A Follow-up to The Persistence of Spiritual Vision series

A note from your host, Matthew, of Mars Will Send No More.

I received some correspondence about the recent series from guest author Iain Carstairs, The Persistence of Spiritual Vision: the Symbols of Jack Kirby.  I will respond to several thought-provoking questions and make some clarifications.

First, the series does not promote any specific religion, doctrine, or dogma.  Instead, the series examines the general religious inclination of humanity using Kirby as one example. 

Second, despite examining the roots and the benefits of spirituality, the series does not endorse all acts performed in the name of religion.  Any serious study of history illuminates numerous horrors committed in the name of religion.  On the other hand, the same study brings to light horrifying acts in the name of science, as well as atrocities committed in the name of neither religion nor science.  I believe this is a problem with human nature, and not specifically humanity’s religious impulse.

Third, nowhere does the series suggest that indoctrination does not exist.  It obviously does, and I am neither insensitive to it nor without some firsthand experience with it.  Observation and experience suggests Iain is correct that the religious impulse does not result solely from indoctrination.  But, the same experience tells me that specific doctrines, dogma, behaviors, and attitudes do in fact result from indoctrination, the instillation of fear in children, and cultural programming.  We must differentiate, in this discussion, between natural human impulses and the installation of specific dogma.

Fourth, I do not contend that a purely logical argument can cause one to have a faith.  Belief is distinct from knowledge.  Knowledge is the arena of reasoning, logic, and sensory verification.  Belief includes feeling, which is the domain of emotion.  Belief appears to be a blend of these two psychic functions, emotion and reason, and the blend is most likely unique to each person.  (I use “psychic” in the most Jungian sense, not meaning “paranormal” but “of the mind.”)   As such, no logical argument can induce belief beyond a shallow intellectual acquiescence, just as no emotional argument can convince on logical grounds.

I do observe that belief has powerful merits in terms of accomplishment – whether belief in a divine creator or overlord, or belief in one’s self, or belief in a code, or belief in the justification of one’s actions.  Belief can be a driving force towards successful endeavors and a source of sustenance in hardship.  Just as a martial artist envisions striking through the target to achieve a goal, the believer finds the mind directed by a powerful force through life’s storms.  We should distinguish between the observable effects of belief and the objective justification of specific beliefs.  Again, the series examines a phenomenon of consciousness, not any set of doctrine.

Fifth, I do not in any way propose that the Bible is a reliable source for ethics, morality, or dogma.  Kirby took inspiration from the Bible.  Like any book of mythology or stories, the Bible can provide artistic inspiration.  My personal belief is that the only rational ways to study the Bible are A) as a mythology, as one would study the Gilgamesh epic, the ancient Greek pantheon, or the Fantastic Four, B) as poetry, as one would study the Odyssey, Beowulf, or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and C) as an artifact of cultural anthropology.

Sixth, I do not propose that any specific religion or belief in any god is a prerequisite for ethical behavior.  True, accepting a given set of standards passed down by a religious dogma does eliminate the often taxing effort of determining ethical standards for oneself.  But, as the author clearly states, even one who does not believe in a divine, monotheistic creator can form ethical standards – and even spiritual beliefs.  Despite contention with some leading atheist arguments, we are not suggesting that atheists have no morals or are incapable of forming them.

I prefer to think in terms of ethics rather than morality.  Morality is a study of right and wrong, and these are very slippery subjects open to much interpretation.   Morality is metaphysical and can be argued ad infinitum.  Ethics, however, is a study of practical action in a social environment.  I propose that the questions of right and wrong (morality) have unreliable answers, but the questions of how we will behave in order to get along and progress as human beings (ethics) have very reliable answers.

Seventh and finally, although it should go without saying, my presentation of this essay should not be construed as my own thoughts.  I do not always agree with the author on every fine point he makes.  However, I value and respect his level-headed and well-informed point of view and have been greatly influenced by him over the course of the last year. 

I am not at all interested in argument or debate to achieve some ideological victory.  Our species has had quite enough of shouting each other down to prove to ourselves and others the absolute correctness of our respective positions, a behavior that can only end in violence, misunderstanding, and alienation.  What we need now is a dialogue.  What we need now is to find common ground and agreement.  What we need is to be open to the idea that our own positions are not absolute, not always correct, and can be informed by even those with whom we disagree. 

We can work together as a group to find unity, to bring together the diversity of approaches to the human condition, just as each individual can work towards unifying his own psychic functions (cognition, perception, intuition, and emotion) to achieve self-actualization.  Too many people in both the atheist and theist camps, in both the scientific and religious worlds, obsess over winning some argument.  We would do well to stop arguing to obtain a victory and start conversing rationally and calmly to find the common ground and the common good. 

Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful responses.  We now return you to our regularly scheduled program of mutants, giant brains, rampaging dinosaurs, and interstellar mayhem.

~Matthew

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