I've stared in the Jaws of Defeat so many times it thinks I'm its dentist!
Tuesday, 28 February 2017
Monday, 27 February 2017
Some time ago I was invited to a conference entitled: Religion, Conflict and Peace: Global Perspectives. These subjects have fascinated me for some time and it was while studying for my post grad in Ecumenics that I acquired an insight that forever changed my understanding of these issues. I have been fascinated by the functions of the brain since I was a child. My interest sprung from my mother’s struggles with mental illness. My interest in psychology, personal development, and the functions and potential of the human brain has continued unabated since those early days. I was particularly thrilled with the advent of fMRI and other marvels of modern science that have allowed us to peer into the working brain.
We have learned some remarkable things from these investigations and the findings are fomenting tremendous philosophical and spiritual debate. I wanted to do a Masters on the correlation between neuroscience and spirituality, with the central focus being on how spirituality/religion affects cognitive functions - more precisely, I was interested in the correlations between the scientific paradigm of Emotional Intelligence and the spiritual goal of the actualisation of the higher or divine self [the attainment of spiritual maturity], with specific interest in exploring the spiritual and bio-mechanical underpinnings of this endeavour. Sadly, I couldn’t secure the support for this enterprise but while attempting to make this happen I discovered something, arguably, more profound and unsettling about the role neurological factors play in the evolution of religion, conflict, and peace.
We are all well aware that the human organism is subject to the operations of several key drives that are hardwired into the brain. The most well known ones would be the: Fight-or-Flight Response, biological triggers/compulsions of hunger and thirst, and of course FEAR. We understand that damage to the brain can impair us in a variety of ways in terms of: speech, movement, reasoning, empathy, learning, memory, mood, temperament, and that in the absence of a functioning brain we are reduced to the status of vegetables.
Considered spiritually, the human being can be understood as a type of triune entity – a being that exists in three inter-related dimensions: material, intellectual, and spiritual, all of which are unified through the function of personality – that volitional, controlling, and uniquely identifying element that makes the three One. Scripture viewed human being as a simple dichotomy: the Body/Temple/Vessel of Clay and the indwelling and distinct Living Being and this is a serviceable paradigm but it has its shortcomings.
These distinctions give rise to questions: If the material body is an instrument for objectivising the will of the supervening personality what factors should we be aware of in its employment? Are there practices, conditions, or factors that enhance the will or mitigate against its function? We know, for example, that physical and emotional trauma can adversely impact cognitive function; sometimes in ways subtle and sometimes in ways not so subtle. It is therefore reasonable to ask in what way these factors might impact the formation or the spiritualisation [idealisation] of our identity.
Given that neural dynamics play a crucial role in healthy and efficient cognitive function the spiritual implications of the brain appears to be inescapable. Can we be sure that the brain isn’t tricking us into the belief that we are being guided by our spiritual principles when, in fact, we are being guided by very subtle biological inclinations? Isn’t it altogether possible for us to misconstrue biological inclination for spiritual impulses? After all, haven’t the prophets taught us that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and even desperately wicked,’ ever leading us astray? Is it possible to discern the yearnings of the flesh from the ‘urging of the angels’?
I am reminded of an old saying: ‘the best trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist’. It could certainly be argued that the greatest trick ever pulled off by the brain is the belief that it doesn’t influence our thinking processes and decision making.
The insights afforded us through contemporary neuroscience tells us that such a belief is an illusion, our neural wiring has a far more profound and extensive influence on the operations of our cognitive functions than we realise and these facts present disconcerting implications for theologians and will inevitably generate considerable cognitive dissonance among religious thinkers – at least until we have fully metabolised the implications of these facts.
My insight into how all this fits together began during one particular class while studying for my post grad. I’ll be first to admit that I have been shining my boots on the backsides of the institutions of Rome since I could understand the word ‘Hypocrisy’. No one was more vociferous in their condemnation of Rome and her servants than I. However, I had an unusual reaction once while in a room surrounded by individuals that were either not brought up in the tradition or had made an open break with it. The speaker offered patronising commentary on Catholicism, which was picked up and amplified by the group. I was suddenly and unexpectedly seized by disgust and contempt and felt immediately defensive. I was shocked at these feelings; shocked, not only that I wasn’t joining in and being the most condemnatory voice in the group but, that I felt the urge to defend my tradition [my people] from these naysayers. I was utterly paralysed between what I was observing and what I was experiencing and so remained in bewildered silence.
This stayed with me for some time. I reflected upon it. I endeavoured to digest the experience by discussing it with friends. I recognised this defensive feeling as a familial feeling. As an example of this type of feeling I will use a hypothetical family member. I can criticise family members all I want: X is lazy; X is stupid; X is a grasping, greedy, lying, selfish, money grabbing, little so-and-so. However, the moment someone from outside the family says the exact same thing, even if it is factually true, I get immediately defensive. It is acceptable to me and for me and mine [the In-Group] to make such assertions but not for anyone outside the family [the Out-Group]. The very fact of their Out-Group status makes their assertions appear hostile, ill-advised, rooted in ignorance, and maliciously intended. We feel this engage when someone from outside our neighbourhood criticises our neighbourhood, when a daughter that is critical of her mother hears someone else criticise her mother, as we watch our team suffer defeat and have to endure the taunts of a pundit or some other Out-grouper, we hear it in the speech of our fellows: We did this, We lost, We were in trouble there. The ups and downs of the We is a visceral experience regardless of the fact that the ‘I’ of this equation had no material hand, act, or part in the achievement of the asserted We.
The We experience is wired into a simple philosophical inclination: All-for-One-and-One-for-All, such that if you attack one – you attack us all, conversely – if you attack US ALL you attack One, meaning that I personalise [internalise] the feeling – I feel this as an attack on ME/US and react out of the inherent neural defence mechanisms.
