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BOB MCCUE - SECTION 1
Topics surrounding well-written Bob McCue.
| From Bob McCue:
What follows is part of a message I sent to a friend who asked me how he could enjoy life when so much of his life was tied to a
spouse with whom he could not get along. The issue between them is Mormonism. She believes. He does not. They as a result do not
communicate as they used to, and do not enjoy doing many things together. Hence, his comment regarding something I said on
another thread here regarding the way in which post Mormonism has enabled me to enjoy each moment in ways not possible before,
was that his relationship to his spouse radically limited his ability to do what I had described.
What follows supplements a Case Study Regarding Spousal Cognitive Dissonance at http://mccue.cc/bob/medium.htm.
I like the wisdom that says we should decide what we value, decide what we can influence through our actions, decide whether we
are willing to act in light of the probable consequences of our actions, then do what we are prepared to do, and finally and most
importantly, fully accept and get happy with what we cannot influence. A great deal of our unhappiness relates to our recognition
of things we cannot influence, and our unwillingness to accept them.
I note that the process just decribed seems to me to vary depending upon the breadth of the perspective we employ. For example,
today I can either work out early in the morning, get some extra sleep or type this post. If I choose the sleep or this post, I
should not brate myself for not working out. Sleep would provide the benefit of some extra rest that makes me feel better instead
of the benefits of a workout that in a different way would make me feel better. I won't discuss the merits of this post. But once
I have made a choice, I should embrace the results or make a different choice. There is not point beating myself up for what I
have chosen, or cannot change.
The decision as to whether to leave a relationship as important as that with our spouse, fraught with issues related to children
etc., is worth a much greater investment of time and effort than most other decisions. So, I might decide what is important to
me, and what I can do to increase the probability that I can achieve it (including leaving my marriage if necessary) and then say
to myself, "This is one of those really important decisions that has wide ranging financial and relationship ramifications, so I
am going to measure four times before cutting. I will use the next (x months, years, whatever) to maximize the probability that I
have made a wise decision as to what is important to me, by gathering as many points of view as I can in that regard, and then I
will use (x months, years, whatever) to try to bring what I value into my life as it currently stands. If it appears that I
cannot achieve what I consider to be the minimally acceptable situation in that regard, I will leave my marriage."
Once I have choosen the process just described, and embarked upon it, I have chosen a particular type of sunset, and can enjoy it
to the max. I can revel in the learning process that occurs while I collect perspectives. After I have decided what is important
to me, it is highly probable that I will have to plough through, and drag my spouse through, heavy emotional seas as we see
whether there is enough overlap in our lives to make them worth living together. I can allow those heavy seas to simply wash over
me. I need not fight my way through that process. I will be seasoned by it, and will explore part of the human terrain that most
travellers either do not explore, or are so numb while they do so that they do not see much. This is a sunset of a different
type. I have made a choice and I can fully accept and embrace the consequence of that choice. And when I decide either to leave
my marriage and face many painful and joyful consequences in that regard, or to stay in what will assuredly be a less than
perfect situation, I should embrace what I have chosen. It is another sunset.
So, I would say that your difficult spousal situation (which is not that different from what mine was) is a sunset. We cannot
choose many of our sunsets in the short term. We can choose more of them in the longer term, but even then our choice is limited.
But we can always choose whether to embrace, or fight with, what the combination of our choices and random circumstance has
served up. That approach to life, it seems to me, is the factor that correlates most strongly with a long term satisfaction.
While I don't agree with all he says, Victor Frankl addresses this topic eloquently in "Man's Search for Meaning".
As I have said before, one of the Church's greatest evils in my view is the manner in which it furthers its institutional agenda
and as a consequence encourages innocent young people to build their lives together on false foundations. This is what puts
people like you, me and our spouses in situation you have described. However, it seems that humans of various stripes have
forever dealt with similar things. Some of the greatest art with which I am familiar comes from this font. And more to the point,
we can either use this experience to plumb our human depths, or fight it, regret it, etc. Once we are sufficiently self aware and
for those of us who have the tools to do this, it seems clear to me which route is likely to be more satisfying.
The process as I describe it above also makes it clear to me why so many Mormons simply refuse to look or think about Mormon
history and the social and personal conseuquences of Mormon belief. They choose to embrace their current relationships. For many
personality types, this could not be done with a full intellectual awareness of what Mormonism does, means, comes from, etc. So,
they shut down the process of learning about those things. This allows them to embrace what they have chosen to the greatest
extent possible. I do not believe I was capable of doing that, but am not overly critical of those who are steered by their
unconscious mechanisms in that direction. The only people in that situation I challenge are those within my own home, because of
the degree of love and concern I feel for them, and because of the way in which they affect my life and the lives of other family
members for whom I feel similar love and concern.
All the best,
| My wife and I toured a local museum yesterday, and found the following African proverbs that I found enlightening enough to record and share:
- To not know is bad; to wish not to know is worse.
- Choose the neighbor before the house; the companion before the journey.
- He who can't dance says the drum is bad.
All the best,
| That should sound familiar. It comes, more or less, from the DandC. I don't have my copy handy, so someone will have to fill in that blank for us.
I ran across this phrase while reading today. It is part of William Blake's work. He died in 1827. This is believed to have been written in about 1818. To see the words in context, go to
I used to think that this phrase from the DandC, which is consistent with modern physical theory, was evidence that Joseph Smith was inspired by God to know science that was ahead of his time. And yet again it seems that I was likely wrong.
Credits: Bob McCue Click Here For Original Link Or Thread.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:7:
"But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord."
From Representative Poetry Online:
William Blake (1757-1827)
Jerusalem: I see the Four-fold Man, The Humanity in deadly sleep
1 see the Four-fold Man, The Humanity in deadly sleep
2 And its fallen Emanation, the Spectre and its cruel Shadow.
3 I see the Past, Present and Future existing all at once
4 Before me. O Divine Spirit, sustain me on thy wings,
5 That I may awake Albion from his long and cold repose;
6 For Bacon and Newton, sheath'd in dismal steel, their terrors hang
7 Like iron scourges over Albion: reasonings like vast serpents
8 Infold around my limbs, bruising my minute articulations.
9 turn my eyes to the schools and universities of Europe
10 And there behold the Loom of Locke, whose Woof rages dire,
11 Wash'd by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
12 In heavy wreaths folds over every nation: cruel works
13 Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
14 Moving by compulsion each other, not as those in Eden, which,
15 Wheel within wheel, in freedom revolve in harmony and peace.
| Do Young Mormon Women Want More Income Earning Potential In A Potential Mate Than Non-Mormon Women? |
Monday, Mar 14, 2005, at 07:49 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 1 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| I had just returned from watching our 22-year-old son's intramural basketball game. Wonderful game, by the way. Those kids do things - and do them beautifully - that my buddies and I did not dream of 25 years ago when I was playing seriously.
After the game I chatted for a while with an RM who I knew before his mission and had not seen in perhaps four or five years. He lamented a recent romantic relationship that ended instead of resulting marriage. I told him to be happy about that, and summarized some of the stats re marriage. That is, marriages that occur in the late 20s or early 30s are both more likely to survive long term, and to produce a higher degree of satisfaction for both partners that those that occur in the early 20s. He was intrigued, and one of his friends joined us at that point. He summarized what I had said for his friend (who I infer is over 25) and told him that he should be happy he has not gotten married. He did not seem happy about this.
We also talked a bit about the cultural pressures within Mormonism to marry young, how that is out of step with social reality and causes a lot of problems for young Mormon kids who marry before they are ready to, and then have a miserable time together. One of the boys indicated that Mormon marital practises in this regard would have worked great in 1820, or perhaps today in Africa but do not work now in North America. I agreed, and felt proud that I resisted the temptation to go into a full-on discussion of why Mormonism in general does not work or make sense. I don't know these kids well enough to want to get into that kid of a discussion with them. I only do that when either invited to do so, or with the ones I love the most and hence for whom I am prepared to do some heavy emotional lifting.
We then talked a bit about careers and money. I assured both boys that a very happy life can be enjoyed without a high powered career and a lot of money. I fact, I indicated that that for many people the need to earn the big bucks and flaunt the life style that often goes with it is a source of depression. They both looked relieved, and interested. After chatting this way for a few minutes, one of the boys said that he wished that I would talk to all of the Mormon girls in Calgary because none of them seem to understand that life can be great without marrying a doctor, dentist or lawyer. "That is all they want", he said.
When I repeated this conversation to my wife, she said that this is what losers who can't get a date because they have personalities like doormats tend to say (I am paraphrasing using my words, of course). She also said that if anything, Mormon girls are worse at looking down the road and thinking about the practicalities of life than non-Mormon girls are likely to be, and that if a Mormon guy is really trying to find a girl to marry him and can't do it, he would have even worse luck in the non-Mormon community. She concluded that money and future career prospects are less important for Mormon girls than non-Mormon girls.
What say ye?
All the best,
| One of my favorite nephews just got engaged. He is 21, a recent RM and has been dating his now fiance for about 6 months. They plan to marry in August. The classic Mormon RM story.
She comes from a wealthy background. He is just starting school and has no idea what he will do to support his family. He stays at our house several days a week while attending school, and over the years we have done a lot together. We both have a passion for basketball, and have played numerous hotly contested games of one on one, two on two and three on three against each other over the years. He is, incidentially, about 5'10" and nicely dunks the basketball.
I saw him this morning for the first time since I heard the news. We were alone at the breakfast table. The conversation went something like this:
B: Well, if it isn’t Mr. Nucking Futs!
N: Huh? Ooooh!! Thanks a lot Uncle Bob for that vote of confidence.
B: You’re welcome. Seriously, you’re nuts. And I am one of the few people who know you well enough, and love you enough, to give you the straight goods.
N: I appreciate that. But we’ve thought about this carefully, and waited for a lot longer than some people said we should so that we could make a careful decision. We ….
B: (Laughing out loud) You’ve waited along time?!! How long? Six months!?
N: Seven (laughing).
B: (Still laughing) You can’t even tell me that with a straight face!
N: You were laughing and making me laugh. That’s not fair!
B: Come on. Seriously, I am going to tell you what I think because I care a lot about you. I don’t expect that you are going to listen to me and say, “Oh, Uncle Bob thinks I shouldn’t get married so I won’t.” But I can assure you that there will be some significant bumps in the road between now and when you pull the pin on this, and when you hit those bumps I hope you will remember what I have to say and hear alarm bells ring.
You are making a decision with your little head instead of your big one. I understand how that works because I made a similar decision. Mormonism has you in a box that way. Your body and mind are both screaming at you that it is time for you to consummate a relationship both physically and emotionally, and there is only one way a faithful Mormon can do that – by getting married.
N: Uncle Bob, its not about that. We love being together …
B: Plllleeeeese. Let me finish. That’s what they all say. That is what I said too. I don’t doubt that you love being together.
We make most of our decisions based on our perception of probabilities. Some decisions, like the one you are making, are exceptions to that rule. They are based on emotion. And those are often the worst decisions.
The statistics, and hence the probabiliites, are clear. People who marry as young as you two are divorce more often and have less satisfying marriages than those who marry later in life when they both know more about who they are, what is important to them, etc.
N: We are going to grow up together.
B: Maybe. But the statistics say that a lot of people who marry as youung as you are don't grow together. They grow apart and that causes trouble for them. What makes you think you are exempt from what seems to be the rule for everyone else?
N: We will choose to make it work. That's why.
B: That is a great attitude. And it would have a much better chance of working if you were not handicapping yourself as you are.
Why do you think people in Utah use more anti-depressants than anyone else in North America? Why do you think the personal bankruptcy rate is higher in Utah than anywhere else in the US? This likely has something to do with when and how people marry and have families in Utah.
N: Those statistics have nothing to do with me.
B: Really? If you think statistics don’t apply to you, you are dreaming in Technicolor. Does gravity apply to you?
What about this statistic. Your beloved is a wonderful girl, but all she knows is a lavish life style. You had better make one hell of a lot of money boy.
N: You don’t know her like I do. We have talked a lot about that. She knows it will be tough for us for a while. She is ready for that.
B: I don’t doubt that she said it, and means it. But she has only lived one way. If you ask her long term to live another, I am willing to bet that it will be tougher than she can imagine, and that will make it tough on you. Sexual incompatibility and money are the two primary causes of divorce and marital unhappiness. You know nothing (I presume) about your sexual compatibility and you know about the only kind of lifestyle she has lived and, frankly, there is only a slim chance you can deliver anything close to that. This is a bad bet boy. Believe me.
N: That's for the advice.
B: You are committing yourself to a lifestyle you have no idea whether you can supply. I have worked my ass off for the same reason, and I have been lucky. I would much rather have not made the commitment to bring in all of that income, had more choice as to what I could do to earn a living as a result, and had more liesure time. I know you, and have a pretty good idea that you are not going to like the grind you are probably in for.
N: It might be good for me to have a gun to my head. I need to work harder; to get more focussed.
B: I have never heard a worse reason to get married than the one you just gave me. You are making me more worried instead of less.
By the way, I have seen you hit lots of jump shots from just outside the three-point line. You take that shot because you know you can hit it. Right?
B: But you don’t take shots from three steps out from there. Why?
N: Obviously because that is outside my range.
B: But an inexperience player might jack up shots outside his range, right? Shots that would make an experienced player like you cringe because he knows that their chance of going is in poor. Right?
B: You see where I am going with this?
B: You are pulling up for a shot just inside of center Buddy, but because you have no experience in this game you don't even no it. And I have played this game for almost 25 years, and am cringing. What should that tell you? Who knows more about this game, me or you? Who is not emotional about this decision, me or you?
N: That’s your opinion. None of what you say means anything about my situation.
This went on for a while, with plenty of joking interspersed with the serious stuff. DW then came into the room and in her own, must more understated way, basically said the same thing I had. Then I told our nephew that despite what I said, I truly hoped that it worked out well for him, and I left the room. While I was gone, the following ensued.
“N: Aunt Juli, you have to trust me on this. I have prayed about what I am doing and I feel certain it is the right thing.
J: (Smiling as wickedly as she can, which is not very wickedly) I received the same confirmation before I married your Uncle Bob.”
That, it seems, stopped the young man in his tracks. It was the only thing that was said to him this morning that made him even pause. Aunt Juli received spiritual confirmation that God wanted her to marry Uncle Bob, and now Uncle Bob is a rank apostate. How does that work? Hmmm.
All I can take credit for is an assist. Had I not started the conservation, DW could not have finished it. And of course, I doubt that either what I said or what she said will have any effect on what happens.
All the best,
| The widest angle lens I have found while trying to understand my experience on the way out of Mormonism was handed to me by a friend as I was going through some of my darkest moments of that birth canal. She referred me to comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. I found him and others like him to be immensely helpful (see in general http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/documents/rs.mythology%20v.%20history.pdf and http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/documents/out%20of%20my%20faith.pdf starting at page 36).
Campbell describes mythology as those beliefs used to make sense out of life’s most basic questions: Why do we exist?; why do we suffer?; why do we rejoice?; why do we die?; what happens after death?; etc. He notes common threads in these myths, and patterns related to the nature of myths and the human groups that believe them. For example, people who live in environments where resources are scarce and hence fought over by competing human groups tend to have myths that justify killing other humans, whereas people who live in environments of abundance don’t tend to have such myths. Mythologies, Campbell would say, are mostly functional – they help us to make sense out of what we have to do to survive.
Mythologies are, in general terms, of great use if used as metaphor and dangerous if taken literally. Think, for example, of the carnage that has been inflicted on mankind by those who take literally the idea that God has a “chosen” people. There is nothing wrong with this idea in metaphor, and it is a killer when taken literally.
Another way to think of mythology is as a form of extended or meta-analogy. That is, myths are not explicitly based on empirical truth that prove cause and effect relationships to exist, but rather suggest broad cause and effect relationships that can be taken in many different ways. We will consider below one of these below in the form of the “Hero” myth, which encourages us to leave the safe confines of our social group and ideology to break new ground. This thirst for exploration and learning is basic to humanity, and is responsible for our continual learning about how to control our environment. As we continue to learn, we become more powerful. One of the longstanding concerns of some of the most insightful members of society has been that human power will outstrip human wisdom to the point at which we will destroy ourselves. I think that concern is, by and large, healthy since the more aware we are collectively of these risks the less likely we are to be harmed by them.
Analogies are dangerous because a false analogy that supports the status quo or what we for some reason want or need to believe tends to persuasive. Such analogies are often based on limited data that suggest spurious cause and effect relationships. A nephew who was in Thailand when the tsunami hit in December of 2004 told me a story recently that nicely illustrates this point. He was not in the area that was devastated, but met many people who were. One fellow told him that he and some friends had planned a boat trip for the day of the tsunami. However, he foolishly got so drunk the night before that he was sick when the others left for the cruise. They died, and he lived. Magical thinking people (including superstitious, or religious people) could draw many conclusions from this event. Maybe getting drunk is a good survival strategy overall? Maybe each time the urge to get drunk is felt, that is God’s way of protecting either that particular man, or mankind in general? Maybe being spared disaster in this bizarre way was God’s method of communicating something to this man – maybe he should continue to do something that he was doing, or stop doing something he was doing, or start doing something new (like join the Mormon Church if he had been thinking of doing that or if he met Mormon missionaries a short time after his brush with disaster)? Etc. For the magical thinking person, there are innumerable ways to use an event of this sort to justify doing or not doing countless things.
The naturalistic interpretation of same event would be, quite simply, “shit happens”. This man was incredibly lucky. Full stop. The event has no more cosmic significance than my stepping on and crushing one bug as I walk across my lawn, and narrowly missing another. However, a brush with death may make us introspect, and perhaps appreciate the fragility of our existence a bit better (for a while at least) and so change our behaviour in some ways that we find valuable.
A much more important, and infamous, false analogy is the “survival of the fittest” aspect of evolutional theory that was used to justify human eugenics of the type that underlay the Holocaust.
One of my favorite false analogies within Mormonism is that between feelings and truth. For example, most humans have strong feelings for their families, and when they are put in a situation that brings those feelings out it tends to feel like something “good” has happened and hence whatever seems to have caused this to occur should also be “good”. Feelings of this kind tend to accompany things like marriages, expressions of love between family members, surviving crises related to health and other things together, etc. Mormon belief routinely gives credit for these good feelings to the Mormon institution, and hence uses these common human experiences to suggest that Mormonism is “good”, and hence is what it says it is – God’s one and only true church on Earth. The logic works like this:
· Families are good;
· Whatever makes you feel good about your family is good;
· Whatever is good is “true” (“By their fruits ye shall know them”);
· Mormonism has taken control of many important family occasions (weddings, funerals, public expressions of love for family members during testimony meetings, etc.; private expressions of love through father’s blessings, etc.);
· Therefore, Mormons often feel powerful, healthy emotions related to their families and friends as a result of participating in Mormon activities and rituals;
· Therefore, Mormonism is good;
· Therefore, Mormonism is “true”;
· Therefore, Mormonism is what it says it is – God’s one and only true church on Earth.
· Therefore, the Celestial Kingdom exists and if I want to be there in a state of incredible happiness with my family I must obey Mormon leaders.
The naturalistic explanation for this phenomenon is that countless other religions and ideologies have used similarly spurious cause and effect connections to control people's behaviour. Some of these are more or less benign, and others are terrible. Nazism, for example, amplied the natural socially useful forces of human pride and allegiance to the social group, fear of outsiders and insecurity related to recent German history, to cause World War II and the Holocaust. American democracy was created through the use of similar forces.
Mormon testimonies, hence, are in my view fully explained by social forces of type just described and the nuerology described at http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/documents/out%20of%20my%20faith.pdf starting at page 77.
I have become increasing orientated toward empirical analysis and the naturalistic explanations derived from them as I have moved through my recovery. That is, I place increasing weight on what science can tell us with some degree of certainty about cause and effect relationships. When science conflicts with long cherished ideas, usually based on a false analogy of some kind, I try hard to allow the insights gained from science to govern. So, I have becomes sceptical of the use of analogies that are not backed up by data that confirm both that the analogy really works as advertised, and that the frequency of the phenomena in question supports the point it is used to make.
However, myths that have stood the test of time and have cropped up in human culture after human culture often are found to contain kernels of truth that have been explained reasonably well by science. Mythology can help us to understand both the workings of our own minds (or souls – use the term your prefer) and social groups. They are, in a sense, collective dreams. And there are some myths or parables that are particularly helpful to those who are struggling through the massive personal and social transition that is recovery from Mormonism. Here are a few of my favourites – The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Social Masks, and The Child, Camel, Dragon and Lion. After reading these summaries, you might want to go back and re-read the recovering Mormon transition steps above and see how they been transformed by this ancient context.
| The following is a summary of some of the principles of social behaviour that make it difficult for insiders to accurately perceive their own behaviour.
Cognitive dissonance is at the root of denial. Fear is at the root of cognitive dissonance. The extent of our fear is determined by our general tendencies in that regard, and our beliefs. The nature of our beliefs determine our vulnerability to the issue in question. For example, I used to fear not being with my family in the Celestial Kingdom and wanted to be there with them. Fear and desire walk down this path hand in hand. Hence I obeyed the rules designed to get me what I wanted and avoid what I feared. As soon as I no longer believed that the Celestial Kingdom existed, my motivation to do many things evaporated, including some that I did not even know were related to that belief disappeared. I discovered the link while wondering why my motivation toward certain activities or attitudes had changed.
Cognitive dissonance theory is concerned with the relationships among cognitions. A cognition is a piece of knowledge about an attitude, an emotion, a behaviour, a value, etc. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another. (See http://www.ithaca.edu/faculty/stephens/cdback.html)
As William Safire in a New York Times op-ed piece (December 29, 2003), put it:
A cognition is a bit of knowledge or belief. When it disagrees with another cognition in our head … a nasty jangling occurs. To end this cognitive dissonance … we change the weak cognition to conform to the stronger one.
Take Aesop's fox, who could not reach a lofty bunch of grapes no matter how high he jumped. One foxy cognition was that grapes were delicious; the other was that he couldn't get them. To resolve that cognitive dissonance, the fox persuaded himself that the grapes were sour - and trotted off, his mind at ease.
Cog dis usually functions in a manner no more complicated than that. But while Aesop neatly illustrated cog dis, he did not adequately reveal the primary force that lies beneath it – fear.
One of Buddhism’s central and enlightening notions is that most of mankind’s ills are caused by the manner in which fear or desire cause us to make unwise decisions. As the following summary of recent research will show, this ancient insight is remarkably accurate. Buddha’s “middle way” was the path that lay between fear and desire and so was out of both their reaches. And since a good portion of desire is fear that we will not obtain that which we most desire, fear is the most primal and effective of emotions. The well known case of denial in marriages where infidelity is a problem illustrates this. The faithful spouse is usually unable to see the evidence of cheating until well after most others can see it. This denial of reality is a function primarily of the spouse’s fear of losing the relationship if the information in question is processed and dealt with. The greater the fear, the greater the cog dis it will produce and the deeper will be the consequent denial and suppression of threatening information.
The psychology related to personality profiles indicates to us that not all people are influenced by fear and desire in the same way. In one study that focussed on the question of why some people are more religiously inclined than others, it was determined that the personality trait called “openness” correlates strongly to religious tendencies. Openness is the inclination toward new experience; the opposite of dogmatism. The more “open” a person is, the less likely she is to be influenced by fear in any particular situation, and the less likely she is to be religious in the traditional sense of that word. That is, the less likely she will be to accept traditional religious authority and the literalistic interpretation of scripture it posits. And of course the opposite is also true.
So, the picture that comes into focus is that in any particular case, denial is a function of two things. First, how open to new experience the individual in question person is, and second, how significant is the fear that the denied information is perceived to create.
A faithful Mormon should be expected to experience massive amounts of fear upon contemplating the possibility that the religious experience on which much of his life, family and social relationships are based is false. This fear produces a powerful form of cognitive dissonance, and hence an extensive or suppression of the information. We should expect that the more faithful the Mormon, the less able she will be to see the reality of the institution that sponsors her religious faith and the effect that faith has upon her.
Rational v. "Automatic" Decision-Making
Humans perceive themselves to be rational decision makers. However, there is a great deal of psychological and other research that indicates that many of our decisions are automatic, likely as a result of decision making routines that evolution programmed into us to help us to survive in a harsh environment where decisions have to be made quickly and on the basis of limited information. However, we have a primal need to justify our actions, and in this modern world dominated as it is by a "rational" paradigm, that means we twist our knee jerk reactions into a rational framework in order to feel comfortable with them. For example, why do Mormons believe that tithing brings forth God's blessings? Because of stories told that illustrate the cause effect relationship between paying tithing and receiving blessings. Why are Mormon Priesthood blessings perceived to "work"? Same kind of reasoning. Michael Shermer wrote a book that persuasively sets out how coincidence, mankind's tendency to look for patterns where they don't exist and a misunderstanding of cause and effect relationships nicely accounts for beliefs of this nature, and that the more intelligent a person is the more likely she is to defend the beliefs that she at some point in her development (usually early) she accepted as "true" (See "Why People Believe Weird Things").
One of the evolutionary rules of thumb (sometimes called "heuristics") noted in the research is that when powerful emotions are encountered, reason shuts down. One of those forces is fear. This is adequately explained by what I indicated above respecting cog dis. Powerful desires for money, prestige, sex etc. can also overcome reason. One of my clients was on the verge of falling for a fraudulent financial scheme that offered him $20,000,000, and came to me for tax planning advice. He had tickets purchased to fly to Nigeria the following week to sign a few papers and collect his money. After I asked some questions, and then provided him with news service articles that indicated how others had lost their money, been kidnapped for ransom, and in one case killed as a result of participating in similar schemes, he reacted like someone coming out of a trance. This experienced, successful businessman's considerable ability to reason had been overcome by the emotion of greed, which is of course a variant of desire.
Other research indicates that the most powerful of emotional forces are often connected to "value structures" such as religion (my religion is "true" and yours is not, for example), morality (the abortion issue; the homosexuality issue, for example), political issues (democracy v. communism, for example), etc.
Another powerful emotion that affects our beliefs is love. I recently watched in amusement (and with some concern) as one of my young friends who I did not think had a religious bone in his body fell in love with a faithful Mormon girl and began to think seriously about serving a mission after years of resisting the pressure of his parents and others to do so.
Love and fear combine to produce potent emotional distortions of reason. This is responsible for the advice provided to medical doctors and other professionals that they not attempt to diagnose or treat themselves or family members. For example, a doctor's love for her child, and fear of the consequence that a serious illness would bring to that child, for example, has been demonstrated to impair her ability to see symptoms that clearly indicate serious illnesses such as cancer.
Yet another area of study focuses on our inherent risk aversion. We tend to overestimate risk and underestimate potential gain from risk taking, and we tend to overvalue what we already possess when it is compared to what we don't possess. One fascinating study in this regard provided university students with one item each that had the same value (say $5) in their school book store. They were also given some money with which to bid on the items other students were given, and were required to put their own item up for auction with a minimum sale price. On average, each student was prepared to pay much less (say $3.50) for items similar to her own than the amount for which she was prepared to sell her own item (say $7). The tendency to value what we have more than similar items we don't have, and to overestimate risk and underestimate the rewards to be gained by taking risk, would promote societal stability and hence make evolutionary sense. And they make us unlikely to change our minds respecting something like religious beliefs we have already accepted.
Another line of research deals with decision-making under conditions of great uncertainty and indicates that the more uncertainty and perceived risk, the more likely it is that we will go with the crowd and accept what authority figures have to say about what we should do. This is one manifestation of something called the "conformist bias" or "authority bias". The conformist bias explains the stock market buying that leads to "bubbles" in the market, and the panic selling that leads to irrational market collapse. It also applies to things like the global warming issue. There is a strong tendency in this regard to agree with the people who are dominant in our group. And what is more uncertain than religious belief? Even in cases where the phenomena are not terribly complex, the conformist bias exerts a powerful influence.
Some researchers have suggested that the conformist bias is just one of many aspects of the authority bias. A strong, perceived source of authority is often found at the root of group behaviour that sets in motion the conformist bias. It should be clear how this plays into the religious mindset, and particularly with regard to the authoritarian, hierarchical Mormon social structure.
In general, the more uncertain a matter, the more influential the authority and conformist biases will be. And authority, of course, is a subjective matter. My beliefs confer authority on certain people and institutions. Hence, those who want to influence me should be expected to attempt to control what I believe.
These biases are aided and abetted by the nature of human memory. Elizabeth Loftus, world-renowned memory expert and U. of Washington psychology professor has noted:
Memories don’t fade… they … grow. What fades is the initial perception, the actual experience of the events. But every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed – colored by succeeding events, others people’s recollections or suggestions … truth and reality, when seen through the filter of our memories, are not objective factors but subjective, interpretative realities. (Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, p. 182)
Loftus provides numerous examples of how easy it is to suggest to people that they have had an experience, and cause them to believe that they really had it (See “Memory, Faults and Fixes”, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer 2002, reprinted in “The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2003 Edition) at p. 127). Of particular note are certain experiments that have been conducted to illustrate the way in which our memories and current perceptions are shaped by how we think others have perceived the same event we did. For example, subjects might be shown a series of slides depicting an event or actually witness a staged event, such as a theft or a traffic accident. Then, the subjects would be given additional information concerning the event. The post-event information given to one group would contain material that contradicted some details of the actual event, such as a stop sign being described as a yield sign. The post-event information provided to a second group of subjects (the control group) would contain no such conflicting information. After ingesting the supplemental information, all subjects would be given a test concerning what they witnessed. In all of these experiments, the subjects who were given the misleading supplemental information performed more poorly than control subjects respecting the items regarding which they had been given misleading information.
