Psychology in Religion or as a Religion

There is a strong connection between Islamic doctrine and, as Julian Jaynes wrote about, the post-bicameral experience of the lost divine, of God/gods gone silent. As a much later religious development, Islam took this sense of loss to a further extreme in the theological claim that neither God nor the angels any longer speak to humans (Islam as Worship of a Missing God; & Islamic Voice-Hearing), and that silence will continue until the end of time.

The divine supposedly can only be known about indirectly, by way of dreams and other means. It also makes it a much more text-based religion, since Muhammad wrote down his visions there has been total divine silence. So, there is greater focus on the power of language and textual analysis, as the only hope we have of sensing the voice of God in life is by reading the words of prophets who did hear God or, in the case of Muhammad, heard the archangel Gabriel speak on behalf of God.

In a way, this makes Islam a more modern religion, much further distant from bicameral voice-hearing. It was founded, after all, more than a half millennium following the earlier monotheistic revival in the post-axial era of the first century. So, Islam could be seen as an attempt to come to terms with a world ever more dominated by Jaynesian consciousness.

Evidence of this could be seen with Islamic psychology, ilm al-nafs. In the West, psychology developed more separately from and independently of religion, specifically Christianity and Judaism. But in Islam, psychological study and mental health became central to the religion itself and developed early on. That is a telling difference, so it seems to me.

Here is a possible explanation. Unlike the other monotheistic religions, the divine mind and voice in Islam is so distant as to have no immediate contact with the human world. This forces humans to study their own minds more carefully, including dreams, to sense the influence of the divine like reading the currents of the ocean by watching the ripples on the surface. This makes psychology to be potentially all the more important to Islam.

The West, instead, has largely replaced religion with psychology. This was necessary as religion had not as fully adapted itself to the new psychological mindset that emerged from Jaynesian consciousness. This leaves an uneasy relationship between religion and psychology for Western culture, something that is maybe less of an issue within Islam.

Islam has a more complicated and nuanced relationship to voice-hearing. This maybe requires a more psychological approach. The Islamic individual has a greater responsibility in determining the sources of voices, as part of religious practice.

The Islamic tradition sees religion and psychology as being inseparable. The psychologist Carl Jung, having developed mutual respect with the Islamic scholar Henry Corbin, agreed with that view in stating to Sigmund Freud that “religion can only be replaced by religion” (quoted in Peter Kingsley’s Catafalque). Jung argued that, “We must read the Bible or we shall not understand psychology. Our psychology, our whole lives, our language and imagery, are built upon the Bible.”

There is no way to remove religion from psychology. And all that we’ve accomplished in the modern West is to turn psychology into its own religion.

Islam as Worship of a Missing God

A friend of ours is a Muslim and grew up in an Islamic country. As he talked about his religion, we realized how different it is from Christianity. There is no shared practice among Christians similar to the praying five times a day. From early on, Christianity was filled with diverse groups and disagreements, and that has only increased over time (there are over 4,600 denominations of Christianity in the United States alone). My friend had a hard time appreciating that there is no agreed upon authority, interpretation, or beliefs among all Christians.

Unlike Muhammad, Jesus never wrote anything nor was anything written down about him until much later. Nor did he intend to start a new religion. He offered no rules, social norms, instructions, etc for how to organize a church, a religious society, or a government. He didn’t even preach family values, if anything the opposite — from a command to let the dead bury themselves to the proclamation of having come to turn family members against each other. The Gospels offer no practical advice about anything. Much of Jesus’ teachings, beyond a general message of love and compassion, are vague and enigmatic, often parables that have many possible meanings.

Now compare Jesus to the Islamic prophet. Muhammad is considered the last prophet, although he never claimed to have heard the voice of God and instead supposedly having received the message secondhand through an angel. Still, according to Muslims, the Koran is the only complete holy text in existence — the final Word of God. That is also something that differs from Christianity. Jesus never asserted that God would become silent to all of humanity for eternity and that his worshippers would be condemned to a world without the God they longed for, in the way Allah never enters His own Creation.