Examples of the operations of this dynamic abound and it is rooted in what I call the neurological entity of the Host Identity/the US/the Blended Self [in the parlance of Social Theory it is known as the In-Group]. A functional example to highlight this would be the parent-child relationship. A child is nurtured in the womb for X number of months but upon being born it is still dependent upon the nurturing care of the parents. The Parents take over the role of the placenta/womb and, in the case of caring parents, they become - in a very real sense - an extension of the child’s immune system; they will vigorously defend their child’s well being and go to great lengths to nurture it. Even though the child is a physically separate entity, it becomes a living part of the hosts; a neurologically encircuited active and integrated value within the Host Identity of the In-Group called Family.
The nurturing In-Group expands outward from immediate family to extended family, to the larger Community to which we are attached. It has experiential roots in family, and it is therefore unsurprising that the reality and concept of Family is primal in dignity and power in the wider context of culture. The growing child is supplied with a cultural matrix that nurtures and forms identity; while the adult [ideally] has a cultural matrix that facilitates the actualisation of its highest self. These matrices are absolutely vital to our well being. We acquire the essentials, and a few luxuries, of life through group association; Group belonging is essential to survival, especially so for children. The brain understands that it exists and survives because of [owes its life to] the Group/Host Identity.
The Host Identity establishes the Key-Note, the contextualising value, of a system. Just as the child is a very real subset within a larger In-Group system the Host Identity likewise exercises a determining influence in the operations of a system and of the individual’s role within that system. It is worth bearing in mind that the things, events, and forces that affect the H.I. positively or negatively can affect the individual in-group member with just as much force as if those forces were acting upon the members own child.
The fact that the sense Host Identity is as visceral and evocative of emotionally rooted behaviour as is the connection with one’s own child is easily proved.
The In-Group can comprise Family, School, Team, Company, Religious Grouping, Profession, Political Affiliation, College, Nationality, Race, ideological persuasion, you name it. The neural circuitry of the In-Group is integrated into the deep brain [most likely the Limbic System], much lower than our higher cognitive faculties, and can therefore solicit aggression from otherwise peace loving individuals. Consider the gentle grandmother who enjoys knitting booties for the grandchildren upon whom she dotes; now consider this same grandmother pitch-side when one of her little darlings is playing an important match and a member of the opposing team [an out-grouper] fouls them. Her language and demeanour change. She becomes flush with rage and screams obscenities at the offender, the referee, the opposing team, and the whole area they are from. Were the offender close enough she’d should him what a foul was! This is the same lady who, under ordinary circumstances, wouldn’t say boo to a goose but through the operations of deeply rooted neural circuitry is transformed into a vicious defender.
As another example, any one of us may have been subject to aggressive or intimidating behaviour but we’ll most often just talk our way out of it or find some way to defuse the situation with a minimum of discomfort. We are not as motivated about ourselves as we are about our In-Group because the brain sees the In-Group as more important; it places a higher value on the In-Group than on individual. Our In-Group loyalty can veto our instincts for self-preservation and give rise to what we generally regard as selfless behaviour; that is behaviour that seeks to preserve and enhance the In-Group regardless of the consequences to the individual self. This particular type of behaviour is universally regarded as the highest virtue; while the most heinous of sins is to place the self ahead of or above the interests of the In-Group; to enrich oneself at the expense of the In-Group.
What is significant about this is that the same neural Self-Defence mechanism or circuit that operates to effect self-preservation engages when we fall under the impression that the In-Group is under threat – the brain has no alternative mechanism. The brain translates the ‘I’ into the ‘We’ - the Blended Self/Host Identity - and acts with the exact same neuro-biological mechanics and power as it would when the higher cognitive functions lose the upper hand to Panic. The potency of this dynamic is bound up with the fact that to the brain the In-Group has as a higher value than just the self; the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is a value that is hardwired into the brain.
We should bear in mind that, in a normal person, during times of Panic all higher cognitive functions become subservient to the lower brain. It is older and, from an evolutionary perspective, far more effective in getting out of dangerous situations. It is non-reflective, instinctive [automatic or practically so], and therefore much faster than the higher cognitive faculties in dealing with unexpected emergencies; more definite in decision and therefore not prone to ‘freezing’; and absolute in its prerogative to survive at all costs. However, when the individual feels that the In-Group has become prey to perceived threat from an Other the Panic experienced is of a different order: it is the survival of the Group that is at stake and therefore the self vanishes in significance, the self becomes utterly absorbed into the goal of defending the In-Group; the line between Self and the H.I. is blurred and the full cognitive and physical resources of the individual are put at the disposal of the H.I. Remember: Under such circumstances it is not just you that is in danger but your entire support network: your children, siblings, parents, country, your ‘way-of-life’, your values, the memory and sacrifices of your ancestors, everything is in danger of being effaced, and the profound urgency communicated by this sense of danger exerts a tremendous mobilising effect on the cognitive capacities and physical powers of the individual. Consequently, we could say that the presence of the self is inversely proportional to the value of the perceived threat and we can argue this position as the actions during times of such stress are very highly automatic, pre-programmed, such behaviours result from pre-established programs embedded in our neural circuitry and have little, if anything, to do with our conscious [higher] minds.
Community is inevitable and fundamental to our existence and identity. Its primacy is early programmed into our sense being. We early learn to appreciate that our existence is an effect [a function] of the existence of the Group. We reason, however poorly, that one [I] cannot exist without the other [the In-Group] and this has profound implications in terms of identity formation, one’s sense of duty, and the horizon of your moral cosmos. After all, without the Group – what am I?
All In-Groups have their defining characteristics. Membership of a group is dependent upon shared values, ideals, and beliefs. Outsiders are regarded with suspicion until their orientation and alignment with group values become known. Membership confers rights and responsibilities, privileges and obligations, opportunities and protections; all of which have a cost, refusal to conform sets in motion a series of progressive punitive measures culminating ultimately in the loss of group membership [ostracism/expulsion/death].
