The Gaia shibboleth is the acid test that distinguishes cultural paradigms which lead to destruction and discord from those that result in the survival of the diversity of human and biological life on Earth. The Gaia shibboleth is more fundamental and more ancient than religion and does not divide anyone from anyone else but heals the closing circle of coexistence in the diversity of life. It is thus the key to the solution of all intractible problems of utopian division.
Karen Armstrong delivering her TED lecture "Charter for Compassion"
We will first look at the ways in which religions violate the so-called "Golden Rule", otherwise known as the Ethic of Reciprocity, in strategies of utopian dominance, while at the same time espousing the rule to their followers, and how, to live in the closing circle of a single planet, we now have to come to terms with a new deeper ethic of diversity in coexistence, in applying the Gaia principle, as a 'Grim-Reaper' shibboleth, to resolve intractable apocalyptic divisions and avoid triage of our living futures.
The idea was generated by a TED lecture by Karen Armstrong, author of "Muhammad", and "A History of God", entitled "Charter for Compassion", in which she made a plea for understanding between the three great religions of montheism - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - along with all ethical traditions, on the basis that the uniting core of all spiritual paths is the Golden Rule.
In presenting her charter of compassion, Karen firstly enunciated the statement of Confucius:
Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.
She then recounted the anecdote of the Jewish sage Hillel:
A certain heathen came to Shammai and said to him, "Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah in the time I can stand on one foot." Thereupon he repulsed him with the rod which was in his hand. When he went to Hillel, Hillel said to him:
'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor:
that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary; go and learn. (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
The tomb of Hillel
Of course Christian readers will be more familiar with Yeshua's affirmative restatement of Hillel:
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matt 7:12).
However this affirmative statement didn't begin with Jesus, as noted in another Gospel:
"What is written in the law? how readest thou?"
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength,
and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself" (Luke 10:25).
This passage shows the deep association between the central command of monotheism - to love God unconditionally - and the ethic of reciprocity, as noted in the principal two commandments above, which source in the Old Testament from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively. Of course loving thy neighbour and thou shalt not kill applied only to other Jews and not to the Caananites, who were ostensibly slaughtered to a person by God's command at Jericho and Hazor.
Ironically, the Golden Rule is omitted from the Qur'an. Nevertheless Muhammad, having fomented the holy war of jihad, and then embraced the peace of sakina, only to exercise the deception of takiya, abrogating the peace treaty on a pretext and advancing on Mecca by force of numbers, in his final sermon eventually declared a firmly non-violent form of the rule:
"Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you."
Jeffrey Wattles (The Golden Rule New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, Questia, 4, 191-192, 24 July 2007) claims the following two Qur'anic passages, as well as a few hadith, also imply forms of the ethic of reciprocity:
Woe to those who give short weight!
Who when they measure against others take full measure;
but when they measure to them or weigh to them, diminish! (83.1)
And those who made their abode in the city and in the faith before them
love those who have fled to them, and do not find in their hearts a need of
what they are given, and prefer (them) before themselves though poverty may
afflict them, and whoever is preserved from the niggardliness of his soul,
these it is that are the successful ones (59.9).
However, the Golden Rule is by no means confined to monotheism, but is a common moral ethic shared in some form in almost all cultures, spanning the Greek philosophers, to Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu teachings:
Do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others. (Isocrates)
Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. (Pittacus)
One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other
beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter (Buddhism)
One should never do that to another
which one regards as injurious to one’s own self.
This, in brief, is the rule of dharma (Hindu - Mahabarata).
"Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain,
and your neighbor's loss as your own loss."
(Taoist - T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien).
Moreover, the ethic of reciprocity has a much wider and deeper basis than religion, in evolutionary biology itself. It is the basis of mutuality and reciprocal altruism, as elaborated by Robert Trivers. Reciprocal altruism shows how mutuality or even fully reciprocated exchanges between non-related individuals.
Animals can thus extend their social strategies of survival beyond strict genetic selection and the first step away from it, kin altruism, also common to human families and tribes, where individuals, such as siblings and offspring, have a genetic investment in caring for one-another, at least to the extent of their proportionate common genetic endowment.
Grooming is a type of altruistic behaviour that can extend to unrelated individuals when behaviour is reciprocal and the giver’s costs are smaller than the recipient’s benefits.
The evolution of mammalian emotions is centrally a way of making sociobiological dynamics more diversely adapable than instinctual genetic reactions, transcending strict genetic boundaries to form dynamically modulated social responses, from love bonding, through jealousy, fear and anger, to hate, which transcend strict genetic considerations and enable forms of affirmative and warning communication which facilitate social versatility and resilience.
In "The Biology of Morality" Richard Alexander, who had been contemplating the dark prospects of nuclear mutually assured destruction, proposed that morality has an evolutionary basis in societies agreeing to forgo intra-social opportunities for defection against neighbours, to strengthen themselves so that they can be more resilient and dominant in the face of inter-social competition from other societies.
This leads us to the arena of the Prisoners' Dilemma and strategic game theory, where Robert Axelrod in a series of real world competitions, demonstrated that in a game of defection or cooperation, tit-for-tat - doing to the other player what they did to you last time, was extremely robust in the face of both outright cooperators and outright defectors. Pavlov or simpleton - win stay lose shift - also had a relative degree of success. The strength of tit-for-tat is that it punishes defectors but cooperates with cooperators, instilling a cooperative regime without becoming a sucker to defectors. Its one drawback is cycles of retaliation to other tit-for-tatters.
Evolving forms of the Prisoners' Dilemma game can be played as cellular automata, which develop complex equilibria between defectors (black), cooperators (red), tit-for-tatters (purple), 'simpletons' using win-stay lose-shift (green) and random strategies (cyan).
The phrase "an eye for an eye", (Hebrew: עין תחת עין, ayin tahat ayin; Arabic: العين بالعينŸ, al'ain bil'ain) is not a recipe for retaliation as it is sometimes portrayed, but rather a judgment applied to a person who has taken another's eye in a fight, that they should give their own eye in compensation:
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Exodus 21:23).
The negative form of the Golden Rule is in the context of elementary game theory basically saying "don't preemptively defect". This makes absolute sense and doesn't rule out tit-for-tat, as long as two tit-for-tatters don't get caught in a cycle of retaliation. One way around this is firm-but-fair, a strategy that intermittently turns the other cheek, to break a cycle of retaliation. In real life terms, of course, the law, including Biblical law, served to punish criminal defectors, thus removing the direct necessity for settling scores by retaliation, because punishment was up to a third party arbitrator - the Judge.
Firm but Fair: One can afford to be kind and turn the other cheek out of tit-for-tat a quarter of the time and survive under a spread of payoffs. Defectors (black), cooperators (red), tit-for-tatters (purple), 'simpletons' using win-stay lose-shift (green) and firm-but-fair tit for tat with 25% cooperation (cyan). Depending on the payoffs for CC, CD, DC and DD, under a regime of noise and some mutation, the images go 3 0 4 1, 3 0 5 1 (standard payoffs), 3 0 6 1. Each is viewed at the 25th 5-game tournament round.
The affirmative Golden Rule of Jesus is very different, and in simple game theoretic terms of simultaneous play, equivalent to a suckers strategy of always cooperate. One has to bear in mind of course that simple games of strategy do not allow for the full diplomatic force of a declared moral position, so we can see in Yeshua's exhortations an ethical demand to go further than loving one's neighbour to embrace a new age of the cosmology of love in its entirety, in turning the other cheek to all:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again (Luke 6:27).
He clearly intends this to be an extension of the Golden Rule, because he immediately follows with it:
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
He then elaborates that even sinners apply the Golden Rule, so that to be like God, we have to give and forgive regardless of the cost:
For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. ... But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
This is all very well, because the Golden Rule is not a sin but an ethic, and for mortal players of the Prisoners' Dilemma game, the end result of turning the other cheek may be to invite potentially lethal exploitation, rather than for everyone to become inspired. After all the lesson of the Prisoners' Dilemma game is a form of Machiavellian intelligence - fill the field with outright cooperators and you provide a field day for a generation of outright defectors, as is clear in the first waves of the first Prisoners' Dilemma evolution figure!
It is thus more likely that one meets a martyr's fate, just as Yeshua did, sacrificed to his own mission, than the Kingdom coming by turning of the cheek. Furthermore this is setting a dangerous precedent, because it is Yeshua's crucifixion which becomes the prophetic basis for endless rounds of violent martyrdom in the Muslim tradition. It is NOT applying the test of survival of the generations, because the messiah is destroyed, and with him countless martyrs and further victims of violent martyrdom.
Not only is martyrdom central to Muslim thinking but also mortal sacrifice of others - of brothers, sisters, children and loved ones alike - for the cause of jihad:
"We are ready to sacrifice our souls,
our brothers and sisters,
our children, our loved ones
for what we believe in"
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader
In an inauguration article in the Washington Post, Eli Saslow declares that Barack Obama is a bearer of the Golden Rule: "He has devoted himself to what he considers God's truth and thereby internalized the golden rule." Despite having "a father who transitioned from Muslim to atheist as he became increasingly disillusioned with his place in the world" and "a mother who found solace in spirituality and good deeds but never showed interest in her family's Christian roots, Obama, although not a regular church attender speaks to religious leaders daily ... for the President-elect, "religion has always been less about theology than the power God inspires in communities that worship Him".
Critics of the Golden Rule highlight in various ways a fundamental problem that will lead us to the Gaia Shibboleth - the necessity of social diversity.
George Bernard Shaw, having said:
The golden rule is that there are no golden rules
went on to make his own rule:
Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you.
Their tastes may not be the same.
or in other words:
The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved
by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by."
(Karl Popper The Open Society and Its Enemies, V 2)
recently called The Platinum Rule, as illustrated below:
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them (platinumrule.com)
Kant, Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have also objected to the rule. How does one know how others want to be treated particularly if there has been no opportunity to discuss a mutually beneficial arrangement? If your values are not shared with others, the way you want to be treated will not be the way they want to be treated. For example, a masochist who follows the golden rule could act as a sadist. A seducer might suggest he should kiss a woman because he wants her to kiss him. Similar objections also apply to the Platinum Rule. If a seducer wants an unwilling woman to kiss him, it follows that she should kiss him against her will although he should refrain. Clearly a paradoxical impasse from its literal interpretation. Kant famously criticized the Golden Rule for not being sensitive to manifest differences of situation, for example between, criminal, victim, judge and executioner.
Apologists for the rule endeavour to justify it on the grounds that it is better viewed as a general in-principle guide rather than a strict rule, and that if we apply feedback in applying relatively in terms of each person's wishes, then we wouldn't want the Golden Rule applied to us in an oppressive way, so would compensate naturally since it is not of the character of the rule to oppress either us or them in a way either didn't want. This is unconvincing because conservative moral and religious traditions are notorious for literal, restrictive and punitive application of the moral ethic.
Bearing in mind the lessons of game theory and the Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis of human intellectual evolution, a more realistic strategic principle is the "tungsten shibboleth" because it stands the heat when the going gets tough:
Do unto others what furthers one or both of you,
even if it is astutely deceitful,
provided they would probably forgive you,
or at least accept their fate,
if they found you out.
Watch carefully the doings of others
in case they might subtly be doing
the same to you, or worse.
Do not do unto others
what they would seriously hurt you,
your loved ones, or your good character for,
if they ever did find out.
More fundamentally, the issue of social diversity is where we come face to face with the closing circle of ecosystemic survival. Religions and competing societies as well, as institutions, such as the capitalist free market and secular democracy, have to now learn how to coexist with one another in the closing circle of one planet and we have ultimately to come to terms with the grim-reaper test of our own viability to continue to exist. If we seriously compromise the viability of the environment, or commit a long-term genocide of our own living resources we will face our own triage.
Thus the Golden Rule has to be extended to what I will hereon call the Gaia Shibboleth, to able to deal fluently with espousing and protecting individual differences, to foster and ensure ecosystemic diversity, or we will inevitably face a situation of utopian dominance and oppression from one social, political, religious belief system or another, to the ultimate detriment of the biosphere and our natural viability and survival.
Conventional morality and particularly moral deities and religions are NOT effective at resolving the standoff of mutual dominance because they present a perpetual conflict between cooperation (with God or society) and defection (to the Devil or to expedience) that leads to apocalyptic conflict and the Day of Judgment. The reason is that morality and the Golden Rule is just an extension of Robert Trivers' reciprocal altruism, which is only one higher level phenomenon, in a diverse ecosystem, that applies only to reducing intra-social strife, to enable inter-social dominance, and it doesn't take account of ecological diversity.
How does an animal apply the Golden Rule to a plant? How does a lion apply it to a lamb? Lie down with it as Isaiah suggested?
the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. (Isaiah 11:6)
This is an unsustainable ecological nonsense - predators help keep the ecosystem sustainable by preventing the sheep eating all the grass and causing an ecological catastrophe for the sheep, grass and the lions, so animals and predators are part of the complexity and chaos of real diversity - leading to a climax paradox.
However the Prisoners' Dilemma game in its various forms DOES model the transition from war to ecosystemic climax, because, as it evolves it enables all sorts of different strategies, like tit-for-tat, win-stay–lose-shift , firm-but-fair, etc. to coexist with outright defection and cooperation, forming a fractal tactical dynamic that is a primitive model ecosystem.
Furthermore climax ecosystem IS a prime manifestation of the Prisoners' Dilemma run to its ultimate fractal complexity, so the way war can become peace is that an increasing number of niches emerge in the Prisoners' Dilemma game, which carry the dynamic, from intractable conflict to sustainable ecosystemic ecology. Thus we find noxious weeds over a long time span become climax jungle with a very large number of species distributed over any given region.
Titan's lakes: If we don't apply the Gaia shibboleth
to our intractable apocalyptic divisions in short shrift,
the universe may have to look elsewhere for the ongoing continuity of life.
We thus need to apply the Gaia Shibboleth of 'feedback to sustainable viability' to the Golden Rule to religions and societies vying for utopian dominance, and to each of the strategies we find in the Prisoners' Dilemma game of social survival.
A shibboleth (שיבולת)which means 'an ear of grain', 'stream', or 'torrent' is an acid test indicative of one's social or regional origin, originally the pronunciation used when the inhabitants of Gilead inflicted a military defeat upon the tribe of Ephraim:
Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, 'Let me cross,' the men of Gilead would ask, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' they then said, 'Very well, say Shibboleth.' If anyone said, 'Sibboleth', because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion (Judges 12:5-6)
Thus the theme of this series is to apply the Gaia Shibboleth - the 'pronunciation' that will lead to us all forgoing the distinction that enables us to annihilate the other, or for the in-group to dissemble the outsider - in using the closing circle as the acid test of all situations of intractable conflict, tragedy of the commons, or rape of the planet in its various forms, from economic crisis, through intractable apocalyptic divisions, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, the War on Terror, nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction, to habitat destruction and climate change.
The Gaia shibboleth:
Do that which will help life regenerate in diversity throughout the generations.
Do not do that which could result in any form of genocide or mass extinction.
The ultimate difficulty with Karen Armstrong's appeal that the Golden Rule should suffice to bring all the warring factions of monotheism, or the wider religious communities of the planet together is that religions exist and continue to exist as social processes because they have become next to invincible games of dominant social strategy that do not depend on cooperation, or reciprocity alone, but also have manifest characteristics of oppression and punishment of defectors and free-loaders, which are as central to the brutal fact of their long-term survival as the ethic of reciprocity.
The very reason Islam, Christianity and Judaism do not get along as the bosom buddies they profess to be, in the professed Abrahamic tradition of the one true God, is that each has an agenda of apocalyptic domination, Judaism as the elect priesthood of God, and Christianity and Islam as apocalyptic newcomers, each staking a utopian claim to the end-of-days culmination. It is thus as essential for dominant religions to strive against one another as it is for them to encourage those within their borders to apply the Golden Rule to one another.
Twins marrying twins in Russia
Religious belief has traditionally among social scientists been viewed as being largely a matter of culture and parental upbringing, that is until a series of twin studies, capped by Dean Hamer's 'The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes' (2) hit the pulp science shelves.
