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by Jan Sand
2006-11-24 10:08:51
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There is no doubt that survival in a world full of possibly fatal threats evolution has laid out basic underlying fixed physical and mental architectures to limit, to a large degree, how far a living organism is permitted to stray from a safe pathway. It is one of the glories and miseries of our own species that this leeway is so permissive.

All this, of course, is due to our huge flexibility in processing information. Time and consistent catastrophe has winnowed less intellectually endowed genetic lines to hew to a fairly tight regimen of growth and reproduction. Our adaptable mental capabilities, aided by an extraordinary physique, which provides us with the capability to construct and use tools, loosens the evolutionary leash to a considerable degree.

Nevertheless, it is striking that major segments of human culture hew to rigid concepts with little or no physical basis. This more or less conforms to the old idea that: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Even such fragile traditions as holidays celebrating historical personalities or temporary seasonal changes endure through various evolving social doctrines, transforming themselves, chameleon-like, to conform to whatever style of belief is on the current market.

Easter doubtless was a fertility celebration allied to May Day, which is why rabbits and eggs are more evident than direct references to Christianity. And equally, Christmas which falls on the center point of the season of cold was most likely recognition that people have survived the icy white scourge of winter and the bindings of food conservation could be loosened to permit a small moment of community relief to celebrate continued existence.

Religions are continuously criticized by rationalists who point out the obvious contradictions in their logic and the appropriation of their organization by cynical secular powers. But these critics tend to ignore the auxiliary functions of these community organizations aside from the strict dissemination of formal doctrine. To a degree, the doctrine is slipped in to an organization that provides important regularly scheduled excuse for friends with similar healthy social attitudes to join in activities together that are vital to the community and to the mental health of the participants, regardless of the formal religious doctrine.

When the doctrine is analyzed and indicated as exercises in fantasy, it does not negate the other vital functions of the group. In fact, those vital functions act to bulwark the doctrinal illogic, which is conceptually bundled with the useful activities of the religion. It is commonplace for religious people to assume that those who deny some of the crazy unscientific proclamations of strict religious interpretation of their basic faith systems thereby cannot possess any of the sensible social concepts, which ride along in their minds with strict doctrine. Logic, in this scenario, takes on the aspect, to a believer, of an assault on all decency and, of course, it can only end in a rejection of any argument in that direction.

There is a deeper psychological function of organizations devoted to faith mindsets. The mechanical processes of ceremonies within group meetings involving singing, rote repetition of formal statements, mass performance of prescribed procedures and conformity in gesture, voice, stance, and other activities lead by a leader upon which all attention is focused. This is true, not only of religious groups, but of other ideological groups such as radical political organizations, where the same conformities are enforced. Repeated, week after week, year after year, the nervous systems of the participants have these procedures deeply embedded in their subconscious so that they become necessary to maintain as an underlying framework to their mental integrity.

The one psychological procedure that matches with all these activities is hypnotic induction. Once the inductee has fallen under the direction of the person doing the hypnotic suggestion almost nothing is impossible for the subject to believe. Post-hypnotic suggestion can implant totally fantastic concepts that could be firmly taken up and very difficult to remove. Logic and reason have little or nothing to do with these deeply ensconced beliefs.

It is usual for hypnotic subjects to believe they can fly, that they are chickens or dogs or pigs, or that their whole relationship to reality has completely changed. So it is not surprising that wholly irrational concepts, such as that the world was created 6,000 years ago or all species have always existed as they are today are maintained by people who have fallen under the influence of inductive faiths.

Reason has nothing to do with it.

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