Building on Darwin, Pearce pleads that humanity rise above its lower, instinctual "brain" to allow "our newest brain"—the "fourth brain"—to flourish. This will bring about a higher stage in evolution that prizes love and altruism. According to Pearce (The Biology of Transcendence), the biggest roadblocks to this new order are religion and science, which together promote violence and arrogance. These "two mongrels" of culture have long forced civilized people into a false either/or choice, one that Pearce characterizes as a choice "between being hanged or shot." For Pearce, the two disciplines have produced "a single monoculture sweeping the globe and bringing a mounting tide of irrational and ever more intense violence," and leaving us—and especially our children—"spiritually starved." To overcome the terrible evils of science and religion and fulfill the promises of the fourth brain, we must cultivate what Pearce calls "the dynamic of the heart-brain-mind relationship," literally listening to our heart as a kind of brain itself that prioritizes love and intimate relationship above all else. Heavy on the science, Pearce's overall argument is slow going but worthwhile because of his fluid prose and intriguing understanding of human evolution.
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The photo of the author on the book jacket is deceptive. It pictures a soulful,
Quaker like grandfather--when all the time the contents of his book are loaded
with intellectual hand grenades aimed at the very heart of our culture!
I began writing this review in the usual manner, underlining a phrase here, a word there, scribbling little notes at corners, on the edge--you know, the usual. But after a couple pages I saw that practically every word, every phrase was highlighted, and that there were copious notes all over the place. The book contains so much knowledge, so much insight, and addresses so many of the most vital subjects of life--that to attempt restricting myself to a few ideas here and there seemed almost sacrilegious.
And in the most positive sense this book IS sacrilegious.
In his call for humans to approach the next step of evolution, JC Pearce challenges us to overcome the greatest obstacle to that evolution--our very culture based on organized religion and orthodox science, that in turn arise from humanity’s apparent need for prediction and control. The author is such a master of phraseology that he'll have you convinced in a matter of a few pages that, yeah, they really ARE holding us back.
Pearce is no mere iconoclast--he skillfully demonstrates that the natural replacement for these cultural misconceptions exists and has existed all around us from the beginning of our collective jump from chimp to human (via the common shrew we are now told.) The author illustrates the power & biological source of both the individual & collective creative process, and how they interconnect in "fields of mind." We go along with the author on a developmental human journey from pre-natal conditions, thru birth and from there to the many stages that, where they should release ever higher levels of freedom & pleasure, in reality bind us ever tighter to false conformity, frustration & social violence.
And never fear--just because THE DEATH OF RELIGION is a mental revelation, it's a pleasure to read. The writer's source material is life itself & is a record of every day situations and their evolutionary potential.
Reading THE DEATH OF RELIGION allegorically feels like lifting a boulder from one's very soul.
This is one of the most relevant books of our time.
It's a stunning achievement.
The Death of Religion and the Rebirth
by Joseph Chilton Pearce (Conclusion)
[NOTE: I’m capitalizing “Culture” to refer the entire foundation of the social superstructure in contrast to the “culture” of art, performing arts, etc. Nonetheless, the superstructure dominates & controls the infrastructure that contains all forms of culture. “Alternative” sub-cultures are tolerated only to the extent that they do not significantly challenge the host Culture. ]
Author JCP demonstrates how culture-religion-science form an unholy trinity aimed at keeping humanity in a continual state of fear, frustration and violence. The author’s astute analysis shows how Culture blocks humanity’s move forward to the next evolutionary level. Much like the Gnostics of Early Christianity who perceived the material world as the product of a false god, and the Christian Church of Constantine an expression of a diabolic conspiracy, Peace similarly today takes on all Organized Religion and the Scientific Establishment in general. He asserts that these two institutions are based on an apparent compulsive human reliance on the concepts of prediction and control. Certainly humanity desperately looks to both for (1) reinforcement of the hope for personal survival in an “afterlife”, and (2) the desire stave off death for as long as possible, to remain attractive, in good health and “young” in this life.