Hamer, having already written a controversial book on the 'gay gene' (1) which Carl Zimmer (3), in a critical review of 'The God Gene', noted "brought a huge media fanfare, but other scientists who tried to replicate the study failed", carried on to claim, on the basis of twin studies of other authors, and work he had done using his own study of smoking habits, that 'self transcendence', a measure of spiritual tendencies, had around 40% genetic heritability.
This raises all manner of issues on both the secular and religious sides of the debate about God, society and evolution. For some religious people, to say religiosity is merely a product of animal evolution is an insult to God's intelligently created design, however for others it is a sign that God intended his creation to be religious. To secular scientists, a genetic basis might also explain the social dominance of many religious systems as strategic belief systems, but it goes against the idea that religion and belief are part of culture and learning.
The self-transcendence scale is composed of three sub-sets: "self-forgetfulness" (as in the tendency to become totally absorbed in some activity, such as reading); "transpersonal identification" (a feeling of connectedness to a larger universe); and "mysticism" (an openness to believe things not literally provable, such as ESP). The difficulty with this as a measure is that it correlates as closely with trendy green environmentalism as it does with blue-blooded religious conservatism and with contemplative mysticism rather than the fundamentalism that causes major concern in the West.
Hamer claimed self-transcendence was associated with a particular variant of the VMAT2 Vesicular Monoamine Transporter gene, that plays a key role in regulating the levels of the brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which made it more active, and Hamer suggests makes people more optimistic, which makes them healthier and likely to have more children. However this has little to do with issues of religious traditions imposing conservative social regimes, expansionist political aims and utopian visions of world domination.
The self-transcendence measure was shown to be heritable by classical twin studies conducted by Lindon Eaves and Nicholas Martin (4, 5, 7). Interestingly, these studies show that specific religious beliefs (such as belief in Jesus) have no genetic basis and are instead based on purely cultural transmission.
A happy reunion! Identical twin sisters who were separated at birth have been reunited after 35 years. Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein discovered that they had been part of a secret social experiment. Researchers had kept them apart with different adoptive families to investigate theories over 'nature and nurture'. The twins, born in New York, said they might have remained oblivious if Elyse, who had been living in Paris, had not decided to look for her birth mother. She was told that the mother was not interested in meeting her, but was then informed she had an identical twin called Paula. Social workers eventually managed to reunite the pair. After their emotional meeting, twin sisters discovered that, they had been part of research conducted by psychologists - thought to be the only study of its kind on twins separated from infancy. This experiment was so secret that not even their adoptive parents were told the full truth. The twins tracked down and confronted the scientists behind the study, including Peter Neubauer, a child psychiatrist. They allege he showed no remorse and offered no apology. A year after the study ended, in 1980, the State of New York issued guidelines stopping the separating of identical twins by adoption. Mr Neubauer reportedly locked the study in a university archive not to be opened until 2066.
Follow up studies in more detail were reported in Twin Studies (5-9):
Kirk et. al. (5) investigating self-transcendence, gave heritability estimates of 37% and 41% for men and women respectively, whilst shared environment effects were not found to be significant. Modeling of self-transcendence and self-reported church attendance indicated substantially different etiologies for these variables, with shared environment playing a substantial role in church attendance behavior. This supports criticisms that church attendance alone is not necessarily an adequate measure of religiosity or spirituality, as it is evidently subject to different influences from those affecting a person’s more intrinsic characteristics.
Bouchard et. al. (6) investigating genetic and environmental influences on a somewhat different pair of measures Intrinsic (IR) and Extrinsic (ER) religiousness. The IR and ER scales distinguish between instrumental values (Extrinsic Religiousness) as a mode of conduct and terminal values (Intrinsic Religiousness) as an end state of existence: summed up as ‘the extrinsically motivated person uses his religion, whereas the intrinsically motivated person lives his religion’. Data on IR and ER from 35 pairs of monozygotic twins reared apart (MZA) and 37pairs of dizygotic twins reared apart (DZA) demonstrated significant heritability (43% and 39%), with a model containing genetic plus environmental factors fitting significantly better than a model containing only an environmental component. Twin similarity could not be explained by placement on a self-reported measure of family Moral Religious Emphasis. The questions in this study are substantially different and do come closer to measuring traditional religious values:
In a third study, Kirk et. al. (7) examined church attendance behavior in both in Australian and US populations. Although models fitted to the data from the two cohorts could not be equated, major influences appear to be additive genetic (15–35%), common environment (7–14%) and unique environment (35–48%), with small contributions from assortative mating (<10%), twin environment (<10%) (which could also arise from genotypeage interaction), non-additive genetic effects (<5%) and cultural transmission (<5%). Possible explanations of the low contribution of cultural transmission to church attendance behavior have been discussed elsewhere.
Winter et. al. (8) compared religiosity scores of twins living in more rural and traditional northern Finland with those living in the more urban and secular southern region. Girls had higher religiosity scores than did boys, and twins living in northern Finland had higher religiosity scores than those resident in southern Finland. Covariance modeling found modest heritability of religiosity [11% for girls; 22% for boys], and substantial shared environmental effects [60% and 45%] among girls and boys, respectively. Girls living in southern Finland were found to have significantly higher unshared environmental effects than girls in northern Finland, while boys living in the urban south appeared to have lower shared environmental effects, and higher additive genetic effects, than boys living in the rural north.
Boomsma et. al. (9) examined Dutch families consisting of adolescent and young adult twins and their parents. Analyses of these data showed that differences between individuals in religious upbringing, in religious affiliation and in participation in church activities are not influenced by genetic factors. The familial resemblance for different aspects of religion is high, but can be explained entirely by environmental influences common to family members. Shared genes do not contribute to familial resemblances in religion. The absence of genetic influences on variation in several dimensions of religion is in contrast to findings of genetic influences on a large number of other traits that were studied in these twin families. We thus see that the traits which have a moderately strong potential genetic basis (~40%) are very diffuse feelings of spirituality and connectedness to the world and that the case for genetic influence in regard to more conservative social measures of religiosity, such as church attendance is more ambiguous with some studies reporting a moderate influence (11%-35%) and others reporting no effect.
The suggested connection with VMAT2 highlights the fallacy of linking a very general neurotransmitter transport gene active in dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and histamine thus spanning most of the neurotransmitters involved in stimulants, anti-depressants, and psychedelics and deficiencies associated with stimulant addiction.
Genetic variation in major agents in neuro-physiology is very likely to spill over into major differences of outlook, but whether these are selected for or contribute to religiosity, rather than a host of other emotional, personality or cognitive traits remains unresolved. However when we come to examine social traits to do with trust and social reputation, we may find a new set of genetic factors which may have more impact and bearing on the social dimension of religions as dominant strategic processes in human societies.
Robin Dunbar (10), a proponent of religion as an evolutionary trait, notes that evolutionary biologists have identified at least four ways in which religion might be of benefit in terms of evolutionary fitness. The first is to give sufficient explanatory structure to the universe to allow us to control it, perhaps through the intercession of God or a spirit world. The second is to make us feel better about life, or at least resigned to its worst vagaries - Marx's "opium of the masses". A third is that religions provide and enforce some kind of moral code, so keeping social order. Finally, religious belief might bring a sense of communality, of group membership.
Although the first is plausible and was supported by Freud, Dunbar suggests this doesn't make evolutionary sense as there is no real control of nature provided. The second is also plausible since recent sociological studies have shown that compared with non-religious people, the actively religious are happier, live longer, suffer fewer physical and mental illnesses, and recover faster from medical interventions such as surgery. Dunbar discounts the moral code thesis because he perceives it to be a more recent manifestation of organized world religions, rather than simple faiths held spontaneously by small bands of early humans, but opts for the sense of communality gained as the key, also favoured by Durkheim.
He suggests that religions bond societies because they exploit a whole suite of rituals that are extremely good at triggering the release of endorphins, natural opioids in the brain, noting that this may be why religious rituals so often involve activities that are physically stressful - singing, dancing, repetitive swaying or bobbing movements, awkward postures like kneeling or the lotus position, counting beads, and occasionally even seriously painful activities like self-flagellation.
Ape and monkey societies establish mutual trust through time-consuming mutual activities such as grooming. As human societies came to involve larger groups than such one-on-one contact provide, he suggests that gossip and then small-scale religious belief could have taken over the role of guarding against free-riders and social parasites.
Looking at the nature of theology cognitively, Dunbar suggests this involves fifth-order intentionality: "Take the statement: "I believe that god wants..." To grasp this an individual needs theory of mind - the capacity to understand that another individual (in this case, god) has a mind of his own. Philosophers call this "second-order intentionality" because such statements contain two notions of intent: I believe and god wants. But we need more than this to build a religion.
Third-order intentionality allows me to state: I believe that god wants us to act with righteous intent. At this level, I have personal religion. But if I am to persuade you to join me in this view, I have to add your mind state: I want you to believe that god wants us to act righteously. That's fourth-order intentionality, and it gives us social religion. Even now, you can accept the truth of my statement and still it commits you to nothing. But add a fifth level (I want you to know that we both believe that god wants us to act righteously) and now, if you accept the validity of my claim, you also implicitly accept that you believe it too. Now we have what I call communal religion: together, we can invoke a spiritual force that obliges, perhaps even forces, us to behave in a certain way."
He suggests Homo erectus would have aspired to third-order intentionality, perhaps allowing them to have personal beliefs about the world. Fourth-order intentionality - equating to social religion - appeared with archaic humans around 500,000 years ago. And fifth order didn't appear much before the evolution of anatomically modern humans around 200,000 years ago - early enough to ensure that all living humans share this trait, but late enough to suggest that it was probably a unique adaptation.
He points out the relationship between the brain's neocortex and social group size in primates, suggesting, this "social brain hypothesis" predicts that around the time our ancestors evolved the capacity for fifth-order intentionality their community sizes would have exceeded about 120 individuals. Religion may have evolved to provide the mechanism for bonding them into a coherent social unit.
In 'Born believers: How your brain creates God' (11) Michael Brooks looks at the alternative approach, that religion is not adaptive, but, are rather a natural consequence of the way humans perceive the world. Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human. although, science has until recently shied away from asking why. "It's not that religion is not important," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, "it's that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress."
However, religion-as-an-adaptation has its critics. Anthropologist Scott Atran points out, the evolutionary benefits of holding such unfounded beliefs are questionable. "I don't think the idea makes much sense, given the kinds of things you find in religion," he says. A belief in life after death, for example, is hardly compatible with surviving in the here-and-now and propagating your genes.
An alternative being put forward by Atran and others is that religion emerges as a natural by-product of the way the human mind works. "Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett.
Bloom and colleagues have shown that babies as young as five months make a distinction between inanimate objects and people. Shown a box moving in a stop-start way, babies show surprise. But a person moving in the same way elicits no surprise. To babies, objects ought to obey the laws of physics and move in a predictable way. People, on the other hand, have their own intentions and goals, and move however they choose.
Bloom says the two systems are autonomous, leaving us with two viewpoints on the world: one that deals with conscious minds, and one that handles bodies and physical aspects of the world. He calls this innate assumption "common-sense dualism". "We very naturally accept you can leave your body in a dream, or in astral projection or some sort of magic. These are universal views."
Roughly half of all 4-year-olds have had an imaginary friend, and adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives, fictional characters and fantasy partners. As Barrett points out, this is an evolutionarily useful skill. Without it we would be unable to maintain large social hierarchies and alliances or anticipate what an unseen enemy might be planning.
In 2004, Jesse Bering, put on a puppet show for a group of pre-school children in which an alligator ate a mouse. When asked 'physical' questions, such as: "Can the mouse still be sick? Does it need to drink?" The children said no. But when asked more 'spiritual' questions, such as "does the mouse think and know things?", the children answered yes. Bering thus considers a belief in some form of life apart from that experienced in the body to be the default setting of the human brain.
From there it is only a short step to conceptualising spirits, dead ancestors and, of course, gods, says psychologist Pascal Boyer, who points out that people expect their gods' minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting they spring from the same brain system that enables us to think about absent or non-existent people. Again, this over-attribution of cause and effect probably evolved for survival. If there are predators around, it is no good spotting them 9 times out of 10. Running away when you don't have to is a small price to pay for avoiding danger when the threat is real.
Deborah Kelemen of the University of Arizona in Tucson asked 7 and 8-year-old children questions about inanimate objects and animals, she found that most believed they were created for a specific purpose. Kelemen has found that adults are just as inclined to see design and intention where there is none. Put under pressure to explain natural phenomena, adults often fall back on teleological arguments, such as "trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe" or "the sun is hot because warmth nurtures life". Her results also show that most adults tacitly believe they have souls.
In subsequent studies she has found that this tendency to favour explanations invoking purpose-seeking yet false explanations of natural phenomena - promiscuous teleology - is shared by both religious and non-religious adults, suggesting that humans are neurobiologically predisposed to be susceptible to 'intelligent design' and creationist explanations (Cognition (DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.01.001, Callaway, Ewen "Humans may be primed to believe in creation" New Scientist 2 Mar 2009).
In similar experiments, Olivera Petrovich of the University of Oxford asked pre-school children about the origins of natural things such as plants and animals. She found they were seven times as likely to answer that they were made by god than made by people. Although religious adults have very different mindsets from children, concentrating more on the moral dimensions of their faith and less on its supernatural attributes.
Even so, religion is an inescapable artefact of the wiring in our brain, says Bloom. "All humans possess the brain circuitry and that never goes away." Petrovich adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking, particularly during traumatic moments in their lives.
In an experiment in Science (12) Jennifer Whitson and Adam A, asked people what patterns they could see in arrangements of dots or stock market information. Before asking, Whitson and Galinsky made half their participants feel a lack of control, either by giving them feedback unrelated to their performance or by having them recall experiences where they had lost control of a situation. The results were striking. The subjects who sensed a loss of control were much more likely to see patterns where there were none.
These findings also challenge the idea that religion is an adaptation. "Yes, religion helps create large societies - and once you have large societies you can outcompete groups that don't," Atran says. "But it arises as an artefact of the ability to build fictive worlds. I don't think there's an adaptation for religion any more than there's an adaptation to make airplanes."
Supporters of the adaptation hypothesis, however, say that the two ideas are not mutually exclusive and may be complementary.
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that religion is propagated through indoctrination, especially of children: Evolution predisposes children to swallow whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them, as trusting obedience is valuable for survival, leading to "slavish gullibility" in the face of religious claims. Dawkins also sees the two approaches as complementary: "I am thoroughly happy with believing that children are predisposed to believe in invisible gods - I always was," says Dawkins. "But I also find the indoctrination hypothesis plausible. The two influences could, and I suspect do, reinforce one another."
The Cerebral "God Spot"
In 1997 Vilayanur Ramachandran of UC San Diego (1) astounded the media world by suggesting that the brain had a 'God spot" or "God module", which united feelings of religious fervour with supreme significance.
The physiological basis for this is the fact that the emotional limbic system, and particularly the amygdala, which is responsible for integrating intense emotional feelings of paranoia and ecstasy associated with survival and threats to survival, is situated alongside the limits of the temporal lobe, which processes semantic meaning and its significance. Thus excitations linking the two could result in a simultaneous experience of extreme fulfillment and intense significance - equating to a profound religious, or mystical experience.
Ramachandran had been studying cases of temporal lobe epilepsy in which the patients experienced deep religious feelings during their seizures which they revered and found to be of great significance to their personal lives. His team went on to do a study involving comparing epileptic patients with normal people and a group who said they were intensely religious. Electrical monitors on their skin a standard test for activity in the brain's temporal lobes showed that the epileptics and the deeply religious displayed a similar response when shown words invoking spiritual belief.
One effect of the patients' seizures was to strengthen their brain's involuntary response to religious words, leading the scientists to suggest a portion of the brain was naturally attuned to ideas about a supreme being: "There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion. This may have evolved to impose order and stability on society," the team reported at a conference.
As we have noted, evolutionary scientists have suggested that belief in God, which is a common trait found in human societies around the world and throughout history, may be built into the brain's complex electrical circuitry as a Darwinian adaptation to encourage co-operation between individuals.
