Literalist Fundamentalism Requires Murdering Children

“As the stag pants after the waterbrooks, So pants my mind after you, O gods! My mind thirsts for gods! for living gods! When shall I come face to face with gods?”
~ Psalm 42

From the perspective of egoic individualism, what Julian Jaynes simply referred to as ‘consciousness’, there is a sense of loss and longing for the archaic authorization of the voices and visions from gods, spirits, and ancestors. But there is simultaneously a fear and denial of this archaic authorization that can undermine and usurp the walled position defended as the demiurgic ego’s domain.

The takeover of Jaynesian consciousness didn’t happen naturally, easily, and quickly. It was a slow process of suppressing and eliminating the voice-hearing bicameral mind, including the regular killing and sometimes wholesale slaughter of the remaining bicameral humans. This is attested to in the Old Testament where even voice-hearing children were not to be spared by their own parents who were commanded to murder them.

“And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.”
~ Zechariah 13;3

* * *

There is a present and practical implication to these thoughts. Literalist fundies like to claim they follow all of the Bible without any personal interpretation or cultural bias, treating it as the actual voice of God whose meaning and intention are simply known to the Elect of God’s People. But that is obviously bull shit. Our grandfather, a minister, stated that anyone could find a Biblical verse to support anything they wanted to believe. Such self-serving delusion does not make one a good Christian.

The stories, histories, traditions, teachings, moralities, commandments, laws, etc accumulated from dozens of separate cultures and populations before finally being written down in the Tanakh during the Axial Age. There is no consistent and coherent theology that can be found, as the monotheist authoritarian priestly class that wrote it down was drawing upon the prior paganism, polytheism, and henotheism; the traces of which remain in the texts they recorded and rewrote, edited and interpolated.

One would literally be insane, dangerous, and criminal if attempting to apply everything in the Bible to modern life and society. The Tanakh is a holy text not only to the Jews but also to Christians, Muslims, and Bahai. Could you imagine all of the monotheistic fundies all over the world suddenly doing every batshit thing the Old Testament commanded, even killing their own children when they claimed to hear voices, even the voice of God?

Then there is the additional problem that so much of what is in the New Testament contradicts and opposes what is found in the Old Testament. In fact, that is why the New Testament canon was created by Marcion, specifically to show and prove that the loving God of Jesus was not and could not be the same as the bloodthirsty, tyrannical, and demiurgic Yahweh. Jesus’ teachings and example are dramatically different from everything that came before in the Jewish tradition.

In challenging the commandment to execute wrongdoers, Jesus confronted the righteous Jews ready to stone someone to death by saying that anyone without sin could cast the first stone. Yet no where in the Old Testament does it ever state or suggest that being free of all sin is a requirement for punishing other sinners. For Jesus to say that was a complete defiance and overturning of Jewish tradition, law, and practice.

Indeed, that was the whole point. Jesus stated in no uncertain terms that he came to fulfill the law, that is to say the old laws no longer applied — not abolished but simply irrelevant and moot, no longer applicable. He brought a new revelation, not anti-authoritarian revolt that reacts against the old but non-authoritarian love that manifests the radically new. Love was all that one needed to understand, as it always had been the one and only truth, so claimed Jesus.

Based on everything we know from the Gospels, Jesus would’ve condemned any parent who murdered or attempted to murder their child for hearing voices. When he was brought to a man possessed by demons, he didn’t declare the man must be punished, banished, or killed. No, instead, he healed the man of what was possessing him. Anyone who believes that they should fully and literally follow the Old Testament, even to the point of murdering children, whatever they might be they for certain are not a Christian or at least not a follower of Jesus.

* * *

As supposedly described by the Hebrew prophet Zechariah and, below that, as explained by Julian Jaynes:

King James Bible
Zechariah 13

1 In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.

2 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.

3 And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.

4 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive:

5 But he shall say, I am no prophet, I am an husbandman; for man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.

6 And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.

7 Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.

