I want to illustrate how deeply the hating of women runs in our cultural psyche, and how subtle and difficult it is to detect – especially because of the evolutionary limitations of our brain’s capacity to distinguish reality, from noises, signals, and feelings being generated inside of our own heads.
I begin today with the story of Elizabeth Smart. Details about Elizabeth Smart’s abduction are coming out because of her three days of testimony on the stand this month.
During her testimony, Ms. Smart told the jury that she was angry with herself because her own fear kept her living in silence. She mourned the loss of her childhood, and had personal doubts about her value at a human being.
Let me say this again. She doubted her value as a human being. Why? Because she was abducted and raped by a religious psychopath. She was raped. Forced sex was done to her. But because of her unconscious religious mythologies, she feels like something is now wrong with her.
Implied here is that sex, in what ever form, is a blight on a woman’s soul. The scourge of sex is something she must carry with her forever. Where would a young girl get such an idea? From religion.
However, lest we think I’m speaking only of Christian, Islamic, or Judaic teachings, most spiritual paths demonize female sexuality – even if the sex is forced upon her, and beyond her control.
The Kundalini yoga lineage has, for example, the myth of the arch-line – an energetic “fingerprint” that a man supposedly leaves on a woman forever – sullying her “pure” energy, through his sex with her. The more lovers she has, the more sullied she is with the sex-fingerprints of her past lovers. The underlying message: sex is dirty and leaves dirty finger prints. Sex sounds downright anti-spiritual in this supposedly benign practice of yoga.
The funny part is that, with even the most basic scrutiny, the impenetrable myths of the major religions and minor spiritual paths fall apart. Eastern myths, for example, put forth the idea that all life is an illusion.
If life is all an illusion at its core, then what difference does it make if illusory skin cells touch other illusory skin cells? Life is an illusion. Why are people so readily punished, shamed and abused by their gods for sex if it’s all an illusion anyway? Am I missing something here? Perhaps two illusions contacting genital skin turns the illusion of life into a punishable realty? Apparently so.
To further illustrate the point, I quote Elizabeth directly. “I felt that because of what he had done to me, I was marked,” Elizabeth told the jury. “I wasn’t the same. My personal value had dropped. I was nothing. Another person could never love me.”
Again, the supposed dirty nature of sex is the key here. She was raped by religious psychotic Brian David Mitchell, but according to religious mythology, she is the one who looses her purity, her virginity, and therefore her value. As if her entire ordeal itself hadn’t done enough damage, it’s ultimately the “sex-act” that has diminished her value as a human being, and made her unlovable.
The touching of these cells (penis skin cells) with those cells (vagina skin cells) constitutes permanent, even eternal sullying and potential damnation. Of course we humans are touching people all the time, but the horrible distinction is in “those skin cells” touching “these skin cells.” That’s where god draws the line, and it angers this ill tempered, invisible-genital-monitor.
Why all the pressure and focus on a woman to be sexually “pure”? Because paternity was not certain in our evolutionary past. This was really not a problem until we invented the idea “pure blood lines” and needed to pass along the right of property ownership. But once we did, we had to ensure that our children were really our children. The heir to the throne must really be my child, and not the child of one of my Royal Guards, for example.
To ensure female fidelity, culture co-opted the feelings, love, and appreciation for God, and attached those to the female genitals. The love of god is available to her, as long as she protects and keeps her genitals pure, and under control. If however, she strays, or even thinks about straying, then the full wrath of god falls upon her – whether it’s directly her fault or not. We all know – somehow, one way or another, she brought this upon herself.
Now, because of this myth, the most important question in the entire universe is “where are my woman’s genitals at any given moment?” The roots of modern religion are based on protecting and controlling the vagina. Once the invisible, all knowing genital monitor has been deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche, which at this point it most certainly has, even the rape victim feels like she’s responsible, directly or indirectly, for the loss of her purity and virginity. She has failed the ideal of keeping the gates of her genitals pure.
And for those of us who believe in the myth of “positive thinking”, what exactly did Elizabeth think to bring this upon herself?
The Secret (the runaway best seller of the early 2000’s) would say that she “thought” this event upon herself, because our “thoughts create our reality.” This is obviously absurd and offensive, but it’s also something that millions and millions of people actually believe.
