Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Religion As A Hollowed Out Shell Is A Recurring Theme In Secular Society It's No Mere Coincidence

There is a new Science Set Free podcast, which I listened to last night.

What The Greeks Can Teach Us 

Mark Vernon and Rupert Sheldrake talk about issues in his book,  "The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy".   Beginning with the discussion of the Stoic philosophy, the centrality of the Logos to their thinking, its influence on early Christianity and various reiterations of ideas from them, in the "enlightenment" and period of scientism having the Logos stripped out of it and various other things.   I found what they said about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,  CBT, as being an unsuccessful attempt to use Stoicism while removing the very basis of their philosophy the most interesting part of it.   Mark Vernon's comments about how the Swedish mental health establishment had gone whole hog for CBT and that, ten years after, studies showed that it had a short term effect but that the benefits couldn't be sustained, as people returned to their former habits of thought and, I'd guess, acts.   He noted that the adoption of that ultra-rational system of mental therapy ended up costing the government mental health system more in the end because it just didn't work.  The subsequent discussion of the attempt do mix CBT with the recent fad for "mindfulness" might turn out to be an attempt to return the spiritual component the materialists who invented CBT took out was interesting but I'm a lot less impressed with the authenticity of what almost everyone means when they say "mindfulness" these days and think it will turn out to be pretty much the same thing.  I have come to look forward to new podcasts from Vernon and Sheldrake, they are all worth listening to, both for the breath and depth of the information they provide but, also, their calm engaged way of discussing it.

By chance, I also happened across this from Alternet, Mindfulness: Capitalism's New Favorite Tool for Maintaining the Status Quo and was especially struck at finding this subtitle at Alternet, the voice of materialist-atheist conventional thinking,  "The meditative practice is being used in a way that betrays its anti-materialist roots."   You can see how an anti-materialist like me would have to look twice to make sure they weren't seeing a mirage, at Alternet.  I sometimes wonder if a real Buddhist who sees how the term is thrown around today might not feel sick to their stomach, I was just something of a student of Buddhism without being one and the spectacle of some of our more corrupt media figures, corporate titans and other ornaments of the Military-Industrial-Banking complex bastardizing some of the most central practices of a religion which is the opposite of everything they do makes me alternatively enraged and disgusted.

And, again, this usurpation of an ancient tradition and its meditation technology based in a rejection of materialist values, was aided by stripping it of its most essential, non-materialistic, character.

The pesky problem with meditation, now dubbed “mindfulness,” was its connection with Buddhism. Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely credited with introducing the concept of mindfulness to America in the 1970s, reportedly recognized the spread of the concept might be helped by loosening its religious ties. As a New York Times article on the practice explains, Kabat-Zinn redefined the technique, giving it a secular makeover and describing it as “[t]he awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Without all that dogma attached, the opportunities for use were suddenly endless.

I have mentioned before how when I heard that Transcendental Meditation was fashionable among some of the corporate class but, especially, with those in the military I couldn't see any benefit to humanity if they could plunder and kill more efficiently.  Efficiency at work was one of its selling points, moral discernment and self-criticism, not so much.   I can't imagine how more mindful operators of killer drones who can kill with more detachment is going to do much good in the world.   That kind of thing happened in Buddhism before, as Zen became a sort of class religion among the professional warriors of Japan.  Egalitarian democracy in a peaceful society dedicated to the common good didn't result.

In listening to the podcast and reading the article, I realized that a lot of the same problems I have with this Karma Cola expropriation and bastardization of Eastern religion is exactly the same problem I have when it's done to Christianity, Judaism and, though I haven't seen it done in the same way, Islam.  Though I think a lot of the "Sufi" explosion in the west probably is similar in its superficiality and, worst of all, the stripping out of the essentially non-materialist and moral content of the religion.   If Satan can quote scripture for his ends he can certainly use the trappings of religion to promote goals opposite to why those religions came about.   Removing the revelations of truth and morality that are the central core of those is part of both the use of those for evil and, then, the inevitable attacks on those religions by atheists and others who never cared about those central aspects of religion to start with.   In the case of the dumbing down of mindfulness and Buddhism, not least of which is done by atheists, I think we're seeing exactly that scenario playing out, yet again.

Secularism should be confined to the government which is the common property of all of the citizens and residents of a country, it should never have been mistaken as a mandatory requirement for those citizens and residents and the society in which they live, it should certainly never have become a requirement for public thought.   I think that might account for a lot of why things have been failing all over the place as people follow their bliss instead of troubling their minds over the conduct of their lives.  That's the sword that Jesus said he was bringing, that's the troubling that we need instead of the voluntary training of passive sociopaths as "spiritual" practice, the spirit being removed from it. 

