Leaving the Temple

“Most, if not all of modern scientific data—and the interpretation thereof—is provisional in nature, only revealing a small part of the bigger picture.  In this respect, the interpretation of this research is, regrettably, false.   Here, I mean false in as bold and far-reaching as possible: not according to truth or fact; erroneous; incorrect; designed to deceive; illusory.” Erik Andrulis

In a recent post entitled Why Most Published Research is False, Erik Andrulis, scientist and theoretician by profession, challenges the notion that the field of science is capable of providing and condensing whole truths through data and research. My own sense is that science, because constrained as much as all human endeavor is by the nature of our senses, has a limited ability to translate and interpret research and data wholly and accurately into language and practice.

I see that the persistent but often ignored inability to separate the Knower from Knowing impedes our ability to tell the whole story. I love and respect that as a Scientist, Erik not only accepts, but can articulate for a lay audience the limitations of Science, which has become one of the most influential voices in the culture.

Now days, it’s risky for anyone, but especially a professional in the science community, to be critical of Science because acceptance or rejection of accepted dogmas is often used to identify individuals as either believers or heretics, much like Christianity was used in ages past. Okay, so heretics are not likely to suffer the physical torture as in ages past, but cultural shunning is still alive and well and has created an atmosphere in which there is very little tolerance for questioning the conclusions of science and related fields, and especially those that use or cite scientific evidence to support a conclusion or the promotion of an idea or a product.

File:God the Geometer.jpgMay I suggest that science itself has fallen into the grip of a myth, and one of the most persistent and unexamined myths of the western mind; that of the Hero, the same myth that underlies Christianity.

Both address the problem of evil and of human suffering and offer a form of salvation as the solution, even though the problem gets restated by science as having material roots rather than spiritual, with the philanthropic goal of peace through prosperity by creating and using technology for the elimination of pain and suffering, and where paradise on earth means elimination of hardships of the past to feed, clothe and protect ourselves from the elements.

Worthy goals, but without reflection and clarity, the myth of the hero, with his emphasis on action and acting (salvation and saving) risks losing sight of the goal caught up in the thrill of the conquest and battle, either seeking power over demons or power over the elements inside the laboratory.

A Science that is gripped by the power of the hero myth and its fantasy of salvation has faith in a goal that lacks clarity and vision and trusts in its ability to understand the human condition, and to be on the side of goodness which empowers its position in the culture, reaching levels of intoxication similar to those of the Christian zealots it once claimed to be freeing us from. The hero’s good intentions replace the necessity for reflection and justify its every deed, from splitting the atom to modifying genes, because the ends are trusted to justify the means.

Here we find that science and religion do share a likeness in their mythological perspective of playing the part of a powerful hero which requires a weaker victim in need of saving. I see a cultural shift from the salvation of personal sin through spiritual means from the grace of God and King to the salvation of science and technology through material grace and the promise of an end to suffering.

Mythologically speaking, we have traded in our gods of religion for the gods of science and technology.

Science is supported with facts and figures, and offers us the security of the concreteness of stuff that works – all else is deemed anecdotal, meaning unreliable, not to be trusted and often used to discount all claims of a metaphysical nature such as Near Death Experiences, the power of prayer, dreams or any other spiritual practices.

There’s cultural history here in which We, being swept away by the myth of the Hero, under the guise of finally leaving religion behind and getting it right through science, are seduced by the acceptance and power that comes from the fight against the former powers of the old King, the Christian God, and even Superstition, all of which in moderns times have been placed into the shadowy darkness whose defeat as a cultural paradigm is viewed as essential for Progress.

With this criticism I am not promoting a return to the past , but that by looking at the demands of the Hero archetype through its images we might locate ourselves within the myth, and see how it drives and influences the culture through political, religious and scientific beliefs. If we want to save something, what is it and what are we saving it from, and more importantly, what are we saving it for?

