Manifest Insanity Excerpt – Rise of Islam

For the second edition update of Manifest Insanity, I added detailed content on the political and literary background behind the rise of Islam. Given that this is an obscure topic for most of the general public, I have excerpted it here with hyperlinks to the references made.


“There are two interesting points about the Council of Chalcedon. The first relates to the on-going political interventions of the emperors to influence the trinitarian formulae at the various Councils. As the Council was debating the precise dual nature of Jesus, one of the issues that was argued involved a Christological concept that became known as Nestorianism; named after the Archbishop of Constantinople who had been denounced as a heretic and removed from office at Ephesus in 431, and died the year before Chalcedon. Nestorius had rejected the title of God-bearer given to Mary at Ephesus; and counter to the Ephesian formulation of a single substance, he advocated for the idea that Jesus had two separate and distinct natures, divine and human, seeking to find the middle ground between the factions who believed God had been incarnated as a human and those who believed it was impossible for God to be born.

“Oxford University Professor of the History of the Church—and with a title like that he knows what he’s talking about—Diarmaid MacCulloch, hosted a brilliant and comprehensive six-part BBC documentary in 2009 called, A History of Christianity. In the first episode, The First Christianity, Professor MacCulloch wryly commented on the situation:

The emperor must have breathed a sigh of relief. Empires longed for unity, inconveniently for them, Christians repeatedly valued truth rather more. One hundred years later, in 428, a clever but tactless scholar was appointed the new bishop of Constantinople. Nestorius. Bishop Nestorius wasted little time in plunging the church into a fresh quarrel about the nature of Jesus. It would end the unity of the church once and for all, and in the process consolidate Eastern Christianity as a distinct and formidable force. . . .

. . . But, Nestorius’s supporters remained, and so, once again, a Roman emperor was left fearing that his state would fracture. He had to call yet more councils. Eventually, in 451, the bishops of the empire gathered just across the straits from Constantinople for another landmark council in church history. The Council of Chalcedon met to define the future of Christian faith. The Council . . . tried to do what all emperors want: to sign up everyone to a middle-of-the-road settlement. When you do that, it always helps to have a few troops around. So, the council decreed a compromise.

In essence, it backed Nestorius’s oil and water emphasis, that whilst here on Earth, Christ, the divine and human being, was ‘recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change.’ But in a nod to Cyril’s followers, it straight away added ‘without division, without separation.’ And that compromise is how the Churches which descend from the emperor’s Christianity—the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox—have understood the mystery of Jesus ever since. . . .

. . . The losers at the Council of Chalcedon refused to fall into line; it was a watershed. Imperial and non-imperial Christianity would never be reconciled. Instead, something new happened. The church split for the first time, something that would happen many more times in its history. The imperial Church now found itself focused solely on the Mediterranean—it had no choice; Eastern Christians were not going to be pushed around by the emperor. But unlike their Western cousins, Christians in the East would now have to survive in the midst of hostile and alien religions, without the backing of an emperor.

“This split between the Eastern and imperial Chalcedonian Christians of the Mediterranean became known as the Chalcedonian Schism. Those with dissenting views split off to found churches that became known as the Oriental Orthodox Churches, such as the Syriac Orthodox Church in Antioch, or the one in Alexandria, Egypt which subsequently became known as the Coptic Orthodox Church. Of course, followers of the Oriental Orthodox Churches do not recognize the legitimacy of Chalcedon, and its denunciations of their determining ideologue, Nestorius.

“This schism led to the second interesting point, that being Chalcedon’s indirect influence on the rise of Islamic doctrines. Professor MacCulloch went on to note: ‘Nestorius died in exile in Egypt, but his supporters helped build the Church independent of both imperial Christianity and the Syriac Orthodox Church. They based their headquarters further east, in modern Iraq. They called themselves, appropriately, the Church of the East.’ These migrating Christians settled in the Sassanid, or Neo-Persian, Empire where the followers of Nestorius came to influence Mohammad’s understanding of Judeo-Christian monotheism.

Peter von Sivers, professor of history at the University of Utah, in a 2017 lecture at Brigham Young University titled, Islamic Origins, noted:

The Lakhmids were part of the Eastern Arabs. Their king converted in 594 to Nestorian Christianity. . . . Now, he converted to Nestorianism, and then one of the sources says once he had converted, he chased the Jacobites from the provinces. So, in other words, only Nestorians now remained in the east among the Eastern Arabs. . . . Now, the Eastern Arabs had established their form of Christianity as dominant in the eastern steppe. . . .

“O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah Jesus, the Son of Mary, was but a Messenger of Allah and His Word which He directed to Mary and a soul from Him. So believe in Allah and his messengers. And do not say “Three;” desist—it is better for you.” Koran 4:171

. . . The Koran is actually very friendly towards both Jacobism, Monophysitism, and Nestorianism; and in fact, in many ways, comes out of Nestorianism. . . .

. . . Mohammad is actually not really a name. It literally means “the praised one,” and is probably, therefore, then the notation for that particular sage, scribe, or other person who worked on the various parts that eventually came together and made up the Koran, participating in a collective scholarly reworking of all Christian traditions in order to come up with this notion that Mohammad is really the last prophet and not Jesus. . . .

. . . I mentioned this idea here of convergence, so in other words, if you know about these Christian roots that Islam has—Islam did not emerge sui generis out of the revelations that Mohammad received on a mountain near Mecca. . . . So, we do not even know who revealed the Koran. All we know is that of what we talk about as the revelation of the Koran was the communal work of scribes who were deeply steeped in all of the scriptures of Christianity, including all the non-canonical ones of previous centuries, and put together what we can maybe call a concordance of all of the Christian writings; this is the original meaning of Islam, by the way. . . .

. . . I would say: look now, there are Christian roots and these roots, furthermore, appear in the Koran in mostly convergent form, so that there is actually a lot of commonality between Christianity and Islam. And if you are willing, then we count you Muslims among those who inherited the common concordance heritage of Judaism and Christianity; even though Christianity within itself was, of course, deeply conflicted. So, we are heirs of all three things, and so the Muslim—the Islamic Koranic revelation—is therefore just another version of the revelatory tradition that comes out of the Middle East. . . .