Consummate 20° American comedian George Burns put it like this: Soon we’ll have a country made up of nothing but young people—and their grandchildren.
In building his case, Pearce draws from the works of Darwin, the 19° mystic Rudolf Steiner, transcendentalist poet William Blake, philosopher Susanne Langer, neuroscientist Paul MacLean and others of like caliber. The primary physical basis of his dialogue delineates the thesis that the human brain represents four stages of our evolution, the first being the reptilian brain (basic reactions of defense and attack—and run) and the second, the higher functioning mammalian brain. The third and fully human component represents the connection between the right & left hemispheres. The fourth is the fragile & developing tissues of the cerebral cortex & frontal lobe area. It is this emerging physical development that is most easily damaged and impeded in its development by the universal Culture of violence & conformity.
On page 8 JCP explains the theory of Cultural devolution that in many ways reflects the theory of Spiritual devolution—in fact, they may really be different aspects of the same concept. Both theories negate the contemporary illusion that the development of Culture is defined by “technological progress.” For example, many ancient cultures, although lacking our current technology, rated much higher than ours in the basic art of living. They possessed an integrated awareness and passion that reveals today’s global Culture (even with its almost supernatural technology) as something rather tacky & counterfeit—and in the wrong hands, globally dangerous.
On page 9 the author quotes from Steiner: “No one can know the joy I experience in just thinking.” Can any one proudly proclaim this in America, where independent thinking—that is, thinking outside the narrow box of conformism—is seen as something of an embarrassment? In the USA, the great home of modern democracy, critical & analytical thinking inevitably leads to one to an antagonistic position vis-à-vis the obviously (perhaps fatally) flawed collective political structure.
For generations we were led to believe we had to choose between science and religion, which often seemed like a choice of being hanged or shot. But science and religion have not staked out all the territory available to our mind. In truth, we don’t have to buy into either of these camps, nor will their proposed truce and merger prove the panacea we have long sought. Mating two mongrels doesn’t produce a thoroughbred. There are countless other ways life can be lived.
On P. 19 JCP gives the most simple & marvelous definition of Spirit: spirit is life itself longing for expression.
Organized religion breeds violence, science gives violence its increasingly destructive form.
I found the first chapters slow sailing, but not because the material was difficult to understand, rather there were just so many relevant concepts to process. For example, in Chapter 2 CULTURE & WAR, JCP illustrates the illogical basis of war in general, and specifically—and courageously—comments on 9/11 and its devastating aftermath. Pearce correctly states that America as a society, as a Culture of Nationalism, had a slim but real possibility to positively transcend the terrorist provocation, but as usual people trusted political ‘leaders’ to set the standard of response.
Need we say anymore?
The author’s view of an ogre like, all-consuming Culture is reminiscent of the great American “beat” poet Allen Ginsberg who compared society (and what is society but the collective expression of culture?) to an idol demanding the sacrifice of innocent children.
Isn’t that what all war does?
And isn’t all war a crime against humanity?
Pearce’s cultural interpretation of reality has much in common with traditional Marxist-Leninism (and before readers get ready to bring out the stones, Pearce is no Marxist.) As in the case of the Marxist historical materialist (economic class based) interpretation of reality, Pearce notes how we cannot escape the unrelenting laws & claws of Culture. Even when we oppose it, we are still buying into it, oiling the machine, greasing the wheels so to speak. Even our outrage stimulates negative Culture; it doesn’t care if we love it or hate it. The only difference between Pearce’s views with that of Marxism is that where Marxism proposes class struggle as the only possible way out; Pearce suggests a non-violent & possibly even more unrealistic collective solution. It’s interesting to note that Pearce’s basic philosophy and Socialism (particularly Utopian Socialism) are extensions of the idealistic philosophy of Rousseau and The Enlightenment. Both outlooks assume the basic “goodness” of humanity.
