Lesson 111- Religion and the Right and Left Lobes
By now it should be clear that the growth of the logical left lobe of the brain in history is responsible for all of the benefits that we identify with civilization. The very fact that the left lobe is linear and goal directed indicates that it is the source of all progress as compared with the right lobe that is existential, non-linear, and non-progressive. This leads us to another significant difference between the two lobes: they belong to different religions. The linear, logical, progressive left lobe is Jewish or Christian while the existential, non-progressive right lobe is a Hindu. Religion, like everything else, seems to have been part of an evolutionary development on the Mental or Cultural level as it seemed to move from a primitive understanding to a clearer and deeper understanding.
Before getting into why this is so, let me first comment on the nature of religion. Most of us think that religion and morality go together but, in fact, they don’t. Most, if not all, of the ancient pagan gods were either amoral, that is they didn’t concern themselves with morality, or they were immoral by human standards. For example, some of your Hindu gods, of which there are thousands, are animals or monsters. In India monkeys and cows are considered to be deities and the goddess Kali is, according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, associated with death, violence, and sexuality and is depicted as a hideous black-face hag dripping with blood and wearing a garland of skulls and a girdle of severed hands. Some of her devotees were known as Thugees who terrorized travelers in India, before the English put a stop to in the 19th century. They would join groups of pilgrims on their way to one of the many shrines dedicated to the thousands of gods in Hinduism. When the group would stop at a roadside grove to eat and spend the night, the Thugees, at a signal from their leader, would strangle the other pilgrims by wrapping a scarf weighted with coins around their neck. Men, women, and children would then have all the bones in their bodies broken so that they could be compacted into a small bundle that would then be buried in shallow graves. When the sun rose the following morning, not one of the pilgrims from the night before could be found. They had all been sacrificed by the Thugees to their goddess Kali. Our modern term “Thug”, which refers to a violent, dangerous person, is derived from the Thugees of India. There is another temple in India devoted to another god whose outer walls are covered with hundreds of carving depicting all types of pornographic deviant sexual practices.
The same is true of most of the ancient religions that often involved human sacrifice, sexual orgies, and religious prostitution. In Greece and Rome the god Dionysus, whom the Romans called Bacchus, was the god of wine and sexual orgies. And, anyone familiar with the Greek myths is aware of Zeus’s fondness for adulterous affairs with human and divine females. Thus, the ancient gods were not paragons of human virtue, that is, except for one: Yahweh, the god of the Hebrews. According to Albert Einstein, the ancient Hebrews or Jews were the first people to unite religion with morality.
To understand the point that he is making we have to distinguish between religion and morality. Religion is about the worship and appeasement of a higher power and it seems to be related to our right lobe and animal nature. The animal kingdom is based on the “laws of dominance” in which lower ranking creatures show deference to higher-ranking creatures by offering them gifts or lowering their bodies. In like manner, human beings seem to share in this instinct. Kings, for example, always sit on thrones that places them above everyone else. In the movie, The King and I, Yul Brenner, who played the king, becomes upset any time the English school teacher allows her head to be higher than his. As a child in Catholic school, we were required to stand anytime an adult came into the room and then, to show our deference, the boys would lower their bodies by bowing and the girls would curtsy. Thus, we like animals, lower our bodies when in the presence of a higher ranking person. The highest ranking person in the universe, of course, is God and thus all religions use various methods of demonstrating their deference either by prostrating, kneeling, genuflecting, or bowing. In addition, to win the favor of the higher being or to protect oneself from his wrath, all religions have offered some type of sacrifice. Even the Hebrews, although rejecting the idea of human sacrifice, were involved in the sacrifice of various animals. However, as time passed, we start to hear Yahweh discontentment with these sacrifices. Through His prophets we begin to hear Yahweh saying that He, as the Creator who created them, doesn’t need oxen and sheep. What he really wants is not the sacrifice of animals but, rather, the practice of social justice. Free the slave, feed the widow and orphan, give just wages to the workers, forgive the debtor. In other words, Yahweh, unlike the other ancient gods, was interested in moral behavior because He, Himself, was a moral being. Thus, morality, which is concerned with right behavior was united with religion, which is concerned with worship and appeasement.
