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Something There

Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd
RRP $49.95

You’ll notice that the succinct title of David Hay’s book Something There has neither a question mark or explanation point.

As the result of over 30 years research into the spiritual experiences of Britons who don’t attend church, Hay neither questions nor aggressively champions the existence of the spiritual realm.

Rather his book offers a humble yet comprehensive justification for the reality of the Spirit as the most plausible explanation of a widespread human experience.

Drawing on the work of British zoologist Alister Hardy, Hay maintains that spirituality is not a social construct but a biological phenomenon. It helps us survive as a species.

Hay claims that it was their attention to spiritual awareness that gave our human forebears the capacity to cope with life’s dangers and difficulties, and “subsequent random genetic mutations that enhanced this kind of awareness would be selected because they gave an advantage in the process of evolution.”

Something There is a scholarly piece of work yet written in a very accessible style.

While relevant to philosophers, theologians and social scientists, readers don’t need a professional academic background to find this book interesting and instructive.

Hay honestly considers alternate cultural and materialistic philosophical explanations for spirituality, particularly the positions of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Thomas Hobbes.

He also critiques developments in psychology over the 20th century that have presented spiritual experiences as expressive of dysfunctional personality and points out how recent developments in neurophysiology can detect changes in the brain’s activity when the subject is engaged in deep meditation and prayer.

These changes can be shown to lead to an enhanced life coping capacity and a more holistic engagement with creation.

Something There contains several stories of significant spiritual experiences of people who don’t see themselves as religious. Hay claims that 70% of people surveyed could cite experiences that caused them to know the certainty of the spiritual dimension.

Writing as a scientist who is also a Christian Hay calls the church and all religious institutions to the recovery of contemplative prayer to enrich the life of their communities and develop an enhanced awareness of the Spirit.

Reviewed by Graham Beattie, a mission consultant with the Queensland Synod of the Uniting Church