Educating Messiahs

Apr 4, 2013 by

colin hannaford

Colin Hannaford

Colin Hannaford –

In this final essay for ‘Educating Messiahs’ .. Ouch! How many times have I written that? Let’s start again.

In this final last essay for ‘Educating Messiahs’, and ‘Children for an Honest, Just, and Fair World’ in Facebook, I will describe the basis of a programme of education to end the war between religions and science. This part is easy.

I shall also explain how a mind perceives God. This is not very difficult.

Since our Facebook space is limited, my explanations may seem crude.

My real task will be to show that they are the right approach.

Since religions are all far older than science, we will first need a new understanding of the aim of religions; next, a new understanding of the aim of science; then to show that their aims are identical. Not similar: identical.

The aim of religions is to alleviate depression.

The aim of science is also to alleviate depression.

The primary and the secondary causes of depression are the common sense of being helpless in a world of relentless, universal change.

Both religions and science attempt to deal with this depression by describing a universe governed by laws which do not change.

Religions make these laws their articles of faith

Scientists seek to identify features of the universe which they call invariant.

Both are attempting to deal with depression. What both seek is invariance. There is no possibility of showing that the features which the scientists find invariant are even similar to the articles of faith which religions make invariant.

It is because articles of faith and scientific laws are found in entirely different ways that attempts to end the war between religions and science in this way will always fail.

We need first to understand why depression is so much a part of the universal human condition that it has given birth to religions, and then how depression has also engendered science

Depression is one of the oldest human illnesses. The practice of trepanning: of boring open holes in the human skull to let out evil spirits – or, as we might now conjecture, to relieve low spirits – was common in many prehistoric cultures as early as 10,000 BC. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates, who has been called the first modern doctor, gave specific directions for the procedure around 400 BC. Galen, an equally famous follower, did the same around 200 AD.

In mediaeval Europe, depression wascalled melancholia. In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas called it ‘the sorrow of the world.’ If a patient could afford it, the operation was common much later. In the 18th century, Prince Philip of Orange, who must have been spectacularly unhappy, is reported to have been trepanned seventeen times. What it did for his unhappiness is not recorded.

In industrially developed countries, in which depression is now generally recognized as an illness, it is the most common of all medical health problems: as the cause of every kind of private and social dysfunction, from apathy to despair, violent crime and murderous rape.

In these countries the licit response is a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry and the illicit response a multi-billion dollar drug trade. It is doubtful whether either is more effective in alleviating depression than religions. All that is certain is that they cost more together than boring holes in skulls ever did..

But what is the cause of an affliction as old as this, a cause as active, possibly even more common now as it was ten millennia ago? To find this cause we must reflect on the most basic human response to being human.

It is likely to be very ordinary, very simple, very obvious. To some degree or other it is likely to affect everyone: child, woman, man. Most of you should be able to recognize it as soon as it has been described.

The changes which affect everyone immediately, and usually irrevocably, are simply the addition of more children into a family.

The response is a child’s realisation that more of its parents’ affection will now have to be shared with yet another sibling. It is to be found in the mother’s realisation that her survival, and the survival of her children if she should die, is at risk once again. It is to be found in the father’s realisation that the burden of his family has increased once more: whilst he is becoming less able, and perhaps is also less willing, to support them.

Depression grows from this common root,.

This is the origin of religions. It is also the origin of a fundamental mistake concerning the nature of God: mistake which religions may not acknowledge; a mistake which bedevils our lives today.

Marx was wrong that religions are always imposed on people. Later, yes; originally: no. Since not everyone could have holes bored in their skulls, which is an inevitably an expensive and risky business, ordinary people expected their religions to alleviate their depression as soon as they were sufficiently organised to support them.

In general, their religion provided the needed relief in three forms:

God was called upon to appease children’s fear by offering them unconditional affection. God was called upon to offer mothers moral and emotional encouragement in having more children. God was called upon to tell men that they have a duty to marry, and to inseminate their wives, but must never confuse either duty with pleasure. They need not, therefore, as a general rule, love their wife. And this, we may surmise, is where gays lost the social cachet they had enjoyed in Sparta, in Greece, and in classical Rome, got a firm shove in the direction Hell.