8 And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.

9 And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
by Julian Jaynes
pp. 310-312

A further vestige from the bicameral era is the word ob, often translated as a “familiar spirit.” “A man also or woman that have an ob . . . shall surely be put to death,” says Leviticus (20:27). And similarly Saul drives out from Israel all those that had an ob (I Samuel 28:3). Even though an ob is something that one consults with (Deuteronomy, 18:11), it probably had no physical embodiment. It is always bracketed with wizards or witches, and thus probably refers to some bicameral voice that was not recognized by the Old Testament writers as religious. This word has so puzzled translators that when they found it in Job 32:19, they translated it absurdly as “bottle,” when clearly the context is that of the young frustrated Elihu, who feels as if he had a bicameral voice about to burst forth into impatient speech like an overfull wineskin.

The Last of the Nabiim

We began this chapter with a consideration of the refugee situation in the Near East around the latter part of the second millennium B.C., and of the roving tribes uprooted from their lands by various catastrophes, some of them certainly bicameral and unable to move toward subjective consciousness. Probably in the editing of the historical books of the Old Testament, and the fitting of it together into one story in the sixth or fifth century B.C., a great deal has been suppressed. And among such items of information that we would like is a clear account of what happened to these last communities of bicameral men. Here and there through the Old Testament, they appear like sudden glimpses of a strange other world during these periods which historians have paid too little attention to.

Groups of bicameral men certainly persisted until the downfall of the Judean monarchy, but whether in association with other tribes or with any organization to their hallucinated voices in the form of gods, we don’t know. They are often referred to as the “sons of nabiim,” indicating that there was probably a strong genetic basis for this type of remaining bicamerality. It is, I think, the same genetic basis that remains with us as part of the etiology of schizophrenia.

Edgy kings consulted them. Ahab, king of Israel in 835 B.C., rounded up 400 of them like cattle to listen to their hue and clamor (I Kings 22:6). Later, in all his robes, he and the king of Judah sit on thrones just outside the gates of Samaria, and have hundreds of these poor bicameral men herded up to them, raving and copying each other even as schizophrenics in a back ward (I Kings 22:10).

What happened to them? From time to time, they were hunted down and exterminated like unwanted animals. Such a massacre in the ninth century B.C. seems to be referred to in I Kings 18:4, where out of some unknown, much larger number, Obadiah took a hundred nabiim and hid them in caves, and brought them bread and water until the massacre was over. Another such massacre is organized by Elijah a few years later (I Kings 18:40).

We hear no more of these bicameral groups thereafter. What remained for a few centuries more are the individual nabiim, men whose voices do not need the group support of other hallucinating men, men who can be partly subjective and yet still hear the bicameral voice. These are the famous nabiim whose bicameral messages we have already selectively touched upon: Amos, the gatherer of sycamore fruit, Jeremiah, staggering under his yoke from village to village, Ezekiel with his visions of lofty thrones on wheels moving through the clouds, the several nabiim whose religious agonies are ascribed to Isaiah. These of course merely represent the handful of that much larger number whose bicameral voices seemed to be most consistent with Deuteronomy. And then the voices are as a rule no longer actually heard.

In their place is the considered subjective thought of moral teachers. Men still dreamed visions and heard dark speech per-haps. But Ecclesiastes and Ezra seek wisdom, not a god. They study the law. They do not roam out into the wilderness “inquiring of Yahweh.” By 400 B.C., bicameral prophecy is dead. “The nabiim shall be ashamed everyone of his visions.” If parents catch their children naba-ing or in dialogue with bicameral voices, they are to kill them on the spot (Zechariah 13, 3-4).That is a severe injunction. If it was carried out, it is an evolutionary selection which helped move the gene pool of humanity toward subjectivity.

6 thoughts on “Literalist Fundamentalism Requires Murdering Children

    • Thanks! We’re glad you appreciated it. We rarely intend to write pieces like this, but end up feeling a moral obligation to do so, as having been raised in liberal, progressive, and compassionate Christianity. We want to defend Jesus, as the original Western advocate of egalitarianism and loving-kindness, against the followers of the Anti-Christ who conspire to co-opt Jesus toward anti-Christian machinations, to put it in fundy language.

