Essay: Religion is Like a Fungus

Some of the most maladaptive social behaviors I see seem to indicate deep human longings for religion and/or magic. Here’s something I wrote about religion in December. It’s weird. You don’t have to agree.

mycellium_800-600x347

Religion is like a fungus: seemingly toxic, but an essential part of an ecosystem we don’t understand.

Culture is alive. Just as physical living organisms are interconnected in complex ways, so are cultural organisms.

Our usual approach to Life is to think of organisms as discrete individuals. The plant is one thing, the soil is another, the insects another, and the fungus is some pathogen or pest. The animal is an individual, whose life processes are carried out by its individual organs. A human is one thing, culture is another; an intestine is one thing, gut flora are another.

Only recently have we acknowledged that animal digestion relies on bacteria. Without internal bacteria, animals cannot live. That bacteria is communicated through a complex living environment we remain mostly stupid about.

Religion is like a fungus. Consider Penicillium: a mold that spoils bread. No one wants moldy bread. If our bread is moldy, we curse the mold, and perhaps dream of a world in which mold is eliminated.

Suppose we succeed in wiping out the nasty bread mold. Do we end up with clean, pure bread? No, we open the door to far more toxic organisms.

I am highly critical of established religions. Terrible things are done in their names. They do seem toxic.

But a human mind without religion does not become some pure, rational ideal. The human mind never was and never will be pure or discrete. The human mind exists in a cultural ecosystem we do not fully (or even begin to) understand.

Because cultural ecosystems are barely acknowledged, let alone studied, there aren’t well-developed ways to talk about them. I use the metaphor of soil: human minds are the soil in which culture lives. Culture itself may be “airborne,” like spores. A human mind with permeable ears and eyes will be colonized by music, images, language, gestures, sounds, patterns, and much more we can’t even name. Trying to stop culture from entering a mind by enclosing it just makes the system unhealthy – like wrapping food in plastic. It works for a short time, but eventually traps colonies of microbes, and not the ones you want.

Better to keep the mind nicely aired out, with an open flow of culture around it, so it can stay healthy.

Established religions may protect minds against even more toxic cultural organisms, just as Penicillium makes bread inhospitable for pathological bacteria. For all its faults, Abrahamism may protect minds from even worse ideologies.

Atheism has become very popular in the West over the last few decades. I’m all for it. Except…it has coincided with the rise of some pretty toxic new religions. Foremost is genderism, the belief in an unprovable, indefinable gendered essence (soul) that can be born in the wrong body. Genderism is remarkably popular among professed atheists.  Danielle Muscato is a prime example.

This is anecdotal, and I am only one data point, BUT: I’ve noticed that the most toxic, extreme genderists tend to identify as atheists, while many of the most benign and rational genderists I’ve encountered practice a traditional religion (Christianity). They may not even be genderists per se, but they are transsexuals. I speculate their established religion protects them from the worst cultural toxins – misogny, dishonesty, entitlement, violence – attendant to gender extremism.

For all my criticism of religion, I conclude that humans may need it. Killing off religion may be like killing off “pests”: seemingly beneficial in the short term, but having complex effects on the larger ecosystem that can be catastrophic. Healthy soil needs – largely is – fungi and bacteria. Healthy minds – the soil of culture – may require similarly unsympathetic cultural organisms. Like physical Life on Earth, most mental life is “below ground,” and staggeringly complex. The writhing colonies of organisms that live in dark places may disgust us, but our life and health depend on them.

October 14 event with Zsuzsanna Budapest

I’ll be returning to my old stomping grounds of Santa Cruz, CA in October (actually part of a longer North American film festival tour with Seder-Masochism, which I’ll announce soon).

Animated poster! Please share.
Animated poster! Please share.

The Goddess Animated: Nina Paley and Zsuzsanna Budapest

Double feature of Nina Paley animation! Each screening followed by dialog with Zsuzsanna Budapest and question-and-answer with audience.

1pm: Sita Sings the Blues
2009 Dir. Nina Paley
Paley’s award-winning 2009 animated musical interpretation of the Hindu epic Ramayana has earned widespread critical praise, a 100% rating on RottenTomatoes, and continued places on best-of lists. Roger Ebert wrote of it, “I am enchanted. I am swept away. I am smiling from one end of the film to the other.”

4pm: Seder-Masochism
2018 Dir. Nina Paley
Loosely following a traditional Passover Seder, events from the Book of Exodus are retold by Moses, Aharon, the Angel of Death, Jesus, and the director’s own father. But there’s another side to this story: that of the Goddess, humankind’s original deity. Seder-Masochism resurrects the Great Mother in a tragic struggle against the forces of Patriarchy.

Suggested donation: $20 to support the Women’s Spirituality Forum.
Tickets at the door.

AMAZONS ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND!

Sunday October 14, 2018

Click image for high resolution poster to print out
Click image for high resolution poster to print out

Brookdale Terrace Club House
300 Plum St., Capitola, CA
Please carpool; parking is limited.

God Is Male

God Is Male from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Goddess x Patriarchy = Mary

Words by Connie Bryson & Nina Paley
Music composed by Nina Paley
Organ arranged and performed by Camille Goudeseune
Sung by Nina Paley

Want to record better vocals? Please do! Download the organ track at archive.org/details/godismaleorgantrack and record away.

Lyrics:

God is Male.
He’s old, he’s white.
His beard is long,
His asshole’s tight.
He watches everything you do,
and then He throws the Book at you.

Mighty father in the sky.
Mighty chromosomes XY.
Like the sons of Israel,
God’s a patriarchal male.

 

The Birth of YHWH

The Birth of YHWH from Nina Paley on Vimeo.

Music: “Schopska Pesen” (Diaphonic Chant) performed by the Bulgarian State Radio & TV Female Vocal Choir, c 1987
Used to Love Her” by Guns N’ Roses, c 1988

In a recent essay, I wrote:

God used to be female. All of Her attributes were taken over by the male God. Creation, fertility, vegetation, the bringing forth of food, life and death – all that was once the Goddess’s is now God’s. It’s like the male God put on Her clothes, and then “identified” as Her, and there’s no Goddess any more.

This short clip began as an attempt to illustrate that.