The general response to this universal depression is an industry which declares that all its people are guarded by a God: a God who could change, but never does; which tells people that their faith must also never change; which promises children God’s affection in return for continuing obedience; which promises mothers His moral and emotional encouragement to have more children; and which tells fathers they have a dual duty: to defend the tribe and increase its number. (But not by taking too many wives at once. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, the dear man. This, we are told – in 1 Kings 11 – caused God to abandon him for David.)

Such gods, as Muhammad would make plain, are incorrigibly tribal.

It does not matter if the tribe is ten million strong; or fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand million strong. And this is where Marx happened to be right. Because they wanted a God who is their own and is also invariant, tribes become stuck with a god who cannot be shared with others. It becomes another idol; and the worship of idols has to be imposed.

Scientific thinking began in Greece about two millennia ago.

Having its origins, as Professor Gell-Mann told us, in a society in which the old tribal gods were largely recognized to have lost their powers, the reason why the earliest rational thinkers began to search for invariance was just the same as before. Their manner of doing so, however, was very different.

Their most notable stroke was to refuse to acknowledge the need to alleviate any of the forms of depression described above.

They did this heroically: by refusing to admit that subjective reality is important at all. As Heraclitus, one of the most influential of their number, pointed out in around 500 BC: “No-one can step into the same river twice”.

In this single famous sentence, he and his followers scornfully rejected personal perceptions as unworthy of any further examination. Instead these earliest scientists sought invariance in features of the world which they held to be beyond change, impossible to change: in proportions, in geometry, in numbers.

They became the first mathematicians. Although unable to eliminate change in the actual physical world, they bravely insisted that the physical world has the same relation to the real world as the constantly changing light and shadows thrown on the walls of a cave by a fire outside. This play of light and shadow is always unpredictable. It is always confusing. It is never to be trusted. It is not real.

They believed that the real world could be detected only through thought: that everything in this real world has some kind of counterpart in the physical world. The essential difference is that in the world in which we live everything is imperfect, changing, dying. In their real world everything is perfect, invariant, eternal.

Scientists have been attempting to perceive this changeless world ever since. They have had immense success in relating it – through the application of their theories – to our actual world. They have succeeded in changing our actual world to a degree impossible to imagine being achieved by tribal idol-worshippers.

But just as tribal idol-worshippers have generally failed – or perhaps it is better to say, have made no attempt to understand – that worshipping their idols is equivalent to boring holes in their heads, so scientists apparently also do not care to examine what urges them to take such risks in seeking their invariant understanding of everything – notice that it has precisely this name: ‘The Theory of Everything’ – that whilst they are footling about, one of their misfits, or one of their accidents, may destroy the world that, effectively, they posture to despise.

Knocking heads together by the billion is beyond even our powers. But we can easily explain why idol-worshipping and theories of everything have the same appeal. We discovered it over thirty years ago – time does fly – in our classroom.

Which reminds me of a story to lighten our mood.

I was sitting alone in a dark corner of the sauna a few days ago in which I have held so many useful seminars when the door was flung open and in fell a mountain of a man who, not noticing me, plumped down heavily in the seat opposite and who said, as he did so: “F— me! I thought it was still mornin’!”

“Tempus fugit” I offered in my helpful fashion.

He peered at me in the dim light. He seemed affable. He had a big belly but also huge biceps. Not a man to annoy. “Eh?”

“Tempus fugit,” I replied, “Time flies. You find it often on old grandfather clocks. Latin. Time never stops.”

“True enough! I thought it was still mornin’.” He held out a vast hand. It swallowed mine as a whale swallows a sardine. “I’m Darren.”

He told me he was a builder: ‘and in security’. I told him who I was; and then: “It’s like a lot of entirely English expressions which don’t seem to make a lot of sense. I have a German lady staying with me, who asked me this morning, ‘What do English people mean when they say: “Well, really.”?

“Ahah,” said Darren. “Hard!”

We spent a short while dissecting it grammatically, semantically, even syllogistically. And then I added, “There’s another expression, just as difficult, that I didn’t like to offer to the lady.”

“Oh. What’s that?” asked the man-mountain.

It’s ‘F— me!’”

His response could have been ugly: “You makin’ fun of me?” Instead there was a pause; then a great bellow of laughter, then his massive paw again enveloped mine in a bone-crushing grip: “Yes! O’course. F— me, you’re right!”