      For all the claims made about basing their entire lives on the Bible, one finds it hard to believe that Biblical literalists have ever read the Bible for themselves and taken seriously what they read. We can get into arguments of Biblical scholarship and exegesis that unpeel layers of discrepancies and inconsistencies. But we don’t need to go that far. Like the literalists love to point out, some passages really don’t require any interpretation, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

      When it states that you should murder your own children for hearing the voice of Yahweh, there are no two ways to interpret that, no way of getting around that commandment from the mouth of a prophet speaking on behalf of Yahweh. It’s completely straightforward. Zechariah was not speaking metaphorically or in riddles. It’s not a parable. He simply, directly, and literally was telling the Jews of his time to end the lives of their children by thrusting a sword or knife through their children for the ‘sin’ of daring to do what Zechariah himself had done, to listen to the voice of Yahweh and speak of it.

      The motivation for writing this post was in response to a close friend of ours. He is a refugee from an Islamic country that is an authoritarian theocracy, both patriarchal and tribalistic. He is critical of authoritarianism and yet naive about it, since it was the world he grew up in and so he knows nothing else. He is unable to step back to see it for what it is and still is attracted to theocracy, but oddly also attracted to social democracy — ideally, he’d like to live in a paternalistic theocracy that enforces social democracy onto society or something like that, a rather unlikely outcome once authoritarians gain power.

      If you read the Koran, you’ll notice that it regularly criticizes wealth-hoarding and high inequality. So, oddly, it’s precisely our friend’s authoritarian theocratic upbringing that prepared him for a more economic populist outlook in seeing the problems of modern American capitalism. It’s one of the things that we respect in the Islamic tradition, even as that holy text has some truly evil commandments and rationalizations, just like the Old Testament — the Koran is a guide book about how to live in a violent, war-torn land because that was the world of that time; not exactly helpful for living in the modern non-tribal West.

      It speaks to the tribalistic mindset when tribalism first began declining in that region. So, Mohammed’s words still speak to those in tribalistic societies or with tribalistic nostalgia, even as the Koran as a literary document is showing the early steps of escaping oral-based tribalism in replacing it with theocratic nationalism that supersedes the archaic authorization of tribal traditionalism. The problem is that the solution Mohammed offers is to replace one kind of violence with an even greater violence of militaristic Jihad, to subjugate everyone else to monotheistic totalitarianism, a Pax Islamica.

      The paternalistic leveling impulse given voice in the Koran was not an opposition to authoritarian power but what was perceived as the wrong kind of authoritarian power — it needed to be raised up to a more cosmic level through the despotic rule of a divine overlord. Even so, it interestingly opens itself up to economic populist ideology and policies. It’s the reason that usury is outlawed in Islamic countries, as it once was in Christian countries. Yet plutocracy remains powerful in the Islamic world, such as in Saudi Arabia; something that our friend sees as morally wrong.

      The Koran, if only partly, offers an antidote for some of the failings of Islam. This allows more liberal and progressive Muslims a way to challenge some of the worst elements of authoritarianism. But if one is to be a literalist, much of what is described and commanded in the Koran is truly horrific. And there isn’t even an equivalent of a Jesus to provide an alternative example of defiance toward cruelty, since Mohammed as self-proclaimed final prophet claims to have replaced Jesus. The Koran, in many ways, simply reinstates many of the worst elements of the Tanakh, after Jesus had done so much to counter their poisoning affect on the human mind, heart, and soul.

      More powerfully than Mohammed, Jesus also repeatedly challenged the same kinds of economic problems of selfishness, heartlessness, corruption, and greed. That is another thing too few literalists take literally. In response to Jesus telling a rich guy to give away all of his wealth, how many rich Christian literalists have literally followed Jesus’ commandment, rather than rationalized it away? Literalists pick and choose what is convenient and self-serving, as if the Bible were a theological buffet to sate their lust for self-righteous power.

