|Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz - Lewis' "Lord, Liar, Lunatic, Legend": Lambasting Last Lemma Like Leah, Lauding Less Literal Lunacy
|Lewis' "Lord, Liar, Lunatic, Legend": Lambasting Last Lemma Like Leah, Lauding Less Literal Lunacy
||[Dec. 1st, 2012|02:48 pm]
Dr. Kary Mullis discovered the polymerase chain reaction (wiki page, unofficial song), the biochemical process that makes modern genetic research possible. He won a very well-deserved Nobel Prize in 1993 and may be one of the most famous living scientists. He also claims that one night while walking to the bathroom he met a glowing raccoon-like alien from another dimension. The raccoon greeted him with a "Good evening, doctor", and then he lost all memory of the next six hours.
So now let's talk about Jesus.
A couple of people on Patheos, including Bob Seidensticker and Leah Libresco are talking about a "tetralemma" version of Lewis' famous argument. Since Christ claimed to be God (Lewis says), either he was right, he was a dirty self-aggrandizing liar, or he was insane "on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg". Atheist writers have noted a fourth possibility: that he didn't exist at all.
This, then, is the famous "lord, liar, lunatic, legend" argument. The modern conception of Christ as "just a wise moral teacher" is preposterous - wise moral teachers don't claim divinity if they're not divine. Most moderns don't want to go full mythicist and say Jesus didn't exist at all. But most moderns also say believe his teachings were too profound to be the work of a total charlatan or a raving lunatic. Therefore, Christ was God.
It's a lot like how we are forced to either admit Kary Mullis was really abducted by raccoons from outer space, or else reject the entire field of genetics as a monstrous sham.
I am not an expert on lords or liars, but I have worked at some psychiatric hospitals and known a couple of lunatics in my time. Some of them are exactly what you would expect - extremely low-functioning people who are bouncing off the walls and smearing themselves with feces and probably not fit for polite society. Others are not quite so stereotypical. Kary Mullis wouldn't make it into a psych hospital - his weird hallucinations don't impair his ability to function or make him dangerous to himself or others - but I think it would be fair to classify him as having some kind of subclinical psychological issues. But these don't impair his ability to do some really brilliant chemistry.
The diagnosis of delusional disorder technically requires "nonbizarre" delusions - things that could in theory happen, like that a friend is plotting against you, as opposed to things that could not happen, like that you can fly. But psychiatrists naturally have looser standards for "nonbizarre" than the general population, and God talking to you or choosing you in some way seems like a pretty accepted textbook case.
One of the most notable signs of delusional disorder is that "apart from the delusion's ramifications, functioning is not markedly impaired." The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology admits that "the rates of marriage and productive vocational functioning in delusional disorder are generally within the expected range" - it adds that there is some evidence for some impaired functioning, but it doesn't provide the evidence and the impaired functioning isn't necessarily present in all cases.
Most sources describing delusional disorder are impressed both by the complexity of the delusions ("often highly detailed and may remain unchanged for years") and by the relative sparing of logic, including the logic with which the delusions are implemented. If a patient believes they've discovered an alien invasion plot, well, that's crazy, but they will act in pretty much the same way anyone who did discover an alien invasion plot would act: internally debate whether to conceal it so they don't look crazy, or to try to contact and convince the President so he can prepare.
(the psychiatric hospital where I interviewed in DC had what they called the "White House Ward" for delusional patients from all over the country who had come to Washington to convince the President of things.)
The DSM-IV-TR lists as one common subtype of delusional disorder "delusions of...special relationship to a deity". So you can see where I'm going with this. Modern psychiatry believes it is totally possible to believe you are the Son of God while keeping your reason and sanity in every other area of life. It wouldn't even be considered unusual. If you were a Nobel Prize winning chemist before the disorder presented, you would become a Nobel Prize winning chemist who delusionally believed he was the Son of God. And if you were a great moral philosopher before, you would become a great moral philosopher who delusionally believed he was the Son of God.