Reactions to this announcement were varied. Some religious people, spanning a spectrum from Christians to Muslims, raced to publish claims that this proved the existence of God and the existence of the Creator's master plan. More liberal Christians, such as the Bishop of Oxford, said whether there is a "God module" is a question for scientists, not theologians, nevertheless noting "It would not be surprising if God had created us with a physical facility for belief".
To seal the case for the temporal lobe’s involvement, Michael Persinger (2) of Laurentian University in Ontario sought to artificially re-create religious feelings by electrically stimulating that large subdivision of the brain, using his “God helmet,” which generates weak electromagnetic fields and focuses them on particular regions of the brain’s surface. The researchers induced in most subjects the experience of a sensed presence—a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is—or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language—terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe. Valiantly or foolhardily, he tried in on perhaps the least suggestible person on the planet, Richard Dawkins, who duly reported not a flicker of the Immanent Presence (9). Although a 2005 attempt by Swedish scientists to replicate Persinger’s God helmet findings failed, researchers are not yet discounting the temporal lobe’s role in some types of religious experience.
The difficulty with the popular science cliche of the "God spot" (3, 4) is that subsequent studies looking at specific types of religious experience from devout Nuns to meditating Buddhist monks has thrown up a much more diverse set of neural pathways, exploding the myth that there is one God designed religious system in the brain.
This should have been obvious to anyone with experience either in neuroscience or religious history because the sort of experiences Ramachandran's team were investigating were at the mystical fringe of prophets crying in the wilderness and almost diametrically opposed tot he kinds of mentality we associate with rigid conservative fundamentalistic beliefs and practices.
fMRI recordings from Beauregard's study
In a 2006 fMRI study (5), the recall by nuns of communion with God invigorated quite different regions - the caudate nucleus, insula, inferior parietal lobe (IPL) and medial orbitofrontal cortex (MOFC), among other brain regions. Each of these nuns answered a call for volunteers “who have had an experience of intense union with God” and agreed to participate in an experiment devised by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal. Beauregard and Paquette used fMRI to study the brains of 15 nuns during three different mental states - 1 resting with closed eyes, 2 recollecting an intense social experience - control states against which they compared 3 reminiscence, or revival of a vivid experience with God. The researchers found six regions that were invigorated only during the nuns’ recall of communion with God . There was increased activity in the caudate nucleus, a small central brain region to which scientists have ascribed a role in learning, memory and, recently, falling in love; the neuroscientists surmise that its involvement may reflect the nuns’ reported feeling of unconditional love. Another hot spot was the insula, a prune-size chunk of tissue tucked within the brain’s outermost layers that monitors body sensations and governs social emotions. Neural sparks there could be related to the visceral pleasurable feelings associated with connections to the divine. Augmented activity in the inferior parietal lobe, with its role in spatial awareness - paradoxically, the opposite of what Newberg and Davidson witnessed - might mirror the nuns’ feeling of being absorbed into something greater. The remainder of the highlighted regions includes the medial orbitofrontal cortex, which may weigh the pleasantness of an experience; the medial prefrontal cortex, which may help govern conscious awareness of an emotional state; and, finally, the middle of the temporal lobe.
Complementing the spatial resolution of fMRI with the time resolution of EEG, Beauregard and his colleagues found that the most prevalent brain waves are long, slow alpha waves such as those produced by sleep, consistent with the nuns’ relaxed state. In work that has not yet been published, the scientists also spotted even lower-frequency waves in the prefrontal and parietal cortices and the temporal lobe that are associated with meditation and trance. “We see delta waves and theta waves in the same brain regions as the fMRI,” Beauregard says.
Brains scans from Davidson's PET study
University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Andrew Newberg and Eugene d’Aquili (6), used a form of PET single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) to image the brain when meditating Buddhist subjects reached their self-reported peak, in which they lose their sense of existence as separate individuals. This was associated with both a large drop in activity in a portion of the parietal lobe, which aids with navigation and spatial orientation, and an increase in activity in the right prefrontal cortex, charged with attention and planning. The neuroscientists surmise that the abnormal silence in the parietal underlies the perceived dissolution of physical boundaries and the feeling of being at one with the universe and the prefrontal recruitment at the meditation peak may reflect the fact that such contemplation often requires that a person focus intensely on a thought or object.
Richard Davidson (7) of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and colleagues used fMRI to scan the brains of several hundred meditating Buddhists from around the world and found that the Buddhists’ meditations coincided with activation in the left prefrontal cortex, again perhaps reflecting the ability of expert practitioners to focus despite distraction. The most experienced volunteers showed lower levels of activation than did those with less training, conceivably because practice makes the task easier although not effortless as accomplished Buddhist practitioners claim. They had previously done EEG studies showing gamma synchrony in meditators (7).
Meditators and controls in Davidson's 2004 EEG study
Meditation may even delay certain signs of aging in the brain, according to preliminary work by neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard University and her colleagues. A 2005 paper in NeuroReport noted that 20 experienced meditators showed increased thickness in certain brain regions relative to 15 subjects who did not meditate. In particular, the prefrontal cortex and right anterior insula were between four and eight thousandths of an inch thicker in the meditators; the oldest of these subjects boasted the greatest increase in thickness, the reverse of the usual process of aging.
A study by Uffe Schjødt and colleagues (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsn050) indicates that prayer is just another kind of friendly conversation. He asked volunteers to carry out two tasks involving both religious and "secular" activities. In the first, they silently recited the Lord's Prayer, then a nursery rhyme. Identical brain areas, typically associated with rehearsal and repetition, were activated. In the second, they improvised personal prayers before making requests to Santa Claus. Improvised prayers triggered patterns that match those seen when people communicate with each other, and activated circuitry that is linked with an awareness that other individuals have their own independent motivations and intentions. Two of the activated regions are thought to process desire and consider how another individual might react. Also activated were part of the prefrontal cortex linked to the consideration of another person's intentions, and an area thought to help access memories of previous encounters with that person. Crucially, this area was inactive during the Santa Claus task, suggesting volunteers viewed Santa as fictitious but God as a real individual. He says the results show people believe they are talking to someone when they pray: "Atheists said it shows that it's all an illusion," says Schjødt, while Christians said it was evidence that God is real.
Newberg and his colleagues discovered yet another activity pattern when they scanned the brains of five women while they were speaking in tongues. The activity in their subjects’ frontal lobes declined relative to that of five religious people who were simply singing gospel. Because the frontal lobes are broadly used for self-control, the research team concluded that the decrement in activity enabled the loss of control necessary for such garrulous outbursts.
Michael Inzlicht's team (10) tested 50 university students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Christians made up most participants, but his team also tested Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists. Inzlicht's team focused on action in a small brain area called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). "When it's fired, the response engendered is 'uh oh, pay attention, something is amiss here'," he says. People with anxiety disorders tend to show high activity in this region, and drugs that treat their symptoms calm brain activity in the ACC. The students with strong religious beliefs, as measured by their agreement with statements such as "My religion is better than others" or "I would support a war if my religion supported it", exhibited less ACC activation than students with less fervent beliefs. Inzlicht suggests "Religion offers an interpretative framework to understand the world. It lets you know when to act, how to act, and what to do in specific situation." One explanation is that people with a genetic predisposition to reduced ACC activity gravitate toward religion. "It's possible that if you're born with a certain kind of brain, you're predisposed to religion," Inzlicht says. However, he suspects that religious belief is driving the association. In unpublished experiments, Inzlicht's team asked religious volunteers to describe in writing either their faith or their favourite season. Those who wrote about their connection to God exhibited reduced ACC activation, compared with people who described the weather.
The quantity and diversity of brain regions involved point to the complexity of the phenomenon of spirituality. “There is no single God spot, localized uniquely in the temporal lobe of the human brain,” Beauregard concludes. “These states are mediated by a neural network that is well distributed throughout the brain.”
This new area of “neurotheology” or “spiritual neuroscience" raises as many questions as it answers. It cannot, Ramachandran says be called "The God Module." It is not the final reduction of God to mere neurophysiology; but he does admit that the finding provides strength to the suspicion that belief in god is "largely protoplasmic", however the scientists emphasized that their findings in no way suggest that religion is simply a matter of brain chemistry. "These studies do not in any way negate the validity of religious experience or God," the team said. "They merely provide an explanation in terms of brain regions that may be involved."
On the other hand those who are committed to the scientific enterprise, and believe in exhausting all possible material explanations for "transcendence" before considering any "other worldly" possibilities, will find no surprise in the suggestion that brain neurophysiology can alter perceptions of the "transcendent."
Is the 'God spot' idea just making us an instrument - part of God's computer?
Persinger (2) argues that religious experience and belief in God are merely the results of electrical anomalies in the human brain - that the religious bents of even the most exalted figures - Saint Paul, Moses, Muhammad and Buddha - stem from such neural quirks. The popular notion that such experiences are good, he argues, is an outgrowth of psychological conditioning in which religious rituals are paired with enjoyable experiences. Beauregard says: “These experiences have existed since the dawn of humanity. They have been reported across all cultures. It is as important to study the neural basis of [religious] experience as it is to investigate the neural basis of emotion, memory or language.” However, he points out that they are not necessarily associated with religion: “If you are an atheist and you live a certain kind of experience, you will relate it to the magnificence of the universe. If you are a Christian, you will associate it with God. Who knows? Perhaps they are the same.”
But using such vague structural clues to explain human feelings and behaviors may be a fool’s errand. “You list a bunch of places in the brain as if naming something lets you understand it,” says neuropsychologist Seth Horowitz of Brown University. Vincent Paquette, who collaborated with Beauregard, goes further, likening neuroimaging to phrenology, the practice in which Victorian-era scientists tried - and ultimately failed - to intuit clues about brain function and character traits from irregularities in the shape of the skull.
Recent research suggests that just thinking rational thoughts or even thinking about rational thoughts erodes belief in God, consistent with religion being an intuitive non-rational process. "Will Gervais asked 93 university students to rate their own belief in God and other supernatural agents such as angels. Then, several weeks later, they underwent "priming" for analytical thinking – they were asked to unscramble sentences that included words such as "ponder" and "rational", read text written in hard-to-read fonts, or even just look at a picture of Rodin's sculpture The Thinker. Controls were given less analytically charged tasks: looking at Myron's Discobolus, or The Discus Thrower, unscrambling sentences containing words such as "shoes", or read text written in easy-to-read fonts. Ara Norenzayan and Gervais then asked the students to again rate their supernatural beliefs. The students who had been exposed to analytical priming consistently downgraded their belief in the supernatural, regardless of their previous degree of belief. This was also true of 148 adults tested online. The simplest way to explain these effects, the team conclude, is if intuitive thinking leads to belief, and analytical thinking suppresses or overrides this process. That gives analytical thinking a causal role in disbelief." (Analytical thinking erodes belief in God New Scientist 26 April 2012 Debora MacKenzie).
In the "The God issue: We are all born believers" (New Scientist) Justin Barrett claims childrens' propensity for agent-based explanations, a tendency to explain the natural world in terms of design and purpose, an assumption that others have superpowers - makes children naturally receptive to the idea that there may be one or more god which helps account for the world around them.
He claims agency based reasoning begins early. In the first year of life children distinguish between the movement of ordinary objects and the movement of agents. The babies first watched either a red disc chasing a blue one or vice versa until they got bored. Many of these experiments used animated discs that did not remotely resemble a human or animal. When the experimenter reversed the chase., by nine months, the babies noticed the difference and started watching again (Perception, vol 33, p 355).
He points out that such agents do not have to be visible and cites his own experiments to shows this propensity continues into adulthood. College students were asked to narrate their actions while placing ball bearings over holes on a board. Periodically an electromagnet sent the ball bearings racing around in violation of intuitive physical expectations. Almost two-thirds of the students spontaneously referred to the ball bearings as if they were agents, making comments such as, "That one did not want to stay", "Oh, look. Those two kissed", and "They are not cooperating" (Journal of Cognition and Culture, vol 3, p 208).
He than cites other experiments in which children prefer purpose-based explanations. Four and 5-year-olds thought it more sensible that a tiger was "made for eating and walking and being seen at the zoo" than that "though it can eat and walk and be seen at the zoo, that's not what it's made for" (Journal of Cognition and Development, vol 6, p 3). Likewise children under 10 tend to embrace creationist explanations of living things over evolutionary ones - even children whose parents and teachers endorse evolution (Cognitive Psychology, vol 42, p 217). Experiments with adults suggest we do not simply outgrow this attraction but that it must be forcibly tamped down through formal education (Cognition, vol 111, p 138).
In another experiment 12 to 13-month-old babies viewed two animations: a ball knocking over a stack of blocks (obscured by a barrier during the actual striking), and vice versa with the blocks starting in a disordered heap and finishing in a neat stack. Like adults, babies were also surprised, in that they looked longer at the second animation. This suggests that babies find a ball creating order more surprising than a ball creating disorder. In a second experiment a ball-shaped object with a face moved purposefully behind the barrier and either apparently ordered or disordered the blocks. In this case, the babies found neither display more surprising (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol 107, p 17140).
He suggests the most straightforward explanation is that babies have the same intuitions as adults: people, animals, gods, or other agents can create order or disorder, but non-agents, such as rolling balls, only create disorder.
He then goes on to claim children may presume that all agents have superknowledge, superperception and immortality until they learn otherwise. When shown a gourd expected to contain tortillas but actually containing boxer shorts, Maya children aged 4 to 7 gave a graduated response showing awareness of supernatural powers when asked which of the following agents would now the right answer without looking - the all seeing and all knowing Catholic god Diyoos, the Maya sun god, who knows everything under the sun, forest spirits whose knowledge is limited to the forest nuisance bogeyman called Chiichi' and a human. The youngest children answered that all the agents would know what was in the gourd. By age 7, the majority thought that Diyoos would know that the gourd contained shorts but the human would think it contained tortillas. They were also sensitive to the shades of difference in the other supernatural agents' level of knowledge (Journal of Cognition and Culture, vol 8, p 235).
The trouble with these ideas, as admittedly put forward by a professed theologian is that the first is simply a natural propensity essential for any mammal to learn rapidly to deal with an agent-filled world of predators kin and prey essential to animal survival, and the latter two are already working with children of an age which has already been exposed to ideas of craftsmanship and strong cultural and religious influences.
None of these three suggest in any way that God is a natural reality and tend to imply the opposite - that it is a cultural feature which takes advantage of natural propensities in the developing mammalian consciousness of our natural and highly cultural environment.
This point is extended in the following article "Science won't loosen religion's grip" is that while religion capitalizes on such 'fast' easily accommodated processes at an early age, theology and science require a much more complex process of examining and questioning such simplified assumptions, effectively classing religious fervour as a natural but over-simplified view of reality which science has trouble replacing because nature has proven to be vastly more complicated and couter-intuitive than our easily assumed naive beliefs.
Van Gogh The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix - see below)
Samaritans accept only the Pentateuch as valid scripture.
This article in the Gaia Shibboleth series covers two in-depth reviews of the social effects and possible social evolutionary basis of religiosity in terms of two features, prosociality (forms of moral action which enhance social viability) and individual self-control plus a brief review of a woekshop on the subject this month in Edinburgh.
The first "The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality" by Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff (Science 322 58-62 2008) examines how religions contribute to various forms of altruism, trust and personal reputation under the banner of 'prosociality'.
Social science theories have long pointed to religion as a cultural facilitator of social cohesion and ingroup solidarity often at the expense of rival groups. Various evolutionary theories of religion all predict that religious beliefs and behaviors have facilitated human prosocial tendencies. Some argue that at least certain religious beliefs and behaviors are evolutionary adaptations for group-living in large communities that have maximized genetic fitness.
Two evolutionary accounts are compatible with cultural variability. One proposes that religious content is a cultural by-product of a suite of psychological tendencies evolved in the Pleistocene for other purposes, such as detecting and inferring the content of other minds and sensitivity to one’s prosocial reputation in the group. Religious beliefs, to the extent that they were compatible with these psychological tendencies, could then culturally spread through social learning mechanisms and could solve adaptive problems, particularly the problem of cooperation in large groups.
