by John Lash
April 8, 2005
The figure is impressive, and this is just the people who have come to Rome for the event, not those already there. News commentators marvel at this tremendous “outpouring of humanity.”
On the day of the event, and for long
afterwards, we can expect to be barraged by close-up images of
people in prayer, bereaved, devout, reverent, their faces and indeed
their entire bodies seized by deep emotion.
At a moment such as this, faith prevails.
This dynamic has been called the placebo effect.
It works with many things, from medicines to mantras. The
efficacy of a placebo inheres in a feedback loop: it gives power to
those who give it power. For instance, taking the Host at Mass gives
power to those who give it power. To those who give it no power, it
There is a trick involved:
The feedback is effective, and tends to quell any doubting or critical observation, because the way it works tends to conceal the true nature of this exchange: giving away power to get power.
Those who receive the Host in Catholic
in the independent power of the Host, get back far more through
their faith than they give. Or so it appears...
The placebo effect is wonderful, and
really works, otherwise there would not be so many deeply religious
people in the world, but what goes without notice is the investment
that must be made to get a convincing return.
Its hidden dynamic makes it almost impossible for the faithful to see what they are giving in return for the boost they get from their beliefs.
And the bigger the boost of faith, the more must given. It could happen that believers give away what is most precious in their humanity, that which lives in the unsounded depths of human potential, without knowing what they are losing, or even that they are losing anything at all.
The returning effect of faith, the boost, fills the void inside, but never fills it completely, for the power rendered to the placebo always exceeds the power that comes back from it. The second dissimulation, hiding what is given away, conceals the huge inegality that makes the exchange work so effectively.
The inability to see this
double-dissimulating dynamic, and measure its toll upon the human
spirit, is the immense, unspeakable tragedy of human faith.
...and humanity may not be getting any better for them.
The trajectory of these 2600 years is
one long jagged plunge into terror and destruction. Whatever good
has been achieved in the name of
these religions (and may well have
been achieved without them, if we believe in the basic goodness of
humanity - more below) has been massively overruled by the
behavioral insanity demonstrated through the ages by believers,
behavior that is now culminating in the threat of a global
holocaust, eagerly awaited, and perhaps deliberately precipitated,
but a great number of the faithful.
The worst hatred confronting humanity is, and always has
been, “sectarian” hatred. Why?
Patriarchy has been called dominator culture or domination culture. Discussing this term in an interview for The Sun Magazine, Marshall Rosenberg closely relates the act of domination to “salvationism.”
He uses this term in the context of research conducted by Milton Rokeach:
The Sun interviewer remarks,
Judgment is a basic element in the salvationist program.
Jehovah judges, Christ judges, Allah judges. All the creeds are unanimous on this point. Bear in mind that "You are judged by God" is a human statement, made by men who claim to be emissaries of the judgmental father-son deities.
This assertion that God judges us exemplifies the tactic of the Abrahamic religions:
Presumably, the man who speaks in this way has been previously briefed by God. That is an issue of faith.
Patriarchial religion demands that we believe the men who speak for God, that we take them on their word, which is God's word. And consistent with the violence inherent to patriarchy, the word of God is threatening, menacing. God judges you, so you must do this and that in order to be well judged, to get good marks, to have your soul saved by the very entity who threatens to condemn it.
The threat tactic is very effective in setting up a social control program. Millions of people submit to this tactic.
Bear in mind, however, that submission is gained from an early age, when the believer-to-be is weak and impressionable. The tactic is applied within families, exerted on children before they can even speak, and enforced in all kinds of ways. No choice is involved in adopting the belief that God rewards those who obey his rules as defined by the men like John Paul II.
Children have this belief laid into them long before they
can question or protest it. Later in life dissent is nearly
impossible. The die is cast.
In The Faith of a Heretic, he makes the observation that,
Everything is done prudentially, as a means to an end.
The universal end, the transcendent purpose of doing good, is the
eternal salvation of the soul of the doer. It takes faith to act
morally, because prudential action assumes that its reward comes in
another world, through the agency of an invisible spiritual power,
whose existence must be taken on faith.