I have a great deal of respect for the Buddhist religion, especially the recent and far less popular - with rich westerners, at least - movement of socially engaged Buddhism which does promote economic justice and civil rights.  I have enormous respect for the ethical content of the scriptures, even if I don't, ultimately accept their metaphysics and their beliefs about the nature of reality.  I do think that one of the great contributions of Buddhism to world culture is the prayer-meditation technology (if you will) that they have refined through thousands of years of practice, study and reflection.  To see that great body of practice and knowledge violated like that is more of an obscenity than the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas in Afghanistan.   They, unwittingly, were showing the impermanence of all things, a quintessentially Buddhist teaching.  Most usefully it served the same purpose as Tibetan monks destroying the intricate mandalas they had just painted. But to destroy the even more beautiful meditation that was the whole purpose of the mandala, the statues,  removing the moral, ethical and compassionate content of Buddhism rewinds the terrible cycle of pain and violence, greed and evil, the ending of which is the real goal of the effort.  


  1. Take the benefits from religion without taking the responsibilities.

    Sounds fairly typical. Was reading some passages from Thomas Paine, the man who is supposed to be a 21st century atheist in the 18th century; except he's just a hum-drum Deist, determined to make God a product of rational perception, attaching Puritanical distaste for the priesthood (i.e., anything to do with the structures of the Anglican or Catholic churches) with Enlightenment arrogance. Anyway, in "Age of Reason" Paine insists that God (Abrahamic, basically) is both real and Creator, but is known through the book of Nature, not the books of the Bible.

    God revealed in nature is, of course, much less challenging to society and individuals than the God of Abraham. This is an idea with a very old pedigree, one many attendees in Christian churches engage in frequently.

    The God who challenges them is the God they don't want to know. The God who comforts them is the God they get along with, and the pastor who is that God's spokesperson is their special friend. Benefits are fun; responsibilities suck.

    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, why it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich person to enter into the Kingdom of God, however that might be translated.

      I find the gospels, The Law, the prophets most convincing when they are the most exigent, the least user friendly. The same reason I concluded much of what The Buddha taught to be authentically true.

  2. With respect to Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's exposition on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali might help clear things up (note that TM is NOT the same as mindfulness so the same interpretation does NOT apply here):

    The Yoga Sutras are often interpreted as "steps" towards Yoga, but in fact, the term used is "ashtanga" -8 limbs or branches or parts or aspects. The implication is that if you grab a limb (leg) of a table and move it, all the other parts of the table come along.

    And so, if you properly develop any aspect of Yoga, all aspects will develop along with it. This includes any moral or ethical aspect as well -as someone grows towards enlightenment, all aspects of Yoga mature in the direction of enlightenement.

    Since 4096 characters is too short to develop this essay properly, I'll just leave you with a few suggestive links:

    TM (not mindfulness) in the military has a drastically good effect on people while in the military in preventing or curing PTSD:

    TM in public schools can have a wonderful effect in preventing and curing PTSD, which happens to have the side-effect of drastically improving scholastic outcome:

    Since research now suggests that the effects of stress can be passed on for generations, one might expect that students whose parents and grandparents are growing towards enlightenment, might show more benefits than first generation kids growing towards enlightenment:

    Of course, what happens when a government leader is growing towards enlightenment and encourages his military and police forces to do the same:

    The above links, and the institution-generated statistics that go along with it, aren't lost on world leaders. Currently the David Lynch Foundation and the TM organization are in negotiations with various countries around the world to have government workers trained as TM teachers, so that the student body of entire countries can participate in the program above (specifically Brazil and Paraguay).

    Perhaps you get a better idea why TM goes beyond making people more effective killers?

    1. I'm aware that TM and mindfulness are distinctly different methods and the goals of both are articulated differently. What is similar is the promotion of them in the United States and the West. I am especially skeptical about the present day promotion of mindfulness which is an especially exigent form of mediation. As I understand it, until recently mindfulness was not a form of meditation that was taught to householders but was considered a method appropriate for monks and nuns who had already embarked on a path of renunciation. I am, especially, skeptical about the prospects of any method of meditation that is not directly linked to a prerequisite of moral discipline which is higher than any method of mastery of that kind, the only legitimate reason to practice them.

      I don't think you understood my point. The period when Transcendental Meditation was being talked about in ways that mindfulness is now was the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Vietnam War was at its height, corporate amorality was as high as it is now. I went to one or two lectures given by those promoting TM and read quite a bit about it, making people more efficient at their jobs was one of the main selling points emphasized. I don't recall a lot being said about morality and prohibitions on harming being much talked about at the time. I would like to know in what sense the people in the military-industrial-banking complex are more moral in their work and out of it on the basis of practicing TM or mindfulness, it's a question that is certainly legitimate to ask any proposed method of making people better. I wonder if TM practitioners have ever left their jobs because they refused to participate in the casual evils that all of those institutions require be done. I'd welcome that information.