However, it is Jesus who finally brings the union of morality and religion to its final evolutionary development when, through His passion and death, He demonstrates that His Father really was interested in sacrifice but it did not involve animals. Rather, what He desired was self-sacrifice out of love for others. Thus, when we look at Jesus hanging on the Cross we are looking at the living image of Sacrificial Love. If fact, if the scriptures are correct when they say that He was the “visible sign of the invisible God”, then the very nature of God is Sacrificial Love. That is an awesome thought upon which to meditate.
But the union of morality with religion is not the only evolutionary development in our understanding of God and religion. There is also a connection between the right and left hemisphere of the brain in the development of both. First, it appears that the further we go back in the history of human development, the more dominant the right lobe is and the less influential the logical left lobe. Thus, as I already pointed out in previous programs, the right lobe, because of its closer connection to our animal nature tends to be amoral. This is because it is inclined to evaluate by feelings rather than facts and, because it is not goal directed, it, like animals, is non-judgmental. To it, things just “are” and thus we might say it is “existential” in nature. For example, tests conducted on split-brain persons have indicated that the non-verbal right lobe, although it does understand a few, simple, concrete nouns, has no understanding of verbs. Nouns are names for existential beings but verbs imply an action towards an end and this seems to be beyond the comprehension of the right lobe. Since the word “sin”, as used in the New Testament, means to “miss the mark or target”, only the logical, linear left hemisphere that evaluates things according to how well they serve the logical purpose for which they were created, has a moral sense. In fact, we might even say that it was the only lobe of the brain that ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When this happened a “sense of sin” entered the world because, although the right hemisphere understood food from the perspective of taste and sex from pleasure, only the logical left lobe understood their true purpose to be nutrition and reproduction. In fact, we could say that “without a goal there is no morality” because without one there is “no mark or target to hit”. Thus, it should not surprise us that even today there is a constant battle between the creative, artistic right lobe and the lawmaking, moral left lobe over the issue of censorship. The artistic right lobe argues that art is experiential and subjective and its impacts varies from person to person. In other words, “different strokes for different folks! And “Who’s to say?” The lawmaking, goal-directed left lobe says that art, like other forms of communication, conveys values and attitudes which may or may not be in line with what is compatible with the good order of the community. And these observations lead us to another startling conclusion that the two lobes of the brain belong to different religions. The subjective, feeling- based right lobe is related to the mystical Eastern religions, like Hinduism, while the objective, fact based left lobe is related to the moralistic Western religions, like Judaism and Christianity. Let me explain.
A few years ago I was having a conversation with God similar to the type that Reptavia, the Jewish father in “Fiddler on the Roof”, had . If you’ve ever seen this movie, then you know that he spoke to God in a conversational tone that we use to speak to each other. I asked “Lord, why are the Jews the Chosen People? They’re nice enough but so are we. Why couldn’t it have been the Irish? We’re nice people. We have a good sense of humor and throw good parties.” Of course, I was joking, but, at the same time, I really did wonder why of all the people on the earth, the Jews were picked to be the Chosen People. Needless to say, there was no booming voice from heaven to answer my question. However, on the following Sunday, the priest began his homily by saying, “Today I am going to talk about why the Jews were the Chosen People.” I almost fell out of the pew. He then proceeded to explain that of all the ancient people, the Jews were the only ones who had a linear view of history and reality. Everyone else had a cyclical view that saw reality as a repeating circle.
Immediately, I saw the significance that this had to do with the right and left hemisphere of the human brain. The right brain, which is the source of art and intuition, is spatial and holistic. Like a picture, it sees everything as complete and whole. The left brain, on the other hand, is the source of science and logic, and it is temporal and specific. It views everything in a linear, step-by-step fashion moving towards some logical goal and from its perspective a “thing is good or bad according to how well it serve the purpose or goal for which it was created.” A good eye sees; a good ear hears; good food nourishes; good sex reproduces and, whenever something interferes with the attainment of these logical goals it “misses the mark or target.” In short, it sins because of its linear, goal directed attitude. We might even conclude, that “without a goal there is no sin” and since the right lobe is not goal directed, it has no “sense of sin.”