      Although Islamic, our friend began attending an evangelical church, if more moderately conservative than some. And he has fallen under the sway of Christian literalism and it’s link to the reactionary right-wing, including the kinds of Youtube videos that serve no purpose other than indoctrination and mind-fuckery. As he basically received no meaningful formal education in childhood, he lacks critical thinking skills of media literacy and information literacy. Even his ability to read his severely limited and his reading comprehension skills even more deficient. Yet, to his credit and despite a probable but undiagnosed learning disability, he is still struggling to attain his GED.

      His state of uneducation isn’t his fault, but it hobbles his mind nonetheless. He has no dependable way of intellectually discerning the truth value of claims and so he often takes at face value what he is told, particularly when it confirms the authoritarian biases he was raised with. He is the perfect target of literalist apologetics. He has almost no defenses against it. We are among the few people in his life who can speak to another way of understanding and viewing the world. He respects us, but he constantly disbelieves anything that contradicts literalism, fundamentalism, and theocracy. He wasn’t raised in liberal democracy and simply does not grasp what it is or why it matters. As a friend with concern, we’ve felt compelled to help him from getting pulled too far into the reactionary darkness.

      The direct reason for this post is that this friend is schizophrenic and has had a hard life, the reason he escaped as a refugee. Before being treated, he heard voices and it led him to being institutionalized for a time. And, interestingly, his grandmother openly spoke with a Jinn, an earth spirit, that no one else could hear. In traditional Islam, supernatural voice-hearing apparently was still common enough to be accepted as normal until quite recently. But apparently that has finally changed and, as in the West, voice-hearers in much of the Islamic world are simply treated as insane or dangerous, to be institutionalized or chained up, made into pariahs or probably sometimes killed.

      We wanted him to understand the implications of religious literalism. Muslims claim to adhere to the Judeo-Christian holy texts, as they do with the Koran. Like Christians, they see the Tanakh as their foundational holy book. We mentioned this murder of children who hear voices, but as typical he doubted it and demanded to see the exact quote. So, we went to dredge it up and decided it needed to be made into a post, as an example that others also might learn from. Literalism is madness that splinters the mind and psychotically disconnects one from reality, along with rending one from a shared humanity. No one is actually a literalist because it’s an impossible and demented aspiration. But the harm of literalism is very much real.

      Anyway, we worry about our friend. He seems so impressionable, but it goes along with what we like about him, as he means well in his sense of faith. He has such a heartfelt sincerity about him with not a trace of guile. He is the most kindhearted person we know. Yet even our college-educated parents are so easily indoctrinated and manipulated by the weaselly rhetoric of reactionary mind viruses. We hate the idea of how the reactionary right takes advantage of those who are the most vulnerable, be it from lack of education and literacy, from overwhelming stress and crippling anxiety, or from sickness and age-related neurocognitive decline. We will always defend our family and friends, to the best of our ability, from those who seek to do them harm. It’s the very least we can do.

  1. Perhaps observing from “outside”, this is a quite interesting perspective. However, I very much agree with the observation that a dependence upon anachronistic ideological consistency for social solutions can simply lead to absurdities. Back in November of 2017, I wrote an article titled, “Hell”, after attending a local Republican Party meeting where I observed that a significant number of attendees (perhaps amplified by their volume) who’d adopted some kind of reactionary version of Christianity as their ideological perspective seemed just fine with the idea of mass murder. And it didn’t escape me that they were also circling around Donald Trump as their savior.

    Raised with a typically “Japanese” sense of ethic, I’m neither here nor there on the idea of “religion”, which tends to be approached from a more existential perspective in modern Japanese culture. So it strikes me that there’s ultimately a pragmatic aspect to living in a just and decent society; and that if one’s faith doesn’t line up with that reality, then a person might want to ask his or her self, “Why?” I think most people who can muster up even a modicum of objectivity can discern whether or not a perspective or an act reflects helpfulness and compassion versus vindictiveness and destruction. And more often than not, it seems the usually fearful appeals to justification of the latter tend to revolve around someone ready to lead his flock right into the pit of despair.

