- I have attended every class and been on time for all of them.
- My Sociology of Religion posts to date: Film Exam Questions 1 (11632), Film Exam Questions 2 (78654), Film Exam Questions 3 (9876), Film Exam Questions 4 (98799), and Film Exam Questions 5 (87654)
- I'm a little confused about how many of the books we are meant to have read up to this point. I have read How to Study the Sacred, The Rise of New Religions, The Sikhs, and The Gnostic Jesus. I read them all in full if that counts for anything.
- Also a bit uncertain about how many of the films we are supposed to have watched at this point; as you can see above I have watched all the films for film exams 1-5.
Quozgar Xilsunakki 49.0216 submitting report [901.4577810203] to Intergalactic Alliance database on Inhabited Planet: Psolxzra-3427h (local name “Terra-Gaia”), Star-System: Spiral Galaxy M11K711147, Quadrant: 09009067314, at Age: 21675.400096.4. Sociological analysis of document: “Genesis, Chapters 1, 2 and 3,” creation myth collection from central volume “Torah” of Hebrew tribe culture-binding text “Tanakh.”
From this text we may conclude that the Hebrew culture which produced it has not reached further than the prepubescent, mythic stage of psychospiritual development and operates under a patriarchal, authoritarian political paradigm. There is very little in the way of scientific knowledge or knowledge-acquisition methodology, and though there is a concept of higher intelligence, it is formalized almost entirely by means of a primitive memetic entity known as “YHWH,” who is simultaneously feared and worshiped as a dominating, jealous, narcissistic tyrant, promotes ignorance and blind obedience as virtues, and generally serves as an archetype of much of the most divisive and destructive psychospiritual characteristics of the primitive human species at this point in its history.
In 1:3-5 we see a description of the planet-bound-perspective-induced impression (PBPI impression) of disappearing and reappearing starlight resulting from Psolxzra-3427h's rotation on its axis and the movement of human beings on its surface relative to its host star, Psolxzra, literalized as the interchanging of separate objects, “day” and “night.” In 1:6-8, we see the PBPI impression of a blue-colored sky, in conjunction with precipitation stage of the planet's hydrological cycle, explained as a sea above the planet contained by some kind of literal sky-dome high above its surface. Both of these indicate a lack of basic astronomical understanding, and the latter also shows a lack of environmental scientific knowledge.
Further indications of Hebrew culture's poor astronomical understanding are found in 1:14-18, in which the many stars able to be perceived by the human eye from Psolxzra-3427h's surface are interpreted as small light-sources embedded in the proposed sky-dome, and described as of altogether different nature from the planet's host star, which is instead rather puzzlingly related more closely to the planet's single satellite, Psolxzra-3427h-1. Psolxzra-3427h-1 is described as emitting its own light, indicating that the Hebrews do not recognize the nature of the astronomical relationship between it, Psolxzra, and Psolxzra-3427h, instead believing literally in their PBPI impression that the star and the satellite alternately disappear to and arise from some hidden place beneath the planet. These verses also indicate, however, that Hebrew culture is at least sophisticated enough in its astronomical understanding to have developed a means of tracking culturally-important points in its seasonal process by their relationship to the PBPI impression of a slow-turning star map in the sky, likely for agricultural purposes.
We do see some intuition of the precedence of the planet's plant life to its animal life in 1:11-13, and of its aquatic animal life to other forms in 1:20 (although this is presented alongside an incorrect guess about evolutionary chronology with respect to the development of birds), but no mention is made of microbiology, and the creation as a whole is described in very vague terms of sudden, inexplicable appearance from divine thought, totally removed from any evolutionary process. The entire process of creation occurs over a timespan of a mere seven of Psolxzra-3427h's “days,” or axis-rotations, which, for the planet's relatively small size, is an incredibly short amount of time in which to grow even the most rudimentary life form, and nowhere near the span (billions of host star revolutions) over which plant, animal, and human life actually evolved on Psolxzra-3427h.