One can be born into a group or adopted by it. Being born into a group inevitably entails involuntary subjection to the consciousness/identity forming elements of group customs and conspires to effect the fluency of the individual in the customs, values, ideals, and the historical narrative of the group identity, all of which serve to contextualise the individual’s identity [their origin] within the meta-narrative of the Group – establishing a shared identity and destiny. The group, quite literally, becomes our world in that it establishes the horizon of cultural experience [at least in youth]. Adopted members must swear oaths of allegiance and undertake to abide by the rules, live by the values of the host group, and, if necessary, defend with their very lives the welfare of the group. All groups have their creeds and their codes: Biker gangs, Freedom Fighters, Nations, Religions, even the Boy Scouts.
The global community of Christendom is divided up into many - [largely] mutually exclusive - ‘nations’, whose borders are defined by their respective creeds and codes, many of whom who have made salvation and passage into communion dependent upon the willingness of the prospective member to subscribe to their particular variation of their respective creeds and proscribe and reject everyone else’s; a salvation by right beliefs sort of thing. The fact that these structures are found repeatedly in such endless profusion [across all races and cultures] is not a coincidence– it has a biological root. It is the stamp that indicates the operation of deep neurological circuitry.
So, what can all this teach us about religion, conflict, and peace?
Let us take Catholicism as an example. It is best that I do as I am a member of that family, [albeit that I am one of the black sheep] and can therefore speak with relative impunity – as one family member speaking about the others. For now, at least, they haven’t kicked me out. Though, realistically, it’s only a matter of time really, and after this article I doubt I’ll be welcomed anywhere else.
The Catholic Church, the institutions and ideologies of Rome, all her servants high and low, and the lowly flock she shepherds, is one enormous Host Identity. It has its defining features that make it distinct from others but at heart it differs in words only; structurally it is largely the same. Protestant groups have their creeds and codes to which you must subscribe if you are to be adopted by their community. The nation of Ireland or Russia presents their demands to any prospective citizen. Citizenship is only a right to those born within the community, everyone else must earn the privilege; the means of earning this privilege varies from place to place.
When one In-Group shares the same living space with other and competing Out-Groups, the neurological dynamics of Dominance come into play. A key driving factor in this interplay between groups is the process of internalisation of Group Identity through which ‘I’ becomes ‘US/WE’ wherein and whereby an individual learns to contextualise their existence by means of the cultural instruments of the In-Group or, put another way, the individuals identity becomes encircuited into the Host Identity such that their fates are seen as identical. Dominance behaviour is rooted in our biology; it is a key step towards securing unfettered access to the perceived limited resources of an environment. Dominance is little concerned with things like: Fairness, Justice, Karma, Morality, Ethics, Mercy, and Goodness. These ideals and values are discerned by the higher mind. The biologically dominated brain is single minded, crude, and brutal. Morality is a blessing bestowed upon the faithful [loyal] members of the In-Group.
During the struggle for dominance the bestial comes to the fore, albeit that it often appears in the habiliments of self-righteousness – more than figuratively, the wolf of biological inclination in the sheep’s clothing of the raiment of cultural sophistication. When, for example, the Catholic Church is perceived to be ‘under attack’ from an ‘ISM’ of one form or another, the neurologically rooted self-defence mechanisms engage [the exact same mechanism that engages when two people (or peoples) fight or prepare to fight]. The brain immediately screens all knowledge of the Other/Out-Group for weaknesses and amplifies the supposed ‘wrongs’ suffered at their hands [the biological roots of prejudice, this same screening occurs when two people argue] and concocts a multi-pronged plan of attack involving rhetoric, invective, threats, intimidation, deception, aggression – exactly the sort of behaviour that animals demonstrate when they find themselves in strange territory and feel inclined to assert dominance for fear of appearing weak. There is much bluster and locking of horns, albeit that this occurs on a much higher intellectual plane.
Religious ‘nations’/In-Group Identities/Host Identities like Catholicism or Protestantism do not war as might England and France with weapons of steel and fire, their wars are fought using different means but the desired result is usually the same – the extermination of the diseased vermin that is the Other, and the mechanism and values that drive this behaviour in both parties is identical. A brain engaged in hostility naturally dehumanises the Other. The defensive brain creates highly simplified and distorted characterisations of the Other [exactly as occurs when two people argue]: this helps dissolve empathy and is the biological root of institutional racism and sectarianism. Group Alpha’s set the tone, inculcating group hate, group animosity, group acrimony, through consciousness forming propaganda that demonises the other; covertly or implicitly in times of ‘peace’ or overtly and explicitly in times of ‘war’. Like the Wasp Queen, she sets the mood of the nest. If she’s stressed, everybody gets stressed. If she’s at ease, everyone will feel at ease. If she says ‘FIGHT!’ everybody gets out and fights.
The images of the Other concocted by the stressed brain are stereotypes: simplified, shorthand symbols referring to threatening entities or competitors for dominance [persons or groups]. Stereotypes emerge from within In-Groups, they require the over-arching context provided by the Host Identities in order to be intelligible. Stereotypes are usually highly simplistic and drift easily into gross misrepresentation. As symbols their roots can be traced to the emotional functions of the Limbic and the symbol making Right-Brain systems – the long and arduous path across the higher functions of the pre-frontal and orbito-frontal cortex and language and logic centres of the Left Brain means that logic and rationality are often not a part of these exchanges.
Stereotypes are an attempt by the subconscious of ‘one’ [some group Alpha] to effect the conformity of consciousness, to co-opt or entrain the consciousness of an ‘other’ in the In-Group and thereby seek to establish the behavioural standard of one [favoured] group toward another [ill favoured] group. This is a key step in the effecting of the dominance of one group over another. Dominance is not about respect, it is about control of perceived limited resources, and is ultimately rooted in fear of death/extinction. Such behaviours have their roots in our biology, not our pneumatology. It is significant that we are emotional beings long before we ever learn to be rational beings. The simplistic emotional ‘logic’ of the brain I term ‘Bio-Logic’ and unless we are specifically trained otherwise bio-logic is the default operating system of most individuals.
