Christ according to Jaynes

NOTE: Excerpted from a book you will never read. As a Christian, I now think this is crap. At least the Bible citations are accurate.

I mentioned earlier that Julian Jaynes saw present religion as basically a yearning for a past mentality, rather than of present relevance in a scientific age.

My distinction would be not between religion and its supposed evolved field, science, but between politicized religion, and that of autonomous, personal conviction free of a need to impose one’s beliefs over others. This is only hinted at by Jaynes in his observation of some degree of political hierarchy involved in what is simply termed ‘organized religion.’

“[E]ven the history of Christianity does not and cannot remain true to its originator. The development of the Christian Church returns again and again to this same longing for bicameral absolutes, away from the difficult inner kingdoms of agape to an external hierarchy reaching through a cloud of miracle and infallibility to an archaic authorization in an extended heaven.” — Julian Jaynes, from The origin of consciousness

Jaynes refrained from straying from the already large scope of his book, ‘The origin of consciousness,’ yet hinted at the implications of consciousness coming about only as recent as 500 B.C., on Christianity.

“A full discussion here would specify how the attempted reformation of Judaism by Jesus can be construed as a necessarily new religion for conscious men rather than bicameral men. Behavior now must be changed from within the new consciousness rather than from Mosaic laws carving behavior from without. Sin and penance are now within conscious desire and conscious contrition, rather than in the external behaviors of the decalogue and the penances of temple sacrifice and community punishment. The divine kingdom to be regained is psychological not physical. It is metaphorical not literal. It is ‘within’ not in extenso.” — Julian Jaynes, from The origin of consciousness

This echoes much of Kant’s distinction between the Old and New Testaments, as cited in Episode 5.

I will try to expound on the implications of Christian thought as found in the Gospel, on our life as subjective beings, and hope to provide additional understanding of Jesus’ ideas in light of Jaynes and his explanation for the rise of consciousness.

Even before beginning, I’m wary of a selective fitting of ‘facts’ to a fixed thesis, like Homer Simpson cramming incompatible pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together.

Essentially, proper scientific methodology is a matter of formulating a theory by which all relevant facts are arranged logically for understanding. Having ‘the facts’ is never enough to replace theory; whether or not you intend it, all facts are presented through one theory or another, however much stated these may be. The problem lies in including and omitting available facts for the sake of keeping a theory sensible, which is what we want to avoid.

Furthermore, you are free to take what you will out of what I admit to be speculations 2,000 years after the fact. We are not trying to establish scholarly accuracy or what truly is, but rather provide light to our way of living.

While the fall of man (Genesis 3) was an exile from non-conscious obedience to drives, and moving to conscious, uncertain willing, Christ in the Gospel wields consciousness over one’s ‘poor’ circumstances to find value even in adversaries and suffering, beyond what any automatic following of one’s urges could do.

Jesus makes much of poverty, in the sense of being free of attachments and preconceptions. The Beatitudes given during the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12) elaborate on the compensation of being opened to spirit and letting go of ‘the world.’

The sisters Martha and Mary, whom Jesus visits (Luke 10:38-42), hold different tasks, and could be interpreted as aspects of one’s being, Martha being the non-conscious ‘beast of burden’ and Mary the consciousness which interacts with Christ, the spiritual.

Parables, by their very form, elevate the use of metaphor in recognition of its role in forming consciousness, where all experience of a ‘real world’ is shaped in mental time-space. A point is made as to the nature of our being, using the everyday as an analogy to spiritual truth.

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) invites itself to a Jaynesian interpretation. Why does this good-for-nothing get all the attention from the father, just because he comes home? Meanwhile, the faithful elder brother is left alone, not made a fuss of.

It is in what we focus our consciousness on that moral changes occur. We often approach the unknown future with anxiety, but there is a way to deal with uncertainty with more assurance, as the prodigal son finds. He eventually grows aware of his faults, and sees that deadening himself to the world through hedonistic sensuality and drunkenness was no way of going about life. Returning home, he is met with forgiveness and a celebration, like the occasional times we realize the present is all we have, that we can revel in, in full awareness rather than intoxication.

Consciousness, we often find, comes along with paranoia, because we are built to worry about the things that need to be addressed. It is precisely our faults, and not the things we get right, that we attend to.
The prodigal son’s initial denial of his family and responsibilities is a necessary step, psychologically speaking, to maturity. Mindless subservience, never questioning as to rebel, is not a sign of spirit; one needs to inquire about, even reject, however tentatively, the norms one lives in.

A sign of developing consciousness in toddlers, is the use of the word “No,” even to an excessive degree. If a child were perfectly satisfied with their manner of being, as spoonfed by their parents, there would be no need to even say “Yes,” or to communicate at all. The child would remain happily passive. But this isn’t what happens; a child is compelled to speak, if only to refuse the way things are. And it is in such negative communication, with its implicit metaphors in order to align one’s internal and external worlds, a kind of rejection of the literal world in favor of a figurative, subjective one, that we all gradually become conscious in childhood.