. . . We cannot use the Islamic tradition anymore. Let me give you the example: the Mohammad biography, the so-called sīra, was composed, the final version, in 823. That is for the first time the source where we then learn about Mohammad was born in 570, he grew up in Mecca, he has his first revelations in 610, and so on and so forth. Among ourselves, if we open ourselves to what the Christians had to say about the rise of Islam in the 600s, like I did here in my presentation, then we would come to the conclusion the origins of Islam can be nicely compared to what Christianity was all about in the 500s, and all of the problems that it experienced; you see them continued here in the origins of Islam.

“Holy Christopher!” Mr. Hand blurted out. “I had no idea Islam was so closely related to Christianity.”

“You, and about two or three billion other Christians, Jews, and Muslims. A little insight goes a long way; it’s a shame no one ever takes the time to disarm their prejudices about other religions.”

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Big History of Religion: A Multidisciplinary Perspective on the Rise of Belief

I first became aware of the concept of Big History from the TV documentary on History which aired in 2013, and I was thoroughly fascinated from the start. Recently, I took the Coursera Big History: Connecting Knowledge series, and while proceeding through the course I realized that both my book, Manifest Insanity, and my recently featured article, Psychology of Faith, examined religion from the Big History perspective. Here, then, is a summary of the Big History of religion.

Big History covers eight thresholds, the first five of which are a given: 1: Big Bang; 2: star formation; 3: build-up of heavier elements, nucleosynthesis; 4: planetary formation; 5: emergence of life.

Starting from threshold 6, the evolution of collective learning, along with threshold 7, the agricultural revolution, we will examine how religious thought arose in our ancestors with a series of quotes from leading thinkers in evolutionary psychology and cultural anthropology, and how other disciplines (archaeology, philosophy, neurology) illuminate our understanding of the subject; something made increasingly easier by threshold 8, the ever-increasing interconnectedness of the world.


Inhibition is very often the key to our survival.


Evolutionary Psychology — Threshold 6

All but a handful of scholars in this area regard religion as an accidental byproduct of our mental evolution. Specifically, religious thought is usually portrayed by scholars as having no particular adaptive biological function in itself, but instead it’s viewed as a leftover of other psychological adaptations. . . .
. . . The private perception of being intelligently designed, monitored, and known about by a God who actively punished and rewarded our intentions and behaviors would have helped stomp out the frequency and intensity of our ancestors’ immoral hiccups and would have been strongly favored by natural selection.

Bering, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life

In the Big History: Connecting Knowledge course, was a video on evolution that noted the similarity between chimps and humans regarding these immoral hiccups:

While all primates have a hierarchy of alphas and betas, humans and chimps, who share 98.4% of their DNA, are the most prone to team up together and launch a revolution against the alpha male. We’re also both prone to ganging up, roaming our territory, and beating up unsuspecting foreigners of the same species, and not for direct survival reasons. Chimpanzees have been observed finding a lone chimp male from another group and kicking, hitting, and tearing off bits of his body and then leaving the helpless victim to die of his wounds, and humans definitely bear this stamp of our lowly origin, where indeed, the imperfect step-by-step process of evolution made us highly intelligent, but still, with prefrontal cortex’s too small, and adrenal glands maybe too big. Aggression and blood lust are definitely part of our shared heritage, and, looking at more recent human history, does that really surprise anyone?

Human Evolution: Crash Course Big History #6

Therefore, according to evolutionary psychologists, religion played a role in moderating our baser instincts.

Patience, restraint, modesty, humility — these are all desirable, biblically endorsed features of humanity not because they are heavenly virtues, but because they’re pragmatic. . . . For us, inhibition is very often the key to our survival.

In other words, the illusion of a punitive God assisted their genetic well-being whenever they underestimated the risk of actual social detection by other people. This fact alone, this emotional short-circuiting of ancient drives in which immediate interests were traded for long-term genetic gains, which have rendered God and His ilk a strong target of natural selection in human evolution.

Bering

This is the beginning of religion as we know it. Now these people have to appeal to the gods to make sure nature does what they want it to do in order to survive. This is exactly how religion operates today.


Agricultural Revolution — Threshold 7

In every world zone the invention of agriculture was a precursor for the rise of states. The key to having a state is agrarian surplus. If you produce enough food, you can have a class of people who don’t need to farm. They can then fulfill other duties in this increasingly numerous and complex society whether they be leaders or judges who settle disputes, bureaucrats who deal with administration, and infrastructure doctors who heal the sick, priests who make sacrifices to vengeful gods or soldiers who provide security or at least extract a portion of the agricultural surplus for the leadership through some kind of taxation. And with more people filling new jobs and generating new ideas about them, this is also good news for collective learning. Diversification of labor is also the first step of early states toward hierarchies and classes — aristocrats and popular and despotic kings and pharaohs and sultans, shahs and emperors.

Migration and Intensification: Crash Course Big History #7

For 99% of our time on Earth, we had no organized religion. But then, we settled down, grew food . . .
. . . The longest-lasting civilization in the history of the world was in ancient Egypt. . . . It was here civilization and religion became fused as one. Every major civilization since has adopted the same formula. . . .
. . . Begun over 7000 years ago, it’s one of the oldest religious sites n he world. . . . This is where the building blocks of religion began to merge. For over two million years we were hunter-gathers, and hunter-gathers typically practice a religion called animism. . . . But, when they switch to herding, this changes their worldview. While hunter-gathers roamed freely across the landscape, herders settled for weeks at a time wherever they could find pasture. This led to a new kind of religion. The first thing that happens when people start herding, they start building sacred spaces. If you want to pray, or you want to worship, you’ve got to come to this space. And what this does, is it brings people together, from all over the place, into this one area, to worship together. . . .
. . . This giant megalith, here, this thing weighs several tons and would have been carried a few miles just to get it to this point, and that requires organized labor, that requires people working together. We can surmise that they would have had some kind of spiritual significance to these things to put that much effort into this. And if that’s the case, we’re looking at some sort of prototype church. The first monuments were all inspired by religion. . . .
. . . What we’re seeing here at Nabta Playa, this is the beginning of religion as we know it. Now these people have to appeal to the gods to make sure nature does what they want it to do in order to survive. This is exactly how religion operates today.

