10/6/08

Context

You know what's the most ironic thing? The most ironic thing is that Muslims and Christians complain that we ignore context when we read their silly books. Well, yes, the book says to kill you, they say, but look at these other verses that show how it really means “always give warm fuzzies at all times with the sole exception of when I have a noose around your neck trying to strangle you and have already stabbed you three times, otherwise be loving and kind.” Sure, buddy. By all means, let's look at the larger context.

On a little rock out in space is a species, that let's assume has learned something since the cave people—like, how to make fire, wheels, agriculture, civilization. Over the last thousand years one of the biggest things we learned is that we can't trust our own feelings. No matter how sure we are about what horse to bet on or who to love, we may still be wrong. Acceptance of this fact led to better results by relying on second opinions, double-blind studies, and all that sciencey stuff that brought us flush toilets, electronics, and painless dentistry.

Besides anesthesia, we've always known most of the world's cultures use psychotropic drugs and rituals to induce a mystical, or religious, experience that they often describe as seeing God. God, for instance, has appeared to me personally. He wasn't so impressive as he would have been without the knowledge that I'd taken two hits of LSD that morning. Great as the experience was, I never felt called to go out and preach about it.

Ever since William James first studied this in 1902 we've known that non-religious mystical experiences are indistinguishable from religious ones. The experiences are caused by chemicals in our brains that act the same as psychotropic drugs like psilocybin, ayahuasca, and lots of others. They are also triggered by other things than drugs, in fact, anything that messes up your brain's serotonin uptake. That includes emotional or physical trauma, pain, flogging, sensory deprivation, chanting, singing, rhythmic movements, fasting, intense concentration. The CIA, the BDSM community, and religions have all picked up and used every one of these, and there is one other, pyschosis.

Religion and batshit crazy have always been BFF. Every human society has its Shaman class, who are basically nuts. If he's too nuts to function at all, the tribe says he's possesed by evil spirits or some such, and they probably kill him. If they're only a little nuts they are explained as having communication with the gods, and they become shamans or priests, or whatever. In the old, ignorant days, that was all we could do. Now that we've learned something here on our little rock in space, we have better options and can diagnose and treat malfuctions of the brain just as we do malfunctions of the body. The diagnosis is this case is probably epilepsy or schizophrenia, since religious delusions are characteristic symptoms. Mystical experience are very common in schizophrenia and patients with religious delusions have much worse overall pathology and are harder to treat. If left untreated the condition commonly leads to self-harm and/or harm to others: examples of likely results are Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite.

In the old ignorant days people had no way to know the moldy bread they had been eating was often lousy with ergot. They had no idea of the effects of continued seclusion in some dark cell. When they found themselves in the predictable mystical experience the only question they could ask is “what's happening?” And the only answer they could supply was “God”.

The context is totally different now. When I sat in the park with God, I didn't ask what's happening, because I knew the lysergic acid had reached my brain. If I had not taken drugs, I would look for other sources; was I at a concert, a BDSM party, a religious retreat, or having any of the myriad other experiences that could produce this effect? If there were no reasons for this to be happening I'd probably go looking for a shrink. On the other hand, if I was still ignorant of all these causes I might conclude that one god or other had actually appeared to me, and go off on a new career as one of those wild-eyed street corner preachers that everyone describes as—guess what?--CRAZY.

If one of those obnoxious street preachers should show up at the local mosque, let alone St Peter's Cathedral or the Ka'aba, I'm pretty sure they'd do like Abu Jahl and throw his ass out. They sure as hell wouldn't shitcan their own religion and start following him around. When he happens to write down his ravings, like the Unabomber or that crazy Korean shooter, we'd treat his book as what it was, the deluded ravings of a mentally ill person that is only useful to give us some insight into exactly what is wrong with him.

So that's context. The book-thumpers want us to put their korans and bibles into it, so let's make a checklist:

Throughout history an endless succession of men follow these steps:

(1) undergo a mystical experience
(2) claim god talks to them;

(3) convince others they are not insane,

(4) gain followers,

(5) condemn those who disagree,

(6) uses their position of authority to gain

(7) personal wealth, and

(8) free access to women, since it's almost always men that pull this shit.

Usually they resort to violence and end up getting their followers and/or themselves killed, but if they can avoid that it is a very profitable racket. Some examples are: Warren Jeffs, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara, Joseph Smith, Mohammed and thousands of others. Hardly a month goes by without another news headline of someone else who fits this pattern: last week it was Tony Alamo. Do I really need to point out the pattern is about as perfect a description of Mohammed as one could make?

That is the context. The only puzzle is why Christians and Muslims never, ever, read their books in context.


2 comments:

Anubis said...

And Amen! The more I read U, the less I am worried about the world going to seed ...

Anubius said...

Life would be intolerable but for people like, who make it a walk in the lush countryside, the soft breeze & floating petals winding their fragrant way around those who happen to venture out in the 'swaying' wind ...