Habits of thinking, behaviour, reaction – as we discovered in our classroom and have now explored exhaustively in these essays – are the main preoccupation, possibly the sole preoccupation, of that neurological structure (as my friend the award-winning Cambridge physiologist has advised me to say) that less cautious physiologists still call, as we have, the right brain.

The right brain has no sense of humour. It cannot afford a sense of humour; for humour, even in the most minor instance, is triggered by one confident expectation being supplanted by another which is unexpected. The right brain can only remember, and recall, information that experience has planted there before.

There was once a rabbi who boasted to a priest that, being also Jewish, Jesus Christ must have looked like him. ‘Hah!’ said the priest, ‘I don’t believe you. Prove it!’

So the rabbi took him through the city to a somewhat rundown apartment building where took the elevator up to the third floor. There the rabbi approached a certain door and briskly rang the bell. There was a momentary pause, before it was jerked open by a gorgeous girl, who she stared at the rabbi and exclaimed: “Jesus Christ! Not you again!!!”

What, exactly, did you expect? Only the left brain (this is with apologies to my Cambridge friend) can hold two, or more, expectations of an event simultaneously until further information appears. You knew, as the priest knew, that the rabbi could not possibly resemble Jesus Christ, because you have been conditioned to visualize Jesus Christ as a tall handsome guy, possibly with blue eyes.

This is your right-brain expected, which is why it was surprised.

The only essential difference between the right-brain hunt for invariance in religion and that in science is professional. It has to do with ambition.

The priest will only be respected if he is able to confirm to the faithful that absolutely nothing has changed to affect their faith: that, in their universe over which he is bound to preside, whatever was declared to be eternal a thousand, two, three thousand years ago, is still eternal; that all the promises made and all arguments used to establish and maintain their faith remain unchanged. Their tribe’s idol is intact.

Although several such tribes are now capable of nuclear war, there is nothing essentially dishonourable about keeping their idols and temples ready to serve the faithful. The aim of religions is to alleviate tribal depression. They do this well. If the aim is well-intentioned, their methods cannot be fairly impugned.

And of course scientists have an idol to defend.

‘By standing on the shoulders of giants’, as Sir Isaac Newton once explained his own success, scientists have established theories which now appear to explain the universe with astonishing accuracy – or ‘pretty well’ Sir Isaac would say – across unimaginable scales of space and time.

Many would like to believe that eventually they will achieve theory which will explain everything, eternally, unfailingly, completely. Imagine this! Imagine never to be shown that you are wrong again: imagine writing the last text-books: learning to fish: improving your golf: opening the first camps for dissenting scientists!

Perfect theory, perfect practice: always a fascist dream!

The main functional difference between priests and scientists is, of course, that priests already have their theory of everything already. They only have to learn it. However they spent their idle hours, their textbooks have all been written. Everything knowable is known. They cannot doubt. They can only no longer deal with dissenting priests as they did. It was also useful to fine those who did not go to church.

A scientist, in contrast, can only win the respect of his peers, notice and advancement, by finding new details or correcting errors others have not noticed.

They are professionally fortunate in inhabiting a universe which may also be suspected of having a sense of humour. Its most recent cosmic joke has been to disclose that they have been puzzling for centuries over a universe of which ninety percent has never been noticed before. It is full of dark stuff.

They are back in their cave. Actually they are not. They are trying very hard to look unperturbed, and over other’s shoulders to read their scribbling.

Could it be that our new friend Dr Hutchinson is right: that the universe is filled with particles so small that no earthbound experiment has ever been able detect them; that they are responsible for gravity, carry light, diminish light’s frequency over cosmic distances, so that their presence means that all those thousands of man-years’ of work on proving that the universe began with a cosmic hiccup has been wasted?

Of course not, scientists will say. They expect theories to fail. As a dear friend of mine liked to say: ‘If it isn’t provisional, it isn’t science.’ i


But at this point it will be useful to notice another theory that is beginning to show its age. I mean the theory that, because the most advanced intelligence known to exist in this vast and wondrous universe belongs, to borrow from Bertram Russell’s history of Western philosophy, to ‘the minds of tiny lumps of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet’, therefore no greater intelligence can exist. ii

This has become embarrassingly similar to notions of the universe before the invention of the telescope.

