Avrum Ehrlich
Jerusalem based theologian / social - civilisational analyst

Religion, Language, Consciousness and the Construction of the Human Future: A response to Bret Weinstein and Jordan Peterson

Evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein opined on the Joe Rogan Experience #1006, ‘ancestral wisdom may be worthy of honour … but religion is not up to the challenge addressing modernity’.

He, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and other brilliant secular-scientific public intellectuals choose not to identify religion as the rare social prism it is – to observe refractions of the social trajectory. They wish not to recognise religion as a phenomenon that generates and preserves the most precious behavourial data of human history.

Clinician Jordan Peterson is the exception, leading a videographic intellectual pack mining highly porous fields of religious and psychological meaning, and proverbially ‘excavating over the altar’ using long form sermons for maximum impact. I sense his achievements are a modern breakthrough of mass psycho-religious and intellectual – as well as socio-scientific – awareness using the innovation of the last several years of large bandwidth affording accessible in-depth treatments of the human condition.

Evolutionary biologists mostly reject the proposition that religion has any role beyond that which has passed by in history, never to return. Instead of proposing original new theories on how religion is of critical socio-psychological purpose, they depict religion as a somewhat shameful anachronism reflecting the remains of human retardation. Rituals are viewed as naive throwbacks.

Instead of pursuing an independent course carefully studying religious phenomena with scientific tools and social correlations, evolutionary biologists, themselves borne of religious attitudes, respond and counter weigh the intellectual dialectic they grew up within – with a somewhat infantile, knee jerk rejection of religion – in its entirety. The gambit of modern scientific theory has succumbed through a secondary process to the narratives of religionists, both groups – religionists and scientists – fail to gain accurate perspective of the socio-psychological and evolutionary function of religion while co-opting skewed interpretive narratives.

Incredible socio-imaginative forces emerging from ideo-religious civilisation have thus gone by relatively unobserved and under leveraged for its potential.

A wonderful social-linguistic disguise seems to be in play within the religious-secular paradigm mimicking biological disguises in many ways. The building blocks of consciousness are hiding in plain sight. Even the cleverest and free thinking scientific minds failed to make accurate associations with it.

Social development – in all its 21st century techno-psycho-intellectual leaps forward – is, without exception, anchored in the most simple of letters, words, pictographs and sentences, phono-linguistic consensus, an audio/symbolic alphabet and varying rules of grammar. These are commonly packed and disseminated in the corpus of religious structures together with legends, lore, rules, emotion-linguistic associations, psycho-social, psycho-legal constructs, lingo-legal and lingo-emotional combinations, habitual repetitive practices, coordinated gaming rites, voice, language, music and oral formulations and a multitude of relational dynamics and much more –  which have been precious archetypes of thought and behavior over millennium if not hundreds of thousands of years and may – and are likely to still – be necessary tools and materials on the human journey forward. These relatively simple materials, methods and tools are the veritable underpinnings and mediums of all human knowledge, memory and imagination.

Even the most antiquated practices of an ancient cult are not merely cute and historical – they are archeological treasures – the aurora of human psycho-social operation. Primitive symbols are interpretive keys, languages and sub components, abacias and abacadabras critical to communicative structure and the transmission of knowledge and the inheritance of basic humanoid skills. Dismissing them is to dismiss key component of one’s psycho-architecture.

Cultic nuances, stories and rites, however archaic, are still poignantly relevant. Garbage for one time is treasure for another. Old myths and dead languages are primordial bridges and markers over a gritty desert journey of archaic human memory. Old literature and ancient imagery are collections and mediums – platforms of available knowledge.

The mythical and religious imagination is intrinsically imbedded in 21st century achievement from ordinary life at its most basic to the most complex of scientific and industrial achievements.

Letters, words, sentences, grammatical structures, paragraphs, stories, odysseys and narratives are the media and constructs of human knowledge and memory – indeed, its very consciousness.

Religio-mythic stories, rites, practices and rules, however deceptively simplistic, naive and anachronistic in appearance, are in reality core collections of human psychic heritage. Beliefs, ideas, arch personalities, rituals, rules and mythology are very much not anachronisms but building blocks of modernity and inseparable parties to the incredible future of humanity.

Evolutionary biologists have failed to accurately explain how religion and language and ideas interface.

Much opportunity afforded to observe has been lost. Instead of minting new definitions and intellectual instruments drawing out audio- neuro- socio – lingo- graphs, scientists have opted for un-examined and careless assertions. It is a shame considering the wonderful intelligence and leverage of the scientific cadre.

The poignancy of religious rites and imagery might not be as religionists imagine, but nor are they unimportant. They may not connect us with the divine spirit in the way we would like, but they are a purview into critical patterns of homo-socio survival and knowledge transmission in its image.

About the Author
Avrum Ehrlich is a Jerusalem-based theologian and social-civilizational analyst. He is a life member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and was a visiting fellow at its Department of Social and Political Studies and Cambridge Theological Seminary. He was a full professor of Judaic and inter-religious thought at China’s key research institute for inter-religious studies and social development at Shandong University, China. He has authored and edited volumes and articles spanning religion, comparative culture and identity. He held university positions and synagogue pulpits, lectured and delivered sermons in academic, community and public forums around the world. Professor Ehrlich practices full immersion engagement and experientialism in much of his scholarship and intellectual adventures. He currently holds reading rights at the Van Leer Institute for Social Sciences in Jerusalem.