Moral Decline in US?

http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20091106/OPINION05/911060304/Trends-show-moral-decline

A quick websearch gave some data showing a high correlation between self-claimed church attendance and belief in bibilical literalism. And 1/3 of Americans claim to take the Bible literally.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/27682/onethird-americans-believe-bible-literally-true.aspx

But that is all in the context that apparently around half of the people claiming to attend church are lying and the fact that Americans know very little about what is actually in the Bible.

http://reasonweekly.com/reasonweekly-originals/are-americans-faking-religiosity

So, “literalism” as used here is a highly subjective term. Going by an ABC poll, Americans are more likely to consider certain parts of the Bible literal than other parts.

http://abcnews.go.com/images/pdf/947a1ViewsoftheBible.pdf

Replying to dezzy037:

Regardless of how many of us feel about religion. It is true that the morality of this nation is declining. And history HAS shown that this leads to the destruction of nations, empires, world powers, etc.

Prove your claim of declining morality with cited data. The data I’ve seen shows no general trend of declining morality. Some factors associated with morality are improving and some are declining, but there is no overall pattern.

And prove a causal (not mere correlation) that history HAS shown this leads to destruction. Of course, when a culture is in decline, morality would be in decline by definition. That doesn’t prove causation nor does it explain the specific causal relationship.

Take the Roman Empire as an example. As Roman culture became increasingly Christianized, it also was growing weaker from within despite Christians having absolute control. When Rome was sacked, it was ruled by Christians and the German tribes who sacked it were also Christians. 

– – –

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/morality-religion-and-science/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/glenn-becks-anti-atheist-rant/

Let me share specific statistics.  From the Wikipedia article on Crime in the United States:

Since 1964, the U.S. crime rate has increased by as much as 350%, and over 11 million crimes were reported in the year 2007 alone.[10] Crime in the United States has fluctuated considerably over the course of the last half-century, rising significantly in the late 1960s and 1970s, peaking in the 1980s and then decreasing considerably in the 1990s.  

So, almost in direct correspondence crime rates increased massively right after “In God We Trust” became our national motto, and it was declared as such right in the middle of the Baby Boom.  The Baby Boomers grew up bottle fed on this post-war patriotic religiosity.  How did it affect them?  From the Wikipedia article on Baby Boom Generation:

In 1993, Time magazine reported on the religious affiliations of baby boomers, stating that about 42% of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, a third had never strayed from church, and one-fourth of boomers were returning to religious practice. The boomers returning to religion were “usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality.”[9]  

Now, compare that to Generation X that followed.  Generation X grew up with less overt religiosity.  As older GenXers were coming into positions of power during the 90s, they began influencing society and they helped the technological boom.  What else happened?  Crime began to decrease for the first time since “In God We Trust” became our national motto.  Our national allegiance to God led to almost a half century of sky-rocketing crime.  There is no correlation between religious moralizing done by conservative Christians and actual moral behavior.  From religioustolerance.org:

There is consensus that the overall U.S. divorce rate had a brief spurt after WW2, followed by a decline, then started rising in the 1960s and even more quickly in the 1970s, then leveled off [in the] 1980s and [has since] declined slightly.”   

Those are general statistics and there are many factors to consider.  Still, like crime, divorce rates increased after “In God We Trust” became our national motto.  

The slogan: “The family that prays together, stays together” is well known. There has been much anecdotal evidence that has led to “unsubstantiated claims that the divorce rate for Christians who attended church regularly, pray together or who meet other conditions is only 1 or 2 percent. 8 Emphasis ours]. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family said that for “…born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together…” experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages — or 0.00256 percent. 9A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:

  11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
  25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
  Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented: “While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages. 

According to Divorce Magazine, divorce rates peaked in 1981 and are presently at the lowest they’ve been in a long time.  Not only are divorce rates the highest following the post-war patriotic religiosity but highest amongst conservative Christians who preach family values.  More from religioustolerance.org:

Barna’s results verified findings of earlier polls: that conservative Protestant Christians, on average, have the highest divorce rate, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all.  George Barna commented that the results raise “questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” The data challenge “the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage.“ Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said:

“In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. …Just being born again is not a rabbit’s foot.” 

Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been “saved.”

Furthermore, atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all!

Age group % have been divorced
Baby boomers (33 to 52 years of age) 34%
Builders (53 to 72 years of age) 37%
Seniors (above 72 years of age) 18%

 Many seniors were married in the late 40’s or early 50’s at a time when divorce rates were much lower than they are today.

People specifically married prior to the Congressional declaration of “In God We Trust” have the lowest divorce rates and it has only begun to decrease again in recent years.What about teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?  From the Wikipedia article on Teen pregnancy:

In the United States the topic of sex education is the subject of much contentious debate. Some schools provide “abstinence-only” education and virginity pledges are increasingly popular. A 2004 study by Yale and Columbia Universities found that fully 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence have premarital sex anyway.[57] 

The conservative Christian belief in teaching abstinence and nothing but abstinence is a complete failure, just as much of a failure as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.  Schools with abstinence only programs have the highest rates of pregnancy and STDs.  Of course, some of this is caused by the sexual revolution and sexuality in the media, but my point is that it was the patriotic religiosity that preceeded the sexual revolution and contributed to the social atmosphere that led to the it.  But how does this compare to other countries?  From the Wikipedia article on Adolescent sexuality in the United States:

Every year, an estimated 1 in 4 sexually active teens contracts an STD,[9] and teen pregnancy is 2 to 10 times more prevalent in the United States than in other similarly developed countries.[10] 

The United States is the most conservatively religious industrial nation and yet has one of the highest rates of certain immoral behaviors.  Obviously, righteous moralizing is far from helpful.

The percentage of teenagers who report they are currently sexually active has also been dropping since 1991. In 1997, only 37% of females and 33% of males who reported ever having had sexual intercourse said that they had sex in the past 3 months.[28] By 2005, the overall percentage of teenagers reporting that they were currently sexually active was down to 33.9%.[1] 

So, the generations following the Boomers were raised with less traditional Christian values.  Atheism, agnosticism, and “religious nones” have been increasing with the post-Boomer generations.  Directly correlated with this are the rates of decreasing extra-marital sexual behavior among teens.  The ironic fact is that, even though abstinence had recently been increasing, abstinence only sex education has been far from proven effective.  From the Wikipedia article on Abstinence-only sex education:

Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association,[16] the American Medical Association,[17] the National Association of School Psychologists,[18] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[19] the American College Health Association,[19] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[20] and the American Public Health Association,[21] which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.The AMA “urges schools to implement comprehensive… sexuality education programs that… include an integrated strategy for making condoms available to students and for providing both factual information and skill-building related to reproductive biology, sexual abstinence, sexual responsibility, contraceptives including condoms, alternatives in birth control, and other issues aimed at prevention of pregnancy and sexual transmission of diseases… [and] opposes the sole use of abstinence-only education…”[17]The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated successful outcomes with regard to delayed initiation of sexual activity or use of safer sex practices… Programs that encourage abstinence as the best option for adolescents, but offer a discussion of HIV prevention and contraception as the best approach for adolescents who are sexually active, have been shown to delay the initiation of sexual activity and increase the proportion of sexually active adolescents who reported using birth control.”[20]On August 4, 2007, the British Medical Journal published an editorial concluding that there is “no evidence” that abstinence-only sex education programs “reduce risky sexual behaviours, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy” in “high income countries”.[22]A comprehensive review of 115 program evaluations published in November 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on both abstinence and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior. The same study found no strong evidence that abstinence-only programs delayed the initiation of sex, hastened the return to abstinence, or reduced the number of sexual partners.[23][24] According to the study author:

“Even though there does not exist strong evidence that any particular abstinence program is effective at delaying sex or reducing sexual behavior, one should not conclude that all abstinence programs are ineffective. After all, programs are diverse, fewer than 10 rigorous studies of these programs have been carried out, and studies of two programs have provided modestly encouraging results. In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.” 

Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States, is a notable critic of abstinence-only sex education. She was among the interviewees Penn & Teller included in their Bullshit! episode on the subject.[25]Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that abstinence-only sex education leads to the opposite of the intended results by spreading ignorance regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of contraceptives to prevent both infections and pregnancy.[26]

These are just trends and it’s hard to know which correlations may or may not imply causation.  The data isn’t always clear and much more study is needed to understand which programs work best, but my basic point remains true.  Simply put, religious moral claims have no basis in real-world scientifically proven facts.  From the Wikipedia article on Sex education:

Abstinence-only sex education tells teenagers that they should be sexually abstinent until marriage and does not provide information about contraception. In the Kaiser study, 34% of high-school principals said their school’s main message was abstinence-only.The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject. In the U.S., teenage birth rates had been dropping since 1991, but a 2007 report showed 3% increase from 2005 to 2006.[28] From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of teens reporting that they had ever had sex or were currently sexually active showed small declines.[29] However, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest rates of STIs among teens in the industrialized world.[30] Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the vast majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion.[31][32][33]Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the American Psychological Association,[34] the American Medical Association,[35] the National Association of School Psychologists,[36] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[37] the American Public Health Association,[38] the Society for Adolescent Medicine[39] and the American College Health Association,[39] argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.On the other hand, proponents of abstinence-only sex education object to curricula that fail to teach their standard of moral behavior; they maintain that a morality based on sex only within the bounds of marriage is “healthy and constructive” and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy, and harmful practices. Within the last decade, the federal government has encouraged abstinence-only education by steering over a billion dollars to such programs.[40][…] In a meta-analysis, DiCenso et al. have compared comprehensive sex education programs with abstinence-only programs.[49] Their review of several studies shows that abstinence-only programs did not reduce the likelihood of pregnancy of women who participated in the programs, but rather increased it.

The most significant fact here is that there is evidence that abstinence-only sex education may lead to increased teen sexual activity.  The facts speak for themselves. 

– – –

http://www.wired.com/culture/education/magazine/17-09/st_sinmaps?mbid=wir_newsltr

http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_are_religious_societies_healthier.html

http://www.holysmoke.org/hs00/prison.htm

http://www.skepticfiles.org/american/prison.htm

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm

http://www.usnews.com/blogs/erbe/2009/09/18/too-much-religion-leads-to-high-teen-pregnancy-rates.html

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article571206.ece

http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence

http://www.humanreligions.info/intelligence.html

http://hypnosis.home.netcom.com/iq_vs_religiosity.htm

Debate b/t Religion and Science: Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Integralists

 – – –

FIRST COMMENT

This response profoundly misunderstands Karen Armstrong’s arguments.  This isn’t a fair portrayal.  As far as I understand her arguments, the criticisms presented here don’t seem to touch upon what she actually writes about.

Armstrong’s books are very scholarly.  She isn’t against rationality and science.  What she supports is making subtle intellectual distinctions in order to create a rational context to discuss otherwise non-rational issues.  She backs her arguments with historical evidence which is the best one can do when trying to analyze the development of religion and society.  And nothing she states contradicts any known scientific facts or theories.

Armstrong offers great insight into the religious mind.  Her explanation of the origins of literalist fundamentalism make more sense to me than any argument I’ve come across.

Her argument is that a new way of thinking about religion arose with the Axial Age.  In particular, this involved the ability to think metaphorically.  But I don’t think she disagrees that it was initially (and for many centuries to come) a style of thinking limited mostly to elite theologians.  It was only with the Enlightenment that the the Axial Age ideals started to take hold more clearly and science provided a new paradigm by which metaphorical thinking could be contrasted.

In response to science, the idea of religious literalism arose as entirely distinct from allegorical interpretation.  It’s not that literalist thinking didn’t exist to an extent earlier, but it only became an ideology unto itself in modern times.

Armstrong isn’t an enemy of atheism.  The only thing she is an enemy of is closed-mindedeness and simplistic thinking.  Her criticism of the New Atheists isn’t a criticism of atheism in general.  She is simply pointing out that certain arguments made by some popular atheists aren’t the best arguments to be made.  Her main issue is that, by talking about religion in literalist terms, the atheist just plays into the hands of literalist fundamentalists.  She wants to undermine religious literalism at it’s base.  She wants to show fundamentalism for what it is by showing how it developed.

 – – –

SECOND COMMENT

We seem to be talking past each other or something.