The two lobes of the brain represent the two basic categories of reality: space, symbolized by a circle and time, symbolized by a line. Both represent eternity but in different ways. The circle is the eternal, timeless “now” since it is total and complete. The line is the eternal “becoming” since it can always have another inch added to it. Thus, space is “existential” and non-goal directed and time is “developmental” and always moving forward towards some goal. According to philosophers, the definition for time is the “measure of movement in space.” Thus, if nothing moves in space, there is no time. Let me illustrate. If I am standing in space and have never moved, there is no time because everything exists in the “now.” However, if I move, then the place where I was becomes the “past.” The place where I am becomes the “present.” And, since I might move again, that becomes the “future.” In a sense we might say that “space”, the foundational principle, begot or “gave birth” to “time”, the developmental principle, when it moved. Thus, the existential circular mode is, in a sense, timeless because it will keep on repeating the same patterns for infinity. Thus, once I discovered that the Hebrews were linear while everyone else was cyclical, I knew that they favored the left hemisphere of the brain and, since our Western view is based on the Judeo/Christian view, it was the basis for all science, technology, and progress in the West. It also led me to include in my social science course the concept of the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History, something that every student should be taught.
However, not being content with just knowing that the Hebrew had a linear view of reality, I then asked how this came to be when everyone else in the ancient world had a cyclical or circular view. Then I remembered some of the names that historian apply to them: the People of the Law because of the Ten Commandments; the People of the Book because of the Bible; and the People of the Promise because of God’s promises to give them a Promised Land and to send a Messiah who would establish the Kingdom of God on earth. These are all attitudes that are related to the logical left hemisphere of the brain. It is the lawmaker; it is the writer of books, and it is the forward looking, goal-directed, time-conscious, progressive-minded lobe.
Eusebius, an early Christian historian born in 264 A.,D., in his article, “Against the Pagans” explains why the early Christians decided to follow the Hebrew’s view rather than those of their pagan contemporaries. After describing the pagans’ obsession with Pleasure that they turn into a God, he explains the more appealing Hebrew view. He writes:
“But if you consider the life of the ancients, you will notice the fact that only the children of the Hebrews pursued a course opposite of these. Among all mankind they were the first and only people who, from the first generations, lifted up their minds in rational speculation… they were eagerly attentive to the ruling principle within them, since it was akin ( or related) to the universal ruler, and they were attentive to the rational, intellectual element of the soul, which on account of its divine character and its capacity for knowledge bore a likeness to the God of all.”
In other words, they preferred the objective, rational left lobe over the subjective, arational right lobe.
Hinduism, on the other hand, being one of the most ancient religions, rejects the rational mind and objective world as being “maya” or an illusion. Time Magazine writes of the opposing views of the Judeo/Christian West and the Hindu East. It states:
“Historic India has often puzzled or frustrated Western observers ( people from Christian Europe and the Americas). Again and again, such observers have reported their sense of a vast cultural and psychological distance between India and the West. Here is a comment and warning from Alveruni, an 11th Century Muslim scholar who dedicated 13 years to study India.
‘The reader must always bear in mind that the Hindus entirely differs from us in ever respect....They differ from us in every thing which other nations have in common...They totally differ from us in religion...In all manners and customs they differ from us to such a degree that they use us to frighten their children.’
The Time-Life article continues:
Ignoring the integrity and historical validity of Indian culture, Westerners have criticized the Hindu attitude towards progress., which Hindus regard as impossible beyond predetermined limits; or the Indians insistence that individual men must follow hereditary occupations set down and perpetuated by the caste system; or India’s inability, except on rare occasions, to rise above the political level of petty warring states.
Such attitudes and failures may indeed seem puzzling, even wrong, in light of the Western legacy of progress and do not represent stupidity or mystery so much as they represent profound differences between Indian and Western beliefs. Truly, basic beliefs are rarely discussed among us because many of them lie so deep as to be subconscious or inarticulate (can’t be put into words). But certain basic beliefs or concepts reflect basic vast differences between India and the West.