First Civilizations, Episode: 2 — Religion, Video 6 of 11, Nabta Playa, PBS (2018).

While Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is considered the oldest temple site, 1–2,000 years older than Nabta Playa, it was created on the cusp of the agricultural revolution, and as such, it is not an altar dedicated to crop fertility but to ancestor worship.

We don’t normally associate this idea with agriculture, but at least in their beginnings theist religions were an agricultural enterprise. The theology, mythology and liturgy of religions such as Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity initially centered on the relationship between humans, domesticated plants and farm animals.

Biblical Judaism for instance, catered to peasants and shepherds. Most of its commandments dealt with farming and village life, and its major holidays were harvest festivals. People today imagine the ancient temple in Jerusalem as a kind of synagogue where priests clad in snow-white robes welcomed devout pilgrims, melodious choirs sang psalms and incense perfumed the air. In reality, it looked more like a cross between a slaughterhouse and a barbecue joint. The pilgrims did not come empty-handed. They brought with them a never-ending stream of sheep, goats, chickens and other animals, which were sacrificed at the god’s altar and then cooked and eaten. Priests in bloodstained outfits cut the victims’ throats, collected the gushing blood in jars and spilled it over the altar. The perfume of the incense mixed with the odours of the congealed blood and roasted meat, while swarms of black flies buzzed just about everywhere.

Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

The god idea is always culturally conditioned, always.


Cultural Anthropology

Legendary professor of world mythology, Joseph Campbell, discussed how the local terrain shaped and defined our ancestors’ perceptions of the divine.

Moyers: Geography has done a great deal to shape our culture and our idea of religion. The god of the desert is not the god the plains

Campbell: — or the god of the rain forest — the gods, plural, of the rain forest. When you’re out in the desert with one sky and one world, then you might have one deity, but in a jungle, where there’s no horizon and you never see anything more than ten or twelve yards away from you, you don’t have that idea any more.

Moyers: So are they projecting their idea of God on the world?

Campbell: Yes, of course.

Moyers: Their geography shapes their image of divinity, and then they project it out and call it God.

Campbell: Yes. The god idea is always culturally conditioned, always. . . .

Moyers: I wonder what it would have meant to us if somewhere along the way, we had begun the prayer “Our Mother,” instead of “Our Father.” What psychological difference would it have made?

Campbell: Well, it makes a psychological difference in the character of the cultures. You have the basic birth of civilization in the Near East with the great river valleys then as the main source areas, the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, and then over in India, the Indus valley and later the Ganges. This is the world of the goddess; all these rivers have goddess names finally.

Then there come the invasions. These fighting people are herding people. The Semites are herders of goats and sheep, and the Indo-Europeans of cattle. They were formerly the hunters. They translate a hunting mythology into a herding mythology, but it’s animal oriented. And when you have hunters you have killers, and when you have herders, you have killers, because they’re always in movement, nomadic, coming into conflict with other people and they have to conquer the area they move into. This comes into the Near East, and this brings in the warrior gods, like Zeus, like Yahweh.

Moyers: The sword and death, instead of fertility.

Campbell, The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

In another section of the documentary, Campbell goes on to discuss how societies separated by vast distances evolved the same ideas of the supernatural.

Moyers: Now, what do you make of that, that in two very different cultures, the same imagery emerges?

Campbell: Yes, well, there are only two ways to explain it, and one is by diffusion, that an influence came from there to here, and the other is by separate development. And when you have the idea of separate development, this speaks for certain powers in the psyche which are common to all mankind. Otherwise you couldn’t have — and to the detail the correspondences can be identified, it’s astonishing when one studies these things in depth, the degree to which the agreements go between totally separated cultures.

Moyers: Which says something about the commonality of the species, doesn’t it?

Campbell: Well, yes, that was Carl Jung’s idea, which he calls the archetypes, archetypes of the collective unconscious.

Ep. 6: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth — ‘Masks of Eternity’, PBS (1988).

The Passover was probably originally a rite of spring, practiced by shepherds. In early Israel it was a family festival.


Archaeology

At Nazlet Khater archaeologists found another burial, the burial of an adult, dated 30 to 35,000 years old. This example is also important because just beside the head of the skeleton was a stone and axe, an offering in the tomb. This is the first evidence of an associate artifact with a human body in a tomb. That means that people, at this stage, were interested in the protection of the bodies in the afterlife. When you protect a body after it’s dead, that means that there is a belief in the afterlife. Why do you want to protect your body if your body is useless after the death? In this case, when you protect the body, we can guess that these people had a very complex belief in the afterlife, and maybe a religion.

Tristant, Coursera — Big History: Connecting Knowledge — How did people live in the Palaeolithic?

Above, Harari mentioned how Judaism and Hinduism sprang out of the agricultural revolution, meaning the religions they gave rise to, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, and that a sizeable number of people who subscribe to a major world religion are also tied to these agricultural origins.

Source: NPR

Just as P [the priestly source] grounded the Sabbath in the creation story, so it grounds the Passover in the story of the exodus. The Passover was probably originally a rite of spring, practiced by shepherds. In early Israel it was a family festival. . . . The celebration was changed by the reform of King Josiah in 621 B.C.E. into a pilgrimage festival, to be celebrated at the central sanctuary [Jerusalem] and was combined with the Festival of Unleavened Bread.

Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible

As with living organisms, religion has continued to evolve and change over the centuries, with, in some cases, substantial shifts in the core tenets. I will focus on Judeo-Christianity, as that was the subject I covered in my book and with which I am most familiar; but I will return to Buddhism in the neurology section. Archaeology, in particular, has shown how Israelite theology changed fundamentally over its duration. The reform of Josiah, mentioned above, was when monotheism first became the official state religion of Judah, not earlier in its history as its texts portray, and which the excerpts below elaborate on.

