Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles [CLASSICAL MUSIC] [APPLAUSE AND CHEERS] Well, thank you all very much for coming to this. It's really shocking to me that you don't have anything better to do on a Tuesday night. [AUDIENCE LAUGHTER] No, but seriously, though, it is. I mean, it's very strange in some sense that there's so many of you here to listen to a sequence of lectures on the psychological significance of the Biblical stories. It's something I've wanted to do for a long time, but it still does surprise me that there's a ready audience for it. So that's good, so we'll see how it goes. I'll start with this because this is the right question. The right question is why bother doing this. And I don't mean why should I bother doing it. I have my own reasons for doing it, but you might think, well, why bother with this strange, old book at all? And... That's a good question. You know, Umm It's a contradictory... document that's been cobbled together over thousands of years. It's outlasted kingdoms, many, many kingdoms, you know? It's very interesting, it turns out that a book is more durable than stone. It's more durable than a castle. It's more durable than an empire. And that's really interesting. That something, in some sense, so evanescent, can be so long living. So there's that, that's kind of a mystery. I'm approaching this whole scenario, this Biblical stories as if they're a mystery, fundamentally. Because they are, there's a lot we don't understand about them. We don't understand how they came about. We don't really understand how they were put together. We don't understand why they had such an unbelievable impact on civilization. We don't understand how people could have believed them. We don't understand what it means that we don't believe them now, or even what it would mean if we did believe them. And then, on top of all that, there's the additional problem, which isn't specific to me, but is certainly relevant to me, that no matter how educated you are, you're not educated enough to discuss the psychological significance of the Biblical stories. But I'm going to do my best. Partly because I want to learn more about them, and one of the things I've learned is that the best way to learn about something is to talk about it. And when I'm lecturing, I'm thinking, you know, I'm not trying to tell you what I know for sure to be the case. Because there's lots of things I don't know for sure to be the case. I'm trying to make sense out of this. And I have been doing this for a long time. Now, you may know, you may not, that I'm an admirer of Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a devastating critic of, I would say, dogmatic Christianity. Christianity as it was instantiated in institutions. I suppose... although he's a very paradoxical thinker. For example, one of the things Nietzsche said was that he didn't believe that the scientific revolution would have ever got off the ground if it hadn't been for Christianity. And more specifically, for Catholicism because he believed that over the course of, really, a thousand years, the European mind, so to speak, had to train itself to interpret everything that was known within a single, coherent framework. Coherent if you accept the initial axioms. A single coherent framework. So Nietzsche believed that that Catholicization of the phenomena of life and of history produced the kind of mind that was then capable of transcending its dogmatic foundations and then concentrating on something else. Which, in this particular case, happened to be the natural world. And so Nietzsche believed that, in some sense, that Christianity died at its own hand that spent a very long period of time trying to attune people to the necessity of the truth. Absent corruption and all of that, that's always part of any human endeavor. And then the truth, the spirit of the truth that was developed by Christianity turned on the roots of Christianity. And everyone woke up and said or thought something like, "Well how is it that we came to believe any of this?" It's like waking up one day and noting that you really don't know why you put the Christmas tree up. You'd been doing it for a long time, and that's what people do, you know, and there are reasons that Christmas trees came about. But the ritual lasts long after the reasons have been forgotten. So, now Nietzsche, although he was a critic of Christianity, and also a champion of its disciplinary capacity, because you see, the other thing that Nietzsche believed was it's not possible to be free, in some sense, unless you have been a slave. By that he meant that you don't go from childhood to full-fledged adult individuality. You go from childhood to a state of discipline, which you might think is akin to slavery, to self-imposed slavery, that would be the best scenario, where you have to discipline yourself to become something specific, before you might be able to re-attain the generality that you had as a child. And he believed that Christianity had played that role for Western civilization. But, in the late 1800s, he announced that God was dead. And you often hear of that as something triumphant. But for Nietzsche, it wasn't because he was too nuanced a thinker to be that simple-minded. See, Nietzsche understood that, this is something I'm going to try to make clear, is that there's a very large amount that we don't know about the structure of experience, that we don't know about reality. And we have our articulated representations of the world, and then you can think of outside of that: there are things we know absolutely nothing about. And there's a buffer between them. And those are things we sort of know something about. We don't know them in an articulated way, here's an example. You know sometimes you're arguing with someone close to you and they're in a bad mood, you know? And they're being touchy and unreasonable and you keep the conversation up. And maybe all of the sudden they get angry, or maybe they cry. And then when they cry, they figure out what they're angry about and it has nothing to do with you, even