This research sheds light on how Mormon testimonies are created. Once we have heard enough other people say, for example, that they felt something particular when they read the Book of Mormon, we are capable of manufacturing similar memories. And the more authoritative, credible, loving etc. the people who suggest these things to us, the more effective they are likely to be. I believe, in addition, that there are other and much more real influences behind the LDS testimony phenomenon. See http://www3.telus.net/public/rcmccue/bob/documents/out%20of%20my%20faith.pdf at p. 77 and following for a summary.
It has also been shown that certain experiences that cause of the emotion of "elevation" to occur are highly influential with respect to our behaviour. When people see unexpected acts of goodness, they commonly described themselves as being surprised, stunned, and emotionally moved. When asked "Did the feeling give you any inclination toward doing something?," the most common response is to describe generalized desires to help others and to become a better person, and feelings of joy. These feelings bind human groups together, and so create strong, reliable communities. Members of Mormon communities exhibit this kind of behaviour. However, the behaviours in question often also bind the participants to the Church itself. For example, by leaving on a mission for two years, a young man in the Mormon community inspires precisely the kind of emotion described above. And he is subjecting himself to a powerful conditioning force that will make it much more difficult for him to "question" when he returns, and he is keeping himself very busy during precisely the period of time during which most young men question. Hence, the community is strengthened by an act that inspires the emotion of elevation, and at the same time a number of other things are done that will also strengthen the community. Many Mormon conventions have this kind of effect.
As noted above, the prize religion offers is huge – relief from the anguish caused by our greatest existential fears. And the LDS Church ups the stakes significantly in this regard by positing the possibility of eternal family life and has created a society in which an admission of disbelief often costs dearly in terms of marriage and other family relationships, social status, etc. In the face of this kind of prize/penalty structure, we should not be surprised that apparently rational people are easily persuaded to believe in irrational, extremely low probability versions of future reality such as the Celestial Kingdom. And when you add to this the psychological pressure that being surrounded by believing Mormons for most of life, bearing public testimony on countless occasions as to the certainty of my belief, and then being placed in leadership positions within the Mormon community, it is not surprising to me that for almost three adult decades I was unable to see what is now so clear to me respecting the Church and the manner in which it treated me and continues to treat others.
Even Scientific Thinking is Influenced by these Principles
As noted above, the principles just described were developed with respect to human mental processes in general. They have not been yet broadly applied to religious phenomena. One of my friends who is an LDS professor of religious psychology who has been helping me with this project indicated recently to me that he thinks this neglect is due to the greater credit given within the academic community for empirically oriented research. Since the application of psychological principles to religious behaviour does not easily fit into the mould, it is not an attractive research subject. He agrees with my assessment that the application of these principles to the formation of religious beliefs and cultural practises is reasonable to assume, and that given the dominant nature of emotional forces relative to religious issues, it is also reasonable to conclude that cognitive dissonance, denial etc. will be powerful forces in the determination of religious beliefs. For an excellent overview respecting the application ofcognitive dissonance principles to religious issues in general, see "Speculations on a Privileged State of Cognitive Dissonance, by Conrad Montell at
I note in particular something that Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his landmark book on the philosophy of science, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". In that book he coined the term "paradigm shift" to describe how science changes. Until his time, it was believed that science progressed in a more or less linear fashion. He pointed out that science seems, rather, to lurch forward. His explanation for this, which has been widely accepted in the scientific community, is that the majority of each generation of scientists becomes captive to the dominant "paradigm" of their day. However, a minority of each generation will see things the majority cannot see, and will pursue those interests, sometimes to the derision of their colleagues. A future generation of scientists, less encumbered by the paradigm of their forbears, will often recognize in the fringe work something of importance that will be adopted, amplified and provide the basis for a new paradigm that will rapidly transform the scientific community's views respecting the issues in question. And then the process will repeat itself. A classic example of this is found in the history of DNA. Gregor Mendel did the ground work for modern DNA theory, published his work, and was ignored by the scientists of his generation. He is now revered as the founder of genetic science.
The scientific community is the pinnacle of rational thought in our society. If scientists are subject to the forces described above in the manner Kuhn indicates, how much more so are the rest of us likely to be? And since the correlation between emotion and irrational belief is so strong, and the connection of religion to emotion so pervasive, should we not expect great difficulty as we attempt to be "rational" about religion? But, given modern man's need to explain everything he does in rational terms, should we not also expect him to do that, and believe with all his heart that he is being rational with respect to his religious beliefs?
When we add all of the above factors us, we should not be surprised that it is excruciatingly difficult for the typical faithful Mormon to look any information in the eye that questions the legitimacy of the beliefs on which his life is based.
| A friend just forwarded this to me. Since it is relevant to our discussion regarding the merits of different forms of spirituality and belief in God, I pass it along.
Click Here For Original Link Or Thread.
I found your discussion of spirituality interesting and useful, and during my trip with my son did some reading that is relevant toit that I will pdf and send to you. The most interesting comes from a phd thesis written at Cornell by, of all people, the lead singer of the punk rock group "Bad Religion". The guy is a bona fide biologist - anthropologist and did some brilliant work for his phd thesis in the form of a series of interviews with some of the greatest living biologists about their beliefs in god, and how those beliefs can be reconciled to the theory of evolution. He was following up on earlier studies that are reviewed in "How We Believe" by Shermer. Those studies found that a surprising large percentage of scientists believe in a god of some kind. However, the more respected the scientist, the less likely such a belief as to be found. Greg Graffin (the punk rocker/scientist) refined and updated the study by focussing on biologists (including geneticists), making the survey questionaire more complex, and including detailed interviews with about a dozen of the most respected of the group. The interviews are published in full in an appendix to the thesis and were the most interesting part. This work was done in 2004. You can order a copy if you wish at http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/
Another book that I have not yet read, but will buy shortly, was recommended to me by a friend who teaches pyshcology at a US university. He says that it will become the locus classicus in this field, and is called "Attachment, Evolution and the Psychology of Religion", by Lee Kirkpatrick. See http://www.guilford.com/cgi-bin/cartscript.cgi?page=pr/kirkpatrick.htmanddir=pp/paciandcart_id= I note that the friend in question is more like you in orientation regarding spirituality than me, and unlike both you and me, he has taken a "soft" approach to Mormonism. His wife is still active, he still attends but has recently begun to decline callings. He is a "dont' rock the boat" kind of guy, and a serious academic with regard to religious matters. A fascinating character. I ran into him on the internet at a site that had nothing to do with Mormonism, and he has helped me immensely during the past couple of years in terms of finding materials to answer the burning question of the day.
Here are a few other things he recently recommended that I look regarding adjustment to and understanding changing belief in general:
I have skimmed this stuff, and find it useful. It runs along the same lines as much of Martin Seligman's work (see http://www.authentichappiness.org/) which as you know I have found very helpful.
This friend also recommends Matthew Alper's "The God Part of the Brain", which I have not read.
In any event, I think your and my main area of disagreement is that I am no longer prepared to place much weight on the things that cannot shown to be at least probable based on scientific experiment. I understand that I must make many decisions based on non-scientific theories, assumptions etc., and I try hard to be aware of when I am doing that and remain particularly open to changing my views in those areas since they are notoriously unreliable. The comments of SL Slacker in the Foyer thread noted above (he is a medical researcher - microbiologist I think - who will be at the Consciousness conference hosted by Shermer at CalTech next month) regarding the rate at which knowledge is expanding is relevant to that. The more credence we give to non-scientific "knowledge" the deeper the roots things like the confirmation bias will grow, and the more resistant we are likely to be as information that disconfirms our beliefs comes to light.
In any event, I will enjoy continuing to kick these ideas around with you, but am out of time for today. I arrived at the office at 6:30 am after leaving last night at after 8 pm, and the closing we are working on today is starting to heat up. I have not yet read the post I forwarded above, other than to skim the first few paragraphs and conclude that it is worth reading. Slacker and I have corresponded enough for me to take him seriously. When I get the chance to reply to him, I will ask him to be more specific with regard to some of the examples he gives early on re. fundamental scientific problems that have been recently solved. And I would be interested to see how he responds to some of your approaches. [end]
The next is a recent email (the last in a long chain) to a bishop who is trying to decide how to deal with his recent discovery of the reality of Mormonism, is concerned about his marriage breaking up etc. * is the bishop. ** is the pyshcology professor noted above, who is involved in the chain as well.
* and **:
As usual, **'s advice is very sound. **, the presentation notes you mentioned did not come through to me. I would love to read them. And thanks for the book and website references. It has been too long since the last time I looked over your shoulder for some reading material.
About all I can say, *, is that the fear that all involved feel regarding the consequences of fundamental change in belief is likely overstated. Evolution likely designed us to deeply fear getting so sideways with our primary social group and/or family that we might be rejected by them. For most of human existence that likely increased the risk of death measurably. I felt as you describe feeling, and found that when I pushed ahead and did what I felt on principle and a long term cost benefit basis was important, that it was not as bad as I thought it would be.
In ** and me, you have two very different examples of how to approach the main issues related to Mormonism. ** has quietly withdrawn in a variety of ways. I left much more openly, and was ready to leave my marriage if it came to that. I don't think it would be possible for me, let alone healthy for me, to proceed as ** has. And he might well say with justification the same about what I have done. That is to say that there is no "right" way to handle this. I think one should do his best to assess his own personality and family, and then do what appears best in that context. And, one should try to make the decision based on principles and probabilities, because that is how the best decisions are most often made. When we are emotional and fearful, the part of our brain that works with probabilities shuts down to one extent or another. My observation is that most people who are tying to leave Mormonism exaggerate the risks of things like marital failure, loss of relationships etc. that are likely to result from that, and underestimate both the problems associated with continuing to enable Mormon activity in their children and loved ones and the wonderful nature of the world that can be created outside of Mormonism. The second, in particular, has been a beautiful surprise for me.
As you know, how my seven kids would be affected if I laid low for five or so years weighed heavily on me. By acting as quickly as I did, I caught the then 15 year old in time to steer her into more reality based waters, and the youngest three will all have the chance to make a decision regarding religious belief without being hamstrung with nearly as much Mormon baggage as their older siblings were. One of the many ugly, unconscious untruths told by Mormons is that we should "just let the kids make up their own minds" after handing them over to a highly effective conditioning machine. That is not allowing someone to make up her own mind.
My 20 year old daughter and RM son show no signs of changing beliefs. Had I been able to act three or four years earlier, I think I would have had a good chance to affect them in a material way. It may be too late for that now, and I still have not found a way to comfortably accept that. I am grieving the loss of a daugther and son, in essence.
*, I know a few people who are like **, and a few who are like me. I don't know you well enough to feel confident which end of that spectrum you are on. Your last email sounded a lot like what went on in my head for a long time. A lot of pain, fear, discomfort with the path you are on, etc. I am not sure how ** would assess that. And it is certainly too simplictic to use ** and me as the ends of the only relevant spectrum.
I shouldn't say much more than that. I empathize with your situation because I remember vividly what a similar situation felt like, and hope you will find a way out that works for you. If you decide to take the bull by the horns, I think I can safely say that it is probable that most of what you fear will not come to pass, and the fear you feel as well as your unfamiliarity with the alternative ways of living that are open to you combine to blind you to some great experiences that await you, your wife and your family. My wife was as intransigent as yours, and has told me several times lately that she is very happy with our new life, that our marriage has never been better, etc. We still struggle with some things, but I agree with her. We have a much better chance of thriving together now than ever. And I am confident that had I not forced the issue, she would have remained an active Mormon while I did my own thing. That would have decimated our intimacy. It was doing that. I don't think our marriage would have survived that way. And if it did, that might have been the greater tragedy. There is so much more to life and relationships than we could experience while "unequally yoked".
Human beings respond in large measure to necessity. As my personality collided with the reality of Mormonbelief and practise, it created some "necessities" in both my wife's and my lives. I believe that as a result, we are both far better off than I can imagine being had we remained active Mormons while I pretended, or in any of the other possible combinations other than the one we ended up with.
And then again, maybe I am just rationalizing my own choices. As noted above, ** is making something work that I can't imagine. And there are other ways of doing things as well.
| I finished reading this book this morning, having heard Dr. Goodenough speak at a conference last weekend, and having had the chance to chat with her. She is one of those rare people who project both a sense of personal power and make those in her presence feel both valued and safe. And her book will take a cherished place in my library because she has hit almost directly on the head a number of things that I have been groping toward for some time. And through her I have now connected with a community of people who see things much as I do, and have a similar sense of value and priority.
So, I highly recommend this book. Reviews that come at it from different perspectives (some more critical than others) can be found at the following links:
I add my comments as follows:
This book is the single shortest and most lucid review of big picture analysis of “reality” I have found. She starts with the big bang and then flips through the possible creation of life and evolutionary theory in a few short chapters. She reviews a lot of material with which I was familiar using novel examples to explain concepts I do not remember grasping before as I now do thanks to her, and breaks lots of new ground for me. The book is well worth reading for its scientific content, and it pitched at a level that is easily understandable for those without much science background, such as me.
One concept I don’t recall thinking about before is the difference between asexual and sexual life in terms of evolutionary strategy. Asexual organisms (such as bacteria) are immortal in the sense that their genetic essence does not change as they divide. As long as the ecological niche required to support them exists, they simply continue to clone themselves. Sexual life has a different evolutionary strategy that involves changing to adapt to a changing environment. The creation of the genes of each individual through the combination of the genes of its parents means that each individual is different, and hence of limited lifespan. The natural selection process is then presented with an endless array of different individuals from which to choose. Those that survive and, in general, the best adapted to survive and propagate. So, the “eternal” part of sexual life is the genome that is continually adapting and manifesting itself in different forms (and in our case, modifying its environment to suit its capacities). All other parts of each sexual individual is subservient in a sense to this – to protect the unique part of the genome housed in its sperm or eggs until they can perform their tiny function in this grand drama.
I add to Goodenough’s story the following diversion. During this evolutionary dance, small group animals at some point emerged. And from them, about 15 million years ago, emerged apes. And from them, about 5 million years ago, emerged the first “humans”. And from them, a relatively few thousand years ago, emerged humans who could communicate symbolically, and were (or shortly thereafter became) self conscious much as we are. The ability to communicate symbolically conferred enormous survival and propagation advantages on homo sapiens, and made him also conscious of his individually limited span of life. That is, the very organ (the brain) that became conscious of its own existence became conscious at the same time of its imminent demise. You don’t get one without the other unless you are asexual (like a bacteria or amoeba). Hmmm. Maybe this might explain the tendency of some religious folk to celibacy.
In any event, the paradox of being suddenly both aware of existence and death as well as the many powerful emotions connected to the evolutionary process are responsible in one way or another for much of our religious and artistic inclination. I am leaving aside for the moment the way in which religion is harnessed by those who wish to control their fellows. It is the almost universal inclinations that make this possible that I am paying attention to at the moment.
So, we have become conscious of ourselves and our instinctive drive to propagate and survive that are essential for our life form’s evolutionary strategy form to work. This drive is the whispering of our eternal genome, which we interpret as our own immortality. This faint, comforting voice contradicts the death we see all around us and which is essential to our life form. Individual death allows life to dance with our environment, and to display itself in the endless, breathtaking variety that inspires virtually universal reverence in those who become conscious of it.
At the end of each chapter Goodenough includes a section titled “Reflections” in which she outlines the feelings that the chapters contents evoke for her. In many cases I did not identify with her feelings, but those cases in which did made the part of the exercise more than worthwhile.
I particularly liked here conclusion, in which she indicated that her reason for being is tied to evolutionary theory – the grand story of existence. She accepts as a give that life is good and should be preserved. That is of course perfectly aligned with our most basic biological drivers. She notes that this impulse causes her to try to understand the nature of our environment and what we need to do within it to get along better as a human race and preserve the biodiversity required for long term existence and enjoyment of all life as to offer. She notes the connection this approach causes her to feel to all life. She makes extensive use of words like “scared”, “spiritual”, “religious” while explaining her feelings. She notes that once we are well grounded in our place in nature, we can enjoy the art, emotion etc. that all religious traditions have to offer – their essential humanness.
I particularly like Goodenough’s reference to one of her father’s favorite metaphors. He was a professor of religions studies who had a conservative religious upbringing, but as life passed became more metaphoric in his understanding of religion. He said, “Life is like a coral reef. We each leave behind the best, the strongest deposit we can so that the reef can grow. But what’s important is the reef.”
I am content with my place in on the reef; to enjoy life’s miracle while it lasts; to learn to pay more attention to the tiny part of the miracle that is before me, moment to moment; and think much less about those parts of the future that are beyond my influence.
Two of the reviews I linked above noted that Goodenough’s approach is not like to be satisfying to many theists. I agree. However, for those of us who have found our religious traditions wanting, Goodenough offers a wonderful away to reframe the big picture so as to enjoy certain aspects of our past. I had reached most of the conclusions Goodenough and her colleagues put forward (you can find her group at places like http://www.iras.org/ and http://www.metanexus.net/metanexus_online/index.asp) but needed some help to bring things into focus and then begin to think critically about and refine my intuitions. I am finding the tools to do that within this group.
I also note that some people who leave Mormonism retain more of theistic leanings than do I. I don’t say that this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as we do not give ourselves over to the same kind of magical thinking that Mormonism promoted. And I still have trouble finding the brakes on the bus as long as we are prepared to accept any kind of metaphysical conclusions without a measure of testability. For those people, what Goodenough offers may have less utility. For those who minds run along paths similar to mind, this is a goldmine.
| History is never certain. However, some things are far more certain than others. We have a pretty good idea, for example, as to the nature of most of the important facts related to the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb, and much less reliable information about Jesus Christ.
There is some evidence connecting Rigdon to the Smith family prior to 1830. Much of this relates to the treasure seeking community in which Smith (Jr. and Sr.) had some prominence. Ridgon appears to have moved in similar circles. This connection, however, is far from proven, and the origins of the BofM are likewise far from proven. However, there is a lot of data that has not been given much attention to date that in my view is helpful in forming opinions as to what appears most likely to have happened based on the evidence we have to work with. This is the usual case, by the way. We make most of our decisions based on incomplete evidence and the probabilities we (usually unconsciously) infer from it. You find people insisting on certainty when they (usually unconsciously) wish to resist the probabilities inferred by the evidence in front of them. They simply raise the bar high enough to ignore what disturbs them.
So, here is a synopsis of some of the data I am now reviewing.
There is a lot of evidence connecting Ridgon to Spaulding and his various manuscripts. The Spaulding story is usually panned by Mormon apologists because the only Spaulding manuscripts that survived bear little resemblance to the BofM. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Spaulding has at least one other manuscript that did not survive, that this manuscript bore a striking resemblance to the Book of Mormon, and that it ended up in Ridgon's possession.
Ridgon was a Campbellite minister. Cambellite theology has a few unusual twists, and Ridgon had more of his own. Somehow, a lot of these ended up in the Book of Mormon.
It was commonly believed in Ridgon and Smith's time that the Native Americans were descendants of Israel. Ethan Smith's "View of the Hebrews" clearly indicates this. This view went back to shortly after the Americas were discovered. I read just the other day something from one of the early Spanish explorers of South America in which he expressed this view regarding the natives of Brazil. Hence, it would have been plausible to the common people of JS and Ridgon’s time that ancient Native Americans may have been sufficiently connected to the Israelite tradition to have kept sacred records similar to the Bible.
Rigdon was trying to reform the Campbellite movement. If an ancient record (like the Book of Mormon) could be found that supported his version of Christianity, this would aid his cause and "bring people to Christ". Since this was undeniably good, any ends leading to it must also be good.
This form of exerting influence over belief has a lengthy history. It is believed that significant parts of the Old and New Testament (and in particular, one of the major reforms to the Jewish people documented in the OT) was the result of just this type of "invention" of ancient documents or “psuedepigrapha”. This is also part of the even older "noble lie" tradition. That is, if a falsehood serves a sufficiently noble purpose, it is justified. This is a particularly common approach for certain types of leaders and is at the core of Mormonism’s odious “faithful history” and “lying for the Lord” traditions.
So, the idea is that Ridgon, with the best of intentions, cobbled together the Book of Mormon using primarily Spaulding’s lost manuscript, and adding ideas from Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews, perhaps "The Golden Pot", and a few Smith family stories (such as the iron rod - tree of life - great and spacious building narrative, which JS's mother tells us is a vision received by Smith Sr.)
The theory suggests that Ridgon then fed the manuscript to JS after recruiting him to help him bring the book to life. JS was necessary since it would be too convenient if Ridgon himself found an ancient book that verified his views. If a known mystic like JS did it, however, Ridgon could simply point to the book and then use his influence to promote its views. He would support it, and it would support him. To make this work, while the book was coming into being and for a while thereafter, Ridgon had to remain in the shadows as far as JS and the BofM was concerned.
If this happened, it would make sense that JS and Rigdon would not take anyone else into their confidence. In fact, it would be essential to the well-intended con that those closest to Smith were utterly convinced of the reality of his story. Their innocent, utterly convinced, testimony would be critical to the success of the venture. Mormon missionary work to this day operates on the same principle. Convince the innocents and send them out to convince the rest. Many financial cons I have seen as a result of my legal practise operate on the same principle. I am short on time today and so won’t go into that.
Smith would have been selected by Rigdon because of Smith’s visionary history and his connection to find hidden, precious things. So, when Smith purported to find golden plates and produce a religious record, many people around him would be prepared to believe at least that he was sincere. Then, when Smith began to produce (for him) a remarkable stream of literature, it would attract attention and appear miraculous. And the record answered so many of the religious and social controversies of the day (always in favour of the Ridgon-Cambellite approach). And, JS had proven himself adept at putting on a great show. That is what the treasure seeking, glass looking scam required. And he was good at it. At noted above, it likely that this is how JS came to Ridgon’s attention and is what recommended him for this critical role in Ridgon’s plan.
This theory does not suggest that Ridgon and JS conspired to create a new religion and defraud the people. Rather, it suggests that Ridgon was trying to do what he felt was right in terms of promoting his version of the Christian faith, and JS (who was chronically short of money and opportunity at this point in his) was easily recruited to help Ridgon.
Then, things did not work out as Ridgon had hoped. His Campbellite ministry did not go well. And JS attracted a much larger crowd of his own than expected. Soon Ridgon was JS's right hand man, and really ran the show for a long time. And then (to Rigdon's surprise and chagrin, if the theory is correct) the bumpkin Smith developed a life of his own. He jumped the fence Ridgon had put around him (JS's role, received by "revelation" was initially limited to translating the BofM) and took control. He tried to punt Ridgon (this was approved in secret shortly before JS’s death by one of the clandestine quorums Smith ran in parallel to the apparently democratic public structure of the Mormon Church in those days, and a replacement counsellor for Smith was set apart in secret) but the cognoscenti could not push Ridgon’s dismissal through in the public church meeting, so he remained on board.
Then Smith died and Ridgon lost the well-publicized power struggle to BY.
This is what a scientist (and my friend who is doing this work is an excellent scientist) would call a “just so” story. That is, it plausibly explains the extant data, but stops far short of providing “proof” that the facts required to support the theory occurred.
Many scientific theories that are now accepted started as “just so” stories. The theory of evolution is one of them. A just so story can graduate to an accepted view of reality by being tested in various ways over a long period of time (as has evolutionary theory) and passing all tests. Time will tell with regard to the Ridgon theory.
Another important scientific principle is that when confronted with several “just so” stories to explain a given phenomenon, we should accept the one that provides the simplest, most probable explanation for the events in question based on the available evidence. When making decisions, this is what we instinctively do. In fact, a lot of excellent research has been done in the last several years (google “gerd gigerenzer” for example) as to how well humans function from a decision making point of view on the basis of amazingly little data.
I still have a ways to go in my review of the fascinating material summarized above. But at the moment, I do not hesitate to say that this is the most probable theory of those I have reviewed as to how the BofM came into existence.
| For this interested in the long story, see the thread at http://www.aimoo.com/forum/po.....
The thread was started by the observation that a prominent scientist said at a recent conference that she found that ditching free will was itself immensely "freeing". That is, she felt that be adopting a deterministic mindset (that all of her actions were determined by a combination of her genes and prior experience) she did not beat herself up as she used to do.
This is a challenging idea that I think has merit. What follows are two posts I made to the thread.
All the best,
| One of the last barriers I had to jump on my way out of Mormonism might be called the "Smart Mormon" hurdle. As one approaches it, the hurdle looks like this:
This is the line of thinking that has been pushed by apologists of many stripes since time immemorial (see Click For Document) It can only be maintained if information, and hence perspective, is controlled by the apologists.
- There are so many really smart Mormons who believe Mormonism is "true".
- The smart Mormons are much smarter and better educated than I am. They all have PhD's and most teach at BYU after all. And many of them have also been designated by God as his leaders. They are not only smart, but have greater powers of spiritual discernment than I have, as evidenced by their divine selection as Mormon leaders.
- So, on what basis am I justified if I disagree with the "smart Mormons"? History and science are uncertain, after all. The safe thing to do - and the "smart" thing to do, is to reject my own conclusions in favor of those reached by the "smart" crowd.
So, when one finally walks right up to the hurdle and starts to look at is carefully (see Click For Document) a variety of interesting things happen. The "smart" people are not so smart, for one thing. They are just regular people, some of whom are well qualfied in areas that have nothing to do with religion and so their opinions regarding religious matters are given more weight than is warranted. Richard Bushman and Davis Bitton are a prime examples of this type of person in my view. Many LDS general authorities are in the same camp. They have each been sucked in by different types of social conditioning to which their group has subjected them (including in some cases being "called" into a position of tremendous authority - nothing warps perception like power or the possibilty thereof) in the same way as have smart people within many other ideologies. And that, for me, was a key revelation - that there are innumerable smart people who at the same time believe some of the kookiest ideas on offer to be the literal truth.
Hence, one of the most useful exercises I went through while working through this phase of my collapsing Mormon belief was to visit the websites and chat rooms of many groups of apologists for non-Mormon ideologies. This helped me see the same kind of smart people using the same kinds of specious arguments as those with which I was confronted at FARMS and elsewhere in the Mormon world. I found it fascinating that in every case except my own (that is, re. Mormonsism) the use of cheap debating tricks, illogic, emotional obfuscation, etc. was obvious to me. Only in the case closest to my heart (that is, the Mormon case) where my own social conditioning was the deepest, did this kind of apologetic behaviour have any impact on me. This realization helped me to the conclusion that ideologies inculcated by thorough social conditioning create a form of mental pathology that functions to keep social groups together.
In the end, it simple. Evolution selects for people who are pre-disposed to the pathology just noted because throughout most of human history keeping the group together conferred greater survival and reproductive advantages than any individual "being right". If you were right, the group would eventually figure it out and it was more important that the group remain intact than you be right. So, our brains developed to tend to consciously acknoweledge the kind of realities that threatened group cohesion when most of the group was ready to come to the same conclusion.
Again, it is that simple. I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I think about this now.
In any event, I did not keep track of the various sites I visited as I went through the exercise just noted. I just got on Google and tracked a couple of them down. However, I suspect that others here have had similar experiences to the one I just described. I noted that Tal Bachman in a recent thread noted said he is familiar with some of these sites.
Perhaps those of you who have seen apologists for other ideologies in action and have found them similar to Mormon apologists could share some of your favorites with us. Here is my contribution to get the ball rolling.
http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/1866.asp (Go to home page and poke around. There is some great stuff here.)
All the best,
| I recently had the chance to spend some time chatting with Michael Quinn and thought some here might be interested in a brief report. I did not hear anything from him in private that he has not indicated in public, so I can tell you exactly what he said. And, by the way, the first thing I did upon meeting Quinn was thank him for the role he played in helping me out of Mormonism. His research put a number of key pieces of information in place for me. He is one of my heroes.
Some have suggested that Quinn's "attacks" against the Church are inconsistent with his current stance as a non-Mormon Mormon. Quinn does not perceive himself to have attacked the Church, but rather he was simply doing his job as a scholar with integrity. He is far better informed that I will ever be regarding where all the Mormon skeletons are buried.
Quinn has had spiritual experiences that from his point of view establish the "reality" of Smith's divine appointment in such a way that the evidence he has seen to the contrary is still insufficient to shake him. This includes the belief that the Book of Mormon was really translated by divine inspiration from real golden plates; that God's exclusive authority was given to Smith and passed on by him to Hinckley et al.; etc. The whole load.
Quinn indicated that he understands that his view is improbable - that most "objective" people who have simply reviewed the evidence re Smith would not agree with him. He again referred back to his personal, and admittedly subjective, experience.
I had expected Quinn to tell me that his beliefs were of the post Modern, metaphorical sort. Not the case. He is a literalist.
We discussed cognitive dissonance and other topics at some length. His comments in that regard can be found in a recent Sunstone magazine. He did not mention that article to me although the conversation occurred after the article was first published. I thought this a little odd once I found the article. It is, however, consistent with what I observed to be his understated nature.
Quinn understands what the literature says regarding cog dis and biases, understands that his behavior smacks of cog dis, and shrugs his shoulders. He chooses to give primacy to the spiritual experiences he has had and the conclusions they impressed upon him.
I reviewed my experience with him and the quite different conclusions I have reached. For the long story, see http://mccue.cc/bob/documen... starting at page 77 and http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs... starting at page 39. He acknowledged the reasonableness of my approach, noted that there were many things about his position that were inconsistent, and indicated that his experiences were so compelling that he still felt justified in maintaining his beliefs.
I note that the experiences Quinn described to me as more real than real sound similar to what Newberg describes as a typical "mystical" experience that should be expected to give rise to powerful beliefs. See the "Out of My Faith" essay linked above for this discussion.