And you apparently have me mistaken for someone else.  I’m far from being a religious apologist.  I can’t stand apologetics and I harshly criticize anyone who uses it.  I do have some interest in religion and I study religious scholarship, but I’m not an overly religious person as I usually think of myself as an agnostic.  I look for insight where ever I can find it whether from religion, science, psychology or whatever.  But I especially appreciate quality scholarship.
 
Straw-men arguments? I have no clue what you’re talking about.  My basic argument was that you didn’t understand Armstrong’s ideas, and I then explained my own understanding of her work.  Have you read her books?  If you haven’t, then I don’t know why you have such strong opinions based on such limited info.  Or if you have, you need to reinforce your argument with more specifically quoted examples.
 
“Of course, Armstrong doesn’t say she is against science. I never claimed this. She is completely misrepresenting it’s place in history, that’s all.”
 
Well, so far, you’ve mentioned science 25 times and mostly in reference to Armstrong.  Going by your own words: Your argument is that she undermines and blames and ignores science, that she doesn’t care about scientfic facts, and that she is dangerously usurping science for a liberal anti-scientific agenda.  If this isn’t your true opinion, then you need to edit your previous statements or else better explain what you actually meant by these words.
 
“I am amused at how you built your assumptions into the statement while cloaking Armstrong’s revisionism in the language of tolerance.”
 
All statements have assumptions built into them.  My argument was fairly simple and straightforward.  I wasn’t cloaking anything.
 
“Firstly, she is not so much making ‘intellectual distinctions’ as she is making stuff up.”
 
Generalized judgments and dismissals aren’t helpful.  Give me precise quoted examples of her making stuff.   Show in detail that your allegation is correct.  Explain how her supposed “making stuff up” disproves her entire argument and undermines all of her scholarly respectability.
 
“Secondly, your implicit assumption that there is no other rational context to discuss such issues is wrong.”
 
No such assumption was implied.  I’m fond of many other rational contexts.  I wasn’t arguing that Armstrong has the market cornered on rational contexts.  She isn’t even an author I obsessively read or even think about that much.
 
“There is one very powerful rational context that is always relevant- objective reality.”
 
I like objective reality.  Are you implying that my arguments or Armstrong’s arguments deny or contradict objective reality?
 
“No preferential treatment of facts is necessary, thanks a lot (read up on sociobiology- really read- to get a rational context for understanding religious fundamentalism).”
 
I don’t understand your complaint.  Preferential treatment of facts isn’t necessary, but emphasizing the importance of facts is always a nice thing.  And, yes, I do read up on many fields of study.  In particular, the relationship between biology and behavior is a topic I often read about.
 
“Literalist fundamentalism was always there.”
 
It seems we’re defining literalism differently.  I can’t assess your definition as I don’t know what facts and theories you’re basing it on.  As far as I can tell, you seem to be using a very general and vague sense of literalism.  In terms of cognitive ability, however, literalistic thinking is more narrowly defined.
 
“Religion is the political remnant of a system of belief that told a narrative of factual events. For modern religious moderates, when it comes to everyday issues they can understand that there is such a thing as the real world and there is the emotional world, but when it comes to religion they forgo this distinction.”
 
It’s not that all fundamentalists dismiss this distinction.  Many of them simply don’t understand it.
 
The definition of literalism I’m using is from a developmental perspective.  On the personal level, people have the potential to learn how to make clear rational distinctions at a particular stage of development, but this depends on the person’s intelligence and their social environment.  As such, development can be stalled or even permanently stunted.  Plus, integrating this ability into all aspects of one’s life involves even further stages of cognitive development that are even less common.  There are also theories that discern stages of development in societies.  A person is only likely to develop to the extent that most others have developed in their society.  Our modern understanding of literal facts didn’t exist thousands of years ago.  Even when this understanding began to develop, it was a minority of the population that grasped it.
 
I openly admit that it’s hard to figure out the cognitive processes of ancient people.  But plausible theories can be formed using historical data, anthropology, psychology and neurology.  Anyways, my main point isn’t that all ancient people didn’t have some basic sense of an external reality that they perceived as being separate from their own subjectivity.  I’m simply pointing out that religious literalism as we know it today has become influenced by a scientific worldview which wasn’t the case in the past.
 
“Please spare me the Axial age BS. It is a half-baked hypothesis that relies on amateurish post hoc reasoning. Such ideas are designed to appeal to those who have already made up their minds. In this case, it is the mind of the religious moderate who desires above all to find a way to make all the religions work together in harmony.”
 
You have many biased assumptions about many things.  Half-baked?  Amateurish post hoc reasoning?  Please do explain!
 
Armstrong didn’t simply invent the idea of the Axial Age as it (along with similar ideas) has been discussed by many scholars.  It’s common for scholars to analyze history according to ages of socio-cultural development such as tool-making, agriculture, city-states, etc.  In terms of the Axial Age, there was a specific time period when many cultures were developing written language and when certain new ideas arose such as monotheism/monism and variations of the golden rule. 
 
The term Axial Age is merely a way of labelling and describing a broad period of cultural transformation.  That such a transformation happened is a matter of historical record, but the cause of it is a complex issue.  Even though cultural transmission is one possibility, it’s implausible as being the sole cause as there were many separate cultures experiencing similar changes at around the same time.  It is true that correlation doesn’t prove causation, but obviously something was causing massive change.
 
“To understand cultural patterns on such large scales one needs to take into account a lot more real variables that Armstrong can grasp.”
 
Why do you presume what Armstrong can grasp?  Do you personally know her and have you scientifically tested her cognitive abilities? 
 
She is a religious scholar.  That is what she is an expert in and so that is what she focuses on.  Why would you expect a scholar of a specific field to take into account all possible variables including those outside their field?  Yes, there are other areas of scholarship that are relevant.  So what?  That doesn’t disprove Armstrong’s contribution to her area of scholarship. 
 
Her ideas are just another possible piece of the puzzle, but I’m all for trying to understand the whole puzzle.  For that reason, I turn to such things as Integral theory in order to get a conceptual framework to put the pieces together.  Even so, you can never know that you’ve completely figured it out because theories about human cultural development are impossible to scientifically prove beyond all doubt.
 
“For example, briefly, the ‘ability’ to think metaphorically evolved at least 70,000 years ago, but possibly up to 300,000 years ago. However, the ability to perceive our world around us evolved with the first intelligent ancestors we ever had. For intelligent biological organisms to survive, they needed to be convinced that certain things were true. Metaphor as a semantic tool is pointless when faced with a hungry lion. Literalism is the default setting.”
 
I’m not using literalism as referring to the perception of external reality, though there are theories that propose that early humans didn’t clearly distinguish between internal and external experience (such as Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism or Lloyd deMause’s theory of schizotypal personality).  Instead, what I am focusing on here is the cognitive ability to think in terms of black and white absolutes.  This is how a person cognitively processes perceptual experience rather than the process of perception itself.  So, metaphor as you are using it seems to be equated with mythological thinking which according to some theories of development represents an earlier stage of development.
 
“It is an insult to say that these people did not believe that stuff literally.”
 
I’m not saying that and I don’t think that Armstrong comes to that conclusion.  For example, consider Christianity.  Some of the earliest theologians relied heavily on allegorical interpretations.  Yes, they believed they were true but not necessarily true in a physical sense.  Christianity arose at the end of the Axial Age when the distinction between allegorical truth and objective facts was becoming more common.
 
In a sense, even these early Christians believed their allegorical interpretations were literally true for they conceived the spiritual realm as being the highest truth.  Still, they were making a distinction which is different than the earliest religions where the spiritual and physical were inseparable (and so mind and world were connected through magical thinking).  Nonetheless, even this conflation doesn’t deny that they may have had some understanding of reality as external to them.  If a hungry lion attacked, they would defend themselves against it.  But afterwards they probably would interpret it as an animistic encounter with a spiritual being.
 
I don’t know if I’m communicating this in a way that you understand.  I’ve been studying these kinds of ideas for years and I can’t claim to have it all figured out.  It’s a very complex topic involving many different theories by many different scholars in many different fields.  However, I often return to Ken Wilber’s Integral theory as it connects more of the puzzle pieces together than any other theory I’ve come across, though I don’t agree with everything he claims.  It’s first and foremost a descriptive model, but to the degree it accurately explains objective facts it can be considered potentially predictive in that all individuals and all societies tend to follow certain patterns of development.  According to Wilber’s use of Spiral Dynamics (which represents only one line of development), there are distinct stages.
 
 – The earliest stages see the world in terms of animism and magical thinking, and so mythology is “literally” a part of the world.
 – After the earliest stages, humans began to develop a more individual sense of consciousness meaning that that the mind was showing some independence from the environment (i.e., people could think about rather than merely react to the world).  Likewise, spiritual beings also were perceived as being more clearly distinct from the world and from human individuality.  The sense of something being “literally” true meant that it existed outside of mere human experience.
 – The stage where “literal” thinking shows itself most clearly is when humans start emphasizing binary opposites that are polarized into absolute right and wrong, absolute true and false.  Self and other become absolutely distinct.
 – After this stage, experiential data and evidence take on greater value.  Standards and methods are developed to ascertain what is objectively true.  What is “literally” true is what is verifiable.  
 – This is where postmodernism and cultural relativism come in.  “Literal” truth becomes just one perspective and what is considered true is whatever allows for and includes the most perspectives.  As such, science and religion are perspectives and there is neither is inherently superior to the other in that there simply separate paradigms of reality.  However, within multiple perspectives there is a sense that some things are universally true and I suppose that this might be taken as “literally” true in some way.  This is primarily where Armstrong is arguing from, but I don’t know if this is where her thinking ends.
 – Beyond all of this, further stages of development are proposed where inclusion of different perspectives is allowed while maintaining a meta-perspective to discern the value of different perspectives.  These higher stages supposedly emphasize the ability to understand the different stages and different perspectives toward practical ends.  Something is “literally” true to the extent that it effectively works towards some clearly defined goal.  So, there would be no singular truth per se as there are many goals.  These goals aren’t seen as necessarily in conflict for it would be considered most optimal to find where lesser goals can be directed towards more encompassing goals.
 
By the way, this isn’t mere theory.  Spiral Dynamics was formulated according to research Clare Graves did, and Ken Wilber correlated it with other research and other models.  My point being that Armstrong’s arguments can be placed in this larger context of diverse scholarship.  Whether it’s absolutely true or not, time will tell.  But for certain this does offer a plausible explanation of cultural development that clarifies the relationship between religion and science.
 
– – –
 
THIRD COMMENT

 “After the publishing of this response,the commenter responded by ignoring my entire rational argument in favor of more confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias simply means that people tend to seek confirmation to their own view which is something everyone does to an extent, but it’s generally used to describe extreme examples of someone biased thinking.  However, making this allegation against an opponent can just as well be used polemically to dismiss another person’s view and evidence.  In this case, Kamal’s allegation of confirmation bias appears to be an example of confirmation bias.

“My statements were twisted in typical religious fashion, using the all-too-common religious dance between objective and subjective concepts in order to obscure naturalistic truth.”

Twisted?  I merely pointed out Kamal’s exact words.  I didn’t even take them out of context.  Anyone can look at his comments and see for themselves what he wrote (assuming he hasn’t since edited out these statements).

Typical religious fashion?  I presented carefully explained rational arguments supported by diverse theories and evidence.  All of the references I made can be found within the mainstream intellectual tradition.  Many of the ideas I was using for context are taught in universities and in some cases are based on social sciences research.  If Kamal considers this “typical religious fashion”, he must interact with some very intelligent and well-read religious people.  I wish he would give me their contact details because I’d love to meet such intellectually respectable believers.

“I am not interested in arguing with religious people since there are plenty of more useful things that I can occupy myself with.”

I explained to him that I’m not religious.  Some atheists can’t differentiate being interested in religion and believing in religion.  Anyone who has studied religious scholarship in any depth would quickly realize that many religious scholars aren’t religious believers.

“The writing of this article, contrary to what religious folk may think, has nothing to do with actually arguing against religious folk and everything to do with ridiculing Armstrong’s incoherent religious apologetics.”

He states his true intentions.  He isn’t interested in actual debate no matter how intelligent.  His main (and maybe only) purpose is to ridicule Armstrong because he has categorized her as a mere believer.  As his perception of her opposes his atheistic ideology, she must be attacked at all costs even if it means sacrificing intellectual honesty.  Polemically winning the debate by silencing one’s opponent is more important than the open puruit of truth.