A few anti-capitalist artists have attempted to circumvent the cannibalistic nature of the capitalist Culture by offering their work for free. Unfortunately there are glaring contradictions & self-defeating possibilities inherent in this position. (1) Unless you can make water from wine or miraculously create loaves & fishes, you must be either independently wealthy or prepared to suffer A LOT for the sake of your art. If you are fortunate enough to fall in the first classification, your vision will be predicated by the fact and will reflect the bias one’s economic class in the end. If you fall into the latter class you’ll have to find work somewhere outside your vocation, and frustration will ultimately cloud your vision & probably ruin your health. (2) In our capitalist Culture things freely given have no social value or reinforcement & the artist will not be able to validate the “worth” of their creation.
[See also, REVIEW: DEEP SOCIALISM]
In Chapter 3 JCP introduces a very challenging concept called “field of phenomena”:
Gould’s field fed into a commonly held or universal belief of like order, one over and above his or any other individual mind-brain yet obviously the product of his or other minds. The…field of optical physics is itself the result of all the physicists involved in the optics now or in the past… …such a field has no localization. It is…a verb, not a noun; a process or procedure, not a product; an aggregate of potential; a hypothetical grouping of related actions. Claiming that such fields can be generative, creating something never before manifested, is bound to be resisted by traditional academics.
Wikipedia is a good example of this “field of mind.” It is a continually evolving product of individual minds resulting in a collective project. True this example is flawed to the extent that the contributors involved are flawed, but it is also very instructive in its creative expression, warts & all.
In the following Chapter MIND & FIELD OF MIND, Pearce continues to expand on this concept—and also presents an intriguing analysis of In Sync & Out of Sync brain wave activity. In Sync brain activity are called “loops” and they appear as loops on an EEG. This looping activity of the mind draws and is drawn into sympathetic fields of mind. Again, this is not mere speculation, but is based on collected data (facts) that have been applied to a specific philosophical framework.
Our Pagan readers may be interested to learn that further along in the book Pearce suggests that the ancient Gods & Goddess existed as fields of mind operating within the locality of Their temples, expanding outward as far as believers existed & passionately participated within each cult (“cult” used here in the ancient sense). As believers/the cults ceased to exist, so did the associated Gods & Goddesses. In fact, one Pgs. 175-176, Pearce inserts a reference to the ancient (and still existing) Kataragama Cult. This was of particular interest to us—considering that in our March issue of Parallel Perspectives (just prior to receiving this current book for review) we posted a link to a Hindu site that included an article titled Dionysus & Kataragama: Parallel Mystery Cults.
The author also notes,
A cosmology known as Kashmir Shaivism…named Shiva…dwelt in the center, or “cave,” of the heart. This nonmoving point was the silent witness to female energy, Shakti…as waves of energy…These “wave forms of Shiva” were considered an energy matrix, like a womb containing the potential of all possible universes and creations…
Alas, it appears that, in the West at least, attempting to resurrect The Old Religion with the hazy metaphysics of the New Age is singularly unsuccessful. Apparently commercialism is no substitute for divine passion, and self-promotion a faulty mask for deep inspiration.
Skipping over to Chapter 8 BONDING: NATURE’S IMPERATIVE we arrive at another central idea of the author’s worldview, namely the fundamental interconnection of universal heart & individual mind (P. 123). You really need to read the entire work to understand that this concept is not some fantasy, but is based on every day physical reality. The author asserts that the brain alone cannot determine the “location” of Mind, but the human Mind represents the physical interaction of brain and heart. Modern society views only the brain as the source of Mind/Consciousness. However, our ancestral societies—The ancient Egyptians, for example—believed that the human heart housed the soul—in other words, the heart was the location of both the Mind and Soul.
However, as Pearce gently reminds us, the heart is not the only source of Mind either.
A common misunderstanding among spiritually inclined people is that if we were truly established in the heart, we would be completely self-sufficient, emotionally rich and full, dependent on nothing at there…If this was true, we would at best experience various forms of compensation that would leave our heart restless and unfulfilled, though our ego might be filled with pride of spiritual attainment. Relationship is all there is and what the heart longs for.