Another evolutionary perspective, known as cultural group selection, maintains that competition among social groups may favor the spread of fitness-enhancing cultural beliefs and costly practices, such as religious prosociality. This takes as its starting point that religious beliefs are cultural by-products of evolved psychology, but argues that reputation-sensitivity, although important, is not sufficient to explain the features of strong prosocial tendencies such as the ones found in religious behavior.
Despite these important differences, agreement is emerging that selective pressures over the course of human evolution can explain the wide cross-cultural reoccurrence, historical persistence, and predictable cognitive structure of religious beliefs and behaviors.
Although in many societies supernatural agents are not directly concerned with human morality, in many others, morally concerned agents use their supernatural powers to observe and, in some cases, to punish and reward human social interactions. These beliefs are likely to spread culturally to the extent that they facilitate ingroup cooperation. This could occur by conforming to individual psychology that favors reputation-sensitive prosocial tendencies, as the by-product account holds; by competition among social groups, as the cultural group selection account would suggest; or possibly by some combination of the two.
Religious behaviors and rituals, if more costly to cooperating group members than to freeloaders, may have reliably signaled the presence of devotion and, therefore, cooperative intention toward ingroup members, in turn, buffering religious groups against defection from free-loaders and reinforcing cooperative norms. Religious prosociality, thus, may have softened the limitations that kinship-based and (direct or indirect) reciprocity-based altruism place on group size. In this way, the cultural spread of religious prosociality may have facilitated the rise of stable, large, cooperative communities of genetically unrelated individuals.
The acute human sensitivity to prosocial reputation is a psychological mechanism, originally unrelated to religion, that evolved to facilitate strong reciprocal cooperative bonds within groups. In an intensely social, gossiping species, reputational concerns likely contributed to the evolutionary stability of strong cooperation between strangers. Individuals known to be selfish could be detected, subsequently excluded from future interaction, and even actively punished. The threat of being found out, therefore, became a potent motivator for good behavior. Accordingly, studies have repeatedly shown that experimentally reducing the degree of anonymity in economic games increases the rate of prosocial behavior.
The cognitive awareness of gods is likely to heighten prosocial reputational concerns among believers, just as the cognitive awareness of human watchers does among believers and non-believers alike. However, supernatural monitoring, to the degree that it is genuinely believed and cognitively salient, offers the powerful advantage that cooperative interactions can be observed even in the absence of social monitoring.
First, religious devotion, insofar as it involves habitual worship of morally vigilant deities, is expected to be associated with greater prosocial reputational concern.
Second, religious situations, such as religious ritual performance or being in religious surroundings, would, in societies with morally concerned deities, activate thoughts of these deities and habitually facilitate prosocial behavior. Therefore, experimentally inducing religious thoughts would also increase prosociality even when the situation is objectively anonymous. But this should be the case only when thoughts of morally concerned supernatural agents are cognitively accessible in the moment when prosocial decisions are called for.
Third, religious behavior that signals genuine devotion would be expected to mobilize greater cooperation and trust, and when internal and external threats to group survival are high, religious groups would be expected to outlast secular ones.
Fourth, large societies that have successfully stabilized high levels of cooperative norms would be more likely than smaller ones to espouse belief in morally concerned gods who actively monitor human interactions.
If religions centered around moralizing gods promote prosociality, it would be expected that individuals who report stronger belief in such gods would have stronger altruistic tendencies. Sociological surveys suggest that this is the case.
If religious individuals are more motivated to maintain a prosocial reputation than the nonreligious, then the former may be more likely to engage in prosocial reputation management. However, this association raises questions about the validity of self-report measures of prosocial behavior.
Parable of the Good Samaritan Delacroix
Religiosity promotes such acts when personal reputation is at stake
In a Good Samaritan study, religious people showed little or no increased altruism unless it was beneficial to their personal reputation, but in a Kibbutz study religious Kibbutz members showed greater prosociality than secular one in a game where withdrawing money would reduce the pot for other similarly aligned Kibbutz members. The difference here seems to be that cheating on members of your own religious community is a different question from cheating anonymously on a public victim.
Studies repeatedly indicate that the association between conventional religiosity and prosociality occurs primarily when a reputation-related egoistic motivation has been activated, rather than empathic compassion. Many studies have corroborated that religiosity predicts prosocial behavior primarily when the prosocial act could promote a positive image for the participant, either in his or her own eyes or in the eyes of observers.
Further studies show that when a supernatural figure (God, or a ghost, or fictional character) are present in an experimental setting, cheating is reduced and prosociality increased. Thoughts of God activated without conscious awareness caused greater generosity between anonymous strangers.
Because professions of religious belief can be easily faked, theorists of religion have recognized that evolutionary pressures must have favored costly religious commitment, such as ritual participation and various restrictions on behavior, diet, and life-style, that validates the sincerity of otherwise unobservable religious belief. However, for costly signals to evolve as a stable strategy, religious behaviors ought to be more costly for cooperators than for freeloaders, and variation in costliness should predict degree of intragroup trust and cooperation.
Attitudinal surveys show that religious individuals are perceived to be more trustworthy and more cooperative.
Lifetimes of religious and secular communities
Sociological analyses are consistent with the idea that religious groups imposing more costly requirements have members who are more committed. Religious communes were found to outlast those motivated by secular ideologies, such as socialism. A further quantitative analysis of 83 of these religious and secular communes for which more detailed records are available found that religious communes imposed more than twice as many costly requirements (including food taboos and fasts, constraints on material possessions, marriage, sex, and communication with the outside world) than secular ones. This difference emerged for each of the 22 categories of costly requirements examined. Importantly for costly religious signaling, the number of costly requirements predicted religious commune longevity after the study controlled for population size and income and the year the commune was founded, although the number of costly requirements did not predict longevity for secular communes. Finally, religious ideology was no longer a predictor of commune longevity, once the number of costly requirements was statistically controlled, which suggests that the survival advantage of religious communes was due to the greater costly commitment of their members, rather than other aspects of religious ideology.
In one well-researched laboratory game of trust, participants were randomly assigned to be a proposer (truster) or a responder (trustee). In the first step, the proposer decides how much money to forward to the responder, which gets multiplied. In the second step, the responder decides how much money to send back to the proposer. By transferring money to the responder, the proposer stands to gain, but only if the responder can be trusted to reciprocate. In a variation of this trust experiment, researchers measured individual differences in the religiosity of the proposer and the responder. In addition, in some trials, proposers knew about the level of religiosity of the responder in an anonymous context.
Results indicated that more money was forwarded to responders perceived to be religious, and this was particularly true for religious proposers. Furthermore, religious responders were more likely to reciprocate the proposer ’s offer than less religious responders. They do not show that costly religious behavior elicits more trust and cooperation than less costly behavior under controlled conditions, as required by costly signaling explanations of religion; or that members of religious groups that impose more costly requirements are more trusting and less likely to take advantage of others, particularly ingroup members, as would be expected from cultural group selection accounts.
The size of human settlements since the end of the Pleistocene far exceed the limitations that kin-based and reciprocity-based altruism place on group size. Cultural evolution, driven by between-group competition for resources and habitats, has favored large groups. However, large groups, which until recently lacked institutionalized social-monitoring mechanisms, are vulnerable to collapse because of high rates of freeloading. If unwavering and pervasive belief in moralizing gods buffered against such freeloading, then belief in such gods should be more likely in larger human groups where the threat of freeloading is most acute.
In a quantitative cross-cultural analysis of the 186 societies in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, this prediction was confirmed. The larger the group size, the more likely the group culturally sanctioned deities who are directly concerned about human morality. Although most cultures in the world do not promote morally concerned deities, those that do tend to have disproportionately larger populations. As a consequence, the majority of religious adherents in the world worship moralizing gods.
One alternative explanation is that Christian and Muslim missionary activity may have caused both more belief in the moralizing Abrahamic God and may have favored larger group size. Another, is that because large societies are more socially stratified, belief in moralizing gods serves to preserve political and economic in- equality. However, although missionized societies and caste-stratified societies were indeed more likely to endorse a moralizing God, the association between large group size and the prevalence of moralizing Gods remained strong even after statistically controlling for missionary activity and for two indicators of societal inequality, as well as for population density and geographic region. Similarly, controlling for the cultural diffusion of moralizing Gods via Christian and Muslim missionary activity, society size, population size, and societal inequality, moralizing gods are more likely in societies with high water scarcity—where the threat to group survival, and the need to minimize freeloading, is also pronounced. The cross-cultural evidence suggests that moralizing gods are culturally stabilized when freeloading is more prevalent or particularly detrimental to group stability.
Conclusions of the study, Outstanding Questions, and Future Directions
Many religious traditions around the world explicitly encourage the faithful to be unconditionally prosocial; yet, theoretical considerations and empirical evidence indicate that religiously socialized individuals should be, and are, much more discriminating in their prosociality. Although empathy and compassion as social-bonding emotions do exist and may play a role in prosocial acts of religious and nonreligious individuals some of the time, there is little direct evidence to date that such emotions are systematically implicated in religious prosociality. The preponderance of the evidence points to religious prosociality being a bounded phenomenon. Religion’s association with prosociality is most evident when the situation calls for maintaining a favorable social reputation within the ingroup. When thoughts of morally concerned deities are cognitively salient, an objectively anonymous situation becomes nonanonymous and, therefore, reputationally relevant, or alternatively, such thoughts activate prosocial tendencies because of a prior mental association. This could occur when such thoughts are induced experimentally or in naturalistic religious situations, such as when people attend religious services or engage in ritual performance. This explains why the religious situation is more important than the religious disposition in predicting prosocial behavior.
Although religions continue to be powerful facilitators of prosociality in large groups, they are not the only ones. The cultural spread of reliable secular institutions, such as courts, policing authorities, and effective contract-enforcing mechanisms, although historically recent, has changed the course of human prosociality. Consequently, active members of modern secular organizations are at least as likely to report donating to charity as active members of religious ones. Supporting this conclusion, experimentally induced reminders of secular moral authority had as much effect on generous behavior in an economic game as reminders of God, and there are many examples of modern, large, cooperative, and not very religious societies (such as those in Western and Northern Europe), that, nonetheless, retain a great degree of intragroup trust and cooperation.
More research is needed to address the costliness of religious and nonreligious rituals, and few studies have attempted to quantify these costs in relation to prosocial behavior. The finding that religiosity evokes greater trust underscores the need for more experimental and theoretical research, including mathematical modeling, to establish the specific conditions under which costly religious commitment could evolve as a stable individual strategy and whether these models need to take into account intergroup competition. More broadly, the extent to which religion is implicated in human cooperation, and the precise sequence of evolutionary developments in religious prosociality, remain open to lively scientific debate. Further progress on these issues will require concerted collaboration among historians, archaeologists, social scientists, and evolutionary biologists.
In recent years, moral psychology has received a great deal of scientific attention, and although most of the studies reviewed here concern behavioral outcomes, the relation between religious prosociality and moral intuitions and reasoning is ripe for further investigation. More direct research on the possible role of prosocial motivations, such as empathy and compassion, in religious prosociality are needed. Finally, we have seen that religious prosociality is not extended indiscriminately; the 'dark side' of within-group cooperation is between-group competition and conflict. The same mechanisms involved in ingroup altruism may also facilitate outgroup antagonism. This is an area of no small debate, but scientific attention is needed to examine precisely how individuals and groups determine who are the beneficiaries of religious prosociality, and who its victims.
Variations on the Prosocial Argument
A recent workshop on natural (Darwinian) foundations of religious belief and behavior ("Is Religion Adaptive? It's Complicated" Scientific American January 19, 2009) a series of slants on the basis of a Darwinian adaptive basis for religious belief were put forward, several of which are variants of adaptive prosociality.
Political scientist and evolutionary biologist Dominic Johnson presented the idea that omniscient supernatural agents served an adaptive social policing function in the ancestral past, by encouraging individuals in groups to conform to group sanctions out of the fear of divine punishment, thus lessening the chances of social fission. As already noted, this phenomenon would have been biologically adaptive since larger groups meant better chances of survival and reproductive success for individual members.
Anthropologist Richard Sosis summarized his “costly signaling” hypothesis of religious behavior: that people engage in costly religious behaviors - rituals, uncomfortable clothes, financial commitments - to advertise their commitment to the religious in-group. If you’re willing to do things such as cut off your child’s foreskin, pay a regular alms tax of 2.5 percent of your net worth or sit for two hours every Sunday morning on a hard church pew, then your fellow believers will assume that you’re really one of them and can therefore be trusted.
Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers from Rutgers University, who first developed the idea of reciprocal altruism, discussed the possible role of psychological self-deception in the realm of religion and reviewed the impossible to ignore evidence that religiosity positively effects human health.
Biologist Jeff Schloss considered what these scientific developments in the study of religion will ultimately mean philosophically - “what does it all tell us about the existence of God?”
Jesse Bering the author of the article responded with the central enigma of adaptive religiosity: "What if the data suggest that God is actually just a psychological blemish etched onto the core cognitive substrate of your brain. Would you still believe if you knew God were a byproduct of your evolved mental architecture?
Is Religion Adaptive for Self-Control?
The second study by Michael McCullough (to appear Psychological Bulletin Jan 2009) looks at religiosity as an evolutionary means to facilitate 'self-control'.
The study by University of Miami professor of Psychology Michael McCullough finds that religious people have more self-control than do their less religious counterparts, suggesting that religious people may be better at pursuing and achieving long-term goals that are important to them and their religious groups. This, in turn, might help explain why religious people tend to have lower rates of substance abuse, better school
achievement, less delinquency, better health behaviors, less depression, and longer lives.
McCullough evaluated 8 decades worth of research on religion, which has been conducted in diverse samples of people from around the world. He found evidence from a variety of domains within the social sciences, including neuroscience, economics, psychology, and sociology, that religious beliefs and religious behaviors are capable of encouraging people to exercise self-control and to more effectively regulate their emotions and behaviors, so that they can pursue valued goals. The research paper, which summarizes the results of their review of the existing science, will be published in the January 2009 issue of Psychological Bulletin.
"The importance of self-control and self-regulation for understanding human behavior are well known to social scientists, but the possibility that the links of religiosity to self-control might explain the links of religiosity to health and behavior has not received much explicit attention," said McCullough. "We hope our paper will correct this oversight in the scientific literature."
Among conclusions that the research team drew were the following:
• Religious rituals such as prayer and meditation affect the parts of the human brain that are most important for self-regulation and self-control;
• When people view their goals as "sacred," they put more energy and effort into pursuing those goals, and therefore, are probably more effective at attaining them;
• Religious lifestyles may contribute to self-control by providing people with clear standards for their behavior, by causing people to monitor their own behavior more closely, and by giving people the sense that God is watching their behavior;
• The fact that religious people tend to be higher in self-control helps explain why religious people are less likely to misuse drugs and alcohol and experience problems with crime and delinquency.
McCullough's says his review of the research on religion and self-control contributes to a better understanding of "how the same social force that motivates acts of charity and generosity can also motivate people to strap bomb belts around their waists and then blow themselves up in crowded city buses. By thinking of religion as a social force that provides people with resources for controlling their impulses (including the impulse for self-preservation, in some cases) in the service of higher goals, religion can motivate people to do just about anything."
This of course begs the question as to what forms of social control religions might also apply through costly behaviours, punishments of transgressors and utopian aims connected with absolute beliefs. It is these features of religion that we will examine in the next episode of the Gaia shibboleth.
Islam provides a stringent set of game theoretic rewards for the faithful, control of women and reproduction, and severe penalties for a variety of forms of transgression, which are designed to guarantee world supremacy over time. Although followers of other religions of God have a subsidiary status as Dhimmi, followers of more recent prophets, such as Bahai, can be murdered in gruesome ways.
The difficulty with the thesis that the Golden Rule unites all religions in an ethical principle of the common good is that religions survive not just by altruism, but by socially dominant strategies that have survived over centuries and millennia only because they pursue a strategic combination of interpersonal compassion, institutional authoritarianism and outright oppression of perceived transgressors.