“Such ridicule is well within my right, and I believe it is essential to the process of developing a strong freethought response to institutionalized superstition.”

Free speech is definitely everyone’s right, and it’s his right to choose whose comments he wants to post.  However, if his purpose is genuinely to promote freethought, then he should support the free speech of others rather than attempting to silence disagreement.  New understanding comes from the meeting of different perspectives.  Freethought isn’t about any particular ideology or theory.  Freethought is dependent on respect for open discussion and respect for all rational viewpoints.  His opinion that my viewpoint is wrong simply doesn’t matter from the perspective of freethought.  An intellectual argument deserves an intellectual response… which is what Kamal refused to do and so he loses any rational justification for calling himself a defender of freethought.

“In view of this, I have decided to not publish any further comments form religious folk. If you think you have won the debate, good for you. Please continue to feel good about yourself.”

Thank you.  I do feel good about offering you opportunity to have a rational discussion, but it saddens me that you apparently have embraced pseudo-intellectualism.

“We rationalists have our hands full trying to build real moral alternatives to religion and I would rather not waste my time arguing with those who cannot let go of primitive superstitions.”

Primitive superstitions?  Is that the best you can do?

Oh well… 

 – – –

NOTE ON COMMENTS

I posted the first two comments to Ajita Kamal’s blog.

However, the second comment apparently wasn’t allowed to be posted.  I can only assume that Ajita Kamal had no rational response to my dismantling of his argument.  I don’t know if Ajita Kamal is an example of a pseudo-intellectual, but his actions seem to show a lack of intellectual humility and maybe honesty.  After my comment was posted there and not approved, an earlier commenter returned to praise his writing.  He accepted this praise, but didn’t mention my having refuted his criticisms of Karen Armstrong.  Ajita Kamal is the type of ideologue of the New Atheist variety who gives atheism a bad name.

For obvious reasons, I made no attempt to post the third comment to Ajita Kamal’s blog.  Kamal did finally acknowledge in his blog the existence of my comment, but he still didn’t offer any rational response.

 – – –

ABOUT KAREN ARMSTRONG

I’m no expert on Armstrong’s scholarschip, but she is someone I refer to on occasion.  She is highly influential and probably can be considered to have taken up the position of authority that Joseph Campbell once held.  If you don’t like or understand Campbell, then you’ll probably have the same attitude about Armstrong.  Both began as Catholics and both sought a non-literal understanding of religion.

As for Armstrong, she was a nun who became an angry atheist and then later came to accept the label of “freelance monotheist“. 

I usually describe myself, perhaps flippantly, as a freelance monotheist I draw sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham.  I can’t see any one of them as having the monopoly of truth, any one of them as superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius and each its own particular pitfalls and Achilles heels. But recently, I’ve just written a short life [story] of the Buddha and I’ve been enthralled by what he has to say about spirituality, about the ultimate, about compassion and about the necessary loss of ego before you can encounter the divine. And all the great traditions are, in my view, saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences.

My sense is that she just means that she has the sense of something profoundly true, but she is unwilling to making any ideological claims about it.  She separates her scholarship from her experience, but at the same time sees scholarship as a way of exploring possible universal aspects of human experience.  From what I can tell, she isn’t trying to apologetically convince anyone of a particular position.  Her own position is an attitude of openness and acceptance (which I would deem intellectual humility).  She takes her role as scholar very seriously and so her attitude of openness is also an attitude of intellectual curiosity.  She doesn’t seem to start with the position of having anything figured out (either theistically or atheistically), but neither is she resigned to relativism.

What is interesting about Armstrong is how differently people react to her ideas.  Some religious believers agree with ideological atheists in their belief that she is the ultimate enemy (whether of “faith” or of “reason”).  On the other hand, many religious believers, agnostics, atheists, and generally open-minded curious people consider her to be a proponent of freethought and religious insight.  What is clear is that those who disagree with her are forced to come to terms with her very popular scholarship.

FURTHER INFORMATION

If you’re interested in further criticisms of the New Atheists, see these other posts of mine:

Here is a thoughtful criticism of the atheist response to religion:

A Mission to Convert
By H. Allen Orr
The New York Review of Books

And some other interesting blogs, articles, and videos:

http://fora.tv/2008/02/27/Karen_Armstrong_in_Conversation_with_Alan_Jones

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya64kx1U2r8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsZF8I6lrdQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtpF94Fjue4&feature=related

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/05/30/armstrong/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html

http://www.newsweek.com/id/215180

http://300dollarwonder.blogspot.com/2007/01/karen-armstrong-why-atheism-is-in-vouge.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/blog/religionandtheology/2026/is_karen_armstrong_right_was_religion_always_about_belief_or_not

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_science_and_religion

http://www.examiner.com/x-8637-Sacramento-Spirituality-Examiner~y2009m6d9-Theism-and-Skepticism

http://hokai.info/2006/11/where-atheist-revolution-went-wrong.html

http://rationalmorality.info/?p=132

http://karmabuster.gaia.com/blog/2009/5/dennett-dawkins-metaphor-and-much-more

http://julianwalkeryoga.gaia.com/blog/2008/2/interesting_conversation

http://coolmel.gaia.com/blog/2007/12/the_new_atheists_are_people_too

http://sunwalked.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/dawkins-the-fundamentalist-takes-a-left-and-a-right-to-the-chin/

http://www.northernway.org/weblog/?p=301

http://anamchara.com/2009/07/15/the-epistemology-of-post-fundamentalism/

http://anamchara.com/2008/01/04/holy-agnosis/

http://godisnot3guyscom-jeanette.blogspot.com/2009/11/trinity-by-ken-wilber.html

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2007/09/more-on-why-new-atheists-will-fail.html

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/search?q=new+atheists

What is a Mythicist? part 2

I wrote a post a while back that was a response to a blog post by Acharya S (D.M. Murdock).  Here is the link to that post and the link to the post I was responding to.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/08/19/what-is-a-mythicist/

http://tbknews.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-is-mythicist.html

After my initial comment, another commenter just wanted to argue with me.  It was frustrating because the person didn’t even understand that there was actually very little disagreement.  I’m a major fan of Acharya, but some of her fans are a bit too defensive.  I can admire someone and still feel no requirement to subserviently agree with their every thought and opinion.  However, some of Acharya’s fans for some reason are very argumentative and defensive which I personally can find quite annoying.  In discussions, people who would be open to Acharya’s ideas become polarized in opposition partly because of some of her over-zealous fans.  I’ve tried to ignore it, but this discussion on her post was getting to me.

I happened to visit that blog again and noticed she had responded to me.  Even she didn’t understand my perspective which is rather ironic since my review of one of her recent books has the highest rating on Amazon.  So, why am I able write a review that explains Acharya’s ideas so well and yet Acharya can’t understand my view?

If Acharya understood my point, then she probably wouldn’t be disagreeing.  I personally don’t disagree with her general view.  I frankly don’t find my view difficult to understand and so I frankly don’t understand the misunderstanding.  She wrote nothing in her reply to me that actually disagreed with anything I was trying to communicate.  There is an obvious miscommunication.

I’m arguing that there are two issues that are related but not identical.  The scholarship about history informs the scholarhip about mythology and vice versa, but they still can be studied separately.  Neither field is dependent on the other.  If someone doesn’t understand that,  I don’t know how else to explain it.   Maybe the confusion is based in our respective studies.   Acharya wrote that she read widely in mythology and so have I, but we may have focused on different kinds of authors and ideas.  To understand where I’m coming from, someone would probably need to have a detailed comprehension of certain thinkers: Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Karen Armstrong, Patrick Harpur, Ken Wilber, etc.  I’m more interested in the ideas than the history, more interested in the mythology than textual criticism.  My curiosity has drawn me towards the subjects of storytelling, creativity, imagination, and the imaginal.  My interest in history and religious documents is from this perspective.

As I see it, mythology works in parallel with history and yet according to its own mechanisms.  At the same time, history and mythology interact in various ways.  Sometimes history inspires mythology and sometimes mythology interprets history, and it’s impossible to entirely separate the two which is especially true the further one goes back in history.

My main point is that history is secondary to understanding mythology.  I don’t need to disprove a historical argument to prove a mythological argument.  The problem I see in most discussions of biblical scholarship is a lack of subtle insight and a lack of larger context.  Too many people are trying to prove or disprove issues where the data is skimpy on both sides of the argument.  What annoys me is that this ends up just being bickering over details.  People miss the forest for the trees.

The reason it’s dangerous to have one’s arguments rely too heavily on history is that history is never black and white.  We’re forced to assess according to probability.  We have to weigh and measure various documents and weigh and measure the sources (and translations and alterations) of those documents and weigh all of the conflicting evidence.  There is no formula to ascertain a specific probability.  It demands much guesswork and subjective interpretation.  It’s very imprecise.

So, there is no evidence that convinces me of the probability of Jesus existing.  But then again there is no evidence that absolutely disproves Jesus existed.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  And I must admit I feel frustrated that others believe this is the most important issue.  What does matter to me is that if a man named Jesus lived it has little to do with later Christianity.  There may have been a single person who was called or came to be called Jesus and who inspired early Christians, but if such a man existed all relevant details of him have been lost.  Nonetheless, it’s perfectly rational to accept that it’s possible that Jesus actually lived.  I won’t say it’s probable, but neither will I say it’s improbable.  There just is no way to make an objective judgment.

The arguments about the historical proof of Jesus are simply moot.  So, why don’t we just ignore it and focus on more interesting issues which aren’t dependent on it (such as mythology).

I brought up the biblical scholar April DeConick to demonstrate the problem of conflating the debates about history and mythology.  DeConick seems to be a rational, intelligent and educated person.  She is the type of person who should be easy to convince of mythicism, but apparently is wary of it.  My suspicion is that she is wary of it because of how it’s often presented.  She is very far from being a bible-thumping Christian and yet her professional assessment is that Jesus may have existed.  Because of the entangling of mythicism with historical arguments, someone like DeConick ends up judging mythicism based on the historical arguments.  This is very bad news because it could be avoided.  The worth of mythicist arguments doesn’t rely upon any conclusion about history.  DeConick represents the openminded mainstream biblical scholar who is unconvinced about mythicism, but unconvinced because she probably hasn’t studied it in depth.  Part of shifting public opinion is by making one’s actual view clear.  Obviously, mythicists haven’t been entirely successful in explaining their actual position.

There is good reason that mainstream biblical scholars who are open to mythicism such as Robert M. Price also at the same time keep some distance from it.  Price would rather not be identified with a single perspective which I think is a very intelligent attitude.  Like Price, I support Acharya and other mythicists even as I’d rather not be labelled as a mythicist.  I prefer to go where ever the facts take me (along with where my intuition and curiosity take me).  I have no desire to defend a singular position and there is always a weakness to any scholar (whether of the professional or armchair variety) who becomes identified so strongly with a particular argument that they feel the need to defend it against all criticisms even criticisms from potential allies.  The major weakness of mythicists is that they spend as much time bickering with eachother as they do with literalist Christians.

As another example, Joseph Campbell did know how to explain well these type of issues.  He knew how to invite people to consider a new perspectives.  In biblical discussions, there is way too much antagonism from all sides (not just from Christians).  Campbell knew how to avoid conflict because he understood conflict closes minds rather than opens them.  Instead of conflict and righteous debate, Campbell appealed to the imagination.  If mythicists want to actually change public opinion, they need to learn new tactics.  Separate the issues into smaller fights that can be won and look past the superficial disagreements to the fundamental issues that really matter.  Let the literalists waste their time mired in pointless historical arguments and meanwhile undermine their entire position from a direction that they never see coming.

Interestingly, Acharya did quote Campbell briefly in one of her recent books, but she doesn’t seem to reference his ideas much.  I’m not sure how much she has studied him and other similar writers.  In my humble opinion (which so happens to be in line with Campbell), the problems of literalism aren’t merely a religious issue.  Literalism is a problem of any position that becomes taken too concretely.  Literalism is just what happens when people stop learning and questioning.  Materialistic scientism, for instance, is a variety of literalistic thinking.  A literalist takes a model for reality and forgets that a model is always an approximation, forgets that a theory is always open to being improved or even discarded.  Literalism is the bane of modernism because, as Karen Armstrong points, fundamentalists took their cue from science itself.  The literalist argument of either/or is a false argument as there are always more than two sides to every argument.  The difficulty is that objectivity is forever grounded in subjectivity and it’s easy to take the latter for the former.

