would fulfill my life, did I open myself up to something more. I too was changed by the power of the Holy Spirit one day and received a joy and peace beyond all understanding. As I was marveling at the incredible love being poured into me, I also was given revelation into the answers of all my questions and all truth. The details of that day 18 years ago has faded, but the memory of the love that God showed me that day is eternal. Perhaps the only thing that really mattered.

      I wish all the nonbelievers (and some of the believers) would have the experience that I, and others, have had. Against such love all the petty arguments are irrelevant. I had examined many faiths along the way. It was not until I had surrendered my life to Jesus that I had this personal experience with God. I had come searching and he was waiting for me. Along the way I encountered many spirit-filled Christians that had a joy that I wanted. Interestingly, they did not come across my path until I was receptive. So I would like to end my message with three simple encouragements. Christians – live your lives as if your God and your unbelieving neighbors are watching you and judging you. You are the closest thing to God many will ever encounter. Nonbelievers – ask yourself if your belief system is bringing you joy and contentment? Everybody – where is your love?

      April 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • James Nwobu

      I'm sorry, but I must disagree vehemently. Love means nothing unless its source is recognized. What Mr. Blake experienced sounds amazing; that God would reveal His love Him is indeed the greatest reality one could be enlightened to.

      Specifically, "God demonstrates His live towards us in that while we were yet sinners [and still are], Christ [and Christ alone] died for us"—the ungodly. God reconciled a sinful rebellious creation to himself when we preoccupied ourselves with other gods that were and are not HIM.

      God alone saves by grace through faith in Christ alone. By His Spirit we are set free to pursue Him now be loosened from the pain, pressure and penalty of sin.

      Blake, if you read this, it DOES matter what you believe. Jesus saves, for He alone is the God-man set forth to absorb the wrath stored up for us who are sinners and prone to rebel against the God of the universe. For this reason, God has revealed that reality to you, so that you might pursue Him, know Him, love Him and live for Him.

      That's true love. Anything else is a selfish rendition of it. If it doesn't point to the loving Father who created all, long-suffered, reconciled and redeemed; it's all in vain. Be encouraged.

      April 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.