The American obsession with the ideology of positive thinking is based on erroneous and delusional ideas cultivated in the late 1800’s. They were popularized during the great depression, and have become an integrated part of the American ethos. The problem I have with positive thinking is that it’s so destructive, oppressive, and demoralizing to people who have fallen on hard times or been victimized in some way. It’s the ultimate shame. You, Elizabeth, brought this horror upon yourself because the universe was reading your deepest inner thoughts.
I assert that our religious, optimistic beliefs interfere with our rational perceptions, and our ability to think critically.
For example, when detectives actually had a chance to rescue Elizabeth – an opportunity that came in a Library in Salt Lake City – Mitchel (Ms. Smart’s charismaticly delusional abductor) used the veil of religious belief to stand up to the detective, keeping the detective from looking at Elizabeth’s face directly – an act that would have immediately brought the horror to an end.
“My impression was that he belonged to a religion or a cult that I had never heard of,” the detective said. Religions are cults, detective. There’s no need to make any further distinction.
Mitchell said it violated their religious beliefs for anyone but the young woman’s husband to see her face. The calm demeanor of Elizabeth’s abductor left the detective an optimistic “feeling” that it couldn’t be Ms. Smart behind the veil.
Psychopathic people, like Mitchel, can be very charismatic, and often times are deeply religious too. And when they mix charisma, religious symbolism, mythology, and forced optimism, it’s a brutal mix of obfuscation and confusing, hypnotic, Jedi mind tricks.
Religion itself is a kind of a magic act. In order to believe, we have to play pretend. We have to pretend that a special person can have a direct connection to the “divine,” just as at a magic show we have to pretend that the magician has some other worldly, unexplainable, special, magic powers. Neither magician nor spiritual leader do. The magician knows it. The religious zealot or spiritual leader is either delusional or just pretending.
The pretender, the con artist, and the magician understand how easy people’s perceptions of reality are to fool.
Furthermore, when it comes to religion, we have also to accept the idea that our God sanctions abusive practices towards children. It says so in the bible. In fact, the bible even tells us when it’s appropriate to stone our entire family to death.
One woman, noticing the treatment Elizabeth was receiving, said to herself, “boy, this teenager has really done something to make her parents angry with her, and they’re just staying right on top of her.” As religion says, spare the rod, spoil the child, and no doubt that “teenage girl” did something really bad to deserve her parents “staying right on top of her,” and it probably had something to do with sex – which in our culture certainly justifies abuse practices in the treatment of children.
The woman went on to described the family as “just not a happy group.” Subtext: if only they had happy thoughts, things would be better. This amounts to a simple, dismissive way to rationalize abuse. You know, God says that we need to do this kind of thing to children, in order to keep them in line, so it must be OK.
Speaking of what God says, Brian David Mitchell told the police that “The Lord God delivered her to me,” referring to Ms. Smart. God delivered Ms. Smart to him. God also apparently is pretty good at breaking and entering, kidnapping, and transporting a minor across state lines for sex – which are the charges against Brian David Mitchell, aka the Prophet Immanuel.
He could face life in prison if he’s convicted, so his lawyers are raising an insanity defense to explain his bad behavior. This just goes to show, you can be a bigoted, xenophobic, religious zealot, and be considered perfectly normal, and get away with a lot of “insane” stuff – as long as you don’t get caught sexually molesting children.
Making women walk around with sacks covering their entire bodies in the name of our religious beliefs is perfectly sane however. We all “intuitively understand” the evils of female body-shapes, and the adverse affect they can have men’s behavior and moral judgements. Good women with bad vaginas cause “good men” to do bad things, and when men do, we just blame the women.
Even in our modern culture we had to enact rape shield laws to protect women’s sexual history (read slut) from being introduced in court as evidence as to why she was “asking to be raped.”
The insanity defence for Brian David Mitchell will be interesting, because if lawyers do manage to pull it off, then it may open the doorway for child abusers everywhere to plead insanity as a defence. Why not? It sure beats getting killed in the federal penitentiary system.
The moral of the Elizabeth Smart debacle is this: as long as god is telling us to do sweet things – like protect democracy, or start and fight a war overseas and have a jolly attitude about it, or he is warning us of the end of times (as has been wrongly predicted every 20 years or so for the last 2000 years) well, then clearly we are sane.