The belief that there is no morality without a religious framework (divine commands, reward and punishment for the soul) is a classic example of the placebo effect:
Kaufmann would observe that in holding this belief, the individual is giving away their power of moral choice, rooted in the essential goodness of human nature. But as we have seen, the hidden dynamic of faith makes it almost impossible for the believers to see what they are giving away to their faith.
Or even that they are giving anything away at all.
A deed done for its own sake, for the pleasure of seeing someone benefit, and, indeed, for the sheer pleasure of performing it, is not forbidden, but it is assumed that we are unlikely to perform such a deed, left to our basic inclinations. To act morally we must go against our natural inclinations, for they will never lead us to do good. The belief hidden in this view of human nature is that we are innately corrupt.
Therefore, prudential morality appeals to those who believe
they are corrupt. Or, to peer through yet another lay of
dissimulation, who have been made to believe they are corrupt.
But what if we are corrupted by
needing the Redeemer?
Thus, the Redeemer serves a dual purpose:
ideal (or idol, if you will) is superhuman, and giving credence to
the superhuman model of humanity seems to return a terrific boost of
Why? Because the placebo effect operates at a terrific return on the superhuman model:
The belief that human suffering is somehow connected to the suffering of a divine being is probably the most powerful placebo known to humankind.
The terrible truth is, it might really be
Faith can reward us generously
for what it takes away from us by stealth, through our feat of self-deception.
Almost two thousand years ago, people in the ancient world who witnessed the rise of the redeemer complex were deeply critical of the what they saw, and deeply concerned about how the salvationist belief-system would affect humanity:
The people who viewed the emergent religion of Christianity, and its Jewish precedent, the Abrahamic religion of the Torah, in this manner were called gnostokoi, "those who know about divine things."
They were branded as heretics, persecuted, driven underground, and,
in some cases, murdered by the converts to the new religion with its
message of peace, tolerance and divine love (if you believe that was
A heretic is “one who embraces heresy,” but heresy is not a preset body of doctrines comparable to the orthodox doctrines it opposes. Heresy is an alternative way of looking at issues that are defined, once and for all, in unchallenged beliefs and doctrinal and dogmatic propositions set forth as the sole truth by self-defined groups or institutions.
In all cases of patristic religious extortion, the
tradition of orthodoxy relies on a story, a sacred narrative about
how certain men, at a certain time and place, received instructions
from the Creator God. Whatever does not fit into this story is
condemned as heresy. In 425 CE heresy was declared by Roman
authorities a crime punishable by death. That law has never been
Gnostics did not protest against any of these
attributes, but it was also obvious them that Christians did not
have a monopoly here. What they rejected specifically was the
redeemer complex, a theological system which they, as specialists in
divine matters, were well qualified to analyze and refute.
Almost without exception, conversion occurs under huge psychological pressure and mass persuasion. Often it takes the collective mania of 60,000 people in a football stadium to induce it. Cases of individual conversion through visionary experience are extremely rare, and tend to produce borderline heretics, like St Teresa of Avila, who threaten authority and splinter the institution into factions.
Those who receive their convictions via family,
culture, and race, remain ardently attached to their faith because
it gives them identity and solidarity, and because they are not
presented with viable alternatives.
I am certain they would find it difficult to admit that they stand in judgment of me, and of themselves...
Perhaps they would argue,
But this is more self-serving dissimulation.
Those young, vibrant people are
condemned to judge by their belief in their own corruption, their
"fallen state" in theological terms. In Poland strict Catholic
education is compulsory from the age of three. Since they could
barely talk, they have judged themselves under the coercion of
beliefs imposed on them, which they now regard as their most
cherished convictions. Patriarchy must first corrupt those it would
claim to save through the redeemer complex, because an uncorrupted
person would immediately and instinctively reject the idea of
Having received their beliefs under
coercion and without choice, they came to regard them as true after
the fact. They embrace Christianity, yes, with all the innocent
passion in their hearts, but they did not choose it. Imagine how
terrible and humiliating it would be for them to realize that the
beliefs they hold so dear are false, deceptive, and harmful.