But I'm not sure this is the whole story. A lot of my views on religion changed after reading Aleister Crowley's Book Four, where he argues that the founding of religions depends on mystical experiences that occur predictably and regularly if you take the right steps (fasting, prayer, meditation) as a consequence of currently-unknown psychological or neurological factors. Crowley describes one such experience as:
...usually comes as a tremendous shock. It is indescribable even by the masters of language; and it is therefore not surprising that semi-educated stutterers wallow in oceans of gush. All the poetic faculties and all the emotional faculties are thrown into a sort of ecstasy by an occurrence which overthrows the mind, and makes the rest of life seem absolutely worthless in comparison...also the conditions of thought, time, and space are abolished. It is impossible to explain what this really means: only experience can furnish you with apprehension.
A further development is the appearance of the Form which has been universally described as human; although the persons describing it proceed to add a great number of details which are not human at all. This particular appearance is usually assumed to be "God." But, whatever it may be, the result on the mind of the student is tremendous; all his thoughts are pushed to their greatest development. He sincerely believes that they have the divine sanction; perhaps he even supposes that they emanate from this "God." He goes back into the world armed with this intense conviction and authority. He proclaims his ideas without the restraint which is imposed upon most persons by doubt, modesty, and diffidence.
I don't know if I would describe this as "insanity"; it would be pretty mean to the mystics. But I can certainly see it as using some of the same psychological certainty as delusional disorder: this one blast of psychic energy embeds an idea into the deepest layer of the brain while mostly sparing everything else. Just as psychoactive drugs can mimic or cause psychiatric disorders, so this natural high from meditation and self-cultivation might have some of the same effects. The Bible tells us that Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days. And since that seems like an odd thing to do out of the blue, maybe he spent some of his eighteen "lost years" hanging out with "fast-in-the-desert" sorts of people like the Essenes
So we find that this third horn of the argument, "lunatic", is a lot more complicated than Lewis gives it credit for. There are lunatics who appear perfectly sane in every way but one, and that one may be a preoccupation with being a deity or the relative of a deity. And it may be that sufficient religious preoccupation can artificially bring on this form of unshakeable belief. To me, this is a much more likely version of Jesus than a liar, a garden-variety lunatic or the one person who thought he was the son of God and was right.
Crowley's describing something I refer to in my head as 'catastrophic partial illumination', which I've seen more than once in the New Age/occultist/kook community. Someone has a mystical experience or intuitive breakthrough, and they return to consensus reality, and it just curdles as they try to hold on to it and glue it back into their reality. I think it may be a sort of secondary failure of error-checking or cognitive robustness.
Somewhat the inverse would be certain people who seem to show many of the signs of schizophrenia, but don't seem to be exactly impaired by it. The artist Jim Woodring is the best example I can think of.
I'd also add 'Lee' to 'Liar, Lunatic, Lord, Legend', as in Marvel Comics' Stan Lee, who created the working method of sketching a plot, handing it off to the artist, and inserting dialogue on the finished pages. In other words, some later jackass came along and put words in Jesus's mouth.
I'll leave out the 'why are you wasting your valuable insight on a tool like CS Lewis', since I always ask that.
Also, Dave Sim, Robert Anton Wilson and Philip K Dick, who all underwent similar experiences, and (in two cases) struggled greatly to make sense of them.
Kary Mullis has gone public about his LSD usage. It might have something to do with the raccoon.
He's used more than LSD. He writes about inventing and testing his own drugs a-la Shulgan.
The Liar leg of the trilemma also falls over very easily , I think. It's entirely possible to be extremely morally upstanding in all but a very few areas of one's activities. Endless scandals are testament to this. People are good at compartmentalising.
(If you're interested in reading thoughtful theists on such matters, Andrew Rilstone
has written on Lewis's Trilemma
. I don't always agree with him - not only is he a Christian, but he also has an inordinate and wholly unjustifiable fondness for folk music and opera - but it's a far better class of argument than one often finds in apologetics.)
Oh, and I forgot the other obvious issue with the trilemma: even if you grant that someone made the claims and teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels, and that it is very unlikely that such a person would be delusional or fibbing, you still have to weigh those option up against the probability that they were in fact God, which absent other evidence seems really pretty remote.
2012-12-01 11:16 pm (UTC)
I don't think Jesus fits your definition of a high functioning lunatic. He quits his job as a carpenter and wonders around gathering followers and is so fixated on who he is and his mission that it gets himself killed. I think it is his humility and sober message that proves His sanity. And I don't think He can seriously be considered a liar. He presents no motivation for doing so, not asking for money or power.
First: Nothing "proves your sanity." Weren't you paying attention?