If a cosmic intelligence exists, such scientists are unlikely to detect it.

Being an intelligence, it will be alive. It will communicate best with the left brain, not with the right. Remember that only the left brain knows that it is alive.

Our ancestors, our forebears and our immediate predecessors developed two principle ways of dealing with depression.

One may be characterised as the fascination of religions with their past: I am here reminded of Albert Einstein’s comment on witnessing the worship of his fellow Jews before the remnant of King Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem that is called the Wailing Wall,: ‘Where dull-witted clansmen of our tribe were praying aloud, their faces turned to the wall, bodies swaying to and fro. A pathetic sight of men with a past, but without a present.’ iii

The other is our scientists’ fascination with the future: for it is only by ignoring everything ugly and inconvenient in the present that the majority can hope to win imperishable glory in the future. ‘The good’, wrote Shelly, ‘want power but to weep barren tears. The powerful goodness want: worse need for them. The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom.’ iv

For better or for worse, religions deal very adequately with depression en masse. They help individuals too. If only they would all ditch the insane presumption that the women of one religion can outbreed the women of another we, and the women, would all be better off.

The tribes that religions once served in this manner are no longer separated by empty deserts, steppe, or seas. They are now declaring the primacy of their own idols within our own cities, and demanding that all other idols be destroyed. They challenge each other with bombs, assassinations, with armour and from the air. When Muhammad ordered the destruction of the idols in the Kaaba it was not because he feared these ancient intercessories, but because he saw presciently that they nothing but right-brain artefacts which can only lead ultimately to the ruin of all hopes.

But science had also better pull its horns in.

Are scientists who prostitute their minds to pursue research of no meaning to any but their peers more to be respected: more than soldiers, I hear you mutter, who prostitute their minds and their bodies: which is a fair point; or, you might add, more than honest whores, who sell only their bodies: than priests who sacrifice their entire lives in rescuing thousands of poor people from life’s sorrows? I think not.

Many scientists never pretend to be interested in improving the lives of the unhappy billions who wait to be noticed. They are at least honestly selfish. For the most fortunate of scientific celebrities there is prestige, there are prizes and public, if not always informed, acclaim. “What did I do to win a Noble Prize? Buddy! If I could tell you, it wouldn’t be worth a Noble Prize.” (Feynman, R. 1965).

We, of course, who used to be the great unwashed, are rewarded with better health, better hygiene, more comfort, with, at least nominally, more safety – and, of course, with a staggering amount of knowledge most of us will never be able to use.

But knowledge is ever a double-edged sword. It is as ready to hurt the careless as to guard. Dr James Martin is an extraordinary contemporary of ours, a most unselfish scientist who has spent much of his own fortune to create the Oxford Martin School of the University of Oxford, the first in the world to investigate the dangers to your children’s future.

As he has pointed out, crusades no longer need armies. A single – and probably deeply depressed – modern science graduate may now be capable of creating a virus, or hacking into the computers to launch of one of the thousands nuclear missiles still operational after the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction of the United States and the Soviet Union was also recognized as a right-brain insanity, as very seriously MAD, to destroy us all.v This is our reality. This is now.

In my introduction I wrote of a primary and a secondary cause of depression. We have now spent sufficient time on the primary. Let’s look at the other. As witness the licit and the illicit industries that serve to assuage it, this form of depression is just as wide-spread. Fortunately, since the sufferers will be much more conscious of it, it is correspondingly easier to deal with.

And there are pioneers.

Not long after his twenty-ninth birthday, for example (dammit! That is a dangerous age!), a brave young man experienced a typical collapse of the confidence he had been depending on his right-brain to sustain.

He had learnt, he supposed, to think all the right thoughts, to behave in the right way, to expect the success that all right thinking and right acting is supposed to provide. He had suffered some depression before. Now, suddenly: ‘The most loathsome thing of all was my own existence. What was the point in continuing to live with this burden of misery?’

This young man is called Eckhart Tolle. vi

In the report that he has written, bought by millions world-wide, he also explains how he discovered a totally different way to experience his life. He calls it ‘The Power of Now’.

Dismissed by Time magazine reviewers as ‘mumbo jumbo’, I encourage you to beg, borrow or steal a copy, and you will see that it is not: although, typically as a pioneer, he has not tried hard enough to curb his enthusiasm for calling others to his promised land as, for example – ahem! – I have.