Ara Norenzayan in "Religion is the key to civilisation" makes this point very clearly emphasizing that, from Göbekli Tepe 11,500 years ago to the present, reinforcing cooperation by increasingly effective and dominant means. Cooperation is usually explained by one of two forms of altruism: cooperation among kin and reciprocal altruism, but cooperation among strangers is not easily explained by either. As group size increases, both forms of altruism break down. With ever-greater chances of encountering strangers, opportunities for cooperation among kin decline. Reciprocal altruism - without extra safeguards such as institutions for punishing freeloaders - also rapidly stops paying off. In his view religion, particularly those involving a moral deity, ever larger social systems which reach sizes where reciprocal and kin altruism break down because most people are now strangers.
Religious and non-religious communities alike are prone to rapid social evolution. The average lifespan of religious communes in a study was a mere 25 years. In 80 years, 9 out of 10 had disbanded. Secular communes, most of which were socialist, fared even worse: they lasted for an average of 6.4 years and 9 out of 10 disappeared in less than 20 years (Cross-Cultural Research, vol 34, p 70).
As noted in developmental predispositions, a growing view is that religious beliefs and rituals arose as an evolutionary by-product of ordinary cognitive functions. Once that happened, the stage was set for rapid cultural evolution that eventually led to large societies with "Big Gods".
Studies show that feelings of anonymity, even illusory, encourage selfishness and cheating (Psychological Science, vol 21, p 311), while social surveillance has the opposite effect. Even subtle exposure to drawings resembling eyes encourages good behaviour towards strangers (Evolution and Human Behavior, vol 26, p 245).
It follows that people play nice when they think a god is watching and conversely religious people mistrust atheists who don't. In moving from the smallest scale human societies to the largest and most complex, Big Gods - powerful, omniscient, interventionist watchers - become increasingly common, and morality and religion become increasingly intertwined (Evolution and Human Behavior, vol 24, p 126). As societies get larger and more complex, rituals become routine and are used to transmit and reinforce doctrines (Evolution and Human Behavior, vol 32, p 50). Similarly, notions of supernatural punishment, karma, damnation and salvation, and heaven and hell are common in modern religions, but relatively infrequent in hunter-gatherer cultures.
These studies are complemented by actual experiments. Children are less likely to peek in a box when told an invisible agent is watching (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol 109, p 311). In the economic "dictator" game where a person has to donate anonymously to a recipient, believers in the Abrahamic God gave away more money than those who believed in local deities who are not as omniscient and morally concerned (Science, vol 327, p 1480). Reminders of God by being exposed to words like divine, God and spirit had a powerful effect. Most people in the unexposed group pocketed the lot but those primed to think of God heightened believers' feelings of being under surveillance (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol 48, p 298) and were much more generous (Psychological Science, vol 18, p 803).
Subtle reminders of secular moral authority, words such as civic, jury and police, can have the same fairness-promoting effect, explaining why societies which have succeeded in sustaining cooperation with secular institutions and precipitated religion's decline by usurping its community-building functions are some of the most cooperative, peaceful and prosperous in the world.
As we move from the Hebrew religion of the Old Testament through Christianity to Islam, there is a clear evolution of the social strategic game plan in which the stakes have become more astutely honed to attain global reach and dominance and to do so in a way which has utopian aims of world dominion through apocalyptic tumult in the end of days judgment. Religions thus pose acute dangers for the world future because they embrace the principal of final conflict even to triage of the living systems of the planet to achieve the supremacy of the rule of God or Allah.
Hebrew Religion and Judaism
The Hebrew religion is perceived to be a qualitative advance on previous faiths, because it espouses a God acting in history through the literature of a people, rather than being merely a civic image worshipped in iconic stones and sculptured idols. This enables the religion to lay claim to an absolute power and to set out themes defining social and sexual morality as well as distinguishing the religious in-group from the heathen 'other'.
Despite claiming an abstract God of reality as patron, Hebrew religion traces its 'ancestry' through a tribal tree, extending in Genesis from Adam and Eve, through Abraham and Sarah to the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, then through Moses, Miriam and Aaron to the exodus and the establishment of Israelite communities in Canaan as the chosen people of God.
This relationship is very much an espousal as the unrequited love between the jealous God Yahweh and the ever unfaithful Bride Israel, setting the theme for endless diatribes against the fertility worship of the Nations, from Canaan to Edom.
In addition to defining the boundary of the Israelite tribes, Genesis also sets out a clear patriarchal tradition rejecting the matriarchal inheritance patterns of Laban for those of Jacob and placing Eve under the rule of Adam and women to be ruled by their husbands in the sight of God. This is then ring fenced by horrific tales of transgressors to the patriarchal custom, such as the wife who is left to be raped and die at the door by her husband because she tarried too long at her parents house, and by diabolical penalties of stoning for adultery, or for not possessing the tokens of virginity both of which leave women vulnerable as the polluted party.
Nevertheless, despite the patriarchal emphasis, the tribal matriarchs are in strong evidence, as well as subsequent leading female figures from Miriam, through Deborah to Tamar and Ruth, showing both that women assumed positions of power as priestesses and judges and that it was through the female line that the ongoing genealogy of the life history of the people was preserved.
Although the Golden Rule is declared, along with the Ten Commandments, as a basis for prosociality, this is clearly intended to apply only to the in group of the Israelites and not to the nations, as God ordains genocide at Jericho and Hazor, although we see in other passages, such as Jeremiah, that the Canaanite customs of the Queen of Heaven continued in the streets of Jerusalem unabated.
Joshua besieges Jericho: The Golden Rule did not apply to Canaanites.
The religion is clearly costly to the practitioners in terms of a complex raft of required practices, from male circumcision, a sacrifice of a part of the sexual member to enhance procreative fortune, through observing the Sabbath and other religious festivals, prescriptions on bathing and sexual activity, to kosher provisions for food.
It has to be born in mind that Hebrew religion, or Judaism as it has now become, is not a single entity nor has it been created by a single messianic or prophetic figure, but has been a complex evolving cultural tradition of a people, which has gone through many evolutionary changes, from the first worship of stones at Bethel, through dispersed tabernacles, the syncretic worship of the Heavenly Host in the period of the Kings, the Yahwist post-exilic conservatism, diversification into Phariseses, Saducees and Essenes in the time of Jesus and later Rabbinical, ultra-orthodox, messianic and progressive movements and which has been acted out and written about by many diverse prophets, judges, writers and editors, each of whom has created differing shades of meaning.
Nevertheless the Hebrew religion is clearly set up as a defining life strategy of a people, maintained both through application of the Golden Rule to the in-group, amid costly activities to the individual which can only reap their social rewards through maintaining the covenant with God and the faith, amid well-known highly effective social strategies such as "an eye for an eye", reinforced through religious law, with sometimes extreme penalties for transgressors and enemies.
Although Christian accounts have Jesus condemned for blasphemy, resulting in continuing mistreatment of Jews by Christians, even in biblical times, the dire provisions such as stoning for adultery were rarely carried out and have not been used over the last two millennia. According to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel (10 BC - 70 CE), in the time when the religious courts had authority over capital punishment, a court that executed more than 1 person in 70 years was a "bloody court".
Martyrdom becomes murder in the control of heresy (choice): Early martyrs burning to death becomes followed by the burning of the Knights Templar, witches, women healers, Cathars, Albigenses and other gnostics, mystics and Free Spirit followers in the Inquisition.
Christianity, Crusade and Inquisition
The professed stroke of genius in Christianity has been the claim that Jesus, despite claiming his mission was for the lost sheep of Israel, had reformulated God's relationship to be not one just between Yahweh and his elect chosen ones, but as Abba, or God the Father, had become the compassionate, yet son-sacrificing God of all humanity. The admittedly Helenistic attributes that then crept into Christianity under the reborn Paul, then recrafted what had begun as an exclusively Jewish-Christian movement into one embracing a Lord hero to eclipse Adonis and Dionysus, replete with a virgin mother figure Mary who could also capture significant features of the Goddess, appearing as an emulation of Isis.
Christianity, expanding its domain to its ultimate borders, has sought to make itself into a religion for all people, thus opening its utopian agenda to both embracing the entire world and, in the shadow of Zoroastrianism, to the end of times as well, in Christ’s return as avenging Lord in the day of judgment of Revelation.
Despite having one central heroic figure, Jesus, who is deemed to be the author and inspiration of the religion, Christianity began as a diverse bunch of disparate sects, from the Jewish Christians of James the Just, through the Johanine followers, to diverse Gnostic sects. It was thus only with the rise of Pauline Christianity and the overthrow of the Gnostics that Christianity began to develop an orthodox core based on the patriarchal rule of the family and the holy communion – as a carnivorous sacrament of Chris’s love and forgiveness of sins, centered around doctrines such as the Nicene creed.
Although the earliest Gnostic movements had had women in prominent positions of prophecy and authority, the orthodox church then sought to have women disbarred from the ministry, to be seen but not heard, living all the while in the shadow of Eve’s ‘carnal’ sin, mitigated only by the virginal purity and sexual chastity of mother Mary, hastily recruited as a replacement for the less than celibate persona of Mary Magdalen, despite mother Mary’s far less significant and sometimes discordant role in Yeshua’s mission.
Altar of the Lie St. Peters: After lying to St Peter, Saphira fell to the ground before the Apostle and died; in the background two young men carry the dead body of her husband, Ananias (Acts 5:1-11) Cristoforo Roncalli.
The earliest Christians appeared to be a communistic movement whose penalties to free-loaders were potentially lethal as the untimely deaths of Saphira and her husband Ananias in mortal fear of Peter's anger, for keeping back some of their property indicates. The costliness of early Christianity to the practitioners, could also hardly have been higher, with many of them voluntarily walking to a gory fate of martyrdom at the hands of Roman Emperors such as Nero, until Constantine caused an abrupt turn-around by adopting Christianity as the state religion of Rome.
From this point on, although the scripture would have us believe that Christianity has continued to be a single religion conveying the true teachings of Jesus, we are dealing with a religion which forms the social strategic glue for the largest and arguably most ruthless global empire of the age, to be born on the military standards as the foundation of Rome's might, religion gaining its name re-ligio 'to bind otgether' in echos of the 'fasces' or bundle of sticks of Fascism.
Setting up a paradigm of sexual guilt based on what would come to be pronounced later by Augustine as the ‘original’ sin of Eve seducing Adam, Christianity defined sex as for reproduction without the accoutrements of bestial pleasure. Opposing birth control and abortion infanticide of weak or genetically malformed individuals from the outset, Christianity also set up an unashamed paradigm of population expansion through the family. Despite this, many Christian offspring were simply abandoned to seek their own fate in life.
With the fall of Rome, a period ensued in which Papal authorities attempted to wrest power from feudal warlords, by imposing formal monogamous marriage, partly as a way of gaining control over feudal land estates. The church came to become a major land owner and engaged in increasingly corrupt political practices leading to widespread disaffection with the church and the emergence of Protestant denominations.
The transition from a religion of pacifism, in which Jesus said to turn the other cheek to one's enemies, to one of holy war in the name of God emerged in the Crusades, seeking to 'liberate' the Holy Land from the Muslim infidel. The Crusades having led to failure partly as a result of the corruption of their own leaders, by comparison with the more cultured discipline of Saladin, the Christian papacy then turned its wrath on its own people, in a Crusade against the newly emerging Gnostic followings of the Albigenses and Cathars and others, who had reabsorbed teachings, such as naked innocence, and the notion that Jesus and Magdalen were sexual partners, from Sufis and Gnostic remnants during the crusades.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in the audience hall of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , now Pope Benedict XVI: "My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it."
The end result was the establishment of the Inquisition, which lasted 600 years and whose office still exists in the form of the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, whose last head, Cardinal Ratzinger has since ironically become Pope Benedict. The Inquisition led to summary torture and murders of millions of people who were believed to have league with the devil, or merely practiced forms of Christianity different from the Catholic party line. Up to four million women are believed to have been accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, or drowned.
It was only with the fall of Constantinople and the ensuing 'cultural revolution' of the Renaissance and the flowering of science art and music, that the combined reign of the Papacy and the feudal Dark Ages made a transition towards the so-called 'Age of Enlightenment' and the forms of secular democracy we have grown used to assuming as the status quo today in the West.
Over the same era, on a world basis, Christianity has sought to become a utopian movement, seeking to convert the entire world to Christian belief by persuasion, or by force. The arrival of the Conquistadors in the Americas promptly resulted in atrocities, not only of the war-like Aztecs, who recognized in the Holy Communion a blood sacrifice akin to their own religion, but the wholesale massacre and dismemberment of innocent musicians, and others who professed to any form of heathen cultural celebration. When the Christian missionaries reached the last shore on Earth, Aotearoa New Zealand, hoping to finally bring about the Second Coming when the gospel would have been taught planet wide, they were chagrined to find that the Maori turned instead to the Old Testament, claiming they were one of the lost tribes of Israel. Again in the twentieth century, the apocalyptic expectation has been raised with the founding of the state of Israel.
Thus one can see that Christianity, while espousing the Golden Rule, and Yeshua's even more extreme turning of the other cheek, has throughout much of its history become an institutional religion of empire, and applied contrary doctrines of Crusade against not only the heathen infidel, but bloody repression of perceived Christian heretics among its own ranks.
Moreover, Christianity tells a story of Heaven, Hell and the Day of Judgment, which casts all the affairs on the planet as a very temporary situation, whose misdemeanours not only may affect us in this life, but will meet far more exacting reward and retribution in the world to come. So by engaging a perpetual war between God and the Devil, Christianity, polarizes its followers on the roasting spit of salvation and damnation with little neutral territory to relax and breath a sight of relief.
Furthermore, humanity is regarded as frail, prone to sin, guilty of original sin from which escape is almost impossible and unlike Buddhism, where each person is encouraged to find their own personal equanimity in mediation, people are told their only hope is to accept Jesus as Lord and pray for guidance and salvation.
It is generally very hard for devout Christians, believing in the Christian ideals of brotherly love and the notion of an omniscient and omnipotent creator God of forgiveness looking over us from behind the scenes, even in the scientific era, to accept and understand the deep contradictions in the violent repressive history of Christianity as a religion and the endless carnivorous cycle of the blood-thirsty Holy Communion founded in the notion that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.
All in all we can thus see that Christianity has survived as a religion as much from the dubious strategic gains it has made through the violent punitive measures it has adopted, and its dominance through colonization and evangelism of other cultures as it has from applying the Golden Rule of fairness in prosocial ethics, or its more extreme example in loving your enemies, even if they seek to hurt or kill you, as God Almighty is professed to do in his infinite compassion.
Islam provides the most diverse set of game theoretic strategies of any religion
to ensure its expansion as a globally dominant world religion:
(a) for Muslims a very simple yet effective public costly commitment in terms of the Five Pillars of Islam
(b) Muslim women are reduced to half the status of a man, hidden from unrelated men, and male relatives are given
effective control over female reproductive choice, subject to dire penalties for sexual transgression.
(c) free-loaders who either do not fulfill the observations, vacillate, or do not want to engage in jihad are
branded hypocrites and given a chance to recant, but otherwise painfully punished.
(d) Dhimmi other monotheist religions receive a concession as believers in God that they can exist in Muslim societies
but they must respect Muslim supremacy, have an subject status in law and additional taxation in a long-term strategy of attrition.
Some such as Bahais sill receive death sentences for any form of religious educational activity.
(e) lethal punishments for root defectors in the eyes of God, such as idolaters, and apostates who become
Muslims and then recant the faith or blaspheme it, thus irreversibly locking in existing Muslims.
(f) reproduction is ordained by God as a means of expanding the population of the faith.
Islam, Sharia and Jihad
When we come to Islam, the relative new kid on the block, we see that, despite its apparent orphan status in the Western world as an archaic sixth century-based belief system struggling to make even minimal adaptions to the 21st century era of science and democracy, the strategic realities are rather different. This facile image belies the fact that as a strategic process, Islam has instituted a more complete socially dominant strategy than any religion before or since, which contains within it extremely effective means at maintaining and enlarging the faith through a combination of the simplicity of mass appeal, strict social controls and and a utopian agenda of world domination in the name of God, which rivals or surpasses that of any other totalitarian social system devised by humanity.