Second: Given that you could, why would humility of all things? "I am nothing before the great Xenu who I receive messages from on my teeth!"
Third: How is Jesus remotely humble? "There's no way to the father but through me," that's about as arrogant as you can get.
"so this natural high from meditation and self-cultivation might have some of the same effects"
Speaking from experience: Yes, very definitively yes. The "induced" episodes are generally more clearly supernatural (God talking to me vs Girlfriend plotting against me), which for *me* makes it much easier to go "Okay, my prior on schizophrenia is pretty high, so this is a delusion".
Lewis's trilemma can be applied to Mohammed, Buddha and many other people.
In other words, Lewis is a dick.
I once defeated the trilemma by insisting I didn't know whether Jesus was divine and so couldn't choose a leg. The evangelist got frustrated and demanded, "Doesn't it matter to you if he was the Son of God?"
"No. I judge men by what they do, not who their fathers were." Much to the amusement of the entire department.
Did I mention this was my supervisor in the military I was outlogicing? Yeah, he took revenge. But I had my moment.
The biggest problem with quadrilemma is it's way too simplistic. We get stories about Jesus decades or centuries after they "happened" through who knows how many intermediaries, not to mention we have documented cases of editing, eg the apocrypha. Before we can even start to decide whether Jesus was any of the 4, we have to figure out how trustworthy each of those sources are, and to what extent they influence each other. We can't even tell the difference between "legend" and "not" with certainty, so how could we be able to figure out the truth within the "not" spectrum?
"Avoid alliteration, always." It makes you look like a lunatic. Eleventy-one!
Somewhere 'out there' a dissertation on the ways in which Lewis might have defined and contextualised "lunacy" waits. It is possible that his actual understanding was more nuanced and intelligent than apparent in a bit of intentionally populist literature. However one might disagree with him it seems he wasn't a fool.
What is very certain is that the ultra-fundamentalist Christians who try to enact legislation or control society based on their interpretations of belief in Jesus need to consider your arguments very seriously indeed; but the whole situation is neatly ambiguous and our information is incomplete. We will never know if Jesus was a delusional personality, and, if he was, that such claims he is reputed to have made were also false.
Are there other groups of controlling character for whom a similar application of probability testing of initial premises could be applied?
Lewis said something along the lines "it is clear to me Jesus was not a lunatic". I don't think he was being very nuanced there.
Honestly, I can't speak to the other parts of this tetralemma, but the 'Jesus never existed' part always annoys me. My training was as a historian, and to my mind, there are just way too many primary sources from not all that long after the period of his life for Jesus to be straight myth. Especially as not all those sources are biblical or even apocrypha.
Now, this is not to say that Jesus did and said everything the gospels claim he did. As a historian, I would say it was unlikely that the various letter and gospel writers got everything right (even in a culture of oral tradition and memorisation and even setting aside the supernatural elements). In fact, if I'm speaking strictly as a historian, I'd note that it's just plain unlikely that a bunch of people founding a religion would just invent an allegedly real person to put at the center in it. Even if they were being totally cynical (and I'd say the evidence is against that), there were so many would-be Messiahs and prophets lurking around Palestine at that point in time it would make more sense and be easier to create myth around an actual person than invent the person too.
(Of course, as a Christian, I would say that I do believe that Jesus was both a real human and the son of God and that he did say and do approximately the things the New Testament claims, but this is because having been brought up as an Anglican, I can compartmentalise nicely between what I believe as a matter of personal faith and what I feel there is good historical evidence for. And let's not get those two mixed up, especially in our schools, thank you very much.)
I also feel that DSM-IV is being a bit quick to dismiss mystics. I've had one or two brief mystical experiences in my life that I'm pretty certain weren't generated by imagination or biochemistry (I do not, for example, count the rather spectacular auditory hallucination of angelic choirs at midnight mass one Christmas - I was so sleep-deprived on that occasion that I would certainly have hallucinated something appropriate to whatever situation I was in.). They felt more like moments of insight and connection than anything else, and while the specifics did slip away fast, the overall meaning of them stayed with me and actually still worked as insight when analysed in the harsh lights of reality and theology. I still don't quite know what to make of them. But I don't think these moments - which have enriched my inner life but not caused catastrophic change in the rest of my life - ought to be putting me on someone's diagnostic radar.