Nonetheless, the human heart is the center of collective spiritual possibility.
The fulfillment of the heart’s relationship occurs through one heart relating with another heart. Because there is only one, heart, however, it can relate to itself only as itself in another person. It is through this that the proposal that the heart is both universal and individual takes on cosmic significance…
It is telling to note that we are the only mammals who make love face-to-face, thus heart-to-heart.
This is a rather splendid Western interpretation of the practice of Satsung.
Much like Rousseau, JCP asserts that the natural state of humanity is joy & pleasure.
All of this is to say we are born to enjoy this life in its every facet—but…our capacity for joy must be natured and developed.
One pages 102-103 the author reintroduces the idea that man’s basic nature is benevolent & giving.
In [Darwin’s]…The Descent of Man, he described a moral imperative of love and altruism necessary for the human to have arisen and survive.
Altruism a mandate for survival? I like it, but Ayn Rand must be spinning in her grave.
This theory is diametrically opposed to the most central foundation of capitalist society, a global society based on cutthroat competition & self-aggrandizement. Can such a positivist view possibly be true when confronted by the violent history of humanity?
Who, then, can break the negative loop once it has become entrenched? …I recommend Robert Sardello’s books Love and the World and Silence and Childre and Martin’s little book The HeartMath Solution. If we practice the solutions they offer…we will see the world anew.
Who will see the ‘the world anew”? The intellectuals who would bother to read the books of the recommended writers? Capitalists like Donald Trump who spread the Holy Word of Screw or Be Screwed to an apparently extremely eager public? The politicians & the media who have duped people into supporting wars that have ravished to such non-Caucasian cultures of Vietnam and now Iraq? Perhaps all we need is to cram in the tawdry ideas and self-promotional “spirituality” of The New Age in order to re-discover Soul?
Can reading books or attending encounter groups repair a collectively broken & corrupted psyche—no matter how intelligent or sophisticated?
This entire scenario reminds me of godforsaken days when I did my time selling Trotskyite periodicals on various & sundry street corners, People used to come up and say, “I believe what your newspaper says, but I don’t believe people will go for it.”
In other words, people will not reclaim to the political & social responsibility they have handed over to career politicians. This is the tragedy & ultimate contradiction of bourgeois democracy.
On Page 151, the author comments on the physiological effects of anger:
…A minute or so of anger can depress the immune system for hours before the parasympathetic nervous system can bring us back to balance.
And regarding child rearing, JCP states on the same page:
…the caregiver’s incessant demand that the child modify his exploratory actions according to parental notions of safety or social appropriateness begins literally to split the young to the point that a concentration of energies on the joyful task of world-making is fragmented and confused…
This is significant.
Childhood is and should be a magickal time—but increasingly it’s not.
Thanks to a Culture of selfishness & environmental degradation, today’s children have inherited a far more destructive global situation than that of any generation before them—and they may be reflecting this in negative evolutionary changes.
…We need only consider the remarkable change in the onset of puberty—down from an average age of fourteen or fifteen to eleven and twelve in less than half a century.
TV interactive games, computers, Playstations, Game Boys…are bringing marked changes to the developing brain. Recent studies from Japanese scientists show strong neural connections forming between the hands and the visual cortex in children using these devices…with a notable reduction in the development of the forebrain, the area connected to emotions and higher reasoning, language, and so on…while these children have lightening fast physical reflexes, they have little emotional control, easily become violent, and have serious learning difficulties…
This is rather frightening.
We will conclude this review with an analysis of PART THREE: THE REBIRTH OF SPIRIT and the RESUMPTION OF EVOLUTION.