though you might have been what precipitated the argument. And that's an interesting phenomena as far as I'm concerned, because it means that people can know things at one level without being able to speak what they know at another. So in some sense, the thoughts rise up from the body, and they do that in moods, and they do that in images, and they do that in actions. And we have all sorts of ways that we understand before we understand in a fully articulated manner. So we have this articulated space that we can all discuss and then outside of that we have something that is more akin to a dream that we're embedded in. It's an emotional dream that we're embedded in. That's based, at least in part, on our actions, I'll describe that later. And then outside of that is what we don't know anything about at all. And in that dream, that's where the mystics live, and that's where the artists live. And they're the mediators between the absolute unknown and the things we know for sure. You see, what that means in some sense is what we know is established on a form of knowledge that we don't really understand. And that if those two things are out of sync, so you might say if our articulated knowledge is out of sync with our dream, then we become dissociated internally. We think things we don't act out and we act out things we don't dream. And that produces a kind of sickness of the spirit. And that sickness of the spirit, its cure is something like an integrated system of belief and representation. And then people turn to things like ideologies, which I regard as parasites on an underlying religious substructure to try to organize their thinking, and then that's a catastrophe. And that's what Nietzsche foresaw. You see, he knew that when we knocked the slats out of the base of Western civilization by destroying this representation, this "god ideal," let's say, that we would destabilize and move back and forth violently between nihilism and the extremes of ideology. He was particularly concerned about radical left ideology. He believed and predicted this in the late eighteen hundreds, which is really an absolute intellectual tour-de-force of staggering magnitude. He predicted that in the twentieth century that hundreds of millions of people would die because of the replacement of these underlying dreamlike structures with this rational but deeply incorrect representation of the world. And we've been oscillating back and forth between left and right, in some sense, ever since, with some good sprinkling of nihilism in there, and despair. In some sense, that's the situation of the modern Western person and increasingly, of people in general. You know, I think part of the reason that Islam has its back up, with regards to the West to such a degree, I mean there's many reasons, and not all of them are valid, that's for sure, but one of the reasons is that they, being still grounded in a dream, let's say, they can see that the rootless questioning mind of the West poses a tremendous danger to the integrity of their culture. And it does, I mean, Westerners, us, we undermine ourselves all the time with our searching intellect. And I'm not complaining about that. There isn't anything easy that can be done about it. But it's still a sort of fruitful catastrophe. And it has real effects on people's lives. It's not some abstract thing. Lots of times, when I've been treating people with depression, for example, or anxiety, they have existential issues, you know? It's not just some psychiatric condition. It's not just that they're tapped off of normal because their brain chemistry is faulty, although sometimes that happens to be the case. It's that they are overwhelmed by the suffering and complexity of their life and they're not sure why it's reasonable to continue with it. They can feel the terrible negative meanings of life, but are skeptical beyond belief about any of the positive meanings. I had one client who's a very brilliant artist and as long as he didn't think he was fine. Because he'd go and create, and he was really good at being an artist. He had that personality that was continually creative and quite brilliant, although he was self-denigrating. But as soon as he started to think about what he was doing, then, it's like a drill or a saw, he'd saw the branch off that he was sitting on. He'd start to criticize what he was doing, even the utility of it, even though it was sort of self-evidently useful. And then it would be very, very hard for him to even motivate himself to create. He alway struck me as a good example of the consequences of having your rational intellect divorced in some way from your being. Divorced enough that it actually questions the utility of your being. And it's not a good thing, it's not a good thing. It's really not a good thing because it manifests itself not only in individual psychopathology, but also in social psychopathology, and that's this proclivity of people to get tangled up in ideologies, which I really do think of, they're like crippled religions, that's the right way to think about them. They're like religion that's missing an arm and a leg but can still hobble along. And it provides a certain amount of security and group identity, but it's warped and twisted and demented and bent. And it's a parasite on something underlying that's rich and true. That's how it looks to me, anyways. So I think it's very important that we sort out this problem. I think that there isn't anything more important that needs to be done that. I've thought that for a long, long time. Probably since the early eighties, when I started looking at the role that belief systems played in regulating psychological and social health. You can tell that they do that because of how upset people get if you challenge their belief systems. It's like, why the hell do they care, exactly? What difference does it make if all of your ideological axioms are 100% correct? People get unbelievably upset when you poke them in the axioms, so to speak. [LAUGHTER] And it is not by any stretch of the imagination obvious why. But there's some, it's like