Religion is Like a Fungus

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Religion is like a fungus: seemingly toxic, but an essential part of an ecosystem we don’t understand.

Culture is alive. Just as physical living organisms are interconnected in complex ways, so are cultural organisms.

Our usual approach to Life is to think of organisms as discrete individuals. The plant is one thing, the soil is another, the insects another, and the fungus is some pathogen or pest. The animal is an individual, whose life processes are carried out by its individual organs. A human is one thing, culture is another; an intestine is one thing, gut flora are another.

Only recently have we acknowledged that animal digestion relies on bacteria. Without internal bacteria, animals cannot live. That bacteria is communicated through a complex living environment we remain mostly stupid about.

Religion is like a fungus. Consider Penicillium: a mold that spoils bread. No one wants moldy bread. If our bread is moldy, we curse the mold, and perhaps dream of a world in which mold is eliminated.

Suppose we succeed in wiping out the nasty bread mold. Do we end up with clean, pure bread? No, we open the door to far more toxic organisms.

I am highly critical of established religions. Terrible things are done in their names. They do seem toxic.

But a human mind without religion does not become some pure, rational ideal. The human mind never was and never will be pure or discrete. The human mind exists in a cultural ecosystem we do not fully (or even begin to) understand.

Because cultural ecosystems are barely acknowledged, let alone studied, there aren’t well-developed ways to talk about them. I use the metaphor of soil: human minds are the soil in which culture lives. Culture itself may be “airborne,” like spores. A human mind with permeable ears and eyes will be colonized by music, images, language, gestures, sounds, patterns, and much more we can’t even name. Trying to stop culture from entering a mind by enclosing it just makes the system unhealthy – like wrapping food in plastic. It works for a short time, but eventually traps colonies of microbes, and not the ones you want.

Better to keep the mind nicely aired out, with an open flow of culture around it, so it can stay healthy.

Established religions may protect minds against even more toxic cultural organisms, just as Penicillium makes bread inhospitable for pathological bacteria. For all its faults, Abrahamism may protect minds from even worse ideologies.

Atheism has become very popular in the West over the last few decades. I’m all for it. Except…it has coincided with the rise of some pretty toxic new religions. Foremost is genderism, the belief in an unprovable, indefinable gendered essence (soul) that can be born in the wrong body. Genderism is remarkably popular among professed atheists.  Danielle Muscato is a prime example.

This is anecdotal, and I am only one data point, BUT: I’ve noticed that the most toxic, extreme genderists tend to identify as atheists, while many of the most benign and rational genderists I’ve encountered practice a traditional religion (Christianity). They may not even be genderists per se, but they are transsexuals. I speculate their established religion protects them from the worst cultural toxins – misogyny, dishonesty, entitlement, violence – attendant to gender extremism.

For all my criticism of religion, I conclude that humans may need it. Killing off religion may be like killing off “pests”: seemingly beneficial in the short term, but having complex effects on the larger ecosystem that can be catastrophic. Healthy soil needs – largely is – fungi and bacteria. Healthy minds – the soil of culture – may require similarly unsympathetic cultural organisms. Like physical Life on Earth, most mental life is “below ground,” and staggeringly complex. The writhing colonies of organisms that live in dark places may disgust us, but our life and health depend on them.

Nina Paley

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Example of a reality that must change us, if we acknowledge it

St Joseph of Copertino (1603 – 1663)

He was no scholar, but he could see the future with uncanny accuracy. His tendency to float up off the ground was an embarrassment to him, and beyond his control, but his levitation was witnessed by thousands of people over many years.

Our world is too small to contain the phenomena that Michael Grosso so meticulously documents in this book.

At one point in the video, Grosso talks about a book review by people who call themselves skeptics, reduced to spouting absurdities rather than allow their science to expand to encompass phenomena that don’ fit in the current model.

A Mosh Pit for Carnegie Hall

Something was lost in the music of the 19th Century, and that something was laughter. Haydn and Beethoven composed with wit and self-conscious parody. Their audiences–royalty and proletarians–frequently laughed out loud. Some time in the mid-19th Century, the Wagners and Listzs of the world made this into a travesty. Classical music became a solemn affair, and people in concert halls had to pretend they were in church.

