Monday, December 26, 2011

Catholic College Evangelists Need a Reality Check!

Curtis Martin - kneeling at center- during a noon mass at the offices of FOCUS, The Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts in his magnificent monograph, The Wisdom of Insecurity , noted that the path for peace on Earth is paved by cultivation of benign passivity as opposed to neurotic, paranoid hyper-reactivity and seeing "evil" in that which is different or apart from one's own field of righteous vision. In the first, the attitude of "live and let live" is cultivated, and not deviated from unless one is directly attacked. One never acts merely upon speculations or even "possible threats", far less on vacuous religious beliefs and contentions concerning what is "good' and what is "evil".

As noted in an earlier blog ('On The Origin and Definition of Evil') what people refer to as “evil” is easily explainable in terms of brain evolution. Thus, Homo Sapiens is fundamentally an animal species with a host of animal/primitive instincts residing in its ancient brain or paleocortex. Meanwhile, the paleocortex sits evolutionarily beneath the more evolved mesocortex and neocortex, the latter of which crafts concepts and language. This tri-partite brain structure has been compared to a car design welding a Lamborghini to a Model T Ford chassis, with a 1957 Chevy engine to power the Lamborghini. If an automotive engineer can conceive of such a hybrid beast, I'd be interested to know exactly how he thinks it would run.

The behavior resulting from this hybrid brain is bound to be morally mixed, reflecting the fact that we literally have three “brains” contending for emergence in one cranium. Behavior will therefore range from the most selfless acts (not to mention creative masterpieces) to savagery, carnal lust run amuck and addictions that paralyze purpose.

The mistake of the religionist is to associate the first mode of behavior with being “human” and not the latter. In effect, disowning most of the possible behaviors of which humans are capable.- and hence nine tenths of what makes us what we are. Worse, not only disowning these behaviors – but ascribing them to some antagonistic dark or negative force (“Satan”) thereby making them into a religious abstraction or external alien force.

The neocortex then goes into over-drive, propelled by its ability to craft words for which no correspondents may exist in reality. Suddenly, our “souls” are at risk of being “lost” to “Satan” who will then fry us in “Hell”. In effect, the religionist’s higher brain centers divide reality into forces of darkness and light, just like the ancient Manicheans. As the divide grows and persists, certain behaviorally idealistic expectations come to the fore, and a mass of negative or primitive actions is relegated to “evil”. Humans tuned in to this Zeitgeist, which is soon circulated everywhere, being to suppress all behaviors that they regard as defective or “sinful”. They don’t realize or appreciate that humans are risen apes, and not “fallen angels”.

Buddhist Watts had two salient points to make in this respect:

The first (p. 111) is that "Your goodness must have an edge to it"

In other words, there is never perfect or absolute goodness. Goodness has bounds and limits inherently factored in, on account of humans' possessing a defective brain. This means the person who strives to be absolutely good will be exposed sooner or later as a pretender and plaster saint, with feet of clay. We need look no further than those numerous evangelicals - such as Jimmy Swaggart, Tammy and Jim Baker etc. in the 80s, who put on a public goody two shoes facade that was later ripped off.. We have also seen it with self-righteous politicos - many of whom often ranted against sex or gays, and then were themselves found in compromising positions.

Never try to be too good, or your brain's "edge" will find you bitten on the ass!

Watts goes further than merely accepting the edge of goodness by noting (ibid.):

"For all the qualities which we admire or loathe in the world around us are reflections from within...Our feelings about the crawling world of the wasps' nests and the snake pit are feelings about hidden aspects of our own bodies and brains, and all of their potentialities for unfamiliar creeps and shivers- for unsightly diseases and unimaginable pains."

In other words, we are beings already enfolded in those biological and neurogical limits and patterns that portend "evil" and it is as impossible to escape from them as to escape one's own shadow. (Another way to put this, first posed by Philosopher N. M. Wildiers, is that "an evolving world and a perfect world are mutually exclusive propositions.")

But the Catholic College Evangelicals don't see it that way. According to today's Denver Post a new breed of Catholic Evangelicals, as represented by one Curtis Martin, are out to change that antiquated religion's dynamic by mounting an evangelical mission to recover "lost souls" who have strayed from Holy Mama Church. According to the article (p. 1A, today) Martin saw "a hunger and an openness among young people to learn about Catholicism."