I found Quinn to be likeable, sincere and not surprisingly, very intelligent. I look forward to continuing to interact with him. I don't think he is playing a publicity game, as some have suggested. Rather, I think that given the abuse and pain he has suffered at the hands of Mormonism, his continued profession of belief is testament to the powerful nature of the experiences he has had. It would be interesting to know if he has a history consistent with minor epilepsy or other medical conditions that sometimes accompany apparent paranormal experiences. See, for example, McNally http://cms.psychologytoday.com/artic...\ for a summary as to how certain types of sleep paralysis and hypnopompic hallucinations can produce physical symptoms related to alleged alien abductions stronger than those experienced by soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after war experiences.
In any event, there is no clear cut explanation for Michael Quinn. What is clear is that he always has been, and still is, a deeply spiritual person with a great deal of integrity. One does not have to agree with the conclusions he has drawn about Mormonism to hold that view.
| What follows is a question that was recently put to me, and my answer. Some may find it a useful big picture analysis of Mormon polygamy/polygyny.
All the best,
Dear Mr. Mccue,
My name is * and I live in **. I have been reading a little of the information on your web site. I am researching certain religions and Mormonism is one of them.
The question I have for you, on the matter of polygyny, is if you know any references where either Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor or any of the other leaders of the FLDS were able to explain the contradiction between DandC section 132 and what is written in The Book of Mormon; Jacob 2:24 - 29, that is, if any of them were able to explain it at all.
Thank you in advance for any information you can offer.
You might also reference Ether 10:5 and the language in the "Book of Commandments" (the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants) at the time Smith and others were engaged in polygamy on the "con" side. That is, Mormon theology appeared to make it quite clear that polygamy (let alone polygyny) was not permitted.
On the "pro" side, see DandC 132: 37 and 38 which indicate that the Biblical patriarchs who had polygamous wives and concubines only sinned insofar as they entered into these relationships without God's permission. DandC 132 then goes on to, in effect, prescribe the same law for Mormons. The reference to the Biblical tradition rationalizes the Book of Mormon scriptures you noted, in my view, as long as you accept the premises that the Bible is an accurate account of God's dealings with mankind, as is the Book of Mormon. That is, Abraham et al clearly had many sexual relationships that were approved by God. That is where the twelve tribes of Israel come from, after all. And David clearly sinned by entering into a particular sexual relationship in circumstances of which God did not approve. The fact that God might give a woman already married to one man to another is not expressly addressed by either the relevant Book of Mormon scriptures or DandC 132. All that is made clear is that whatever God commands is OK.
The idea that was taught by Smith and early Mormon leaders to justify a married woman entering into “spiritual wifery” with a Mormon leader was that God’s law overrides temporal law (see the reference to “theocratic ethics” below), and that women have the right to “trade up” by leaving a less faithful husband for one with a better chance to offer them and their children access to the highest reaches of the Celestial Kingdom, subject of course to God approving the union in question. Since it was generally (if not exclusively) the case that Mormon leaders approached women to advise them of God’s will in this regard, the idea that a woman has the “option” to trade up is pretty thin in my view. Smith told some women that God had commanded both him and them to obey this command by way of sending an angel with drawn sword to advise Smith that both he and the woman in question would be destroyed if they did not obey.
In any event, the Biblical record, the Book of Mormon and DandC 132, in my view, all hang together rationally on the basis just indicated as long as you accept that God’s current word overrides both social mores and civil law and that Smith was the purveyor of God’s most recent word. In that case, both polygamy and polygyny as he ran them were OK. I think that you will find, generally speaking, that the Mormon apologists run down this line, and I am sure that there is plenty to be found from Mormon leaders to this effect. I have not read material from this genre in long enough, however, to be able to quote line and verse.
Now, to what is of greater interest to me. I note the obvious sexual access advantages this system created for the members of the Mormon leadership hierarchy from time to time as long as polygamy/polygyny was accepted as God’s will. I have found that the question we are told to ask while attempting to understand social behavior from an evolutionary perspective is helpful in this regard. That question is “who benefits” from the propagation of a particular idea or belief. When we find that the persons who benefit are those who are spreading the belief, it is frequently if not generally the case the case that they have not been willing or able to adequately test the belief’s legitimacy. This is precisely why the checks and balances within democracy are of crucial importance. Once in power, those who make the rules simply cannot be trusted. This is as close to a universal principle of human behavour as can be found. The behavior of Smith and other early Mormon leaders who clearly were trying to establish a theocracy is only one of countless examples that support this principle. And their behaviour with regard to the establishment and promotion of polygamy is a classic in this genre.
As noted above, the idea of God’s word overriding legal and moral constraints was critical to understanding much of what Smith did. I like Michael Quinn’s summary of this concept (see page 88 of his book "Mormon Hierarchy – The Origins of Power") as follows:
Smith remained aloof from civil office, but in November 1835 he announced a doctrine I call "theocratic ethics". He used this theology to justify his violation of Ohio's marriage laws by performing a marriage for Newel Knight and the undivorced Lydia Goldthwaithe without legal authority to do so... In addition to the bigamous character of this marriage, Smith had no license to perform marriages in Ohio.
Although that was the first statement of this concept, Smith and his associates put that theology into practice long before 1835, and long after. Two months later Smith performed marriage ceremonies for which neither he nor the couples had marriage licenses, and he issued marriage certificates "agreeable to the rules and regulations of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." Theocratic ethics justified LDS leaders and (by extension) regular Mormons in actions which were contrary to conventional ethics and sometimes in violation of criminal laws.
This ethical independence is essential for understanding certain seemingly inconsistent manifestations in Mormonism. Some had already occurred - reversals in doctrine and divinely revealed procedures, and the publication of unannounced changes in written revelations and historical texts. The Knight marriage was a public example of Joseph Smith's violation of laws and cultural norms regarding marriage and sexual behavior - the performance of civil marriages by legally unauthorized officiators, monogamous marriage ceremonies in which one or both partners were undivorced from legal spouses, polygamous marriage of a man with more than one living wife, his marriage proposals to females as young as twelve, his sexual relationships with polygamous wives as young as fourteen, polyandry of women with more than one husband, marriage and cohabitation with foster daughters, and Mormon marriages of first cousins, brother-sister, and uncle-niece. Other manifestations of Mormonism's theocratic ethics would soon begin in Kirkland and continue intermittently for decades - the official denials of actual events, the alternating condemnation and tolerance for counterfeiting and stealing from non-Mormons, threats and physical attacks against dissenters or other alleged enemies, the killing and castration of sex offenders, the killing of anti-Mormons, the bribery of government officials, and business ethics at odds with church standards. [end quote]
I cannot overemphasize how disgusted I was when I found out about Joseph Smith's sexual behaviour and the other practises just mentioned. The evidence I have reviewed is very clear to the effect that he used his position of authority to take advantage of many women, some of them married and others very young; all of them innocent believers in his divine mandate. And those who refused him often had their reputations besmirched and suffered in other ways as a result of doing what was right. You can imagine my surprise when I read psychological studies that, without mentioning Joseph Smith, described his profile (charismatic religious or other leader, etc.) and predicted that he would have trouble keeping his trousers up while in willing female company, and that as the alpha male of the group he led that he would not have trouble finding willing sexual consorts.
I note in passing that the language in DandC 132 that describes God as "giving" various women to various men is particularly offensive to modern sensibilities, but consistent with the mores of Biblical times if not Smith's day. This is also consistent with the manner in which Smith and other Mormon leaders propositioned many of the women who became their "spiritual wives". The women were notified, in effect, that it was God's will that they enter into a marital-like relationship with Smith or others. Smith used his approval over polygamous relationships to control those of his followers who were living the "principle", as it was called. That is, when some men attempted to form polygamous or polygynous relationships without Smith's approval, it appears that they were disciplined. One of these, John C. Bennett, became one of the first to leave Mormonism and attempt to "expose" it. See http://www.xmission.com/~country/reason/benintro.htm for a summary related to him. I note that in both primitive human social groups, modern religious cults and even certain animal groups, the ability of an alpha male to control sexual access to the females of the group is a powerful leadership tool used to maintain social hierarchy.
I doubt that Smith had multiple sexual partners in mind when he wrote (or collaborated in the writing of) the Book of Mormon. In my view, Mormon polygamy was simply the result of the alpha male (Smith) of a human social group (early Mormons) taking advantage of the traditional alpha male prerogative (lots of sexual partners). As word of his activities leaked out, the idea of divinely sanctioned polygamy was formed to prevent disaster (Smith losing control of his group on moral grounds) and Biblical precedent was used to justify that because it was available and useful in that regard.
It is probable, in my view, that the same sociological forces that led Smith to do what he did also governed the behavour of the Biblical patriarchs (if they indeed existed) as well as others of their day. And if you are the one who indicates which women have been "given" to you by God, there is not much chance of running afoul of God, is there? And if God is going to tell you which other men have women "given" to them, this will help you to stay in control of those men, won't it? DandC 132 appointed Smith to that office. So even though Smith did things similar to what got David in trouble ("do not plant seeds in another man's field", to quote an Amerindian "commandment" - this more is close to a human universal), that was OK with Smith's God. Smith, as you likely know, was married to and in all probability had sexual relations with women married to other men. In at least one case, he sent a Mormon man away on a mission for the Mormon Church, and then almost immediately propositioned the departed man's wife inthe manner just noted. I think that Mormon polygamy is likely a fascinating case of how one small thing (a religious leader having some illicit sex) can lead to something huge, like the entire social complex relating to Mormon polygamy, including the modern Mormon fundamentalists who continue to live a polygamous lifestyle and attract converts from mainstream Mormonism and people like me who are descendants of polygamous Mormons. This is the butterfly effect in a social context, in my view.
So, we have Smith in public and private for over a decade indicating the he was not engaged in polygamous activities (using Clintonesque language I might add, around the issue of what he was doing), and Mormonism's official rule book clearly indicating during that period that polygamy was not permitted. Then, when Smith finally had to go public with what he was doing because it was becoming so widely known, DandC 132 was presented as a revelation over ten years after Smith has started his polygamous, polyandrous, etc. affairs. This was justified on the basis that God had commanded Smith to lie because the people were not ready to hear about what he was doing. And during the time while the public and regular Mormons were being deceived as to Smith and other's sexual activities, as insiders became aware of what was going, God "revealed" to Smith that they were entitled to participate as well. This is classic "co-opting" behavior as described in social theory - if you turn those who might challenge you into "partners in crime" they will not challenge you. And a few insiders, such as Hyrum Smith, who for some reason did not wise up to what was going on remained on the outside and so continued until the end of the ten year+ piece just noted to publicly deny that there was any polygamy going on, and were not corrected by the leadership cadre by whom they were surrounded and with whom they associated daily, almost all of whom were actively engaged in polygamy. To have a few innocents like Hyrum categorically denying polygamy was of course helpful to the public's impression of reality. This is a tactic regularly used by fraud artists today. Innocents are recruited and purposely kept in the dark about what is going on while "selling" the fraud with the best of intentions based on their limited understanding of the facts. These innocents are crucially important megaphones and salespeople for those whose credibility on its own would not be adequate to pull off certain types of scams. The most trustworthy and innocent the megaphone, the more effective it is. The innocent young and old people who conduct today's Mormon missionary work, most local Mormon leaders (who are generally well intentioned, moral, wonderful people) and some of its highest leaders, are in my view innocent dupes of this type.
The period related to early Mormon polygamy is one of the darkest chapters in Mormon history, in my view. I recommend that you read Compton's book "In Sacred Loneliness" and Von Wagoner's "Mormon Polygamy: A History" if you have a serious interest in the topic.
Now, I must confess that I am not as expert with regard to LDS history as many people are. I invite you to ask your question, and send of copy of what is above, to * at **. * knows more Mormon history than do I. He is an active member of the LDS church and well-known in its "apologetic" community. While he and I disagree regarding many things, we carry on a respectful dialogue and I have generally found his ability to put his hands on the "facts" (such as is possible in historical analysis in any event) to be reliable and so would commend him to you. He and I will, no doubt, draw different conclusions from facts on which we are likely to agree for the most part at least. He can be counted on to give you a side of the story that I am not likely to either see or find persuasive. And you deserve to have access to both sides of this story.
Since I encourage you to hear the Mormon side of this story, I should also quickly say something about apologetics in general. This is tied into the power of narratives to build social fabric, and the power of social fabric to make us believe certain things are real and others are not, regardless of what reality ultimately turns out to be. I have cut and pasted what follows from other things I have written, with a few modifications.
As today’s nuerologists have pointed out (see for example Quartz and Sejnowski, “Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are”), our brains are formatted to a significant extent by the physical and social environment in which we exist during our developmental years (up to early adulthood). For example, cats raised from birth in a room without vertical lines walked into table legs when released into the "real" world, and their patterns of brain activity were consistent with those legs not being visible. Their brains, conditioned by their environment, could not perceive the vertical plane. Similar data of a less formal basis has been collected regarding pygmies led out of the forest for the first time who were incapable of grasping the significance of animals grazing on a plain hundreds of yards away. Such distances were not part of their world. Their brains had no context within which to make sense out of their perceptions. They thought they were seeing miniatureanimals.
The most authoritative storytellers recognized by our particular social group provide much of the material around which our brains are formatted. The story about the manner in which God did (or did not) confer supernatural powers on Joseph Smith in order to bring the Book of Mormon into being is a good example of a powerful story of this type. In the contemporary Mormon community, this story ironically coexists with many others that are mostly scientific in orientation.
This brings us to the concept of “premises”. Premises are a group's "givens"; their wallpaper; and most importantly, the ideas that if accepted render the rest of their belief system “sensible”. For example, IF God did confer on Joseph Smith the power to “translate” the Book of Mormon, then it is logical to believe that the many stories Smith told of angelic visitations and other special authorities he received from God were also true, including his stories about being told by God both to have sex with multiple women (some of whom were married to other men) and to deceive both the public and members of his church about what he was doing.
So, premises relate to what a group deems "sacred" - that is, beliefs so important that they should not be questioned and so are protected by all of the taboos the group can muster. In the contemporary western world, democracy and "equal" (in some hard-to-define sense) human rights are sacred in this sense. Belief systems as diverse as those of primitive people, Catholicism, Scientology, Marxist Communism, representative democracy, etc. can be boiled down to a few “premises” which if accepted, render most of the rest of the belief system “logical”.
The nature of premises is nicely illustrated by an account an anthropologist gave respecting a visit he made to Artic to study the Inuit (see Ehrlich, “Human Natures”). He first met with a Catholic priest who had recently arrived in the Inuit community. The priest told him about the natives’ belief system, how crude and silly it was, how it involved the spirits of ancestors and animals playing a role in daily life, etc. Then the anthropologist went over to see the Inuit. When he asked how they were getting along with the priest, he was told that the priest was a nice enough fellow, but had some outlandish beliefs. They then proceeded to laugh so hard they fell over while describing the story of the virgin birth. The Inuit could not believe that a person of obvious sophistication and wisdom, like the priest, could believe something as ridiculous as that. Such is the nature of our most important premises – they are pounded so deep into our cultural and psychological background that they are immune from critiqueand hence often bizarre when considered by anyone who considers them in the rational way a cultural outsider would tend to use.
The function of the stories told by a group’s storytellers is, for the most part, to so thoroughly engrain the basic premises of a belief system that they pass into the realm of the “sacred”, and so beyond questioning, in the fashion just described.
Sacred beliefs, as noted above, are protected by taboos, and again the role of the storytellers is of critical importance in creating the perception of reality that gives strength to a taboo. For example, Mormons believe that terrible things happen to a Mormon who “loses his testimony”. These include not being able to be with his family after death, often going through divorce and estrangement from family members and close friends during this life, and in general, losing the “joy” that comes only from being a faithful Mormon. Similar beliefs are found in countless other communities from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to certain Muslim, Jewish and other groups.
So, when a person is confronted with evidence that questions the validity of an important belief her adrenalin system fires up. The stronger the taboo, the stronger this response. In primitive societies, the breach of many such taboos meant death. Our instincts still appear to be wired on this basis because of the lengthy period of time during which our ancestors lived this way. And it is well documented that a firing adrenalin system interferes with our ability to engage in certain types of critical reasoning. Rather, we tend toward conservative behaviour. Sources of perceived danger, in particular, are avoided instead of examined. And so any source of evidence that questions a fundamentally important belief tends to be avoided.
It is also interesting to note a clearly defined pattern created by the generally scientific nature of modern society and the various sacred and often supernatural premises of various religious groups. For example, Mormons and most members of almost all other faiths except the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reject the supernaturalism related to JW beliefs – the sacred JW premises. Conversely, JWs side with the members of virtually all other faiths in rejecting the supernatural claims that support Mormon beliefs. The pattern is that religious people tend to be scientific in orientation with regard to all beliefs except those required to support the premises of their particular belief system. So, when they enter the arena defined by their own religious beliefs they become, from the perspective of all outsiders, “irrational”. The same pattern is visible to a lesser degree (in most cases) when it comes to issues related to politics, economics, environmentalism, and other issues that are hard to definitively analyse and charged with emotion.
Evolutionary theory has an elegant explanation for this pattern. That is, evolution selects for people who are pre-disposed to not "falsifying" the myths on which their society is based while being able to do so with regard to myths on which other social groups are based. This strengthens the "in group" ideology and weakens all "out group" ideologies. This makes sense because throughout most of human history keeping one's group together likely conferred greater survival and reproductive advantages than any individual "finding the truth" etc. So, our brains developed to tend toward conscious acknowledgement of the kind of realities that threatened group cohesion only when most of our "in group" was ready to come to the same conclusion, hence reducing pressure on group stability to manageable levels.
“Biases” and “cognitive dissonance” play important roles in the psychological matrix that reduces the likelihood that sacred beliefs will be questioned. For example, once we have made up our minds about something and held the opinion for some time, we are biased in favor of not changing our minds. This is called “confirmation bias.” Some psychologists believe that it alone is responsible for more faulty human decisions than any other human foible. Another bias is “authority bias” where we unconsciously screen information that may bring us into conflict with our social group or other sources of power (see Aronson, “The Social Animal” and Shermer, “Why People Believe Weird Things”). Those youngsters in primitive times who failed to pay attention to their elders faced a higher probability of death and removal of their genes from the gene pool. Evolution thus selected for deference to authority and to the expectations of one’s social groups. This form of bias explains why members of religious groups are able to identify illogical beliefs in other religious groups but not their own.
A cognition is a piece of knowledge about an attitude, an emotion, a behaviour, a value, etc. Two cognitions are said to be dissonant (thus producing “cognitive dissonance”) if one cognition conflicts with another. For example, I like my friend, and trust him. Various cognitions relate to this. If I find out that my friend has lied to me, other cognitions form that are dissonant with those I already hold. Cognitive dissonance is the term used to describe the resulting unpleasant mental state, which most humans immediately attempt to relieve themselves of much as they look for water when thirsty.
If two cognitions are dissonant, we tend to change one or both to make them consistent with each other. This often results in what is sometimes called “denial” – the suppression or unrealistic appraisal of evidence in an effort to reduce cognitive dissonance. Denial is, by definition, invisible to the person or group that is subject to it, but often easily visible to outsiders. The pattern I noted above of insiders being “irrational” but only with regard to beliefs and evidence related to the most sacred belief, suggests the widespread denial caused by cognitive dissonance. Another well known example of cognitive dissonance induced denial is that of the wife who husband is “cheating” on her, and while many friends and family have seen enough evidence to feel fairly confident that they understand what is going on, the faithful wife refuses to acknowledge the possibility even when the evidence is placed before her by well meaning friends. In this case, the dissonant cognitions are between the man who expresseshis love for her, and her dependence on him in various ways as a result of the life they have built together, and the evidence that suggests that that same man is being sexually unfaithful to her. The more she fears the consequence of the second cognition, the blinder she is likely to be to evidence supporting it.
I visualize the process of overcoming cognitive dissonance as an old fashioned set of scales, like the scales of justice. Disconfirming experience and evidence has to be piled on the side of our scales opposite sacred belief until they begin to tip. That is, we have to experience enough cognitive dissonance to make us finally question the reality we have assumed to exist. The epiphany experience many people have as they leave a controlling religious faith is related to what happens when we reach the "tipping point" on our scale. Then, suddenly, it is as if a switch were thrown and we can see all kinds of things that have been building up just out of view as a result of the work our mind has been doing to keep us in denial. Suddenly, much of this information and insight is released into the conscious mind because the unconscious can no longer hold it back. It is as if the lights suddenly came on. This experience changes many people irrevocably and, apparently, suddenly. However, it is often the effect of manyyears of accumulating information and work done by the unconscious mind to prepare us for an epiphany that would otherwise have been too much for our minds to bear.
The way in which storytelling and the unquestionable, or even invisible, premises they create control our perception of reality has helped me to understand my inability for many adult years to "see" things that are now so obvious about Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. I was like the cats raised who could not see table legs or the pygmies who thought animals grazing on a distant plain were seeing miniature animals. I was in denial as a result of cognitive dissonance related to the image of Joseph Smith as a humble, inspired prophet of God on which I had been raised from childhood.
When Joseph Smith declared the Book of Mormon the “keystone of our religion”, he said much more than he knew. He, without knowing it, invoked all I have just summarized and much more. And at the base of this lies the power of narrative which he well understood as a result of his history as a treasure seeker, as describe more fully below.
It is my view that Joseph Smith understood that his narrative of the Book of Mormon’s divine origins would, if accepted, give him the right to speak with God’s voice as far as all who believed him were concerned. That is, his narrative of how the Book of Mormon came into being would give him tremendous personal power. The modern Mormon leadership understands that as well. They have inherited Joseph Smith’s power, and amplified it in many ways by the selective telling of his story. Their power depends directly how many people believe the story they now tell about Joseph Smith and how the Book of Mormon came into being.
Scientific and historical inquiry largely related to pattern identification. Each piece of evidence or data either fits, or does not, into a particular pattern. Patterns are expressed as hypotheses, such as “the Book of Mormon is real history” or “Joseph Smith was authorized by God to speak on His behalf”. The objective of the scientist or historian is to uncover as much evidence as possible relevant to a hypothesis, and assess whether the pattern disclosed by the evidence matches, or does not match, the hypothesis. The role of the confirmation bias, authority bias, other biases, and cognitive dissonance have been extensively studied in the scientific and historian communities, and are shown to exert powerful distorting influences there. Hence, the reliance on peer review and other communal mechanism within the scientific and historian communities that over time are believed to be out best bet at cancelling out these distortions that afflict all individual humans.
People who feel impelled to “prove” that their group is “right” or has “the truth” (often called “apologists”) tend to start with a hypothesis that says that a certain pattern (or hypothesis, such as the two set out above) must be “true”, and then look for evidence to support their position. Every ideology with which I am familiar has its apologists. Think for example of the Holocuast deniers, communists, all religionists, various breeds of economist, various breeds of ecologist, etc.
I have found books like Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things", Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" and Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World", to be helpful in understanding the apologetic mindset in general. In particular, Shermer's final chapter in the second edition of his book ("Why Smart People Believe Weird Things") is insightful when it comes to understanding the smartest or best credentialed of the apologists. You can find, for example, very smart and well educated holocaust deniers, young earth creationists, JWs, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, etc.
In a nutshell, if you are working with a large enough database, you can find bits and pieces of information to support almost any conclusion you wish to draw. Shermer and Taleb both cite great examples in this regard. This is one of the traps laid for us by "deductive" reasoning. Deductive reasoning causes us to work from a hypothesis ("The Book of Mormon is real history") back into the data to see if we can prove or disprove the hypothesis. If we are influenced by things like the confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance etc., we will tend to find data that confirms the hypothesis, and miss or dismiss the disconfirming data.
Inductive reasoning, on the other hand, involves starting without a hypothesis, digesting as much relevant data as possible and seeing what kind of picture emerges. Most science and history related to complex questions (such as why any particular human culture is as it is) start out using induction, and then forms and begins to test hypotheses using deductive reasoning, and from there on goes back and forth between the two. Apologists tend to remain in deductive mode, looking for any data that might support their cherished hypotheses, the hypotheses that "must be true" in order for their social world to continue to exist.
A common tactic of apologists since at least the ancient Greeks (see for example http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.apologetic%20mind.pdf) is to emphasize the uncertainty of all “knowledge” and then to insist that, for really important things like religious beliefs, a high level of certainty is required before a change in belief is warranted. They hence set the bar of proof so high that practically speaking it is impossible to clear.
I do not suggest that all I have just written about apologists applies to *, but some surely does as it does to me on the other side of the coin. We are all best off acknowledging that we are subject to biases, cognitive dissonance etc. and relying heavily on the most “objective” sources to which we have access particularly when dealing with issues that fire up the emotional centers in our brain, such as evidence that questions our most basic religious and social beliefs. In that regard, the conclusions of non-Mormon scholars with regard to questions relating to science and history critical to Mormon foundations is most likely the most reliable you can find. Mormons would admit this to be the case with regard to every religion except their own, and would tend to dismiss any criticism of their faith by outsiders on the basis that one can only understand through faith. Not coincidentally, this is a near universal pattern among religious believers of all faiths when defending their own beliefs.
In any event, I wish you well in your research.
All the best,
| Review of Michael Ruse’s “Mysteries of Mysteries - Is Evolution a Social Construction?” |
July 26, 2005
A friend asked some time ago that I write a review of Michael Ruse’s (“Michael”) book “Mysteries of Mysteries - Is
Evolution a Social Construction?” (“Mystery”) and post it to a science list on which we both participate. Here is it for those
here who are interested in this kind of thing.
I should first confess my biases. I am a realist. However, I am
acutely aware of the human tendency toward feeling certain of our conclusions, and how the influence of our dominant social group
pervades our perceptions of reality. Hence, while I believe there is a reality “out there”, I am circumspect regarding our
ability to pin it down. I am also a pragmatist. We make decisions moment by moment mostly on the basis of an amazingly
efficient set of heuristics (see for example, http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/gigerenzer03/gigerenzer_index.html). We are also subject to powerful biases,
many of them related to the group influence just noted. So, I think it important to keep the idea that I don’t know for sure
what is real. This is my best bet to keep myself as free from things like the confirmation bias (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias) and
authority bias and other group based influences over my perceptions as possible, while trying to collect as much information as
possible about what is “real” and make my decisions on that basis using probability theory. Michael is also a realist with
pragmatist leanings (from what I could tell) similar to my own. Not surprisingly, I both liked his book and found it helpful.
For the same reasons as I set out my biases so that those who read this will understand where they may wish to
discount me, I did a little background reading regarding Michael so that I might have an idea of his biases before reading
Mystery. See http://www.lrb.co.uk/v24/n09/coyn01_.html
for an example of what I found. It is a review of another of Michael’s books titled “Can a Darwinian Be a Christian?: The
Relationship between Science and Religion” in which Michael attempts to rationalize what sounds from the above review like an
unusual form of Christian belief with a form of evolutionary theory. While I have not read that book, I doubt that Michael and I
would agree in this area. I tend to side with people like Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong in believing that most literalist
religious beliefs do more harm than good, while accepting that most religious beliefs when taken metaphorically can be useful.
However, this is the kind of thing I will look forward to chatting with Michael about at Star. I tend to learn the most from
those well-informed folk with whom I disagree.
In any event, my perspective is likely to be different with regard to
Mystery than that of many who read here. This is because my scientific senses are still at a relatively immature level, and my
knowledge of the history of science is in a similar state.
Finally, I should confess that I have not finished the
book. I have about 50 pages left, and while traveling this weekend left the book in a hotel. It will arrive back in time for my
trip to Star Island, but not in time to finish this review, so I will send this off without the benefit of reading Michael’s
conclusion. I will be interested to see how it squares with what I have inferred so far.
Michael’s stated objective
is to analyze the scientific and social content of the work done by the leading evolutionary theorists from the beginning of
evolutionary theory up to date of publication, which was 1999. He does this by defining what he means by scientific content.
This included things like consistency, predictive quality, ability to open new research paradigms, etc. I found this analytical
Michael then moved on to show how social values tend to creep into scientific thought. In that
regard, he sketched the background of the realism v. social constructionism by summarizing Sokal’s Hoax, and then Karl Popper’s
and Thomas Kuhn’s theories and tying them into some interesting personal background. Because of its brevity, this summary is
inadequate to give a sense of the complexity of the issues covered. I am not critical of Michael in this regard. One can only
do so in the set up of a 320-page book. The best single book I have read regarding the epistemic background against which
Michael writes is Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science”. And this only hits
the high points of a bogglingly complex part of epistemology. For someone at my stage of understanding, the analysis Michael
supplies of evolutionary theory and its history becomes much more useful when set against the theoretical background of Godfrey
Smith’s book or something like it than it would be on its own.
For example, I found Godfrey-Smith’s analysis of
Bayesian probability theory as a backdrop to Popperian analysis particularly useful. Popper is a realist who posited that we are
progressing toward a better understanding of reality through the collective scientific enterprise. Bayesian probability theory
supports this notion. However, Godfrey-Smith does a good job of showing how the foundations of probability theory must be
assumed or inferred to be correct, and that this analysis can be shown to be circular. This reminded me of the reading I have
done relative to Godel’s incompleteness theorems (see Rebecca Goldstein, “Incompleteness” for example. She has an interesting
interview up at www.edge.org). When we get down to the basics tenets of even math, we find that the bottom of the pool is
elusive. And yet by continuously expanding the range things we can use to predict future states, on the basis primarily of
Bayesian probabilities applied to empirical data, we continue to create technologies that bring more of what we perceive to be
reality under our control. At bottom, despite our inability to ever put a pin in where we are through the use of probability
theory or anything else, this approach seems to come closest to justifying the Popperian view.