Then, in the 20th Century, the witty surprises of the Classical era that made listeners smile were stretched past the point where they were funny. Humor dissolved into intellectual irony, tragicomedy, and then theater of the absurd in musical guise. Audiences stopped laughing and began to wince. I would trace neoclassicism to Mahler, and by the time of the Great War, Stravinsky was no longer breaking the expected classical forms for comic relief, but was slashing and burning. If these composers hadn’t been such superb musicians, they never could have done so much damage to their genre. La vie est une tragédie pour celui qui sent, et une comédie pour celui qui pense. And in the 20th Century, pensé was exactly that on which music was overdosing.

Actually, my thoughts above began with a birthday tribute to Alfred Brendel, 88 years old today. Brendel is a public intellectual, a poet (in English, his third language, or perhaps his fourth), a painter, and one of the great pianists of the 20th Century. Listen to his Cambridge lecture on humor in music.

Brendel plays long excerpts from Beethoven’s Sonata #16, which I had always dismissed as pedantic, overblown writing. He opened my eyes to the obvious–that Beethoven is not so incompetent after all, and the whole sonata is a joke.

Buddhas and Santas, by Alfred Brendel



In front of tourists 
they contrive to keep still 
practising thirty-three varieties of ecstasy 
a thousand aspiring Buddhas 
At night though 
when no one’s looking 
they stretch their limbs 
become restless 
and pant 
a latent powder-keg 
ready 
to burn to ashes 
the wooden shrine 

Perhaps they only bicker 
because they all covet the front row 
craving 
to be scrutinized in close-up 
But in all likelihood 
they are just fed up 
with standing there like ornamental plants 
lined-up lookalikes 
rivals in the hothouse of holiness 
See 
how they spy on each other 
clandestinely counting up the golden arms 
which 
as befits a true Buddha 
sprout from their bodies 



II 

In the recent football match 
between the Buddhas and the Texan Santas 
the Buddhas 
truly excelled themselves 
With undreamt-of sprightliness 
they laid siege to their opponents’ half 
and scored 
their corpulence notwithstanding 
several magnificent goals 
After their defeat 
the red-capped benefactors of children 
can be heard singing Jingle Bells 
and observed 
out of remorse 
to be scaling the giant Christmas trees 
with which the island 
exasperates 
its pedestrians 
at every turn 
in late autumn 



III 

Santas 
have of late occupied the temples 
Singing heartily 
they swarm over the balustrades 
wade through the waterlilies 
or 
suddenly silent 
play hide-and-seek 
in the rockery 
Astonished monks 
watch them vanish 
behind the boulders 
There they huddle 
hiding their heads 
little realizing 
that the tails of their red and white cloaks 
shoot into the air like arrows 



IV 

As I stepped on stage 
the orchestra played a fanfare 
Then the loudspeakers announced me to be 
the one millionth Father Christmas 
Roared on by the crowd 
I was presented with a clone 
Tearfully 
we embraced 
the clone and I 
and sang Silent Night in unison 
At home 
he lives in the attic 
When I travel 
he deputizes for me 
in the marital bed 
Sometimes we talk to each other 
in monologue 
Just once 
when a mouse ran up his leg 
he turned nasty 
Since then we compete in swearing 
he in Hungarian 
I in Croatian 
though 
of course 
not in front of the children 

More poems of Alfred Brendel

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Innoncence personified

“The perception of other people and the intersubjective world is problematic only for adults. The child lives in a world which he believes accessible to all around him. He speaks to you without hesitation because he has no doubt you see what he sees. He has no awareness of himself or of others as sovereigns of their own private, subjective experience, nor does he suspect that all of us, himself included, are limited to one certain point of vantage on the world. That is why he believes his thoughts as they present themselves, and does not subject them to criticism. He knows other persons about him as centers of a consciousness like unto his own, but he assumes their faces are turned to one single, self-evident world where everything takes place, even dreams, which are, he thinks, in his room; and even thoughts, which, for him, are not distinct from words.” 

― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

“Science manipulates things and gives up living in them. It makes its own limited models of things; operating upon these indices or variables to effect whatever transformations are permitted by their definition, it comes face to face with the real world only at rare intervals. Science is and always will be that admirably active, ingenious, and bold way of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general — as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predestined for our own use.” 
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’Œil et l’Esprit

“Being established in my life, buttressed by my thinking nature, fastened down in this transcendental field which was opened for me by my first perception, and in which all absence is merely the obverse of a presence, all silence a modality of the being of sound, I enjoy a sort of ubiquity and theoretical eternity, I feel destined to move in a flow of endless life, neither the beginning nor the end of which I can experience in thought, since it is my living self who think of them, and since thus my life always precedes and survives itself.” 
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

“The world and I are within one another.” 
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Caitlin’s Thanksgiving Message

When it comes to the big questions, what life is all about and what’s really going on here, everyone else is exactly as clueless as you are. The only difference is that some people are better at feigning confidence than others. Anyone who thinks they’ve got life all figured out is suffering from a psychedelic drug deficiency.

The three most overlooked and under-appreciated things in human experience are (1) consciousness itself, (2) the extent to which compulsive thinking habits dominate our lives, and (3) the extent to which mass media propaganda influences the way we think.

There is a deep, abiding peace just beneath the shifting sensory input and flailing, babbling mental chatter. It isn’t something lofty or distant that you need to strive for to obtain; it is here presently, and you can recognize it right now. Inner turmoil is the result of our falling all over ourselves trying to obtain something we already have.

Most of our experience is dictated by habits of thought and perception, most of which we formed in early childhood. You can bring consciousness to all of these habits and un-do them, thus allowing you to live a life that isn’t dictated by ingrained unconscious patterns.  We make vastly better and wiser choices when we can find a way of circumventing our habitual thought patterns and letting the decision arise from the emptiness.

If you search for truth you won’t find any. If you search for lies you’ll find more than you can shake a stick at, just within your own operating system. Those lies can be excavated and discarded. All it’s really about is letting life be as it is, without all the lies you’ve innocently and unconsciously stacked on top of it throughout your lifetime. What remains is life as it is. And it’s really bloody gorgeous.

— excerpted from Life Secrets by Caitlin Johnstone

End of an Ice Age and Noah’s Flood

A new meteor crater has been discovered in NW Greenland, buried under half a mile of glacial ice. It has been dated to 11,000 years ago.

That’s an interesting time because it was the end of the last ice age, when the earth entered its current “interstitial” period of ice-free temperate latitudes.  12,000 years ago, most of North America was under thousands of feet of ice.

When I was a boy, there were many speculations on why the dinosaurs died out suddenly, 65 million years ago.  Now it is widely accepted that the culprit was a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico that kicked up enough dust to block the sun worldwide for several years and to alter earth’s climate for at least thousands of years afterward.

It is plausible that for every huge impact like the dinosaur meteor, there were many hundreds or thousands of smaller meteorites that had major effects on the biosphere, though falling short of triggering a major extinction. 

The story of Noah’s Ark is just one of many flood stories, oral tradition and folklore from from cultures around the world.  Did millions of cubic miles of ice melt gradually at the end of the ice age, or did this meteor impact trigger a sudden melting?  Sea levels were 120 meters lower during the last ice age.  

Graham  Hancock has speculated further and gathered evidence that there was a human civilization that was lost in the flood and climate disaster.  He thinks the technology was well in advance of the stone age of hunter-gatherers, which is the conventional view of humans 12,000 years ago, but fell short of the current computer age.  Socially and spiritually, the world culture of 12,000 years ago was more advanced than our present age, according to Hancock.  Our entire world was explored and mapped, and telepathic communication was developed far beyond its current neglected state.   Perhaps it was a time when our species felt itself more closely aligned with Mother Gaia, less isolated in our individual bubbles, more at home in our bodies and our communities, less worried and alienated and lacking in purpose.

Huge crater discovered in Greenland from impact that rocked Northern Hemisphere