For example, the Western concept of time is different from the Indian. Westerners view time as a steady, straight, linear, progression . We “know” that when a moment is gone, it is gone forever...Hindus “know” exactly the opposite. For them, everything that happens has happened before and will happen again (e.g. “there is nothing new under the sun). Anything that has not happened will never happen. Hindus view time as a revolving circle, without beginning and without end, and they hold that everything in the universe, including the gods or God, is bound together within the constantly repeating cycle (circle) of time.
Most Westerners believe in the concept of absolute truth: a fact is either true or false, and what is true for one man is true for all men. Hindus believe that there are many kinds of truth that are different for every age, every occupation, every class of men ( In other words, “different strokes for different folks!”) Indeed, one of Hinduism’s objection to Judaism (Jewish religion), Christianity, and Islam is that they preach one truth for all men.”
This reads like a personality description of the right lobe of the brain just as the beliefs of the Judeo/Christian religions reads like a personality description of the left lobe of the brain.
The left lobe, because it is literal and focused, says that a word has only one meaning. The right lobe, because of its use of imagery and simile says that a word has many meanings and thus it is constantly influencing the creation of slang, metaphors, similes etc… The left lobe says that there is only one God. The right lobe says that there are many gods. The left lobe says there is only one path to salvation; the right lobe says that there are many paths. Jesus says I am the Way, the Truth and that one should enter by the narrow gate. The Hindu holy man says that there are many ways, many truths and many gates. The left lobe is a pragmatist that evaluates according to the goal that one is seeking; the right lobe is an existentialist who says that all experiences are subjective and there is no objective truth that applies to everyone.
I could go on drawing comparative points but I think that I have already made my point. What happens in human history or in the evolution of the species is the result of the interaction between these two points-of-view and each has benefits that it brings and also problems. It appears that everything runs most smoothly when there is a delicate balance maintained between the two.
A holy man from India once put it this way:
“If man realizes that east and west are the two halves of our human consciousness, comparable to the two poles of a magnet which condition and correspond to each other and can not be separated, he will become a complete human being.”
And so as we move towards the international level of organization, it appears that we are reaching the point of complexification which, on the other two levels, led to a qualitative leap over into a new level. According to Fr. Chardin, this next level is a spiritual level in which Man will discover fire for the second time. Many claim that it was the discovery of physical fire that provided the power for the first spurt of civilization. However, Chardin is not talking about physical fire. The fire that he is talking about is “love” that is the great intergrating force in the universe because, it, and it alone, is able to unite and bond things that were formerly separate and different. If the philosophical definition for “life” is “integration” and for death it is “disintegration” then it appears that the major pro-Life force in the universe is this energy called love. And, according to the scriptures, God is Love, and throughout human history He has been leading human beings towards higher and higher levels of organization.
Anyone who has studied history has to be impressed by the fact that as soon as any minor civilization gains an advantage over its neighbors either through the discovery of a new technology or a new weapon or strategy, it immediately set about conquering its neighbors who, by their very conquest, ended up learning and adopting the new advantage themselves. At the same time, whatever advancement they had made was passed on to their conquerors. Thus, war on the micro level and in the short term is horrendous but on the macro level it is an important tool in cultural exchange. All great leaders, it appears, have an innate desire to conquer and unite the world but their very success becomes the seed for their own destruction.
Conquest, by its very nature, is a negative act that is often resented by those who are conquered and therefore requires constant force to hold the kingdom or empire together. The larger it grows, the greater is the force to hold it together, until there comes a point where it become uncontrollable.
A second point is communication. Even if the conquered people see some benefits derived from their conquest, a problem arises when the centralized power of the conquering nation is either non-responsive or slow in responding to their needs. If a crisis arises in Palestine that threatens the well-being of its citizens, and it take a month to send a message to the emperor in Rome and another two months for some organized help to be sent, then it would not be beneficial for them to remain under the control of Rome. Thus, we might says “that a biological body can be no bigger than its nervous system and the social body can be no bigger than its communication system.
Thus, all previous attempts to unite the world eventually failed because they were built on force or their communication system was inadequate in serving the needs of the conquered nations.