At the same time, it
seems clear that there are surprising shifts in “paradigm” that from time to time occur within the scientific community. These
are consistent with the less probable future outcomes predicted by Bayesian theory prior to existence of the evidence on the
basis of which a paradigm shift occurs. Hence, in my view, probability theory works to synthesize at least some of Kuhn’s views
with a kind of Popperian analysis.
Michael proceeds to focus on biological evolution, and to review the theories
related to it that have been put forward by a variety of scientific luminaries starting with Eramus Darwin (Charles’
grandfather), moving up through people like Steve Gould, Dick Lewontin and E.O. Wilson, and concluding with contemporary
scientists like Geoff Parker. He added interesting background information with regard to each scientist, and used that to allege
a correlation between his scientific work and social context. In each case, I learned something about the history of science and
saw how difficult it was in many cases to tease apart scientific theory and personal biases.
Michael’s analysis of
values that were imbedded in science, and “metavalues” (values about how science works) was for me particularly useful. For
example, he showed how Julian Huxley’s Victorian progressionism was imbedded in his science. And on the other hand, he showed
how other more recent scientists had similar values, but did not allow them to enter the scientific equation in the same way as
did Huxley, and how this resulted in a basically different epistemic paradigm. And I note as an aside how interested I was in
Michael’s discussion of the Victorian “progress” paradigm and how it influenced the development of evolutionary theory as a
social construct. Mormonism (my inherited belief system) formed in a Victorian environment around the time Eramus and Charles
Darwin did their thinking, and the idea of the “eternal progress” of each human being is central to Mormon theology. While I was
aware of how progress oriented the Victorian era was, for some reason I had not put 2 + 2 together on this point until reading
Michael’s summary of the period and how it influenced (and still influences to a degree) evolutionary thought. Here is an online
summary of certain aspects of this idea that I add primarily for my own purposes - http://www.spiked-online.com/Articles/00000006D8AE.htm
Another crucial distinction Michael made
that I found helpful was between the content of the “professional” and “popular” publishing of the various scientists whose work
he reviewed. He attempted to demonstrate that some were much better than others at sticking to science when writing
professionally and restricting their value-laden views to popular publications. And, the pattern to which Michael clearly
pointed was that as time has passed, the leading popularizers of science have become increasingly better at doing science at the
highest professional levels and restricting their culture laden views to literature that does not purport to meet professional
scientific standards. I will return to this concept below. It is one that left what may be my most lasting impression of
The value laden views that Michael attributed to various scientists often amounted to just so stories of
marginal scientific value, some of which now look quite foolish, that Michael felt he could trace to cultural influences. I do
not know enough scientific history to critique the connection Michael posited between Lewontin’s Jewishness, Wilson’s WASP
Southernness, etc. and how those influences may have affected their science. But right or wrong, by presenting his analysis as
he did, Michael showed how it is reasonable to conclude that it is very difficult for any of us to be completely objective, try
as we might, and how engrained our biases are likely to be in our worldview. This was for me the interesting part of the
analysis – how intertwined the cultural and the scientific could become.
While Michael did not focus on this point,
one of the messages that came through to me (which Godfrey-Smith did emphasize) is that the best way to deal with the objectivity
issue is to use as many perspectives as possible so that our biases are likely to set each other off. I am reading Phillip
Ball’s “Critical Mass” at the moment as I wait for Mystery to return by mail. The role of the law of large numbers in social
contexts is the main theme of that book. I don’t think Ball addresses the issue of scientific epistemology per se, but I can see
how what he says about some other things would apply in this regard.
Since reading Mystery, I have round myself more
sensitive to social constructs in the views expressed by others regarding science as well as in my own thought. I consider this
to be a step forward, and yet another reason to be more humble about what I think I “know”. We all seem to need regular
reminders of our bounded our perceptions of reality are, and Michael provided that nicely in my case.
Those who favour
Kuhnian thinking may not find Mystery as helpful as I did. For example, Margaret Wertheim writing for Salon has this to say:
"In the end Ruse wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He sees evolutionary theory as essentially objective, but with
an overlay of metaphorical subjectivity. Not everyone will feel satisfied with this resolution, but it is a heartening testimony
to our times that this avowed champion of Sokal is at least prepared to acknowledge that the other side is not entirely
As noted above, it is my view that probability theory at least partly reconciles the Popperian and Kuhnian (at
least the soft Kuhnian) perspectives. Some of Kuhn’s more difficult to understand and/or radical, relativist ideas and those of
the entire radical side of the postmodern school are, in my view, silly enough to simply dismiss. Their important point was that
we should be prepared to be wrong, and that it is useful to “deconstruct” our social contexts in an effort to immunize ourselves
against powerful group influences. As the postmodernists pass into a paralyzing relativism, they become a kind of dangerous
nonsense that I do not take seriously. I like what Susan Haack has to say about what might be called the “silly side” of
postmodern scholarship. See http://www.csicop.org/si/9711/preposterism.html and http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/haack-manifesto/ for example.
And I note that arguably
one climbs to near the pinnacle of irony to watch religious scholars of any ilk attempt to “deconstruct” the “metanarratives” of
things like history and science in defense of their dogmatic religious beliefs, while turning back flips to justify not using the
same tools to question the premises of their belief system. This is all the more fun if the beliefs in question include the idea
that their group alone has a corner on truth. This has all been the case within the Mormon academic community.
Michael’s focus on some of the most prominent popularizers of science, and his indication of their relative standing in the
scientific community, made me think of something else that has been on my mind for a while. That is, why are some scientists
willing to go over the line into “culture laden” issues that are not subject to the same strict epistemic norms as is
professional scientific work, while most are not? And what kind of role will society tend to permit the scientists to play who
take it upon themselves to create culture? Since these ideas are also relevant here, I will discuss them briefly in the context
I recently found some thought provoking material related to these issues in a PhD thesis written at
Cornell by, of all people, Greg Graffin, the lead singer of the punk rock group "Bad Religion". Graffin is a bona fide biologist
- anthropologist and did some useful work for his thesis in the form of a series of interviews with some of the greatest living
biologists about their belief (or lack thereof) in god, and how those beliefs can be reconciled to the theory of evolution. He
was following up on earlier studies that are reviewed in "How We Believe" by Shermer. Those studies found that a surprising large
percentage of scientists believe in a god of some kind. However, the more respected the scientist, the less likely such a belief
as to be found. Graffin refined and updated the study by focusing on biologists (including geneticists), making the survey
questionnaire more comprehensive, and (as already noted) by conducting detailed interviews with about a dozen of the most
respected of the group. The interviews are published in full in an appendix to the thesis and were the most interesting part.
This work was done in 2004. See http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/
During his interviews Graffin invited his subjects to
speculate as to how evolutionary theory might become a kind of religion or analogous social force. I was surprised at how dead
to this issue most of his interviewees seemed. They seemed not so much to be reluctant to step out of the strict rules of
scientific enquiry, as unaware that this might be a possibility. Michael’s review of the history of evolutionary theory was
enlightening to me in that regard. The way in which people like Lewontin and Wilson, for example, have gone at each other and
the furor other scientists who have stepped into the cultural ring have created should be expected to warn all but the most
This made me start to think about why the few scientists who are willing to speak in terms
of values are received with so much enthusiasm in some quarters and rancor in others. And indeed, why the public should pay any
more attention to scientists once they stray outside their professional field than to anyone else who has demonstrated expertise
in any field of human endeavour. Graffin’s interviews demonstrated that those scientists who had a belief in god often backed
this up with naïve views. That is, once the basis for their belief was disclosed, it was not more compelling than the basis for
belief that someone like Tom Cruise might express. Michael shed more light on this issue by chronicling the manner in which the
religious beliefs of a number of prominent scientists influenced their work.
The point Michael helped to bring into
focus for me is that scientists are not per se any more worth listening to with regard to religion, values or cultural issues
than anyone else, unless questions about which they speak fall within the professional expertise of the scientist in question.
And we know that by their nature, sociology, anthropology etc. do not admit of the kind of epistemic rigor as does biology of
physics. So, why are the views of biologists, physicists etc. given the credence they are with regard to these matters? Think
of Einstein and Feynman, for example. Or more recently, Dawkins.
In my view, science has become a kind of de facto
religion or mythology. And so prominent scientists are those whom an increasing percentage of the population in most of the
developed world (except perhaps in the US) trust to describe the most important aspects of reality. This trust, however, is
based on the professional side of science that Michael was careful to distinguish from the very kind of popular scientific
writing that tends to be culture laden. I do not believe that many people (like me) who are powerfully influenced by the
writings of respected scientists realize the extent to which our respect for the professional scientific enterprise as a whole
may cause us to tend to accept the values of science popularizers based on just so stories that they themselves would never put
forward for serious scientific consideration in professional journals.
So, people like Dawkins are not necessarily
leading scientists. The role of the popularizer is a specialized niche that requires a certain amount of scientific credibility
but more than that, an entertainer’s flair. Michael Shermer fits this bill, while being perhaps a little short on the respect of
his academic peers. He does, however, put on a great show, writes easy to read books and has a flair self-promotion. This is
perhaps why Lewontin savaged Pinker in Graffin’s thesis. Pinker, according to Lewontin, is a [expletive] upstart shooting his
mouth off about all kinds of [expletive] stuff that he knows [expletive] nothing about. But, Pinker writes gripping books, also
has a flair for self-promotion and exhibits Wilson’s tendency to extrapolate theories ahead of data. Lewontin is much more
conservative in his epistemic approach, and it rankles him to see popular “science” writing that falls far below what he
considers to be science’s minimum epistemic standards.
The paradox just noted will likely be what I chew on for the
longest as a result of reading Mystery.
So, where does that leave us in terms of scientists who are inclined to create
culture and posit values and by definition must be culture laden?
For my part, I am happy to accept scientists who
incline toward the spiritual or value aspect of life as my high priests. I will not follow and obey them, but rather accept the
basic epistemic paradigms of science as I listen to as many voices as I can while trying to learn to hear my own, or perhaps
allowing my own to emerge from what I hear as it resonates with my biology and history. So, I will encourage those
scientifically oriented within my small sphere of influence to speak out about what they value, and why. Michael sensitized me,
however, to the line between professional and popular science and the just so, non-scientific concepts that are often unwitting
passed off and accepted as science in the popular press. When we are making a value choice that is culture laden, we should
address that issue instead of bowing to what we think is the best available science on some point.
I also wondered how
long it will be before we see a greater integration between some of our science popularizers and our culture’s best story
tellers. Think of Joseph Campbell’s long collaboration with George Lucas. Or how about The Matrix and what it attempted to do
with regard to certain basic philosophy concepts. It is only a matter of time before we see science being pitched in this
fashion. I think that this could be a wonderful thing, and expect also that the promoter of the ID project (for example) will
realize an opportunity to push their agenda through this means.
I am now out of stream. To provide some additional
context for Mystery, I have attached links and text below of several online reviews.
Published in University of Toronto
Quarterly - Volume 70 Number 1, Winter 2000/01- Letters in Canada.
To see more articles and book reviews from this
and other journals visit UTPJOURNALS online at UTPJOURNALS.com.
Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social
Michael Ruse.Harvard University Press. xii, 298. $42.50
Reviewed in University of
Toronto Quarterly by JAMES ROBERT BROWN
This extremely readable and interesting book is about the nature of science.
Do scientists give us a disinterested and objective account of the world? Or do they somehow concoct theories which perhaps serve
their interests and reflect their subjective values? Michael Ruse says a bit of each, but he mainly sides with the angels of
objectivity. And he is surely right to do so.
The real trick is showing how subjective values interact with the
objective pursuit of knowledge. This Ruse does astutely through the device of individual case studies. Key figures in the history
of evolutionary biology are given individual chapters in which their personal biographies and scientific views are discussed in
an integrated way. Naturally, Darwin and Huxley are here, but so are a large number of moderns including Dawkins, Gould,
Lewontin, and Wilson. As well as the ten individual biologists covered (the others are Erasmus Darwin, Julian Huxley, Dobzhansky,
Parker, and Sepkoski), there is a beginning chapter on the philosophy of science (Kuhn vs Popper) and a final chapter on
metaphors and metavalues.
Stephen Jay Gould, to pick one of Ruse's examples, is well known as a popularizer of the
biological sciences; indeed, he is one of the great essayists of our times. Gould is also well known for his theory of punctuated
equilibria. This is (depending on whom you hear it from) a genuine rival to Darwinian evolution or a mere supplement to it. Gould
claims that there are significant rapid changes in the history of species often brought about by major environmental change
(think of comets and dinosaurs) or by having part of a population cut off from the rest (known as the founder principle). Instead
of Darwinian gradualism, Gould sees short periods of rapid change followed by long periods of stasis. What has this to do with
values? According to Ruse, plenty. For one thing, Gould is interested in upgrading his own cherished discipline of paleontology.
Instead of taking their marching orders from geneticists, the fossil folks can lead the way. Second, Gould has a Marxist
background, and punctuated equilibria fit in nicely with a picture of history highlighted by revolutions. Third, the Darwinian
gradualism which he opposes is tied to the so-called adaptationist program of sociobiology, a theory which tries to account for
all human characteristics and behaviours in biologically adaptive terms. Gould, perhaps because of his Jewishness and his
socialism, sees human differences as more the result of culture and environment than of nature.
These, according to
Ruse, are the kinds of values that can play a role in the thinking of a scientist. But do they determine scientific outcomes? Did
they determine the outcome for Gould? There is a classic distinction philosophers make between `discovery' (having an idea in the
first place) and `justification' (having objective evidence for accepting it). In a pinch we could say that Gould's values
contributed to the former, but played no role in the latter. Ruse notes that the scientific community has paid scant attention to
punctuated equilibria. So he concludes that Gould's values did not contribute to the course of evolutionary thinking.
By contrast, the values of E.O. Wilson (who had a southern Baptist and military background which led to strong views about sex
roles) have found their highly influential way into sociobiology. Ruse, however, sharply separates the `real' science from
`popularizations' and claims that Wilson allows his various values only into the popular realm. When it comes to real science,
traditional epistemic values such as prediction, explanatory scope, and so on carry the day for Wilson and for the scientific
community at large.
Ruse's principal conclusion is that science is largely an objective enterprise. Scientists are
rife with subjective values and these values play a role in motivating scientific work. They also play a role in popularizations.
But in real science objective epistemic values come to the fore. Messy though it is, science is an objective process.
Like all of Ruse's earlier books, this one is a pleasure to peruse. (Thanks to a lack of support for our universities, Canada
is losing many of its top academics. Wouldn't it be a pity of we were to lose our best philosopher-historian of biology?)
Charmingly irreverent and opinionated, gracefully witty and informative, Mystery of Mysteries is a great read, for professional
and public alike.
The Social Construction Blues
The Social Construction of What?
By Ian Hacking.
Harvard University Press.
Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?
By Michael Ruse.
Let me begin with a confession: I am one of those old-fashioned sorts who associates the
scientific method with scrupulously objective observation, the rigorous testing of hypotheses, and explanations of the natural
world that are as precise (and, yes, true) as they are often poetic. No doubt my admiration for scientists who engage in the
slow, demanding work of laboratory experimentation springs from a sense (confirmed by a wide range of teachers) that I possessed
a world-class math block, and that I would not likely push the scientific envelope one smidgen. Add the unhappy fact that I
happen to be a diabetic and you can easily see how it is that I cheer, positively cheer, any researcher hard at work on a cure
for what ails me.
I take a measure of solace, however, in reminding myself that many combatants in the science wars
know even less about hands-on science than I do. Small wonder, then, that genuine scientists, the ones who work with Bunsen
burners and chalk up on the blackboards, often regard the culture studies crowd with such contempt. That’s where I may have
something of an advantage because the same attacks now being mounted on scientific authority are old hat to those of us in
literary studies who watched our discipline become systematically destabilized. Bashing Shakespeare, either as Exhibit A in the
hegemony of dead, white, European writers or, more recently, as an apologist of empire, became a way to ask, again and again,
questions beginning with whose: Whose greatness? Whose excellence? And most important of all, whose interest is being served?
Dressed up in the impenetrable language that may well be postmodernism’s defining feature, the agendas of identity politics
rolled over those who talked about novels and poems (rather than "texts") and who believed, on aesthetic grounds, that some books
were better than others. Such innocents often found themselves contemptuously dismissed as under-theorized, or worse.
As someone who has suffered these slings, these arrows, I know full well how cultural warfare works–and also how a spongy term
such as "social construction" can easily be applied to everything from authorship to Zulu nationalism. That’s why Ian Hacking’s
The Social Construction of What? is such a gratifying book. It covers a wide range of clashes about everything from how best to
treat mental illness, child abuse, or anorexia, to the current research being done in sedimentary geology–and always with an eye
on the specific "what" in question. My hunch is that Hacking has little patience with much that currently travels under the wide
umbrella of social construction ("both obscure and overused," he snorts), but also that he recognizes useful thinking when he
Social construction has in many contexts been a truly liberating idea, but that which on first hearing has
liberated some has made all too many others smug, comfortable, and trendy in ways that have become merely orthodox. The phrase
has become a code. If you use it favorably, you deem yourself rather radical. If you trash the phrase, you declare that you are
rational, reasonable, and respectable.
Given the vitriol on both sides of the science wars, Hacking serves a valuable
function by explaining, in language as clear as it is smart, what noncombatants in the science wars need to know. Here, for
example, is what he has to say about socially constructed anorexia:
Unfortunately, social construction analyses do not
always liberate. Take anorexia, the disorder of adolescent girls and young women who seem to value being thin above all else.
They simply will not eat. Although anorexia has been known in the past, and even the name is a couple of hundred years old, it
surfaced in the modern world in the early 1960s. The young women who are seriously affected [their exact numbers are currently a
subject of hot debate] resist treatment. Any number of fashionable and often horrible cures have been tried, and none works
reliably. In any intuitive understanding of "social construction," anorexia must in part be some sort of social construction. It
is at any rate a transient mental illness, flourishing only in some places at some times. But that does not help the girls and
young women who are suffering. Social construction theses are liberating chiefly for those who are on the way to being
liberated–mothers whose consciousness has already been raised, for example.
Since Peter L. Berber and Thomas Luck Mann
published the first study to use "social construction" in its title (The Social Construction of Reality, 1966), we have been
awash with imitators. Most of them concentrate on the "how it is" that our consciousness has been changed, and always, we are
told, for the good. By contrast, the what that so interests Hacking hardly matters. Even fundamental physics is not immune in an
age when some argue that scientific results, like everything else, are social constructs rather than discoveries about our world
that hold independently of society.
We think of this fundamental debate separating social constructivists from
objectively grounded scientists as yet another aggravating feature of postmodernism, but in fact it is quite old. In 1898, long
before the term "social construction" was coined, Edwin J. Goodwin, an Indiana legislator, proposed a bill that would make ¹ =
3.2–and furthermore, that people using his "New Mathematical Truth" be required to cough up royalties. The scheme, part of other
misguided efforts at the time to "square the circle," was eventually defeated. But it’s not hard to imagine other, equally daffy
efforts to have a social tail wag the scientific dog. Who, after all, would be surprised if a contemporary version of Goodwin
proposed that ¹ get rounded off to 3.0 rather than its more cumbersome 3.14 °? My imaginary politician might argue that, with
enough votes, the natural order could be changed–and in ways that would certainly please the lazier students of his state.
Unfortunately, there would be other, unforeseen consequences as well. Many more scientifically minded folk were quick to
point out that nobody would want to stand near buildings designed by an architect who used a 3.0 ¹ (or a 3.2 one, for that
matter) in his calculations–and this is especially true for structures sporting domed roofs. Unfortunately, the sort of fuzzy
thinking that once turned charlatans into objects of derision is now taken very seriously indeed.
Flash forward to
Alan D. Sokal’s wickedly delicious 1996 parody of theory-heavy science. His essay was a torpedo below the water line, a
deadpanned way of holding pretentious lingo and vacuous ideas up to ridicule. It demonstrated, as no "straight" account ever
could, just how much nonsense was passing itself off as cutting-edge thought. Sokal’s jawbreaking title, "Toward a Transformative
Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," should have been enough to tip off the editors of Social Text, but given their preference for
airy postmodernist theorizing, it is hardly surprising that they accepted his tangled arguments about the social construction of
gravity. Peel away phrases such as "privileged epistemological status" or "oppositional discourse," and copious footnotes to the
likes of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, or Luce Irigaray, and what one discovers is that gravity has a strong social component.
Indeed, what Sokal proposes (with tongue lodged firmly in his cheek) is that gravity can operate quite differently in New York
City than it does in San Francisco–depending, of course, on how the respective citizens decided this matter at the ballot box.
Sokal, you will remember, brought his 1996 hoax to the attention of Lingua Franca, a journal that enjoys nothing more
than a juicy academic scoop, and the rest, as they say, is history. The wire services jumped on the story and in short order
Social Text became a national laughingstock. Not even the intellectually playful Stanley Fish was able to provide effective
damage control–although he made a pinch-faced effort in a New York Times op-ed piece that scolded Sokal for "bad faith" and other
crimes against the scientific community. But Fish’s sophistry didn’t wash–not for scientists pursuing the truth about how our
world works, and certainly not for those who had long regarded postmodernist theorists as self-proclaimed emperors parading
around without clothes.
I mention the much-aired Sokal hoax not only because Ian Hacking and Michael Ruse give it
significant attention in their respective books but also because the flap itself sets the framework for what might be called
"Social Construction: Round II." For Hacking, what matters most in the talk, pro and con, about social construction is the what
at the immediate issue. Is it facts or gender, quarks or reality? Is it a person, an object, or an idea? Ruse puts it a slightly
different way when he proposes that we may have been asking the wrong questions all along, and that, rightly seen, what we have
is a situation in which both camps can mount strong arguments:
Our ultimate concern [Ruse argues] is surely with the
issue of realism. Does an objective "real world" exist "out there" that can be known through the methods of science, or is
science a subjective construction corresponding to shifting contingencies of culture and history, with nothing "real" beneath it?
Are the epistemic norms of science guaranteed to lead us to a knowledge of this world, and if so why? Or are the epistemic norms
also simply part of culture in the end, on a par with the metaphors of science? I worry about these questions [which Ruse
obviously feels are the right ones], and now candor forces me to admit that–on the evidence we have–one could reasonably argue
for either realism or nonrealism!
That is, one can make a case for Karl Popper who believes that there is indeed a
"real world" out there. We may never know it exactly, but (in Ruse’s words) "‘truth’ is the correspondence of our ideas with this
world, and the aim and method of science is to approach such truth, if only asymptotically"; or one can make an equally
compelling case for Thomas Kuhn who believes that "there is no reality other than that seen through and created by the paradigm."
His fair-mindedness (if that is what Ruse’s waffling comes to) reminds me of the Yiddish joke about the rabbi who listens to a
couple seeking a divorce. The husband begins first, outlining his grievances (she is a lousy cook, a sloppy housekeeper, etc.).
The rabbi gazes thoughtfully at the ceiling and proclaims, "You’re right!" He then goes on to hear what the maligned wife has to
say (her husband is a lazy bum, and beats her to boot), and after giving the ceiling another look, announces: "You’re right!"
"But rabbi," a witness interjects, "how can they both be right?" Stroking his beard, the rabbi sidesteps the contradiction with
this playful retort: "Nu, so you’re also right!"
If Hacking takes up the pros and cons of socially constructing damn
near everything, Ruse at least has the advantage of focusing squarely on evolution. Mystery of Mysteries not only follows the
twists and turns of the long debate about evolution, but it also provides lively portraits of the major participants. Here, for
example, is a snippet from the section devoted to Charles Darwin:
Start with religion. . . .The young Darwin moved
from Christianity to deism, and evolution was for him, as for his grandfather, a confirmation of his religious position rather
than an anomaly. This was the philosophy of the Origin: "Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view
that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter
by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to
secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual." Later in life, particularly under the influence
of Huxley, Darwin’s beliefs faded into agnosticism. Even then, however, he did not go through the Origin systematically removing
references to God.
Ruse provides equally compelling (and balanced) portraits of contemporaries such as Stephen Jay
Gould and Edward O. Wilson. The result is a study that charts the progress of thinking about evolution and that shows how what
was once a debate became a bitter dispute. Here it might be helpful to think of evolution as a kaleidoscope. Turn the cylinder
one way and its shapes arrange themselves into one pattern; give it a quarter twist and you end up with something else, equally
plausible so far as Ruse is concerned. My hunch is that Hacking would feel much the same way–that is, if we substituted one
social construction of x for another.
Both Hacking and Ruse provide insider information delivered from a vantage point
well above the fray that the science wars have produced. My hunch is that those on either side of the aisle will be unhappy with
at least some of their observations–that is not only to be expected, but applauded. The consequences of science are simply too
important for scientists and nonscientists alike to settle for tunnel vision, half-truths, and gobbledygook.
Has feminism changed
TWO NEW BOOKS ENTER THE
DANGEROUS TERRITORY WHERE
COLD FACTS MEET HOT TEMPERS.
Feminism Changed Science?
By Londa L. Schiebinger
Harvard University Press, 256 pages
Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?
By Michael Ruse, Harvard University Press, 320 pages
- - -
- - - - - - - - -
By Margaret Wertheim
June 22, 1999 | In classic biology textbooks, the story of
conception resembles nothing so much as a true-romance novel, in which the bodice-ripping formula of Barbara Cartland et al. is
transposed into a cellular-level melodrama starring the virile "active sperm" and the demure "passive egg."
sagas of conception," writes science historian Londa Schiebinger, "the spermatic hero actively pursues the egg, surviving the
hostile environment of the vagina and defeating his many rivals." Like Sleeping Beauty, the egg drifts unconsciously in the
fallopian tube, waiting to be awakened by the valiant, vital sperm. It is an archetypal story of female passivity enlivened by
male energy -- a story as old as Aristotle, and as replete with patronizing overtones.
Since the late 1970s, however,
a new generation of biologists has begun to peek behind this suspect veil and, using fresh analyses, to reveal quite a different
story, one summed up by the title of a seminal paper, "The Energetic Egg." In this new account the egg, no longer a slumbering
princess, becomes an active agent, directing the growth of microvilli (small finger-like projections on its surface) to capture
and tether the sperm. Here the egg and sperm are partners, co-activators in the process of conception.
Check out books
by Margaret Wertheim at BARNES and NOBLE
What is particularly
noteworthy is that while the egg's cone of microvilli was discovered in the 1890s, it was not thought worthy of serious
scientific attention until 80 years later -- a time when women's roles in society were themselves being reconceived.
But before we cheer too loudly for this liberation of a core biological function from the rhetorical trappings of millennia-old
sexism, it is worth stopping to reflect that the new tale itself is rife with gendered cultural overtones. As Schiebinger notes,
in this new account the egg and sperm have come to resemble nothing so much as the high-powered dual-career couple of the '80s
Like the contemporary corporate woman, the new "energetic egg" is valued precisely because it is now seen to be
more like its male counterpart. Like the business exec with her power suit, the new egg has been "masculinized." And just as the
female exec risks accusations of aggressiveness, so too the new egg is all-too-easily seen as a "femme fatale, threatening to
capture and victimize sperm." The point is that while the new story may have stripped away the old sexist overtones, the egg and
sperm remain gendered, essentially reflecting the pattern of current social arrangements between men and women.
saga of transformation in one of our premier biological narratives raises a question that has become central to the current
discussion about science: Can science ever be free of cultural influences? To put it another way: Can science ever be purely
objective, an inquiry into the unsullied "truth" about the "real" world, or will it always be prey to the vagaries of subjective
This is the question that resides at the heart of the so-called "science wars" that have rocked the
academy for the past several years, and which show little sign of abating. On the one side are the objectivists (sometimes called
realists), who believe that science is an ever-progressing ascent toward an ultimate picture of the-world-as-it-really-is. On the
other hand are the subjectivists (sometimes known as relativists), who believe, to varying degrees, that science will always
carry the stamp of the culture from which it springs. For this camp, prevailing views about gender, race, class and the like
inexorably influence scientific theories, so that we can never (even in principle) see the world as it really is. To this camp,
that very notion is a fiction that must be abandoned.
Many, though by no means all, scientists fall into the first
camp -- Stephen Jay Gould is an eminent exception. Likewise, many, though not all, historians, philosophers and science-studies
scholars fall into the second camp.
The question of whether science can ever be culture-free is also at the heart of a
number of new books. One of the best is Schiebinger's provocatively titled "Has Feminism Changed Science?" If science is, as the
objectivists claim, a culture-free activity, then the answer must be no. But as the changing narrative of the egg reveals, it is
not so easy to strip away the cultural subtext from our scientific theories.
The science wars have been simmering for
the past decade, but in 1996 they moved from sort of a cold war standoff phase into active engagement. The catalyst was the
publication by a little-known physicist named Alan Sokal of an article in the cultural studies journal Social Text. In his now
infamous piece Sokal purported to present a postmodern critique of physics in which, using lashings of trendy French philosophy
and deliberately nonsensical postmodern jargon, he suggested that quantum mechanics could be seen to support the view that all
knowledge is culturally relative. Immediately after the piece came out he gleefully exposed it as a hoax designed to show that
cultural studies types know naught about science and ought to lay off pronouncements on the subject.
regards this as a brilliant exposé or as a petty frat-boy prank, the fallout has driven a deep wedge between the community of
scientists and the community of science-studies scholars (those who study how science fits into the social, cultural and
One way of looking at this divide is suggested by Canadian philosopher Michael Ruse in his new
book, "Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?" Ruse divides the two camps, roughly speaking, into the
Popperians (following the Austrian philosopher of science Karl Popper), and the Kuhnians (following the American philosopher of
science Thomas S. Kuhn). For Popper, science was a progressive activity, getting us ever nearer to a true picture of reality.
