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Dr. Bernardo Kastrup explores his new found respect for religious myths in, More Than Allegory.

photo by: Bernardo Kastrup

Today we welcome Dr. Bernard Kastrup back to skeptiko to talk about his new book, More Than Allegory. In the book, Kastrup explores the potential for religious myths to propel us beyond the ordinary:

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: Authentic religious myths can bring us beyond the constraints of this [reality]. That’s what they’re pointing to. They’re pointing at something beyond linear logic; beyond space and time; beyond the constraints that we willingly adopt in our ordinary relationship with reality. We shouldn’t give those constraints up but I think we shouldn’t lose, willingly, our only umbilical connection to something that goes beyond that either.

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Alex Tsakiris: Tell us about this book, More Than Allegory, and the basic premise behind it.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: It’s an exploration of religion and what value it may have for us individually and for society at large. One of the key questions I look into in the book: is there any truth value to religion? Is there any way in which religion expresses truth at some level–in some form? If there isn’t, then there is no point anyway. I think there is. And that’s one of the things I explore in the book.

Alex Tsakiris: Do you think that this culture war issue regarding religion is where it was 10 years ago? I push this sometimes and people push back. And I’ve started to hear a truth in their push back in saying, you know what, we’ve moved on. Richard Dawkins isn’t a hot topic anymore. Atheists seem more silly to more people. Have we moved on as a society, as a culture, a little past this ‘religion is stupid’ [idea]?

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I think there are fashions. And maybe the fashion has changed. Maybe it’s no longer fashionable to bash religion like Richard Dawkins and others used to do, and still do by the way. Maybe they’re not taken as seriously as they were taken before. But the question is, aside from the fashion, aside from the outspoken, militant cultural dialogue, what about our personal relationship with religion? I don’t think that’s been reviewed sufficiently. There’s a much faster, much broader advancement of a kind of aloofness towards religion than the advancement of fundamentalism. I think people are becoming more disconnected from this primordial religious impulse that belongs in the human race, and I think that’s much more worrying than whatever fashionable or cultural militant debate that might be or not be going on right now. It’s about our inner lives at the end of the day. What I see is that people are losing more of their sense of meaning and transcendence. These are the things we get from a healthy relationship with religious myths.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I think no one should be interested in religion just because it comforts us at night; because the moment you’re interested in religion for that reason alone, it no longer comforts you because it isn’t true anymore. It becomes a matter of convenience; a little tale that we tell ourselves in order to reach a comfort level. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m putting forward is that authentic religious myths legitimized by time and history point to something that is true, not only comforting. Truths about reality, about nature, about our conditioning that can’t be literally explained according to linear logic in a rational way. There is no reason to believe that the human intellect has evolved to grasp linearly all relevant truths about reality. Yet we have a part of our minds that psychologists would call the conscious mind (I prefer to call it the obfuscated mind), which is not constrained by the linear constraints of the intellect. History shows us that this part of our minds has been in contact with primordial truths about reality–ineffebale truths that can’t be put into words; that cannot be made sense of according to linear logic, but nonetheless are true. I think that is the value of religion. It’s a symbolic way of pointing at actual truths–not only comforting fairytales but actual truths. They’re not literal. They’re not linear. But they are true and our ability to relate to religious myths at an emotional, non-intellectual level, that’s what we’ve been losing. We think that the intellect can understand it, or it isn’t true. Hey, there’s a lot out there that’s true and cannot be made sense of intellectually. By discarding that we are losing our connection with transcendence and meaning.

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s [take] the Trinity. I’m not sure what’s the underlying truth that really comes through to me. I understand it inside of the myth as an allegory, but not as more than an allegory. Take me a little bit further [with] that example–why is there an underlying deeper truth in [the Trinity]?

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: You’re asking me to translate it into linear, direct, explicit terms in order to make sense of it. We can sort of, as Carl Jung called it, circumambulate it. We can go around it and show different perspectives of it to suggest a deeper meaning. But the deeper meaning can’t be explained directly. The Trinity–we can amplify that [concept] and talk about triangles; we can talk about a manifestation requiring two polarities in order to manifest; so the two polarities being two points, and the third [is] the manifestation. We can talk about, like in the Kabbalah, division of a unity into two different polarities. So these are ways to go around what this [concept] is pointing at. But if we restrict our understanding of the symbolism to these literal translations, we basically kill the myth. We wouldn’t need it if that were enough. I can give you another example.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me throw an example on the table because I think it might take us in another direction. Consider the flood myth–the continuation of society by a brave few or a brave individual…but now take the flood myth and maybe consider Graham Hancock’s latest book, Magicians of the Gods, which is a redo of his past book and say maybe there isn’t an allegorical connection to the flood myth. Maybe there’s a real catastrophic, environmental event connected to that flood myth. So can we really say that about religious myths? Can we really paint them with such a broad brush, and don’t we need to tear them apart one-by-one and look at them?

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: Of course. When I talk about religious myths I’m not talking about the entire canon of a particular religion, which consists of many books, stories, and tales. I’m completely open to the idea that the myth of the flood, which you see everywhere, is an echo of a distant historical event at the end of the last ice age. I’m completely open to that. Actually I’ll go further and say I think that’s the best explanation for the consistency with which we see this particular story reflected in the world’s cultures. When I talk about religious myths I’m talking about the symbolic core–an essence which usually can be captured in a couple of pages. In Aboriginal creation myths, the entire myth can be summarized in a couple of pages and it has many symbolical elements. These are the things that are referred to. In the Christian myth that would be the Trinity, that would be the idea of the incarnation of God in the world, the crucifixion, the symbol of the cross, and the resurrection.