The debate about the historical proof of Jesus is a game that will continue endlessly.  That is fine if everyone were having fun, but they’re not.  However, pointing out the uselessness of such a game falls on deaf ears because apparently it’s the game many people want to play.  I was suggesting to Acharya that she simply refuse to play this game, but it almost seems like she thinks its the only game in town… as if everything were riding on that one issue.

In the end, I find myself arguing with (or being attacked by) both literalist Christians and mythicists.  The reason for this is that both of these kinds of people are defending a specfic position and I’m not.  I’m only defending curiosity and wonder, the freedom to question and doubt, the desire to explore new possibilities and consider new perspectives.  The problem is that someone defending a position is constantly on the defense because they can never absolutley prove their position.  There are always further doubts and questions.  On the other hand, my perspective in a sense can’t ‘lose’ because my perspective allows for the possibility of my being wrong.  The inevitable doubts and questions are what inspire me.

My heroes are people like Charles Fort, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick.  These are people who valued questions over answers, people who considered every possibility and continually discarded each possibility for the next one.  The true believer (whether a believer in Jesus or Darwin, theism or mythicism, or whatever) can’t help but be perplexed by the person of a Fortean bent.  Neither Acharya nor some of her fans, apparently, can understand someone like me.  I’ve read her work and understand it, and yet have my own opinion.  The fan of hers who was commenting in that post couldn’t comprehend how I could disagree if I understood Acharya.  The idea that Acharya’s argument could be improved was blasphemous.  It’s not even a matter if I was right or wrong.  The issue was that I dared question Acharya’s authority.  It sometimes feels like Acharya believes that all disagreement is based on ignorance and that if she could enlighten the world everyone would agree with her (trust me, I understand the temptation of thinking this way).  She doesn’t seem to get the real issue.  I’m not even in disagreement with any of the facts she brings up or even her general interpretaion, but her view is just one view.  Nothing more and nothing less.

To me, it seems she is more certain of her position than is necessary.  I think she relies a bit too heavy on astrotheology.  I personally love the insight astrotheology offers, but there are many other perspectives that offer insight.  As for even deeper insights, I prefer the ideas of integral theory and of depth psychology; I prefer ideas such as the archetypal, the imaginal, and the daimonic.  I think studies of the trickster archetype, for instance, may offer more insight than most theories from mainstream religious textual criticism.  For me, I separate religion from spirituality.  The problem with biblical scholarship debates is that the line generally gets drawn between theists and atheists.  To many (most?) theists and atheists, you have to be either one or the other.  However, in the traditional sense, I’m neither theist nor atheist.  Furthermore, I grew up in an extremely non-literalist Christianity and so I have a hard time trying to make myself care about historical debates that never go anywhere.  History didn’t seem to matter much to early Christians and so why should it be made the primary issue of almost every single discussion about Christianity?  What does someone like Acharya think she is gaining by seemingly trying to make this the pivotal issue on which all of Christianity either stands or falls?

 – – –

Note: I just wanted to clarify what I mean by being a fan of Acharya S.

I guess it was in the late 1990s when I first read her work.  It was about 1999 and so I’ve been studying her work for at least a decade.  She has written quite a bit (thousands of pages) and it’s difficult reading, but I’ve read most of it even her various online articles.  I’ve spent massive amounts of time studying mythicism and buying books by mythicists.  I’ve spent time on many different forums discussing mythicism in general and Acharya in particular.  I’ve been on all of the major forums and have studied all sides of the debates.  At one time I spent a fair amount of time on the forum that Acharya runs and I got to personally know her most loyal fans (many of whom were quite friendly and one of whom actually was familiar with Joseph Campbell).  I’ve read all of Acharya’s opinions of other biblical scholars and I’ve read the opinion of other biblical scholars about Acharya.  I’ve written about mythicism and Acharya’s scholarship numerous times in this blog and in Amazon reviews, and I’ve often gone out of my way to defend her scholarship.

I enjoy and highly respect her scholarship and consider her to be a very trustworthy source.   On top of this, I’ve personally interacted with her numerous times on her forum and blog and she emailed me a couple of times (one of those was in response to my Amazon review which she quoted on her publshing site).

My studies of mythology and religion go beyond Acharya and mythicism and include years of study prior to my discovering Acharya.  I’m not an expert in this field, but this subject is one of my personal obsessions and I take my obsessions very seriously.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve studied more widely and in more depth about this subject than most people will do in their entire lives.

So, my criticisms aren’t offered lightly.  Even with these criticisms, I still respect Acharya’s scholarship.  But I also respect the scholarship of many writers and not all of them agree with eachother.  My criticisms aren’t insults.  They’re just differences of perspective.

My point in bringing all this up is that there is a major problem if Acharya can’t accept constructive criticism offered by one of her more vocal admirers (i.e., me).  Does she just think everyone is out to get her and every criticism is either someone attacking or someone who is ignorant?  If so, that is a very odd way to view other people.

Re: Man vs. God

Man vs. God

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html#articleTabs=article

I’m not sure exactly what use there is in placing these two authors together.  They’re mostly focusing on separate issues.  I suppose it’s helpful just to demonstrate the distance between two views.  Both Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins are criticizing literalist religion.  The difference is that Dawkins also dismisses non-literalist religion.

I’m in favor of Karen Armstrong’s position as she has a better grasp of history and societal development.  She seems to comprehend what the real issue is.  However, Richard Dawkins does have a point.  Literalism is still a popular view, but the even more fundamental point is that it’s ever becoming less popular.  Polls show that traditional religion is waning and alternative interpretations of spirituality are increasing.

It’s true that it might take a while for literalism to become a minority position especially in the US.  Even so, Karen Armstrong has written about how fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity.  Both scientific materialism and fundamentalism both tend towards literalism, seeing all of the world through one lense.  Armstrong is suggesting that multiple perspectives will give more understanding.

She points out how the symbolic view of the divine is very old, older than Christianity.  Many of the earliest Christians were influenced by the allegorical interpretations of the Greeks and the Alexandrian Jews, and these early Christians often discounted literalist interpretations of the Old Testament.  It’s only in recent centuries that biblical literalism took its cue from science and became widely popular.  The debate about the historical nature of Jesus is more of an issue today than it ever was at the earliest decades of Christianity.

Dawkins bring up a very important point in his last paragraph, but he betrays a lack of comprehension of the subject.  It seems to me that Armstrong’s view simply goes over his head.  Yes, literalism is popular.  So?  Why does he want to make all people open to religion and spirituality the enemy of his ideological vision of scientific humanism?  His view even seems to discount the value of openminded agnosticism.  You’re either with him or you’re against him… pick a side or else become irrelevant (and lonely).  He is correct that many people don’t understand the views of sophisticated theologians such as Armstrong (himself included), but that doesn’t make such views any less important.  It’s lonely to speak against popular opinion.  However, that was just as much true for atheistic scientists in centuries past.  Popular opinion is always changing.

The problem with trying to compare these two authors is that you need a larger context to judge by.  There are two many issues and too much background info that need to be understood in detail: Axial Age religions, Hellenistic influences on Judeo-Christianity, logos and mythos, literalism and allegory, modernism and postmodernism, etc.  There are these large trends of history that we’re all caught in and it’s hard to see outside of our situation.  This is a very old discussion.  The debate between literalism and allegory, for example, has come up again and again throughout history.  There was a major debate about it in the 19th century, but then was almost entirely forgotten about again in the twentieth century.  This debate has been become active again, but the situation is different.  The literalism of both scientists and fundamentalists is a viewpoint of modernism.  Despite the influence modernist thought has on the world, we are slowly developing towards a new paradigm of understanding.

To understand what is emerging from this cultural conflict, I’d suggest turning to some other ideas.  Personally, I find Ken Wilber’s integral theory helpful and also Beck and Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics.  But there are many models that are helpful.  What Dawkins misses is the human element.  He is idealizing objectivity, but humans are inevitably mired in subjectivity.  If you want to understand why humans believe what they do, you need to understand human nature.  Studying psychology always adds some insight.  To specifically understand the shift society is dealing with at the moment, I think the study of generations is even more important.  Polls show that they younger generations have a very different view of religon.  It’s obvious that we should look to the opinions and attitudes of the young if we want to see where the world is heading.  The youth are less traditionally religious, but interestingly this doesn’t equate to them being non-spiritual.  So, it would seem that the youth are leaning more towards Armstrong’s view.  But time will tell.

Just Some Related Ideas and Writers

I tend to think in terms of connections, but when writing about any particular subject I’ll only be emphasizing certain connections.  Still, all the other connections are at the background of what I’m trying to convey.  A minor frustration is all of this background can’t easily be conveyed and so what gets communicated is simply an uprooted plant.  So, this post will be my humble attempt to elucidate this web of ideas, subjects, traditions, and writers.  But of equal importance I wish to demonstrate that these connections exist outside of my mind in the actual world… meaning in other people’s minds as well.

 

The Beginning: Historical Context

A) Ancient World: Religion and Philosophy

So as to be orderly in my presentation, let me start at the beginning… not the beginning of my own thinking but rather the beginning of the Western tradition.  I’ve already written about much of this in prior posts (for example: Graeco-Roman Tradition, Development of Christian Mysticism, and Mani’s Influence).  My thinking about this subject is informed by authors such as Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock), Robert M. Price, Earl Doherty, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy; and I would also add Karen Armstrong and Richard Tarnas

Basically, during the Axial Age, Greek and Egyptian thought formed Hellenism which was later incorporated into and formalized by Roman culture.  At around this time and before, Jews were being influenced by Hellenism and the culmination of this was the Alexandrian Jewish community.  Jews had in the past been influenced by many cultures, borrowing wholesale at times some of their myths and theologies (including maybe Monotheism which was an idea both in the Egyptian and Greek traditions).  Mixed in with all of these were Persian influences such as Zoroastrianism.  Out of this, Christianity arose precisely with the arising of Rome.  Romans brought the synthesizing of Hellenism to a new level and they were constantly seeking a universal religion to unite the empire, such as Serapis worship, Pax Romana, and Romanized Christianity… of course these Roman universal religions themselves became mixed over the early centuries of the common era. 

Anyways, Gnosticism was either the origin of Christianity or else one of the earliest influences on Christianity.  Gnosticism was connected with the traditions of NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism.  An interesting aspect of Gnosticism is that it’s adherents sometimes used scientific knowledge to explain some of it’s theology.  This merging of the spiritual and the scientific would be carried on in various traditions.  Besides Gnosticism and Hermeticism, the offspring traditions Cabala and Alchemy speculated to great degrees about the physical world.  This line of thought seems to have been particularly focused in Germany.  The German mystics helped many of these ideas to survive.  These mystics emphasized the sympathy between the microcosm and the macrocosm and also the merging between the subjective and the objective.  The Reformationists were influenced by all of this even though they focused less on the mystical.  Paracelsus lived during the Reformation and was influenced by both the mystic tradition and the Reformation (which he didn’t identify with).  Most directly, he initially was more interested in science and medicine.  This led to Paracelsus’ theorizing about Gnostic ideas such as planetary influences (although he denied Gnosticism).  Paracelsus also believed in a universal healing energy and he is also credited for the first mention of the unconscious.

B) Post-Reformation: Early Development of Modern Traditions

This was also the time of the Renaissance and science was just beginning to come into its own, but science wouldn’t be fully formed until the Enlightenment.  During this latter period, Franz Mesmer developed a theory and methodology along the lines of Paracelsus’ writings.  Paracelsus’ ideas did become more popular a couple of centuries after his death, but I don’t know if his ideas had a direct influence on Mesmer.  Still, they’re a part of the same general philosophical lineage.  Mesmer did speculate about planetary influences, but he is most famous for his theory about animal magnetism which was a supposed healing energy.  This was the origin of what later would be called hypnotism which was much later developed, partially through the example of the Freudian Erik Erikson, into the methodology of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). 

