Monday, 23 April 2012

Evolutionary Origins of Religion: A trauma model

note: the use of the term 'evolutionary origin' in this piece is satirical. ;-)

My view regarding Evolution and Religion (The Evolutionary Origins of Religion) emerges from my own life experience and from the work of John Bolwby, James Prescott , Alice Miller many others who have explored the psychology of the biological mandate towards empathy,  (and the disruption of that biological mandate) which is based on the lived experience of self empathy from within the womb, through infancy and onwards throughout life.

 Joseph Chilton Pearce suggests in his research that self empathy, awareness of self, starts within the womb.

Self awareness exists in a pre-verbal reality that is experienced, in such manner that the meaning of the experience is known to the experiencer: this is called a direct perception.

Prescott's  research has found an emergent pattern of Social Behaviour amongst Societies where the natural child-mother bonding processes are disrupted, of increased Religiosity, Hierarchy and Institutionalized Violence all of which exist in proportion to the levels of disruption to the child-mother bonding processes. Furthermore he was able to link disruption of the adolescent exploration of sexuality to the emergence of these Societal traits. All of these experientials are embodied lived experiences, that is to say they are experienced and known primarily through the body, the senses and are biologically mandated as vitally  important life learning processes.

This 'disruption' could be called the Trauma model of the Evolutionary Origins of Religion.

David Chamberlain has written :
"From the second month of pregnancy, experiments and observations reveal an active prenate with a rapidly developing sensory system permitting exquisite sensitivity and responsiveness. Long before the development of advanced brain structures, prenates are seen interacting with each other and learning from experience. They seem especially interested in the larger environment provided by mother and father, and react to individual voices, stories, music, and even simple interaction games with parents. The quality of the uterine environment is determined principally by parents.
The opportunities for parents to form a relationship with the baby in the womb are significant and remarkable. This contrasts sharply with the previous view that prenates did not have the capacity to interact, remember, learn, or put meaning to their experiences"
It is quite obvious that those with innate or natural self empathy intact know or can better better, at a visceral pre-verbal level, how to relate to others, to meet their own and others needs, because they sense the other in intimate ways associated with their own sense of self empathy. They are more perceptive and more responsive to information contained within the other because they can more fully sense themselves.

Conversely, those whose natural self empathy has been somehow damaged have greater difficulty in relating to others, and require a set of external guidelines to manage their relationships.

This is the thrust of the work of Heinz Kohut

The resolution of the issue of damaged self-empathy would lead towards a spiritual or personally rational 'inner' motivated outlook, rather than religious 'externally driven' or societally rationalised outlook on life. Prescott's research demonstrates that where these key experientials are not disrupted, a more egalitarian societal behaviour emerges.

In terms of evolution, and of well being, it is clear that empathy, founded on experienced self-empathy is a crucially vital socialising characteristic, because it enables a visceral understanding of the world within, and of the world in which a human being is living, an almost direct perception of the value and meaning of life, and a grasping of the value of others lives to those others, and in particular the lives of other organisms that are the food we eat. This is the basis for the oft quoted respect many Aboriginal societies afford the creatures and plants within their environments, upon which they are dependent for food, medicine and other materials.

James Prescott outlined in some detail the societal behavioural characteristics to be found within a spectrum or bandwidth of societies, ranging from empathic egalitarian through to totalitarian hierarchical societies, and traced the emergence of these characteristics to the disruption or nurturing of two crucial empathic experiential learning points in the life of a human being.

From an evolutionary viewpoint, Imposed Hierarchical Religion can be seen as an evolutionary mismatch.

That is to say that whilst spirituality of some form is probably innate, and that perhaps the natural wonder so many experience (especially small children)  when we allow ourselves to simply gaze at nature and allow nature into us, is an expression of this, and that this wonder tends towards assisting in the development of nurturing relationships.