In 1:26-28 we see the Hebrews ascribing to higher intelligence their own egoistic impulse to dominate other life forms on their planet, which we can see will become a major problem for both the majority of the members of the human species and eventually the ecological balance of the planet as a whole at future points in Psolxzra-3427h's timeline. This is justified by the description of humankind as created in the “image” of the divine, which may indicate some understanding of the potential for higher intelligence within the human brain, or alternately might serve as an arrogant, egoistic declaration of human superiority and supremacy informing the subsequent declaration of a human right to domination over the rest of Psolxzra-3427h's ecology.
In 2:2-3, the seventh day of creation is designated as a special, holy day. This was likely done to ensure that the Hebrew people would submit to the will of the priest caste responsible for producing this document at the very least during the span of one out of every seven Psolxzra-3427h rotations, a significantly regular occurrence relative to the human metabolic rate, securing sufficiently routine donations of food and other resources to the priest caste for its members to survive without contributing to the work of the tribe.
Next, in 2:4-25, an alternate creation myth is put forth; the two may not originally have been intended for side-by-side analysis, but rather for use in different social contexts. In this one, the day-by-day model is abandoned in favor of a rapid sequence of creations. Unlike the creation of the first chapter, is no trace of connection in chronology between these creations and the actual evolutionary process of life's development on Psolxzra-3427h, the first human being is created before even plant life. We see even more of the dominating desires of the human ego, specifically of the human male ego, misattributed to higher intelligence.
The human male is created before all other forms of life, and all of these other forms are described as exclusively existing for his benefit and for his use, justifying by divine-right the patriarchal and authoritarian form of social organization present in Hebrew culture and future cultures grounded in this myth. Trees are created not for any purpose of their own, but to be “pleasing to the eye and good for food” (2:9). Likewise, nonhuman animals are created not for their own sake, but because “it is not good for the man to be alone,” and so that man might have “helper[s]” (2:18). In the most staggering assertion of human male arrogance among the Hebrews, we see that even the female members of the human species itself are described as having been created to be “suitable helper[s]” to their male counterparts, and were this not enough denigration on its own, the first female suffers the astonishing indignity of being crafted in 2:22 from a single small bone of the first male.
Further evidence of the agricultural society of the Hebrews is found in 2:10-15, where five lines are devoted to describing various rivers, and humanity's purpose on earth is explained as “to work and take care of” the land. The first evidence of Hebrew culture's fear of higher intelligence and valuation of ignorance comes in the next two lines, where man is commanded by the corrupted higher intelligence YHWH never to seek knowledge, here objectified as the fruit of a physical tree, lest he die. This shows us that the fear of higher knowledge and higher intelligence in Hebrew culture was so severe that it was connected directly to the ultimate fear of a culture at the mythic developmental stage: the fear of death.
Chapter 3 describes a “fall,” of humanity, indicating a vague historical awareness among the Hebrew culture of a prior age of greater ecological balance, social harmony, and relationship to higher intelligence that has been lost as a result of the domination of egoistic memes such as YHWH. Since this “fall” continues to inform the present state of the culture, however, it is described in inverted terms in which the pursuit of higher intelligence itself was its cause, and the more fervent worship and proliferation of the YHWH meme, with all its shaming of humanity and justification of oppressive hierarchy, is its solution. Additionally, in 3:6, the female of the human species is cast as responsible before the male for the instigation of this fall, adding yet more justification for patriarchy, which comes to its most explicit expression in 3:16, where YHWH directly commands woman to be subservient to man as a result of said instigation.
We can determine also that the Hebrew culture values lying and manipulation as necessary, because when humanity disobeys YHWH's command and eats of the knowledge-fruit, it is revealed that YHWH had lied about its lethality. Shaming of nudity, likely in connection with primitive, controlling attitudes towards sexuality, is also justified; the primary direct outcome of humanity's newly acquired knowledge is that they are ashamed of their bodies and feel the need to cover them (3:7). We also see here yet more human male ego on display, as the higher intelligence is depicted in 3:8 as having a human male body, and referred to with male pronouns. In 3:22 there is evidence that the Hebrews have some awareness of other memetic entities than their favored YHWH, making their religion a cult of one god in the context of a wider polytheistic system; the jealous being declares that man “has now become like one of us.”
From the evidence presented here, we reiterate our above-stated conclusion that the culture which produced analyzed document “Genesis 1-3” is at a prepubescent mythic psychospiritual developmental stage with little scientific knowledge, manifesting as a society that is patriarchal, authoritarian, and agricultural, and which values domination, egotism, ignorance, and obedience. End report. Quozgar Xilsunakki 49.0216 signing off.