A great deal of the Qur'an and Muhammad's own history as a prophet, military leader, social innovator and wily politician, have been brought to bear on crafting, in the archetype of the Hebrew teachings, a new social world order based on Arab tribal custom. Thus, while many Western readers will rightly find that much in the Qur'an and hadith are anything but religious, but rather a string of conservative social rules, these rules are honed astutely, as a game of social strategy, to give rise to a religion capable of dominating societies on global scales fifteen centuries later.
Islam's perceived religious destiny is to conquer the world: Left and Right protest posters. Centre Yunis Al-Astal Hamas MP: "Allah has chosen you for Himself and for His religion, so that you will serve as the engine pulling this nation to the phase of succession, security, and consolidation of power, and even to conquests thorough da'wa and military conquests of the capitals of the entire world. Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our Prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam - this capital of theirs will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe".
Jihad, whether we choose to think of it as spiritual struggle, or outright genocidal warfare is central to Islam's utopian agenda to rule the world, either in the Sunni model through a world caliphate, or in the Shi'ite model through an ayatollah-based theocracy leaning heavily towards the Day of Judgment.
The Muslim world is a conflict zone divided between the domain of submission to God or Islam and Dar al Harb - the domain of war. Thus no one can be of the naive delusion that Islam is a religion of peace or peace alone. Muhammad in his own allegedly perfect example, was prepared to commit a genocide of 700 Jewish men in the souk of Medina for fear they might betray the Muslims even though they had merely made diplomatic initiatives to both sides and had not opened their gates to the enemy. He then took the women into (sexual) slavery, demonstrating preparedness to annihilate the very people from whom he learned the path of God.
Moreover having struck the peace Treaty of Hudaybiyah in the name of sakina the spirit of tranquillity, echoing from the Shekhinah of feminine face of God of Jewish folklore, when he met with superior armed resistance, Muhammad then abrogated the peace treaty on the excuse of a skirmish with an ally of the Meccans, once he had the force of numbers to march on Mecca, so a peace treaty with Islam has to be regarded as a case of takiya, or faking the peace until a more strategic opportunity presents itself.
In contradiction to Western society's hard-won ideals of secular government based on the separation of church and state, devised as much to protect religious freedom from autocratic theocracy as for any secular agenda, Islam, by contrast, seeks the unification of three pillars, scripture, law and government in the Qur'an, Sharia and the Islamic state.
Firstly, the Qur'an is regarded as the direct revelation of God's word by his holy prophet, whose face is so holy that to represent it could bring the death penalty, subsequently deemed to be the last and final prophet (except perhaps for the (Shiite) Mahdi in the Day of Resurrection), so that any other prophets who might attempt to found a new following, such as Bahá'u'lláh who founded the Bahá'í Faith, are condemned, along with their followers to death or imprisonment, as Bahá'ís are killed or imprisoned in Iran today.
On 18th June 1983 ten women (pictured above), one of whom was only 17 years old, were executed in Iran for teaching Baha'i children more about their Faith. They were among more than 200 individuals who were killed in Iran for being Baha'is but their story has stood out through the years as they were all women and many of them are very young.
Although it is clear that the claim in the Qur'an that Islam is the original religion of God, emanating first from Adam and then a string of prophets from Abraham, through Moses and the Israelites, followed by Jesus, rather than acknowledging that this entire description has come historically through the Hebrew account, Muslim teaching makes a mythical claim that Islam is the true religion of Abraham, that Hagar found the spring of Zam-Zam during her sudden flight (hajira) with Ishmael, thus laying claim to the founding mythological territory of Genesis.
Secondly, unlike Hebrew law, whose violent provisions, such as stoning for adultery, were rarely applied, even in Biblical times, and are never applied by modern Jews or Christians, however fundamentalistic their belief that the Bible is the word of God, Muslim societies frequently apply Sharia as a literal code of law, complete with diabolical sixth century punishments like stoning, which it inherited not from the Qur'an but Deuteronomic law, dismemberment, and beheading, on the basis they are ordained by God.
This means that Islam poses a real risk, particularly to women, because of the pressure to adopt Sharia and the insistence when it is adopted of applying it absolutely, even when in means killing women in gruesome slow deaths which were never conceived of in Deuteronomic law, for making what would anywhere else be an autonomous sexual choice, punishable at worst by a civil divorce suit.
Thirdly, there is a continuing desire on the part of Muslim scholars and clerics to bring about a global Islamic state under Sharia which would cement the three pillars of Islam into a world monolith. This then enters into the politics of some Muslim countries and becomes a world problem both when some fundamentalists preach world jihad to achieve such an aim and when certain countries with Islamist agendas seek ultimate military instruments such as nuclear weapons, with a view to a final push for a world Islamic society. This is where the notion of Islamofascism gains a strong ring of truth, demonstrating the essentially fascist nature of montheism at its core.
The sacrifices a Muslim must make to follow the religion are deceptively simple - the five pillars of Islam:
One can immediately see that 1 is a confession of faith in God and his messenger just as Christians accept Jesus. 2 is a commitment to daily devotion, generally performed in public. 3 is a formulation of the Golden Rule as a requirement, 4 is a requirement to commit to a period of restraint (a similar constraint to observing the sabbath) . 5 - observing the Hajj, by contrast is a political compromise made by Muhammad with the people of Mecca, to continue the pre-Islamic polytheistic rite that gave Mecca its fame and economy.
The cost to the practitioner is extremely simple, clear and general. They declare faith in God and the prophet, have to pray five times a day from dawn to dusk, accept not just the Golden Rule but a tax to prove it, fast during the day for one month a year and finally to go once to Mecca to keep the faith to the founding city.
However the cost to other parties is also abundantly clear and shows the sophistication of the way Muhammad drafted a social code in a way which dealt in much more specific and sometimes very violent terms with all the varying strategies of turncoats, freeloaders, defectors, as well as idolaters, other religions of the book and of course women.
Firstly the idolaters can be slaughtered and it is forbidden to marry them unless they take the faith:
So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (9.5 ).
And do not marry the idolatresses until they believe, and certainly a believing maid is better than an idolatress woman, even though she should please you; and do not give(believing women) in marriage to idolaters until they believe, and certainly a believing servant is better than an idolater (2.221)
People of the book, named as Jews, Christians and Sabians or Hanif were given a secondary status, since they followed the true God but failed to acknowledge Muhammad as his prophet. Dhimmis "the people of the dhimma or pact of protection" (which also came to include others such as Buddhists and Sikhs as well as monotheists) were allowed to "practice their religion, subject to certain conditions, and to enjoy a measure of communal autonomy" and guaranteed their personal safety and security of property, in return for paying tribute and acknowledging Muslim supremacy. Various restrictions and legal disabilities were placed on Dhimmis, such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims. All of them, however, were designed to eliminate other religions in a deliberate, long-term process. In general, the Muslim attitude toward dhimmis was one of contempt instead of hate, fear, or envy.
Apostates who revert from Islam can be killed:
What is the matter with you, then, that you have become two parties about the hypocrites, while Allah has made them return (to unbelief) for what they have earned? Do you wish to guide him whom Allah has caused to err? And whomsoever Allah causes to err, you shall by no means find a way for him. They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from amon8-g them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper (4.89)
Hypocrites who profess Islam but do not follow its teachings, or waver in their faith, or fail to join in battle, when the going gets tough, are also liable to painful punishment:
Surely (as for) those who believe then disbelieve, again believe and again disbelieve, then increase in disbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them in the (right) path. Announce to the hypocrites that they shall have a painful chastisement (4.137 ) And that He might know the hypocrites; and it was said to them: Come, fight in Allah's way, or defend yourselves. They said: If we knew fighting, we would certainly have followed you. They were on that day much nearer to unbelief than to belief. They say with their mouths what is not in their hearts, and Allah best knows what they conceal. Those who said of their brethren whilst they (themselves) held back: Had they obeyed us, they would not have been killed. Say: Then avert death from yourselves if you speak the truth (3.167-8).
On the contrary, faithful Muslims do not die when they are killed, but are taken straight to heaven:
And reckon not those who are killed in Allah's way as dead; nay, they are alive (and) are provided sustenance from their Lord; Rejoicing in what Allah has given them out of His grace and they rejoice for the sake of those who, (being left) behind them, have not yet joined them, that they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice on account of favor from Allah and (His) grace, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers (3.169-71).
Thus Islamic martyrs thus believe they are taken straight to heaven to see the face of God, in a manner as effortless as surgery under anesthetic, even though they may main or kill innocent bystanders in the process.
Sexual relations in Islam are highly asymmetric
Finally we have the inferior status of women in Islam, in contradiction to claims that Islam improved the status of women, when the previous Meccan society worshipped female deities and extolled their matriarchs:
1. A Muslim man can have up to four wives, but not vice versa:
And if ye are apprehensive that ye shall not deal fairly with orphans, then, of other women who seem good in your eyes, marry but two, or three, or four; and if ye still fear that ye shall not act equitably, then one only; or the slaves whom ye have acquired: this will make justice on your part easier... (Sura 4:2).
2. Wives are a tilth for the ploughing, expected to be sexually available to her husband's wishes:
Your wives are a tilth for you, so go into your tilth when you like (2.223 ).
3. Muslim men have absolute freedom to divorce or repudiate their wives simply by uttering the triple talaq "I divorce you" three times, however the women then have to wait three months in case they carry the man's child who divorced them:
You may put off whom you please of them, and you may take to you whom you please, and whom you desire of those whom you had separated provisionally; no blame attaches to you; this is most proper, so that their eyes may be cool and they may not grieve, and that they should be pleased, all of them with what you give them (33.51).
And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise (2.228).
4. Women rate only half the value of a man in law and endowment:
Allah enjoins you concerning your children: The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females (4:11)
call in to witness from among your men two witnesses;
but if there are not two men, then one man and two women from among those whom you choose to be witnesses (2: 282).
5. The Qur’an states that God prefers men over women and that women are to be beaten, if their husbands fear their perverseness:
"Men stand superior to women in that God hath preferred the one over the other ... Those whose perverseness you fear, admonish them and remove them into bed chambers and beat them, but if they submit to you then do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great" ( 4:34)
This sura is cited by Islamic preachers to approve a husband forcing sex on his wife and beating her if she resists:
A Muslim cleric in Australia who said men have a right to force their wives to have sex has been told to apologise in public and repudiate his statements by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The cleric, Samir Abu Hamza reportedly questioned how rape can exist within marriage, and encouraged "light beating" of disobedient women. He was replaced as Mufti of Australia in 2007 after creating a storm of protest when he described scantily-dressed women as "uncovered meat" inviting rape. (Cleric 'must deny' views on rape BBC 22 January 2009).
Depersonalization of women: Going, going, gone! Atefah Sahaaleh hung at 16 in Iran in 2004 for 'crimes against chastity'
displays a Shi'ite chador, followed by Sunni neqab successively covering all but two eyes, one eye, two slits, none.
6. The Qur'an does not say that women should be veiled or their faces and hands be covered, but merely that they should dress modestly and not expose their breasts. However Muslims use the fact the Muhammad ordered his wives to be behind a curtain, after the guests stayed too long after his marriage to Zaynab, as an excuse to keep women veiled and covered, sometimes from head to toe, with only their eyes visible, or one eye, or both hidden behind a network screen.
“And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess [slaves], or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known” (24.31).
7. The above requirement for women to hide themselves from non-related men leads further to the requirement, particularly in traditional Sunni countries, that women cannot go out in public without being chaperoned by a male relative. The veil and chaperoning thus combine to reduce or eliminate a woman's ability to meet and form partners of her own choice, let alone have a working career, or education. This gives related males and family almost exclusive rights to determine who Muslim women can associate with and marry, and serves to ensure Muslim women will not be able to marry non-Muslim men, or will have great difficulty doing so.
Given the fact that many Muslim societies also practice honour killing if they even so much suspect a female is having a relationship with a partner not of her family's choosing, even if she is still a virgin, and given that several Muslim countries proscribe whipping, or even the death penalty, for perceived acts of female immorality, Islam serves as a religious instrument to give Muslim men almost complete control over the reproductive choices of their female relatives.
Finally, the fact that sex and procreation are viewed as a primary act of men, ordained by God, traditional Muslim societies tend to have high birth rates, ensuring the spread of the religion by reproductive pressure.
go in to them as Allah has commanded you; surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him) (2.222).
Although some Muslim measures have been marginally better then Christian oppression in the Dark Ages of Crusade and Inquisition, they are still far more restrictive and arbitrarily punitive than the law and social norms of Western democracies today.
Flat Earth Sabbatical Creation
1. Sabbatical Splendour in the Grass
The Sabbatical Creation of Genesis 1 is deeply charming, permeated at every stage with the unmitigated good, emanating from the plural Elohim who make humanity male and female in their own likeness, an iconic expression of the Elhoistic worship of Northern Israel, complementing Judea's exclusively Yahwistic Eden, echoing the ancient pantheon of El and Athirat of Canaan, and Asherah and the Heavenly Host worshipped alongside Yahweh-Adonai in the time of the Kings.
However, despite its manifest goodness and charm, the Sabbatical Creation's cosmology is a mythical distortion of nature which, however beautiful and endearing, has, ever since, has been the platform for an attitude of dominion over nature and is touted as a sine qua non - the declared founding creation of God, through which fundamentalists insist the Earth, if not as flat as a pancake, is only 6000 years old, and around which creationists deny the most awesomely fertile aspects of evolution, reducing the command to be fruitful and multiply after their kind, to a clockwork Newtonian shadow of its true cosmological meaning.
The Sabbatical Creation declares that when the Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu vavohu - without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep - the abyss of primal chaos. The existence of primal chaos raises a question as to whether Elohim created the universe de novo, or merely shaped and divided the pregnant primeval waters of the deep.
Their spirit, or breath (pranayama), moving on the face of the waters, the Elohim declare "Let there be light" and the first primal division of cosmological reality ensues, as a logos, inciting the creative process by proclamation. The light is good and becomes day to the night's darkness and the evening and morning of the first day is complete. This light is not the light of heavenly bodies - stars or galaxies - but just the knowing light of good - existing in its own essence - white light in the mind-space of conscious existence - for there is yet no heaven and no earth.
We now enter into a series of events in space and time that, however quaint and wonderful, confound consciousness, biology and astronomical cosmology together in a bizarre if beautiful mythical sequence.
On the second day, the waters are divided by a firmament into those above and below heaven in a flat earth division that is forgivable, but begs more questions than it answers. All manner of bizarre explanations have been given, for example, for the waters above heaven.
Augustine neutralizes all intellectual inquiry: "These words of Scripture have more authority than the most exalted human intellect. Hence, whatever these waters are, and whatever their mode of existence, we cannot for a moment doubt that they are there." Origen says that the waters that are above the firmament are "spiritual substances," affirming the creation is as much soul myth as a physical origin.
Let the waters that are above the heavens praise the name of the Lord (Psalm 148:4)
Ye waters that are above the heavens, bless the Lord (Daniel 3:60).
Harold Armstrong, himself a physics professor, although a creationist, suggested: "if Genesis is taken at all seriously, the waters above the firmament are not the clouds, nor are they the water vapor normally present in the atmosphere, nor are they a canopy of water in some state no more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth. They are at a great distance, beyond the stars."
A much more avant-garde interpretation is given by Tony Smith - that the firmament divides space-time timewise and that the three fingers thickness Talmudic authors suggest for the Rekiah, or firmament, corresponds to 10-5 sec after the big bang - when quark soup became hadrons (protons and neutrons).
On the third day a series of things happen which seriously violate nature, even if in the dearest possible terms. Firstly Elohim gathers together the waters under heaven into seas to expose dry land and calls the land Earth. However immediately they then forthwith invoke the earth to bring forth the plants: And Elohim said Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself after his kind. This is not a clockwork one-off 'creationist' creation by direct formation, but the Elohim inciting the earth to bring forth vegetative life, and life with genetic continuity - seed of its own kind - by no means inconsistent with an evolutionary process. So far, so good.