    Good wishes to you.

    • We saw your comment when you posted it. But we just now noticed that we never responded back. Accept our apologies. We try to at least acknowledge people when the leave a comment. As for your specific words here, we appreciate the addition of your thoughts and observations. Now to the meat of the matter.

      Reactionary Christianity is a humdinger. It obviously has little to do with the New Testament. Most often when looking for support, fundies almost always turn to the Old Testament. That is quite telling, to our mind. For a Christian, when there is a conflict between the two testaments, the words and actions of Jesus and the first Christians (e.g., Paul) should always be prioritized and emphasized. But obviously, that is not what the fundies do. And of course, that is the main point we were making above.

      Yet from the reactionary perspective, there is nothing inconsistent about this. Their ideological idol is authoritarianism. The only consistency required of authoritarianism is the submission and subordination to the voice authorization of authority figures in one’s group, even or especially when a right-wing leader is himself inconsistent (e.g., Donald trump). Consistency of beliefs, principles, and values; consistency to any given text, even a ‘Holy Text’; all of that is irrelevant and only to be used as convenient. Authoritarianism doesn’t require mass murder, but certainly authoritarians aren’t opposed to it. The New Testament offers no such rationalization. That is why they ignore it in quoting the Old Testament instead.

      From our perspective, this makes such fundies more to be Jews than Christians, since they primarily depend on the Jewish Tanakh, if they ignore the Jewish oral law that in the ancient world was considered equal to the written law. Whereas the Gospels and Epistles are mostly used as window dressing. Indeed, the Tanakh does advocate and demonstrate mass murder, often as commanded by Yahweh. That is precisely why the original New Testament canon was formed, basically the same as we still have. It’s originator was Marcion, an early church father turned heretic. Having been in the Pauline tradition emphasizing God as love, his purpose for the New Testament was to irrevocably prove that it wasn’t only a new religion but, more importantly, a different god.

      Jesus never would’ve commanded people to commit mass murder, much less have commanded parents to kill their own children for daring to listen to God and honestly share what they heard. Even when people were possessed by demons or committed sins, he never advocated murder; going so far as interfering with an execution commanded by religious leaders in following the Torah. Indeed, the Old Testament praises and glorifies centuries of bloodshed and brutality. Jesus said he came to fulfil the Law, not replace it. But his actions belie his true intentions. He broke many of the ten commandments; he did so openly, brazenly, and intentionally in order to provoke.

      The point is that the ten commandments were now moot. They didn’t need to be replaced because they no longer had any significance and relevance. The old law was based on fear and terror; and it had long been legalistic in practice. Jesus’ message was something entirely else, the supposed spirit of the law. The old law also was obsessed about cleanliness and entirely dependent on careful strictures and practices, something that Jesus dismissed on numerous occasions. That is where we get to hypocrisy. Jesus criticized the scribes and pharisees on this account. The only purpose of religion, in Jesus’ eyes, was loving God and humanity; no matter what scripture said or tradition demanded. If the religious betrayed this, then that was the worst sin. In their punitive hate, this is the sin of modern day fundies as well.

      Besides, the rules and proscriptions were so numerous in the written and oral Torah that it was literally impossible for anyone to follow all of them all of the time. This is why literalists are less literalist than they’d like to admit, in cherry-picking what they adhere to. A common example is that the old law judged both homosexuality and eating shellfish as abominations, as equal sins. Yet few, if any, Christians preach on street corners about the evils of shellfish, much less sending their shellfish-eating children to deconversion therapy. There are probably hundreds of such restrictions and commandments that literalists ignore, far more than the number they follow.

      “A little background may be helpful here: Jews at the time of Jesus believed that both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah were transmitted directly from God to Moses on Mount Sinai. This belief is still today a central tenant of faith for Orthodox Jews, while Conservative Jews, and to a greater extent, Reform Jews today see themselves as empowered to formulate their own interpretations — much in the same way as Jesus did.