The strength does not reside in the faith itself, but it seems to. That is the intrinsic treachery of faith.
The heretical teachings in the Gospel of Philip say:
Gnostics were transcendental humanists who believed that evil is not sin, not a failing in us, not an inherent flaw, but the corruption of our divine potential to know, discriminate, and choose.
our own doing, as patriarchy is our own program. But we do evil out
of ignorance, not because we have an innate drive to evil. This, at
least, is what Gnostics taught. And it is what most Pagans in the
ancient world believed.
The tyranny of
faith is worst where it binds us to this, the ultimate act of
Theodore Roszak has pointed out the salvationist system of Christian faith favors history over myth and, in doing so, supports the repression of human imagination.
In Where the Wasteland Ends, he says,
The image of one supreme male divinity is deeply conflictual for our species, yet it suits patriarchal domination to a T.
One must wonder if Roman fascist ideology merely
merged with salvationism - a marriage of convenience at one
historical moment - or if the two systems were not made for each
other from the outset.
But what about the Holy Mother? Where is she? How is she to be imagined?
Okay, but where is her human counterpart?
So, the Holy Father is there, a man on earth, but the Holy Mother is not represented by any woman on earth?
But there is an explanation of why the Holy Mother is not there in the flesh.
It concerns a story about the division of power between the sexes. A long, long time ago, well before patriarchy was invented, there was a custom called hieros gamos, sacred mating, a ritual enacted by a man and a woman, a man who would be king and a priestess of the Earth Goddess.
This is a long story, and it takes some
imagination to follow it...
The image of divine
suffering that atones for the sins of the world brands human
imagination like a hot, blinding stigma. This is what Roszak meant
when he said that the redeemer complex has severely damaged our mythopoeic powers.
But even if he did act in this way, he did so as the figurehead of an institution that has inflicted and continues to inflict enormous suffering on the world, both through its ideology and its social imperatives, not to mention its financial and political alliances.
An institution that denies
women, a denial that goes back to the repression of the Goddess, the
rejection of hieros gamos, a rite of gender balancing that assured
society of the moral quality of the man who would be king.
In a book on Romantic attitudes, The Vision of the Voyage, Robert Combs wrote:
Neil Evernden, who quotes Combs in his book The Natural Alien, says that the Romantics,
He suggests that if we were able to do what the Romantics proposed, we could have deep and genuine religious experience,
That would be true religious freedom:
I submit that the above definition - faith is the power invested in, and derived from, unquestioned beliefs - is fair and can be used in an open, honest discussion of what salvationist religion really is, and what it actually does to human beings, by contrast to what believers may believe it does, or like to pretend it does.
Once it begins to be doubted and put into question, faith immediately weakens and soon is no longer worthy to be called faith. It has become compromised. It must remain unquestioned to be effective. The purest kind of faith does not question the beliefs that are embraced by the faithful.
The Koran opens:
There are over a billion
faithful Muslims in the world, and it’s no great wonder why. If
their faith is based on a document that demands not to be doubted
even before you read a single line, then the faith of the adherents
is assured, isn’t it?
Religion is a smart weapon, the oldest and most reliable weapon in the arsenal of dominator culture.
But even if this is so, and and even in religion, if domination is
the rule of order, with all the good things that people derive from
religious faith, how can anyone in their right mind criticize it?
Paradoxically, by challenging what they believe, I may be more on their side they they realize.
To speak like a Gnostic (or like the Gnostically minded R.D. Laing, who made this observation years ago), I would warn those masses that their capacity to have their own experience can be destroyed.
That is precisely how domination succeeds:
And I would propose that the critique of redeemer theology formulated by Gnostics is sane and plausible on three counts:
If we do not or cannot grant that humans, left to their own deepest inclinations, will do good and act in a kind and caring manner, then it is worth considering if our view of humanity has not been corrupted by the supreme patriarchal ploy, the ruse of redemption.
Faith in humanity
does not require a redeemer, but faith in corrupted humanity does.
This is the spiritual entrapment the Gnostic teachers wished to
expose, and for that intention they were annihilated.