Just as language comes from negation early on in childhood and in the species, ‘Thou shalt not’ as a guide to living is an early stage of maturity, prior to fuller development of consciousness, which involves working with conscience rather than keeping with external legislation.

It is no wonder that what we know of life is a matter of suffering, of refusal to take the world as it has been handed to us. Yet there is much, if not most of the world, that is ‘according to plan,’ that is, as nature intended. We don’t have to devote our consciousness to pumping blood in and out of the heart, because we stay alive just fine, to the point of taking it for granted. The things that we are conscious of, guide us towards what could be done so that we could move on to other wrong things.

The evangelists didn’t really consider all this, or wouldn’t convey these ideas in such a way. They were likely merely inspired by more immediate situations, and it is up to us in later generations to nitpick and discover their genius and insight as applied to, among other things, the workings of the mind.

The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), meanwhile, points to an early overcoming of the tribal instinct, as trade among peoples grew. Consciousness has allowed for global-mindedness, where self-identification with groups shifts to ideas rather than mere geography or apparent accidents of birth.

The good Samaritan recognized the robbed traveler as a person regardless of his origin, that he had his unique experiences and manifested life in a way that the Samaritan may have known little of. Thus the concept of ‘neighbor’ is expanded.

According to Jaynes, our capacity for identity implies some degree of social integration. The gradual development of consciousness is made possible at all through social interactions occurring even before birth, where an external ‘other’ forms the basis of an internal ‘I.’

The formation of consciousness may not happen consciously, but in time we grasp how others contain whole worlds as we do. In this sense could we grasp that the love we have for our neighbor is very much the love we have for ourselves, and vice versa (Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31).

With the development of consciousness as we know it, also came mental processes required of deception, that is, displaying one mode of behavior while considering things in another way. Like an animal or plant predator appearing harmless in order to ensnare their prey, except with accompanying mental narrative to one’s actions.

Bicameral humans could only carry out the orders of their ‘god’ in a straightforward manner. Conscious beings, on the other hand, are capable of saying one thing, by all indications intent on doing as others believe them to do, only to act another way.

The parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32), not to be confused with that of the prodigal son, is reminiscent of this refined and introspective manner of deception. One son refuses to do as his father asks, yet ends up doing so anyway. The other seems to agree to his father’s wishes, but does nothing. The parable is typically interpreted as showing how behavior matters more than words, yet the underlying assumption is of conscious beings capable of acting differently from what they signal to others.

Our predilection for deception is evident in our penchant for a particular manner of storytelling. Dialogue is boring when forthright; a conflict between a character’s thoughts and what they display to others is what maintains interest.

Adler’s adoption of Vaihinger’s ‘As if’ presupposes people able to create narratives of who they and others are, in contrast to viewpoints of others. For the sake of mental well-being and social order, individuality could not be pursued while ignoring consideration of others, even as Jesus speaks of the Way (John 14:6) as not a matter of bringing peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36). The real question here is to what extent neuroticism could be attributed to one’s assertion of their independence of spirit, when interpreting Christianity as radical and unconventional.

There’s a reason ‘happily ever after’ of fairy tales serves as an ending, with no further explanations asked. The only stories worth continued attention require tension between the way the world is and a hero’s desire.

Peace, happiness, and honesty, in the sense of going back to some pristine state of being, are the idle wishes of those resigned to life merely happening. Having ideals against the way things are, means knowing there is always something worth devoting our energies to change. Contrary to ‘realists’ beaten down by crushed expectations, idealism could not be the striving of the naïve, but must come from an awareness that things could not and should not stay as they are.

As though a recognition of the conscious mentality, the Gospel emphasizes what comes out of a person’s mouth, rather than what enters it, as that which defiles (Matthew 15:17-18). In other words, morality is not a matter of what happens to you or what some other entity tells you to do, but of what choices you make.

We have an enduring preoccupation with the supposed evils of this or that weapon, video game, drug, or what have you, which we carelessly assume to cause our corruption. This is a symptom of a materialistic attitude that detracts from the responsibility of each of us in determining the value of things, and reflecting this in the actions we take.

Jesus’ overall story, of life, death, and resurrection, serves as an analogy for the development of one’s mind, beginning with mere existence, followed by a burgeoning consciousness with its corresponding chaos — the ‘fall’ — and finally, a defeat of circumstances by conscious direction, as one’s actions are seen for the changeable habits they are. It is at this third stage that we have the ability to let go of the deer-in-headlights behavior in which we are often, though not deliberately, trained to deal with stressful situations.

Jesus’ life could be related to the story of individuals, and of whole civilizations. Yet, as a simple life story, it also serves as a challenge, to make the most of conscious living, and to remain open to the possibility of life regardless of what befalls a person.

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