Hypnotism was introduced into popular culture through writers such as Edgar Allan Poe.  Mesmerism was an early origin to spiritualism.  As such, it isn’t surprising that Poe in one of his stories had a character use hypnotism as a way of keeping a corpse alive.  Another concept that came from Mesmerism was the double which also was incorporated into the Horror genre, notably in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffman

Hypnotism as a psycho-therapeutic technique had been taken up by a number of people during and after Mesmer’s life.  Many decades later, Freud would learn hypnotism.  The ideas of sexual repression and hysteria were a part of the tradition of Mesmer’s methodology and these would be taken up by Freud.  Also, Freud had an interest in the unconscious which would seem to also to have been related to these kinds of ideas.  One of Freud’s followers was Wilhelm Reich who had a particular interest in the area of sexuality and healing energies.  He proposed the notion of Orgone energy which is reminiscent of both the ideas of Mesmer and Paracelsus.  Orgone is no longer reputable, but like Mesmer it has become a part of popular culture.  William S. Burroughs was a believer in Orgone energy (and spirituality in general as he considered himself a Manichean and was a Scientologist for a time).  Jack Kerouac mentioned Burroughs’ Orgone accumulator in one of his books and supposedly Grant Morrison (by way of Burroughs?) imagined Orgone energy as being real in one of his fictional worlds.

Mesmer‘s beliefs about healing energy accessible to all was also a major influence (via Phineas Quimby) on New Thought Christianity.  This Christian movement was also influenced by Swedenborg and more importantly by the very ancient ideas of Unitarianism and Universalism.  New Thought was a part of a larger social movement of people seeking a new form of spirituality after the Enlightenment had challenged so many traditional religious certainties and the Industrial Age was generally destabilizing culture.  Another set of ideas that probably was influential on New Thought would be that of Romanticism and Transcendentalism.  The latter in particular was a part of the same social milieu in the US at that time.  Specific organizations that appeared during this period were Unity church, Christian Science, Mormonism and the Theosophical Society.  Also, groups like the Quakers and Shakers became popular in the U.S. later in the 19th century partly in response to the social destabilization of the Civil War.  (By the way, New Thought Christianity has somewhat covertly made a resurgence with it’s incorporation into the mainstream through such things as The Secret and even more interestingly through Evangelical Christianity.  Positive thinking or prosperity thinking is known by Evangelicals as abundance theology or prosperity gospel.)

This collective search for the spiritual during the 19th century (and into the early 20th century) was being fueled by many things including the translation and publishing of many ancient texts (both Western and Eastern).  In biblical studies, some scholars picked up the earlier Enlightenment criticisms of Christianity (despite the fear of punishment by the church still being at the time very real in some places).  With many new texts available, comparative mythology caused quite a stir.  One major force in this scholarship was the publications coming out of the Theosophical Society, in particular those of G.R.S. Mead.  This school of thought mostly died out in biblical studies, but it was kept alive by comparative mythologists and psychologists.  It has, however, been revived in recent decades by a small growing sector of biblical scholars and has been made popular (if not exactly respectable) by the film Zeitgeist.

 

Freud, Jung and Others

Optimism and Pessimism, Religion and Horror

A major figure who was influenced by all of this was Carl Jung (who was the most significant force behind the Nag Hammadi texts getting translated and published).  Even though he was the most favored student of Freud, Jung had developed much of his own thinking prior to their meeting.  They both had great impact on each other, but of course (like many of Freud’s students such as Reich and Adler) Jung left Freud.  The Freudian and Jungian schools are an interesting contrast.  This partly a difference of how they related to the world in general which seems to symbolized by how they related to patients.  Freud had patients face away from him, but Jung (and Reich) chose to have their patients face them. 

Also, I can look at a book’s table of contents and make a good guess about whether the author will likely quote Freud or Jung.  Books that quote Freud tend to be about sexuality, gender, politics, power, the underprivileged, postmodernism, and textual criticism.  Books that quote Jung often involve the topics of spirituality, religion, mythology, ancient traditions, philosophy and the supernatural.  There is much crossover between the two and so it isn’t unusual to find both names in the same book, but still books that extensively quote Jung are more likely to mention Freud as well rather than the other way around.  Both Jung and Freud have influenced artists and fiction writers.  Herman Hesse, for instance, knew Jung and used his ideas in some of his fiction.  Freud’s obsession with sexuality, of course, was an interest to many creative types.  Burroughs‘ view on sexuality seems fairly Freudian.  Another angle is that Freud was less optimistic about human nature.  I was reading how Peter Wessel Zapffe’s Pessimistic philosophy is indebted to Freud and Zapffe is a major source of the horror writer Thomas Ligotti‘s view on life.  Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, was heavily influenced by Jung and PKD has relatively more of a hopeful bent (however, PKD also had a very dark side and was friends with darker fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison).  This distinction between a tendency towards pessimism versus optimism, I would add, appears related to the fact that Freud was very critical of religion and Jung maintained respect for religion his whole life (or at least the ideas and stories of religion if not the institution itself).

One further aspect is Jung‘s development of personality typology which came about by his trying to understand the differences between Adler and Freud and his trying to understand the reasons for his conflict with Freud.  Typology was particularly put into the context of a very optimistic philosophy with the MBTI which is all about understanding others and improving oneself.  Even though typology became a tool of corporate America, it has its roots in the ideas of centuries of philosophers such as Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Apollonian.  Typology is the closest that Jung’s ideas have come to academic respectability.  (However, his theory on archetypes is slowly gaining respectability simply by the force of its wide influence, and its important to note that there was always a connection between Jung’s thinking about typology and archetypes.)  With the systematization in MBTI, Jung’s typology has been scientifically researched and correlated with other research on personality theories.  For my purposes, I’ll point out that his typology probably influenced some of Hesse‘s thinking and I know that Philip K. Dick was familiar with it, but typology overall hasn’t been a favorite topic of most philosophical and spiritual thinkers.  Even so, the creation of distinct categories of people is a very old notion (in the West and in other cultures).  For a relevant example, certain Gnostics (e.g., Valentinians) divided people into three categories, but later Christians seem to have preferred the simpler categorization of damned versus saved.  In secular writing, George P. Hansen is a rare thinker who considers types (Ernest Hartmann‘s boundary types which are correlated to MBTI) in terms of paranormal experience and cultural analysis, but I don’t know if he is familiar with Jung’s typology although he does reference Jung a fair amount.  A more amusing example is William S. Burroughs‘ dividing the world up into the Johnson Family and the Shits.

Like Freud, Jung had a strong interest in the unconscious which (along with his many other interests) definitely puts him in the tradition of Paracelsus and Mesmer.  It would almost be easier to list what Jung didn’t study rather than what he did.  He certainly was interested in the same types of subjects that are now included in the New Age movement (which isn’t surprising as Jungian ideas are a major interest of many New Agers).  Specific to my purposes here, Jung often quoted G.R.S. Mead and was also immensely curious about spiritualism.  Jung’s influence is immense, despite his fame being slightly overshadowed by Freud. 

An aspect not often considered is Jung‘s influence on Christianity (which I assume was largely his interest in Mead’s writing).  His family was very much entrenched within Christianity and so Jung was obsessed with it his whole life.  The book he considered his most personal was written about Christianity (i.e., Answer to Job).  Jung had a fruitful relationship with Father White who himself was a writer.  Jung’s ideas became incorporated into Father White’s writings about Catholicism.  Despite Jung not being Catholic or even Christian, his ideas gave a certain respectability to the Catholic emphasis on symbolism and imagery, but it’s hard to estimate Jung’s influence on Catholic thinking.  The most direct influence in this regard would be on the InklingsC.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who were Christians also felt some kinship with Jung’s ideas, but of course they disagreed with Jung’s putting Christianity on the same level as Pagan myths (as such, his theory was simply a myth explaining other myths rather than God’s truth).  Through Jung and Lewis, theology became more of a topic of popular culture.  Also, Lewis helped bridge the separation between the Pagan imagination of Romanticism and Christian doctrine which was furthermore a bridge between theological ideas and fiction.  This bridging obviously influenced later writers such as Philip K. Dick who combined fiction and theology.  The popularizing of Christianity had a corroding effect on orthodoxy (which Tolkien feared), but also it led to a great fertility of thinking where Christianity and popular culture mixed.  I’m sure many Christians have discovered Jung through the Inklings, but  I suspect, though, that Jung probably has had the most influence on Christians who are counselors (and therefore on the people they counsel).  Related to counseling, Jung was a direct inspiration for the development of Alcoholics Anonymous which was originally Christian (also, A.A. is one of the first self-help groups which as a way of organizing people would later became a focus of various New Agers, Christian and otherwise).

I also wonder what connections there might be between Jung’s interest in Catholicism and the supernatural and the interest in the same by Horror writers and movie directors.  Also, as there are Catholics interested in Jung and Catholics interested in horror and ghost stories, I wonder how many Catholics would be interested in both.  Interestingly, both Jungian studies and the Horror genre have simultaneously increased in popularity and respectability.  An obvious link between Jung and horror would be Freud‘s understanding of the Uncanny and I would say that the Uncanny would be magnified by the amorphous nature of the Jungian Collective Unconscious.  The Uncanny becomes quite horrific when it can no longer be safely contained within the human brain, no longer explained away as mere psychological mechanism.

New Age, Hillman, and the Paranormal

There are three other interconnected avenues of Jung‘s influence that I want to consider further. 

1) As Jung was influenced by the spiritual and the spiritualist movements of the 19th century, he in turn influenced the New Age movement of the 20th century.  Jung acts as a bridge and a synthesizer.  Jung himself and his ideas struggled for respectability, but still it was partly through his ideas that the New Age gained some respectability.  His views on archetypes gave many people a method/language (and an even playing field on which) to analyze mainstream culture and the dominant religions.  The New Age’s incorporation of archetypes, however, made them even less respectable to mainstream culture (at least until recently, maybe partly because the New Age has become more respectable).  If it weren’t for certain writers such as Joseph Campbell, Jung’s writings on comparative mythology might very well be less known and understood.  Joseph Campbell also helped to revive Jung’s study of Christianity in terms of mythology.  Specifically, it was Star Wars and the Hero’s Journey (i.e., Monomyth) that brought this all to a mainstream audience.  Suddenly, both Hollywood and Christianity had to come to terms with mythology… forcing Christianity to also come to terms with Hollywood and popular culture in general.  One other connection between Jung and the New Age would be Quantum Physics.  One of Jung’s patients was the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and they developed a friendship.  They both were interested in the connection between science and the mind, and this interest became symbolized by the number 137.  This number fascinated Pauli (and many other scientists) because the “fine structure constant” is approximately 1/137 which is neither very large nor very small but rather a human-sized number, a number that’s easy  to grasp.  Jung had discovered that going by the numerology related to Kabbalah that the word ‘Kabbalah’ added up to 137.  So, this number represented their shared interest, their shared ideal.  This desire to bridge matter and mind, science and psychology is a major part of New Age spirituality and of other thinkers outside of the New Age (e.g. Ken Wilber).

2) A second line of influence is that of James Hillman who was indebted to and critical of Jung‘s view.  He wrote a book about Jung’s typology and he was very much against it being used in a systematic fashion to categorize people.  To be fair, Jung was extremely wary of his typology being systematized.  Hillman can be considered as loosely a part of the thinking going on within and on the fringes of the New Age movement, but his ideas were a bit of an opposition to the idealistic strain of the New Age.  He believed suffering and illness should be accepted and understood on its own terms.  So, reality should be taken for what it is without trying to make it into something else.  Importantly, this view seems to be different than Freud‘s thinking in that Freud was apparently less trusting of human nature and experience (although there may be some minor similarity in that Freud emphasized helping people adapt rather than trying to fundamentally change them).  For instance, the Freudian-influenced Pessimism of Zapffe (and hence of Ligotti) posits that humans are deceived and self-deceiving.  Zapffe has a very good analysis of the methods people use to avoid suffering (which, to be honest, I’m not sure to what degree someone like Hillman would disagree).  From another perspective, Robert Avens, in his Imagination is Reality, draws on Hillman’s writings.  I found Avens’ analysis to be a useful counter example to the philosophical writings of Ligotti, but this is something I’m still working out.  I see some truth (and some limitations) in both perspectives.