      “The Oral Law was put into writing between 200-220 AD and is known as the Mishnah. The Mishnah, in the tractate Shabbat, defines how the Sabbath is to be observed, and specifically forbids carrying things on the Sabbath — like, for example, mats. The Mishnah also contains the instructions on ceremonial hand washing that we discussed earlier. While these are additional ceremonial practices added on top of biblical cleanliness laws (and as we have seen, Jesus breaks with both this added tradition and with the cleanliness laws), the Sabbath regulations found in the Mishnah are, in contrast, an example of how Judaism understood and interpreted the Sabbath law.

      “We might compare this to how the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution. We do not simply look at the Constitution alone, but at how it has been interpreted in these Supreme Court rulings. This dictates how our laws are practiced. In the same way the Oral Law or Mishnah defined how the Sabbath was to be practiced, and Jesus would have been well aware that telling this man to carry his mat was clearly a violation of this. Jesus does not do this because he was unaware or even indifferent to the Oral Law. He does this to provoke. That is why he healed on the Sabbath in the first place. He could have easily waited one day to heal the man. […]

      “Again we see that the priority of Jesus is always on people’s needs and on acts of love. These supersede biblical laws and commands. If Jesus sees a person in need, he heals them, and he does not give a flip if that is a violation of the biblical law because the whole point of the law as Jesus saw it is to lead us to loving action. Jesus is not willing to wait one single day, and does not care that doing this makes people mad enough to kill him. In fact, he repeatedly seeks out this confrontation.

      “So the answer to the question of whether Jesus broke with concrete biblical commands is clearly, “Yes, he did so repeatedly.” In addition to those mentioned here, Jesus also declined to participate in the execution of a woman caught in adultery (which the law commands), and instead forgives her. Note that there is no possibility for forgiveness for intentional sins in the Torah and its sacrificial system.

      “However, as noted earlier, Jesus would have adamantly insisted that in all of this breaking of laws, he was keeping Torah. Here it comes down to our approach to Scripture. Jesus is by no means a legalist, and therefore sees no problem with breaking particular commands so long as people’s needs and love are being promoted. Doing this is how Jesus understood the fulfillment of Torah. The Pharisees in contrast had an approach to Scripture that assumed that the law should be kept, and that even if people seem to be hurt by this, Scripture should still be put first. Their view is basically, “The Bible says it, so that settles it.”

      “In a great many ways, the way many of us have learned to read the Bible is a lot more reflective of the approach of the Pharisees than it is of Jesus (and somewhat ironically, Reform Judaism has an approach to Scripture that is quite reflective of the approach of Jesus, and not of the Pharisees). The reason I object to the argument that Jesus was only breaking with “traditions of men” and not with the Bible itself is because this strongly implies that all we need to do is find the right source — the Bible — and then we can just blindly trust it. That is categorically not what we see Jesus doing. We instead see him continually questioning and challenging Scripture and how it was interpreted and practiced, always doing so in the name of love.

      “We need to learn from Jesus how to do this ourselves. This is of course not easy. Making moral deliberations, deciding right from wrong, is hard work — especially if you have been taught in church that you are incapable of doing so, as many of us have been.”

      • Thank you for the thoughtful response.

        As I mentioned above, I look in from the outside. It’s not that I dismiss either the significance or the potential value in faith; rather, I just don’t share in most of what has emerged from history. Lifted from my own article, “…my would be proselytizer failed to recognize that the statement wouldn’t hold much sway with someone who didn’t already share in the faith.”

        My observation was simply that ethical systems derived from faith have the potential to be misdirected and/or manipulated when people are looking for easy answers to difficult questions. And I observe that this is especially the case when the problem is really something closer to home, when it becomes less cognitively dissonant to blame something other than one’s own character flaws, social group, or failed thinking. Eric Hoffer’s 1951, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements,” had much to say about the “religion-like” appeal of mass-movements to such people, explaining a great deal about why and how they can merge and morph into and through one another.