And although he does not seem able actually explain what it is that produces this sudden relief from his terrors, I am fairly confident that you now can.

Recall, to help you, my experience in that night-school classroom when I asked my audience of mainly black ladies to think first of their social identity. In the moment that followed, what did they do?

They consulted the store of happy or unhappy memories in their right-brain. Those memories did not actually tell them who they are, but how others had identified them the past.

It was only when I asked them whether they recognized another very private and personal identity that a far longer moment ensued of almost sacramental silence: and, one by one, they showed that they did.

It was in that moment, prompted by that question, that they opened what Aldous Huxley long ago, although he needed mescaline to do it, called ‘the doors of perception’. Just for a fraction of time, they perceived the present, the true identity, with the left-brain. It was no longer anchored to the right.

Finally, I promised, I would explain how you may open our mind to God.

It is very simple.

Find a quiet place; pack all your present thoughts and anxieties in a box; place it carefully to one side – carefully, for you will need to deal with them again; close your eyes, compose yourself, and say to yourself: “I am that I am.” You remember that this is what Moses reported that God told him this was his, that is, God’s, name. I believe now that Moses may have misunderstood what he was being told, that he was being told how to become one with God.

In January this year – on the 14th I think – I also told you how to pray.

And this, along with Eckhart’s chutzpah, is really you really need to know.

Although Sir Isaac Newton does not record it as direct experience – and I have explained why he would have been loathe to do so whilst a fellow of Trinity, Cambridge – it is interesting that he not only found gravity to be necessary to explain the world. ‘.. [D]oes it not appear from phenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space – as it were, in his Sensory – sees things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly?’ vii

On reading that for the first time – about an hour ago – I had a strong intimation that Sir Isaac may actually have experienced his ‘Being incorporeal’.

This strengthened all the more as tried to write a description of my understanding of my own experience, one which might possibly satisfy modern scientists and modern theologians. I am sure, sadly, that I would have had no difficulty in convincing ancient theologians. Few of their prophets left a better record.

I soon realized that I could do no better than Sir Isaac. His great mathematical rival Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz argued that religion and science truths cannot contradict each other, and he poked fun at Newton’s observation that planetary orbits are inherently unstable, insisting that God would not allow this. Even great minds can be closed minds. Newton calculated everything would end in 2060. You may want to mark this in your diaries.

I would never dare, of course, to argue theoretically with either of these gentlemen. I can, however, make one – no, two, surprising observations.

I have noted both of these earlier, but you will better understand their significance if I repeat them here.

As scientists, it is always essential to remember Richard Feynman’s most powerful pronouncement: ‘If any theory is not proven by experiment, it’s wrong.’

Every experience is a mind’s experiment.

We must always be aware as human beings of just how small we are; and we might also realize that if an incorporeal being in infinite space wished to be ‘thoroughly and intimately perceived and wholly comprehended’ there is no known reason why this should not happen.

In the first place, the ‘Being’ I experienced was not at all incorporeal.

It was highly corporeal. It was very solid, very vigorous, and very powerful.

In the second: and this certainly the most unexpected of all this rapid sequence of utterly impossible events, for nothing in the long solemn history of previous apprehensions or experience, nothing in the Hindu, nothing in the Jewish, the Christian, the Muslim, Sikh, or Mormon tradition, could possibly have prepare me for it: as this very solid, very vigorous, powerful ‘Being’ embraced me, he laughed!

He laughed with pure delight. He laughed uproariously. I felt him laughing!

Then he was gone.

Leaving me feeling that I had solved his favourite riddle

It seems that he values most those who learn to use their souls: who open their minds to experience.

Oxford, 5th April 2013.

i Dr A.D. Barlow, one of the great-grandsons of Charles Darwin.

ii ‘History of Western Philosophy’, Russell, B. 1946.

iii From his diary: February 3, 1923, Einstein, A.

iv ‘Prometheus Unbound’, Shelley, P.B. 1820.

v In ‘The Meaning of the 21st Century’, Martin, J. 2006.

vi The Power of Now’, Tolle, E. 2005.

vii ‘Opticks’, Newton, I. 1704. (I had intended to check his more famous: “If I have seen further, etc.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.