Although Popper acknowledged that we could never find ultimate truth, he insisted on an objective view of science as an
exploration of the world as it really is.
Kuhn, in his 1962 book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," famously
declared that all science proceeds according to "paradigms" -- mental constructs or theoretical frameworks which inevitably
change as our society changes. For Kuhn, science is not an ascent towards any God's-eye view, and the science of one age must be
considered no better or worse than the science of any other.
Kuhn's book sparked its own revolution, not in science
but in science studies, and it became a flash point for even more revolutionary views of science, which have culminated in the
radically relativist views that Sokal and the objectivists so deplore.
The two extremes in the debate may be
characterized as follows: For radical objectivists, nature is the only voice, with human culture playing no role. For radical
relativists, nature has no voice of its own, and all scientific knowledge is the production of humans. In reality, most people
fall somewhere in between. Even Einstein, that arch-realist, recognized that we can only know nature through the prism of our
theories -- we can never see it naked, as it were. Glad news it is, then, to see Ruse and Schiebinger trying to find a middle
Both Ruse and Schiebinger approach the question -- and both books are indeed framed as questions -- from the
vantage point of a particular case study. For Ruse the case study is the theory of evolution, and the ways that ideas about
evolution have themselves evolved over the past two centuries. For Schiebinger the case study is feminism, and the way that both
female practitioners of science, and feminist theories about science, have affected (or not) various scientific disciplines --
from cell biology to primatology, archeology, medicine, mathematics and physics.
Feminist science scholars, it must be
noted, make up one of the key groups to have claimed science as a culture-laden activity. As such, they are seen by objectivists
as a key battalion of the enemy. In the post-Sokal era, Schiebinger is aware of the need for caution, and she approaches her
subject with the hyperalert acuity of a lion tamer encountering a large, wild cat. The big surprise for many objectivists will be
that Schiebinger lays to rest to the notion that women in and of themselves change the nature of science simply by becoming
scientists. The culture of science is not rooted in the chromosomes of its practitioners, she assures us -- a conclusion all
objectivists should applaud.
But if women do not necessarily do science differently, the historical record suggests
that feminist perspectives have indeed made an impact on both the culture and content of science. The saga of the egg is just one
example Schiebinger gives in which women's involvement in a field has opened up new lines of inquiry that have led to significant
new discoveries. Another case in point is primatology. For more than a century primatologists, who were almost exclusively male,
focused almost exclusively on male primates. Once a new generation of primatologists -- again beginning in the 1970s, and who by
then included women -- started to pay attention to the females of the species, they found that previous views were clearly
distorted. Other cases can be found in genetics, archeology and medicine.
Some of the female scientists who made these
discoveries were avowed feminists, but many were not. Yet, as Schiebinger shows, it is no coincidence that so many of these
insights came to the fore at a time when women's own role in society was changing, and when the very nature of "femininity" and
"womanhood" was so much a subject of debate. In short, you do not have to be a feminist to be influenced by feminist cultural
Check out books by Margaret Wertheim at BARNES and NOBLE
One example of this trend
that has struck me forcefully over the past few years is the way in which the whole question of embodiment has become a hot topic
in fields like artificial intelligence and cognitive science. After decades during which intelligence was seen to be a purely
mental phenomenon, suddenly there is talk of it being ineluctably rooted in the physical reality of a body. Most of the current
scientists and philosophers making this claim are men who would not (I am sure) identify themselves as feminists; nonetheless,
feminist philosophers have been making just this claim for decades.
We are all a part of a cultural matrix, which,
even if unconsciously, affects the way we think. As Schiebinger puts it "We cannot free ourselves of cultural influence; we
cannot think or act outside a culture. Language shapes even as it articulates thought."
Reluctant though he seems to
be to admit this, Michael Ruse comes to a similar, if more guarded conclusion regarding evolution. Tracing the evolution of
evolutionary theory through a half-dozen of its major proponents -- from Charles Darwin to contemporary practitioners such as
Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and E.O. Wilson -- Ruse reveals how their views of evolution were influenced both by the
culture of their time and by their own upbringings.
Wilson, for example, perhaps as a legacy of his Southern Baptist
childhood, is still essentially looking for some kind of fundamental truth. As he acknowledges in his own recent book,
"Consilience," at university he traded in his religion for science. Given the indelible traces of each man's culture on his
scientific theories, Ruse frankly admits, "I see the influence of culture on scientific ideas as something that is here to stay."
That said, Ruse also wants to claim victory -- and for him it is the most significant victory -- for objectivism. The
course of history has shown, he says, that although in the beginning evolutionary theory was almost purely a cultural
construction, over the past two centuries it has been increasingly cleansed of such intrusions. While individual practitioners
may still reveal the hallmarks of their culture, particularly in their use of metaphors to describe their ideas to
non-scientists, in the final analysis the theory has been born out by objective, empirical validation.
In the end
Ruse wants to have his cake and eat it, too: He sees evolutionary theory as essentially objective, but with an overlay of
metaphorical subjectivity. Not everyone will feel satisfied with this resolution, but it is a heartening testimony to our times
that this avowed champion of Sokal is at least prepared to acknowledge that the other side is not entirely wrong.
| June 22, 1999
Mystery Of Mysteries: Is
Evolution A Social Construction? - Review
Natural History, April, 1999 by John Tyler Bonner
Save a personal
copy of this article and quickly find it again with Furl.net. It's free! Save it.
MYSTERY OF MYSTERIES: IS EVOLUTION A
SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION? by Michael Ruse. Harvard University Press; $27.50; 320 pp.; illus.
After centuries of biological
theorizing, have we yet formulated an objective science of life?
I started this book with some uncertainty because,
unlike the author, Michael Ruse, I am neither a philosopher nor a historian; I am a laboratory biologist. But we do overlap in
our common interest in evolution. He is a professor at the University of Guelph in Canada, and in his latest book he has put his
knowledge to good use to say some fascinating things about the relative roles of culture and hard fact in the history of
evolution and its mechanisms.
Is evolution a subject that has always been treated with total objectivity, or has it
always been affected by philosophical and cultural attitudes prevalent at various times? If the latter is true, what has that
influence been? At the risk of ruining the plot, let me say that in the author's view, the study of evolution has become less
influenced by culture over time, moving increasingly toward an objective "science" in its purest form.
Ruse begins his
journey at the end of the eighteenth century with the physician, poet, and naturalist Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin's
grandfather. Here was a man of strong appetites (for food and for the ladies) who believed there had been a transmutation of
species--that is, an evolution of living organisms--but who looked upon the matter as a given and, therefore, not in need of
carefully assembled evidence. Despite his new ideas, he was "thoroughly culturally laden," as Ruse points out. Indeed, his
treatise on transmutation, The Temple of Nature, is written in verse.
Ruse is especially good on the far more complex
position of Charles Darwin, who, not satisfied with merely describing the fact of evolution, sought its causes in the mechanism
of natural selection. Surrounded by a church-influenced culture during the time he was breaking new ground for a more objective
science of biology, Darwin was understandably cautious about publishing his ideas. Ruse also argues that artificial
selection--the careful breeding of domestic animals and plants to produce new and different varieties--was a well-established
practice in Darwin's time and helped to shape his views.
From here, Ruse takes the leap into this century, selecting
eight scientists who have been influential in the study of evolutionary biology and who represent some of the schools of thought
over the decades. The first is zoologist Thomas H. Huxley's grandson Julian Huxley, who did some solid work in embryology,
behavior, and evolution but is most widely known for his popular writings. I remember Huxley coming to Princeton a number of
times to lecture, and he packed the house. Huxley's objectivity, Ruse suggests, was compromised by his belief in the idea of
progress--and especially in the "improvement" of mankind--which led to his regrettable enthusiasm for the mystic evolutionism of
Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Like Huxley, Theodosius Dobzhansky made many of his scientific
contributions during the second quarter of the twentieth century. Dobzhansky was a Ukrainian American geneticist who emigrated to
the United States in 1927 to begin his career in Thomas Hunt Morgan's famous "fly room" at Columbia University--the laboratory
that gave birth to modern genetics. Dobzhansky then went on to do some of the foundation work connecting genetics to evolution.
What intrigues Ruse is that Dobzhansky, a deeply religious man, succeeded in keeping his personal convictions separate from his
After Dobzhansky come a pair of biologists whose reputations were built as they popularized
evolutionary science during the 1970s. Richard Dawkins, an Oxford University zoologist, had instant success with the 1976
publication of The Selfish Gene, in which he argues that Darwinian natural selection acts primarily on the genes. Stephen Jay
Gould, the Harvard paleontologist who has been a columnist for Natural History since 1974, argues here and in numerous books that
evolution acts on a hierarchy of levels, including whole organisms and groups of organisms. Dawkins and Gould are both brilliant
writers, and their spirited debates have enlivened the subject of evolution for us all.
Next come two Harvard
professors who played important roles in the 1970s and 1980s. Work by Richard C. Lewontin, a star student of Dobzhansky's, is an
interesting mixture of groundbreaking population genetics and Marxist politics. Edward O. Wilson, an entomologist specializing in
ants and founder of the field of sociobiology, combines solid science and voluminous popular writings.
discusses two scientists who are currently in midcareer: the English sociobiologist Geoffrey Parker, of the University of
Liverpool, and the American paleontologist J. John Sepkoski Jr., of the University of Chicago. Parker is known for his research
on the reproductive strategies of dung flies, upon which he has based important mathematical models of evolutionary strategies;
Sepkoski applies mathematical models to interpreting trends in the fossil record.
From Erasmus Darwin onward, there
has been a steady decrease in the influence of culture on the way we do science, and an increase in objectivity. "However
socially or culturally convenient one may find the science," Ruse concludes, "if it does not succeed in the fiery pit of
experience, it can and should be rejected." To anyone interested in the evolution of evolution, I recommend this book. It is
written with clarity and grace, and both the professional and the layperson will find it full of riches.
Bonner, emeritus professor of biology at Princeton University, is the author of a number of books, including Life Cycles:
Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist (Princeton University Press, 1995).
COPYRIGHT 1999 American Museum of Natural
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group
| A non-Mormon friend asked me the other day how I had found the time I have spent during the past three years to do all of the reading and writing I have done about Mormonism. I explained that people are affected differently by the kind of religious belief transition I have made, but for many it feels like their world is ending. That is how it was for me. I contemplated suicide briefly. I thought I was likely going to go through a divorce. I experienced enormous trauma in my closest personal relationships. For months I had trouble sleeping and unless fully occupied could think about little beyond how "this" had happened to me.
I felt like I was on a huge ship that suddenly and unexpectedly sunk, leaving me in a whirlpool that was about to drag me under. It was either swim, or die. So I swam desperately, not caring about anything else for a time. Most of my writing is mere froth kicked up by this effort. Eventually, it seemed like the current became weaker and my swimming less panicked, and finally, I felt relatively in control again. Occasionally, the current would surprise me with a burst of energy, and I would have to swim for my life. But for the most part I was under control and became increasingly comfortable in the water while calling out to passing ships for help in hope that I would find a new safe place. Then, to my amazement, I realized that I had been a fish all along and for some reason could not see that as long as I was on the ship. So, I tentatively put my head under the water and began to breathe, and then excitedly swam down into a world that I still find marvellous beyond my capacity for expression.
I would be interested to hear from others how they would characterize their experience "on the way out". Not only the dark and bitter part, but the wonder on the other side of that.
| The following is the introduction to an essay that has sat half finsihed (at 50 pages) on my computer for almost a year. I have finally decided to finish it, and would like to invite those interested to read the draft as it now sits and to provide comments, input, etc. If you would like to participate, send me an email and I will send you the draft essay.
Recovery From Mormonism
(Or Any Other Controlling “ism”)
A Guide for the Perplexed
Whenever someone sorrows, I do not say, "forget it," or "it will pass," or "it could be worse" -- all of which deny the integrity of the painful experience. But I say, to the contrary, "It is worse than you may allow yourself to think. Delve into the depth. Stay with the feeling. Think of it as a precious source of knowledge and guidance. Then and only then will you be ready to face it and be transformed in the process. Peter Koestenbaum
Larry Braithwaite asked me a while ago to write a summary of the “recovery” process that might be useful to those who have stumbled, groped, reasoned, quested – whatever – to the edge of Mormonism and find themselves devastated by what they there encounter. This was initially for me at least, a dark, terrifying place that I will never forget. Larry’s wife Tammy, with his support, has published her/their insightful story with regard to Mormonism (see http://www.exmormon.org/journey/journ...), and has been flooded with requests for help by people who have read it. They thought that I might be able to contribute something that would be useful in that regard. As part of my continuing effort to repay the debt of those who helped me along this surprising-in-so-many-ways road, I am pleased to do what I can.
My primary objective as I write this essay is to provide context that will help to dissipate the vertigo and terror many people feel as they discover that the foundations of their spiritual lives – no, their entire lives – are nothing like what they appeared to be. It is difficult for those who have not gone through this experience to understand it. For example, a non-Mormon friend asked me the other day how I had found the time I have spent during the past three years to do all of the reading and writing I have done about Mormonism. I explained that people are affected differently by the kind of religious belief transition I have made, but for many it feels like their world is ending. That is how it was for me. I thought I was likely going to go through a divorce. I contemplated suicide briefly. I experienced enormous trauma in my closest personal relationships.
I felt like I was on a huge ship that suddenly and unexpectedly sunk, leaving me in a whirlpool that was about to drag me under. It was either swim, or die. So I swam desperately, not caring about anything else for a time. Most of my writing is mere froth kicked up by this effort. Eventually, it seemed like the current became weaker and my swimming less panicked, and finally, I felt relatively in control again. Occasionally, the current would surprise me with a burst of energy, and I would have to swim for my life. But for the most part I was under control and became increasingly comfortable in the water while calling out to passing ships for help in hope that I would find a new safe place. Then, to my amazement, I realized that I had been a fish all along and for some reason could not see that as long as I was on the ship. So, I tentatively put my head under the water and began to breathe, and then excitedly swam down into a world that I still find marvellous beyond my capacity for expression.
This essay is about how one gets from raw terror to pure wonder and excitement, and why it is reasonable to expect that to happen. And I note that for many, the transition process is not as difficult as it was for me. The degree of difficulty mostly depends on a person’s biology, how fully conditioned she is to Mormonism, how much her family and other relationships are tied into Mormonism and how easily she adapts to change in general.
For some reason, it has taken a while to find the energy for this task. I think this is because I am now at a stage of my “recovery” where it is often hard to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak. I spend a lot of my time off running through fields of light so enchanting that they fully occupy me. And my guts still twist when I think about the early parts of the path that has led me to this point. I also know something about my compulsive nature, and could predict that once I opened this can of worms it would absorb a large chunk of time. So, it has now been almost a year since I promised that I would get to this as soon as a few other pressing issues at work were off my plate. I expect that the time will come when the recollection of how I “recovered” from Mormonism will not cause this kind of discomfort. I look forward to seeing that healthy signpost along the road of my own continuing recovery.
I have organized this essay so that you can get the basics from reading the “Abstract” found just below this introduction. Those who are interested in more than that will find it in the body of the essay and other materials to which I refer. In that regard, you will have to put up with numerous references to other essays I have written. That is not because my writing is necessary the best on this topic, but rather because I refer to what I know. Writing has become for me a primary form of therapy – as intimated above, a froth produced as I have done the exercises necessary to form a new worldview and as a result, grow a new brain.
Despite my experience with Mormonism, I still believe in the wisdom of the crowd (see James Surowiecki, “The Wisdom of Crowds – reviews at http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0525/p1... and http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...). However, I choose the crowds with which I associate with great care, and extensively winnow their advice. I have tried to harness the power of the group by posting early drafts of this essay on the bulletin boards at http://www.exmormon.org/ and http://www.aimoo.com/forum/freeboard...., as well as sending it for comment to a number of people whose opinions I respect and who have perspectives that differ markedly from my own. The input received from these sources has immensely enriched what you will find in this essay. The awkward or erroneous parts are, however, all mine.
A Broad Perspective on Recovery from Mormonism
Most topics are best understood in the broadest possible context (see http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/docume...). So, I think it is useful to attempt to place the discussion of changing one’s religious orientation – and in particular moving from the Mormon to the post-Mormon world – in the broadest historical, psychological and sociological framework possible, without writing a book. This is particularly the case regarding religion because many religious people, including Mormons, have been trained to think of their religion as uniquely important and hence not subject to understanding in the same way other aspects of human experience. Hence, much of the recovery process relates to learning how our religious experience is the result of the same psychological and sociological mechanisms that have been extensively studied in other contexts. That is not to say that we understand these things completely. But we do know a lot about how they work, and the work the scholars in various fields have done in this regard is enormously helpful for those who are trying to understand how the world could have seemed to certain for so long, and then suddenly (or gradually in some cases) turned to dust. The perspective gained by standing on the shoulders of the scholars who have done this work can be crucial in different ways. For some, it takes the edge off the terror they feel while moving from one state of seeing religious “reality” to another. For others, much more importantly, it provides the courage necessary to pass through the “narrow gate” and acknowledge reality in the first place. And for yet others, perhaps more important still, it provides the balm needed to heal wounds that have been largely ignored after leaving Mormonism for one reason or another long ago, all the while feeling vaguely deficient and guilty as a result of not having lived “up to” the standard set by the Mormon community.
The transition out of Mormon belief was more painful than anything else in my experience, and paradoxically, some of my life’s greatest euphoria followed close on the heels of my worst misery. Joseph Smith captured this paradox in his description of how his vision of God and Christ was immediately preceded by a struggle with the forces of darkness. In this he echoed an ancient mythic theme. I do not suggest that this means he was inspired, but rather acknowledge his ability to identify and push important psychological buttons that have been used by countless religious and other social leaders before and since him to attract and hold the attention of their peers. Charisma, power and the ability to persuade are generally speaking what are perceived to be divine inspiration.
So, here are several perspective broadening exercises we will undertake to enhance our understanding of Mormonism and how it affects us.
First, we will set the process of changing belief in what is likely its broadest possible context – that of mythology. That is, people have been going through this kind of thing in one way or another ever since humankind began to record her history. I found this idea in and of itself profoundly comforting and enlightening.
Second, we will review a couple of succinct analyses of the process of spiritual transition. The first is a bare bones description of the process as described by an insightful post-Mormon, and the second is a summary of James Fowler’s robust treatment of this topic in his well-worth-reading book “Stages of Faith”.
Third, we will focus on the part of the process described by Fowler that is likely of greatest interest to those who will read this essay – the transition from the narrow, group-controlled belief (Fowler calls this “stage two” or “stage three” faith) through the anger and terror of Fowler’s “stage four faith” into the light and wonder of Fowler’s “stage five” faith. This is of particular importance to both post-Mormons and those who deal with them because the terror and anger of stage four discourages some people from ever going there, and is frightening to anyone who has to deal with someone who is going through it. Perspective here is of particular importance. We will review some of what the psychological and sociological literature has to say about this transition, what it is reasonable to expect of it in terms of time and energy, and how to try to manage it. This will include an extensive analysis of what might be called the “Stage of Grief”. That is, the literature with regard to how we grieve losses andadjust to them is of great help to those who are going through this process in terms of the removal of Mormonism or any other major ideological pillar from their lives.
Fourth, we will review a variety of the principles that relate to building a new worldview, and why that is for many people one of life’s highlights.
And finally, we will wrap up with more mythology since we remember stories far more effectively than we remember theory, and so we will attempt to attach the most important principles we have discussed to one of the worlds most famous and memorable myths that is relevant to this process.
| The answer to this question, as is so often the case with questions of this type is, "That depends on what you mean by 'works'". Let’s explore this interesting issue. I will set out my thoughts and would be interested to hear the impressions and experiences others have had along similar lines.
In a recent thread (http://www.exmormon.org/boards/w-agor...) I posted the "rest of the story" regarding a well publicized study a year or two ago that alleged prayer to be an effect meanings of curing certain illnesses. And not the usual kind of prayer where the ill person is sitting and listening as someone prays for her. Rather, this was about prayer for an ill person who does not know she is being prayed for. This later type of prayer has been shown to have no measurable effect on health.
While I no longer pray in the way I used to, I still regularly (and in fact more often than before) express gratitude and love toward others for whom I care. And I am sure that this has a positive effect on both them and me. I will explain why below. And I believe that Mormon prayer and certain of its rituals that involve prayer are effective in a sense for this reason as well.
There is a large body of psychological literature that explores the way in which expressions of gratitude, love and encouragement affect both the persons giving and receiving them. The person expending energy to make the expression perceives herself to have been energized by the experience, and the person receiving the expression tends to react similarly though along different psychological correlates. This is a great deal for all involved. 2 + 2 = 6.
The various ritual behaviors used within the Mormon and other religious traditions harness the power of this long understood phenomenon in at least two important ways. First, it is used to make people feel good about themselves and others. And second, it is used to strengthen the perception that the Mormon institution is the source of this wonderful aspect of human experience. Let’s look at the second aspect of how Mormonism uses this part of human experience.
Frequently Mormon prayers are not prayed in private. Meetings open and close with prayer. Mormons pray over meals. Fathers', priesthood, baby and patriarchal blessings are usually performed before groups of people. At the core of the marriage ceremony we find a prayer. The expression of testimony is close to a prayer in that while it is addressed to the group, it closes in the name of God. “Prayer lists” are maintained in Mormon temples. The temple “prayer circle” is a particularly interesting form of public prayer that gives a feeling of privacy and exclusivity since only the "most worthy" are permitted to participate. Missionary companions and married couples are encouraged to prayer together, day and night, and to pray audibly as well as silently.
In each of these prayer forms, Mormons are encouraged to do various things having different purposes that are intertwined by the act of praying about them at the same time. For example, Mormons are encouraged to express gratitude both to God and to other people, often people who are present or if not present who will become aware that the prayer was said. The temple prayer circle is particularly interesting in this regard. The names on the prayer roll are not a matter of public record. But frequently the word makes it back to the “sufferer” (my name was various prayer rolls for a long time as I left Mormonism and for all I know, still is) that her name had been put on the prayer roll at one temple or another (sometimes simultaneously at several) as an act of love; acts often performed by "insiders" who are more worthy toward "outsiders". This simultaneously lifts the insider by making her feel good about having acted in a loving manner, while highlighting the insider v. outsider lines more clearly in her life.
The act of expressing gratitude, as noted above, has been shown to have a powerful positive effect on how both the person expressing and the person receiving the expression feel. All others present tend to be positively moved as a result of witnessing what has happened. This binds the social group together. By causing this to occur in the context of Mormon ritual, the Mormon institution can take credit for the good feelings produced by these universal human mechanisms, and so strengthen itself.
Another important aspect of expressing gratitude is that the thing we express gratitude toward becomes more precious to us. This is the case when we silently express gratitude, and the more public the expression becomes, the stronger the effect. This is why testimony bearing, or witnessing, in particular is stressed within Mormonism and other faiths. And this is why prayer is a stepping stone toward testimony bearing both for children and for those "invesitgating" Mormonism. The evolution of many rituals can be explained in this way. For example, this is one of the reasons psychologists and anthropologists believe the ritual of public marriage ceremonies evolved. The community has a stake in encouraging stable marriages for various reasons that I won’t go into here. The public nature of the commitment, expression of love, expression of gratitude by the couple for each other, etc. were found over time to help stabilize the marital relationship. And everyone likes an excuse to party anyway.
In Mormon prayer and prayer-like rituals, expressions of love and gratitude for those closest to us are intertwined with expressions of love for God. And these are confounded both with each other and expressions of love for the Mormon institution and its symbols – Joseph Smith; the temple where absolute obedience to Mormon authority is promised; the current prophet; other current leaders; etc. So, much of the good feeling and energy that results from expressions of love and gratitude end up solidifying the relationship between the individuals giving, receiving and witnessing these expressions and the Mormon institution.
In fact, when required to choose between the Mormon institution and any of these loved ones, the choice is intended by the Mormon institution to be clear, though few Mormon leaders will admit this. The Church comes first. The Celestial Kingdom is more important than Earthly life. But rather than counsel marital break up, most Mormon leaders will stand aside and let the chips fall where they may when one spouse seems clearly committed to leaving Mormonism and the other intent on staying. And this should not surprise us since many social groups historically have operated on this basis, and this teaching is at the core of Christianity. Christ's message was intended to divide families as well as communities over the issue or religious faith, if it came to that. The only thing unclear about the many New Testament passages that make this point in different ways is whether Christ himself said what they say, or whether those building the Christian community after Christ's death remembered Christ saying what was so obvious to them and so added these sayings to his record themselves and so invoked his authority.
Because the powerful feelings I have just tried to describe occur in circumstances that the Mormon Church creates, it is reasonable for a person with little or no experience outside of Mormonism with regard to these things to conclude that Mormonism is responsible for them.
This brings us to the emphasis on pageantry, solemnity, reverence etc. that accompany many Mormon rituals. These individual and group actions are well known to produce powerful emotional experiences that humans like. Combine that with the power of the personal expression of love and gratitude, and a wonderful cocktail has been mixed.
And then there is the so-called placebo effect. It is well established in the medical as well as psychological literature that if we believe that something will have a positive effect on at least some aspects of our physical health (herpes, for example, reacts positively to placebos), emotional well being (depression reacts particularly positively to placebos) or perception of pain, it probably will have. An article in a recent Economist magazine summarized current medical studies that have been done in this regard. These studies linked the lastest brain imaging (PET) scans to traditional placebo studies to see what was happening in the brain when people were under the influence of a placebo they believed would reduce their perception of pain. It was shown that the brain produced increased levels of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer, when the participants thought they were receiving a pain killer but in fact were only receiving a placebo. And they of course reported significantly decreased levels ofpain.
I can think of no reason for which the placebo research would not apply as well to Mormon prayer and priesthood blessings as it would to sugar tablets and saline solution thought to contain effective medication. This would reinforce the idea that something supernatural was possessed by the Mormon institution in the form of priesthood authority, furthering the reverence, deference and obedience reasonable people would tend to show to that institution.
So yeah, prayer works. It does all kinds of powerful things when linked with the right social and psychological mechanisms that are known to be effective in many other contexts.
Does this mean that there is no God and that faith and prayer have no other effects? In my view, the evidence does not go that far. What this line of research clearly indicates is that many of the supernatural aspects of human experience that are attributed to prayer and faith as the result of misunderstood natural phenomena. And the most important lesson for me in all of this is that I was hoodwinked into believing that the Mormon institution had unique power to make me feel good; to heal me; to foster loving relationships; etc. when in fact it was simply misdirecting my attention from the most probable nature of the mechanisms that were having their expected effect in my life, and taking credit for wonderful aspects of life in ways that were deceptive.
Now we have unwoven part of a rainbow. The wonder and beauty of Mormon life lays smashed on the floor all around us. Mormons are often critical of the “anti-Mormons” for the manner in which we tear down without building up. So let’s do a little building up, and notice how easily this occurs.
It took quite a while on my way out of Mormonism to pick apart the threads I just described. As I did so, something happened that I believe to be the normal, sensible response to what I had experienced. The key to understanding this is to appreciate the nature and importance of perspective, and what we should expect to happen to us once our perspective changes about anything that is important to us.
Once I understand how important the expression of gratitude was (thanks to Martin Seligman’s psychological studies), I made it a point to express gratitude more often. Each time I do this, it lifts me. Thanks Martin!!! Even that made me feel good. And the understanding that this is something natural, available to all, that has nothing to do with Mormon or any other kind of authority, fills me with joy. It felt wonderful, for example, to get rid of the idea that there was something unique and special about the feelings of joy a Mormon couple have as they promise to love each other in a Mormon temple and there express gratitude to a few crying, oddly dressed family members and friends. This is a universal human response to that kind of circumstance. So it makes perfect sense that once I understand this, I would simply go out of my way to find opportunities to express sincere gratitude for those in my life.
The same thing applies to expressing love. The same thing applies to expressing encouragement. The same thing applies (to a point at least) to helping other people.
And having learned a few useful tricks from people like Seligman, I was encouraged to see what else they can teach me. The importance of forgiveness is something else I have learned from them. The importance of being involved for a significant part of each day in “flow activities” is another important point. The importance of identifying my “signature strengths” and focusing on doing as much as I can with them instead of worrying about fixing what I perceive to be “character flaws” that I am likely never to overcome. We seem to go further and enjoy the ride more if we concentrate on doing what we can with our strengths instead of beating ourselves up for what we are not so good at doing.
Etc. My intent here is not to try to write a life manual, but rather to indicate that there is a vast world of information out there, well organized and back up by solid empirical studies, that we can use to guide ourselves toward lives that we have reason to believe will be more joyful, productive and fun than anything the well intended but ego blinded old guys in SLC could possible offer from their point of view. The basic reason for this is simple and clear. Their primary objective is not to create the strongest, healthiest, happiest individuals possible. Their objective is to create the strongest Mormon institution possible. And that often requires sacrifices to be made by many individual Mormons.
Like us. Or like us as we were.
All the best,
| The Use of Mythology in the Recovery Process
One of the most comforting perspectives to be grasped as we deal with the trauma caused by a changing belief system is that provided by mythology. This shows how common this process is, and how integral it is to the creative forces that underlie both individuals and societies. We find evidence of this in most of human civilization’s major myths. But I am not talking about “myths” in the sense of stories that are not true. Rather, I am talking about the kind of story that gives meaning to people’s lives – stories that may not be literally true, but speak in a universal language of symbols and archetypes about recurring themes in human life. Stories like, for example, the resurrection of Christ and his Virgin Birth that are repeated in many cultures with regard to their foundational figures and represent among other things humanity’s amazing capacity to reinvent itself in both its social and individual form. Carl Jung said that these mythologies are like collective dreams, and that they come from the same placeas do our individual or private dreams – the experience humans have in common. We desire companionship, love, family, respect, power and many other things. We fear isolation, death, suffering, etc. We share biology as well as family and social structure. Any theme that resonates consistently with human beings over long periods of time and so has found its way into many foundational myths is likely of great importance to human beings.
