Speak thee not of Politics or Religion for verily it can ruin a party.
In my case it’s really just politics I need to avoid… that’s what gets me into trouble.
I’m alright when I talk about religion. I end up getting too abstract and esoteric. The eyes of my listener glaze over and they start thinking about whether or not there’s any coffee left in the tin at home and if they should stop on the way and get some (just in case). Spar will still be open. I’ll be talking about category errors and The Parable of The Last Supper and quoting Bateson’s “Style, Grace & Information In Primitive Art” or “Form, Substance, and Difference” while my listener makes a mental note to pick up some of those paper filters because thinking about buying coffee jogged their memory, and they realised they put the pack of filters back in the drawer with only one left in it. They don’t even notice when I tell them they’re wrong about almost everything regarding religion, and the stuff they’re right about… they’re right about for entirely the wrong reasons.
But that’s OK, because the same goes for everyone else. With the possible exception of me and Gregory Bateson.
And Bateson’s been dead for 37 years.
That’s me. Schrödinger’s Catholic. I can make a passionate defence of religion while fully acknowledging “Holy Books” rank in the 5 Worst Catastrophes Ever To Happen To Humanity (along with agriculture, industrialisation, the mosquito, and “Mistletoe & Wine” by Cliff Richard). I can also launch a savage attack on religion while simultaneously insisting that our culture literally cannot survive rapid secularisation; a phenomenon which is ripping it to shreds before our eyes and is soon to join “Holy Books” in that Top 5 (probably replacing the mosquito).
The bible was a terrible mistake (see also: All Other Holy Books). But it was an inevitable one. Human culture could not NOT have produced it. Lamenting Holy Books is like lamenting art. Given what we know of the human species, any society that looks like ours couldn’t have plausibly got here without agriculture, industry or Holy Books.
They are awful. They screwed us up good and proper. But here we are.
We can’t possibly go back, but I don’t see a way forward. Mythology / mythopoetry is the mechanism by which cultures codify and transmit their value system. One of the original inbuilt safety-mechanisms of this, is that the mythology is transmitted orally. Changing the old stories is hard, yes, but it can be done when circumstances dictate. If a society needs to adapt; it can do so within a couple of generations.
And by and large that was probably fine for a couple of hundred thousand years. Then, right when our society started to change rapidly, we created the technology to carve our value systems in stone. Sometimes literally. And as soon as this technology became available to codify mythopoetry in a form that makes regular revision impossible, it was always going to be a total disaster. And it has been.
But here’s the thing… you can’t blame that poor desert preacher for any of that. At least I don’t think you can.
“Host / guest” relationships are more or less sacred all over the world, as far as I know. And are of course one of the reasons why, to go back to where we started, the bread and the wine happen to be sacred objects.
Don’t get it upside down. The bread and the wine are not sacred because they represent Christ’s body and blood. The bread and the wine are primarily sacred, because they are the staff of life; the staff of hospitality… of guests… of hosts… of health and all the rest of it. And so, secondarily, we equate them with Christ.
The sacredness is real. Whatever the mythology. The mythology is the poetical way of asserting the sacredness. And a very good poetical way of asserting it. But bread is sacred whether or not you accept the Christian myth. And so is wine. Unless you’re determined to eat plastic.
Gregory Bateson | Lecture on consciousness and psychopathology (approx 50 minutes in)
See, the words of Jesus were never meant to reach us the way they did. Him and His mates thought He was preaching Natural Law… The Gospel. He wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean He wasn’t performing a vital social function, nor that His words* didn’t contain vital Truths. Because He was. And they did.
The deliciously dark irony is that despite it all; despite Holy Books having allowed the powerful to somehow weaponise our own value system and turn it against us… here, in the Age of The Internet, there may finally have been a role for them to play. But it’s too late for them. The rational among us will never forgive them. And I’m not even saying they should.