We know from text and from archaeology, that traditional Israelite religion involved venerating the ancestors, the gods of the underworld so to speak. We know from texts, at least, and from iconography that we find in the ground, that traditional Israelite religion involved venerating the stars and the planets. We know, therefore, the traditional Israelite religion was polytheistic.

Baruch Halpern, Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies — University of Georgia, in The Bible Unearthed

The book of Deuteronomy perpetrates one of the great reformations in history: it imposes a strict philosophical monotheism that banishes all other gods from traditional culture. This was part of a reformationist program in which King Josiah attempted to centralize not only power, but the ability to reach the realm of the divine into his own hands, in Jerusalem, in the temple,the temple, which, sat in the backyard of the Royal Palace. . . .

. . . Deuteronomy was hugely important for Western civilization because for the first time the individual was singled out from the crowd as the focus of moral responsibility and duties . . . .

. . . Many elements of the reform actually precede the reform. . . . Effectively, what you see in the 7th century BC is the development of individuality. These social changes were reflected in radical new laws in Deuteronomy, an ideological change of great enduring consequence . . . .

. . . What it testifies to is a new consciousness at the end of the seventh century. . . . The power of the governor was subject to some greater laws, some greater morality, and it’s here on this broken piece of pottery, as archaeological evidence from the time of Josiah, that what we now still believe as biblical tradition and biblical morality, was born among the people. . . .

. . . That is the mindset, the self-conscious mindset, on which science, and monotheism, and Western civilization have been found.

Neil Silberman (L) and Israel Finkelstein (R), The Bible Unearthed (2005)

Evolution thus selects for the moral sentiments.


Philosophy

After centuries of a repressive Vatican controlling much of what happened in medieval Europe and the affiliated intellectual stagnation, the Protestant Reformation lit the match that would eventually culminate in the Age of Enlightenment. During the Enlightenment, European philosophers opposed to blind faith, tradition, and superstition, advocated for the increasing application of reason and scientific rationalism, and advanced the ideas of humanism as an alternative to theism. As many Western secular nations have evolved beyond traditional religion, secular humanism is coming to be the dominant philosophy in a number of these societies. Statistics confirm this trend, as the least religious countries are correlated among the happiest; whereas, religion continues to have the most influence in countries with less-developed economies and greater degrees of uncertainty. Citizens in self-actualized societies don’t appear to need the crutch of religion, allowing our common humanity to be our moral guide.

Evolution thus selects for the moral sentiments: sympathy, trust, gratitude, guilt, shame, forgiveness, and righteous anger. With sympathy installed in our psychological makeup, it can be expanded by reason and experience to encompass all sentient beings.

Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

What if I were to tell you that God’s mental states, too, were all in your mind?


Neurology

In a relatively new field of neurology, coined neurotheology, modern science can now demonstrate how gods manifest in our brains; and here is where we come back to Buddhism, as Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer activate a completely different part of the brain.

This is the resting scan, this is the prayer scan showing increased activity in the frontal lobes and in the language area of the brain. . . .

. . . When a person feels deeply focused on their prayer, we see increased activity in the focusing area of the brain. This area of the brain, the frontal lobe, is intensely active when we hold conversations; it allows us to speak and to listen.

Andy believes that in Judeo-Christian prayer the frontal lobe activates, just as it would in normal conversation. To the brain, talking to God is indistinguishable from talking to a person.

When we study Buddhist meditation, where they’re visualizing something, we might expect to see a change or an increase of activity in the visual areas of the brain. In Buddhist practice, the divine is an abstract presence, not a person who is directly spoken to, but rather an essence that can be visualized during deep meditation. And when Andy looks at the brains of people who do not believe in God, he finds that simple quiet meditation produces none of the brain activity of believers.

Through the Wormhole, Did We Invent God?, Science (S03E10, 2012).

A multidisciplinary analysis gives us the Big History view that from an evolutionarily advantageous adaptation, divine agency was born and took root in our brains, and we can now see our god neurons activating with magnetic resonance imaging.

What if I were to tell you that God’s mental states, too, were all in your mind? That God, like a tiny speck floating at the edge of your cornea producing the image of a hazy, out-of-reach orb accompanying your every turn, was in fact a psychological illusion, a sort of evolved blemish etched onto the core cognitive substrate of your brain? It may feel as if there is something grander out there . . . watching, knowing, caring. Perhaps even judging. But, in fact, that’s just your overactive theory of mind. In reality, there is only the air you breathe.

Bering
Source: Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

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Select Quotes about Christianity, from Albert Schweitzer

From Schweizer’s book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a selection of quotes which devastatingly skewer historical Christianity and close-minded theologians. This, from a dedicated Christian, who, following in the example of Jesus and his second commandment, “Love thy neighbour”, established a medical mission in Africa to help the less fortunate.

“Few authors in modern times can be said to have redirected the course of an entire field of study. In 1906, Albert Schweitzer did.

Schweitzer did not think that the historical Jesus shared the problems or perspectives of the twentieth century. Instead, Jesus was a first-century apocalypticist, who never expected that there would be a twentieth century.

His basic emphases — that Jesus is to be situated in the context of first-century Palestinian Judaism and that he was himself an apocalypticist — have carried the day for much of the twentieth century, at least among critical scholars devoted to examining the evidence.”

Professor Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium

Christian Dogma

Teachings of Jesus

End-Times Message

Gospel Critique

Mark

John

Historical Criticism

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Asking legitimate questions and being censored

The other day I posted my thoughts on the fire and damage to Notre-Dame and whether the tax-paying public should be on the hook for its repairs, which elicited emotional reactions from some. Despite their ruffled sensitivities at my gall for daring to ask such a relevant question, it turns out I am just one of many raising this point, as the selection of attached memes and comments from others amply testify. In particular, the one about Aleppo demonstrates how this outpouring of grief is very Euro-Centric—as are all the reactions to terror attacks in Western countries when people change their profile pic in solidarity, but, hypocritically, do not when a massacre happens somewhere else, sometimes on the same day.