3) The third aspect would be Jung‘s focus on the paranormal.  He studied the paranormal since he was young and had paranormal experiences of his own.  As he grew older, he saw the psyche and the archetypes as not being limited by the human brain.  His interest in the paranormal was far from idle.  Through his principle of synchronicity, he believed non-ordinary experiences had a very direct and practical impact on a person.  He also corresponded with the famous parapsychology researcher J.B. Rhine and they met once, but as I understand Jung was uncertain about the relationship between synchronicity and parapsychology research (since the former focuses on the subjective and the latter on the objective).  One of his last books was about UFOs and it was highly influential on a certain tradition of UFO researchers: Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  This tradition overlaps with Jung’s studies of and influence on religion and spirituality.  Vallee, like George P. Hansen, studied spiritual groups and religious cults.  I’m sure Keel studied those as well.  In The Eighth Tower, Keel details some of the biblical mythicist theories and Egyptology that had become increasingly popular starting in the 1970s (and, of course, he relates it to the paranormal).   Thus, paranormal research was combined with comparative mythology and folkore studies.  This is how Jungian ideas became linked with Charles Fort, another researcher into the paranormal.  Charles Fort was a different kind of thinker than Jung, but people interested in one often are interested in the other.  Even though I’m not as familiar with Fort, I do know he was highly influential on other writers and thinkers in his lifetime (John Cowper Powys, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Booth Tarkington, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Alexander Woolcott and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.) and many later people as well too numerous to list (which includes many of the writers I discuss in this post).  A less known fact is that Fort wrote fiction stories that were published early in his career and a major part of his influence has been on fiction writers.  Both Jung and Fort read widely and both changed their minds as they came across new evidence.  Even more than the likes of Hillman, the Forteans are the real opposites of the New Agers.  However, Forteans and New Agers were both a part of the counterculture (before the New Age went mainstream with its being approved and popularized by Oprah).

These last three traditions do overlap in various ways. 

Patrick Harpur is a very interesting writer on the paranormal.  He references many of the above writers: Carl Jung, James Hillman, Robert Avens, Charles Fort, Jacques Vallee and John Keel.  George P. Hansen is even more wide ranging in that he references those same kinds of writers and he references various people from the New Age area and beyond all of that he also references many philosophers and scientists in other related fields.  Hansen is more difficult to categorize, but ultimately he might best fit in with the Fortean tradition.  Another writer I discovered recently is Keith Thompson who wrote a book that is similar to the writings of these other two.  Thompson and Hansen come to a similar conclusion about the Trickster archetype being fundamental to understanding the paranormal (which could be related to Jung’s insight that the Trickster figure was a precursor to the Savior figure). Thompson is also interesting in that he has very direct connections to the New Age and to Integralism.  Besides writing about UFOs, he did an interview with Robert Bly in the New Age magazine which was what first brought the mens movement into public attention.  Thompson credits Michael Murphy for supporting the ideas in the book early on partly by promoting a UFO group at the Esalen Institute (where, for instance, Joseph Campbell had taught in the past).  Michael Murphy has been closely associated with Ken Wilber and apparently Thompson is the same person who was the president of Wilber’s Integral Institute for a time.

Let me briefly point out that, in the context of the three Jungian-related traditions outlined above, there are some counterculture figures that are mixed into this general area of ideas: William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, Terrence McKenna, and Philip K. Dick.  So, this brings in the fields of study involving psychology, consciousness research, psychedelics, epistemology, spiritual practice and conspiracy theories.  Also, I would add a connection here with Transpersonal psychology and the New Age in general.  If you’re a fan of the radio show Coast to Coast AM (formerly hosted by Art Bell and now hosted by George Noory), then these types of ideas and writers should be generally familiar to you (Terrence McKenna, in particular, was a regular guest).  I want to emphasize particularly William S. Burroughs as he was extremely interested in these kinds of subjects.  Despite Burroughs dark streak, he said he never doubted the existence of God.  He believed in lots of alternative ideas such as ESP, but most relevant here is that he visited Whitley Strieber who is one of the biggest names in the UFO encounter field.  In connection to Burroughs and Jung, Reich (who proposed the orgone theory) also had a strong interest in UFOs (which he connected with his orgone theory).  As a passing thought, this last connection of Reich reminds me of Paracelsus as the latter also speculated much about the paranormal (in terms of influences and beings).  Vallee discusses Paracelsus’ ideas in context of modern speculations about UFOs.

 

The Occult and the New Age, Spiritualism and the Theosophical Society

I need to backtrack a bit to delineate some other lines of influence.  I want to follow further the influence Mesmer and spiritualism had on fiction and I want to follow a different influence from the Theosophical Society.

Poe and Horror, Philip K. Dick and Neo-Noir

So, first, Mesmer and spiritualism had a wide influence on fiction, in particular the genre of horror.  Most significantly, I want to follow a divergent influence Poe had.  Poe is definitely one of the most influential writers for modern horror, but less recognized is that he is also considered by some to be the originator of the modern detective storyVictoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson write about Poe’s horror writing, but those two also write about noir (which of course is grounded in the hard-boiled detective story) and neo-noir.  A major factor in the transforming of noir into neo-noir (and it’s related development into tecno-noir and influence on cyber-punk) was the writings of Philip K. Dick and especially the movie Blade Runner which was based on one of his novels.

My interest in noir and neo-noir has increased since reading Victoria Nelson and Eric G. Wilson… and a more recent addition to my library is Thomas S. Hibbs.  All three of them have helped me to understand the religious undertones and philosophical implications of this genre.  Nelson and Wilson cover similar territory, but Hibbs has a different view that emphasizes Pascal‘s ideas (which offers another counterbalance to Zapffe/Ligotti ideas).  Hibbs uses Pascal’s hidden God as a contrast to Nietzsche‘s God is dead.  He also writes some about Philip K. Dick, but apparently isn’t aware of PKD’s own notions about a hidden God (aka Zebra).

Nelson, in The Secret Life of Puppets, writes about writers such as Poe, Lovecraft, Philip K. Dick and C.S. Lewis in terms of mythology, puppets, alchemygnosticism, art and film; she also briefly writes about New Age groups and UFO cults.  More significantly, she discusses German Expressionism merging with “hard-boiled detective mode of pulp fiction” to form film noir.  She speaks of re-noir by which I assume she means the same genre that others call neo-noir.  She also goes into some detail about New Expressionism which seems closely connected with neo-noir.  Specifically of interest to me, she discusses the movie Blade Runner.  I’m not sure about her opinion on the subject but I think some consider that movie to be the first neo-noir film (or at least the first sf neo-noir film) which is a type of film that has become increasingly popular in the following decades.  Also, Blade Runner (along with PKD’s fiction) was a formative influence on cyber-punk.  As for neo-noir, besides being mixed with science fiction and fantasy, it has also used elements of horror as in Dark City.  This is natural fit considering Poe’s influence.  Another very interesting topic she discusses is Memoirs of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber.  She compares Schreber’s view of reality with that of Lovecraft’s fiction.  It’s also significant to note that Schreber’s memoir was made famous by Freud‘s analysis of it in terms of homosexuality and paranoia, and it was Jung who brought this text to Freud’s attention.  Nelson does discuss Freud in reference to Schreber and she discusses Jung in other parts of her book.

Wilson was influenced by Nelson and so was writing along similar lines, but with more emphasis on religion and also more emphasis on subjects such as the Gothic and Existentialism.  In one book, he goes into great detail about Gnosticism and the traditions of Cabala and alchemy which were formed partly from the ideas of Gnosticism.  Wilson also said he was influenced by Marina Warner who is also mentioned in Nelson’s writings.  Warner writes in a similar vein as these two, but it seems she has less interest in pop culture although she does write some about Philip K. Dick.  These writers point out the connection between high and low art and the connection between art and culture, between imagination and religion.

I could make even more connections here in terms of Gothic fiction and Existentialism.  I’ve read a number of fiction writers that fit in here, but I’m not sure about specific lines of influence.

Theosophy: Darkness and Light

Now, let me follow a very odd linking of people starting with the Theosophical society.

First, most people don’t realize that the distinction between the Occult and the New Age didn’t initially exist when these ideas were first being formulated.  Aleister Crowley was associated with the Theosophical Society and he considered it significant that he was born in the year that the organization was founded.  Crowley appreciated the work of Anna Kingsford who established Theosophy in England and briefly headed it.  Whereas Blavatsky had emphasized Oriental esotericism, Kingsford was in favor of a Western esotericism with a focus on Christianity and Hermeticism.  She supposedly was more known for her advocacy work for women’s rights, animal rights and vegetarianism.  She would seem to represent the more New Agey side of Theosophy which is odd considering the association with Crowley who was known as “the Beast”.

I want to momentarily point out a tangential thought that is relevant to the Theosophical Society and similar organizations.  George P. Hansen has written some useful analysis of the connection between the New Age and the Occult.  The following is mostly based on his ideas, but a similar analysis of the dark side of alien experiences can be found in the works of Jacques Vallee.

Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate.  Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example.  They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them.  Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors.  They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish.  They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few.  You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings (and in the historical accounts of various traditional religions as well).

I was reading a book by Vallee who began his career as a scientist before becoming a UFO investigator.  He was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore.  In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view.  Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in discussions about both both New Age and Integral theory.

The Two Krishnamurtis

To return to the topic of the Theosophical Society, after Blavatsky died there was major conflict.  Crowley became antagonistic and various leaders turned against each other.  Rudolf Steiner helped to establish the German and Austrian division as independent, and out of this Anthroposophical Society formed.  The Americans also split off and later split again.  Annie Besant and Henry Olcott took over the division in India.

So, in India, J. Krishnamurti was adopted by Annie Besant and was groomed to be a World Teacher which Crowley didn’t like (I’m not sure why, but maybe he wanted to be the World Teacher).  U.G. Krishnamurti, through his grandfather, became involved in Theosophy in his teenage years.  The two Krishnamurtis met while a part of the Theosophical Society.  They shared their views with eachother and shared a questioning attitude.  Both rejected the role of guru which led to both leaving the Theosophical Society.  However, J. Krishnamurti did continue an informal career as spiritual teacher which U.G. Krishnamurti criticized as his having become a guru after all (and U.G. has been called an anti-guru and even the anti-Krishnamurti).  Both Krishnamurtis had profound spiritual experiences that transformed them, but U.G. Krishnamuti’s experiences led to a less popular viewpoint in that he believed that the physical world was all that existed.  According to my limited study of U.G., his view of no-mind seems something like a materialistic version of Zen.  J. Krishnamurti, on the other hand, is very popular with the New Age crowd (which is where I learned of him).  For instance, the same type of person who writes about J. Krishnamurti also writes about A Course In Miracles (another early influence of mine)… by the way, ACIM according to Kenneth Wapnick (who helped form the text) has a similar theology to Valentinian Gnosticism (which makes sense as the Nag Hammadi discovery was just beginning to become popular at that time). 

 

Horror Writers and Scholars

From Ligotti to Wilber

To get back on topic, U.G. Krishnamurti is less well known as he didn’t see himself as having a public mission.  His writings are on the extreme fringe of the New Age, but I’m not sure what kind of person is typically attracted to his philosophy.  However, I was interested to discover that Thomas Ligotti mentions him in an interview.  U.G. Krishnamurti’s materialistic bent fits in with the general trend of Ligotti’s thinking, but I’m not sure what value Ligotti would see in even a materialistic spirituality (not that U.G. was trying to promote its value).  I was reading from a thread on Thomas Ligotti Online that the story “The Shadow, The Darkness” was a direct homage to U.G. Krishnamurti.

Anyways, Ligotti represents an interesting connection between Horror and many other ideas.  Ligotti’s favorite thinker apparently is the Pessimistic philosopher Zapffe.  I came across that Zapffe was close friends with and mentor to Arnes Naess.  That is extremely intriguing as Naess was the founder of the Deep Ecology movement.  I find it humorous to consider the hidden seed of Zapffe’s Pessimism at the foundation of Deep Ecology.  Like Theosophy, Deep Ecology is another major influence on New Age thinking.  This confluence of Horror and the New Age is maybe to be expected for I suppose it isn’t entirely atypical for someone like Ligotti to go from being a spiritual seeker to becoming a fully committed Pessimist.  In terms of ideas, the opposites of optimistic idealism and pessimistic realism seem to evoke each other… as they say, scratch a cynic and you’ll find a failed idealist.  I was thinking recently that horror as an experience can only exist in contrast to hope.  If humans had no hope, then there’d be no horror.  So, the greatest horror is only possible with the greatest hope and the contrary would seem to be true as well.  In terms of environmentalism, Pessimism is a natural fit anyhow.  Environmental writers such as Paul Shepard and Derrick Jensen are far from optimistic about the human situation.  Paul Shepard, in particular, seems to have ideas that resonate with Zapffe’s view that something went wrong in the development of early humanity.  Along these lines, a book that would fit in here is The Love of Nature and the End of the World by Shierry Weber Nicholsen.