If however, god tells us to take a child as our bride, well that’s clearly insane. Uh, OK. I get it. If child-sex is involved, then it’s clearly crazy. If it’s just sending an entire country to war, spending trillions of dollars, wreaking havoc upon millions of people’s lives because we believe that’s what scripture predicts, or that’s what the voice of god tells us to do, well that’s clearly sane. It all makes perfect sense to me.
“I’m just obedient to what God told me to do,” Mitchell responds to an investigator questioning him about what actually happened. Mitchel’s lawyers won’t dispute what happened to Ms. Smart (they know that would be very bad press), but they do assert Mitchell’s insanity, which therefore makes him not criminally responsible for his actions.
To me, our global belief in a chatty, female genitally focused, ill tempered, invisible man, or even the ever-vocal Jesus, talking to millions of people around the world everyday about what exactly he would do in such and such a situation, is grounds enough to demonstrate that we have a very high cultural tolerence for delusional thinking.
Evolution has left our neural circuitry with a nearly impossible task; to attempt to perceive internal, self-created signals (such as god’s voice, and feelings and intuitions about things) as exactly what they are – brain noise.
We believe in God because god “feels” real to us. In other words, an internally generated feeling must be true because we “feel” it’s true. It’s a closed loop system. God is perceived as coming from “inside but outside at the same time,” in the form of sounds and feelings simultaneously – that prove the rightness of the voice.
God is real, because he feels real to us. This is because we use the same brain tissues to evaluate similar things, whether they come from inside our heads or from the outside world.
Whether we hear a familiar voice from a friend, or the voice of “god”, it’s processed with the same brain circuits and tissues – so they both “feel” the same to us, and we evaluate them similarly.
Putting it another way, our brains have mapped the external world with internal brain-tissue, which gets used by the endless noises and signals passing through the neural networks inside our brain. Stuff generated from inside our head feels exactly like it’s actually coming from the outside world.
Our evolutionarily pre-existing brain areas – which were instrumental in our survival over millions of years – haven’t yet evolved a way to distinguish the differences between reality and imagination. This is something that didn’t matter much in the simpler days of hunting and gathering on the African plains – but matters a bunch in times of nuclear arsenals, globalization, and massive armies under the control of delusional leaders.
And the fact of the matter is, our brains may never overcome this limitation directly. We may have to muscle our way through with our rational cortex – developing the near impossible task of thinking critically.
To make the sweeping change that I am speaking of, we will have to critically think our way into reality. Technological feedback can help us do this. As brain research moves out of the lab and into the streets, we will continue discovering the inner workings of the brain – and how it determines what we believe, our sense of morals, and how we interpret the voices in our heads.
According to statistics, 1 in 4 people have some kind of undiagnosed mental illness. When we include the belief in religious mythology – the numbers are much higher than that.
Though my intention here is to give us some understanding of how the brain is working in producing our feelings about truth, rightness, conversations with god, sexual shame, and sexual guilt, I assert that we must examine and question more deeply before we let somebody like Brian David Mitchell off the hook for the consequences of his actions – even if his moral superiority comes from “the feeling” that God is telling him – personally and directly – what is right and what is wrong in a given situation.
Jesus was a master of this kind of self-delusion. Yes, our global hero Jesus listened only to “the father in heaven” some 2000 years ago. But I assert to you, in this day and age, he’d either be locked up or end up wandering the streets – that is as long as he wasn’t molesting children.
The reality is, if there was a Jesus, he was probably mentally ill.
I’m sorry to say that nobody is god’s special-elect. Nobody. A leader who claims they do not err because of their direct conversations with God (Billy Graham) and deep connection to the divine, is no different than a religious leader who cannot be accused, and prosecuted for their delusional beliefs – like the pope.
Essentially, religious belief is an old-brain malfunction, from an out dated evolutionary mutation.
The whole idea of a super-human being giving us specific instructions should be a sure sign of our own delusional state, and should wake us up to the fact that we have lost touch with reality, and therefore, our ability to think critically.
The harsh reality is, we are simply not that important in the universe.
To think that the “most important being in the entire universe”, God, is taking time out of “his” busy day in eternity, to give us personal assistance about which outfit to wear, what direction to go, what job to take, or worse yet, is watching our thoughts to make sure they are “good” so as to either empower us, or beat us down to the point of being kidnapped and raped – is truly pretty nutty.
It seems to me, technology will eventually lead to the end of belief in the ill tempered, genitally focused, invisible man. However, one way or another, to get on as a global society, we will eventually be forced to recon with the realities of reality.