there's a fundamental truth that they're standing on. It's like they're on a raft in the middle of the ocean and you're starting to pull out the logs. They're afraid they're going to fall in and drown. It's like, drown in what? What are the logs protecting them from? Why are they so afraid to move beyond the confines of the ideological system? These are not obvious things. So, I've been trying to puzzle that out for a very long time. I've done some lectures about that are on Youtube; most of you know that. Some of what I'm going to talk about in this series you'll have heard, if you've listened to the Youtube videos. You know, I'm trying to hit it from different angles. So Nietzsche's idea was that human beings were going to have to create their own values, essentially. Now he understood that we understood that we have bodies and we have motivations and emotions. Like, he was a romantic thinker, in some sense, but way ahead of his time because he knew that our capacity to think wasn't some free-floating soul but was embedded in our physiology, constrained by our emotions, shaped by our motivations, shaped by our body. He understood that. But he still believed that the only possible way out of the problem would be for human beings themselves to become something akin to God and to create their own values. And he thought about the person who creates their own values as the over-man or the super-man. And that was one of the parts of Nietzschian philosophy that the Nazis, I would say, took out of context and used to fuel their superior man ideology. And we know what happened with that. That didn't seem to turn out very well, that's for sure. I also spent a lot of time reading Carl Jung. It was through Jung and also Jean Piaget, who was a developmental psychologist, that I started to understand that our articulated systems of thought are embedded in something like a dream and that that dream was informed, in a complex way, by the way we act. We act out things we don't understand all the time. If that wasn't the case, then we wouldn't need a psychology or a sociology or an anthropology or any of that because we would be completely transparent to ourselves. And we're clearly not. So, we're much more complicated than we understand, which means that the way that we behave contains way more information than we know. And part of the dream that surrounds our articulated knowledge is being extracted as a consequence of us watching each other behave and telling stories about it for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Extracting out patterns of behavior that characterize humanity. And trying to represent them, partly through imitation, but also drama and mythology and literature and art and all of that. To represent what we're like so we can understand what we're like. That process of understanding is what I see unfolding, at least in part, in the Biblical stories. And it's halting and partial and awkward and contradictory and all of that, which is one of the things that makes the book so complex. But I see in it a struggle of humanity to rise above its animal forebears, say, and to become conscious of what it means to be human. And that's a very difficult thing because we don't know who we are or what we are or where we came from or any of those things. The light life is an unbroken chain going back three and a half billion years. It's an absolutely unbelievable thing. Every single one of your ancestors reproduced successfully for three and a half billion years. It's absolutely unbelievable. We rose out of the dirt and the muck and here we are, conscious, but not knowing. And we're trying to figure out who we are. A story, or several stories, that we've been telling for three thousand years seems to me to have something to offer. And so, when I look at the stories in the Bible, I do it, I would say, in some sense with the beginner's mind. It's a mystery, this book. How the hell it was made, why it was made, why we preserved it, how it happened to motivate an entire culture for two thousand years, and to transform the world. What's going on? How did that happen? It's by no means obvious, and one of the things that bothers me about casual critics of religion is that they don't take the phenomena seriously. And it's a serious phenomena. Not least because people have the capacity for religious experience, and no one know why that is. I mean, you can induce it reliably, in all sorts of different ways. You can do it with brain stimulation. You can certainly do it with drugs. There's, especially the psychedelic variety, they produce intimations of the divine extraordinarily regularly. People have been using drugs like that for God only knows how long, fifty thousand years, maybe more than that, to produce some sort of intimate union with the divine. We don't understand any of that when we discovered the psychedelics in the late sixties. It shocked everybody so badly that they were instantly made illegal and abandoned, in terms of research, for like fifty years. And it's no wonder, because who the hell expected that? Nobody. Now, now Jung was a student of Nietzsche's, you see, and he was also, I would say, a very astute critic of Nietzsche. He was educated by Freud, and Freud Freud, I suppose, in some sense, started to collate the information that we had pertaining to the notion that people lived inside a dream. You know, it was Freud who really popularized the idea of the unconscious mind. We take this for granted to such a degree today that we don't understand how revolutionary the idea was. But what's happened with Freud is that we've taken all the marrow out of his bones, so to speak, and left the husk behind. And now when we think about Freud, we just think about the husk because that's everything that's been discarded. But so much of what he discovered is part of our popular conception now, including the idea that your perceptions and your actions and your thoughts are all, what would you say, informed and shaped by unconscious motivations that are not part of your voluntary control. And that's a very, very strange thing.