I think this is a good place to mention Julian Jaynes.  He was a psychologist who became famous through his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  His ideas generally relate to the kind of ideas put forth by Paul Shepard, Ken Wilber, Max Weber, Karl Jaspers, and Peter Wessel Zapffe.  He theorized that human consciousness was different in the past and a shift happened during early civilization.  He thought that ancient man’s mind was more externalized with less sense of individuality… something like schizophrenia.  He had two sources of evidence for his theory.  He saw traces of this early mode of consciousness in the oldest surviving writings and he referenced psychology research that demonstrated that stimulating parts of the brain could elicit a person hearing voices.  The reason I mention him is because he influenced, along with many others, both William S. Burroughs and Ken Wilber.  Buroughs wrote about Jayne’s ideas in his essay “Sects and Death” and Wilber wrote about them in his book Up from Eden.

Related to Deep Ecology is Phenomenology for Deep Ecologists have often used it to support their view.  This is so because, in Phenonmenology, there is something of an animistic appreciation of nature.  Phenomenology influenced Enactivism which is a fairly new theory involving the scientific study of consciousness and perception.  Enactivism was also influenced by Buddhism and as such Enactivism tries to scientifically explain our direct experience of reality.  Enactivism especially discusses the connection between mind and body.  I bring this up because Ken Wilber, who is critical of Deep Ecology, is a major contributor to and proponent of Integral theory which has had some fruitful dialogue with Enactivism (see my post ENACTIVISM, INTEGRAL THEORY, AND 21st CENTURY SPIRITUALITY).  Irwin Thomson has co-written some books with the Enactivist theorists, and  Ken Wilber has been contrasted with William Irwin Thomson (the father of Irwin Thomson).  The former is a systematic thinker and the latter non-systematizing, and yet both write about similar subjects.  (Jung was more of a non-systematizer and that might be why Wilber ended up feeling critical towards his ideas.)  Ken Wilber is useful to bring up as he has synthesized many different fields of knowledge and he has helped to bridge the gap between academia and spirituality.  Also, Wilber has become a major figure in popular culture such as his speaking on the commentary tracks for the Matrix trilogy.

I want to point out that there has been much dialogue between the ideas of Wilber and those of Jung.  Jung’s less systematic style of thought also allowed for great shift in his understanding over time.  This makes it difficult to understand Jung’s spectrum of ideas as his opinions changed.  Wilber, on the other hand, is extremely systematic and his theory has remained fairly consistent even as he adds to it.  Wilber does have some basic understanding of Jung which he describes in some of his books, but various people have pointed out some inaccuracies in his understanding.  As a systematizer of many fields, Wilber inevitably simplifies many theories in order to evaluate and synthesize them.  However, to understand the connection between Jung and Wilber it would be better to look to a third-party viewpoint.  The best example of this would be Gerry Goddard (whose lifework tome can be found on the Island Astrology website).  I bring up Goddard for another reason.  Goddard was also a systematizer like Wilber, but he brings a number of other writers into his theory.  As I recall, he gives a more fair assessment of Jung.  Also, he includes the ideas of Richard Tarnas and Stanislav Grof.  I briefly mentioned Tarnas at the beginning.  Tarnas is a historian whose writing is a useful resource for understanding the development of ideas across the centuries, and he also has an interest in astrology.  Tarnas wrote a very interesting book about history and astrology that Goddard references.  Goddard also writes about the psychologist Stanislav Grof who is often contrasted with Wilber.  Grof is interesting as he started off researching psychedelics, but later focused on non-psychedelic methods of altering the mind (such as breathing techniques) for the purposes of psychotherapy.  Goddard is a less known theorist, but is a good example of the relationships between some of the people I mention.

There is another related distinction I’d like to make.  Wilber and Goddard are systematizers which somehow connects with their work being squarely set in the field of non-fiction.  Wilber did write a novel, but even then it was simply a mouthpiece for his non-fiction.  William Irwin Thomson seems more like Jung.  Along with wide ranging interests, they both were deeply interested in the creative as well as the intellectual side of human experience.  By deeply interested I mean that they sought to express themselves creatively.  Jung was often painting or carving stone or simply playing around with whatever was at hand.  I don’t know as much about Thomson, but I’ve seen poetry he has written and I’ve seen him referenced as a poet.  Also, Thomson writes about literature.  Along these lines, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs would also be of this latter category of non-systematic creative thinkers.  Ligotti is a bit harder to fit in with this scheme.  He definitely has strong interest in both fiction and non-fiction, but relative to PKD and Burroughs he seems much more systematic and focused.

Let me conclude this section by saying that Ken Wilber is a major focal point of my own thinking simply for the fact that he covers so much territory and because his ideas have become the focus of more intellectual discussions of spirituality.  He is relevant to my discussion also because he was influenced by the counterculture ideas of his Boomer generation and so he is familiar with many of the people I’ve mentioned so far.  Wilber was interested in alternative ideas like those of Jung, but ended up setting his theory in opposition to depth psychology, transpersonal psychology and deep ecology.  Unhappily, Wilber often gets categorized in bookstores along with the very New Age writers he criticizes.  Similar to Ligotti, he spent much time seriously seeking spiritual perspectives which in his case even included following a guru for a while.  Ligotti and Wilber represent two very intellectual responses to the search for knowledge and understanding.

Burroughs in relation to Ligotti and PKD

Similarly, as I’ve stated elsewhere (see here), Ligotti and Philip K. Dick represent two very different responses to William S. Burroughs as they were both influenced by him.  I really don’t know the specifics of how Burroughs had an effect on Ligotti.  Supposedly, he said that Burroughs was his last artistic hero, but as far as I can tell he doesn’t otherwise speak about Burroughs much.  Burroughs was quite the Pessimist in many ways and so it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t notice his name being mentioned in the excerpt of Ligotti’s non-fiction from the Collapse journal.  Maybe when his full nonfiction work is published there’ll be something about Burroughs in it.  Actually, in some ways, Burroughs comes off as darker than Ligotti.  On the other hand, Burroughs had an explicitly spiritual side.  Gnosticism is particularly clear in Burroughs’ perspective and that is where PKD saw a connection to his own philosophizing.  This Gnosticism is a direct connection to Jung, at least for PKD but probably for Burroughs as well since I know that he was familiar with Jung.  PKD, however, is more Jungian in his view of gender in that both PKD and Jung apparently were influenced by the Gnostic (and Taoist) emphasis on gender as a way of thinking about the dualistic nature of the psyche.  Burroughs’ understanding of gender could also have its origins partly in Gnosticism as there was a strain of Gnosticism that was less idealistic about gender differences.  Burroughs considered himself Manichaean which was a religion with an ascetic tradition and which emphasized dualism to a greater degree (I find it humorous to consider that the great Church Doctor Augustine was also a Manichaean for many years before his conversion… which makes me wonder what Burroughs opinion was about Augustine).  Another distinction here is that Jung and PKD maintained relationships with Christians and biblical scholars, but I can’t imagine Burroughs having much interest in Christianity.  Burroughs, rather, saw Gnosticism as in opposition to Christianity.

Poe and Lovecraft, Christianity and Gnosticism

Another connection would be favorite writers.  I mentioned Poe already.  Poe was a major favorite of Burroughs, Ligotti and PKD.  Lovecraft would be another writer to bring up as he was influenced by Poe.  Lovecraft in turn had a tremendous impact on Ligotti and PKD, and Burroughs made references to Lovecraft in a number of places.  Also, Burroughs supposedly was taught about Mayan codices by Robert H. Barlow who was Lovecraft’s literary executor.  I was reading that Burroughs met Barlow in Mexico while studying anthropology.  An interest in cultures would be something that Burroughs shares with PKD and Jung, but I don’t have a sense that Ligotti has much interest in this area or at least he doesn’t seem to write about it.  To add a quick note, there is a nice essay by Graham Harman in Collapse IV that brings together Lovecraft, Poe and Phenomenology.

Yet another connection is that of Robert M. PricePrimarily, Price is a biblical scholar, but he has many interests including weird writing, superheroes and philosophy.  He seems to have been somewhat of a Lovecraft expert in the past and has written his own Lovecraftian stories.  Price’s interest in Lovecraft makes sense in terms of his interest in Gnosticism as Lovecraft’s view of reality is essentially that of Gnostic archons minus the Gnostic true God (there is a good analysis of Lovecraft’s philosophy in Sieg’s “Infinite  Regress” from Collapse IV).  Price also has written an essay about Ligotti that was published in The Thomas Ligotti Reader.  I know of Price mostly through his biblical scholarship as he writes about Gnosticism and mythicism which are two of my favorite topics.  He doesn’t identify as a mythicist, but is very supportive of mythicist theorists such as Earl Doherty and D.M. Murdock (aka Acharya S) and he highly respects some of the scholarship that was done in this regard during the 19th century.  Robert M. Price also has written quite a bit about Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.  He seems to have some respect for these two, but he also seems to be very critical of how their ideas have been used by New Agers.

To make a related point, D.M. Murdock‘s most recent book is about Christianity and Egyptology.  In it, she references the likes of Price and Campbell.  A major issue for Murdock is the literalism of traditional Christianity which was an issue that Campbell spilled much ink over.  The literal is seen as opposed to the imaginal according to the views of Hillman and AvensWilber makes similar distinctions using different models and terminology.  As for the Egyptian religion, I’d point out that it was a major interest of Burroughs (and Eric G. Wilson too).  There is a strong connection between Gnosticism and Egypt.  A distinction that some make between Gnosticism and Christianity is that the former preferred allegory rather than literal interpretation.  This began with the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt whose Platonic allegorizing of Jewish scriptures was acceptable even to some of the Church fathers.  The difference is that many Gnostics allegorized and spiritualized the gospel stories as well. 

I want to note here E. A. Wallis Budge who was one of the most respectable early Egyptologists.  Murdock references him to a great degree, and any thinker involved with early Christianity and Western mythology would be fully aware of his scholarship.  Of course, writers such as Mead, Price, and Campbell are familiar with his work.  Also, he was known by writers such as Burroughs and John Keel.  And surely Eric G. Wilson would’ve come across his writings.  Budge’s scholarship put Egyptology on the map and helped put it in context of early Western history including Christianity.  Budge is surprisingly not that well known to most people, but trust me he had massive influence on many thinkers over this last century.  Egyptology had already taken hold of the Western imagination by earlier scholars.  Poe used Egyptian elements in some of his stories and Poe died a few years before Budge’s birth.  Budge lived closer to the turn of the century around the time of Carl Jung, Franz Kafka, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Fort.

Two Kinds of Thinkers

I want to describe one last aspect that I articulated partly in my post Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti.  I was distinguishing Ligotti as different from Burroughs and PKD in an important respect.  The latter two were extremely restless thinkers and seekers which seemed represented and maybe contributed to by their drug experimentation.  The only drugs that I’ve seen Ligotti mention are those that are medically prescribed for his bi-polar condition and so they’re designed to make him less restless.  I would guess that Burroughs was one of the first writers to truly popularize drug experimentation, but it took others to bring it into the mainstream.  It was during the ’60s that drug experimentation became a hot topic and Timothy Leary I suppose was the most major proponent.  However, many forget that Leary was originally a psychologist and a respected one at that.  There was this meeting of ideas at that time which has persisted: psychedelics, psychology, spirituality, occultism, ufos and conspiracy theories.  Robert Anton Wilson, a friend of Leary, was the one who really synthesized all of these seeming disparate subjects (and, if I remember correctly, it’s through his writing that I first read about Wilhelm Reich).  Another person was Terrance McKenna who in some ways picked up where Leary left off, but his focus was on mushrooms rather than LSD.

