Daniel A. Helminiak
Daniel A. Helminiak (born November 20, 1942 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is an American Catholic priest, theologian and author. He is a professor in the Department of Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology at the University of West Georgia, near Atlanta.
Early life and ordination
Helminiak was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a Polish-American Roman Catholic community on the city's South Side. He frequently refers to this experience in his popular writings on spirituality and community. He attended parochial grade and high schools and at age seventeen entered seminary to study for the priesthood at Our Lady of the Lake Seminary, Syracuse, Indiana, and St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he was awarded a Bachelor's degree in philosophy (1964). He completed graduate studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, earning the degree of Bachelor of Sacred Theology (1966) and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (1968), and was ordained there at the cathedral of Rome, St. John Lateran Basilica (1967).
Helmimiak served as an Associate Pastor of SS. Simon and Jude Church in Scott Township (Pittsburgh) for four years. On weekends throughout the 23 subsequent years, Helminiak ministered in local parishes in Baltimore, Boston, San Antonio and Austin. He came out as gay in 1976, and served in those areas and nationally as a chaplain to DignityUSA, the LGBT Catholic support network.
In 1995, Helminiak submitted to the Vatican a formal resignation from active ministry, to which, as of 2015, the Vatican has not responded.
He subsequently pursued an educational ministry, serving as junior faculty-member at St. Mary's Seminary and University, Baltimore, Maryland from 1972-1973. He then completed a PhD in systematic theology in the Joint Doctoral Program of Boston College and Andover Newton Theological School (1979), served as Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio (1981–1985), completed an MA in personality theory at Boston University (1983) with a thesis that became Part I of his book Spiritual Development, and earned a second PhD in Human Development at The University of Texas at Austin (1994).
In 1995, Helminiak accepted a teaching position at the University of West Georgia (then, West Georgia College), where he has remained except for advanced training in counseling at Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute. Helminiak is certified as a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, was elected Fellow to the American Psychological Association, and is licensed as a Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia.
At the university of West Georgia, from 1995 to 1997 and 2000 to the present, he regularly teaches Human Sexuality, Statistics for the Social Sciences, Animal Mind, and Foundations of Neuroscience. On the graduate level he has taught courses—such as Ethics, Epistemology, Mysticism, Personal Growth, and "God" in the Brain—related to the psychology of spirituality, which is his specialization and the focus of his research, lecturing, and writing. He is most widely known for his international best-seller, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality.
From 1975 to 1978 at Boston College, Helminiak served as teaching assistant to Bernard Lonergan, S.J. (1904–1984), the philosopher, theologian, economist, and methodologist whom Newsweek (April 20, 1970, p. 75) styled the Thomas Aquinas of the 20th century. Lonergan is reputed to have integrated classical philosophy with contemporary science and, in the process, to have resolved the Kantian problem of knowing any "thing in itself."
Building on the thought of giants of the Western Tradition—such as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Einstein, Hilbert, Gödel, Heisenberg—Lonergan portrays the human mind as a self-transcending, normatively structured, self-correcting dynamism geared to the universe of "being," all that there is to be known and loved. Lonergan refers to this dimension of the mind as intentional consciousness and frequently also as the human spirit.
Taking Lonergan seriously, Helminiak used his analysis of consciousness or human spirit to develop a theory of spirituality that centers in humanity and only subsequently and optionally, although naturally, opens onto questions of God and human relationship and possible union with God. This humanistic emphasis is the uniqueness of Helminiak's psychology of spirituality, which claims to depict the spiritual core that runs through all religions and cultures. Helminiak's two-volume technical study, The Human Core of Spirituality and Religion and the Human Sciences, provides a detailed elaboration of this theory; and his more recent Brain, Consciousness, and God engages the findings of neuroscience and current discussion about human consciousness and religious experience to elaborate and support this theory.
It offers a coherent Western alternative to prevalent understandings of spirituality based on Eastern philosophy. Whereas Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologies see God most fundamentally as Creator and, perforce, see all else—including human consciousness or spirit—as created and, therefore, not divine, Eastern thought tends to obscure the distinction between the spiritual and the divine and holds that, "deep down inside" and purified of all earthly attachment, humanity really is divinity. Such is the intent of the Hindu axiom, "Atman is Brahman," and the Vedic lesson, "That thou art."
Western thinking insists that, although God is spiritual, all that is spiritual is not thereby God. Creator and creature, the Uncreated and the created, are defined by relationship to each other. By sheer dint of logic, the created cannot be or become the Uncreated; they cannot be one and the same. Moreover, the Uncreated cannot come in parts or degrees—for example, a supposed "spark of divinity" or a human status of "somewhat" or "still imperfectly" divine. Genesis 1:27 does allow that God created humankind in the divine "image and likeness," that is, in some way God-like: spiritual. Christianity elaborates this theme to explain the possibility of human divinization: through the saving work of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit poured into human hearts, humankind can actually achieve the furthest possible fulfillment of the human spirit and come to share in certain qualities that are proper to God alone, for example, understanding of everything about everything, and universal love; but humankind cannot share in God's eternal, uncreated being.