Whereas Religiosity is learned, and tends towards exclusive yet low-urturant relationships primarily with those who share the same religious viewpoints, and at the same time, religiosity  tends towards aversion of the other and or fear of other viewpoints. The history of sectarianism within religions and ideologies is all too often bloody and brutal evidence of this.

In evolutionary terms this means the person or society who is subject to imposed religiosity, or indeed ideology, (which is almost always imposed through the agency of Institutionalised Power) will be less willing to co-operate with the 'other' or to recognise it's own interdependency with all of life, and this therefore increases the likelihood of sustained behaviours that damage the environment, which inevitably reduces it's long term survival possibilities. The evidence for this lies all around us.

I have traced a path way of disruption, based on my understanding of Trauma and PTSD, which leads to the excessive control and violence associated with Institutionalised Power Religions, with Lateral Violence, Abusive Family dynamics, and much else besides.

a basic outline : loss of  self empathy due to trauma -> loss of empathy for others -> sense of disconnection from what nurtures -> compounds fear associated with trauma -> leads to excessive desire for control of self, others, environment -> leads to violence to control self, others, environment

To survive a trauma event often requires that a person undergoing the trauma suppresses his or her feelings in order to survive. This would also apply to a community that is being traumatised. If, post trauma, that person or community is unable to resolve those suppressed feelings, the suppression remains, and children born to that person or community will grow up with that suppression as part of their psychology. Such suppression leads to a disruption of self-empathy, because it leads to shutting down certain feelings or groups of feelings.

The loss of self-empathy leads to a loss of empathy for others, which can also be described as a loss of empathy for all that nurtures one, or a sense of disconnection from all that nurtures one. This will generate fear, which compounds the fear associated with the trauma, and leads directly to a sensed need to control the people, environment or world around one in order to have certain perceived needs met.

When any autonomous organism is subjected to external control, it will resist, and this is where violence is utilised, to break that resistance. That violence can be physical or psychological. It can be immediate and final or long term and sustained.

Naturally enough, a community or family that has been traumatised, and has been unable to resolve the feelings suppressed, will pass that on to the next generation. As each successive generation 'evolves' evolves they will inject that psychology into the structures they create around their system, structures that will become core beliefs, attitudes and over time Institutionalised patterns of permitted behaviour.

If a child somehow retains some of his or her original natural autonomy, which is a core biological and evolutionary trait, then violence, both physical and psychological, will be permitted to be utilised against that child to break the child, to show the child who is master. This is the basis for what is called 'Poisonous Pedagogy' which has a long and well documented history in Europe.

Recent calls from UK Government Ministers and Teachers Unions for more Power to control children in schools reveals that this is still an active paradigm within the UK - the 21st Century is still Governed by Mediaeval and Victorian attitudes. David Cameron's call that children ought to 'stand up when an adult enters the class room' is very revealing, though he himself is totally unaware of what he is revealing.

Likewise the Catholic Pope's record on dealing with widespread child abuse within Catholicism, and the stance of so many Catholics in protecting both the Pope and the Institution of The Vatican.

Baroness Varsi, a UK 'Muslim' Peer, visited the Pope recently, and made no comment whatsoever on the issues facing the Vatican. Because those same issues are pertinent to ALL Governance as we know it today.

Evolution of life on Earth is more about interdependency, co-operation, mutualism, nurture than it is about competition, mere survival, hierarchical or linear growth. Religiosity is clearly of the latter stream, and is an evolutionary mismatch. The same can be said of ideology, nationalism, sexism, racism. That many people have been questioning these latter attitudes for so long, in a climate of almost constant oppression and denial, speaks to the innate power of our natural biological mandate towards self empathy and empathy for others.

Kindest regards


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1 comment:

camden mcdonald said...

"Conversely, those whose natural self empathy has been somehow damaged have greater difficulty in relating to others, and require a set of external guidelines to manage their relationships." This, I think is the nub of the issue with regard to institutional religion - particularly (in fact always) patriarchal. Well put!