Nov 28 2008

Rationality and the New Mysticism

Published by under Opinion

Laurie Chisholm imagines a parallel universe, in which another Lloyd Geering gives a speech that critiques the conclusions of our Lloyd Geering. Instead of telling us how God is disappearing and a new mysticism is emerging, this other Lloyd Geering tells us how old-fashioned notions of a mystical union with earth are disappearing.

There is talk of a new mysticism, of a mystical re-union with the earth. There are claims that everything is connected, and that we must recover the unity with earth that ancient religions once had. We must remember that the progress of science, human reason, globalisation, and the free market is inevitable. Any talk of a new mysticism is nothing more than an attempt by religionists, who have never really accepted that religion has been superseded in the ongoing evolution of the universe, to resurrect religion.

These religionists say: “The hope of our species for a viable future depends on our mystical re-union with the earth.” If we are going to deal with planetary problems, we need science, not mysticism, clear political action, not attempts to coin new religious ideas.  Mysticism is a vain attempt to resurrect medieval religion and give it modern respectability, when in fact is it nothing but mystification, obfuscation, unwillingness to see things clearly and rationally. Science has demonstrated that the concept of a God is very unlikely, and can adequately explain the universe without needing to invoke such a hypothesis.  But what we find is that when you show one superstition out the front door, another slips in the back.

Science does not support the notion that everything is connected.  We are of course, connected with the air that we breathe and the food that we eat. But the idea that I am connected with algae in the Atlantic Ocean, or a planet in a faraway galaxy, is far-fetched to say the least.

Science doesn’t support the idea that we are all one, either. Living things have a boundary: we are each distinct, separate individuals. Of course, atoms and molecules come into us and go out of us, but we are not simply our molecules: we are an ongoing structure that continues, even though the molecules change.  Our boundary is permeable, but it is a real boundary; there is a distinction between us and not us.

We are beginning to understand where these mystical feelings come from. Brain science shows us, that when subjects tell us they are having mystical feelings, particular parts of the brain show unusual activity, evidence for some unusual brain states, nothing more. Perhaps mystical feelings are a by-product of the evolutionary process. Or, the organism may have some kind of memory of its pre-natal state, and when it encounters conflict and distress, it longs to return to the contentment and stability of the womb.
This is what Freud referred to as the oceanic feeling, and it may well lie at the root of mysticism. The notion that everything is one is to be understood as a regression to the womb, where the foetus is unable to differentiate between it and the mother.

Now the more we become mature, adult, responsible beings, and the more our culture shares in these properties, the less we will feel the need to regress in this way, and any desire for such ‘mystical’ feelings will simply fall away.  We have to use our rationality to fix the problems, not get carried away with emotions and old-fashioned feel-good religiosity.

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