Thus, both East and West conceive of human union with God but explain it in significantly different ways. These matters are subtle and difficult, and the technically precise distinctions might not always have immediate practical consequences. That is to say, the religions of the East and the West have served and, for the most part, continue to serve their adherents well. However, the unavoidable pluralism of twenty-first-century globalization demands that at some level a spiritual consensus be forged. This is the theme of Helminiak's Spirituality for Our Global Community. This enterprise calls for the precision of a science. Then the above-named distinctions become crucial.
Only an epistemology or philosophy of science adequate to spiritual reality could manage the subtleties. Many believe that Lonergan has finally provided the requisite epistemology, and Helminiak uses it both to differentiate the human and the divine within spirituality and to interrelate them. That is, he interrelates psychology, spirituality, and theology and thus presents a logically coherent and comprehensive understanding of spirituality. It requires no appeal to paradox as, for example, Ken Wilber adamantly does in his "perennial philosophy" and "Integral Studies." Helminiak's elaboration of the human core of spirituality becomes the lynchpin of the overall interdisciplinary, scientific project.
Influenced by Eastern thought, constrained by personal religious beliefs, overly deferential to popular piety in the West, and thus hard pressed to conceive of spirituality apart from God or some such metaphysical principle—in psychological circles, for example, it is cryptically called "the Sacred"—Western theologians and secular psychologists alike criticize Helminiak's theory. In contrast and in line with Lonergan's groundbreaking work, Helminiak appeals to the long-standing Christian axiom, "Grace builds on nature," and sees his psychology of spirituality, without prejudice to theology or religion, as an elaboration of the nature on which grace builds. This tack represents another step in the explanatory advance of science from physics to chemistry, to biology, to psychology, and now to spiritualogy. (Spiritualogy is a neologism that Helminiak proposes to name the study of lived spirituality.) This tack represents the possibility of integrating contemporary science and traditional theology to actually explain spiritual sensitivity, practices, and experiences. Helminiak's Meditation without Myth and The Transcended Christian are popularized and practical introductions to these matters. Brain, Consciousness, and God provides the makings of a technical explanation.
In addition to the demands of his scientific mind and his long-standing commitment to "the things of God"—he remains a theist believer and a practicing Catholic—a number of life experiences stoked Helminiak's thinking about spirituality from a non-theological perspective: his expertise in both theology and psychology, which allowed him to recognize and resolve the differences and interrelationship between these two fields; his moving in secular social-scientific circles, no longer in professional religious ones; his pained concern for lesbian and gay people and others rejected by religion, who might deaden the sensitivity of their souls in the wake of their own rejection of religion and God; his employment at a state university, which requires non-sectarian scholarship; and post-9/11, the ever more urgent need to structure a harmonious global community, independent yet respectful of diverse religions and cultures. These concerns run through Helminiak's teaching, lecturing, and writing and have led to a string of publications. In addition to dozens of peer-reviewed papers and scores of other technical and popular articles, book reviews, and essays, Helminiak has published the following books:
Books by Helminiak
- Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration (State University of New York Press, 2015, I978-1-4384-5716-1).
- Spirituality for Our Global Community: Beyond Traditional Religion to a World at Peace (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7425-5917-2).
- The Transcended Christian: What Do You Do When You Outgrow Your Religion? (updated and expanded edition, 2013, self-published, available at amazon.com, ISBN 9781492850045; originally The Transcended Christian: Spiritual Lessons for the Twenty-first Century, Alyson Books, 2007, ISBN 155583-860-X).
- Sex and the Sacred: Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth (Haworth / Harrison Park, 2006, ISBN 1-56023-342-7). This integration of sexuality and spirituality uses homosexuality as the telling test case. It introduces a fully psychological / humanistic approach to spirituality and later addresses specific religious issues including sexual ethics, Fundamentalism, and Vatican teaching.
- Meditation without Myth: What I Wish They'd Taught Me in Church about Prayer, Meditation, and the Quest for Peace (Crossroad Publishing Co., 2005, ISBN 0-8245-2308-3). This is a popular three-part presentation of Helminiak's psychology of spirituality applied to the specific topic, meditation—practically, how to do it; psychologically, why it works; and religiously, what it means.
- What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality (Alamo Square Press, 1994, 2000 ISBN 1-886360-09-X; now available on Kindle through amazon.com).
- Religion and the Human Sciences: An Approach via Spirituality (State University of New York Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7914-3806-6).
- The Human Core of Spirituality: Mind as Psyche and Spirit (State University of New York Press, 1996, ISBN cloth 0-7914-2949-0, paper 0-7914-2950-4).
- Spiritual Development: An Interdisciplinary Study (Loyola University Press, 1987, ISBN 0-8294-0530-5, out of print).
- The Same Jesus: A Contemporary Christology (Loyola University Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8294-0521-6, out of print).