Memes are units of culture/behavioral systems in the same way that genes are units of heredity/DNA. Genes dwell within the nuclei of the cells of each individual and in the collective genome of a species, code for the building of specific biological structures as determined by epigenetic mechanisms, and are transferred through sexual or asexual reproduction. Similarly, memes dwell within the minds of individuals and the collective mind of a species, code for certain perceptual and behavioral responses to various situations, and are transferred through imitation. Genes evolve according to a process of natural selection as the organisms they produce compete for resources in an environment, as well as mutation through chance or synchronistic occurrences. Memes evolve according to an analogous process as the behavioral patterns they produce compete for space in the repertoire of human behaviors, as well as mutation through chance or synchronistic occurrences. Genes compete for bodies and physical space in the biosphere. Memes compete for minds and mental space in the ideosphere.
Applied to the sociology of religion, memetic theory reveals to us why certain religions grow and thrive while others flounder or remain stagnant. Memetic theory proposes that the most successful memes tend to be those which (a) are simple, and therefore easily digested by the largest possible proportion of human minds, (b) contain a built-in mechanism for their own distribution, and (c) engage either or ideally both of the two strongest principles of human motivation, in Freudian terms, thanatos and eros. Thanatos can be defined for our purposes as the fear of death (and all the lesser fears which originate from it) and eros as the desire to live (and all the lesser desires which originate from it). Viewing religion in this context, it is easy to see why certain religions occupy greater territory in the ideosphere than others.
The dominant religions of the world, Christianity and Islam, all accord perfectly with these three guidelines for an ideally prolific meme. In accordance with (a), Christianity (in its most popular forms) offers a very simple process to conversion; all you have to do is say some form of “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” and mean it, and you're in. Likewise, Islam offers conversion by a meaningful utterance the simple declaration “There is only one God and Muhammad is his prophet.” There are of course more rules after this to flesh out the program and keep believers invested, but in both of these traditions, the fundamental basis of the larger memeplex can be transmitted in under three seconds. In accordance with (b), both implore their followers to go out into the world and convert as many people as they can.
Compare this with the much smaller, much more stagnant tradition from which both originated: Judaism. To become a Jew requires much more hoop-jumping than a simple line-reading, and Jewish doctrine contains no such imperative to convert the masses-- on the contrary, it is designed to be exclusive and primarily limited to members of the Jewish ethnic lineage. Check out this line from the introduction atop the first Google search result for “how to become Jewish”: “When a Gentile wants to become Jewish, the Rabbis are required to try to dissuade him. Only the very sincere make it through the entire process. And the process can take a long while. It may not turn out to be easy.” Another small religion, Jainism, requires adherence to a laundry list of very strict behavioral codes at odds with most mainstream cultures, such as absolute nonviolence (not even fly-swatting) and a form of vegetarianism that also excludes onions, potatoes, eggplants, and garlic. Like the Jews, the Jains also do not try to convert non-believers.
Another very large religion, Hinduism, seemingly in contradiction to guideline (b), does not ask its adherents to convert others either. However, Hinduism overcomes this by not having any formal conversion process at all, so that anyone who decides to be a Hindu is a Hindu. It further compensates by folding a wide variety of differing philosophies and traditions into itself; Christians might be surprised to find that many Hindu temples contain a portrait of Jesus Christ on their wall, revered as another enlightened guru among many.
As for guideline (c), Christianity and Islam engage both thanatos and eros by first striking fear into the hearts of potential converts with threats of eternal damnation and endless suffering in the fires of hell (thanatos) before offering eternal happiness and wish-fulfillment in heaven/paradise for the faithful (eros). By contrast, Judaism contains no concept of an afterlife. Hinduism and Buddhism both succeed on this front by offering enlightenment (Moksha in Hinduism, Nirvana in Buddhism) for their followers (eros) and in Buddhism threatening endless deaths and rebirths in the realm of suffering (Samsara) for non-adherents (thanatos).