Flammarion woodcut of Genesis 1 showing behind the firmament
Almost as a mere oversight, or afterthought, on the fourth day, the Elohim make the Sun and Moon - two great lights; the greater to rule the day, and the lesser to rule the night: and for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: he made the stars also and set them all in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. Clearly astronomy is just a matter of lighting effects in the Cartesian theatre of flat Earth consciousness. This is a reasonable view given how astronomy was conceived at the time, although the Sun, Moon and Venus often represented deities in their own right. The year and the seasons are now also brought into play.
From the time of the ancient Canaanites, worship revolved around the agricultural cycle of the seasons, so creating the plants before both the seasons and the Sun itself, which was also frequently worshipped as divine, is a potentially tragic flaw in the cosmic design, requiring divine intervention of the Elohim to keep them alive until they remember to grant them the life giving rays of the Sun.
Now we have the animals emerging, but in a sequence related to the myth-maker's precedence of primal divisions of waters and heaven first and only a day later earth, violating any natural ordering of the biota and the natural complementation between plants and animals.
On the fifth day, the waters are incited to bring forth both the swimming and flying creatures: And Elohim said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven and great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and saw that it was good and blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
The great whales and birds who fly in the firmament are made out of the waters first and only a day later the land animals out of the earth. Of course the fish did precede the land animals, but not the great whales, nor the birds - and where are the locusts and butterflies, and fungi and sponges? This is a replay of the founding events just foretold, so the biota are helplessly destined to repeat the cycle of creation - waters and air first, earth second, regardless of their own natural complementarity or their evolutionary relationships, or the fact that the fowl lay eggs on earth not the ocean, and emerge from the land, not the sea, or firmament of heaven, which has now become so intimate and airy that even the dove, let alone the great eagle can transcend it.
It is only on day six that the earth is then called upon to bring forth the land animals: And Elohim said, Let the earth bring the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind, and made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind.
And in the same breath, confirming we are after all one of the land animals - naked apes indeed - humanity is generated - but auspiciously in the image of the Elohim: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. In the image of Elohim created he him; male and female created he them.
Naturally this male is assumed to be Adam, however it is said in Jewish folklore, that this female was Lilith because she was Adam's first wife, who, like Adam, was made out of the earth, and regarded herself as every bit the equal of the man, just as the Sabbatical Creation indicates.
And Elohim blessed them, and said Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Saying to humanity and all the animals Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
And on the seventh day, Elohim ended their work rested, and sanctified it.
Although the creation is disarmingly charming, and so wholly good that it is almost an act of violence to criticize it in any way, it does violate nature in significant ways.
It is from this charming introduction that the whole concept of man's dominion over nature, and hence his self-proclaimed right to tragically exploit it, arises in the religious tradition leading to the rape of the Earth.
There is a clear decree that the plants are meat (food) for the animals and humanity - setting in motion a wholly unrealistic ecology, in violation of natural principles, in which all animals are expected to be herbivores in an artificial paradise where there are no carnivores and hence no killing (except of plants). Just as the metazoa, or higher organisms, are divided between autotrophic plants living off light and heterotrophic animals consuming plants, so the animals naturally divide into herbivores and carnivores.
However, unlike the Edenic creation to follow, it does offer some recognition of natural processes of generation.
Although woman and man are said to have been 'made' in their likeness, the Elohim do not explicitly fashion, or form, the biota, but utter a call for the earth and waters to bring them forth, effectively as a natural process, consistent with an evolutionary paradigm. The genetic process - seed according to their kind - is acknowledged, and with the seed of sexuality comes the endless variation, resembling both the mother and the father in each generation in ways that parents could easily appreciate together and witness in their animal husbandry and agriculture, affirming that life is self-generating, and not merely a set of clonal carbon copies of the creator's original intelligent design.
Song of Songs (Cover)
2. Wisdom Crieth from Everlasting
The sexually dyadic plurality of the Elohim is confirmed by the coeval pre-existence of Hochmah or Wisdom - from everlasting as one brought up with him - in the account of creation in the Proverbs:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men (8).
Durer: Adam and Eve, with the cat about to pounce below.
3. Evil Creepeth out of Eden
When we turn to the Judean Yawistic account in the Garden of Eden, the menace and biological inconsistency really begins to bite.
Although at the outset it is declared that these are the generations of the heavens and of the earth which were created when Yahweh made them, all that we see is a nascent earth, up from which wells a mist which waters the ground. Heaven is nowhere in sight and if Yahweh made the earth it is not part of the actual cosmology.
The Lord God, Yahweh-Adonai, then forms man out of the dust and breathes the breath of life (pranayama) into his nostrils, becoming a living soul: And Yhwh-Adonai formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Only after creating man, He plants a garden in Eden with good food to eat and the two trees of life (unity) and good and evil (division): And Yhwh-Adonai planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made Yahweh to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which Yahweh tells Adam not to eat.
Again, once the plants are made in their entirety, only then are the animals made, and now much more like the intelligent designer, they are 'formed': And out of the ground Yahweh formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
And only then because Adam has no domestic help meet, Yahweh makes Eve out of Adam's rib while he is anesthetized, setting up a patriarchal chauvinistic sexual paradigm, although some female commentators claim that it gives women an elevated status - made of flesh rather than dust.
Of course there is also the hidden tale of Lilith, but that is too off left field for the Tanakh account . As both had been created from dust, Lilith considered herself equal to Adam. Lilith objected to having to lie beneath Adam during sexual intercourse, but Adam would have it no other way. Lilith upped and left him, flying up in the air, and winding up in rabbinic tradition as a baby-killing demoness who seduces sleeping men. In itself this shows how a transition to male dominance has occurred between the Elhoistic and Yahwistic accounts.
"The wild-cat shall meet with the jackals And the satyr shall cry to his fellow,
Yea, Lilith shall repose there And find her a place of rest" (Isaiah 34:14).
Adam now names and claims the new woman as HIS flesh: And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Adam then acknowledges the primacy of the sexual relationship and coitus itself over genealogy: Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Now the serpent, who is no mere snake, but an astute talking head, persuades the woman to eat the fruit of divisive knowledge thinking it to be a pleasant to behold and sweet fruited tree of wisdom. Even though she wasn't around when Yahweh forbade Adam to eat it, and she only had the general notion not to eat the tree in the midst of the garden, sexual mayhem now ensues.
Adam and the woman did not commit any particular debauchery, or act of violence, but merely adopted a modicum of sexual privacy - the fig leaf. Neither is it stated whether or not they originally made love in their innocence. A lone Yahweh now calls them out and they fear for their nakedness. He then curses them and the snake and the ground, condemning the serpent to crawl, the woman to pain of childbirth in subjugation to her husband, the man to labour by the sweat of his brow and the ground to become thorns and thistles, all condemned to mortality, dust to dust.
It is here that it is assumed that natural evil throughout the entire biosphere enters in too. Durer etches the temptation of Adam with the cat bristling, ready to pounce on the mouse the very instant the flesh of the fruit is eaten intimating that as the first fruit is tasted, a kind of black lightning rages through paradise turning all the carnivores into killers and corrupting every animal with carnal desire and a lust for and fear of death.
At this point, Adam calls the woman Eve - the mother of all living - confirming that, not only death, but birth, have resulted from the sexual Fall as Yahweh also declared, in the pain of childbirth.
Yahweh now stoops to simple gatherer hunter skills, making coats for them both out of skins. He then confesses the root problem is his own jealousy in his essential plurality - that humanity would by the fruit of both trees which Yahweh had himself provided, become not just in the likeness of the Elohim but possess both knowledge and immortal life the deities' own essential natures: Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore Yahweh sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
So it is, that sexuality, birth and death have become inextricably entwined with a false idea of paradise in which we have immortal humans and animals benignly eating plants for all eternity and the huge contradiction that merely by becoming aware of their intrinsic sexuality, without which woman and man would not exist, that evil enters into the world and condemns, not just man and woman, but all of nature to live by tooth and claw, dust to dust and ashes to ashes, giving added justification to the absoluteness of dominion of man over woman, and humanity over nature.
Moreover, the Edenic construction of history is fundamentally in contradiction to the Sabbatical Creation, which, throughout, and from the very beginning, acknowledges the genetic principles of sexuality - each plant has fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself and all the animals after their kind to be fruitful and multiply and in every generation evidentially in the image of both the father and the mother. How can the fruit of the tree be fertile and man be cleaving unto woman without sexuality?
Neither can it be merely desire, or concupiscence that caused the assumed 'betrayal' of lonely unattached Yahweh, as Augustine suggests, because this has no direct effect on mortality or reproduction, but only reproductive choice. If they were innocent naked lovers, sex and childbirth would have still ensued, along with all the difficulties of giving birth to offspring with such a large intelligent head.
Noah and the animals.
4. Floods of Contradiction
Shortly after this there is a big problem between earth and heaven because the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. So God resolves to destroy not only man but both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them, but paradoxically calls on Noah to save the animals to make a new start.
So the flood ensues to wipe out all life and we have God providing a unique attempt to save biodiversity from mass extinction. Once again there are huge contradictions in the account. Initially God says to save seven pairs of each kosher species and one pair of the rest, (7:2) but apparently Noah only saves one pair of each (7:15, 24). The account is full of quaint contradictions. The arc is 300 cubits long, 50 wide and 30 high. The eventual flood is merely 15 cubits high (7:20) nowhere nearly high enough to cover the mountain peaks. Nevertheless the story is often taken literally and attempts made to find the relic of the arc on Mt. Ararat.
The flood is variously said to last 40 days or 150 days (7:24) which is far too long for vegetative life to survive and Noah was not asked to take on board any plant, or fungal species, just food for the land animals: And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them (6:21).
It is also made clear that every living thing on the ground was killed although the fates of the whales and fishes remains uncertain: And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark (7:23).
God in the tale has all the idiosyncrasies of a fallible human personality. First he uses crude methods causing huge collateral damage to achieve annihilation, secondly he does it because he regrets his own actions in creating humanity, thirdly he forgets Noah for 150 days and only then remembers him (as one would with a forgetful human brain). Finally we see the cosmology is full of architectural features such as windows: And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged; The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated (8:1).
Nevertheless when they emerge after the raven is released and the dove comes back with an olive branch and then disappears, Noah immediately goes about burning up the precious biodiversity: And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar (8:20).
Now God succumbs himself to the carnivorous corruption of the smell of burning flesh and finds it so good, like any fallible mortal human, he has an emotional change of heart for the better: And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
This induces an even more severe carnivorous turn of the screw of dominion of man over nature as frank predator and legitimate consumer of every living thing, coming ever closer to the threat of mass extinction of diversity we are witnessing today: "And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things" (Gen 9:1).
Betsalel Tiles. Boris Schatz the founder what is now known as the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem,
created the Bezalel style. Some of these tiles can be seen on houses in Tel Aviv.
5. The Pastoral Apocalypse of Isaiah
The Jewish Tanakh apocalypse of the end of days in the coming of the mashiach, revolves around diverse passages strewn among the prophetic literature, particularly Isaiah.
This is a pastoral apocalypse full of paradise and concord. The mashiach is an endowed human bearing knowledge and wisdom: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (11:2 ).
The epoch ushered in is one of paradisaical reunion in which killing will cease, but again in conflict with natural diversity of the herbivores and carnivores: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' (adder's) den (11:6).
And it will result in the regeneration of the Edenic condition of paradise: For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody (51:3 ).
It is the full knowledge of the Torah which will bring about this beneficence: They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (11:9).
The polluted wastes will be restored and the priests of the Lord will be blessed among the nations of the Earth: And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves (61:4).
More apocalyptically, the classic features of death ceasing altogether are invoked: He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it (25:8 ).
And, like the apocalypse of the Christian, and Muslim, Day of Resurrection, the dead shall come to life, overruling the natural order of the passage of the generations: Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead (26:19 ).
By comparison with Revelation to follow, this apocalypse is pastoral and concordant, rather than violent and divisive, however it violates nature in precisely the way the assumed innocence of paradise violates it. Human evil and redemptive good associated with morality and the covenant with God is subsumed to be identical with the supposed natural evil of predation and the non-biological state of grace in which the carnivores eat grass and lie down with the herbivores. Such a situation can never be if the tree of living diversity is to maintain its ecological completeness, for it is the carnivores which keep the herbivores in check from eating the grass to extinction and this inner relationship behind tooth and claw needs to be understood in its natural sacredness for the blessed state of ongoing life to prevail on earth.
The moral idea that killing is wrong and is a form of evil exploitation (which clearly was not extended by the Hebrews to the Canaanites of Hazor and Jericho) continues to be confused with ecological diversity and the complementation of plants, animals and other natural strategies of sustainable existence in the living biosphere.
Furthermore, expectations are coming about in the prophetic tradition that lead to a frank overthrow of the natural order, in the dead simultaneously all coming to life and organismic death ceasing under the good kingdom of the branch - the Torah or law - leading ultimately to the scorched earth visions of the Day of Resurrection or Day of Judgment in Christian, and Islamic, scripture and eschatology.
Day of Judgment
6. The Scorched Earth Triage Apocalypse of Revelation
With the apocalypse of Revelation we move from the pastoral and organic view of a whole earthly paradise, if a little contrived to end killing and death to a full blown cosmic catastrophe of the end of days defying physical reality altogether in a return to the mythical dream time of conscious revelation, in which political, natural, cosmological and religious realities are all blended into a single allegorical account which can have reality only in the realm of nightmare and our wildest dreams. Admittedly this is purely a visionary journey of the prophetic imagination and no one in their right mind should consider this to be a literal prophecy, yet many people do even today in the ostensible age of scientific enlightenment, consider these to be literal transcendental revealed truths which will come to pass - a road map if you will of the Day of Judgment.
Revelation applies triage and biodiversity holocaust in seven stages of destruction where Genesis 1 instead leads to fruitful creation.
As seven seals are opened, tumultuous events begin to occur. When he had opened the sixth seal, here was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. The angels of destruction are warned not to hurt the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till the servants of God are sealed in their foreheads.
Once this is done however the seventh seal is opened and after an uncanny silence the seven angels in turn sound each of their their trumpets.
Firstly we have triage of the trees and annihilation of the grasses: The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up (8:7).
Second we have triage of all sea creatures and a few ships passing in the night: And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed (8:8).
Third the bitter waters of Wormwood reeking of nuclear pollution and Chernobyl: And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter (8:10).
Fourth, as in the Sabbatical Creation, we have a sudden afterthought and commit a triage of the astronomical bodies. How a third of the Sun can go is anyone's bet and why it would destroy only a third of the day and what would happen if we lost both a third of the day and the night seems to simply mean the Earth spins a third faster: And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise (8:12).
Fifth we have some interminable torments by giant insects, which never feed themselves as they aren't allowed to eat grass contradicting the first angels destruction of the grasses but just to harry humanity: And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads (9:1).
Sixthly we finally get a good genuine triage of humanity: And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men (9:13).
And like the Sabbatical Creation, the seventh the Lord rests: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets (10:7). And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever (11:15).
One might think this is the signal for the blessed kingdom, but far from it. A war now breaks out which rages between heaven and earth, through the satanic dragon flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns, seven diadems, tail sweeping a third of the stars from the sky and hurling them down on the earth, along with his attendant great beasts and the followers of the false faiths. There is now even greater tumult, plague and bloodshed amid the flight of the pregnant woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of seven stars, the great whore of Babylon, and finally the Lord on a white horse, out of whose mouth is a sharp sword.
Everyone isnow judged and those not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire, the sea gives up the dead in it and death and hell deliver up the dead and they are judged and death and hell and whosoever is not found written in the book of life are cast into a lake of fire.
Finally everything is destroyed - both heaven and earth - to be replaced anew: And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (21:1).
Tree of Life New Jerusalem
We now find we have finally come full circle to the tree of life: And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (22:1).