These factors highlight the necessity of transcending biologically rooted self [the Ego] and one’s Host Identity as a prerequisite for the apperception of truth and, furthermore, indicates the value of the quest for the ultimate meta-narrative of the whole of Creation and the super Host Identity of the Great Cosmic Brotherhood that it promises.
Dehumanising and objectifying the Other dissolves and dismantles any moral quandaries or apprehensions that may exist about executing violence and injustice against the Other. The In-Group is always seen as noble, pure, honest, brave, loving, worthy, while servants of the Out-Group are depicted in opposite tones: ignoble, corrupt, cowards, hate filled, wretched, poisonous, treacherous. They are said to ‘hate us and all we stand for’, they are toxic, association with them is dangerous, their disease is infectious, contact with them must be avoided at all costs.
The biological program of the Host Identities is predisposed to suspicion of aliens and is naturally primed for defensive behaviours upon contact with perceived potential ‘competitors’. Outsiders create stress in a system because their alignment with the values and ideals of the group is unknown. In the absence of information systems tend toward chaos, and the absence of information on this issue fosters mistrust, suspicion, and paranoia, and motivates the In-Group to establish a ‘polarising filter’ through which the ‘outsider’ can only pass by projecting or assuming ‘shapes’ and/or ‘positions’ familiar to the interrogator [oaths of loyalty – tests of fealty]. Inability to meet the established criteria triggers an escalation in defensive measures. Inability or unwillingness to conform may have fatal consequences. Political, religious, and economic imperialism can trace its roots back to this biologically rooted urge to dominance and desire to establish conformity.
When the Protestant identity first emerged from its Host the birth was brutal and bloody. The off-spring was immediately perceived as an enemy – a competitor, a threat to dominance. The Host being actually dominant spent considerable resources in its attempts to destroy the child it gave birth to but to no avail. The child was found to be vigorous, inventive, highly adaptable, and utterly indomitable.
Outside of the physical implements of war employed by the servants of Rome there was considerable theological rhetoric: justifications, defences, propositions, attacks, apologetics, not to mention excommunication. The purpose of this was to bolster the identity of the Catholic In-Group with the intention of undermining the Protestant Out-Group. A considerable amount of ink has been spilled in service to this agenda. This fact proves that much of what passes for theology has its roots NOT in our pneumatology [our relationship with the spiritual and things divine] but in our biology [the bonds of the flesh that tie us to matter]. Our brains have very successfully deceived us into thinking that our reasoning served a higher purpose, that we were ‘doing God’s will’ but little did we realise how profoundly true was the declaration ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’, for in this insight do we discover that though people felt that they were acting in service to God or a higher and noble calling the fact remains that they were still servants of the flesh and not the spirit.
The animosity that exists between the Religious Host Identities exists not in the Host itself but in the hearts of its component members. Host Identities/In-Groups are not hot houses or incubators of divisive and exclusivist theology, moreover these divisive and exclusivist theologies are simply a testament to FEAR; the fear of the Other felt by its members - which exists in direct contravention of the universal brotherhood taught and lived by all spiritual masters. Religion did not invent these things. Religion can’t. Religion is not a person. Religion has neither reflective moral imagination nor free will. On macroscopic levels H.I. exhibit animal like behaviour and the reason for this can be found in the beating heart of the animal that gives life to the system.
So here we are. It was once said that ‘That there’s only enough religion in the world to make us hate one another but not enough to make us love one another.’ The line of reasoning that I have herein outlined proves that the hate is not endemic to religion but is sponsored by the fear dominated heart of the instruments of the Host Identity. It is in our very own hearts that we find the roots of invective and aggression, the will that facilitates and fosters institutional racism, sectarianism, and imperialism.
In the fear driven human heart is to be found the seed of many of the world’s troubles but it is equally in the fear purged heart, the heart inspired and illuminated by divine spiritual ideals – a will liberated from the bonds of the flesh, is to be found the cure for all that ails her.
Under such conditions, as evolving, self directing imperfect beings, conflict is inevitable but as the race matures, and we come to understand ourselves more fully, peace will be attained, first personally – on an individual, person by person basis, and thereafter socially as these healthy beings come together to form healing wholes.
This insight strikes, with lethal force, at the biological root of theological arrogance. It does not kill identity or tradition. It does not make them null and void. It contextualises its role in our evolution and helps us distinguish between good [spiritually infused] religion and bad [biologically rooted] religion. It allows us to re-contextualise religious, political, and economic imperialism; allows us to understand history anew and to envision a far better future than ever we could and do so with the realisation that such a future is truly attainable.
There is much here that I have not touched upon: the spiritual significance of Loyalty and how In-Group loyalty sets the defining meta-narrative for sin; The phenomenon of the Internalisation of Identity; The political, social, economic, and religious implications and possibilities inherent in internalisation and self transcendence; Self: knowing, understanding, directing; considerations in the synchronising of the material self with the divine/higher self; Transcending Self, Host Identity, and attaining membership of the Host Identity of the Cosmos.
Wednesday, 22 February 2017
In John 3:12 we read these intriguing lines: “I have told you of earthly things and you have not believed; how much more so would you not believe were I to tell you of heavenly things?” This sentence teaches us much about the Master’s mission on earth. His mission can be summed up into three key revelations. First, was his revelation of the Father: he showed us what God is like when he portrayed the God of boundless love, limitless mercy, and endless devotion – declaring that ‘you that have seen me have seen God.’ Second, he taught us that we are the children of the God he came to reveal. And thirdly, he taught us how the children of God live and conduct their lives: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
It is hard to imagine what must have been going through the mind of Jesus when he was deciding on the portrayal of the Father he would make. We do know, however, that he went with the conservative option. We know this because at key points in his life - when faced with unbearably difficult decisions, when he was torn utterly between his longing to help his fellow man and his aspiration to abide in all things by his Father’s Will but couldn’t decided either way yea or nay, he retreated into the Father’s Will and in pretty much every single case the Father decided YEA! Jesus chose to portray the Father as solemn and devoted. I’m sure he knew his audience well and figured that this portrayal would work best, even if it wasn’t 100% replete. Over and over again in the life of Jesus the exuberant nature of the Father would spill out over the image Jesus was crafting in his life and teachings and make considerable trouble for him.
