What I do NOT believe every human being is entitled to

In a previous post, I stated what I do believe every human being is entitled to:

“I believe every human being is entitled to membership in a local, real-world community of people in which:

  • “The members agree to take responsibility for each other’s welfare—especially the welfare of the children, but that of everyone else as well.
  • “The members share certain beliefs and ideals in common—whether these beliefs and ideals be viewed as ‘religious’ or as ‘secular.’
  • “The beliefs, ideals, and rules of practice of each community are stated in authoritative writings whose meanings are clear, unambiguous, and in no way misleading, deceptive, or unnecessarily confusing; and which were originally written in the language spoken by the members of the community.

“If a community of this kind is not available to every person, then I furthermore believe that every human being has not only the right, but also the obligation, to actively oppose the efforts of any individual or group that is working, whether directly or indirectly, to prevent such communities from coming into being and being made freely available to all persons.”

I now state what I do not believe every human being is entitled to.  I do not believe every human being is entitled to membership in a local, real-world community of people in which:

  • The beliefs, ideals, and rules of practice of each community are stated in authoritative writings whose meanings are not clear and unambiguous, or which are misleading, deceptive, or unnecessarily confusing; or which were not originally written in the language spoken by the members of the community.

It is for this reason that I do not believe that any person is entitled to membership in an esoteric religious community; and since it has been found as a practical matter that the existence of esoteric religions makes it very difficult for non-esoteric religious communities to exist—that is, the type of local, real-world community in which I believe every person is entitled to membership—it logically follows that I believe every human being has both the right and the obligation to actively oppose the efforts of any individual or group that is working, whether directly or indirectly, to promote one or more esoteric religions.

Non-esoteric religions are associated with sanity, consciousness, rationality, honesty, and straightforward communication; esoteric religions are associated with their opposites.  For that reason:  There is no moral equivalence between esoteric religions and non-esoteric religions.

What would you have done?

What would you have done if—after having already given up on all esoteric (i.e., traditional) religions for good because of the “obscurity” of the meanings of their writings—you happened to remember that the esotericist Christians’ idea of paradise was a place where everything would finally be “clear, clear, clear, clear, clear”?

And what if—after having already come to the conclusion that all “prophets” (i.e., esotericists) are necessarily liars—you happened to notice that one of the ancient Jewish prophets (namely Zechariah, in 13:2-4) envisioned the “day of the Lord” as ushering in an age when there would be no more “prophesying”—and, moreover, that the reason for this would be that a “prophet” was actually someone who “spoke lies” and “deceived” people?

That’s the position in which I found myself at one point.  If you found yourself in that same position, would those “ironic coincidences” have sparked your curiosity at all?

Might they have raised the possibility in your mind that perhaps there was some unconscious “hidden message” contained in the Bible that the authors were passing along to the reader—even, to a large extent, in spite of themselves?

Continue reading “What would you have done?”

Is all of human civilization built upon a foundation of psychosis?

(The following is taken from one of the footnotes in the “full version” of my essay “Against the Lie.”)

If there is one thing I hope to convey to the reader, it is the extreme importance to society of the subject matter of schizophrenia itself, especially as it pertains to religion, so that readers who share an anti-esotericist perspective can research it more than I have been able to do.  I would also like to emphasize that the problems and traits associated with schizophrenia cannot be conceptually limited to those persons who have been officially diagnosed as “schizophrenic.”  The striking similarity between religious esotericist modes of communication and schizophrenic modes of communication simply cannot be written off as trivial.  And esotericist modes of communication underlie all of the world’s traditional religions—which in turn underlie all of human civilization.  That means that if esotericist religion is a problem that all human beings have in common, then so too is schizophrenia.  Nobody can live in human society without having been psychologically harmed by such a state of affairs.  As such, I do not think it would go too far to say that all of human civilization as we know it is at least somewhat “schizophrenogenic,” i.e., schizophrenia-producing.

Related to this, consider what the authors of the medical journal article “The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered” write in their conclusion:

We suggest that some of civilization’s most significant religious figures may have had psychotic symptoms that contributed inspiration for their revelations.  It is hoped that this analysis will engender scholarly dialogue about the rational limits of human experience and serve to educate the general public, persons living with mental illness, and healthcare providers about the possibility that persons with primary and mood disorder-associated psychotic-spectrum disorders have had a monumental influence on civilization.

(Evan D. Murray, Miles G. Cunningham, and Bruce H. Price, The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 24:4, Fall 2012, p. 424.)

However, I wish to note that my own view is that it is the authors of the ancient esoteric writings who should be considered to have been at least somewhat psychotic, and to have been the persons who received the “revelations,” rather than the characters that they wrote about (such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus).

I also wish to note that my opposition to esoteric religion is not based on my necessarily having made any determination that the esotericist authors of the sacred scriptures of the world’s traditional religions somehow crossed “the rational limits of human experience”; nor any determination that we ought to extend what we conceive those limits to be.  My opposition is instead based on the fact that those authors failed to communicate their experiences and revelations—whatever they were—in a way that was unambiguous and that would not be likely to mislead or unnecessarily confuse the general readership of their writings; and my opposition to esoteric religion is also based on my belief that by effectively requiring people to immerse themselves in writings of that kind—as the world’s traditional religions all do—those religions tend to promote the development of psychosis in society.

An overview of “practical philosophical communities” (i.e., “non-esoteric religious communities”)

(The following contains most of the second section of Chapter 6 of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay.  It provides a conceptual overview of “practical philosophical communities” or “non-esoteric religious communities,” which I believe ought to replace the esoteric, i.e. “traditional,” form of religious community.)