The seven dimensions of religion, according to the work of secular religious studies pioneer Ninian Smart, are as follows:
Analyzing the foundational religions of Western culture, Judaism and Christianity, through this lens, we find that each feature elements of all seven, and begin to understand how these components work together to form a whole we call a “religion” that would not quite be said to exist in any of the seven components taken on its own.
- Doctrinal: The Rabbinical tradition in Judaism and the theological tradition in Christianity both serve the function of systematically formalizing the official teachings of their faith in an intellectually coherent way.
- Mythological: The Jewish Tanakh and the semi-derivative Christian Bible are both collections of purportedly divinely-inspired stories that describe the universe and humanity's place in it, in addition to providing a mythologized history of the religion itself.
- Ethical: Rules of human behavior are found throughout the foundational texts of both traditions, most famously in the divinely-revealed "Ten Commandments" of the book of Exodus, which is found in both the Torah of the Tanakh and the Old Testament of the Bible. Other examples of religious ethics in the Jewish and Christian traditions include the Levitican law of the Jews and the cardinal and theological virtues of the Christians.
- Ritual: The Christian mass and Jewish Shabbat are the primary rituals of each faith, observed weekly. Other rituals observed include the sacraments of the Catholic Church specifically as well as those carried over to other Christian sects, such as baptism and marriage, and in Judaism the Bris and bar/bat-mitzvah ceremonies. Holiday ceremonies such as Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah and Passover also qualify as rituals, as does prayer.
- Experiential: The mystical traditions of Judaism and Christianity exemplify perhaps the most potent realizations of the experiential dimensions of the two faiths. Other emotionally powerful practices found in each include the Christian phenomena of "speaking in tongues" and "faith healing," as well as Jewish religious festivals.
- Institutional: The many religious institutions of Christianity, most notably the Roman Catholic Church with its headquarters at the Vatican, provide rules for identifying community membership and participation and establish the faith's believers collectively as a hierarchical social entity in the larger society. The institutional dimension of Judaism is present in its synagogic communities, each a collection of Jewish laypeople and ministers organized in a hierarchy, as well as in various other Jewish institutions such as the JCC.
- Material: The churches, chapels and cathedrals of Christianity as well as various sites of mythological importance (Bethlehem, Nazareth, etc.), and the synagogues of Judaism and its similar sacred sites (Israel, Mt. Sinai, etc.) represent places that manifest the sacred in the eyes of believers. Objects like rosary beads, saint's relics, the tabernacle, and the monstrance in Catholicism specifically, and the cross in Christianity more generally, as well as the shofar, the sukkah, and the yarmulke in Judaism, and the holy books of both traditions also serve this function.
Analyzing religion in the context of the theory of evolution, it appears to have arisen as an adaptive response to the evolutionarily disadvantageous suicide urge, which likely arose as a byproduct of the evolutionarily advantageous neocortical ability to model the future. This is to say, at a certain point in our evolutionary history, some members of our ancestor species developed a larger brain which could model possible futures. This made them more evolutionarily fit, but it also made it possible for them to live with an unprecedented awareness of their own inevitable death, which likely resulted in a sense of futility and terror about life. At best this hopeless perspective may have resulted in evolutionarily disadvantageous depressive or anxious behaviors, at worst, in extremely disadvantageous, outright suicidal behaviors. Out of this pool of human ancestor species members, then, evolution selected most highly for those who were able to put the new ability of foresight to use towards ends of survival and reproduction without letting it manifest self-destructive behavior. These members would have been those who were able to establish some higher, transcendent reason to continue on undeterred and unafraid in the context of the awareness of their death.
Religion, then, was the adaptation which arose to provide this reason. For example, many religions (Christianity, Islam) postulate an afterlife, effectively erasing the impact and finality of the future-modeled death experience. Others (Hinduism, Buddhism) propose reincarnation to similar effect. More mature and esoteric religious models (Sufism, Gnosticism, Zen Buddhism) emphasize the importance of the collective self over the individual self and prescribe consciousness-altering techniques for the purpose of rewiring one's neural circuits in order to imprint a self-identity-sense grounded in the national, species, biospherical (and, at the present cutting edge, galactic, intergalactic, and multiversal) identity, rather than the identity of the individual body. This similarly has the effect of limiting the terror and finality of anticipated bodily death by rendering the death of the individual body apparently insignificant to the continuous experience of the self, in the same way that the deaths of cells in the human body are insignificant to the continuous experience of the individual-bodily self. At the highest level, in which the importance of a collective self is not only believed intellectually to take precedence over the individual-bodily self, but felt emotionally and deep-psychologically to indeed be the true identity of the experiencer, the individual-bodily death may not only apparently, but truly become insignificant to the continuous experience of the self, via telepathic meta-neural synchronization and functional unification of multiple brains, or “mind-meld.”
