In my earlier post, “Outrunning the Hound of Heaven,” I described how repressed material in the unconscious mind might drive the religious impulse. I used (among others) the English writer C. S. Lewis as an example. Today I want to present the idea that religious conversion may be an evasion, a way of avoiding the psychologically rigorous journey of self-discovery. I have drawn the material from my diary. To show what an individuation diary can look like, I have left the entry in its original form and appended a more recent commentary to elaborate on the ideas.
Sudden religious conversion may be a way of avoiding the much more rigorous process of self-discovery and self-acceptance. (Image: Wikipedia)
Recognizing patterns is a way of ordering, or seeing order in, the world. Spotting patterns can be a way of perceiving meaning, although we must remain aware that where there is a pattern there is notalways meaning. Maintaining a rational open-minded stance or avoiding the satisfying jump to conclusions can be surprisingly hard to do. Humans have evolved to notice patterns and ascribe, if not meaning, then at least significance, to them. English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon said that humanity has a proclivity to “suppose the existence of more order and regularity in the world than it finds.”
The tartan is a pattern without meaning (other than denoting clan) while the patterns on the coat of arms are heraldic and loaded with meaning. (Photo: dryburgh.us)
Cognitive dissonance is usually defined as “the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions.” (Wikipedia) Or, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes.” (COED) The less familiar aspect of the distressing mental state – that we can also get into trouble when our beliefs and our actions do not coincide – gets less attention. This situation may go beyond the simple case of conscience and morality, of doing something we know is wrong and then feeling guilty (moral cognitive dissonance). It is quite possible to stumble into serious and painful cognitive dissonance without realizing what has happened.
When we look upon our actions and see they do not coincide with our beliefs, we become distressed. This is one form of cognitive dissonance, a kind of jarring discord within the psyche. (Image: Wikipaintings)
In earlier posts, I have written about synergistic thinking, the deliberate combining of logical (linear) and associative (non-linear) thinking. Logic is a product of the conscious mind and as such it is a thinking tool we all, with varying degrees of skill, deliberately employ. Associative thinking is how the unconscious works and can be both hard to understand and elusive in its actual – often powerful – workings. As a result, in the last few decades, a great deal of confusing superstition has gathered around the unconscious. Here is a gem from page 39 of Susan Shaughnessy’s excellent book about writing, Walking on Alligators: “The only thing we know for sure about the unconscious is that it isn’t like us. It is different from the conscious mind. It looks through our eyes, but it sees differently. It uses other rules to organize what it sees. And then it passes along its conclusions in a tantalizingly inexplicit way.”
The unconscious mind produces an associative running commentary on our thoughts and surroundings. (Image: public domain.)