Obviously, this would be prevalent among young people, including of college age, who haven't yet done their own thinking or wide reading. This is especially so of those attending Catholic Universities, which already places them inside a kind of cocoon. By contrast, at Loyola University in the 1960s, the Jesuits invited all manner of outside guests to lecture and expose students to a wide variety of ideas. The purpose was to incite critical thinking. My good fortune was to encounter Existentialist Jean Paul-Sartre which set me on the road to atheism.

The conclusion then is that this "hunger" singled out by Martin is a pseudo-hunger. It is the product of not knowing enough, not living enough and not encountering all the ways humans are fallible, including their popes. (Which is why the papal infallibility doctrine is among the most specious as well as pernicious).

Martin goes on:

"Their parents are scandalized. But young people look at the saints, not the sinners. They know you can find sinners everywhere."

Martin here, like most latter day Catholic apologists with blinkers, believes their parents (mainly baby boomers) were simply "scandalized" by the priest pedophile crisis and incidents, and that is true. But it goes much deeper than that. It extends to the fact that the Church's own malignant doctrines spawned the very moral contradictions embodied in the pedophile incidents. Thus it was that on the one hand they could hector couples against practicing artificial contraception and youths against masturbation while the priest themselves engaged in the most hideous acts imaginable. And yet the latter were dismissed - more or less- as the foibles of a few and in no way connected to the Church's magisterium or teaching office. Virtually, no one, other than we atheists and hardened former Catholic skeptics, saw that all were of the same piece: the actions of the pedophile priests was bound up with the Church's own moral limits, failings and malignant doctrines.

Here then Martin is too clever by half because the issue isn't that one "can find sinners everywhere" but rather that those who purport to uphold a perfect moral or ethical standard, e.g. to "lead sinners", i.e. to "goodness", "salvation" or "God" lack the innate, inherent moral compass in themselves or their fabricated dogmas, doctrines, structures to do so! This fundamental deficiency is therefore what outsiders beheld, but that ostriches like Martin and his FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) associates and apologists have not processed.

Evidently, Martin left the Church once then came back, and like most of the re-converted, displays the peculiar holier-than-thou attitude of the true believer. He claims:

"I was morally, spiritually dead. And I knew it. I spent all my time pursuing fun because I believed the lie that fun leads to happiness. God tells us that goodness leads to happiness."

But since I already noted, from Alan Watts, that all human "goodness" is limited and has "an edge" than it follows that the pursuit of blind goodness in itself, as an abstraction, can never bring happiness, only disillusionment. Indeed, the other point of Watts is that since human conceptions of goodness and founded on limited brain structures and evolve in different cultures, then goodness must be relative.

One need only consider the case of the Catholic nun dismissed from her hospital in Arizona by her Bishop some months ago, because she saved a mother's life, which cost the life of her stillborn child. By the Church's abysmal and misguided teachings, the nun had no right to interfere to choose one to live. Both ought to have died, because that would have been the ineluctable "natural" outcome of not "playing God". The nun, by contrast, believed in her own conscience that one life saved was preferable to none saved, and so acted on the mother's behalf.

Is there absolute goodness here? Of course not! It's totally relative to the situation. The goodness has an "EDGE (limit) . This is why Alan Watts' statement of goodness having an edge must be taken seriously. And if it has an edge, it can't be pursued single-mindedly! In the same manner, happiness can't accrue singly from it. When the edge of the goodness emerges, as it must in human choices, then happiness itself must be contained or limited by degrees - since no perfect choice for the 'good' exists or is feasible.

One would have thought these Catholic missionary upstarts would have learned these basics, but evidently not. Indeed, they still appear to operate in the world or realm of delusion fueled by the part of the brain known as the OAA or the orientation association area disclosed by the research of by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and his associate Eugene Daquill M.D. ('Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief’.) Recall here that once the OAA processes a religious idea, image or idiom and focuses on it, then that entity monopolized brain function to the extent of creating self-reinforcing feedback loops.

In this light, the article notes:

"FOCUS personnel spend at least an hour a day, "the holy hour," they call it, in prayer and contemplation. 'They spend seven hours a day talking to young people about God and at least an hour a day talking to God about young people' according to Martin".

It would be interesting to ask Martin here, if he's aware of which portion of his brain "talked to God" and whether he received any intelligible answers at all.

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