In the type of non-esoteric religious communities that I believe we desperately need, a person would effectively be required to take responsibility for assenting to or rejecting any proposition that claimed authority in that person’s life; but, of course, this could only happen if the person were first allowed to understand what the proposition even was—something that esotericist forms of religion (to the extent, that is, that the beliefs of the religion have their source in esoteric writings) effectively make impossible.  In short, members of non-esoteric religions would be encouraged to think more like philosophers—in the best and widest sense of that word.

However, for a person to truly “assent to” or “reject” the type of proposition that I have in mind, he would have to choose whether or not to integrate it into his life and actions:  I do not consider a person who claims to have “accepted” a certain philosophical proposition, but then fails to live his life in accordance with it, or advocate that his social institutions be designed in accordance with it, to have truly accepted it.  So philosophical or theoretical discussion that did not ultimately and finally result in the putting into practice of the theoretical propositions that had been developed would not involve propositions that had ever actually been “assented to,” since there would have been no positive commitment made with regard to those propositions.  And I consider discussion of philosophical propositions that are not capable of being either “assented to” or “rejected” in this practical sense, to be—at best—a waste of time.

I believe that to establish a society suffused with meaning requires the existence of numerous practical philosophical communities, communities in which the virtues of practical usefulness and honesty would be assigned equally high value:  the type of communities which, amazingly to me, our society does not currently have.  What we now generally find is that academic philosophy and scholarship is not seriously interested in making itself practically useful, and esoteric religion is not seriously interested in honesty and clear thinking.  A split currently exists between two sets of values or goals:  on the one hand, those of scholarship, intellectuality, honesty, clarity and precision of thought and expression, and the desire to seek out truth and knowledge; and, on the other hand, those of practical usefulness, the sharing of a sense of common meaning and purpose, the giving of life guidance, and the giving of mutual support and protection.  This split can no longer be maintained.  In fact, I think there is a close relation between the historical legacy of esotericist religion and the sterility of much of academic philosophy and scholarship in its current state (such that modern-day academicians might well be considered the “secularized” successors of the “holy class” found in traditional religious societies—but if anything, showing even less interest in their work being of practical benefit to the “laity” than their predecessors showed).  The kinds of esotericism found both in traditional religion and in modern academia are expressions of the same basic lack of a spirit of commitment, the same unwillingness to first make a rational and socially useful decision, whether through personal reflection or through discussion with others, and then to take action in conformity with that decision; and both are also expressions of the same fundamental split between the “inner” and the “outer,” between theory and practice—the overcoming of which split I believe constitutes the central concern of the New Testament (albeit one often presented in implicit and obscure form).

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A new interpretive approach: Viewing the Bible as an esoteric critique of esoteric religion

“For Plato ideas are archetypes of the things themselves, and not, in the manner of the categories, merely keys to possible experiences.  In his view they have issued from highest reason, and from that source have come to be shared in by human reason, which, however, is now no longer in its original state, but is constrained laboriously to recall, by a process of reminiscence (which is named philosophy), the old ideas, now very much obscured.  I shall not engage here in any literary enquiry into the meaning which this illustrious philosopher attached to the expression.  I need only remark that it is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject, whether in ordinary conversation or in writing, to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself.  As he has not sufficiently determined his concept, he has sometimes spoken, or even thought, in opposition to his own intention.”

—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1787), B370 (Norman Kemp Smith, trans.; the emphasis is mine)

I’m going to suggest a very big paradox—one that may at first be difficult to get one’s mind around.  I believe there is actually reason to think that the authors of the Bible may have been using an “esoteric” (i.e., “cryptic”) mode of discourse in their writings with the partially unconscious intention of criticizing the esoteric form of religion (a category in which I would include orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Gnosticism, among many other world religions).

By “esoteric religion,” I basically have in mind any religion whose core, authoritative writings are capable of having and were intended by its authors to have “double meanings”; so that any religion whose authoritative writings are overtly and indisputably allegorical, or parabolic, or obscurely metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative, would qualify as an “esoteric” religion.  And any “mythical” religion would necessarily also be an “esoteric” religion, since “myth” obviously involves obscurely metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative communication.

My personal belief is that the so-called “mythicist” position regarding the life narrative of Jesus, which views that life narrative as myth or allegory, is the correct one; and that means, based on what I just wrote, that I believe Christianity qualifies as an “esoteric religion.”  Even if it were assumed for the sake of argument that the character of “Jesus” was originally based on a single historical individual, so long as it can be shown that there was substantial embellishment, “legend-making,” “myth-making,” and allegorizing occurring in the telling of his life-story, then at some point that just blends into the mythicist position anyway.  So the essential question to be asked is whether or not significant allegorical or mythical elements can be discerned in the Gospel narratives of Jesus’s life story; if they can, the figure of “Jesus” becomes a “mythical” figure—and thus an “esoteric” figure, located at the center of an “esoteric” religion.  Mythicist authors have already made an argument for the position that these allegorical or mythical elements do in fact exist in the supposedly “historical” accounts found in the Gospels and elsewhere in the Bible; so that, in terms of what I am personally trying to do, I do not feel the need to revisit that particular argument except to refer people to the writings of those authors if they still have doubts about the allegorical or mythical nature of the Gospels.  (As for myself, based partly on the amount of time I have spent trying to make sense of the Bible, I cannot help but consider the matter to be obvious, and so have not felt any pressing need to read those authors’ books myself.)

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