“If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high,
you’d laugh and say nothing’s that simple.
But you’ve been told many times before,
Messiah’s pointed to the door.
No one had the guts to leave the Temple.” Pete Townshend

17 thoughts on “Leaving the Temple

  1. I really enjoyed this discussion, and along the way couldn’t help but wonder if part of the “problem” is the limitations inherent in categorizing knowledge. Science as it is defined, is inherently limited in its ability to grapple with the immaterial. A “hero” of science, one who is a strict adherent to and embodiment of its virtues, thus finds himself or herself isolated (in order to be such a hero) from other ways of knowing that are essential to the full spectrum of human consciousness. It is as if science is exploring one portion of an “electromagnetic spectrum”, and heroes of religion another. To transcend these limits, all of these heroes will have to step beyond their categorical constraints, where they will discover commonality.

    Does the “old” version of what it means to be a hero then dissolve? I think it would turn the entire myth inside out. Such a hero would, perhaps, no longer see the need for the hero at all, having found instead unification with everyone, and in finding such, recognize that what is beyond categorization never needed saving in the first place? Is this what you were hinting at in the last paragraph of your own words?

    (Thanks for the follow as well.) :)

    Michael

    • Hi Michael,
      Wow, you sum up my thoughts very nicely.
      “To transcend these limits, all of these heroes will have to step beyond their categorical constraints, where they will discover commonality.”
      The theme of identity has been the guiding theme of my life. The urge to define ourselves is very powerful but tends to make static what in nature is fluid.
      As you say, step beyond the categories. I believe it is there that we will recognize ourselves in each other and perhaps be able to put the weapons and walls down.
      Yes, you got the hint.:) The question of what is salvation, or saving the planet for, can’t simply be to keep playing the hero/victim saving game.
      I wonder if the very act of being heroic has lead to a hubris that drives and justifies so much of what we do, whether in starting wars with other cultures, factory farming animals for food, over-prescribing medicines, insisting that only one church can save, or stealing/coercing other nations resources, everyone claims they’re saving someone.
      If the last 2000 years has been about Saving, it might be time to reconsider if all the saving isn’t really a way to justify acts of self/other/environmental destruction. Maybe then we can revision life’s purpose and our relationship to each other.
      Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights here!
      Debra

      • You bring up some really interesting points. Your posts are great because they invite a response- whether typed or not, I’m sure many can feel it within. That feeling of having a “take” on the issue. So, here I go…!

        I am not convinced hubris is the primary cause of the conundrums you have listed, but I do think it is related, and it depends on how the word is used. My personal sense is that a great many individual persons who are engaged within one or more levels of the chains of production associated with waging war, growing animals, or prescribing medicine are simply doing what they feel is right and good. Is this what you mean by Saving? If so, it begs a really interesting question: do we do what we do primarily because we believe it is an act of saving? Or simply because we love it and/or believe in it, the way a person can adhere to an ethic of “hard work”, as a basic value? And ultimately, is that also rooted in Saving? Do we adhere to values because ultimately we believe that in doing so, the world will be improved? Saved? Or because they are who we are, and they are the foundation of how we root ourselves into this plane?

        While hubris may show up (in any of us) as a resistance to asking the types of questions that would expand the viewpoints that drive us- and here is where I would agree with the diagnosis of hubris- or perhaps as a sense of pride in doing work that one feels is meaningful while insisting other means or methods are “the problem”, I do think there are more fundamental roadblocks than the idea of Saving. I think one deeper roadblock is fear- fear of others, fear of differences, fear of being wrong, fear of loss of identity, fear of loss of meaning, fear of loss of power, etc.

        There is “something wrong” to be sure, but I find every specific issue to be prickly. Exactly what is “wrong” about it slips through our fingers and defies being pinned to the wall. Further, one fixed wrong, made right, leads to a wrong somewhere else. This is the problem with the world as we experience it. It is madness. We push the mole down here, and it pops up over there. We might ask ourselves, what if we undertake the thought experiment of considering that everyone in the world is basically good, and going to considerable lengths to act in accordance with the sense of good-right-true that they uniquely and personally experience- what then, is going wrong? It’s almost like it’s just plain and fundamentally broken, because the world we envision as being “better”, is full of the same types of persons doing the same types of things- except the outcomes are radically different.