He was, no doubt, bursting to reveal so much more but couldn’t. He knew the limits of his people and therefore wisely restrained himself in his life and teachings. In restricting his revelations he even admonished his followers and the teachers of his gospel to let their light ‘so shine’ Matt. 5:16 such that their lives would effectively illuminate and not blind their fellows…but even at that, he told his closest friends: “I have yet many things to teach you, but you could not bear them now.” John 16:12. Jesus craved to teach his followers so much more but they simply could not bear it. It would have been utterly pointless to offer teachings that would have been beyond their ability to understand. So, he must have decided to leave those revelations for another day; a day when the gospel would have spread over all the earth.
And so we return to the first line of this article: “I have told you of earthly things and you have not believed; how much more so would you not believe were I to tell you of heavenly things?” John 3:12
The life and teachings of Jesus served one great purpose: To make a revelation of God to man. In doing this another revelation was effected, the revelation of the ideal Man to the Father. He offered very little teaching on Heavenly things. There was much that was implied or suggested but almost no clear cut and distinct revelations with regard to Heavenly things. No doubt there was wisdom in this decision, people would barely believe him on simple and straight forward matters – even going so far as to murder him for his teachings. Over-revelation would have alienated him entirely from even his audience and he would have vanished from the history books as just another quack.
Would it be beyond the realms of possibility that even as the Son of Man came to reveal the nature and character of the Father that another revelation would eventually follow which might do two things: clarify the life and teachings of the Master and provide a revelation of Heavenly things? I’m sure many today would recognise that the gospel has been subject to a chain of Chinese Whispers two thousand years long and could do with some authoritative correction of the signal. I’m also fairly certain that a great many would be intrigued to learn of Heavenly things. I imagine that whereas in the past people refused his message they would be more inclined to receive it today. The trick today would be getting passed their prejudice with regard to Heavenly things.
What if I told you that this revelation has occurred and is freely available to everyone in the world? Would you dare to check it out? Would you dare to believe this revelation? Or would you, like the spiritually blind souls of old, declare such teachings to be ‘madness’?
If you’d like to know more, click here
The Devil’s Milk is an expression I use to symbolise that addictive and disorienting chemical soup that our brain releases during times of stress. While there are many studies that highlight the toxic nature of this Milk, its true danger lies not so much in how its long term effects imperils the function of our organs but in its corrosive effect on our connection with the spirit and, consequently, our connection with spiritual realities; it may, therefore, be more correctly identified as a Pneuma-toxin; a destroyer of our personal sense of and responsiveness to spiritual realities. We drink this Milk at our peril.
This Devil’s Milk is a well known guilty pleasure for most. It comes in a variety of flavours: anger, fear, greed, hatred, jealousy, resentment, lust, spite, vanity to name but a few of the more popular flavours but, regardless of which we prefer, the effects are always the same: after a few sups our higher mind [the strong man of the house Mk. 3:27] is bound and blinded and the beast within [our animalistic urges that rob us of dignity and grace] gains ascendancy rendering us spiritually blind and leaving us spiritually bereft. We awaken from these indulgences with the hangover of shame, guilt, and despair. Without exception: all the traditions warn us of the dangers of the Devil’s Milk.
The religions of the world have many things in common, structurally in creed, code, and cult: and ethically in the oft referred to Golden Rule: Treat all others as you would like to be treated. However, they also share deeper elements like the much exalted aspiration of Self Control. Furthermore, each tradition offers their respective techniques for its attainment: yoga, prayer, meditation, contemplation, study, mantra, mindfulness, service, etc. The early teachers and seers understood that the first step towards happiness is Self Control; peace is impossible without it. The Torah teaches that it is easier to take a city than to take control of one’s self; that to be without self-control is to be as ‘a city without walls’; and asserted that no one has yet tamed the tongue. In spite of the fact that ALL the traditions exalt self control and proactively promote and teach methods for its attainment, bizarrely, secular Western society – currently groaning under the health burden of gluttony, lust, and vice – hasn’t bothered to consider the social implications of having an education policy wherein self control is taught and nurtured, nor of fostering a culture wherein that is the norm. Society has not yet realised the value of the teaching that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure; it has yet to awaken to the genuine, even economic, value of the pursuit of wisdom.
The Ego is dependent on the Devil’s Milk and will engage in myriad dramas, games, and schemes to ensure its abundant supply but only the divine Ambrosia of Truth can free the Self of the madness induced by the vapours of the boiling flesh: liberate the Self from its moorings in the flesh and free it to realise the higher and more ennobling realities of the Spirit.
Self Control cannot be had without neutralising the Ego’s power to drive behaviour. The first step in achieving Self Control, then, is Self Awareness. Self Awareness implies dispassionate self observation and reflection which - eventually and ideally - leads to a thorough understanding of one’s self; deep insight into the reasons [cultural, historical, cosmic, biological and pneumalogical] that drive behaviour. Intelligent and enlightened self understanding frees us to bring our will into harmony with the dictates of highest wisdom: LOVE. Freedom, then, real liberty – is the freedom to respond to the exigencies of life from a place of Love. Bondage, even servitude to the flesh, comes with indulging in the Devil’s Milk.