I made the assumption that, as it’s a Catholic Cathedral, it was owned by the Vatican and that they should be the ones to pay the repairs; especially since this institution has hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, at its disposal.

A friend pointed out my error, in that Notre-Dame is owned by the French state, which led me to find this fascinating article from Time , and this insightful tidbit:

“The priests for years believed the government should pay for repairs, since it owned the building. But under the terms of the government’s agreement, the archdiocese is responsible for Notre Dame’s upkeep…Finally accepting that the government would not pay to restore the cathedral, the archdiocese launched Friends of Notre Dame in October to appeal for help. It hopes to raise €100 million ($114 million) in the next five to 10 years.”

What strikes me the most from this article, is that despite having multiple billions of dollars in their coffers, the Vatican sat on its hands and waited for the French government to pony up. When that didn’t happen, again, instead of opening their deep purse strings, they handed out the collection plate to the public and pleaded poverty. It will let the reader draw their own conclusions as to what a shameful move this was. Has there ever been a more perfect example of corporate welfare?

The Time article stated the Vatican hoped to raise €100 million over the next ten years; now, they received that much in one day from a single corporation. Readers might forgive the conspiracy theorist side of my brain from wondering if this fire was a deliberate fund-raising move by the Church, designed to generate exactly the kind of emotional outpourings and open wallets we are witnessing. Though, even I am not that much of cynic to think the Church would stoop that low; not in this case, anyway. Returning to my initial point that the French tax-payer should not be on the hook for the repair costs, another person pointed out that the multinational French conglomerates making these 100 million euro donations will claim some (a lot?) of that money back on tax breaks in their corporate income tax filings for their generosity (lest we forget the major PR points they scored), in effect, transferring the burden back to the little guy, again.

I also pointed out that France is a highly secular country, grounded firmly in the principle of laïcité, and here is The Atlantic mentioning exactly the same thing:

“Here is a country that is forever doing battle between reason and belief.”

My reason for making this post, is because not only did I incur the wrath of some friends for daring to ask a legitimate question, but both Facebook and Quora decided to censor my posts for “violating community standards,” whatever that means. Given that respected publications like Time and The Atlantic, and the numerous other posts and memes I have seen in my feed, are asking the same question, I am left pondering the death of free speech and the rising levels of censorship in this era of fragile feelings that must be protected at all costs.

I understand people’s deep attachment to symbols like Notre-Dame for its historical value, its architectural beauty, and its place in the cultural heart of France, but it is still just a building. The precious artworks were saved, and the building can be repaired; and made better, as Macron declared yesterday. To be perfectly frank, I don’t care about a building, regardless of the place it holds in other people’s sentiments—I care about people and this planet, not its symbols.

I care about the death of free speech and the creeping spectre of censorship. If we can’t even ask a legitimate question without social media outlets encroaching on our liberty and deciding for us what we can or cannot see, then, I hate to break it to people, but Big Brother is already here.

I care about the death of free speech and the creeping spectre of censorship. If we can’t even ask a legitimate question without social media outlets encroaching on our liberty and deciding for us what we can or cannot see, then, I hate to break it to people, but Big Brother is already here. If criticism, as a fundamental element of free speech, is muted as a legitimate form of dialogue because it might offend the delicate sensibilities of some group or individual, then the war is already lost.

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary (emotional) Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Ben Franklin

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On using public money to rebuild Notre-Dame

Macron[1] has pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame and has embarked on an international fund-raising quest. Though, he did use the term public subscription, which might suggest voluntary donations, rather than using France’s public funds.

However, if he does plan to use the tax-payer money this raises some questions that need to be asked: in a country with a recent history of high secularism[2], where 74% of the population identifies as either non-practicing or unaffiliated[3], is it worth the money when those funds could be better spent on more pressing matters like poverty alleviation, healthcare, and education?

Pew

I understand the cultural and historical significance of this building, and that it is the #1 tourist destination in Paris (and therefore $), but when the majority of the population no longer subscribes to Catholicism, should the government be spending public money to rebuild a symbol for a rapidly declining faith? Keep in mind that, fundamentally, Notre-Dame is a house of worship for a specific religion, and using public funds for its restoration is tantamount to the government favouring, if not outright sponsoring, a state religion.

Regardless of people’s cultural attachments to this Gothic masterpiece, we must not forget that this building is the privately-owned property of the Catholic Church, the oldest, largest, and wealthiest[4] entity on the planet. The Church had previously solicited donations for the renovations[5], which are suspected to be the cause of the fire, and now these corporate welfare bums expect others to pick up the tab for the rebuild? It begs the question, why are they asking others to pick up their slack? Perhaps because their coffers are running dry from paying out multiple billions of dollars for all the systemic abuse claims across the globe?

Notre-Dame

With thanks to Charles Freeman, as I steal my favourite quote from his book, Idiot America, to paraphrase this thought.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47943705

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%AFcit%C3%A9

[3] https://www.pewforum.org/2018/05/29/being-christian-in-western-europe/?fbclid=IwAR2XAK5G4J_1Y5S_TJDehWLKa69Cpz5fZSLkrMJCZm6I_TIYv6s3mRfXiJY

[4] https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wjynvb/the-catholic-church-is-rich-enough-to-settle-sex-abuse-cases-forever

[5] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-43258266/notre-dame-cracks-in-the-cathedral

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On Jordan Peterson, Religion, & Atheism

Dr. Jordan Peterson, a Canadian professor and clinical psychologist, hosted a YouTube series of lectures on the psychological significance of the biblical stories, where he articulated some fascinating insights; but, on some points is he wrong, or just misunderstood?

I only watched the first two, but I got a sense from these two, and other videos listed below, to know that he has made a few errors in interpretation, and/or overlooked the underlying context. Granted, he is not a biblical scholar; though, it is clear he has done a lot of homework.