JCP opens this last section with an interesting reference to the Pagan fertility festival of The Fool King:
In another festival at the end of the year, anointed and bedecked he was led into the fields made ready for planting. As part of the ceremony, a long pole or broom that could be maneuvered…was attached to a large iron hook…At the appropriate moment during chanting and ceremonial drumming, the great hook was plunged into the victim’s back…The flowing blood was thus distributed…as an offering to the god…followed…by the selection of the next year’s resident god.
In Pearce’s version the subject of this blood sacrifice neither died or was in noticeable pain, and managed to survive the ordeal by a phenomenal demonstration of “mind over matter.”
Pier Passolini, a brilliant Italian director (who was unfortunately murdered), graphically illustrated this fertility rite in his innovative & shocking cinematic version of “Medea” starring the equally brilliant Maria Callas. Passolini’s sacrificial victim was not as fortunate as the “Fool King” in JCP’s version.
The point of this opening sequence was to show that even today feats of “mind over matter” (such as fire walking) exist. However, the author makes a telling observation:
Although phenomena of this sort still occur right here in the United States today, with people discovering they can impale themselves in various ways…we hear little about such individuals, who walk softly and keep their heads down…reason for this low profile: today, the big-stage New Age audience is currently caught up in health, healing, and healers as the box-office attraction, and any message is generally lost in the attractiveness of the messenger.
He could also have added reference to a literary cottage industry supported by the most outlandish pseudo-scientific, pseudo-historic claims & conspiracy theories (UFO’s, aliens, visions, supposed religious relics, etc.)
But never fear—on Pgs. 224-225 he does allude to the alternative, quasi-theology of the current age.
I found less intriguing the…wealth of books on the subject Magdalene and Jesus…with many an author riding the wave for all its worth…all this recent ferment clearly illustrates my own contention that the greatness of mythical figures lies in their ability to stir up just some ferment within us. For those with ears to hear, this can lead us to abandon sterile notions and open again to the rich newness these great figures endless bring about. (We can recall the apocryphal claim of Jesus: “I am always becoming as you have need of me to be.”)
On page 176 Pearce significantly elaborates on the externalized Divinity/Gods/Goddesses theme:
The accounts of Carlos Castaneda included local “god fields” throughout an area of Arizona and Mexico—all since then dismissed through a thorough discounting of Castaneda, who had more to tell us than we were ready to hear. All gods are jealous…and a half-century later a fundamentalist scientism, technology, and religion have…destroyed most of these indigenous and independent fields and their respective gods, and the human powers and intelligences …have mostly disappeared with them…
Why is it first necessary to have belief in some abstract power out there in order to go beyond the ontological constructs of our world? …Perhaps this is because the god who appears to introduce us to some possibility within ourselves is within us all along, and the possibility offered within can change things without. Once knowing such change is possible, we don’t need the inner prompt.
And what is this inner prompt but the voice of the daemon?
[See also, REVIEW: DAIMONIC REALITY]
JCP is honest in facing our basic existentialist dilemma.
Negative emotions…block interactions with the universal realm just as static can block a wavelength on the radio. Of course the universal realm isn’t effected in any way by this negativity, got it can’t register negatives and so “never knows we are out of touch or in trouble,” as Suzanne Segal said. Nor can that Vastness be informed of our trouble…
All is relationship; there are no one-way streets in nature. If we try to close ourselves with a one-way street such as science or religion, then our resources dry up. Only in reciprocation and relationship do we find that our resources are renewable, whether individually or on the planet level.
It occurred to me that one other negative quality should be added to the prediction and control paradigm: GUILT.
Before the advent of Abrahamic organized religion people either did or did not come equipped with a moral compass—just like today. Additionally, the Pagan religions encouraged or discouraged various social mores. What Pagan religions did not do (unlike Abrahamic religion both in the ancient world & today) was to promote the idea that untamed Nature was somehow “bad” (just like the Abrahamic view of women), and that Humanity is by nature “sinful.” In terms of social conditioning the concept of guilt is at least as negatively powerful as prediction and control.
to conclude this review,
because like the book,
it provides some answers but
leaves further questions &
further exploration wide open.
there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one …