The sociology of religion and the biology of religion are related, but distinct approaches to understanding from a grounded, human-based perspective how religion and individual religions originated in the human species. The biological lens would focus more on the evolutionary roles filled by religion, as explained in my response to question 8, while the sociology of religion would focus primarily on social factors like politics and economics. For example, a biologist studying Hinduism might emphasize how its doctrine of reincarnation serves to mitigate the potentially paralyzing fear of death, allowing adherents to live and reproduce with a hope of a better future incarnation, or how its promise of Moksha provides adherents a purpose to strive for that transcends death. A sociologist might focus instead on how the Hindu caste system has historically served as a political tool to justify and perpetuate oppressive and inescapable class divisions in Indian society.
Karl Marx famously described religion as "the opiate of the masses," a brainwashing tool serving to content the oppressed lower classes (proletariat) with a life of toil and scarcity for the profit of the economic and social elites (bourgeoisie). By providing the proletariat with a dream of reward in the afterlife for their stolen labor on earth, as well as an imaginary spiritual world in which to escape from the horrific reality of life under capitalist oppression, religion, argues Marx, prevents proletarians from recognizing the true, exploitative nature of their situation and subsequently desiring and working for a paradise in this world. Therefore, according to Marx, by comforting and pacifying the proletariat with the immaterial, religion ultimately contributes to the maintenance of the oppressive class society operating within the material world.
Max Weber also analyzed the relationship of religion to economics, focusing in his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism on how the work ethic and rugged individualism inculcated by the protestant tradition allowed for capitalism to arise and thrive, pointing out how most successful business leaders are protestants. Specifically he points to the Calvinist doctrine, which justifies the pursuit of worldly gains as the righteous path of the "elect--" those predestined by God for salvation, whose financial success is purported to be a reward on earth for their faith. He argues that the reason why capitalism has not thrived in regions outside the West is because Eastern religions such as Confucianism and Buddhism do not support this kind of ravenous wealth-pursuit and idealization of hard work.
In comparing the four accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ given in the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we find several significant discrepancies between the accounts, indicating that the literal events of the third day following Jesus' crucifixion were unknown to at least three, but likely all four of the gospel writers. This would make sense considering that they were all written between 30 and 100 years after the events they describe occurred. Matthew's account describes the retrieval of Jesus' body by Joseph of Arimathea as occurring on the day after the Day of Preparation, while John's describes it as occurring the evening of the Day of Preparation. In Matthew's account, two women go to Jesus' tomb on the third day, while in Mark's three women do, in Luke's more than four, and in John's, only one. In Matthew's account, upon the women's arrival, there is an earthquake, and an angel appears. No earthquake occurs in the other three accounts, and Mark's account replaces the angel with a boy, Luke's with two sharp-dressed men (who are later referred to as angels), and John's with no one at all. In Matthew and Luke's accounts, after seeing the angel(s), the women left to tell the other disciples, who did not believe them, while in John, the one woman told only Peter and John, and in Mark, the crowd of women told no one.
One very peculiar detail in these resurrection accounts is presented in Matthew 27:45, where all the saints rise from the dead with Jesus and enter into town to congregate with the masses. This most certainly did not happen, as someone other than the writer of this gospel would have noticed and written it down.
Perhaps more peculiar, however, in light of modern Christian theology, is the fact that none of Jesus' disciples believe in his resurrection until they see him themselves, and at first most of them mistake him for someone else when they do. According to most modern Christian theologians, if you do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are damned to hell for eternity-- yet none of his disciples believed it at first, meaning that had they died before seeing him for themselves (or for the doubting Thomas, before sticking his finger in Jesus' abdominal wound), they would all have been damned to hell. Additionally, until these disciples saw Jesus themselves, all but Mary Magdalene denied having anything to do with him, not wanting association with an executed convict. Because of this, Professor David Lane posits in his short film "The Only Christian" and his article of the same title that Mary Magdalene, who proclaimed her love for Jesus no matter what, even if he didn't resurrect (unlike the other disciples and unlike modern "Christians"), may actually be the only Christian.