Thursday, 16 February 2017
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Among my associates in Cyberland there are the few that revel when they see an atheist giving a believer [I prefer the term Faither] a good kicking. I have witnessed them yelp in gleeful delight as the revered Soldiers of Scientific Light strike yet another blow for common sense against the villainous Peddlers of Darkness - the deluded Minions of Religious Superstition. I’ve refrained from commenting on this for a long time but, as time passed, it had been proving more and more difficult to remain silent. Like Jeremiah, I found myself thinking: ‘The word of the Lord burn’s within me; like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot!’ Eventually, I felt compelled to respond to these malodorous pieces of virtual flotsam and jetsam.
I was discussing this subject recently with a colleague at work and he related how a brother of his felt his faith was shaken following an exchange between some Celebrity Atheist and a well respected New Age Guru [it may well have been this exchange here]. My friend is spiritually accomplished and, to his credit, was able to allay his brother’s concerns. This got me thinking about how often this thunder among the gods [public debates between the luminaries of science and religion] sometimes strikes fear in the heart of the meek and compelled by the urge to offer comfort, reassurance, and guidance to the faithful I wrote a piece. You can read it here.
This article drew the interest of many. Some were thrilled, some not-so-thrilled. Questions were asked about how I approach debates/exchanges/conversations with those that contend for the merits of atheistic beliefs and out of these questions came a request that I collate my responses into a coherent whole for the benefit of interested parties. So, here we go.
My approach to friends and associates of an atheistic persuasion is, firstly, to LISTEN CAREFULLY to their assertions. I would usually follow this by acknowledging the nonsensical nature of the concept of God that they are examining, offer general agreement with their position and concede the validity of their claim. If I can, I endeavour to further illuminate the inadequacies of the concept they put forward but assert that such concepts do not represent the God of my faith. I invite them to reflect on the fact that a description of a flower is not the flower. A description of a dinner is not the same as eating a dinner. A description of a foreign land cannot be equated with the experience of living in it. A description of love is not the same as falling in love, being in love, and staying in love. A description of a person is not that same as meeting and knowing the person. I contend that the same holds true when we speak of God; a description of God is not God; that there’s a big difference between the IDEAS about God and the personal EXPERIENCE of knowing God.
Generally[i] [but not always], ideas are to experience what effect is to cause – they are correlated but they are not the same. Individuals that contend for the atheist interpretation of the data of existence can only speak about God second hand as they have never experienced God, they do not know God, they must therefore rely on the accounts of others [flawed though these may be]. They are acquainted with various theories about God but they are not acquainted with the source of these theories. It is easy dissect a theory but it is impossible contend with an experience. One cannot know God and argue against His existence. However, without the personal experience of knowing God every other account, or claim to such knowledge, is mere hearsay which has not been confirmed by the disputant’s personal experience. An individual might assert in truth that they have ‘not found God’ but, to be consistent, they must add ‘YET’, and as anyone that has ever found God knows – God can be found; however, in this enterprise of finding God there is one essential without which He cannot be found, the seeker must first sincerely, and with a whole heart, want to find Him, and that was one of the key points of my original article. You cannot claim that there is no God if you have never truly searched for it and you can never find God unless you search with all your might, in the end your journey will never exceed your faith.
The various ideas, conceptions, and notions of God that are to be found among the world’s religious traditions are known to be erroneous to one degree or another even by the respective traditions that seek to preserve such concepts. This teaching is a cornerstone of most of the Abrahamic traditions: that all images of God are distortions of truth and should be zealously avoided. Every image of God create by us is, to one degree or another, largely: flawed, false, a distortion, a misrepresentation, a lie, an error, an illusion, a mistake: an imperfect material, temporal, and finite construct attempting to reflect the flawless grandeur and indivisible unity of the Spiritual, Eternal, and Infinite Source from whence all realities are derived; as the Buddhist teach, such creations are merely ‘fingers pointing to the Moon’ but they are not the Moon. Such constructs may be useful but should never be taken too seriously. Our concepts of that which we call God will be ever improving, evolving, and ever enlarging but never can they be wholly adequate – only the personal experience of knowing God can gratify the spiritual needs of the individual.
Individuals that advocate the Atheistic interpretation of the data of existence often claim great mileage out of picking apart the flaws in and tearing up images of God and exult that they’ve killed God. This is an illusion. Tearing up a photograph, portrait, or description of me cannot destroy me. The representation is NOT the thing represented. Frankly, it requires no great talent to pick at the flaws in any man made concept; and when it comes to the objects of religious devotion all finite concepts eventually collapse under the weight of the infinite. Such images may be organically linked to their source but they are not the same. The Creation REFLECTS the mind of the Creator; it is a revelation of ITS Will, Purpose, and Technique but it is not the Creator. The Creation is an EFFECT conditioned by an antecedent Cause, the Creator [The Primal Source CAUSE]; the Effect is DEPENDENT and CONDITIONED but the Source is the INDEPENDENT CONDITIONER.
Paul spoke of our experience of knowing the Divine as ‘perceiving through a glass – darkly’. He meant that our understanding of the divine is, at best, a terrible muddle but that our lack of understanding should in no way impede the expression of our love, devotion, worship, and service. The fact that we perceive things divine as ‘through a glass – darkly’ should inform the philosophy of all religious thinkers. Religious thinkers have no right to be arrogant about things we perceive ‘darkly’ and it is arrogance on the part of religious thinkers [falsely so-called] that has so irked the intellectual classes that they have risen up to put such characters in their place and they are right to. Arrogance is a spiritual poison that is toxic to the soul and fatal to any religious system it infects. One cannot be both arrogant and sincerely spiritual – they are mutually exclusive attitudes of being. Arrogance has its roots in our biology, humility in our pneumatology. The only true attitude of the sincere religionist is one of Humility. Religion without humility is an illusion. It is this sinful attitude on the part of many so-called religious that has drawn the ire of our intellectual brethren and has led them, and the flocks under their influence, to forsake the treasures of their spiritual heritage and thereby have spawned the great spiritual tragedy of the post-modern age.
