“Imprisonment” or “bondage” in the Bible understood as a metaphor signifying the inability to clearly communicate one’s meaning

(The following is modified version of a section found in Chapter 4 of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay.  In order to appreciate its full significance, I recommend that all of the material—including the notes and the Bible passages that I link to—be read carefully.)

In his epistles, the apostle Paul repeatedly makes reference to “bonds,” or “chains,” or “fetters,” or “imprisonment.”  I believe he likely intended words such as these to be understood by the reader as metaphors, used for the purpose of reminding the reader that what he was writing should not be taken completely at face value.  Furthermore, there are striking similarities between the way of thinking that I believe is being expressed by Paul through the use of these metaphors in his writings (and that I believe is also expressed by other authors of the Bible when they use these same kinds of metaphors), and certain ways of thinking that have sometimes been observed in schizophrenic persons.

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Why society’s tolerance of lying is not rational

(The following constitutes the entirety of Chapter 1 of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay.)

I strongly believe that all of the problems facing human society can be traced to people’s collective choice to embrace the Lie, with the Lie being viewed as a metaphysical force in the world.  That, however, is not how most other people see things.  They might agree that—as a general proposition—lying is the source of many problems in the world.  But even though they will claim not to like lying, they continue to tolerate the people and institutions that do the lying so long as none of the specific lies they tell happens to greatly disadvantage or displease them personally; and, needless to say, they also tend to be quite tolerant of their own lies.  In other words, they often have a very easy-going attitude regarding lies they consider “harmless”—but what they really mean by “harmless” is harmless to them and their narrow range of goals and concerns.

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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 honesty and the sincere and impassioned search for truth, and practical usefulness, and 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 esoteric 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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On some of the problems with “white lies”

A correspondent wrote the following to me:  “I like your idea of truth groups, and I would be willing to join one if it could accept my white lies.  I know that you allow lying for self-protection, and that is good.  Occasionally, I lie to protect others.  When my elderly grandmother asked me if I liked the pudding that she made, I lied to protect her feelings; and I am glad that I did.”

(To learn more about the idea of “truth groups,” please read the last section of Chapter 6 of Part I of my essay Against the Lie; or, for a quicker summary, read this post.)

I suspect that in this individual’s comment (which I include with his permission), he is expressing the general sentiments of many other people as well.  But I would contend that “white lies” are not necessarily as harmless as they might at first appear to be, and that a person’s desire to retain the ability to keep telling them does not necessarily provide a good reason to avoid joining a truth group whose members agreed not to tell any “white lies.”  The following story might help to illustrate why:

Let’s say that I make some pudding for you, and you actually think that it’s barely edible; but, to spare my feelings, you tell me that it is absolutely fantastic, the best pudding you’ve ever tasted, the best in the world.  And I make my pudding for various other people, and they all tell me pretty much the same thing.  I’m getting rave reviews from everyone who eats my bad pudding, because I’m “lucky” enough to be surrounded on all sides by a bunch of “nice people” who all supposedly want me to “feel good” about myself.  Everybody’s happy, right?

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The fall of “Babylon” or “Babel” seen as signifying the fall of religious esotericism

The Hebrew word for “Babylon” is actually babel—as in, the “Tower of Babel.”  Most English translations of the Old Testament translate babel as “Babylon,” but the English word “Babylon” is of Greek derivation (the Greek word is babylōn or babulōn, depending on how you choose to transliterate it).  That means that whenever an Old Testament prophet railed against “Babylon,” what he actually had in mind was “Babel”:  the very same “Babel” that we all associate with the “Tower of Babel” and the “confusing of language” or “confusion of tongues” that purportedly took place there.

Furthermore, since much of the language and symbolism in the Book of Revelation is taken from the Old Testament prophetical writings, that suggests that when the author of the Book of Revelation wrote about “mystery Babylon” or “secret Babylon,” what he actually had in mind may have also been the “Babel” that we associate with the “Tower of Babel”—and, in turn, with a “confusing of language” or “confusion of tongues.”

That this is indeed what the author of Revelation had in mind is suggested by Revelation 17:1, in which the famous “great harlot” of Babylon is described as “sitting upon many waters.”  (Why “many”?)  Then, in Revelation 17:15, the angel says to the author, “The waters that you saw where the harlot sits are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.”  Compare this to Genesis 11:6-9.

The Bible is a deeply esoteric book.  But it is my position that the Bible is not only an esoteric book—it is also, from beginning to end, and more than anything, a book about esotericism.  Moreover, I believe that the enormous importance of the symbol of “Babylon” in the Bible is due to its association with the notion of a “confusion of tongues”—which I think is really another way of saying:  Esotericism.  In other words:  Riddles.  Enigmas.  “Dark sayings.”  Cryptic parables.  Encoded meanings.  Allegorical symbols.  Obscure allusions.  Gibberish.

The Bible is one of the most paradoxical books ever written, because, even while being so thoroughly esoteric, it is my belief that the Bible’s most central and important “inner meaning” is that it is completely opposed to all esotericism, and looks forward to the day when it will cease to exist.  When a person makes an effort to look for evidence of this particular “inner meaning,” while expecting to find it, it is actually not all that hard to find.  While it’s true that the authors’ understanding of that meaning must have been partly unconscious, I nonetheless believe that this was the most central “inner meaning” that they wanted to convey to the reader.  It was a meaning that some “part” of each of their unconscious minds was, through the use of obscure symbolism, trying to “smuggle past” the “guards” set up by some other “part” of each of their own unconscious minds—the same kind of resistant psychological “part” that could also be found in the minds of many of their readers.

In short, there is reason to think that the symbolic “fall of Babylon” should be regarded as signifying the end of esotericism.  My own position is that religious esotericism is actually just a form of lying—in fact, an exceedingly dangerous form of lying, one which has had a catastrophic impact on humanity.  And there is reason to think that the author of the Book of Revelation—whether consciously or unconsciously—agreed with me, since it seems he believed that when the symbolic “Babel” or “Babylon” fell and the symbolic “new Jerusalem” came into being, the Lie itself would come to an end as an active force in the world.  (As proof, notice the special and repeated emphasis that the author gives to lying and liars in Revelation 21:8, 21:27, and 22:15.)