Video references:

Biblical Series I (BS1): Introduction to the Idea of God, (transcript)

Biblical Series II (BS2): Genesis 1: Chaos & Order, (transcript)

Pangburn Philosophy (PP): An Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson

Unbelievable (U): Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore • Do we need God to make sense of life?

Jordan’s attempt to layer a current interpretation on to stories from millennia ago is perplexing given that these stories have evolved, in some cases significantly, different meanings over time. What the stories meant when they were created (irrespective of the impossibility of adequately diagnosing the psychological aspects of the author’s mindset and motivation), and how they have come to be seen over time, are vastly separate topics. Conflating these two separate issues leads to exactly the error in perspective which Jordan assigns them. Or, as it was succinctly stated in this Australian article titled, Jordan Peterson’s psycho-religious heresy:

“Ironically, Jordan is rightly critical of those who would superimpose the twentieth-century scientific method onto the Bible, but then he himself makes precisely the same error by imposing a modern psychological one.”

It is these revisionist interpretations that I will challenge, providing the historical backstory to counter Jordan’s viewpoints. Specifically, I will address why the psychological significance he assigns to biblical stories is flawed, to contest his beliefs that:

  • the Judeo-Christian ethic is what underpins the value systems of Western civilization; and,
  • atheists and “anti-religious thinkers” are abandoning this tradition to our collective peril

What I will demonstrate is that what he believes to be true, in many cases, are his personal views or that of the Christian faithful; views not necessarily held by religious scholars, or even the correct interpretations, for that matter.

What his motivations are for this series only Jordan can say. He steadfastly refuses to be pinned down and boxed in on what his beliefs are, and he has been extremely coy about affirming his Christianity: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.” Though, in the Adam and Eve lecture, Jordan let his mask slip for a moment when he explicitly stated:

“…The greatest event in history, which was the birth of Christ and the redemption of mankind.”

Now, was he saying this in conjunction with the metaphorical deconstruction of the Fall narrative, or was he stating what he, himself, believes? Considering the Fall narrative (in its original form, not what it was re-appropriated for) has nothing to do with Christianity, nor could the author of the Genesis 3 story have foreseen how later Christian traditions would use this story to buttress their dogmatic beliefs in the redemption of humanity through Jesus, it is unlikely that this is what Jordan is trying to imply. The logical conclusion is that Jordan is making a statement of his own belief. A belief that: one, he maintains is the greatest in history; two, that Jesus is actually the Christ; and three, that Jesus redeemed humanity. It is no longer mere speculation of his inherent bias towards Christianity, but, indeed, this reveals the foundational basis on which he predicated the series about how the psychological truths of Judeo-Christianity will save humanity from itself.

He’s obviously also a Jungian Gnostic, and continuously hypes Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment (part 5), written by a committed Christian desperate to demonstrate how abandoning Christianity leads to a dark path. I wonder what Freud would say about Jordan’s evasive circumlocutions, what subconscious desire drives him to be a shill for Christianity, and this peculiar need to be covert about it?

Jordan claims there is a psychological significance to the biblical stories, as they manifest the values contained in the archetypal collective unconscious. But, if it is the stories and the humanist values they contain that are important, then:

  • why do we need to keep all the religious baggage that comes with them?
  • why is there a need to have a supernatural deity associated with the stories?

I am also curious to know exactly which people Jordan believes are reading the Bible stories for the metaphors. Experience would indicate precious few.

“But he could not quite abandon the Christianity of his youth, and so Peterson spends a lot of time in this book purporting to tell us what Scripture really says, and does so with all the exegetical and hermeneutical skill of Ayn Rand. While Rand’s scorn for theology and Christianity was well known, warning most believers off her, Peterson’s presentation, given the lack of theological literacy of our time, contains just enough jargon and scriptural references to fool a lot of people into thinking he knows what he’s talking about. He does not. If his psychology is suspect, his theology is absolutely insidious.”

The Catholic World Report, Jordan Peterson’s Jungian best-seller is banal, superficial, and insidious

In the following series of articles, I detail in-depth where Jordan has made blatant mistakes, either through presenting evolved Christian interpretations which ignore the original contexts, or simply because he has deliberately chosen to spout Christian propaganda.

Part 2: The Serpent-Satan Synthesis

Part 3: The Logos-Trinity Ideation

Part 4: The Deuteronomistic Paradigm

Part 5: The Dostoevsky Distraction

Part 6: The Moral Atheist Mystification

In summary, Jordan makes a series of assertions that the Judeo-Christian ethic is all that stands between Western civilization and nihilistic oblivion at the hands of the increasingly irreligious:

BS1: “…there’s something at the bottom of this amazing civilization that we’ve managed to construct, that I think is in peril for a variety of reasons. And maybe if we understand it a little bit better we won’t be so prone just to throw the damn thing away. Which I think would be a big mistake. And to throw it away because of resentment and hatred and bitterness and historical ignorance and jealously and desire for destruction, and all of that.”

PP: “We’d lose the metaphoric substrate of our ethos and we’d be lost.”

PP: “Oh, you lose art, and poetry, and drama, and narratives.”

A fellow psychologist takes him to task over this perspective:

“Peterson seems to assume that the only alternatives to religious morality are totalitarian atrocities or despondent nihilism.”

Yet it appears contradictory, to me anyway, that if the values contained within the Judeo-Christian tradition preceded the tradition (part 4), then why should Jordan be worried if people are simply abandoning the vehicle which, successfully, conveyed the values? The values are the important factor, the ones that emerged from the unconscious, not the transmission mechanism. “Adamant anti-religious thinkers” are not advocating that we abandon morality, or “our immersement in the underlying dream,” so the values themselves will remain intact. Another Canadian psychologist, Steven Pinker, makes this point in Enlightenment Now:

“If the positive contributions of religious institutions come from their role as humanistic associations in civil society, then we would expect those benefits not to be tied to theistic belief, and that is indeed the case.”