Philip K. Dick was aware of this whole crowd and it all fits into his own brand of counterculture philosophizing.  Specifically, he wrote about McKenna (and vice versa).  A common interest that PKD and McKenna shared was Taoism and the I Ching which they both connected to synchronicity.  They inherited this line of thought from Carl Jung who wrote an introduction to a popular translation of the I Ching.  As a side not, I’d add that McKenna’s view of UFOs are also influenced by Jung (and seem in line with theories of Vallee and Hansen).  To put this in context, Jung would relate psychic manifestations such as UFOs with synchronicity.  Related to this, Burroughs’ cut-up technique was based on the principle of synchronicity.  PKD was interested in Burroughs’ technique as it fit into his own beliefs about messages appearing in unexpected ways (i.e., God in the garbage or in the gutter).  Oppositely, this technique is something that Ligotti strongly disliked.  This makes sense as Ligotti seems to be more of a systematic writer, a perfectionist even (which neither Burroughs nor PKD aspired towards).  Along these lines, consider the random and meandering philosophizing of Burroughs and PKD in the context of Ligotti’s carefully articulated Pessimism.  To quote Quentin S. Crisp in the comments of his blog post Negotiating With Terrorists (where he writes about Ligotti’s use of U.G. Krishnamurti): “My own cosmic unease is, I think, far more open-ended than that of Ligotti. I honestly can’t see him ever changing his position, and it’s a position that has already concluded and closed.”  I doubt Crisp would want to be held down to that opinion as anything more than a tentative commentary, but it touches upon my own suspicion about Ligotti’s view.  I don’t mean to imply any criticism of Ligotti for I do sense that Ligotti’s writings are true to his experience (which, going by his own distinguishing between Lovecraft and Shakespeare, is something he values).  By quoting Crisp’s comment, I’m only trying to clarify the difference between Ligotti and certain other writers.  After all, restless inconclusiveness isn’t exactly a desirable state of being (which I’m pretty sure Crisp is well aware of).

Anyhow, the distinction here between these two kinds of writers is similar to the distinction I pointed out between William Irwin Thomson and Ken WilberIn my Enactivist post (linked above), I use MBTI and Hartmann’s boundary types (via George P. Hansen’s writing) to try to understand this difference.  Obviously, one could divide up writers in various ways, but this seems a fairly natural division that my mind often returns to.

For further analysis on types of writers, read the following blog post:

Fox and Hedgehog, Apollo and Dionysus

 

Conclusion: Different Perspectives

Many of the writers I’ve brought up disagree about different issues, and yet they’re a part of a web of relationships and ideas.  I wonder if the overall picture offers more insight than the opinion of any given writer.  These traditions of beliefs and lineages of ideas represent something greater than any individual.  I’d even go so far as to say that it shows a process of the cultural psyche collectively thinking out issues of importance, and certain people become focal points for where ideas converge and create new offspring.

   —

Note: There are many more connections that could be made.  I’m curious how other writers might fit in: Hardy, Baudelaire, Borges, Kafka and Blake; Gothic writers, Romanticists, Transcendentalists and Existentialists; the brothers of William James and Henry James; the Powys brothers; various philosophers such as Nietzsche and Pascal.  Et Cetera.  In particular, it could be fruitful to explore Lovecraft further.  He wrote both fiction and non-fiction.  Also, he was immensely influential as a writer and in terms of his relationsips as he corresponded with many people.  Another angle of connections would be organizations formed around the scholarship of specific people.  There is the Fortean Society and the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich which were both formed during the lifetimes of Fort and Jung, but there is also the Joseph Campbell Foundation which was formed after Campbell’s death.  These organizations attracted many thinkers who also became well known for their own scholarship and writings.  Also, I could include the website Thomas Ligotti Online.  Ligotti is still alive, but he has such a cult following that a website (including a forum) was created by a fan.  This forum has attracted a number of other published weird fiction writers such as Quentin S. Crisp and Matt Cardin (both of whom write about the kinds of things I mention in this post).  There are also organizations such as the Esalen Institue which has attracted many diverse thinkers and has led to much cross-pollination of ideas.

Fundies vs Atheists, Agnostics, and Mythicists

I had an interesting discussion about the messianic concept in Judaism and Christianity.  It was interesting partly because I was talking to a Jew who was fairly knowledgeable about Judaism.  I gained some new understandings or maybe just some new info.

The problem was that he was a convert from Christianity and converts are often a bit on the zealous side (btw this can include converts to atheism as well).  He seemed fairly open-minded, but there was this aspect of him that was as annoying as a Christian Fundamentalist… defensive and righteous, a very bad combination especially when you throw in a slight victim complex.  He quite likely used to be a Christian Fundamentalist and seems to have this distorted view of what all Christianity is.  I’m sorry he had such a bad experience with Christianity, but I have no desire to help him work through his issues. 

This guy seems to think of himself as a representative of Judaism… which, I must say, is unfortunate for Judaism.  The Jews should be more careful about who they convert.

The discussion mostly went well, but after a while it felt like walking across a minefield as he was so touchy about so many things.  He had a lot of emotional baggage.  The issue for me isn’t the emotional baggage.  Rather, the issue is that a person like him who is always projecting their problems onto others.  I have a lot of psychological problems of my own, but I try my best and (hopefully) am somewhat succesful at separating my problems from my interactions. 

Anyways, that discussion put the nail in the coffin for that particular forum.  I give up on trying to have intelligent discussions with people in online forums.  Why are there so many mentally disturbed people online?  I’ll save that question for another day.

Well… water under the bridge.  All of that isn’t what I wanted to talk about, not exactly at least.  The topic of this blog post is religion.  I’m attracted to religion and I enjoy discussing it, but religion can be such a depressing subject.  When I study some aspects of religious history, I start thinking that religion itself can even be the problem.  Religion can inspire people to do great and wonderful things, but it also can justify the psychotic (if not homicidal) delusions of various kinds of nutjobs.  The history of Christianity can particularly depress me.  The first thousand years of Christianity was almost and endless spree of destruction.

And then there are people who leave Christianity because of its history of bigotry and hatred only to join another religion that isn’t any better.  To pick a random example (wink wink), Judaism is in some ways worse than Christianity.  At least, Christians were going against their own scripture when persecuting and killing various peoples.  The Jewish history as recorded in their scriptures is utterly horrific.  The Jewish God even commands the Jews to commit genocide, rape, and enslavement. 

Talk about depressing.  And this whole Judeo-Christian tradition is the foundation of Western civilization.  It about makes me want to kill myself to consider that this is my cultural heritage.

This is a major issue that religious people never consider seriously.  Some religious people would respond that athiests commit horrible things as well.  Yes, this is true to an extent.  Humans in general have great capacity for cruelty.  However, the point of religion is supposed to be to help humanity strive towards higher ideals.  The evidence, unfortunately, is to the contrary.

I’m not dismissing religion.  As I see it, religion is something like the scientific knowledge of the atom.  Scientists can make atomic energy and scientists can make an atomic bomb.  Now consider what happens if some religious nut gets hold of an atomic bomb.  Forget about 9/11.  The real fun has yet to start.

I should point out that that Fundamentalism as we know it is actually a modern invention.  Fundamentalism is a response to modernity.  For instance, the extreme forms of literalism came into existence in response to modern understanding of objective reality.  In the past, people had less sense of distinction between subjective and objective realities, between myth and history.  It wasn’t even that imporant for ancient people to make such distinctions.  Literalism is the attempt of religion to retain its authority in the face of science and the secular academia in general.

So, Fundamentalism isn’t fundamental, ie., isn’t original to religion.  However, the awareness of literalism as opposed to allegorical thinking did start to develop thousands of years ago.  This was a distinction that Greek philosophers were starting to consider.  Even though literalism didn’t clearly and fully manifest until modernity, its been there from the beginning of religions such as Christianity and Islam. 

For example, some early Christians were aware of and even open to the allegorical interpretation of scripture.  Christianity, in fact, developed out of the milieu that included a growing trend of allegorical thinking.  But this was still a very new way of thinking for the human species.  The new mentality arose all of  a sudden during the Axial Age; and then, within the centuries after Christianity began, the new mentality was disappearing again.  The former Roman Empire was lost in the Dark Ages. 

It took Europe another thousand years or so to remember these ancient ideas.  The re-introduction of Greek thought (strangely enough, from Islamic culture) helped to jumpstart the Renaissance, but to balance out the Renaissance was the Reformation.  The Reformation set the groundwork for modern Fundamentalism.

Okay, all of that is basic enough.  Here we all are in the wake of modernity.  The Fundamentalists are on the defense and they become ever more dangerous as they become cornered into their own dogmatic righteousness.  In the US, we shouldn’t worry about the Islamic Fundamentalists from the Middle East.  We should be worrying about our homegrown Christian Fundamentalists.  Right now, our Fundamentalists are fat and contented by American wealth and power.  But throw in enough dissatisfaction (such as if this economic downturn lasts long enough), and we’ll start to see a new breed of American Fundamentalists.

The Fundamentalists, in the past, at least had control of the Biblical studies in academia.  However, they’re losing their grip and their apologetics is becoming obvious for what it is.  A battle is going on right now even though many people are unaware of it and of it’s greater significance.  The battle is occurring on multiple fronts.  The Fundamentalists have three mortal enemies. 

Christian theologians/apologists essentially created the Atheist movement (by creating the term) as a way of containing secularism.  They defined the terms of battle and many Atheists have been happy to play their pre-designed part.  This battle gets a lot of public attention, but its just a front for a more complex battle.

Agnostics are even more dangerous to the Fundamentalists.  Agnostics refuse to play by the rules that the apologists are familiar with.  Many Agnostics are even Christian.  Fundamentalists simply don’t understand this opponent even if they happen to notice him.  Agnosticism is more like a cancer than an enemy that can be fought.  The Agnostics are the Aikido masters.  And, to mix in another metaphor, they fly below the radar… which is to say they don’t get much publicity.  Being an Agnostic just isn’t sexy.  To think of it another way, Agnostics are like Martin Luther King Jr during the race riots.  King once said that the only reason white people listened to him was because there was an angry young black man behind him with a molotov cocktail.  In this manner, the Agnostic slips in and seems quite moderate in comparison to the raving Atheists.

Related to the Agnostics, is a new faction of Christians.  The Agnostics have been an agitating force within Christianity.  Many believers have felt a need to resolve this unsettling sense that something isn’t quite right within Christianity.  The seeds of doubt have were planted and a call of a renewal of faith has been sent out: Spong, Harpur, etc.  Christianity is not only being forced to take academia seriously, but also other religions as well.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to live in isolation from the larger world.

So, the first two groups (Atheists and Agnostics) are the one-two punch, and the latter group (the new Christians) are the knock out.  Christianity won’t be left behind in the cultural transformation going on… even though that is what many Atheists would like.  What is happening is that Christianity (along with all the other religions) is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

This is what I’m actually interested in.  There is change in the air, but its hard to know what exactly it is or where it’s heading.  Starting with the Theosophists, there has been a lineage of proponents of allegorical thinking: Theosophists to Jung to Campbell to the present Mythicists (G.A. Wells, D.M. Murdock, Tom Harpur, Freke and Gandy).  What recently brought this to the greater public attention is the movie Zeitgeist (the first part to be specific).  Many great thinkers had pointed out these mythical parallels to Christianity long before, but nobody was listening.  Zeitgeist had the advantage of being able to bypass the media censors and went straight to the internet where it went, as they say, viral.

The Fundamnetalists thought they had forced the mythicist movement permanently underground back in the 1800s.  The Apologists gained control of Biblical studies (especially in the US) and held that control for the last hundred years or so.  The internet has turned out to be the Apologists undoing despite their heavy use of it in their proseletyzing.  The Tektonics website is no match for the Mythicists.

Part of the reason is that mythology is now cool.  Movies such as Star Wars and the Matrix have given a foothold for comparative mythology to break into mainstream culture.  The imagination of Western Culture has been awoken.  Even Apologists have been forced to use these movies to reach a younger generation, but in doing so they’ve created  a foothold for comparative mythology to enter Christianity.  They can’t win for losing because they chose the wrong battle in the first place.

Movies have had this power because special effects have improved vastly in recent decades (and, of course, technology will continue to improve).  As a culture, we can create (in fiction) anything we can imagine.  This is more profound than many people realize.  And the internet has brought to the masses this ability to imaginatively create.  The collective imagination has been democratized.  Our society isn’t prepared for what will be the results of this.  A generation is being raised with all of this and they’re going to utterly transform society.  The generation growing up right now is bigger than the Baby Boomers.  The Boomers are retiring, and (because Gen X is a small generation) the Millennials will flood the job market.

I have no idea what this will mean, but it’s going to big.  To put it into the terms of Strauss and Howe, we are in the Fourth Turning.