There are quite a few number of atheists, specifically, new-atheists, who have this notion of religion in that they believe that it was an unnecessary by-product by way of what is called a “Genetic Fallacy”.
Basically, it’s the idea that just because a certain trait or characteristic, even way of acting in the world, doesn’t necessarily mean it was necessary or, to some extent, beneficial, or at the very least, needs to be continued.
The actual Wikipedia definition is right here:
The genetic fallacy (also known as the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue) is a fallacy of irrelevance that is based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context.
A quick example is say, just because slavery has been a product of human behavior since as long as we can trace back, doesn’t mean that the practice should still be continued, and, thankfully, it isn’t.
Or even say, this example found on the Wikipedia page itself:
“You’re not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don’t you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice.”
Seems silly right?
It can be simplified into this one, single statement.
Just because it was, that means it should be.
So, take this same argument, and extend it to religion. Just because religion was used to shape much of the culture we have today, doesn’t mean that we should continue with the practices.
This is the basis of many of the arguments Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson get into, and to be quite honest, both of them make a strong case for both side. But I can’t help but feel compelled that Peterson is just right.
It may be because I grew up with a strong Christian background, and that makes me a little biased, but again, it just doesn’t seem as if you can just dismiss religion as if it but only a “virus of the mind” as Dawkins put it.
And this leads me to the topic of today’s post, was rationality an inevitability after the dawn of human consciousness?
And I believe so, yes, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean you get to just throw it out as if it no longer matters.
This is mostly because religion lives in the world of symbols, and the world of symbols is what unites us all under a common cause.
Neumann, in his book, The History and Origins of Consciousness, describes it like this. He says that consciousness was formed by way of the fragmentation of archetypes, and he gives a good analogy.
It’s like one of those pictures which, so long as they are not sharply focused, seem to be without contours and utterly confusing, but which fall into a pattern when the observer stands off at the right distance. Figures, masses, relations now become visible, whereas before they had remained blurred and indecipherable. The development of consciousness is more or less analogous to this alteration of vision; indeed it seems to be directly dependent upon how far consciousness succeeds in gaining the distance that will enable it to perceive distinct forms and meanings, where before was nothing but ambiguity and murk.
So what I took from that is this. In the beginning stages of consciousness, we were standing too close to this “picture” that Neumann describes, much like a Picasso painting. (see below)
When you stand too close, it seems as if it is nothing but lines and shapes with color. But as you step back, further and further, it starts to look, strangely enough, sharper and sharper. Try squinting while looking at the picture. You’ll notice it seems more “clear” in a sense. I’ve even shrunk the image just to get the point across.
When you stand from a distance, you can begin to see a clearer picture.
So the picture, in the Neumann analogy, represents the unconscious. As we step further and further away from the unconscious, or the place in which the world of symbols spawn from, we are able to see more clearly what the images actually mean. But the tradeoff is what Neumann describes as “the fragmentation of archetypes”, meaning that the absolute information obtained might be less, though you get a sharper image as a result.
It is only through the interpretation of these fragmented archetypes over thousands, even millions of years, that are passed down and taught to the generations proceeding do we begin to have something resembling consciousness until finally, we can “break free”.
And that’s what I’m trying to get at here is, once we’ve interpreted enough of the unconscious into consciousness, it only seems as if rationality would be an inevitable result of this symbolic transformation.
But Neumann, like Peterson, suggests that too much reliance on rationality leaves an unbalance, making the ego too big. And, when the ego believes it can survive on its own, it is metaphorically like the hero who refuses to “take on the dragon fight”.
That is why the world of symbols is so important. It is the world of symbols that which calls us to action, to “fulfill our destiny”. It is the catalyst for action in the objective world.
Neumann lays out this example here.
To take an example: the transformation of a petty office clerk into the responsible leader of a death-dealing bomber squadron is probably one of the most radical psychic transformations that can be demanded of the modern man. This metamorphosis of the normal peace-loving citizen into a fighter is, even today, only possible with the help of symbols. Such a transformation of personality is achieved by invoking the symbols of God, King, Fatherland, Freedom, the “most sacred good of the nation,” and by dedicatory acts steeped in symbolism, with the added assistance of all the elements in religion and art best calculated to stir the individual.
And that’s really the heart of religion; it’s this ability to transcend reality and work for a greater cause. Rationality was a product of the transformation of the mind by way of religious thinking.
And when you throw out religion as if it’s a “parasite of the mind”, you throw out the ability to transform and progress.
thanks for reading,