Steven, as the subtitle of the book alludes, made “The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” that society is not in any danger—contrary to Jordan’s dire warnings—from increasing secularization:

“Evolution helps explain another foundation of secular morality: our capacity for sympathy (or, as the Enlightenment writers variously referred to it, benevolence, pity, imagination, or commiseration). Even if a rational agent deduces that it’s in everyone’s long-term interests to be moral, it’s hard to imagine him sticking his neck out to make a sacrifice for another’s benefit unless something gives him a nudge. The nudge needn’t come from an angel on one shoulder; evolutionary psychology explains how it comes from the emotions that make us social animals…Evolution thus selects for the moral sentiments: sympathy, trust, gratitude, guilt, shame, forgiveness, and righteous anger. With sympathy installed in our psychological makeup, it can be expanded by reason and experience to encompass all sentient beings…

A viable moral philosophy for a cosmopolitan world cannot be constructed from layers of intricate argumentation or rest on deep metaphysical or religious convictions. It must draw on simple, transparent principles that everyone can understand and agree upon. The ideal of human flourishing—that it’s good for people to lead long, healthy, happy, rich, and stimulating lives—is just such a principle, since it’s based on nothing more (and nothing less) than our common humanity.

History confirms the when diverse cultures have to find common ground, they converge toward humanism.”

Jordan also overlooked the very contribution Enlightenment thinking had on modern moral standards, hell-bent as he was to demonize the secular shift away from religion that was spawned by these ideals in his attempt to glorify the Judeo-Christian ethic as the sole provider of Western values. As Steven continued:

“Today, of course, enlightened believers cherry-pick the human injunctions while allegorizing, spin-doctoring, or ignoring the vicious ones, and that’s just the point: they read the Bible through the lens of Enlightenment humanism.”

Harari - Humanism

Tufts University philosophy professor, Dan Dennett, echoed the same sentiments:

“Secularists don’t have to “build” anything; we can choose moral philosophies from what’s already well tested. If religious people think that their “faith” excuses them from evaluating the duties and taboos handed down to them, they are morally obtuse…

We secularists have no need for love of any imaginary being, since there is a bounty of real things in the world to love, and to motivate us: peace, justice, freedom, learning, music, art, science, nature, love and health, for instance.”

Dan further expounded on secular morality, stating:

“The idea that you can’t be moral without religion is just a complete falsehood.”

British philosopher, A.C. Grayling, also discussed the benefits of humanism:

“Humanism is a general outlook based on two allied premises, which allow considerable latitude to what follows from them. The premises are, first, that there are no supernatural entities or agencies in the universe, and second, that our individual and social ethics must be drawn from, and responsive to, facts about the nature and circumstances of human beings…

Humanism, though, is not even a philosophy, for it has no teachings beyond its two minimal premises, and obliges us to do nothing other than think for ourselves.”

As the early needs for tribal cohesion led to greater demands for social community, which gave rise to religious and political identities, group values have emerged, changed, and advanced through time. As Deuteronomy codified civil rights, and Christianity built on them, so too will universal human ideals leave behind the unhelpful dogmas, and take what Matt Dillahunty pointed out are “true and good and useful,” and build on and expand from the corpse. Relax, Jordan. Stop being such a pessimist. Everything is in good hands.

“Courtesy, generosity, honesty, persistence, and kindness. If you are courteous, you will not be disrespected; if you are generous, you will gain everything. If you are honest, people will rely on you. If you are persistent you will get results. If you are kind, you can employ people.”

Confucius, Analects 17.5

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On Jordan Peterson, Religion, & Atheism – Part 2, The Serpent-Satan Synthesis

The Serpent-Satan Synthesis

<< Previous, Main Article

In BS2, Jordan stated:

“That’s also echoed by the intimate relationship between the snake in the Garden of Eden and Satan, because that’s a very strange association; like this snake also becomes the adversary of being.”

On Satan’s Evolution

First, if you pay attention to the details in the story of the Garden, you will note the conspicuous absence of any association between the serpent and Satan.

“The identification of the serpent in Genesis 3 with the Devil, although without any foundation in the original story, emerged in the final centuries before the common eraNowhere {emphasis added} in the Hebrew Bible is there any identification made between the serpent and the Devil/Satan.”*

Second, there was no concept of Satan, with a capital S, in early Hebrew theology. Satan could not be the serpent, as the concept of Satan “stepping from the shadowy ranks of the heavenly host at the back of the stage…to emerge front and center as a character in his own right…acting apart from the divine council”* had not been created yet.

Satan’s emergence in biblical literature does not come until the very end of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament tradition:

1 Chronicles 21:1 – “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel.”

[Note the editorial liberties exercised by the Chronicler in the creative reimagining of 2 Samuel 24, removing the blame from David and transferring it to the newly evolved scapegoat.]

“Finally, we observe the Chronicler’s use of the designation “Satan,” minus the definite article (this is not hassatan, but Satan) {the adversary/obstacle}. For the first time in the canonical Hebrew Bible, “Satan” appears as a proper noun.”*

* Wray & Mobley, The Birth of Satan

On Christian Reinterpretations

Third, the only way to make this association is to make a backwards attribution, and that is precisely what happened—at the very end of the New Testament, in these, the only two verses in the entire Bible to make this connection:

Revelation 12:9 – “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.”

Revelation 20:2 – “He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan.”

The Serpent-Satan Synthesis became further embedded in the Christian mentality when Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost entered the collective Western consciousness.

Lewis Black - Interpretations.jpg

On the Original Context

Fourth, and most significant for the original significance of the story, is that it has nothing whatsoever to do with evil, nor did it originate in the Hebrew narrative. The Garden story derives from the much older Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, as does the Noah tale.