Images of Deity are useful because they help us envision that which is invisible but it is the failure to distinguish the materially derived concept from the living spirit that inspired it that has bedevilled the exchanges between atheistic philosopher-scientists and philosopher-faithers. When faithers fail to distinguish between the Source reality re-presented in the image they are understandably disconcerted when atheists come along and perform a vivisection on their long cherished, albeit materialistic, notions of God but the faithful should take comfort in the fact that the creature cannot use the Creation, or even parts of the Creation, to disprove, much less destroy, the Creator. Nimble minded so-called atheists may give an impressive display but, in the end, it is all smoke and mirrors. God is Truth and you cannot use truth to disprove Truth. Faithers need not fear the rumblings of the men in their White Coats anymore than they needed to fear the rumblings of the men in their White Collars; as the Master said: ‘Fear not, believe only.’
It is the very inadequacy of our conceptualisations that summons our faith; the daring hope that the beauty, majesty, truth, and love that our spirit reveals to our souls not only has a substance but is alive, is rooted in a reality that far exceeds our greatest imagination; that the conceptualisations that we have envisioned are animated by and have their roots in the very substance of life and love we call the Spirit, Law, Divinity, God, the Source.
The indwelling spirit whispers to our souls of truth, beauty, goodness, hope, majesty, love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, perfection; it somehow communicates to the hungry soul the sublime spiritual assurance that faltering though our image of the divine may be, dimly though we perceive these glorious spiritual realities, that there is a substance to them, that the truth behind these concepts is rooted in a majestic reality that far exceeds our greatest imagination – even our fondest hope and that we are empowered to make immediate contact with this reality through faith. This reality has many names according to race, custom, and culture: Spirit, Law, Divinity, God, the Source, all of which – one way or another – endeavours to relate a reality of unequalled intelligence and benevolence, the knowing of whom inspires hope, banishes fear, and illuminates destiny.
Scientists have failed to distinguish between the two key realms of Universal Reality. Broadly stated, we can say that there is the dimension of matter: the inanimate, non-volitional, passive realities; marked by such things as mass, speed, direction, the sum of which we call momentum. Then there is the dimension of Spirit, which is comprised of the animate/animating, volitional, active/reactive/proactive, and is marked by such things as awareness, insight, and will – the sum of which we call Life. Between these two there ever intervenes the dimension of mind but as mind transcends matter I have [for convenience] categorised it with the realm of spirit.
Atheistic scientists impute to inanimate and non-volitional realities the attributes of the animating and volitional. These domains are correlated but they are not the same. The failure to distinguish between these two fundamental dimensions of being is at the root of much of the disagreements between science and religion. Different logic applies to each realm, with realities apparent to reason that are not apparent to the senses and truths apparent to faith that are not apparent to reason – each supervening one over the other.
It is a fundamental law of science that inanimate objects cannot initiate change, that if a force is applied to an object in a vacuum it will continue to move in the opposite direction to the applied force until another force acts upon it. Chairs do not move by themselves. Rocks don’t move by themselves. Guitars do not play themselves. Tables do not set themselves. Nor do inanimate things react when they are moved. They are utterly passive and non-reactive. They are NON-VOLITIONAL. This is a key distinguishing feature of that level of reality we designate as Matter.
LIFE, the reality of Living Energy, is a whole other kettle of fish. Living beings possess inherent powers of locomotion and move both themselves and other objects according to their own will in response to stimuli external or internal. Once an intelligent and creative being is placed in a position of dominance over matter that matter will act in accordance with the will, intelligence, understanding, and purpose of the Agent of Change. However, while the behaviour of the vehicle of life may reflect the will, purpose, and even insight of the dominant being – in and of itself it [the material life mechanism] does not reveal very much of the essence of the controlling being[ii]. In a sense, the being could be likened to the Black Hole: it cannot be observed directly but its presence can be inferred by how it affects the behaviour of objects within the range of its gravity. Similarly, the living being cannot be observed in matter only inferred from its behaviour. We can discern relatively instantly when the vivifying spark of life departs from the body; without the living being the body quickly resolves back into its constitutive elements – it returns to the dust from whence it was hewn. We know what happens the body upon the departure of the vivifying spark of life but only spiritual revelation and faith can reveal what happens to the Living Being that once dwelled in the Temple of the body.
Because the SOURCE OF LIFE is so much higher than the material effects [from whence its presence is inferred] it is not quite so easy pin down in a lab. Matter is, more or less, predictable[iii]; Life less so. The more the living being is governed by its material nature the more predictable it is; the more it yields to its spiritual nature the more spontaneous and creative it becomes – progressing towards ever higher logic, reason, and motives. As the living being matures spiritually it becomes personally responsive to and driven by progressively higher and higher spiritual values.
Just as gravity is fundamental in the material universe, so duty/justice is fundamental in the mind realm, even as love is fundamental to the universe of spirit. Gravity is both inescapable and indispensible in the organisation of the material universe, likewise is Justice both inescapable and indispensible in the organisation of the social/moral universe. No social system can long endure if injustice prevails: injustice, corruption, inequity, imbalances complex social systems causing them to collapse into simpler, more stable, forms, just as prevails in the material order of existence. Without due consideration of the dynamics and stresses created by gravity, mass, and density, buildings collapse into more stable forms [piles of rubble]. We can build with a certain amount of corruption/weakness in the system; we just can’t build very high – well, we can try but not without catastrophic consequences.
The indispensible function of social, economic, and political justice is soon to be impressed upon the planet as the disenfranchisement of the ordinary man has continued one apace as a result of the shameless foisting upon the world policies that promote inequality while at the same time seeking to undermine and thwart justice, and therefore continue to increase uncertainty and instability into a system with limited capacity therefore.
Terry Pratchett once pointed out that if you have simple tools you could make more sophisticated tools and with sophisticated tools you could do anything. Social systems are very similar. We start out simple and the simple makes more intelligent and effective groupings possible. Each step forward is dependent upon the integrity of the previous step. However, with the evolution of ever more powerful and sophisticated tools eventuates the need for greater individual restraint and necessitates the function of greater and greater wisdom. Power cannot be controlled without wisdom, power without wisdom carries the seeds of its own destructive dissipation and in its vanishing consumes the fool that unwisely sought to control it.