        I have come to think that the difference in these two worlds lies in what those persons (us) know. And while hubris certainly blocks access to further knowing, it is ultimately our ignorance of Truth that results in the whack-a-mole problem. In our ignorance, we craft solutions that are themselves out of accord with the harmony that is, and side effects inevitably result. The only solutions without side effects are those rooted in Truth.

        I wrote too much… Thank you for listening if you got this far… Michael

      • Yes, that’s a mouthful, but you make great points!
        You’re asking me to be more specific, I think, and that is useful.
        Hubris, when used to protect a class of people, like scientists, clergy, or politicians, or anyone who falls under the umbrella of expert, or who has power over others, or has a loud enough voice in the culture, is harmful and to both the individual insulated through hubris and harmful to those who hear and respect that voice potentially mistaking it as truth rather than one of many perspectives.
        It’s important to recognize, as you point out, that we’re speaking within the context of a world gone wrong or always been wrong?, or at least a world in which people do not feel at peace with themselves or with each other.
        I think that any attempt, even at the most immediate and personal level of our day to day, in which we give people the benefit of the doubt and treat them with love and compassion will give us surprisingly better outcomes and relationships than if we relate to each other as if they were the problem and the enemy.
        I am working on this myself, and it’s hard, but has changed my perspective on other people and opens me up giving me the sense that it is worthwhile to keep trying to hear and respect other people.
        I see so much woundedness, and have known much myself, but have had the experience of tremendous healing which has given me the confidence that all of us might experience the same, given the time and the right circumstance.
        Thanks for the great conversation Michael!
        Debra

  2. Hey Debra,

    I read your aticle last night but was unable to respond because my house was overrun with 7 8-year old girls for a sleepover. Now that that’s over….

    First, thanks for citing my post. I am truly grateful to have become friends with you back in late 2010 and then finding you again in 2013. I am blessed beyond measure by such collegiality, warmness, and exchange.

    Second, the scientist as hero metaphor is apt, and, of course, makes me think of Joseph Campbell’s work, who I researched. The hero archetype is very strongly attached to the medical and basic scientist, whether it be rescuing me from a viral infection, a bacterial pandemic, or a chronic disease, for example. Also, since scientists now design and engineer synthetic materials, synthetic organisms, and synthetic pharmaceuticals, the scientist is now literally saving humankind from all of its ills — or so it is thought.

    In this respect, many know the hubris that comes with thinking that you’re “All that and a bag of chips.” It is in denying its own limitations that science comes face to face with its hubris.

    The hero archetype is strong, especially when it comes to scientific messianism, which posits that ONLY the scientist can solve humankind’s problems.

    The temple within which science finds itself now is its last redoubt. Many supporting components have left the temple, but the temple paradoxically still stands. It is when the scientist recognizes the He/She built the temple, sustains the temple, and *is* the temple, that the temple crumbles and is destroyed by the acts of the scientists’ own awareness and power.

    The hero myth becomes reality when the scientist who wants to be messiah saves Him/Herself from His/Her own Creation.

    Peace,

    Ik

    • Hi Ik,
      Yesterday, I started to comment on your post on your blog, but it led me to wanting to explore the hero theme in relation to religion and science.
      The inspiration that came from your post was good timing because I wasn’t going to write this weekend as I am very busy with work.
      I am grateful and blessed too, through our friendship here. Through your writing and theory, you have pushed me beyond my comfort zone which I like and respect. You reminded me to answer for myself, what is it that humans really need and want, and I think that we want peace, and need to find a way to see each other with respect, compassion and gratitude and love, in spite of our differences.
      The world seems pregnant, bursting at the seams almost, with ideas and energy, perhaps because it’s easier than ever to be aware of a greater part of the world.
      I try to remind myself that the discontent might be what is needed to reach a breaking point in some structures that may be, and perhaps need to collapse anyway.
      Thanks for furthering the conversation with your thoughts here. It’s greatly appreciated!
      Your point about scientists cornering themselves as being the ONLY answer is right on. This is where I think Hillman’s work helps me to understand the phenomena of what he described as a literal identification that comes with getting caught up with the power that comes when the ideas begin to own us.