Many Protestants and Anabaptists and those in similar groups believe that God continues to be revealed to people today, that the divine is known through direct experience, that the Bible as a holy text must be read as a personal relationship to God, not merely taken on the authority of blind faith. Some churches go so far as to teach people how to speak to and hear God (T.M. Luhrmann, When God Talks Back). Even within Catholicism, there have been further revelations of God since Jesus, from various mystics and saints that are acknowledged by the Vatican but also from ordinary Catholics claiming God spoke to them without any great fear of hereticism and excommunication.

It made me think about Julian Jaynes’ theory modern consciousness. With the collapse of the Bronze Age civilizations, there was this sense of the gods having gone silent. Yet this was never an absolute experience, as some people continued to hear the gods. Even into the modern world, occasionally people still claim to hear various gods and sometimes even found new religions based on revelations. The Bahai, for example, consider Muhammad to be just one more prophet with others having followed him. Hindus also have a living tradition of divine revelation that is equivalent to that of prophets. Only Islam, as far as I know, claims all prophecy and revelation to be ended for all time.

I was thinking about the sense of loss and loneliness people felt when bicameral societies came to an end. They were thrown onto an increasingly isolated individualism. Religion as we know it was designed to accommodate this, in order to give a sense of order, meaning and authority that had gone missing. But Islam takes this to an extreme. After Muhammad, no human supposedly would ever again personally hear, see, or experience the divine in any way (excluding mystical traditions like Sufism). For all intents and purposes, Allah has entirely receded from the world. The only sign of his existence that he left behind was a book of instructions. We must submit and comply or be punished in the afterlife, a world separate from this one

That seems so utterly depressing and dreary to me. I was raised Christian and on the far other extreme of Protestantism. My family attended the Unity Church that emphasizes direct experience of God to such a degree that the Bible itself was mostly ignored and almost irrelevant — why turn to mere words on paper when you can go straight to the source? Rather than being denied and condemned, to claim to have heard God speak would have been taken seriously. I’m no longer religious, but the nearly deist idea of a god that is distant and silent seems so alien and unappealing to me. Yet maybe that makes Islam well designed for the modern world, as it offers a strong response to atheism.

If you don’t have any experience of God, this is considered normal and expected in Islam, not something to be worried about, not something to challenge one’s faith as is common in Christianity (NDE: Spirituality vs Religiosity); and it avoids the riskiness and confusion of voice-hearing (Libby Anne, Voices in Your Head: Evangelicals and the Voice of God). One’s ignorance of the divine demonstrates one’s individual inadequacy and, as argued by religious authority, is all the more reason to submit to religious authority. Islamic relation between God and humanity is one-way, except to some extent by way of inspiration and dreams, but Allah himself never directly enters his Creation and so never directly interacts with humans, not even with prophets. Is that why constant prayer is necessary for Muslims, to offset God’s silence and vacancy? Worship of a missing God seems perfectly suited for the modern world.

Muslims are left with looking for traces of God in the Koran like ants crawling around in a footprint while trying to comprehend what made it and what it wants them to do. So, some of the ants claim to be part of a direct lineage of ants that goes back to an original ant that, according to tradition, was stepped upon by what passed by. These well-respected ants then explain to all the other ants what is meant by all the bumps and grooves in the dried mud. In worship, the ants pray toward the footprint and regularly gather to circle around it. This gives their life some sense of meaning and purpose and, besides, it maintains the social order.

That is what is needed in a world where the bicameral voices of archaic authorization no longer speak, no longer are heard. Something has to fill the silence as the loneliness it creates is unbearable. Islam has a nifty trick, embracing the emptiness and further irritating the overwhelming anxiety as it offers the salve for the soul. Muslims take the silence of God as proof of God, as a promise of something more. This otherworldly being, Allah, tells humans who don’t feel at home in this world that their real home is elsewhere, to which they will return if they do what they are told. Other religions do something similar, but Islam takes this to another level — arguably, the highest or most extreme form of monotheism, so far. The loss of the bicameral mind could not be pushed much further, one suspects, without being pushed into an abyss.

Islam is a truly modern religion. Right up there with capitalism and scientism.

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Further discussion about this can be found on the Facebook page “Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”.