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  • Karl Thunemann


by Mary Scriver

The reason no one labels me a heretic is that no one thinks I’m talking about religion. The English-speaking definition of a “religion” is a sort of formal pledging club about who’s in charge, the same as “English” is about reducing the countries around the northern Atlantic Ocean to the vocabulary and assumptions of one small island that used to be a peninsula off the coast that is “Europe.” That is, what I think about is so totally different that it’s not a threat. It’s not even a reframing.

A mode of thought that formed around the Mediterranean, which is sort of a reverse peninsula of the Atlantic Ocean, was logic, reason, and the exclusion of “emotion,” personally contained reaction to the world. Now that “embodiment theory” has shaped the always pre-existing forces of the human body (NOT just the head) and given it form and force, “religion” is no longer about the rule of law applied to a theist metaphor and its justification in politics, which leads to supernatural stories of transcendence.

No Christian makes art of Satan on his mother’s lap or even has a concept of who that woman might be.

Now the new “religion” is immanent and arises from the felt meaning of everything as it is experienced, welling up through the daily and personal into an awareness received by people processing in the specialized frontal pre-optic cortex of the brain that makes us human.

Like psychoanalysis and other forms of non-body psych, the newest research is so different that it’s almost impossible to reconcile what we know about how our bodies grasp the world versus what someone like Freud thought up about how minds in Vienna worked in his time. We must realize the new even as we resist the outdated view. Most people didn’t really “get” all that fancy stuff anyway. They just knew how to get through the day where they were.

So I build an alternative vocabulary, sometimes new and other times one that must fight the past. For instance, I fight against “love,” that rat’s nest of assumed mystical origins that makes everyone all nice and opposes war. “Attachment” is my preferred concept, entirely physiological, arising from the mammal evolution of producing offspring from inside the mother’s body, each example slightly different but all the same in requirements. One fifth go off the molecular process somehow and are discarded. I don’t know how many fail at birth but many die under circumstances in the environment. Those who succeed are the ones given care — food, warmth, shelter, grooming, defense — by parents or others old enough to do so.

This is not just for survival, but also forms the brain of the newborn, continuing physical systems that were begun in utero and persisting as the deepest assumptions. The first tasks, walking and talking, take maybe three years — what we call toddlerhood. This mother/child relationship is recognized in Christianity by many art works. If it goes wrong, building in suspicion and distrust, the resulting person will see that in the world. No Christian makes art of Satan on his mother’s lap or even has a concept of who that woman might be. In modern times we could easily think of an addict, or a woman who was herself deformed.

When humans watch performances they are able to play the sport with the contenders, their muscles and nerves faintly reproducing the real on the field.

Every human being is a whole-body complex with a brain for recorder and intender, a sensate body capable of perceiving the world outside his/skin, adjusted to survive in whatever that world might be. But most of all learning from a caregiver face-to-face which opens a virtual (not concrete) liminal (special) space anchored in the pre-frontal cortex lobe so close to eyes and ears. This continues lifelong and is the “ground” of play, art, and religious experience — all of them recorded and developed through the senses.

Human beings who never develop in this way will always be limited, no matter how excellent their mammal-hood might be otherwise. It is also possible to destroy this ability through suffering, oppression, and even voluntary sin and abuse that damage the body/mind.

If this “ground” is strong and expanding, it enables empathy so strong that what happens to any other communicating human being — even through play, art and awareness of the immanent sacred — means that a human being extends through other human beings, enlarges skill, knowledge and growth. In this way new environments can become part of the original human or new aspects of what already exists. This is beyond anything that pack mammals or symbiotic creatures can achieve because it is “virtual,” abstract, yet still communicable.

When humans watch performances they are able to play the sport with the contenders, their muscles and nerves faintly reproducing the real on the field. This can be detected by instruments. The ability is what makes porn possible, so that watching is as arousing as participation. No other mammal is able to get this “hit” off porn.

It is said that survival strategies include words beginning with “F,” like freeze/flight/fight/. I would include a few more, including “fool” which means thinking of alternatives that the threatening entity doesn’t know or expect so as to escape by deception. The other powerful one is the stigmatized “fuck”, meaning a diversion of energy into the sexual which is dangerous because arousal can slip into violence even when damage is not intended. A more civilized version is “fawning,” pretended allegiance and affection. Many women learn to “fawn” as an imitation of the big category they call “love” and think is power.

“Attachment” is my word for that makes us want to be together, to grieve and feel lost identity when someone dies or we must move away from an accustomed place. It comes of sensory experience which grows into identity. What dies or is left becomes damage to who we are.

“Arousal” is not a word I restrict to “love” or even attachment. Arousal is emotion, a physical state of all the things a lie detector detects unless a person has no emotion about lying, as with a sociopath, or doesn’t detect that something is untrue, as with a psychopath’s inability to connect to reality. Increased heartbeat, breathing, sweating, blood pressure, blood content come of arousal. It can be good or bad, intense or calm, and even in Christian congregations the variety is marked. When it became popular to include in the Sunday morning liturgy, the “passing of the peace,“high” churches with “high” social status, merely nodded in acknowledgement of others. They hung onto the idea of rationality. But “low” churches might throw their arms around each other and cry out joy, even dance.

Between “attachment” and “arousal” many stories arise. These are immanental, human, and what I call “religion.” No dogma, no hierarchy, no pledges of fealty, no supernatural anything in spite of the looming unknown.

Mary Scriver is a retired Unitarian minister who lives in Valier, Mt.


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