As I was going through some of my darkest moments in the birth canal on my way out of Mormonism, a friend referred me to comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell. I found him and others like him to be immensely helpful for the reasons already noted (see in general http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/docume... and http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/docume... starting at page 36).
Campbell describes mythology as those beliefs that are used to make sense out of life’s most basic questions and so to stabilize life itself: Why do we exist?; why do we suffer?; why do we rejoice?; why do we die?; what happens after death?; etc. He notes common threads in these myths, and in patterns related to the nature of myths and the human groups that believe them. For example, people who live in environments where resources are scarce and hence fought over by competing human groups tend to have myths that justify killing other humans, whereas people who live in environments of abundance don’t tend to have such myths. Mythologies, Campbell would say, are mostly functional – they help us to make sense out of what we have to do to survive. And, to serve their purpose they must be believed to be true, if not literally, then metaphorically or symbolically. In that sense, Mormonism is a classic mythology. If you would rather, you can substitute the term “belief system” wherever I use “mythology”.
Campbell quipped that we tend to think of mythologies as what other religions teach, while our belief system (religious or otherwise) teaches the truth. This is as true for many who use a largely scientific worldview as any other. Some such folk, and even some scientists, use scientific theory and data to support behavioural prescriptions and value judgements that science itself would never condone and in this sense, many science based worldviews are mythological in the same sense as are most traditional or religious worldviews.
It is also important to note that science does not support the belief in any particular understanding of God beyond the idea that the wonderful order we see in nature obviously came from something. If we are content to call whatever that is “god”, then science will support us. This was pretty close to Einstein’s position. Beyond that, as Einstein noted, science simply does not address the “god” issue or many other issues that are of foundational importance to many human beings. This does not stop people on either side of many debates (including the “does god exist” debate) from invoking science whenever they think they can strengthen their argument by doing so. This understandably confuses those who do not understand how science works.
So, people like Einstein would support the idea that mythic themes that have stood the test of time and have cropped up in human culture after human culture often are found to contain kernels of truth that have been explained reasonably well by science or that are not in conflict with the scientific view of the world. Foundational or mythic stories of this type can help us to understand both the workings of our own minds (or souls – use the term you prefer) and social groups. And while there is a lot about how mythology affects us, how stories weave both the ancient mythologies and our modern and “true” (we are sure) belief systems, I will leave that for later and focus here on how a several mythic themes are profoundly encouraging to those of us who may feel that we have awakened in the bottom of a well, so far from daylight that we may never see it again. They are “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, “The Night Passage” and “Social Masks”.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
One myth that exists in almost all societies is the hero myth. This is the myth of the person who leaves the group to go on an adventure. Often this is required by a need within the group – a battle to be won; a fair maiden to be rescued; a magical talisman like The Grail to be found; etc. A few of the common elements of this myth are as follows:
Some mythologists have divided the hero’s journey into three stages. First is separation, a time of great excitement or angst as the hero leaves or is torn from the known and thrust into the unknown. The second is liminality, when the hero is outside the reach of her society while pursuing her quest. During this time the rules of “normal” behavior do not apply as the hero finds her way through a strange land and undergoes the trials that will cause her reconstruction. And the third is reintegration as the hero rejoins his social group. This is often difficult for many parties since the hero has changed and sometimes his group has as well.
- The hero leaves the safety of the group and goes into the unknown where all kinds of horrors exist that are not found within the world inhabited by his group;
- The unstructured, dangerous nature of the world outside the group (chaos) represents the dangers most humans perceive to exist if they leave their group either physically or intellectually;
- The hero faces the horrors of chaos, and finds that he has unexpected powers, some given to him by the authorities who authorized his adventure and others that seem to well up from within or are found during the course of the adventure;
- The authorities who authorize the adventure are often not the mainstream authority within society, but rather alternative sources of wisdom or power that are unknown to the main group but have an important influence on the welfare of the group as a whole;
- The hero is changed by his adventure, and often returns with a treasure quite different from the one he set out to find.
- Ironically, the hero often finds the most important part of his treasure only after returning home. In one Near Eastern myth, the treasure sought by the hero the world over was buried under his own porch upon his return from his epic adventure.
One way to think of the recovering Mormon is as a reluctant hero – a “Frodo” kind of hero. “The Lord of the Rings” is, by the way, a classic hero myth. I could go on for pages (and have done so elsewhere in a half finished essay that will likely never see the light of day) about the analogues between “The Lord of the Ring” and recovery from Mormonism. Suffice it to say here that Frodo did not want to be the ring bearer. Others were stronger, seemingly better suited to the task, etc. In fact, many of them were baffled as to why Frodo seemed to be fated to bear the ring, and despaired for their civilization as a result. He did not seem to have what the task demanded. And yet, as he and his companions time and again threw themselves into the unknown – into chaos – they found out more about themselves and eventually found a way to complete the great mission which was entrusted to them. And Frodo’s unique talents, as it turned out, made him the idea ring bearer. That story is great mythology, but of course would likely cause profound damage to anyone who decided that he was a literal Frodo of some kind carrying the sacred ring of knowledge that would destroy the evil kingdom of Mormonism, or any other.
Another hero myth with which we are all familiar is Christ’s story.
The process of facing the unknown, being pushed into it and having the courage to continue, and then being reconstructed – reinvented – by a combination of personal choice and the forces one has to face outside the secure confines of one’s social group, is one of the most basic of all human stories. And it is the story of recovery from Mormonism.
Note that the hero usually acts alone or with a small group of companions. The vast majority of the social group is usually blissfully unaware of the danger they face and of the adventure that is underway. And the hero’s return is often understood as such by only a few. As is the case with many of the main features of widespread myths that reflect recurring social patterns, there is a sound sociological/psychological basis for this aspect of the hero myth.
A thirst for exploration and learning is basic to humanity’s historical and continuing evolution, and is responsible for our continual learning about how to control our environment. As we continue to learn, we become more powerful. One of the longstanding concerns of some of the most insightful members of society has been that human power will outstrip human wisdom to the point at which we will destroy ourselves. I think that concern is, by and large, healthy since the more aware we are collectively of these risks the less likely we are to be harmed by them. The hero myth genre, as it is told by different societies, shows the balance they variously recommend between deferring to the view of the group and so slowing down change to make falling into chaos less likely, or on the other hand encouraging as much individual innovation as possible in full confidence that the resulting change and the energy that it releases can be controlled so that chaos will not reduce our society to rubble. The former tends to be favoured by Eastern cultures while the latter is the West (and particularly the US’s) hallmark. For a wonderful contrast in this regard, see last years movie “Hero” (Chinese with English subtitles) in which the powerful hero allows himself to be killed so that a tyrant king can continue his drive to unite China and so reduce the chaotic fighting between its factions, and “The Matrix” trilogy in which the power of the individual and small group to reshape a corrupt society is highlighted.
The Night Passage
This is a particular kind of hero journey that has many tellings and if profoundly encouraging for those who have been shaken loose from the Mormon moorings. Since most who read this are likely familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale, we will use it as our primary narrative and refer briefly to other stories.
Jonah was an unlikely hero – a regular guy. God called him to a difficult mission, and he declined. Therefore, God sent a great fish to swallow Jonah up, allow him some time to reconsider his options, and then spew him out on the shore in a place where it was convenient for him to fulfill his divine calling, which he then did. He was thus transformed, and at the same time made a contribution to his community that was essential to it
The Jonah narrative has roots in many other preceding Near Eastern myths that I am not going to trace. However, a review of certain common themes is useful.
There is a tremendous amount of food for thought for post-Mormons in this mythic vein.
- The hero seldom seeks this adventure. Rather, it seeks him. This often manifests itself in a force beyond the hero’s control that takes her over and throws her into chaos. This is the fish that shallows Jonah or the monster Tiamat that swallowed Heracles. While under the control of this greater power (in the belly of the beast), powerful forces both strip the hero of her power (Heracles symbolically lost his hair, so becoming childlike) and cause new powers to coalesce. The hero emerges from this womb-like state humbled, reconstructed and ironically more powerful.
- There is often a descent from the ordered life into something less ordered or completely disordered as in the many cases where a hero descends into the underworld and its chaos (the usual rules cease to apply) to perform some task essential to those in the land of the living. Out of this relative chaos, a new kind of person is formed. Since as I am writing this the chaos in New Orleans caused by hurricane Katrina is still killing people each day, I am grieving that loss of humanity and civilization, and wondering what kind of new order will emerge from the chaos there.
- These heroic experiences often occur either at night or in a place of darkness, such as the whale’s belly or the underworld, and re-emergence into the light of morning or the outside word evokes the image of the rising of the Sun or its strengthening and life giving influence in the Spring of each year.
- The hero’s journey requires a withdrawal from society.
- During darkness, wisdom is often conferred upon the hero either by humbling experience or divine gift. Mohammed’s famous “night journey” that some modern Muslims are trying to understand through the lens of near death experience research (see http://www.near-death.com/muslim.htm...). Near death experiences are well known to have reconstructing influences on those who have them that are similar in many ways to those found in the Jonah type of legend (see http://www.near-death.com/experiences/evidence05.html). I heard Bruce Greyson (see http://www.newsun.com/greyson.html), one of the leading researchers in this area speak about it recently.
- As the hero emerges from her seemingly dark, confined, chaotic space, the world itself often appears to have reconstructed and in hence more receptive to the hero’s new powers. Thus was the world changed during Noah’s time in the Ark, and for Lehi and his family as they emerged on a new continent from their mytic barge/submarines. The reader is often left to wonder whether the world is actually different, or whether the hero’s new perspective causes all to be reborn with her.
- Often new parents, or guides, are found for the journey through the hero’s new world, as was the case as Moses emerges from the bull rushes.
Social Masks v. Individual Masks
One of my favourite analyses of the hero mythic structure comes from W.B. Yeats in the form of his analysis of social masks. You can see that and related subjects summarized at http://home.mccue.cc:10000/bob/docume...
The basic idea is that society tells us who we are – puts a mask on us. This is necessary to create order within society, and it gives us a starting point. Some social groups put this mask on more tightly than others. The Hindu caste system, for example, is much more rigid than anything Mormonism has come up with. However, all groups to an extent at least resist attempts to tamper with the social mask, and there is an individual force that wells up from within that encourages us to find a more “authentic” way of living – a way that “feels right” for us as individuals. Yeats characterized this as the removal of the social mask and creation of an individual mask, or masks. That is, the formation of an individual identity. The same thing is known in the psychological community as the process of “individuation”. The more powerfully our social mask has been attached to us, the more painful it is to take it off. In the Western Democratic part of our world, masks tend not to be as firmly attached as they are in other parts of the world (India or Iraq, for example). And, in the West the tendency toward the formation of the individual mask is the strongest. Not coincidentally, this is where human innovation has yielded its most abundant harvests in recent times. Mormonism and other fundamentalist leaning religious groups run counter to this trend in the Democratic West.
After our individual mask has been formed, we may identify wholly with it or we may continue to wear the social mask to an extent, recognizing it as such, and revert to the individual mask as often as we can. Or, we may develop a range of masks and wear them each on occasion. How we do this, the extent to which we do it, etc. is determined by our individual characteristics and the nature of our group. For example, some scholars have observed that the more structured a society, the more chameleon-like behaviour is observed. That is, in authoritarian societies individuals tend to wear of many different masks (See, for example, Richard Nisbett "The Geography of Thought"), each dictated by the different roles their society calls upon them to play from time to time (boss; subordinate; son; grandson; father; husband; friend; etc.) and are much less likely to experience the radical transformation from one state to another of which Yeats spoke to his largely Western audience.
Those of us who are able to remove our social masks and fashion individual masks are predicted by Yeats to be on our way to enjoying certain rare fruits. Middle age for such people is usually the most productive and exciting of life since they have learned to leap from the Moon to the Sun. That is, the Moon reflects energy created by others. The Sun is an energy source, as are those who wear individual masks. And as is the case with so much of human experience, it is only possible to understand the difference between the Moon and the Sun modes of life by experiencing it. For a faithful Mormon, this road goes through the terrifying valley of rejection of religious authority. This does not mean that religious authority must be ignored. It means that we must weaken Mormon authority’s influence over us to the point at which it becomes a possible source of wisdom like many others around us, and it must earn our allegiance by providing advice that is better than that readily available elsewhere. The experience of most Mormons who reach the point of questioning Mormon authority to this degree is to recognize that the wisdom on offer within the Mormon community is in most respects inferior to that available elsewhere. Once this realization sinks in, significant behavioural changes gradually occur as wisdom is sought from non-Mormon sources and as a result attitudes toward things like the role of men and women, how sexual orientation is formed, how political and social attitudes are formed, etc. begin to change.
Another lesson more accessible by those Westerners who wear individual masks than most members of society is the difference between essence and vehicles. We are more interested in light than what creates it. That is, we don’t much care about the particular light bulbs (vehicles) we have in our sockets as long as they produce satisfactory light (essence). Our mortal bodies are vehicles for a particular consciousness – our own. But consciousness – the life and energy of which we are a part – lives on after we are gone in various forms just as one wave crests and then returns to the sea. We are self-conscious waves on a sea of consciousness. We are like the little creatures that build the reef. What is important is the contribution we make to the reef, not the span of our own lives. As Einstein put it,
A human being is part of the whole, called by us 'Universe'; a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely but striving for such achievement is, in itself, a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security." (See Nick Herbert, "Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics", p. 250)
I can imagine some people reading this and thinking (as I did the first time I ran across this idea), “Try telling a light bulb who is aware of herself that light bulbs are not important”. Fair enough. But we have thousands of years of Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions in which individual death has not held the power of people as it does in Western society. We westerners are much more individualistic than most other peoples have been. This is both our blessing and our curse. It is a blessing in some ways because our belief that we should take off our social mask and become creative has made our society the most productive, by far, in human history in terms of creating knowledge that allows us to control our environment. But this very emphasis on our individual importance makes us fear our own demise in ways that confuse many Easterners. They are much more humble about their place in the cosmos. They tend to see themselves as part of a whole rather than wholes in and of themselves. This takes away much of death’s sting.
Ironically, for the Westerner putting on an “individual” mask often means releasing herself from much of the individual emphasis of the West and thus coming to see herself much more as a part of the integrated whole of life.
It takes time for this counterintuitive set of ideas sink in. Become more individual by being less individualistic? The extinguishment of my own individual consciousness does not matter?! Etc. I think that it was well over a year ago that I first ran into these concepts and it has taken all of th time since then, coupled with a lot of reading and thinking, for them to feel comfortable; right. Perhaps for others who are brighter of more mentally flexible than I am it will not take so long. But in any event, I can state with conviction that once these ideas take root, they change us in important ways. We can simply revel in the period of our own creativity and watch with bemusement as our individual light fades and others take its place and function. This is as it always has been on this Earth, and for all we can tell will always be. We live; we create; we tire; and we depart the scene having left a legacy in terms of our genes, ideas, actions and inactions, and the myriad other influence we have exerted on life around us. A butterfly’s wing in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. What can a human life cause as its influence cascades down through the generations? Think in particular of the causal chain started by one boy in England (my great grandfather) who joined the Mormon Church and moved to America in order to take up the challenge and opportunity to better himself this new and radical worldview offered. He believed that he was a “god in embryo” and left all he know to follow a dream. How many lives have been changed by that act of faith and courage alone? Or how about the faithful Mormon or Taliban or Hindu etc. who radically changes her worldview to bring it more into line with a naturalistic understanding of our world. How many lives will be changed by such an act of faith and courage?
Throughout our adult and hence more aware aspect of life, and particularly as we feel our departure approaching, we feel connected to all those who have gone before us and those yet to come, and feel deep gratitude for the chance we have had to be conscious of our tiny slice of life and to have contributed something for those we love. In this contribution and its continuing effect on all those to whom we become connected by infinite chains of cause and effect, we live on.
This philosophy is at least as justifiable as the traditional Western fear of death, and I would suggest, much more pragmatic. Why should we spend a great deal of energy worrying about what we can’t know – that is, what (if anything) will come next?
| I am pulling together my notes on this topic, and am trying to synthesize them into a set of working principles that is short and simple enough for me to remember. I would be grateful to anyone who cares to read this and tell me if they can think of any areas of research that are inconsistent with what I have put together. I will spare you the 150 pages of notes.
All the best,
The empirical and theoretical research produced by sociology, social psychology and psychology (as summarized above) can be synthesized into a description of a few features of human behavior that Mormonism is well suited to take advantage of. These can be stated as follows:
· Our perceptive faculties and brains do not primarily record objective information. They rather function in a manner consistent with what evolutionary theory indicates to be our most basic objectives – they help us to maximize our probability of survival and reproduction. Hence, we have an astonishing ability to more or less accurately perceive those aspects of reality that seem to increase the probability of our accomplishing those two objectives, and to suppress those aspects of reality that seem to hinder us in that regard.
· Our evolutionary imperative mandates many forms of relatively accurate perception, some of the most interesting of which are summarized in the heuristics research, and two overriding types of misperception which are as follows:
o The first type of misperception relates to the importance of the group historically to our individual survival and prosperity. I will call this “group induced misperception”. It causes us to largely accept as “real” what we perceive to be important to the group’s survival and prosperity and to suppress information that we perceive to threaten the group. Think, for example, of Bourdieu’s “misrecognition” concept and the authority bias research. Most of the bias research can be explained by this concept as well.
o The second type of misperception is caused by our need to feel secure within the group as individuals. For example, if our contribution v. our cost to the group does not meet some minimal standard, we may be pushed out and when our instincts were formed by evolution this likely often meant death. And the greater our status within the group, the greater our security and reproductive opportunity will tend to be. While this was likely true when our instincts were formed, it is still true in different ways now. I will call this second type of misperception “ego induced misperception”. Think, for example, of the justification bias research.
· Our inherited beliefs are the cumulative effect of the our group’s historic perceptions, which evolved for the practical purposes just noted and are almost certain to be inaccurate to a significant extent. See the information above regarding social context and “premises”.
· We will be slower to accept accurate information that conflicts with an inaccurate belief we hold than would a similarly educated and intelligent person who was not burdened by our inaccurate belief. This is likely in part because our brains format around our inherited beliefs. However, we behave this way with regard to inherited beliefs as well beliefs formed on a deliberatively rational basis in adulthood. This feature of our psychology likely evolved as a result of the importance of inherited beliefs to group stability and the likelihood that wisdom passed on to us by our elders of a more practical sort would be on balance adaptive. The confirmation bias research bears this out. This is one of the most pervasive and harmful cognitive biases.
· Emotion is largely driven by the older structures within the brain’s core, while deliberative reason of the type used in the scientific method is largely driven by structures that evolved more recently and are in the cerebral cortex. The older, cruder brain structures tend to overcome the more recent rational structures when they are pitted against each other. See the information above related to reason v. emotion.
· The more heavily we are influenced by emotion as opposed to reason (“ecological rationality” as opposed to “deliberative rationality”), the greater our tendency to misperceive. This increases the probability that we will act in accordance with our evolutionary imperative when confronted with evidence, whether accurate or inaccurate, that could threaten our group or our place in it. See, for example, the information above regarding taboos, ecological rationality, reason v. emotion, and value structures.
· We tend to equate strong feelings with “knowing”. This enhances our tendency to be certain of whatever moves us most deeply from an emotional point of view, whether it related to fear or desire, and so strengthens the tendencies already noted.
· Powerful emotional experiences, often characterized as “spiritual experiences”, result from both normal brain functioning and brain dysfunction. They are sometimes the result of solitary contemplation or other individual experience, and sometimes the result of group interaction of various sorts. These experiences are human universals and are both rationally and irrationally used in most human groups to support their foundational beliefs. See the information above related to spiritual experience and the emotion of elation.
· We are not as affected by emotion when examining the experience of other individuals or groups as we are when attempting to understand our own experience, and hence are able to see irrational behavior in others that we cannot see in ourselves. See the information above related to the pattern of insider belief and outsider rejection.
· Human tendencies evolve because they are on balance adaptive at the time of evolution. Hence, a tendency like the authority bias may have been adaptive on balance, but in some cases maladaptive. This would be particularly so from the perspective of many individuals within the group since the authority bias likely evolved to strengthen groups, and so only indirectly to benefit individual members of groups. And yet individual members of the group would be subject to it whether it was adaptive for them or not. Individuals who become aware of this can now often leave groups that work contrary to their particular interest, but should be expected to instinctively fear doing so for the reasons indicated.
· Human culture changes much more quickly than human biology. So human tendencies that evolved because they were at one time adaptive on balance (such as the authority bias) may persist after they are less adaptive on balance or even maladaptive. The declining importance of adherence to the dictates of certain kinds of small group authority makes the authority bias a likely an example of this. This explains why entire groups are instinctively held together when the costs them impose on their members is far greater than the collective benefits the members receive. Jonestown is likely an example of such a group.
Let’s now condense these principles by another order of magnitude to see if we can get a “take away” concept that is concise enough to be remembered.
· The human capacity to perceive evolved to make it more likely that we would survive and propagate in our physical and social environment (our “evolutionary environment”) at the time we evolved. In our evolutionary environment the well-being of our dominant, small social group and our security within it were far more important to our survival and reproductive opportunities than is now generally the case. Therefore, both in our evolutionary environment and now, when we are confronted with information that might threaten one of our group’s foundational values and hence threaten our group, we tend to misperceive the information so that it is not threatening. The same is true with regard to information that might threaten our place within the group.
· We are more likely to misperceive when under the influence of our emotions. Our emotions tend to flare when our group’s foundational values or our place in the group are threatened. However, we tend to rational when examining the foundational values of other groups, and so can spot their irrationality. The obvious irrationality of other groups coupled with our inability to perceive our own irrationality strengthens our group. And particularly powerful emotional experiences, often characterized as “spiritual experiences”, are human universals. These are used in most human groups to support their foundational beliefs.
That is short enough that it will do the trick for me.
So, how does Mormonism use these attributes of human behavior to strengthen itself?
· Mormonism emphasizes the possibility of knowing impossible to know and deeply comforting things with certainty, thus taking advantage of the human dislike of dissonance, bias toward certainty and fear of death and social instability.
· Mormonism emphasizes emotional feeling as a form of knowledge that should take precedence over “rational” or “intellectual” knowledge whenever there is a conflict, and encourages both group and individual behavour that will increase the likelihood of powerful emotional experiences. This supercharges the irrational effect emotion has within the Mormon community.
· Mormonism maintains control over as many of life’s experiences as possible that tend to produce positive emotions, and takes as much credit as possible for those feelings. These feelings are then used as evidence that Mormonism’s truth claims are “true”.
· Among Mormonism’s inherited beliefs we find a few that raise the fear and desire stakes, thus intensifying an already powerful authority bias and making Mormons more prone to the irrational effect of emotion. The most significant of these is that only those obedient to Mormon authority will be reunited after death in the Celestial Kingdom with their families in a state of unimaginable joy. This concept’s most pervasive influence comes from its making complete obedience to Mormon authority a condition to family life after death. This means that any strong taboo set up by Mormon leaders will evoke the fear response, which will impair reason. For the last several decades one of Mormonism strongest taboos has been against reading or talking about information that questions Mormon authority, regardless of the information’s academic merit. Hence, the first hurdle most Mormons must get over when faced with information that questions the Mormon belief system is an irrationality inducing fear response caused by themere idea that one might look at such information. If that can be overcome, the fear response that in most groups would be caused by seriously considering information that questions foundation group values must then be dealt with.
· Mormonism monopolizes its members' time and suppresses information that conflicts with Mormon belief, thus slowing the manner in which cognitive dissonance of various types will build within the Mormon population, and the opportunity reason will have to calm emotion and so overcome emotional irrationality. Importantly, it is taboo to read or talk about anything that questions Mormon authority. The mere appearance of this information is therefore enough to evoke a strong fear response in most Mormons, and so impair their rational faculties.
· Mormonism uses a host of group and individual rituals that are likely to amplify the effect of various biases and cause both group and ego induced misperception so as to strengthen the Mormon group. The emphasis on constant vocal affirmation of Mormon belief through public or semi-public scripture reading, praying and testimony bearing of various types is central to this.
What that is far from complete, it is good enough for present purposes.
When we add all of the above factors us, we should not be surprised that it is excruciatingly difficult for the typical faithful Mormon to look any information in the eye that questions the legitimacy of the beliefs on which his life is based.
So, we should not be surprised that it takes many of us until mid-life to “wake up”. And, we should not be surprised that many of our family and friends will never wake up. In fact, we should expect those who wake up to be in the minority. The force of denial within a heavily conditioned, socially tight community like most Mormon communities should be expected to be powerful.
On the basis of the foregoing, I feel justified to conclude that under the influence of the powerful personal experiences and social conditioning I have noted, the socially relative becomes more real than every day waking reality for many religious believers, including many Mormons, creating barriers to the kind of understanding across religious and other cultural lines that is becoming increasingly important in our shrinking world. The amounts to the denial of many kinds of highly probable reality, and explains to me both my own experience, and those of believers within many other traditions.
In sum, we should expect Mormons who have been fully conditioned by their community to be highly resistant to any information that challenges their beliefs. And, if for some reason a faithful Mormon is put in a position where the certainty he has felt that the Mormon worldview is “true” collapses, we should expect that to be a trauma on par with losing a close family member to death.
| This is a contribution I made recently to a science and religion list on which I participate.
All the best,
My continued reading here confirms that I have far more to learn than to contribute to those of you who have been at this science and religion stuff much longer than have I. Thank you all for some recent wonderful insights and challenging thoughts.
I stumbled across something a short time ago that puts some of what we are discussing regarding how to interface religious naturalism (RN) with the religious community in context. Many of you may already be aware of these old ideas. But since I needed to summarize them for my own purposes, I will share that summary here as my contribution to the community stew pot and hope that it is useful to some. This material runs more toward the "tactical" interest than in developing a positive statement of what RN is, in which I am also interested.
Swenson ("Society, Spirituality and the Sacred - A Social Scientific Introduction" (Broadview Press) (1999)) at pp. 347 - 384 summarizes the academic literature with regard to the secularization of society, including various ways in which the tension between science and other secular forces and institutional religion have been described. While creating a useful synthesis, he could not avoid treating us to a dizzying display of the scholarly propensity to create language and taxonomy to describe the similar if not identical phenomena.
One of the scholars whose thought Swenson reviews is Peter Berger. Berger builds on some of Max Weber and others' foundational concepts related to religion's changing role in society. After summarizing various ways in which religion has been marginalized by forces of secularization, Berger observes three responses at work in the religious community, as follows: The deductive; the reductive; and the inductive. I note, showing the same itch the results of which Swenson highlighted, that Berger's labels could easily be improved.
This amounts to a reaffirmation of the religious tradition. It is neo-orthodoxy, fundamentalism, retrenchment, etc. As Karen Armstrong has pointed out in "The Battle for God", each of the major religious faiths have shown increasing signs of this tendency during the past several decades.
This acknowledges science and philosophy as humanity's most authoritative guides, thus radically diluting religious authority. Theologians of this bent accommodate their religious views to secular authorities by using two primary tools, "cognitive bargaining" and "translating". Cognitive bargaining amounts to deliteralizing or metaphorizing what was traditionally assumed to be literal. That is, the Virgin Birth and Resurrection are important symbols, not real events. Translating involves what Berger terms the conversion of the "transcendent" into the "immanent". That is, religion is not about a relationship to a "sacred" force external to human beings, but rather is about identifying, understanding and relating to forces internal to human individual and groups. This involves interpreting old terms (often with traditional, literal meanings) in new (often metaphoric) ways. I thought of words like "religious", "spiritual", "sacred" in their RN context as I read this.
This is the movement from tradition or ideology to experience, which ironically is to walk back up the path religion has walked. Anciently, religion was more about experience than belief. The ascendance of ideology within religion is a relatively recent phenomenon. In his inductive approach, Berger follows the lead of Friedrich Schleiermacher who took human experience as the starting point of religious reflection and considered revelation to be every new or original disclosure of the cosmos to the innermost consciousness of the person. So, one begins with the widest variety of these experiences (as la William James, who was influenced by Schleiermacher) and induces from that what is common and so assumed to be most important. This induction is never complete, in part because human experience continues to change and in part because there is will always be new ways to interpret old experience. However, individuals and institutions often perceive induction to have done its job, or are not aware that a process is underway.
Berger believes that the inductive option provides the best way forward. Deduction, he believes, is a step backwards that shuts out much of the good modernity and post modernity have to offer. Reduction, he believes, often unnecessarily desacralizes human experience. Induction, he says, better preserves sacred experience and facilitates a process that will allow religious experience and institutions to change as the human condition and shape of human society changes from time to time and place to place.
Berger also concludes that the modern world has freed, and so ironically at the same time, isolated humans in new ways. We are thus put in a position to make decisions outside the monopolistic reach of religious institutions while understanding that sacred "reality" (in Otto's "mysterium tremendum" and "fascinadus" sense) and our subjective complex of wishes and desires are separate phenomena. Berger says that it is our connection to the permanent, sacred stratum of reality that carries us through the uncertainty of modern life. I infer that in his view this is where we find our most important meanings. Berger says that we cannot connect to the sacred sufficiently as individuals, and hence there is a continuing important role for religious institutions to provide the small group association that we need for other purposes, and a "plausibility structure" (justification by apparent authority) for our experience with the sacred.