As we shall discuss in the next chapter, this admitted visionary fantasy is dangerous in the extreme, because it leads us all to the brink of annihilation of life, the universe, and everything, without heed or caution, recklessly believing that the entire diversity of life, and any sense of good stewardship of its preservation for the future generations, can be discarded, in racing towards an unveiling of the supremacy of the believers in the Lord, who become the only ones who can be saved, in a rapture as illusory as that of Paul:
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (Thessalonians 4:13-18).
This simply leads to double jeopardy, where the followers of major apocalyptic monotheistic religions, from Christian fundamentalists, through Muslim believers in the Day of Judgment, Shia and Sunni alike, to Jewish apocalyptists, each of whom believe in their own ultimate supremacy and are prepared to stop short at nothing, including nuclear warfare in the name of God, drive the world to the very brink of extinction these scorched earth scriptures prophesy.
Islamic eschatology leads to as dangerous an outcome as the Christian one. A fundamental tenet of Islam is belief in the day of resurrection, Qiyamah. Muslims believe that God will hold every human, Muslim and non-Muslim, accountable for his or her deeds at a preordained time unknown to man. According to Islamic eschatology, after death, one will reside in the grave until the appointed resurrection. The sequence of events according to Muslim belief are the annihilation of all creatures (effectively a cosmic-genocide), resurrection of bodies, and the judgment of all creatures, including the jinn.
We need to apply the Gaia shibboleth to this entire apocalyptic paradigm, passing judgment on every aspect in which the sanctity of life is casually and recklessly disregarded, so that a tradition as strong is established to protect the diversity of the tree of life and the living diversity of its future generations.
Memling: The Day of Judgment
Religion and the Shibboleth of Life
Throughout the religious tradition, is a strategic finesse that God takes a position absolute, in dominant defiance of intellect and nature alike. God is assumed to be both the creator of the universe and in the end of days, judge, jury and executioner, not only of potentially morally corrupt human beings, but the entire natural order.
Intellect is claimed to be wanting because it is finite and fallible like all human consciousness and nature has been corrupted by the lust and greed and incipient violence that accompanied the Fall. Associated with the demonization of nature is a demonization of sexuality and the natural aspects of human mammalian biology as manifestations of these corrupt lustful polluting tendencies in the corrupt flesh caught in the mortal coil of death and ultimate decay.
This position absolute is a strategic bluff which in its apocalyptic end-game becomes a tragedy of the commons for all religious believers, for humanity as a whole and for the continuity of the diversity of life on Earth.
Religious believers, spanning the major religions, including Christianity and Islam, are fully prepared to torch the diversity of life and eagerly wait the Day of Resurrection, seeking positions of responsibility in places like nuclear launch silos where they sit prepared to press the red button, the moment one president or another releases the codes, blowing themselves and other innocent people to smithereens as in 9-11 and other suicide bombings, or dealing into an end-of-days finesse for dominance by nuclear stealth, invoking the coming of the Mahdi, in nuclear ambitious Iran.
Thus it is the Gaia shibboleth, closing the circle of the scorched earth triage that is the acid test of the outcome which each of the three monotheistic religions lead to, and with them, the holy warfare of the Bhagavad Gita, and for all its composure, aspects of Buddhism as well. Each of these religious paradigms are mere dew on the lawn of evolutionary time, and their shibboleth is not rapture, or victory of Jesus, or the Mahdi, but the survival of life on Earth, in a closing circle of coexistence, both of human cultures, and of humanity with the living species, upon which we depend for our own survival, and economic and physical health.
Despite appearing ancient and absolute, like modern technology, apocalyptic religions are transient modern structures with inherent fragility that, they can only survive while human society retains its cultural integration. Being infectious social processes by evangelism and social control, just as a virus is infectious, their survival depends ultimately on the survival of their host. If their message is to bring about, genocidal warfare, rapture of the late planet Earth, and the destruction of all life, they are likewise doomed to their own ultimate extinction by their own fervent folly.
Tower 2 9-11-1
The War on Terror: Clash of the Civilizations
The 'war on terror', which became a signature of the Bush administration, was precipitated by the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center by Islamic fundamentalists from al-Qaeda - 'the base', a militant Sunni Muslim group led by Osama Bin Laden with the aim of re-establishing a world caliphate. Bush in turn used the notion of Christian holy war - "This crusade, this war on terror is going to take a while".
While Barack Obama has changed the emphasis from Iraq, and its misadventure on false claims of weapons of mass destruction, to Afghanistan, where the Taliban are newly resurgent, the battle ground has merely again gained its focus, while at the same moment the Taliban in Pakistan have blown up all the girls schools in Swat and are negotiating a cease fire in which their version of Sharia is said to be being implemented, including keeping the girls school closed.
Of course the militancy of Muslim fundamentalists is stoked by the Israel-Palestine conflict, but this itself is both a manifestation of apocalyptic expectations, both on the part of secular Zionists and religious Orthodox Jews, linked to Christian apocalyptic expectations as well which cements the support of Israel in the USA electorate to an extent which results in a high degree of political alignment.
But this belies a deeper issue which is the world agenda of Islam as a religion claiming to institute the rule of God in a monolith of Islamic state, Sharia law and Islam scripture (Quran and assorted Hadith) as the foundation of human society. This claim combined with conservative social views in which women are veiled, chaperoned and reproductively controlled and repressed from social, educational, career and reproductive choices based on a reiteration of 6th century Arab tribal law which places resurgent Islam in head-on conflict with the democratic secular West where it is not just licentious pornography, but a new paradigm of women's freedom of choice and expression that is seen as a threat to Muslim sexual control.
The problem with all these views is that, without exception, they involve dominion over nature, inherited from Genesis 1 and later episodes such as Noah's flood, as recounted in the last chapter.
These roots of dominion over nature, combined with the inherently patriarchal nature of Western capitalism, whose individual competitiveness, right to make a fortune, winner-take-all venture capital exploitation and boom and bust economics are a reflection of spermatogenic resource-risk based wild oat sewing reproductive strategy and not the survival of whole ecosystems.
The only solution to this battle for religious world supremacy is coexistence in a surviving biosphere, not scorched earth tumult in the belief that one religion or another, Shia Mahdi, Sunni World Caliphate, Christian Kingdon of the Lord, or Zionist rule of the Elect will have its final seal of approval in the annihilation of biological life in the Ray of Resurrection. It is thus the Gaia shibboleth and not Christ or the Mahdi that is the grim reaper of human hubris and the will to dominance over the living diversity of the planet and it is the Gaia shibboleth, not weapons or national, or religious interests, that is our test of survival and coexistence in the closing circle of human mutual acceptance, and it is the Gaia shibboleth that holds the key to the ultimate resolution of intractable problems central to this condition, such as Israel and Palestine.
15 megaton hydrogen bomb
Mutually Assured Destruction: The Burning Nuclear Issue
The birth of nuclear weapons came out of the Second World War, after Hitler began an abortive quest for nuclear weapons, but was guided very substantially by the reaction of prominent Jewish scientists to the Holocaust. It is striking that, following Oppenheimer's lead of naming the site of the first nuclear test "Trinity," Weisskopf and William Laurence - both Jews - saw in the Bomb the glory of Christ. Three weeks later, the pilot of Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets, requested God's blessing upon the Bomb that would initiate the citizens of Hiroshima into the darkest consequences of this ecstatic presence. "Be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven intoned the chaplain, "and carry the battle to our enemies"
The mutually destruction scenario began with the Cold War between the Communist and Capitalist worlds, from which there still remains a vast overhanging risk of accidental first strike cataclysm, and some 15 times overkill of existing weaponry, only marginally scaled down from a peak level of 40 times.
However the looming nuclear doomsday has increasingly become an issue with apocalyptic religious dimensions between the Muslim World and the West.
The US itself has proven, both at Hiroshima, and in the use of depleted uranium weapons, that it is prepared to commit nuclear genocide if it perceives it to be in the national (or world) interest.
Israel, in the midst of continuing conflicts on several fronts, possess 200 nuclear warheads in the Sampson option of pulling the pillars down on the whole Middle East should it suffer a nuclear attack.
Iran, which professes end-of-days ambitions in the Shi'ite Mahdi is moving to enrich uranium on a course of strategic bluff which is aimed at neutralizing the nuclear advantage of the licentious West with a view to achieving an end-of-days supremacy of the Shi'ite Islamic faith.
And not least, Pakistan, which has already developed nuclear weapons in the midst of an ongoing conflict with nuclear India has allowed its nuclear technology to spread outside its borders to Iran and North Korea and at the same time is assailed by a fundamentalist civil war by the Taliban whose affiliations with al-Qaeda's ambitions for holy war on the West could result in these weapons falling into the hands of genocidal terrorists and either being used for a dirty bomb, for a preemptive stike on Israel or to threaten the West in the manner of 9-11.
Girl in Lagos slum
Boom and Bust: Economic Recession
Despite its basis in electoral democracy, many characteristics of Western capitalism, derive from a patriarchal idea of dominion over nature that emerges from European Christian culture of the middle ages and its transition to the utopian agenda of science as a way of bringing about paradise in the aftermath of the age of enlightenment of the 18th Century.
Many undesirable characteristics of the manifest instabilities and inequitability of venture capitalism arise from its institutions and working assumptions arising from a combination of patriarchal dominance and the religious notion of dominion over nature, which has allowed men to both take advantage of exploiting nature unhindered by the eventual consequences and to do so in a winner-take-all manner. This has led to Western society becoming polarized between a relatively soulless reductionistic Newtonian secular scientific description, and a faith-based patriarchal religious paradigm still thinking in terms of revealed religion and the after life. Missing in the centre is a constructive understanding of how to bring about a sustainable condition of paradise for the benefit of all.
The free market is likened to a process of survival of the fittest in a false analogy with natural selection, which ignores the fact that corporation do not have a conserved genetic blueprint which ensures their evolutionary niche is one which is consistent with their own survival and the survival of the increasingly world society they are in, and by contrast company law provides only for the processes of line-management of the executive and a fragmented democracy of a board accountable only to shareholders, and not to the welfare of its workers or the consumer who buys their products. Companies can thus manifestly exploit natural resources and then either wind themselves up or convert their acquired capital to a new line of business altogether. The analogy is also false because it assumes a higher degree of outright competition than happens in natural ecosystems, where symbiosis and coexistence of predator and host stabilizes the populations of both.
The capitalist free market shows a variety of features consistent with male (spermatogenic) reproductive investment at the expense of female investment more attuned to parenting and the survival of the spread of her offspring over time. The short term nature of economic strategies is consistent with male investment in the current offspring contrasting with the females need to spread over a longer term. The accrual of vast fortunes is also consistent with the male resource-bearing reproductive strategy and the hypergamic ability of resource-bearing males to sire disproportionate numbers of offspring. In no way does one find in natural ecosystems individuals gathering such disparate amounts of natural resources such as food and territory except in harem forming mammals.
The imaginary exponential trend of endless economic growth with no natural cyclic activity is likewise an expression of the male reproductive strategy and results in endless boom and bust cycles causing severe social disruption and human casualties. At the same time these processes lead to sever resource depletion during boom cycles without any investment in the longer term strategies characteristic of female mammals, so that bust cycles correspond also to phases of resource depletion accentuating the severity of the hard-landing. The male reproductive strategy also involves a significant component of lethal risk - better to fertilize the queen whose sons will become princes and die than to have no children at all - so an unmitigated male reproductive strategy applied to society or dominating its processes leads to a continuing risk of lethal jeopardy.
These initiatives are often supported by intellectual property rights and patents that give the registrant unilateral rights to exploit what are often not entirely individual inventions but part of the commons of humanity's heritage. This applies particularly to modern forms of genetic patenting where attempts are made to acquire sole intellectual property rights over genomes and species which are part of our natural endowment. Such patenting, like the terminator gene which renderes proprietary seeds naturally infertile after the first planting and genetically modified products such as round-up soya and ready and Bt corn and cotton benefit the control of the companies concerned over their own associated chemical products (e.g. roundup's chemical glyphosate), or compromise the effectiveness of natural processes such as the utility of B. thuringiensis in organic pest control through resistance caused by massive use in GM crops.
The traditional conflict between left and right in adversarial party democracies is a patriarchal degeneracy of sexual complementarity. Democracy was invented by Greek warlord defending their civic estates from external aggression. The two-party system, particularly in patriarchal first past the post winner take all mode is a model of male reproductive combat - locking horns. MMP systems attempt to alleviate this resulting in a greater need for coalition formation in government. The traditional left represents a welfare state degeneracy of an overall female reproductive investment strategy neutered of its sexual basis both in the communistic and socialistic manifestations, which tens to lead to nepotistic government by male cliques.
The natural remedy to economic instability and the damage done to economic and social welfare by boom and bust cycles is to apply the Gaia shibboleth to all company law and economic thinking and regulatory procedures and to the political basis of the electoral process, so that free societies can survive in evolutionary time rather than appearing and disappearing by processes of expansion, degeneracy, decline and becoming eventual victims of social conquest.
Resource Depletion, Climate Crisis and the Rape of the Planet
The world is currently depending on non-renewable energy sources, namely oil and coal for its energy economy, causing runaway increases in global warming abrupt to catastrophic and potentially irreversible climate change. Given the venture capital paradigm of quick immediate gains, disproportionately little research has gone into sustainable forms of energy consistent with transport needs, with big business hanging fire until oil prices reach a level where immediate profits can be made on a short term investment basis on renewable technologies which should last a lifetime, leading to a hard landing for human society both in terms of the havoc caused by rising oceans increased storm and hurricane damage and the economic crises caused by this key failure of forward thinking.
At the same time natural ecosystems are being damaged by habitat destruction caused by exploitation of all available land for commercial and development purposes, which in combination with the wholesale release of invasive species, abrupt climate change and outright removal of wild species by overfishing, stripping of rare plants fish reptiles and other species for urban collectors is resulting in the sixth great mass extinction of the diversity of life, caused not by natural or astronomical catastrophe such as asteroid strike but by humanity ourselves.
This mass extinction will cause profoundly long-term consequences for the future of humanity and for life on the planet. It took about 32 million years for the diversity of life to recover from the extinction of the dinosaurs, although it did give the mammals a chance to become dominant. Humanity is likely to become the first species to become extinct in any similar event because our societies have become so fragile to major calamity.
Several other mechanisms, from destabilizing of the vast methane hydrates under the cooler oceans, through additional heating of the planet caused by loss of the white reflecting polar snow caps, effects of rapid ocean rise on land cities, societies economies and ecosystems to wildfires and the destabilization of tropical forest ecologies could lead to a whiplash tipping point in which the natural viability of the planet for the human species and thus our survival prospects and long-term quality of life become significantly diminished. At the same time people who claim to be scietists are misleading the general population and abetting further exploitation by major industries by falsely alleging global warming isn't happening, or that it is not manmade.
In addition, we are reducing the natural viability of our food, medicinal and commercial species, upon which we depend for our own survival, by mass planting of monoclonal hybrids, GM varieties which are either natural non-viable or liable to contaminate wild genomes, and failure to preserve natural ecosystems supporting the wild germ stock from which our co-dependent species came.
At the same time, advanced technological societies are becoming ever more brittle, dependent on a network of computer technology, massive transport and hugely inefficient distribution processes, which could literally collapse, leaving vast proportions of the human population unable to feed themselves and survive, given even a small scale global catastrophe. As things stand, human society, for all its development, is currently manifestly less robust to global crisis than it was 8,000-10,000 years ago when gatherer-hunters were still dispersed across the planet, the world's ecosystems were still relatively intact and, in the event of a crisis striking one continent ,the populations on other land masses were relatively capable of collecting sufficient food from the wilderness to feed themselves and their offspring.
We thus urgently need to apply the Gaia shibboleth, to create planetary zones where people are still able and experienced enough to survive by subsistence knowledge of their own natural ecosystems, to increase the elasticity and robustness of developed society to survive major natural crisis, to enrich rather than diminish the regenerative capacity of our natural ecosystems to recover from crisis more effectively, and to provide pilot schemes for a Moon colony to protect life against a major astronomical collision with Earth and an underground pilot station to protect life against a radiation disaster from a nearby supernova, as well as ballistic and possibly nuclear means to deflect incoming bodies of moderate size in space, to avoid deep impacts.