      Perhaps it helps to remember that the hero, as Joseph Campbell put it, has not one but a thousand faces.

      House full of girls? That’s wonderful, but I’ll bet you didn’t much sleep last night :)
      Peace, Debra

  3. Outstanding post. You have provided a lot to contemplate. I love your comparison of the Hero archetype and I agree that the scientific materialists with their belief in the ultimate authority and autonomy of humanity and science are following the script.

    The cautionary tales and dangers of this approach are equally as old and embedded in the collective consciousness in profound, whether it be the Prometheus tale of ancient Greece, the second creation story in Genesis or the Joseph Campbell arc in Star Wars. Scientific progress has resulted in great benefit for humanity but unless it is tempered by an understanding of the current limits of human knowledge at our current stage of evolution it could also result in great harm.

    • Thanks William!
      I have been bothered by the hubris of science and especially the trend in the culture to claim that it will solve all of our problems.
      We can’t assume that a good intention of correcting mistakes of the past will lead to peace and an end to environmental and human destruction without some reflection on what assumptions and drives hold sway over our ideas and beliefs.
      And we can’t expect hate to stop hate.
      James Hillman was fond of pointing out that although many moderns think they’ve left Christianity behind, our unexamined beliefs and hopes, which have roots in the past, leave us just as vulnerable to the powers that live through us as in the past.
      Debra

  4. A very interesting read, Debra, and Eric’s quote fits in with the classics. :-) I am hopeful that the inevitable paradigm shift will save science because right now a lot of scientists seem to be desperately building a dam to stop the ocean.

    • I am rooting for science as much as for all varieties of religious experience to get in the game and cease and desist in the culture wars.
      It truly does amaze me that not enough spokespersons from the field have come out and condemned or even acknowledge the part that science has played in harm done to the planet and the living because of their discoveries and inventions.

  5. “I see a cultural shift from the salvation of personal sin through spiritual means from the grace of God and King to the salvation of science and technology through material grace and the promise of an end to suffering.”

    These are profound words Debra. They articulate the situation so well. I have just finished watching a TV series by Richard Dawkins. He, as I’m sure you’re aware, is a firm believer in science having the power to liberate us from the darkness and superstition of religion. For me he is a classic example of the cultural shift you have so beautifully expressed. The more I listened to him the more uncomfortable I felt.He was vehement in his criticism of religion, especially its fundamentalism, which I personally, also have absolutely no time for, the fundamentalism, that is, but the more he spoke the more he sounded like the very thing he was condemning. Sadly science can become so much like the very destructive dimensions we’re trying to get away from in certain forms of religious perception.

    I love the way you have connected the hero myth to this shift in science and the role it has played in religion. A wonderfully refreshing post – thank you Debra.

    • Hi Don,
      Like you, I enjoy listening to any perspective that is sincere and also cannot respect certain fundamentalist views, particularly the firm notion that God pre-ordains some people to everlasting Hell. That’s for another post though. Catholic theology holds a lot of western civilizations roots and I admire the way they have absobred some pagan elements and ideas.
      I have not read Dawkins, but have listened to a few interviews, enough to be familiar and to understand your summary of him. He does epitomize the scientist as hero and his hatred for religion tells on his lack of ability to be rational and engaged. But, I sense that he has a following because of the heroic dynamic deepley embedded in the culture.
      Too bad we’re still chasing our tails, or as Monika says, building dams to stop an ocean.
      Thanks, as always for taking the time to read and share your insights. Much appreciated!
      Debra

  6. Debra,
    Your question at the end of the piece is the whopper! If one accepts that the Creator/God is in all people, all life, and all things, then it could be said that every single person has the potential of heroism. Come to think of it some theorize that every person before incarnating knew of the difficulties which would be encountered, yet chose to come to this Earth, implying that every person we meet is inherently heroic.
    Thank you,
    Jerry

    • Hi Jerry, yes, I follow what you’re saying. Good point. On the other hand, when everyone realizes that divinity is within and we are in It, there’ll be no one to save.
      Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts here!
      Peace!
      Debra

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