Which is not to say that I am 100% sane and logical - far from it - but I do think that an overly strict adherence to some of these criteria can risk pathologising things that are not innately unhealthy and may actually have a mild positive effect on people.
Sorry, that got long. The 'no evidence that Jesus existed' thing sets me off every time...
I don't know of any primary sources by someone claiming to have known Jesus. It's all secondhand at best.
One theory I've seen isn't that he was invented as a deliberate lie, but that he started out as a spiritual concept, and later people took the stories as literal stories about a real person rather than a bunch of parables about a spiritual kingdom.
I think examining the details of the delusions Jesus may have had is really interesting.
In fact, I've sometimes gone further, and said that great moral teachers typically have some really weird ideas (probably because everyone does, but people are much more likely to become great moral leaders if they stick to their convictions in the face of people telling them not to).
Never existed would be closer to "myth" (Hercules) rather than "legend" (King Arthur).
Of course, the theory where Jesus never existed but is based on someone real like, say, a historical Mithras would technically count as "legend".
Seems like half the comments here are arguing whether 'legend' means 'pure fiction' or includes 'real person with fictionalized accretions'. Round and bloody round. Well, I tried.
'Lee' isn't that useful a coinage. Most people haven't heard of him, and even for those who have, you're using him unintuitively. A more natural association with him for me would be purely fictional characters, since that's what he wrote. And we already have that sense of 'legend'.
I had a client at the psych hospital with an amazing variety of delusions, one of which centered on being married to Aleister Crowley.
I once amused myself by coming up with three other alternatives for every letter of the alphabet. Mistaken, Metaphorical, Mythological was where I started, and kept going.
But really, the easiest means of disposing of Lewis' trilemma comes from Lewis himself, in the first pages of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the Professor uses the trilemma to 'prove' that Lucy really did visit another world in his wardrobe, simply by the fact that she was generally a truth-telling young girl and showed no sign of mental illness; herefore every story she might ever tell must be accurate representations of the world.
Lewis had to dishonestly stack his deck for this absurd scene to make any sense at all (the professor had visited said world himself as a boy, and had built that wardrobe from otherworldly materials, which you don't learn until a much later sequel). It is otherwise reasoning no human adult would ever use.
The trilemma is given far more weight than it deserves. It's nonsense.
Edited at 2012-12-03 07:57 am (UTC)
2012-12-04 12:05 am (UTC)
Even as an eight year old reading the book for the first time, I was struck by the fact that the author clearly didn't understand crazy people at all.
This is pretty much the same as what I thought when I encountered Lewis's argument for the first time: that it assumes a uniformity of the human mind -- that insanity in one domain of thought (e.g. self identity) automatically translates to insanity in all the others (e.g. moral sense).
It's odd that people don't criticise it on those grounds more often, preferring (if they criticise it at all) to go with the "Jesus didn't exist" line and then stop. Surprisingly few go on to say "And even if he DID ..." to introduce an argument that was obvious at a glance to my young (teenage or younger) self.
2012-12-04 12:02 am (UTC)
I'd recommend checking out "Why God Won't Go Away, Brain Science and the Biology of Belief" by Andrew Newberg, Eugene D'Aquili, and Vince Rause, for a more scholarly treatment of reliably replicable mystical experiences than Crowley's.
Another alternative to Jesus having been a liar, lunatic, or not existing, is that people simply made the more fantastical stuff up after the fact. I've become uncomfortable with the hypothesis that Jesus never actually existed, since he had simply been made up, first because I'm not sure there's a historical precedent for a completely fabricated person becoming so widely believed in in such a short period of time (John Frum is a possible candidate, but he may also have been a real person,) and second because anyone who made him up could have avoided confusions like having him grow up in Nazareth rather than the prophesied Bethlehem, but born in Bethlehem due to the improbable census story, and simply invented a character who was born and raised in Bethlehem.
"most moderns also [believe] his teachings were too profound to be the work of a total charlatan or a raving lunatic."
They do, and that's a little odd. We're very much removed from Jesus and what he said (if anything). What we do
have is the stories written about him (from the foreign perspective of Greek culture). What we're seeing, wise or foolish, are the writings of a religious community from 2000 years ago. It's quite plausible for fallible humans to write a story with both profound and preposterous elements.Liar, Lunatic, Lord ... or Legend Edited at 2012-12-04 10:32 pm (UTC)
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