Berger's analysis is helpful in terms of identifying different segments of the religious marketplace that will respond differently to what Religious Naturalism (RN) has to offer. As noted below, this is complicated by the fact that each tradition, denomination and congregation will have representatives from each segment within it. And even in individual believers we will find elements of each form of thought described above. It will be more a question of which is dominant over which aspects of the individual's belief system.
I see the inductive approach as more an extension of the reductive than a separate category. That is, the inductive approach will also accept science and other secular sources of interpreting experience as authoritative. I observe that the older a tradition is the more likely it is to have incorporated inductive elements. For example, of the religious traditions I know Judaism is the most "praxis" and the least theologically inclined. Its stories are also the oldest and hence easiest to metaphorize. And its history has humbled its theology, for the most part. However, a review of the Midrash (among other things) shows that this has not always been the case, and there are parts of the contemporary Jewish community that still take theology very seriously. And at the other end of the spectrum we have our friend Rabbi Oler and his association of humanist synagogues. Much of Catholocism, despite protestations from the top, is also more praxis than ideological. Others could perhaps comment regarding how the Eastern traditions run along this axis.
The important distinction for those interested in encouraging the acceptance of RN is that between the deductive v. reductive/inductive. This is, as just noted, because the deductionists have surrendered much less authority to science and other secular sources of knowledge than have the reductionists/inductionists. The deductionists seek to turn back the clock (or keep it from advancing) in terms of who has authority to speak with regard to various matters. So, the critical question to address in deciding how to approach a particular person or group is likely, "How deductive are they, and about which issues?" Selling RN in the deductive market will be much trickier than elsewhere. That topic is complex enough that I won't broach it here.
Adding the inductive to the reductive approach is, in my view, relatively easy for the reasons noted above. And I see RN as particularly well suited to doing that. This is, largely, how I interpret Ursula's book "The Sacred Depths of Nature". In addition to reductively "translating" some religious terms, it brings a new-to-many-people understanding of evolutionary biology that sacralizes our perception of ourselves, life in general and physical reality in precisely the sense Berger indicates. It assumes an immanent perspective to the sacred while encouraging sacred feelings through the contemplation of the miracle that is life in the context of reality as we are now justified to apprehend it. In this sense, it can be understood as doing little more than helping us to better understand the scope of the immanence sacred. This is why Ursula's version of the RN message is so welcome in certain quarters. It helps people with a reductive point of view to resacralize. And since Ursula would threaten those who resist the authority of science, and hence I don't hear of her being invited to Evangelical congregations.
This analysis has helped me to understand something that has long puzzled me about Mormonism and that I believe is central to understanding how to deal with the deductive faiths in general. Mormonism is mostly deductive in a sense, but it is not really "neo-orthodox" because it is young enough never to have been anything but orthodox. However, Mormonism has dealt with many issues over the years that have forced it to deliteralize certain of its beliefs, and it is at present beginning to grapple with the deliteralization of its core mythology - that related to Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon. Within Mormonism, however, deliteralization has never moved from the academic fringe into the mainstream and where accepted has been largely treated as a kind of secret gnosis - a "meat" for which the masses are not ready. Recently, signs of the inductive approach have also appeared within the Mormon intellectual fringe and are also Gnostic in the sense just indicated. It is my view that many of Mormonism's highest leaders are aware that the reductive and inductive process is underway and recognize it as necessary to a degree since many Mormon myths are young enough that they can be falsified in the scientific sense. So reduction and induction may be the lesser of evils in some cases, as they have been found to be by large branches of Christianity. However, Mormon leaders are trying to manage this process so that they minimize their loss of their influence. They are doing many things in this regard. I won't bore you here with examples. Suffice it to note that as long as they are helped to hang onto their congregants, they will be much less inclined to resist what RN has to offer while not going out of their way to preach it from the pulpit.
While I liked most of Berger's analysis, from what I read it overemphasized both the permanence and importance of sacred "reality". While humans share a common tendency to feel what scholars like Schleiermacher, Durkheim, Otto and James have so well described, the nature of the sacred experience in my view radically changes once we shift from a transcendent to an immanent perspective. Berger hits this nail on the head when he described the feeling of freedom, power and "aloneness" that accompanies modernity, and then he somehow returns to the essence of the "sacred" experience as his social and individual lynchpin. Perhaps I just don't understand him yet, but what so far what I have understood does not work for me. And in my view, secular experience in parts of Europe and Canada indicate that people adjust to their loss of traditional conceptions of the "sacred other" and having done so, regard those as bizarre impositions.
I would prefer to adjust Berger's analysis (as I understand it from what is admittedly no more than a survey of his thought) to include reference to another kind of reality - objective physical and social reality as we are justified from time to time in apprehending them. This understanding So, I would modify Berger's final synthesis as follows.
We understand that there is a difference between the objective physical and social reality of which we are a part and our subjective complex of perceptions, wishes and desires. Our journey through the uncertainty of modern life is stabilized by our understanding, refined by as many well-tested points of view as possible, that:
We recognize our heritage as small group animals and hence acknowledge our need for companionship and in particular, sharing our most important meanings and purposes with other humans outside of our families. We also acknowledge our hierarchical nature and hence inclination toward authority. Thus, we recognize the role of social (including religious) institutions in providing a structure and "plausibility structure" within which we can have some of our most meaningful experiences.
- we are interconnected to that reality
- these interconnections inspire in us feelings that we have in common to large degree with all of humanity, including wonder, reverence and terror, as reality unfolds in understandable as well as inscrutable ways before us;
- our actions have profound short and long term effects on those we love, all other life forms of which we are aware, and many other aspects of physical realty; and
- a concerted effort is now required of us if we wish to preserve life as we know it.
Peter Berger, The Heretical Imperative, (1979).
Peter Berger, A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (1992)
Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy, (1969)
Emil Durkheim, Sociology and Philosophy, (1974:48).
Phillip Hammond, Religion in the Modern World, in James Davidson Hunter and Stephen C. Ainlay (eds.) Making Sense of Modern Times (p. 143-158) (1986).
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (1902:38)
Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, (1958)
Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion - Speeches to its Cultural Despisers (1988) .
Donald S. Swenson, Society, Spirituality and the Sacred - A Social Scientific Introduction, (1999).
Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organizations, (1947).
Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, (1963).
| One of the projects I have had going for some time is that of putting together a manual for people undergoing the crisis of conservative or fundamentalist religious faith through which I went a few years ago. Hence, when I run across material that is relevant to that topic, I file it away. Last night while doing some reading unrelated to that topic, I stumbled across some interesting information in that regard that may be of interest to some here.
I was not aware that the DSM - IV has a category dealing with religious or spiritual crises. See http://www.spiritualcompetency.com/jh.... David Lukoff (see https://www.saybrook.edu/app/showcv.a...) is one of the drivers in this field. Several of his publications deal with the importance of the narrative self, and "personal mythologies" to sound mental health. A disruption one's personal mythology related to religion can cause a form of mental dysfunction that is dealt with by the DSM - IV.
For an online summary of some of Lukoff's views regarding the restructuring of personal mythologies in the wake of foundational changes in religious perspective, see http://www.virtualcs.com/blackboard/l... As I read this and then thought about it last night, it seemd to me that Lukoff has nicely summarized the process through which I went, and in my case, the personal mythology that made the most sense was the Religious Naturalism (RN) story that Ursula Goodenough tells so well (See "The Sacred Depths of Nature") tells so well. I had worked out 90% of that on my own by reading Einstein and others before I knew anything about RN, and so when I ran into Ursula's book a few months ago, and then ended up at Star Island (See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.star...), it was liking walking into a reunion for a high school I had forgotten thatI had attended.
The DSM - IV does not (as far as I can tell) come close to prescribing something like RN as a personal mythology. Indeed, it seems to leave the door open to many types of mythology, as long as they take the patient in the direction of better mental health. I was troubled by some aspects of Lukoff's presentation. For example, the use of the term "non-consensual reality" is problematic for me. He seems to be saying that odd non-consensual realities (like, for example, the kind of think David Hufford was describing on Star Island re. sleep paralysis) should be accepted as real in some way that I don't yet understand as long as they don't interfere with one's ability to deal with consensual reality in a socially acceptable way. I don't know enough about how Lukoff thinks the interface between those two "realities" works to at this point to more than sound a cautionary note. Too much of psychotherapy, from what I can tell, relies upon the placebo affect and invites patients to infer realities that do not exist because something seems to "work". Once started down that path, the likelihood of magical thinking is too high to be healthy, in my view.
Without trying to exhaustively analyze what Lukoff has to say, it seem to me that the manner in which the DSM-IV deals with religious issues invites RN to present a treatment modality, grounded in the kind of personal mythology Lukoff says is necessary to mental health (and here I am on all fours with him), that has many advantages in terms of grounding the patient in the most reliable epistemic and ontological foundation the world has to offer at this juncture while at the same time dealing with crisis. And if this works for clinical cases, why would not not work for the many sub-clinical cases? This approach, I would argue, is most likely to help the patient to develop the means to protect herself against her own weaknesses and the occasionally human proclivity to take advantage of the weak. Etc.
Yesterday and today are close to perfect days in the Canadian Rocky Mountain foothills. Fall here is more an event than a season. The nights cool and the leaves change color and fall in a couple of weeks. We are in the midst of these weeks now. Nights near freezing. Indian summer days. Color everywhere. Bugs dead. Little wind. Close to perfection. It is good to be alive.
| When are we justified in thinking that we "know: something?: A Case Study regarding Martha Beck and "Leaving the Saints" |
Monday, Sep 26, 2005, at 08:22 AM
Original Author(s): Anonymous
Topic: BOB MCCUE - SECTION 1 -Link To MC Article-
| ↑ |
| I posted something this morning at http://www.exmormon.org/boards/w-agor... relative to Beck and her well-worth-reading book. A little while ago I received an email form someone whose views I respect politely taking me to task for some aspects of what I said there. Since I think that my response outlines some things that are important regarding how we think we come to “know” things relative to whatever moves us powerfully at the emotional level, I will reproduce here some of what I said to my friend, edited to make it appropriate to this forum.
All the best,
My friend started out by asking me to read something related to Elizabeth Loftus (she is referred to extensively in my review of Martha’s book at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.leav...).
Thanks for that. I have read a lot about Loftus and the Jane Doe case, but had not read that. I don't think, however, that it changes anything with regard to the recovered memory issue. Here is the quote I like best in that regard (from my review):
“Are repressed memories accurate? Both those who argue that repressed memories are always false and those who argue that repressed memories are always true (because, like the fly caught in amber, they are solidified and impervious to later contamination by influence or suggestion) appear to be mistaken. Although the science is limited on this issue, the only three relevant studies conclude that repressed memories are no more and no less accurate than continuous memories (Dalenberg, 1996; Widom and Morris, 1997; Williams, 1995). Thus, courts and therapists should consider repressed memories no differently than they consider ordinary memories.
“The science clearly directs us away from the distracting issue of the existence of repressed memories, and toward the psychologically and legally significant issue of the validity of particular memories. The therapy room and the courtroom both benefit from distinguishing true and false memories (Scheflin, 1998). The science of memory shows that 1) memory is remarkably accurate for the gist of events, and less accurate for peripheral details; 2) all memories, repressed or continually remembered, may be influenced by later events or by the method of retrieval; and 3) all memories, whether implicit or explicit, may exert an influence on behavior (Schacter, 1999). With a renewed concentration on how memories are retrieved or influenced, therapists and lawyers might again be able to work as associates, not adversaries.” (see http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/p9911...)
What we are really talking about is when a person is justified in believing that something did, or did not, happen. This is of course central to the formation of all beliefs, including our beloved Mormon beliefs (as they were). So, let me reframe our discussion of Beck's book along those lines.
I agree with most of what you said re. the consistency of her symptomology, etc. to that of people who have suffered sexual abuse. But the woman has a PhD in sociology. She has read all kinds of self-help books as well as academic research. Her memories were recovered during the height of this issues publicity in Utah. For some background on that topic, see http://www.cesnur.org/2001/archive/mi... Are we not believe that Martha was not familiar with what "worked" and did not work from a symptomology point of view? And we need look no further than her book itself to find evidence that she remembers things selectively and in Technicolor as required to spice up a story. Her trauma and the way human memory functions in general could easily do the rest that was needed to produce her story. And again, I am not saying that they did. I am saying that they well could, and she has not discharged her burden of proof in that regard as far as I am concerned. So, I am not prepared to say that just because she told the story in a manner consistent with how it is told by people who are proven to some degree of certainty to have been abused means that she was also abused.
I am familiar with her evidence re. vaginal scarring, and mentioned it in my review several times. The point there is that she asserts something that could be interpreted in many ways, and the physical evidence could range widely in nature once it is actually examined. One would need medical expert testimony to see what the evidence actually indicates.
I agree with your analysis of why kids who have been abused often repress their memories. However, the probability of anyone remembering an emotionally charged event accurately is far less likely than remembering a less emotionally charged event accurately. And, the probability of remembering more than the "gist" of any event accurately is remote. Nonetheless, we are inclined toward certainty in our memories.
So, are kids abused? Absolutely. It is hard to figure out what happened? Terrifically hard. By chance, last night I was at the memorial service for one of my partners (cancer; 50; very sad; wonderful service without a single mention of god) and spent half an hour chatting with a family court judge. She was talking about some of her recent cases in which child sexual abuse is an issue. This is abuse that is either alleged to be occuring now, or in the recent past, and is part of the landscape for custody battles. She made a number of comments that were telling. First, the incidence of this allegation has skyrocketed during the last 15 years. She believes that in a high percentage of the cases the allegations are false, but does not accuse anyone of lying. She is well versed in the memory research. I was surprised, and pleased, by how well informed she was re Loftus and other researchers. She believes that the emotional turmoil of the divorce and custody battle causes both spouses to use anything they can get their hands on as weapons and warps their perceptions of reality. The kids are caught in the middle and have things suggested to them by well meaning parents and others. Most counselors in the larger centers do a pretty good job avoiding this (because of the publicity people like Loftus gave to the false recovered memory thing years ago), but in the smaller centers some of the counseling is off the wall.
This is what I thought as I listened to this wise woman last night - If it is so hard for someone with the tools of the court at her disposal, whose job it is every day to find out "what happened", to get comfortable with what happened six months ago (or even a few weeks ago) in a sexual abuse allegation case, it seems a real stretch for those who are inclined toward certainty in something like the Beck case before the relevant evidence has even been gathered or tested.
You suggested that the "alien abduction" scenario gives the argument against recovered memories an unwarranted pejorative twist. I think that you and I are emphasizing different aspects of the alien abduction research. McNally started in that area looking at recovered memory and ended up studying sleep paralysis. That is the axis that interests me, because there is a link there that has strong predictive ability. If someone shows the physical symptoms related to sleep paralysis and has certain terrifying memories, we should be more skeptical of what they have remembered. That does not mean that we dismiss their story, but we should be more skeptical. I think it is fair to point out that for people who exhibit the sleep paralysis symptoms (rooted in a REM sleep dysfunction) we should not be skeptical of those who report alien abductions but not bat an eye at those who report sexual abuse. Indeed, alien abduction reports often include sexual abuse of ritual and other types.
On the other hand, where sleep paralysis does not seem to be relevant we should not use what the research in that area has shown to cast more doubt than already exists on those who report sexual abuse. The important thing here is that we have some traction regarding sleep paralysis in things that can be medically tested. If we can use this, great. If not, it is not helpful as a diagnostic tool. Perhaps I did not make that clear enough in what I posted earlier.
I agree that the alien abduction stuff could be used inappropriately, and as noted above I would be critical of anyone who attempted to wave that flag over someone's story so as to dismiss it without a fair hearing. Martha will get the most fair hearing you can imagine from me. It is still going on. But she will not get me to accept her story with regard to something as earth shattering as an incest allegation without more than the assertion of incomplete and untested evidence. By "incomplete" I mean that the other side of the story has not been heard. One of the first things one learns as a lawyer is that your clients’ case is usually at its best just after you have heard it from your clients. This is not because all your clients are liars, it is because the nature of human beings it to perceive reality so as to justify their day-to-day actions and overall way of life. So, as the other side's story comes out and evidence is tested, I ALWAYS expect the story my client told me to change and usually to weaken.
The alien abduction stuff is also relevant because it shows how moving things that only happen in our heads can be. We should expect some experiences of this nature of be utterly compelling. This is a cautionary flag that we should raise for all to see, not just with regard to Beck but with regard to all life events that have powerful emotional content, such as many linked to our Mormon experience. They are the ones most likely to be misinterpreted along axes most likely to justify our dominant social drivers. This is what puts Mormons into denial regarding many aspects of their history and culture, for example. Again, I don't suggest that Martha is doing this. I am pointing out a broad based phenomena that affect the standards of justified belief with regard to particular phenomena. Anyone who comes forward with the kind of allegation Martha has should bear a heavy onus of proof. Until she has met it, the responsible thing to do if one does not have to make a decision is to hold fire. And I say this with theutmost respect for her personally and the work she has done and is going on various fronts. This may be a little like Mike Quinn, or Newton for that matter. Martha Beck’s reputation and utility as a scholar or person does not stand or fall in my mind on whether she is accurate in her recollection of what happened between her and her father. History is full of people who made profoundly important contributions in certain areas while being utterly mistaken about other (usually emotionally laden) things, while acting in good faith.
I note that Martha could have told her story differently. You would enjoy Karen Armstrong's "The Spiral Staircase" (about leaving a Catholic nunnery) I am sure, which is much more measured than "Leaving the Saints". Martha could have said: "Here is what I remember. I remember it vividly. It is more real than anything else I have ever experienced. I believe that it happened. I am also aware of alien abductions etc. that seem more real than real. If this did not really happen to me, then it is evidence of how badly twisted I was by the experience of growing up Mormon as the daughter of Hugh Nibley. But in any event, here is my story." By not taking that detached, and more credible point of view, and by using unwarranted hyperbole throughout the book, she has dramatically weakened the strength of her presentation.
So, I think her story is plausible, but there are many ways in which the evidence could be tested, and would be tested either if she tried to make her claim of incest legally stick, or her family tried to make sure it was laid to rest another way. So, I accept that Martha’s story is consistent with having been abused, if not exactly as she indicates then in some other way. I also accept that her story is consistent with sexual abuse. But remember my judge friend. Once you get to testing evidence, cross-examining etc., the picture usually gets foggier in her experience, not clearer. This is my experience as well. This is a function of the heavy emotional waters in which the judge deals with these issues. The waters in which Martha swam were not just heavy, they were abusive from an emotional point of view. So we should proceed with great care.
I am sensitive to the charge that by taking the approach I am I will re-victimize people who have been harmed. I think that we should take care to protect those who need protecting. My judge friend errs on the side of protecting children who might be at risk. That is the right thing to do with phenomena about what we cannot be reasonably certain. So those who may be at risk should be protected. And all of us should be educated as to how our minds work so that we can made better decisions as to what and when to believe, and of what and when to be more skeptical.
And I note that I find myself in the odd position of defending the agnostic position re. Beck's story against smart people (like you) who evidence sound critical thinking skills in many areas, and yet who seem to me to be either unduly certain that "it" did, or did not, happen based on the extant evidence. As is usually the case these days when I see certainty where I don't believe it to be warranted, I look for emotional issues that might be clouding otherwise clear minds. In the case of the newspaper editor I mentioned in my post, I think I know what those issues may be. Am I off base in your case if I suggest the same sort of thing might be in operation?
I do not have a personal stake in sexual or other forms of physical abuse (of which I am aware, anyway). So, I am not clouded by emotion on this issue and have done my best to research it as I would a legal case. I have been wrong before and may be wrong now, but nothing I have seen so far warrants certainty in this case.
Thanks for writing. I respect you and have learned from each of our exchanges.
All the best,
| A Few Therapy Ideas for Recovering Mormons
October 13, 2005
We may define therapy as a search for value. Abraham Maslow
See http://www.virtualcs.com/blackboard/l... and http://www.spiritualcompetency.com/jh... for a summary of information related to recovery from the kind of spiritual crisis many of us pass through as we leave Mormonism. This is based on the DSM – IV, the manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental dysfunction. The type of trauma recovering Mormons often experience fits into the DSM – IV definition of “religious or spiritual problem”.
Recovery from spiritual trauma, such as that caused by discovering that basic religious beliefs are false, requires that we “restory” ourselves. That is, through ingesting new kinds of information, talking with people we trust about both our old way of perceiving ourselves and reality (our “personal mythology”) and new possibilities in that regard, we eventually become comfortable with a new way of seeing ourselves and our place in the world – we find a new personal mythology or narrative.
Some psychiatrists recommend that it is useful from a therapeutic point of view to develop our creative abilities while going through the restorying process. I have found drawing helpful in that regard. See “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” at http://www.drawright.com/ for a great way to learn to draw. It is psychology based, and teaches us how to suppress the functioning of the symbol based left side of the brain, and allow the creative and more accurately perceptive right side to dominate. As Dr. Betty Edwards (author of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”) puts it, she teaches people a new way of seeing that causes them to be able to draw. I experienced this during the first two hours I spent on her course. It was a fascinating experience during which I produced for the first time in my life drawings that resembled what I was trying to draw. Those who have seen my lack of talent in this regard demonstrated (including my wife) regard these drawings as near miraculous. That is not to say that they are remarkable for anyone but me. But relative to all else I have done in that regard, they are amazing.
The feeling that results from doing the left brain suppression exercises Edwards prescribes as a prelude to drawing closely resembles the mental state associated with yoga and certain types of meditation. The symbol based, left brain is what allows us to make quick decisions and is where the simplifying assumptions we make about the world reside, including those related to religious and other cultural beliefs. It therefore can be thought of as housing much of our personally mythology. As we suppress it, we are more able to see things as they are instead as we have been taught to perceive them. This should in most cases help the restorying process along.
During a recent trip to France, my wife and I enjoyed creative writing classes, painting classes and cooking classes. Each of these in different ways required the suppression of the left brain so that the right brain could both perceive what was before us and resurrect memories in ways that the left brain cannot. We both experienced a minor rebirth as a result. It is not surprising to me that this kind of activity would be recommended by psychiatrists as a useful aid to those who are attempting to reorientate themselves after leaving a belief system like Mormonism.
The DSM - IV (the manual used by psychiatrists to diagnose their patients) provides some interesting perspective with regard to the causes, and recommended treatment, of certain religious or spiritual problems. See http://www.spiritualcompetency.com/jh... for a summary. The purpose of this essay is to outline a few of the key concepts behind the DSM – IV in this regard, and to describe my recent experience using some of the therapies (art and creative writing therapy in particular) that are suggested for persons suffering from trauma related to the religious or spiritual aspects of life.
DSM – IV: “Religious or Spiritual Problem”
The basic ideas behind the DSM IV treatment of spiritual problems are as follows:
· The DSM – IV defines "Religious or Spiritual Problem" as including distressing experiences that involve loss or questioning of faith, problems associated with conversion to a new faith, or questioning of other spiritual values which may not necessarily be related to an organized church or religious institution.
· We conceptualize ourselves by way of stories and the role we play within them. This aspect of ourselves is referred to as the “narrative self”, and the story in which we see ourselves playing a role can be called our "personal mythology".
· In order to have sound mental health, it is essential that we feel secure within a personal mythology. It is through our role within this mythology that we perceive meaning in our lives. Another way to conceptualize this is by way of Yeats “mask” metaphor. See http://www.postmormon.org/exp_e/index... for a summary of this concept.
· A disruption one's personal mythology related to religion can cause a form of mental dysfunction that is dealt with by the DSM - IV. For example, if my personal mythology is derived from Mormonism, I likely perceive myself as doing god’s work here on earth and making many sacrifices in order to do so, and in exchange I am earning wonderful blessings that will mostly come to me and my family after death in the Celestial Kingdom. I perceive the world as dominated by unseen forces of good and evil that are locked in an eternal struggle, and through my action or inaction, good or sinful acts, etc. I can either harness the forces of good through my priesthood and literally subject nature to my will (as long as it is consistent with God’s will), or alternatively if I am not righteous I may fall under the influence of evil forces that can harm and deceive me in many ways. If the beliefs that underpin this belief system are shattered, I should be expected to feel somewhere between disoriented and suicidal. The DSM– IV provides the tools necessary for a psychiatrist to assess the degree of mental dysfunction the kind of trauma I just described has caused in a particular individual. And I note that this is only one of several kinds of spiritual problem that the DSM – IV identifies.
Dr. David Lukoff (see http://www.virtualcs.com/blackboard/l... and http://www.spiritualcompetency.com/jh...) describes the recovery process with regard to a spiritual trauma such as what should be expected to result from leaving Mormonism. He says that this kind of recovery requires that we learn to “retell” our personal mythology. That is, either the old personal mythology of Mormonism needs to be stretched to become believable and hence workable again, or an entirely new mythology must be developed that will ground and give meaning to the individual. Lukoff suggests that in order to do this, a lot of self expression (talk therapy) is required. Ideally, a therapist who understands the process would be found and a lot of time would be spent allowing the patient to tell the old narrative, explain why it does not work, talk about hopes, dreams and fears,talk about new sources of information that are being ingested as the therapy proceeds, and from all of this reading, talking, thinking, etc. a new personal mythology will eventually emerge, and as time passes, will stabilize.
Here is how Lukoff puts it in part:
“Psychotherapy can be seen as a process of helping clients construct a new narrative, a fresh story of their lives. In this narrative understanding, psychotherapy does not consist in the cathartic healing effect of releasing traumatic repressed events and their emotions, but in reconstructing a person's authentic story. In making interpretations, the therapist retells the patient's stories, and these retellings progressively influence [the] what and how of the stories told by patient. The end product of this interweaving of texts is a radically new, jointly authored story. Or as Hillman describes it, the client comes to therapy to be "restoryed": ‘The patient is in search of a new story, or of reconnecting with her old one. . . .The story needed to be doctored, not her.’ (pp. 17-18).”
Lukoff has nicely summarized the process through which I went. In my case, the personal mythology that made the most sense was the religious naturalism (RN) story that Ursula Goodenough (See "The Sacred Depths of Nature") tells so well. See http://www.religiousnaturalism.org/ for sources of basic information in this regard. I had worked out 90% of this on my own by reading Einstein (see http://www.spaceandmotion.com/Theolog... for example) and others before I knew anything about RN, and so when I ran into Ursula's book a few months ago, and then ended up at Star Island (See http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.star...), it was liking walking into a reunion for a high school I had forgotten that I had attended.
Later in the same article, Lukoff provides the following description of a particular kind of spiritual problem that will sound familiar to many post-Mormons:
“Persons transitioning from the "culture of embeddedness" with their teachers into more independent functioning often seek psychotherapeutic help (Bogart, 1992). Vaughan (1987) reports that many individuals who have left destructive spiritual teachers reported that the experience ultimately contributed to their wisdom and maturity through meeting the challenge of restoring their integrity. One such case was described by Bogart (1992):
‘Robert had spent 8 years as the disciple of a teacher from an Asian tradition that emphasized surrender and obedience. Robert had become one of the teacher's attendants, and reported that he "Loved the teacher very much." Yet there were difficulties. … Robert left the community after the guru's sexual and financial misconduct were revealed. Upon leaving, he had intense and at times even paralyzing feelings of betrayal, anger, fear, worthlessness and guilt.
Robert went into psychotherapy with a spiritually sensitive therapist. Later in psychotherapy, he realized that his relationship with the guru replicated his relationship with his father--an angry alcoholic who had humiliated and physically injured Robert, but whose approval he had nevertheless sought. He also worked on major issues around establishing a life outside the structure of the spiritual community and integrating his spiritual beliefs and practices into this new life.’ (adapted from pp. 4-5, 16-17).”
And finally, Lukoff distinguishes between emergencies and the process of spiritual emergence that many people undergo as their religious beliefs change:
“In spiritual emergence, (another term from the transpersonal psychology literature), there is a gradual unfoldment of spiritual potential with minimal disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning, whereas in spiritual emergency there is significant abrupt disruption in psychological/social/occupational functioning. The Benedictine monk, Brother David Steindl-Rast, describes the process:
‘Spiritual emergence is a kind of birth pang in which you yourself go through to a fuller life, a deeper life, in which some areas in your life that were not yet encompassed by this fullness of life are now integrated or called to be integrated or challenged to be integrated (cited in Bragdon, 1994, p. 18). While less disruptive than spiritual emergencies, emergence can also lead persons to seek out a therapist to help integrate their new spiritual experiences (Grof, 1993).’”
It is common for people emerging from Mormonism to go through what might be called an emergency, and then later settle into a period of emergence that may last for a long time. I hope my emergence never ends. Near the end of his life, the great artist Goya wrote “Aun aprendo” (Yet I learn) on one of his drawings. To this we may all aspire.
Do We Need Therapists?
Many reading this will realize that bulletin boards like those at Recovery from Mormonism, and The View from the Foyer (see http://www.aimoo.com/forum/freeboard....) perform the role of a therapist, to an extent. I did not go to a therapist, and in fact, the idea that I might do so did not cross my mind. Were I leaving Mormonism now, however, I think I would see if I could find a therapist with experience in a related field and buy some of his or her time. I can see how an experienced therapist with regard to the phenomena described by the DSM – IV could be profoundly helpful, and particularly so during the stage described below when many of us tend to obsess over the details of what went wrong with Mormonism at a time when the therapeutic advice suggests that we disengage fromwrestling with our past for a time and focus on developing our creative potential and ability to see things more as they really are that comes with this. I don’t believe that many people will be capable of doing this without significant support. And I did not realize how much research has been done in this field. The links about point to a number of books that indicate the depth of clinical and theoretical experience that has been developed.