 I understand that there are a lot of subtleties associated with the word ‘Atheist’ so, for the sake of clarity, I will delineate the expression as meaning: those that do not subscribe to the idea of a personal God and who believe that religion is, by and large, superstitious hokum.
[i] All three dimensions of experience are correlated with primacy residing in the spiritual dimension and descending in order from there through the mind/psychic realm to the material order of existence. A certain form of feedback loop operates between these dimensions, e.g.: an idea/information may be instrumental in effecting a cause, while material momentum is always a factor in the forward motion of any plan.
[ii] Just as the ‘Creation REFLECTS the mind of the Creator, it is a revelation of his Will, Purpose, and Technique but it is not the Creator’ so our bodies reflect our minds, will, purpose, and even our level of insight but our bodies are not these things.
[iii] This scope of this paper is necessarily restricted, however, the relationship between Cosmic Matter and Cosmic Mind – that matter is always a substance that is acted upon, or held [however imperfectly] under the sway of some mind finite or Infinite.
Friday, 3 February 2017
I watched a great documentary a few years back called: The Great Leveller. It was an exploration of Death and Life. It focused on the two most studied primates in the world: the Baboon and the Civil Servant. It drew fascinating parallels between the lives of the two: both lived in a hierarchical civil structure, with a Dominant Alpha at the top. Interestingly, your value in the food chain extended from the Top - [the highest in perceived value] the Alpha and his immediate family [the royal court] - on down to the lowly peasant at the bottom of the food chain [the lowest in perceived value]. The Alpha of the Baboons was echoed in the Secretary General of the Civil Service but this hierarchical structure is found throughout our culture – indicating the profound influence our genetics on our social structures.
In the Baboon clan the Alpha decided who ate. The close bond of family guaranteed easy access to food but the further out from the royal family you were the lower your perceived standing in the community and the greater the difficulty in securing the necessities of life; with some enduring profound humiliation in order to acquire food.
There was a ceaseless struggle to get further up the ladder, to get higher up the tree – to establish some security for oneself.
As part of the study, the Baboon diet consisted in a daily dose of burgers and fries and so the health of the clan members was regularly checked. Curiously, while one might expect their poor diet to have adversely impacted health across the clan this did not turn out to be the case. In fact, health levels were more accurately correlated with the individual’s position on the social ladder than could have been corroborated based on diet alone. It was noted that the cell walls of the Alpha’s heart were the thickest and strongest, with the communities getting progressively thinner and weaker the further down the social ladder the individual stood; until we came at last to the bottom of the food chain and the heart of this poor soul was treacherously weak to the extent that a bad fright could cost them their lives. Interestingly, these elements were found to be reflected in the lives of the civil servants; with the rates of heart attacks and quadruple by-passes significantly higher among the lower clerks than among the highest levels in management. Among the lower clerks life was a relentless shit-eating contest; respect was at a minimum while demands were at a maximum – remarkably similar to the lives of the baboons.
Stress then, it seems, was the deciding factor in good physical [even mental] health.
Near the end of the study it was noted that there was one baboon that had escaped the attention of the researchers. This baboon didn’t play the games the others did; possessed no obvious inclination to climb the ladder; seemed to socialise for its intrinsic worth and value rather than as a manipulative play in a game for social advancement and seemed, generally, to just act as a sort of observer of events. Intrigued, the researchers ordered this individual to be assessed and, against all odds, it was discovered that the cell walls of the heart of this baboon were every bit the equal of the Alpha’s – just as strong and healthy, despite the diet.
What conclusions did they draw from this? That pulling out of the Rat Race and living a quite life in the country would be better for you than engaging in this relentless and poisonous game of social advancement; which is exactly what one civil servant had to do before life in the city killed him.
As I reflected on this over the years, the term Alpha struck my imagination. I thought about the Almighty being referred to as the Alpha and Omega and reflected on the significance of the thought that Deity is the Prime Alpha. The gospel teaches that we are the children of God – the Prime Alpha. That this Prime Alpha is motivated by profound love; who hears the prayers of the humble and who declare “before you have asked, behold, I have answered”, “who knows what you are in need of even before you do.” I thought about the emotional and spiritual value of internalising the experience of being a child of the Prime Alpha – of realising that you exist under the loving watch care of the God of all resources and how this sense of cosmic/spiritual belonging could impact your health and decisions; how it could free you from the ‘Game’, free you of the need to engage in the degrading game of jockeying for social advancement. That you could place all your real needs before your Almighty Father and rest in confident assurance that they would not go unmet; no more would you need to humiliate yourself or ‘sell your soul’ to those who wish to ‘push you down’ just to get by.
I found it intriguing to reflect on the thought that the price of remaining a child of the Prime Alpha [God] is to live as a child of God, to bear the fruits of the divine that dwells within us, to manifest our potential for God-likeness, – that we “Love one another as I [Jesus] have loved you.”
While Baboons are perfectly obedient to their animal natures, the free will children of the God of Free Will have a true choice: we can give in to the inclinations of our material and animalistic nature and abide by the brutal ethics of the jungle; where cruelty is the norm and pitiless competition the rule, where Might makes Right, and where the strong are free to prey upon the weak and the vulnerable; or we can aspire to live as the children of the Prime Alpha – to live without fear and inspired by love, where kindness is the norm, Brotherhood the foundation, and co-operation the rule, where Right makes Might, and where strength is wedded to compassion and tenderness of heart leads us to enfold the vulnerable and weak in our arms that we might nurture, strengthen, protect, and ennoble them. By so choosing we can make our animal natures subservient to our spiritual natures and thereby begin the process of removing the ‘mark of the beast’ from our characters and thus will the Kin-dom be established on Earth.
I know my choice.