Recent conflict in Benicia Herald’s Forum between two contrasting, Protestant views of Catholic Christians would be amusing did it not reveal the distance between religious minds and good reasoning based on indisputable fact. Broadly considered, all three “Book Religions” and their contentious offshoots share the same difficulty: Judism, Christianity and Islam. Alas, none can find the common root of their problem, which, were they to learn, they would likely reject for many irrelevant “reasons.” Ah, well. The topic here is mental disorder driven by bad logic.
Verbal paradigms easily foist as facts implied notions that delude their victims or divert them from accurate perception. The Nature-Supernature dichotomy exemplifies an ancient but active Fallacy of the Undivided Middle, a complete split or disjunction between two fields or classes (categories) that mutually exclude anything between their respective domains and contents. Bad terms and terminologies often follow from hidden or covertly implied frames of reference that perpetuate semantic confusion by mere suggestion. Misframings come into mind as vague, unexamined premises or unnoticed assumptions unconsciously absorbed. Religion, for instance, is not a necessary precondition for spirituality but a common result of ill-informed people’s badly framed understanding of spirituality and its deep urge. Nature, increasingly revealed by science, is not the “nature” of antique materialism. The religious mind surrounds the mystery of existence with ideas which make it’s “cause” seem knowable and known, but which in each case substitutes a footless, conceptual idol for X which ought to remain inviolately undefined—-”footless” because grounded only on hearsay of emotionally held tradition. Myths come to supplant the pure and empty awe of simply not knowing.
Belief often substitutes for an ignorance wise in awareness of self and the limits of its knowledge. Many are the Svengali’s who foster myths with no foundation beyond assertions and the images clothing them. Not rare enough are they who, with Karl Rove’s skill, deliberately misframe and divide public sense with private perceptions of national situation and real issue in order to benefit few. Such people are not so human as spidery. They suck invisible blood from the nation to fatten well-off manipulators. In doing so, they inject destructive, semantic toxins into the body-public. Rovian punditry is a secular religion akin to East Indian Thuggee: a 19th-century cult of indiscriminate assassins bent on gaining the divine favors of their goddess, Kali. Rovians seek mainly the soul-solace and aid of their actual god, Mammon, though in public they uphold church and family values. They are happy to fill empty heads with rubbish.
Spirituality never required idols, whether made of stone or of concepts. Jesus and Buddha were iconoclasts, idol busters. Their followers erected idols again, devotional abstractions dedicated to their memory. The innerness of memories faded, leaving only husks: (1) Paul’s fabrication; (2) the divisions of Christendom; (3) all the “Schools” of Buddha-Ism except Zen; (4) the ecstatic dreams and quasi-poetic effusions of the charismatic cult-leader Mohammed who evangelized upon messages drawn from Mithraism, Manichaeism, Judaism and Christianity, and who like “Saint” Paul became his own foremost follower, establishing idolatry to himself. Our task is always to escape from such idols, the dead hands of the past. We have to get real and stay that way, finding how to regain that wholeness with which we were born. We must trust to our mental ability and moral goodness, even if these were not innate.
Entering the world, we began to learn, but we could never learn everything, nor much of anything all at once in any one session, nor did learning always add up to consistently good generalizations; for too soon those daily lessons became stereotyped and repetitive, enforcing the partiality and fragmentation of most adults around us. Restoring unified wholeness has been one of the great functions of literature from its beginning. It should be one of the ever-attendant tasks of poetry, poetics and poets, perhaps, their special, most important task: a sacred quest. We need to begin by rectifying the political unconscious of this nation which, as George Lakoff points out in The Political Mind, suffers conflict between two concepts of family: the Traditional-Conservative model in which responsibility means disciplined obedience to unquestioned authority, and the Nurturing-Liberal model in which responsibility means empathetic consideration and ethically reasonable behavior.
To sanctify or sanction one or more words over others, necessarily hypostatizes and/or reifies* the words and robs all statements employing them of semantic clarity, making a mockery of human discourse. Failure to use certain words when they would prove useful seems aphasic. Over-use of them approaches obsession. [*To reify is to rip out of context or propriety. It is pronounced “ray-fee” as in “rape” or “rye-fee” as in “to rifle an office file.” To hypostatize is to treat an abstract meaning or its name as if it had substantial reality like a material object rather than as part of an organism or implicit system, e.g., as a single-digit number-function from that whole body of arithmetical experience which defines it, making calculation possible.]
They who accept and dwell on statements weak on denotation and who talk with words connotatively overloaded, treating them as necessary, unassailable premises, have their higher intellectual functions usurped and put, as it were, into a straitjacket occupied by nonsense. Thereafter, they display imperfect sociality and manifest non-clinical but genuine dementia. Brain damage due to badly organized or “buggy” operating systems is nearly universal to human culture. Imprint of “culture” on an individual human organism begets “personality.” Culture and personalities tend to reflect each other. If one is sick, likely both are sick. Still more troublesome are people’s wholly unconscious acceptance and perpetuation of premises that imperfectly “map” reality including self. They become defective, faked up versions of what they should be. Hence, they have deleterious effects on the world.
People through the ages managed to survive mainly by ignoring defective areas of their “mental programs” in favor of those which helped them adjust to real life by modifying situations and environments to better accord with comfort and security. There seem always to have been individuals who felt drawn into the mind’s troublesome regions as golf-course designers into rough country or hogs into quicksand for mud-wallow. The results were often poor. Tampering with buggy programs goes awry when a well-meaning tamperer knows neither the program nor that he and his tamperings manifest that very malfunction. This may explain why prophets are ostracized, saviors crucified and poets severely tested, even unto suicide. Their audiences are nuts in many ways, like political opponents to whom nothing can be explained without teaching them everything all over again, even from infancy.
The worst bifurcation deforming today’s politics in the United States is clearly that between “Left” and “Right.” These differences exist more in imagination than substance. The Right fears that the Left will somehow reduce the country to absurdity in absolute Socialism. The Left fears that the Right will ultimately destroy democracy in a Corporate Facist take-over. Both should lighten up and have a little more trust in the good sense of the whole population and quit trying to dominate by unethical means instead of constructive reasoning. There are grounds for worry on both sides, but the intensity we have seen in recent election cycles exceeds reason and falls all the way into irrational paranoia.