Alex Tsakiris: When we get into extended consciousness, when we get to people seeing Christ consciousness when they have a near-death experience, and they want to know is that real or is that not real? That’s where I think people are connecting with their religious myths. That becomes a really difficult [issue] to tear apart because sometimes who and what they’re connecting with in these extended consciousness realms don’t line-up with history. So we have another tangled web when we’re trying to balance a historical timeline with these transcendent experiences that most people are saying are at the core of these religious experiences. How do we incorporate in the transcendent spiritual experience that you and I probably would agree has to be looked at in this extended consciousness realm? How do we tie that back to our history?

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: There’s a lot to comment on there. I don’t think that every religious myth originates from a particular individual/remarkable experience of transcendent consciousness. I think religious myths percolate from the obfuscated mind up into our self-reflective awareness, in the same way intuition percolates up; the same way you dream at night and remain with a certain feeling; a certain impression of that throughout the day. When that happens at a large social scale you may end up with a religious myth. We are constantly connected with the obfuscated mind in very subtle ways. So I don’t it’s necessarily the case that one person has a mind-blowing, trans-like experience to generate a religious myth. Even if that does happen, as in the case of near-death experiences, I think a mistake that most people tend to make is to project onto the realm, if we want to use that word, the realm of death transcendence (the NDE). In other words, we tend to interpret what other people experience there as literally true. So if somebody saw Jesus, then it must be Jesus. If somebody else saw the Buddha because he had a different cultural background, then there is a conflict. There’s a contradiction. It’s either Jesus or it’s Buddha. I submit to you that what people experience there are symbols of a deeper truth.


Alex Tsakiris: I’m going to pull this back to the near-death experience science because there are some points that we can grab onto. There are some islands in the ocean of all these abstractions that we can at least have the illusion of having real data we can grab onto. The near-death experience–you’re saying that the experience with Christ consciousness isn’t really Christ consciousness, it’s the percolating up of some deep-seated meme or psychological, commonly shared idea of what that is. Okay. Let’s put that over there as a possible hypothesis. Do you say the same thing about someone’s connection with friends and family that’s a common feature of the near-death experience? They meet people who have been deceased; we can even get really concrete with it and say they seem to only meet people who have been deceased. There’ve been many reports of people who meet people they didn’t even know were deceased–and then later found out that they were. And let me add one other part that’s just a little bit beyond the near-death experience: we have many other examples in after-death communication much of which has been studied scientifically for a long time, suggesting there’s a reality to this extended consciousness realm that connects us with our dearly departed loved ones. So, would we say the same thing about that as part of the near-death [phenomena] and as a part of after-death communication in general? It’s not real. It’s just a cultural interpretation; it’s just wish-fulfillment and all the rest of that?

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I didn’t say it wasn’t real.

Alex Tsakiris: I just want your opinion.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I think it is real but it may not necessarily be real in the naïve, literal, linear way. I’ll share an opinion with you and your audience: I think a lot of the psychological motivation behind the interest in near-death experiences is the search for confirmation that our personal identity endures beyond physical death. That’s an ego survival impulse. I’m a philosophical idealist as you know. I think that reality is in a transpersonal form of consciousness, and what we call individualized consciousness or individual human beings and individual animals are just split off, dissociated complexes of a universal consciousness–dissociated alters. There is no intrinsic reality to individuality. There is only one thing going on–one pure sense of “I” which is the I of nature as a whole. To me, it isn’t important whether personalized dissociated consciousness endures beyond physical death. It may. There seems to be very suggestive evidence that it does. But it doesn’t really turn me on when we go into the question of whether people see deceased relatives and loved ones. Are they symbols or are they still whirlpools of consciousness? Are they still dissociated alters of universal consciousness?

Alex Tsakiris: You’ve seemed to be very careful with talking about he hierarchal nature of consciousness. To me it seems inevitable that when we start going down that lines that you’re going down, we arrive at some concept that starts sounding a lot like what a lot of people for a long time have called God.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: I’m much more open to that than I was when we talked for the first time on Skeptiko a few years ago. I’m open to using the ‘G-word’ now. If I can give you a couple of examples, a basic Hindu myth is the idea that Brahman creates the framework of the world in the form of primordial waters. And then He creates a primordial egg in that world; and then Brahman himself hatches from the primordial egg, which is within the world of his creation. If you look at the Christian myth, God is born within his own creation in the form of the Christ through a human woman. So these [concepts] are pointing somewhere. There is an Aboriginal myth in which Karora, the creator deity, dreams the world up into existence, and then wakes up within his own dream. So you have this theme again and again, in so many different places–the idea that the world is a mental creation of a deity which then enters his own creation by waking up in the dream; or hatching from an egg that he puts within his creation; or by being born as Jesus the Christ. This pointing not only at what the idea of the deity means, but it’s also pointing in a very rich way to the relationship between us and that deity.

Dr. Bernardo Kastrup: There’s a lot about this game that we can’t put into language and can’t communicate. We have to experience it ourselves. That’s where I think religious myths come in. They bring us beyond the best cultural narrative, which we can come up with today by pointing at something and creating the conditions for a personal experience of something beyond space-time and our linear logic. That’s where we can find meaning and transcendence.

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