        The appeal can be familial or tribal, identifying one’s self within the bias-confirming safety of a larger community where values and norms become dictated by an ever-present collective. Centralized ideas become doctrine, normalized and reinforced through repeated messages, propaganda, coercion and proselytization. Rational thought becomes replaced by faith, making appeals to pre-existing beliefs a good target for recruiting followers. But Hoffer also thought that these kinds of mass movements depend less upon a “belief” in a supernatural “God”, and more upon a unifying belief in a supernatural-like and somehow foreign “devil” as a convenient place in which to blindly focus a collective’s hatred and followers’ self-loathings. Consequently, it’s more effective to blame homosexuals as opposed to shellfish for the world’s problems, hence that picking and choosing of aspects of doctrine.

        So I do see a big difference between people whose beliefs focus on the positive messages of their faiths such as love and compassion for others, as compared to people who see a religious justification for acts of deprivation, violence or warfare. One one hand might be a group of Sikhs praising God by handing out food to the poor of other faiths, while on the other hand could be WWII Japanese-nationalism inspired soldiers engaging in the mass-murder of “others”. They may both appeal to religious justifications, but they are not the same thing. The former lift themselves spiritually through an ethic of alleviating suffering in a society in which one participates. The latter is simply an arbitrary justification for that ever-present collective to acquire resources through human suffering. Consequently, one provides the sincere individual with a constructive means for the seeking of meaning in life, while the other merely arises from individuals’ subjugations to the wants of a “soulless” collective.

        What interests me most as an “outside observer” is how people end up at either place, or what aspect of character or “moral compass” leads to the recognition, appeal and pursuit of social participation and harmony versus social-group conflict? …hence my second paragraph above.

        • I agree with the distinction you make in your second to last paragraph. I’d emphasize that point and push it to a further degree. Obviously, not all collectivism, communalism, and tribalism is authoritarianism. The Piraha tribe, although based on conforming to strong social norms of social identity, is also extremely egalitarian and non-authoritarian. Yes, to be Piraha has a specific sense that is commonly understood. That means to do what Piraha don’t do is to not be Piraha.

          For example, the Piraha say that Piraha don’t kill; and so when one time a Piraha killed someone in another tribe, that person left the tribe. But no one had to punish and banish them. The Piraha have no laws, no court systems, and no authority figures. The individual basically banished himself because, probably even in his own mind, he now knew he was no longer Piraha. He simply didn’t belong there.

          Authoritarianism, as enforced social order, is not required. The Piraha won’t even spank their children. Additionally, they don’t have anything resembling theism or religion of any sort; no gods and devils; no rituals, theology, mythology, origin stories, afterlife beliefs, etc. They do have experiences of ‘spirits’ and something akin to ‘possession’, though; just no clear belief system surrounding such things.

          Humans are naturally social. But that social nature distorted as authoritarianism only first appeared about 3 millennia ago, with no evidence of it prior to that time. Right before the Bronze Age collapse, there was the emergence of something different than had existed since hominids began evolving. Suddenly, there rose large empires, stratified hierarchy, high inequality, written laws, court systems, standing armies, long distance warfare, mass enslavement, brutality toward prisoners, etc.

          Nearly all of the great civilizations of that era quickly fell like dominoes. Then a dark age followed. And out of that came the later Axial Age prophets who were responding to not only that growing authoritarianism within the social structure but also in how it infects the mind and soul. To return to Jesus, not only did he never form an organized religion, he actively attacked the ethnic religion into which he was born; challenging authoritarianism at every turn.

          That gets to your last point, ‘how people end up at either place’. Jesus’ message remains radical to this day, far more radically egalitarian in many ways than even the average modern liberal. That radicalism has echoed down the centuries ever since, from the medieval peasants’ revolts to the English Civil War, from the early modern revolutions to the Civil Rights movement. There are those with ears to hear this message and those without. Why that difference? Much of my writing is dedicated to exploring and explaining that.

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