Serpent

In Part IV of Jordan’s series on Adam and Eve,  where he delved deeply into the biblical metaphors in the Genesis 3 story, Jordan again overlooked all of this contextual basis for the Serpent. There is no mention of the Genesis 3 story being based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, and given his knowledge of the Sumerian basis of many of the myths which he shares in other talks, I can only surmise that he is selectively choosing what he shares, cherry-picking what he presents; as with the moral values in the Bible and ignoring the inconvenient bits, such as the genocides, rapeincest, the homophobia which fuels so much intolerance in the countries founded on this supposed ethic of Judeo-Christian values, and the condoning of slavery in both the Old and New Testaments. Further, he does not (explicitly) mention that there is no association with Satan in the Hebrew texts, just a passing mention that Christians did it, with zero reference to where or when it happened:

“That’s why the bloody Christians associated the snake in the garden of Eden with Satan. It’s unbelievably brilliant, because you gotta think, what’s the enemy? Well, it’s the snake, and fair enough. But, you know, that’s good if you’re a tree-dwelling primate. If you’re a sophisticated human being with six million years of additional evolution, and you’re really trying to solve the problem of what it is that’s the great enemy of mankind… Well, it’s the human propensity for evil, right? That’s the figure of Satan.”

As to why Christians made this association, Jordan focused on how the evolutionary pressures of predation by snakes on our earliest ancestors shaped our relationship to them, and why they are used as metaphors in the imagery of many cultures. There are two problems with this interpretation.

First, Jordan has no way of knowing what the author of the original tale in the Epic of Gilgamesh was thinking, or what their inspiration was over five thousand years ago.  To impose both a Darwinian and a modern psychological interpretation onto an ancient story, and one filtered through a Christianized lens, is patently absurd. The writer would have had no conception of Darwinian pressures and psychology in their choice of metaphorical representation; though, Jordan would probably make the claim the choice of the snake was subconscious.

Campbell - Poetry of Myth

Second, related to the first, there is nothing so evolutionarily ingrained in the use of the snake in cultural imagery, as Jordan is also ignoring everything that mythologists and cultural anthropologists teach about the basis of the snake as metaphor.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The power of life, because the snake sheds its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow. The snake in most cultures is positive. Even the most poisonous thing, in India, the cobra, is a sacred animal. And the serpent, Naga, the serpent king, Nagaraga, is the next thing to the Buddha, because the serpent represents the power of life in the field of time to throw off death, and the Buddha represents the power of life in the field of eternity to be eternally alive…

BILL MOYERS: The Christian stories turn it around, because the serpent was the seducer.

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, what that amounts to is a refusal to affirm life. Life is evil in this view. Every natural impulse is sinful unless you’ve been baptized or circumcised, in this tradition that we’ve inherited. For heaven’s sakes!

Joseph Campbell & The Power of Myth, Episode 2

Campbell

On the Context of Revelation

In making his assertion, Jordan also overlooks why Christians made the association with Satan. Note, Jordan does not indicate where Christians made the association (in Revelation), he just stated that they did. Understanding where and why this happened in Revelation is very important to understanding the contextual nature of these associations.

First, Revelation almost did not make it into the New Testament, it is rejected by the Eastern Orthodox churches, and it has a long history of debate:

“We could examine the controversies surrounding the inclusion of Revelation at all in the Bible, as argued by several leading church authorities. The canonical nature of this delirious book has always been contested by the likes of the Church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, and by Saint Jerome, Gregory of Nazianzus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and oh yeah, the entire Eastern Orthodox Church. Thomas Jefferson removed it completely from his Jefferson Bible. Like a festering sore on the ass of Christianity, Jefferson wrote Revelation off as ‘merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.’”

Manifest Insanity

Second, Revelation, in its entirety, is a veiled political slam at the Romans, and is openly directed to Christian communities being persecuted in modern-day Turkey:

“The seer of Patmos, identified with the apostle, is granted a series of visions meant to reassure the Christians of Asia amid the persecutions and trials of the end of the first century.”

~ Pope Benedict

What was happening in these communities that Revelation addresses?

“John of Patmos was writing at the time of another crackdown. This time it was under Emperor Domitian around 95 CE, and John was addressing his story to the early churches of Asia Minor. These communities were facing persecution for refusing to worship the emperor, as Domitian was trying to establish a cult dedicated to his royal self, which the Christians would have obviously found sacrilegious. The second and third chapters of Revelation specifically list which churches he was writing to, and he spells out in detail the troubles they are encountering at the hands of the Romans and the local Jewish populations, who saw the Christians as a sect of insane nutjobs who were preaching a corrupted form Judaism.

“John’s message to them was not to be led astray by agents of Satan intent on deceiving them, but to stand firm in their beliefs and they would be rewarded for their faith. The whole first half of the book of Revelation, from chapters one through eleven, is a condemnation against anyone who criticizes them for their weird and cultish ways, casting all their detractors as—you guessed it—Satan.

“In the last half of Revelation, from chapters twelve to twenty-two, is where we start to see the descriptions of the cosmic battle of Armageddon that we are familiar with in Christian lore, in what has come to be believed will be the final battle between the forces of good and evil. Again, this end-times battle scenario is written in the context of the hopes and dreams for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. The story of Revelation is not the bitch slapping for that upstart, trouble-making, Satan, as it has been made out to be.”

Manifest Insanity

Why the character of Satan evolved, how it emerged as a literary character in the decades following the closing of the Hebrew and opening of the Christian canons, and how it came to be used as a political epithet,

“When Paul chooses to use the word Satan he has one particular role in mind, obstructer.  Specifically he uses Satan to refer to those who hinder, usually through undermining his teachings, the fully realized existence that the Christian experience offers…

The second mention of Satan is in reference to Paul’s detractors, the so-called “super-apostles” who seek to denigrate Paul’s ministry… So great is Paul’s disdain for these rival apostles, in fact, that he accuses these ambassadors of Christ of being ministers of Satan.” ref: 2 Corinthians 11:3-5, 13

is addressed in Wray & Mobley’s The Birth of Satan, listed above.

Next, Part 3 – The Logos-Trinity Ideation >>

Video References:

Biblical Series I (BS1): Introduction to the Idea of God, (transcript)

Biblical Series II (BS2): Genesis 1: Chaos & Order, (transcript)

Pangburn Philosophy (PP): An Evening With Matt Dillahunty & Jordan Peterson

Unbelievable (U): Jordan Peterson vs Susan Blackmore • Do we need God to make sense of life?

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