Since I did not have realize that therapy was either available or advisable, I simply spent a ton of time at Recovery from Mormonism and The Foyer and elsewhere reading, writing, thinking, etc. while also reading books, sending emails and speaking with people I trusted. Out of this my personal mythology gradually emerged. But while thrashing around during the process, I would say with the benefit of hindsight that I put unnecessary pressure on a number of important relationships, and may have damaged some of them in ways that are not repairable. Hence, for those who can seek therapy, I think it is advisable. Since I am not in the business of selling therapy, this advice perhaps can bear more weight than it would from a therapist.
Spiritual Emergency v. Spiritual Emergence
I believe that I suffered a spiritual emergency when I discarded my Mormon beliefs. I could think and speak of little else for months. My work suffered. My family life suffered. Etc. Another DSM – IV category that is relevant to this process is posttraumatic stress disorder. Many recovering Mormons show many of the symptoms that define this disorder.
In my case, eventually the emergency passed and a process of spiritual change and growth commenced that is still underway. This still seems like a miracle in many ways from my point of view.
Here is what Lukoff has to say about dealing with the “emergency” aspect of this process:
“However, for spiritual emergencies, most of the models of intervention come from the transpersonal psychology literature. Grof and Grof (1990) recommend that the person temporarily discontinue active inner exploration and all forms of spiritual practice, change their diet to include more "grounding foods" (such as red meat), become involved in very simple grounding activities (such as gardening), engage in regular light exercise (such as walking), and use expressive arts (such as drawing, clay and evocative music) to allow the expression of emotions and experiences through color, forms, sound and movement. In the case described above, Kornfield made use of most of these elements to avoid hospitalizing the individual who entered a spiritual emergency during a meditation retreat. Reliance on the client's self-healing capacities is one of the main principles that guides transpersonal treatment of spiritual emergencies (Perry, 1974; Watson, 1994). In addition, psychologists should be willing to consult, work closely with or even refer to spiritual teachers who may have considerably more expertise in the specific types of crises associated with a given spiritual practice or tradition. Unfortunately mental health professionals rarely consult with religious professionals or spiritual teachers even when dealing religious and spiritual issues (Larson, Hohmann, Kessler, Meador, Boyd, and McSherry, 1988).
Another key component of treatment of spiritual emergencies is normalization of and education about the experience. While this is a common technique in therapy, it plays an especially important role with spiritual emergencies because persons in the midst of spiritual emergencies are often afraid that the unusual nature of their experiences indicates that they are "going crazy" (as described in some of the above cases). An extremely abbreviated version of normalization of an unusual spiritual experience is reported by Jung (1964) in the following case: ‘I vividly recall the case of a professor who had a sudden vision and thought he was insane. He came to see me in a state of complete panic. I simply took a 400-year-old book from the shelf and showed him an old woodcut depicting his very vision. "There's no reason for you to believe that you're insane," I said to him. "They knew about your vision 400 years ago." Whereupon he sat down entirely deflated, but once more normal.’ (p. 69)”
I first note the “normalization” point. That is what brings many people to places like RFM. They seek validation. That is why the storyboard at RFM is so powerful. Mormonism restricts its members from talking about the reality of their experience. The only expressions of belief that are permitted in public are those that support the institution, thus isolating and invalidating all who do not resonate with what is publicly stated. This, over time, causes one’s real feelings to be suppressed and creates an inauthentic manner of relating to reality and other people that can itself cause various forms of psychoses.
However, Lukoff’s suggestion for those in the initial stages of crisis was counter intuitive for me. He did not suggest digging in and figuring things out (as I tried to do), but rather withdrawing from direct contemplation of the problem to engage in what amount to strength building, healing exercises that would create a greater ability to both see and bear reality. I think this idea needs a little reworking to be useful from a Mormon point of view, and here I will take a shot at doing that, as well as describe my resent experience with these modes of therapy.
It seems clear that Lukoff is referring to people who have acknowledged that they have a problem, and so have sought out a therapist. The main problem on the way out of Mormonism is that the organization has its hooks into us in so many different ways that it is not easy to get the point at which one can look herself in the mirror and say, “I have been duped. What am I going to do about it?” A destructive act is required to get to that point. Until that extraordinarily painful destruction occurs, the “patient” will not acknowledge that she is ill and hence will not seek, or in most cases be prepared to accept, treatment. Places like RFM play an important role in providing the information that people on the fringes of Mormonism need to validate their feelings, destroy unjustified beliefs, and find sources of information to start to re-work their personal mythologies. This requires focus on the problem – precisely what Lukoff recommends we avoid while in an emergency state. I think that it is far to say that the state of emergency – if it will become such – will not occur until a person has accepted that his most basic beliefs are false. So, I suggest that Lukoff’s advice be followed as soon as the penny has fully and truly dropped. Until then, it is necessary that the focus be internal – on the issues required to falsify unjustified Mormon beliefs, and particularly, those beliefs in Mormon authority that enable Mormon leaders to be able to control a large percentage of Mormon behaviour.
My moment of truth is described at http://mccue.cc/bob/documents/rs.reve.... It is my belief that had I done what Lukoff recommends (disengaged from Mormon studies and began to explore my artistic side), it would have saved months of thrashing around and a lot of stress on some of my most important personal relationships. This belief is based both on what I have read about Lukoff’s theories, and experiences I have had during the past few weeks.
Become As A Little Child
When I came across Lukoff’s essays several months ago, my wife and I were in the process of planning a 25th anniversary trip to the south of France. We had talked about talking some cooking or other creative lessons while on that trip, and reading Lukoff made me decide to intensify that aspect of our experience. We planned to be in France for two weeks, and I am the type who goes into sensory overload if I look at art, architecture etc. all day for days at a time anyway. So, we booked a week at a creative writing course in Martrin with Sharon Colback (I highly recommend it and will write more later about that experience in particular – see http://www.writehereinfrance.co.uk/) and a week of painting and cooking courses at Saignon with Andrew Petrov and Marcia Mitchell (near Avignon – see http://www.personalprovence.com/) Again, I highly recommend this experience.
My creative writing skills are limited, I have never applied paint to canvass, and my cooking goes no further than what can be either eaten cold or warmed up. These courses were part of a conscious effort to put myself into new and uncomfortable territory. My wife Juli has long aspired to be a writer and has taken a writing course. She took her first painting class and art history class this summer and loves to cook in creative ways, particularly when it comes to deserts. So she was more than happy to include these experiences in our trip.
Before finding Lukoff’s papers that are noted above, Juli and I had already decided to incorporate some learning activities into our trip as a result of a lecture I heard Allison Gopnik (UC Berkeley) give last Spring with regard to the difference between adult and child neural functioning. Gopnik indicated that children are more conscious than adults. She used the example of what happens when an adult goes to a new city – let’s say Paris – and experiences a wide variety of new things while falling in love. Falling in love is a very intense form of new experience and one of the few things that can shock an adult human out of the relatively unconscious state in which most adults live. Most people who have experienced what Gopnik describes would agree with her – while in the state induced by new and interesting experiences the whole world seems to pulse with life while our brain is in a child-like learning mode. That is, the requirement that we learn changes our mental state, and makes us more likely to absorb and remember all kinds of things. We become aware of textures, smells, sights and sounds by which we are constantly surrounded but generally speaking unconscious. We are shocked into this state by confronting new stimuli that requires us to use our attentive faculties in ways we generally do not. While in this state, we feel more alive. Gopnik says children live this way to a much greater extent than do adults. This causes their regular displays of wonder and excitement as they encounter new things.
I had often wondered about the way in which the world seemed to come to life for me during my transition out of Mormonism. Gopnik explained that. I was, quite simply, jarred out of my “adult” mode into a child-like state. I was humbled and became anxious to learn. I needed to learn. And so I began to experience many things as a child does, including the sense of wonder and joy at new discovery. This gives new meaning (likely not intended by those who wrote the words) to the scriptural injunction that we should “become as little children.
Gopnik indicated that children are so engaged in exploring and learning that they don't get very much done. To get things done, we need to reduce our actions to largely unconscious, repetitive motions. Think of driving the car, for example. We don't need to think about that. Most of the jobs that we do require similarly low levels of conscious activity. While she did not mention Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi's research with regard to “flow” (see http://www.wie.org/j21/csiksz.asp and http://www.authentichappiness.org/), her findings are more or less consistent with what they have to say. That is, in order to be both productive and happy we need a balance between doing things that have become so routine we don't need to think about them (and so we get a lot done) and things which challenge us. The ideal mix is just enough challenge to have us continue to learn and have feedback with regardto our progress, combined with an opportunity to do things at which we are already very competent and therefore feel success and productivity. And occasionally it feels great to confront the kind of challenge we did in France, but even then, the challenge must not be so great that it overcomes us, and there must be enough positive feedback to encourage us to keep going even thought our skills are rudimentary. Our instructors structured the experience and provided feedback that was well within these requirements. Hence, we had a great time during our classes, and embarked upon sight seeing expeditions and various social experiences with our hosts and others we got to know along the way with our minds opened by the learning experience we had each morning.
Gopnik indicated that the trade-off between the time it takes to learn and the need to get things done in order for all to survive has resulted in humans evolving so as to have years as children during which they primarily do, and then a period of time as adults during which they spend most of their time getting things done. Children are put in a position where they explore their environment, re-evaluate their environment in fundamental terms and develop the set of skills necessary to cope with their environment. Accordingly, as the environment changes as a result of what adults or nature do, children develop abilities that their parents often did not have. This is an example of co-evolution – the environment changes and the organism (in this case humans) changes in response, which enables it to cause further changes to the environment, and so on. One does not need to look further than the children who were raised with computers when compared to their parents in terms of dealing with the Internet base environment.
“Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain”
Since we had committed to take the painting lessons, I decided that I wanted to learn something about that type of artistic process before going to France. A couple of weeks before going, I bought a book that I had heard about in that regard called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” (see http://www.drawright.com/). It advertised a psychology based approach to drawing that appealed to me, and came with a workbook and step-by-step exercises that made things easy to follow.
My ability to draw has long been a source of hilarity around our family and my office. I am a tax attorney, and have to draw diagrams on white boards during meetings on a regular basis to illustrate the transactions we help people to complete. These require at times symbols for buildings, oil wells, factories, etc. Any child in grade two could do as well as I do in this regard, and I am regularly kidded by my clients and colleagues as a result of the crude nature of my drawings. And my handwriting is illegible. But I was not concerned about becoming a competent artist. Rather, I wanted to have an “outside the box” learning experience that would open my mind in the fashion noted above, and would help in the manner Lukoff suggested. Artistic talent was not required for either of these functions. Nonetheless, several friends who heard that we were going to take painting lessons while in France almost laughed out loud.
I was so busy before we left on our trip that I did not open the drawing book until we were on the place flying to Toronto for a few days of business meetings before leaving for France. During the course of a four-hour flight, I read a few chapters in the book, and did the first three exercises. The result was astonishing.
Dr. Betty Edwards is the book’s author. She developed her approach as a high school teacher in California, and then turned it into a PhD thesis at UCLA where she later taught for many years. She developed her approach on the basis of the “left brain” – “right brain” research produced by Dr. Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel Prize for his research. While this area of study is still controversial and the version Edwards used is now out of date, for her purposes it works well. She quotes Richard Bergland, a well-known neurosurgeon, as follows:
"You have two brains: a left and a right. Modern brain scientists now know that your left brain is your verbal and rational brain; it thinks serially and reduces its thoughts to numbers, letters and words… Your right brain is your nonverbal and intuitive brain; it thinks in patterns, or pictures, composed of ‘whole things,’ and does not comprehend reductions, either numbers, letters, or words." (“The Fabric of Mind”, Viking Penguin, Inc., New York 1985. p.1)
That is, the left brain uses symbols. It does not see things as they are, but uses simplified versions of reality that can be quickly manipulated to get things done. The right brain, on the other hand, sees things more as they are both as wholes and in relationship to each other. It also perceives the patterns that provide the basis for our sense of meaning.
Edwards says that she teaches people a new way of seeing that causes them to be able to draw. She does this by showing us how to suppress the functioning of the symbol based left side of the brain, and allow the creative and more accurately perceptive right side to dominate. In this regard, her techniques closely resemble certain types of meditation that are designed to quiet the “chattering” that goes on continually in our minds. I could feel this quieting occur as I did some of her exercises.
The symbol based left brain is what allows us to make quick decisions and is where the simplifying assumptions we make about the world reside, including those related to religious and other cultural beliefs. As the left brain functioning is suppressed, we are more able to see things as they are instead as we have been taught to perceive them. The experience of trying to perceive an object, like a cathedral I sketched while we were in France, while the left brain is declining in influence and the right brain is taking the stage, is like watching while a curtain is pulled back and a new view opens up. As this occurs, the left brain’s chattering quiets and we pass into a quasi-meditative state.
Edward’s teaching system uses various techniques to disable the left side of the brain. For example, the first and most striking exercise I did involved turning a Picasso drawing of the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky upside down and attempting to copy it. Were the painting right side up, our dominant left brain would recognize “hand”, “foot”, “face”, etc. and would provide us with the symbols for those things. This leads to the childish drawings most of us produce. However, once the drawing is upside down, the left side of the brain does not recognize its parts in the same way, and disengages. This allows the right side of the brain to take over and allow us to see the lines in front of us as they really are instead, and more or less accurately reproduce a complicated drawing.
For me, the result was stunning. I almost woke my wife up (she was sleeping in the airplane seat beside me) to show her. And for the next two days, as I sat in a large conference hall during meetings that required very of my attention, I sketched things in the room around me. Chandeliers. Water pitchers. Pictures from newspapers, including human faces and other body parts. My own hand with the fingers pointed toward me in a claw like posture. None of these were wonderful works of art, but they were reasonable representations of what I was trying to draw. This was new territory for me. And each time I started to draw, I could feel myself entering a semi-trance of the kind I have come to associate with meditation.
I am not going to try to give even a partial account of the wonderful five days we spent with Sharon Colback and two other students at Martrin, a small town near Millau in the neighborhood of France’s Tarn Valley. However, I note that many of the exercises Sharon led us through were designed to disengage the left side of the brain, though she did not speak of what we were doing in those terms. As I struggled with those exercises, I became painfully aware of how I have been trained to use the left side of my brain to control my perception of life and how much this has caused me to miss. I could feel resistance each time I tried to let go of my need to control the story I was trying to tell; my need to think logically and linearly. This made me think of the relationship between our conscious and subconscious minds.
The subconscious often acts as a kind of filter. It screens out information that would be dangerous to us, for example. This is at the root of denial, and is explained by cognitive dissonance theory (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitiv...). For example, a woman whose husband is cheating on her will likely be the last to reach that conclusion based on the evidence in front of her. Why? Because if she becomes conscious of this evidence, she will likely take action that may dramatically and negatively (in some ways) change her life. I wondered how much of a connection there was between the left/right brain dichotomy and what I had read before regarding the subconscious and conscious minds. The left brain acts as a kind of filter – a control mechanism. The subconscious does the same thing. So I perhaps should not be surprised that as I learned to take the brakes off my creative process, to reduce the influence of my subconscious and/or left brain filters, some of what came tumbling out was troubling.
Sharon recommended various exercises to enhance our creativity. Here are a few of them.
First, each morning when we awoke we were to write for 15 minutes before doing anything else, and were to write about whatever came into our heads. This could be dreams, what we looked forward to that day, what had happened the day before; whatever. It was critically important that we commit to ourselves before hand that no one would ever read what we were to write during these sessions. She said that sometimes when she did this a stream of profanity emerged. I laughed at that, and wondered out loud what could provoke that kind of language from someone as obviously genteel and cultured as Sharon. A female course-mate assured me that it must be a male of some kind, and Sharon agreed.
In any event, Sharon told us that we were not to reread, even to correct spelling, as we wrote for 15 minutes each morning; that we were to encourage whatever seemed to want to tumble out to do so; and that we were not to go back and re-read it for three weeks.
In another interesting exercise, she had us draw a river on a long sheet of paper in a fashion that would describe our lives, and then write about that. This provoked a few painful realizations, which in turn provoked a torrent of writing. In another, she had us make up characters on the basis of photographs she gave us, and then having created these essentially random characters, to write a dialogue between them. Then, having written the dialogue between them, we were to write a page of description about where they were. Then, we were to at random cut up the dialogue into sentences (or sets of sentences), do the same with the description, and then paste them (again at random) one after another onto an other sheet of paper. Amazingly, each of these made sense with little correction.
By the end of the week, I was getting to the point at which I could simply put my head down and write – just let a story rip out of me. Sharon emphasized the importance of allowing ourselves the liberty of writing a “shitty first draft” – of just letting go; letting whatever was there pour out. As already noted, I resisted that, but eventually the kind of random pouring out that Sharon’s exercises caused helped me get into a mental space were I could just let it rip. And as I did so, I recognized the same semi-trance that I have felt while doing my drawing exercises. There was a similar quieting of the left brain; elevation of the right brain (and perhaps the subconscious). What a fascinating process.
Because of the intensely creative nature of the exercises Sharon led us through, and probably the chemistry of the group, we became very close to the other people we shared our time with while at Sharon’s. And we became close to Sharon as well. We had a great time stumping around the French countryside together and will likely see each of these people again at some point. We have suggested a group reunion in Canada.
Given the fun I had with drawing, I was looking forward to the painting lessons perhaps more than anything else we had scheduled to do in France. Andrew Petrov was our instructor. He is an accomplished painter from Washington D.C. who has been living in France for about five years. He introduced us to yet another kind of letting go that without any question uses the same kind of left brain – right brain mechanism Edwards so nicely describes.
We had three mornings painting with Andrew. During the first he gave a little basic instruction about how oil painting works; how to mix colors; how to complement colors; and how to “paint falsehood with accents of truth”. This last statement to the better part of two days for me to grasp.
Just as I tended while writing toward trying to control the flow of the story (going back to correct and re-write instead of just letting it tumble out), while painting I tended to try to quickly represent what I saw before me. Our first painting, for example, was of a Roman bridge near Apt called “Pont Julien”. From the beginning of the morning, I was trying to get something that looked like the bridge on the canvass, and Andrew was slopping paint on what I thought was a good start in that direction. He wanted layers of color on the canvass. He wanted no lines; he wanted no clear edges (he was continually pulling colors I had purposely separated into each other, creating what appeared to me to be a mess). And then after a great deal of work had been done, he would slop paint all over what I had done and I would be required to start over. And from this random mess, eventually a reasonable bridge emerged. Not where I had planned. Not the part of what I had started out trying to capture. But a pleasing representation of the bridge nonetheless. And behind it, and its various backgrounds, peeked an array of hints of color as a result of the many things I had tried and Andrew had forced me to more or less cover.
“A little like life”, it eventually occurred to me. Lots of randomness. Does not proceed logically. Extremely forgiving. No need to rush, in fact most things turn out better with more time and patience. Most mistakes can be erased or painted over. At one crucial moment, I asked Andrew for some help and pointed carefully to the spot on the painting that was troubling me. He said, “You mean here?” and with his brush slopped a different color of paint over fully 1/3rd of the painting. And within 30 minutes what had initially seemed like a horrifying scar over my blossoming bridge has been absorbed seamless, and surprisingly, into the painting.
I sum up Andrew’s lessons as follows:
· Delay “ego painting” for as long as possible. Ego painting is the clear lines and visible brush strokes that finally bring definition to the painting and stoke it with the artist’s personality. This is like good foreplay before sexual intimacy – the longer the delay the more satisfying the result.
· Ask, “What is the essence of what I am seeing” when you look at your subject. Squint at it. What stands out? Think about what attracts you to it. Ask the question of yourself out loud. Andrew says that he regularly mutters to himself while he paints to get the brain moving outside its usual grooves.
· Regularly squint at your subject to see its important features. That is how we can tell what is really light and dark. That is how we can tell where to emphasize light and shadow. Only the essence stands out through the squint.
· Don’t worry about mistakes. Just get your feelings on the canvass. Don’t be afraid of “shitty first drafts”. You can erase paint. You can paint over. Just let it rip.
· Let go of ideas related to definite form. Paint what you feel in terms of color and shape, and with amazing frequency when you stand back to view the painting at a distance, you will capture the essence of what you want to represent. All you have to do is get the back relationships right. Relative size. Relative brightness or darkness. Relative location. And don’t be too precise.
· Our symbol brain (the left side) is generally what we use when looking at a painting. Hence, shapes do not have to be precise in order to be interpreted by the brain as what we want to them to be. We just have to get close, and our symbol brains and imaginations will do the rest.
· Never leave a clear edge. Our brain knows edges are clean and so our left brain interprets them as clean. But when we look carefully enough to overcome the left brain, our right brain tells us that all edges are fuzzy. And the further away they are, the more fuzzy. So paint them all fuzzy. And overemphasize what you want to stand out.
· Less is often more. Restricting a painting to a limited color pallet often makes it more brilliant as we choose colors to evoke what we feel instead of copying what we see. This was driven home from me both when Andrew made us substitute black for blue one day, and then the next when in the market we saw some brilliant black and white photography of the region, alongside color photographs. The black and whites were far more compelling than their brilliantly coloured counterparts. This was in part because of the quality of the photographer, and in part because the absence of color brought out the essence of the forms involved, which were striking. Old stone architecture; sheppards moving their sheep through fields; etc.
Recovering Mormon Therapy
Developing the ability to use the right side of the brain has powerful therapeutic benefits for those who are recovering from the effects of a domineering institution like Mormonism and are trying to develop a new personal mythology or worldview. And I can see particular wisdom in pulling away from the analysis of Mormonism once the crisis has been reached and we have accepted that our belief system is in disarray. At that point, as we begin to develop a new worldview, it is more important than ever that we perceive things accurately, as wholes, in their essences, and as they relate to each other, instead of as booming, buzzing details.
The disciplines of drawing, painting and creative writing as I experienced them in France each in different ways tended to suppress my tendency to see, think and feel as I have been taught, and enabled me to see and feel more of what was in front of me; of what was essential about the scene in front of me; and perhaps most importantly, to reinterpret various incidents in my past and to see new ways of dealing with both life as it is now and as it will become. It makes sense to me that this process would both help to calm the emergency, and would become wonderful creative fodder during the creation of a new world view.
I note in particular the analogy between what Lukoff recommends for those who are in a state of spiritual emergency and what I was being taught to do in different ways while learning to draw, write creatively and paint. Lukoff says, in essence, “Stop trying to understand the thing through analysis, introspection, etc. Just let it be. Go draw, paint, jog, garden. Be good to yourself. Don’t be strict with yourself. Don’t worry. Be happy.”
And from each of our art and writing instructors I heard continually in a variety of different ways, “let go”. They told me to stop trying to control my story. Let it tell itself. Let it tumble out. Accept, even embrace, a “shitty first draft”. Concentrate on what is really there in front of you. Keep asking yourself, “what do I see?” Squint at it. Move around and look at it from different angles. Ask out loud why it appeals to you. Play with it and how it makes you feel. Just throw paint on the canvass in shapes and colors that seem consistent with how you feel, not what you see. And don’t worry about how it looks because you can always fix it later. Let it stay in the realm of feeling and vague image for as long as possible because there it will develop in ways that will often surprise you.
Restorying ourselves is the ultimate creative, artistic act. Our palate is life itself, both already lived and as we can imagine it. We paint with our own blood and tears; write with our dreams. The more of ourselves and the reality around us we can perceive – in essence rather than detail – the more satisfying the story will be and the more authentic the role in which we can cast ourselves. Nothing makes more sense to me now than developing our ability to use the right side of the brain as we reframe our relationship to ourselves and the world, and chart our path through life as the story unfolds.
I told myself several years ago after taking the first big steps out of Mormonism that I would never again allow myself to be convinced that anything was absolutely, unshakably true. I still feel that way. What I did not realize, however, that this attitude requires of me a continual restorying. As long as I live and continue to have energy, I will be redefining myself and my relationship to the world around me. This will largely be a function of becoming more self aware, and aware of my relationship to the people around me and other aspects of my environment. The biggest revelation of the past few weeks is of the critical nature that the disciplines to which I was exposed while in France will play in this process.
The process of becoming more self-aware is like peeling an onion. Trying to see and feel like an artist, and then creating something (anything), teaches us to suppress our prejudices in ways that will be helpful in allowing more of what is in our subconscious to come to the surface and more of the reality around us to be appreciated instead of sliding by. This excites me, and does not require anything of me beyond some time. I do not need to become an artist to gain the benefits I just described. All I have to do is act like an artist. This is what will teach me about both myself and anything else I care to consider. It does not matter if I ever produce anything that anyone else will like.
As Juli and I were wondering whether we could have taken the same kind of courses in Calgary or somewhere close to home and benefited in similar ways from the exercise, she suggested that the fact that it was hard while in France to avoid being reminded that the world is full of different possibilities was helpful. The streets are narrow. The houses and other buildings look different. The people speak a language that we don’t understand. The food is different. The experience of recovering from jet lag is itself a kind of rebirth that gives the impression that one has emerged into a new world.
I agreed with her. The environment we chose for this experiment in creativity was close to ideal for our purposes. However, we cannot go to France often, and thankfully there are many opportunities to write, draw, paint, etc. around us where we live. We have both
| On another thread, someone made the useful suggestion that I turn a letter to the editor I wrote to Newsweek re. Soukup's "Mormon Odyssey" article into an essay submission to Newsweek's "My Turn" feature. 900 word limit. 150 submitted each week, from which one is chosen. Long odds, but what the hell.
Those of you who know how long winded I tend to be can imagine how hard it was for me to choose the 900 best words to pick apart Mormonism.
Here it is. Feedback appreciated. I will submit it in the next day or two.
Joseph Smith, Jr. – Mormonism’s Founding Prophet
Would You Buy A Used Car From This Man?
December 23, 2005 is Joseph Smith’s 200th birthday. As a result there has recently been a flurry of reporting with regard to Mormonism and Smith’s contribution to it.
Smith’s life will eventually become a great movie - lots of sex, deception, religious fervour, the rise of a powerful new religion, a run for the Presidency of the United States, and in the end Smith was murdered.
In my view, there is one question that takes Smith’s essential measure – “Was Joseph Smith trustworthy?” If so, the amazing stories he told should be taken seriously. If not, he is merely another in a depressingly long line of influential shysters.
Smith’s claims are spectacular. Among other things, he tells us that God appeared to him and commanded him not to join any of the churches then in existence because they were all “abominations”; that an angel gave him golden plates and the power to translate The Book of Mormon from those plates; that the Book of Mormon contains the literal history of God’s dealings with a Christian people who lived in the Americas from 600 BCE to 400 CE; that God sent Peter, James and John as well as John the Baptist, in person, to restore God’s authority by giving it to Smith; and that on many occasions angelic visitors or the voice of God himself came to Smith and taught him what he needed to do as the leader of God’s Kingdom on Earth.
Most of Smith's claims must be accepted or rejected solely on the basis of his trustworthiness. What does the historical record tell us in that regard?
Before Smith became God’s prophet he was a con man. He pretended to be able to see buried treasure in a small brown stone (a “seer” or “peep” stone) into which he looked by putting the stone into the bottom of a hat, covering the hat’s opening with his face and looking at the stone. He would say that he saw treasure buried on a particular property, and sometimes the property’s owner would hire him to dig up the treasure. There is no evidence that he ever found treasure, but he evidently put on quite a show. Not good enough, however, to satisfy all of his treasureless customers – we have court documents related to his conviction on charges of “glass looking” in connection with a failed treasure digging adventure.
It is interesting to note that Smith used the same “stone in a hat” routine to “translate” the Book of Mormon. Smith acknowledged that most of this “translation” occurred without the golden plates being present. See http://www.mormonstudies.com/criddle/rigdon.htm for one of many credible theories with regard to how the Book of Mormon may have come into being.
Smith “married” many women. It appears in some cases that this amounted to no more than sexual intercourse that was labelled “marriage” after the fact. Several of Smith’s “wives” were young girls, others were married at the same time to other men, and in a few cases Smith sent husbands on "missions" for the Mormon Church causing them to leave town just before he propositioned their wives. The worst part of Smith’s polygamy, however, was the manner in which he denied his actions in that regard in public and private, to Mormons and non-Mormons alike, for over a decade. His excuse for this massive deception?; that the people were not ready to hear God’s will. Smith’s lying with regard to his sexual activities established a pattern of Mormon leadership deception referred to as “lying for the Lord” that has dogged Mormonism ever since.
Smith deception was not limited to sexual matters. His mode of government, for example, and other important aspects of his relationship to Mormonism were based on secrecy and deception. It seems clear that Smith believed that his status as God's “prophet” placed him above manmade legal and moral constraints. Leading Mormon historian Michael Quinn has described this as Smith's "theocratic ethics". In a theocracy, which Smith believed himself to lead, God's law (as stated by God's prophet - Smith) trumped all else. Hence, Smith became a law unto himself.
Smith’s record of a translator of ancient documents is telling. He failed in his only verifiable attempts, most notably with regard to the Book of Abraham which is still believed to be Holy Scripture by most Mormons. Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from certain Egyptian papyrii. His failure as a translator in this regard became apparent long after his death when scholars developed the ability to read Egyptian hyroglyphs. And yet throughout his life Smith proclaimed his ability as a translator with supreme confidence and used his various “translations” as evidence of divine gift that helped him to gain and hold his following.
I have summarized only a few of Smith's noteworthy shortcomings. It seems clear that he was the type of person from whom most people would not wish to buy a used car. However, he was a charismatic huckster who was adept at hiding his history and spinning an exciting, compelling tale. No sooner had one group of followers left him than he found others. And the organization he founded, like many other well-known institutions whose murky roots are long forgotten, is a fascinating study in its own right.
Whatever Mormonism is – and that is far from clear – it is likely not whatever Joseph Smith said it was.
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