There is another way of looking at this. In a previous program, I mentioned that Fr. Chardin had a mystical experience in which he was pursuing the face of Jesus that was receding into a picture. When he finally reach the face, it stopped and went through a multiple transformation that expressed every emotion of which the human heart is capable. Then it came to rest on an expression that, according to him, was either the greatest joy or the greatest sorrow he had ever seen. The two were equally mixed. Later, I had a similar mystical experience in which I felt the same mixture that he had seen. For months afterwards, I tried to find where in human experience these two emotions were equally mixed. And then it came to me. It occurs in childbirth where the women is experiencing great sorrow because of the great pain she must endure and yet she is filled with joy at the expectation of a new life coming into our world. This led me to conclude that God must be like a woman in childbirth and all the great civilizations were pregnancies that miscarried when they collapsed because of the two defects that I have already identified.
This raises the question of when will the baby go “full term” and be born. The obvious answer is when the unification of Mankind takes place through the mutual agreement of those involved and there is a communication network that allows instant communication among its various parts. At the present moment were are witnessing both things happening.
Karl Marx had pointed out in the Communist Manifesto that Capitalism, because of its fantastic productive abilities, would find itself unable to sell all that it made in it own country and therefore would spread throughout the world looking for new markets to absorb its surplus. In doing so, they would create a world culture as the fashions, styles, entertainment, accessories, and inventions of the Western capitalistic world would spread throughout the world. In return, they would import into the West the same items from these other countries. As time passed, there would be no significant difference between a Japanese and an American child because they would belong to the same world culture. Before long, business would become international rather than national in nature as companies from different countries began to merge. And the basis of their merging will be their “mutual self-interest” rather than force. As time passes, the interdependency of all the world’s people will become obvious and people will start to talk about international law and international government.
At the same time, the advancement of technology in the computer area will eventually lead to the creation of the Internet on which, people from every area of the world are capable of communicating with people from any other area.
In the past, the dialectic of Hegel operated at a snails pace. For example, someone would present a Thesis and for the next three hundred years, nobody would offer an Antithesis. Then it took another fifty to a hundred years for someone to form a new Synthesis combining what was good in both,. However, through the Internet and modern communications, the process has speeded-up at a fantastic rate. It now operates like, Thesis, Antithesis,Synthesis…Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis… Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. When this happens there will be an explosion of human knowledge which, for better or worse, will open up unheard of choices for the human race. With this new found power it is more important than ever before for Mankind to maintain a keen moral sense. Whether the outcome is the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of the Beast or Antichrist depends on the premises that we present to the Divine Logos within us.
And that is why, as Christians, we can’t afford to be uninvolved in the Cultural War that is taking place both on the national and international levels. There are international conferences where these premises are being worked out and adopted for the international world that is developing before our eyes.. For example, the Feminist and Gay Movements are pushing for the recognition of five sexes in the New World Order. Whether this becomes the accepted premise for the New World Order remains to be seen but, at this moment, it appears that those who support these premises are more organized to attain their goals than we are. As. Dom Letteri is fond of say…”Wake up, America!”
So what is the final goal of this evolutionary process in which we are involved? The consensus seems to be “freedom.” However, that can be interpreted in many ways. For some people it means “no control”; for others it means “self control.” Plato had warned in his Republic that every democracy eventually evolved into a dictatorship because the “masses who were asses” abused their freedom and created the very chaotic conditions that led them to seek a dictatorship to restore order. Thus, the question that evolution is trying to answer is “whether humans are capable of being free?” When I ask my students, they say that they are not.
The Kingdom of God that the Bible speaks of describes a time when government and laws will disappear because, as the scriptures say, “I will write my laws on their hearts and parents will have no need to teach the children the laws of the Lord.” In other words, we will internalize these laws and, instead of seeing them as an infringement on our freedom, we will come to see them as necessary for the full exercise of it. Can we imagine a time when drug dealers could be giving free drugs away from here to City Hall and nobody is interested.
The problem with laws is that they are a negative image of the human heart because each law reflects the inclinations of the members of a society. If the inclination is not there, there is no reason for the law.
Already I can see in my own life a maturity taking place through which I willing come to accept laws that I used to break, not because someone is watching or threatening me with a fine or punishment but because I now understand the need for the law. Thus, like St. Paul, I am starting to say “I am no longer under the law” because I am partaking of the Spirit of Jesus.
Well, I see that my time is up! Here’s Dom!