The "projective arc" defined by Professor David Lane is the process by which human beings project powers which ultimately originate from within themselves onto external objects and entities. In the context of religion, this is exemplified by the projection of the transcendental and transpersonal aspect of our own deep psychology out onto mythological figures such as gods and goddesses, or living beings such as gurus and cult leaders, and imagine that we require these totems in order to make contact with something that is truly present within us at all times. In Professor Lane's short film "The Projective Arc," he illustrates this phenomena through a description of his own early experience of "speaking in tongues" or glossolalia. While glossolalia is a recurring component of mystical, ecstatic, and transpersonal experience across cultures and across paradigms, because Professor Lane experienced his first glossolalic episode in the context of a Roman Catholic religious paradigm, he was immediately indoctrinated with the belief that this experience was exclusively tied to the symbology of the Catholic Church, specifically the Holy Spirit.
The "theological echo chamber" is Professor David Lane's term for the phenomenon wherein spiritual seekers tie their inner religious experiences too closely to the specific paradigm through which they have undertaken their spiritual quest, resulting in an inability to accurately perceive anything outside of the bounds of the doctrine of that paradigm. This is closely related to the concept of the "projective arc" described in my answer to question 14; the seeker suffering from the effects of the theological echo chamber attributes hir internal experience so deeply to the symbol-system by means of which s/he has achieved it that she cannot entertain any explanations for any of hir experiences which are not likewise connected to that symbol-system, even if an alternate intellectual framework might do a better job at effectively explaining hir experience in certain cases.
This is not to say that there is one intellectual framework that is better than all others at explaining all human experiences, and that this seeker fails to understand hir experience because s/he has thrown hir lot in with an inferior one, but rather that no one model can ever describe the fullest depth of every human experience on its own, and that if one hopes to understand all of hir experiences on the spiritual path as deeply as possible, s/he ought to be willing to entertain multiple models and see which works best in each instance, in accordance with the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Ideally, in my opinion, the spiritual seeker is best served by adopting a meta-model which contains and transcends every useful model s/he can find while remaining perpetually open to the discovery and invention of new models, so that s/he will always have something in hir intellectual toolbox to effectively deal with every novel experience that comes hir way, or at least be able to find or engineer new tools when s/he finds s/he does not.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the reason why we as human beings have learned to question the purpose behind everything we encounter, from trivial things like a clown at a baseball game, to more serious ones like our own existence, is because it increases our chances of survival by making us harder to trick. A rudimentary study of the various phenomena of mimicry and other forms of deception in the animal kingdom should reveal how this inquisitive tendency is advantageous. An animal with a smaller brain like the pied tamarin might hear the margay's imitation of the cries of a baby tamarin and rush over to help, only to become food for the margay. Were an animal like the margay to attempt to imitate the cry of a human baby, however, a human who hears its mimic might pause to wonder what a baby would be doing out in a field of grass, or listen closer to be certain whether that really is a human baby s/he is hearing, or if perhaps there is something off about the sound.
Of course, taken to an extreme, this penchant to ask why can get us into some trouble, for one who questions enough fundamental assumptions may find themselves faced with the frightening possibility that all s/he has taken to be hir own life and basic "reality" might be the highly sophisticated mimicry of some cosmic and metaphysical predator about to snap its fearsome hyperdimensional jaws shut upon hir... but that couldn't be, could it?
18. I can't say what my favorite lecture was. They all kind of bleed into each other in my memory at this point. Probably the first one.
19. My favorite reading was definitely The Gnostic Jesus; I've been gobbling up Gnostic teachings since. The Rise of New Religions was a close second; I've also been consuming a lot of Ken Wilber's work since seeing him on the class syllabus before I even started it, and more since reading it. I'd encountered his work before a couple of years ago at a workshop at Alex Grey's Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Wappingers Falls, NY, but hadn't followed up much. Thanks for reconnecting me to this brilliant man's work.