First, a few words on Titian’s painting. His Isaac is a child and inexorably evokes our compassion and horror at what is going to be, in the absence of an intervention, a savage death in the hands of his own father.
Our eyes are either riveted at first by the intervening angel and then travel inexorably down to the poor boy who could be looking at us, or they are riveted at first by the kneeling boy in all his innocence and vulnerability and then travel upward along the line of the brutal restraining action of Abraham’s muscular arm to his upraised sword and to the intervention of the angel.
In contrast to the paintings by Caravaggio and Rembrandt on the same subject, Titian’s Isaac does not seem to know what’s going on. Unlike Rembrandt’s Isaac, he has not been bound. We cannot see the face of Isaac in Rembrandt’s painting, but we can see it in Titian’s painting and this has a powerful impact on us. The impact of Rembrandt’s painting, however, is a function of its powerful depiction of the intervening angel and Abraham’s surprise and awe at this supernatural intervention at a critical moment.
In Caravaggio’s painting, Abraham brutally holds down Isaac by his neck, and we can see the agony in Isaac’s face. We can also see the torment in Abraham’s face as he turns back to look at the intervening angel who has stayed his arm. Caravaggio’s work boils over with the tension of violence and the inner conflict in Abraham.
The face of Titian’s Isaac is not contorted with pain. He is not struggling and seems to have no clue about the upraised sword about to come crashing down to end the life in his little body. The innocence and helplessness of Titian’s Isaac, whose condition truly resembles that of an unknowing little lamb about to be slaughtered, powerfully evokes our compassion for that child and horror and outrage at Abraham’s intended action.
I should point out here that in the Genesis (22:1-8) account of this attempted human sacrifice episode, Abraham never reveals his real intention to Isaac.
Bearing the burden of the wood on which he would be sacrificed and walking up the mountain, poor Isaac asks his father “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”.
Abraham adroitly avoids telling his son the horrible truth and says cryptically “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Abraham’s deception here only accentuates his cruelty toward his son.
Imagine how the Chinese moralist Confucius, with his overriding value of filial piety, would have responded to this story of a father planning to kill his own son!
Second, a quick resolution of the issue of why Abraham’s action is an example of religious madness or irrationality.
Recall that I clarified the concept of irrationality in the previous post in terms of the violation of two common sense principles of rationality: a) a belief must be held if there is evidence for it, and b) a belief must be discarded if it is contradicted by evidence.
Abraham’s behavior is irrational because it is based on an irrational belief that God was speaking to him and commanding him to sacrifice his son. It is an irrational belief because he had no evidence to believe that it was God’s voice.
Indeed, the notion that there could be evidence which would show that it was actually God’s voice is untenable. Even if some miracles accompanied a voice, this would only show that there was a supernatural presence and not necessarily God’s presence. Therefore, there is no way Abraham could have known that God was speaking to him. He merely heard a voice and thought that it was God speaking to him.
And how could the writer of Genesis 22:1-8, who was certainly not Abraham himself, have possibly known that it was God speaking to Abraham given that even Abraham himself could not possibly have known it?
Abraham only believed that it was God speaking to him. And the writer of Genesis 22:1-8, in turn, mistakenly believed that Abraham knew that God was speaking to him. That’s all there is to it.
Since there is no evidence for Abraham’s belief that it was God who spoke to him and commanded him to sacrifice his son, his belief and his consequent behavior are deeply irrational. And since his irrational belief and behavior are a function of his religiousness, this is assuredly a case of religious madness or irrationality.
Third, a final demolition of Wittgenstein’s claim on religious madness: irreligiousness is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of religious madness or irrationality. This is because irreligiousness is consistent with the absence of religious madness or irrationality. We can adduce many examples in which there is irreligiousness, but no religious madness or irrationality.
Further, religious madness or irrationality is consistent with the absence of irreligiousness. We can adduce many examples in which there is religious madness or irrationality, but no irreligiousness. Therefore, religious madness or irrationality cannot possibly “spring from” irreligiousness.
Last, and moving on to the central claim of this post, I have shown in the previous post on religious madness that religiousness is a necessary condition of religious madness.
If irreligious tendencies, or lapses into irreligiousness, lead a religious person to descend into religious madness or irrationality, then this can happen only because his or her religiousness exacerbates the psychological and moral conflict over those irreligious tendencies.
There is no question of a non-religious person descending into religious madness or irrationality if there is no conversion at first to religiousness. Thus, religious madness or irrationality is dependent on religiousness.
I now want to show that religiousness is also a sufficient condition for religious madness or irrationality!
What am I saying?
I am saying that to go mad or irrational on religion, all you need is religiousness! If you are seriously religious, then you have already descended into religious irrationality. And the more religious you get, the greater the risk of religious madness as a clinical condition.
Does this shock you? It should!
Nevertheless, it is true.
The reason for my claim is simple: all religiousness is irrational!
Does this shock you? It should!
Nevertheless, it is true.
The essence of all religion is supernaturalism. Take that away and all these religions will collapse like houses of cards.
By “supernaturalism”, I mean the belief in processes, events, entities, and beings beyond the pale of nature as we know it through our senses and intellect. It also involves the belief that these supernatural processes or entities act on and control nature and its phenomena, processes, and entities.
What makes these processes, events, and entities postulated by supernaturalism “beyond the pale of nature” is that they are not normally perceived through our senses in the way we perceive trees, rocks, animals, humans, etc. They are also not subject to the laws of nature.
It may seem as though Buddhism and Confucianism are exceptions to my claim that the essence of all religion is supernaturalism, but I don’t think so.
“Enlightenment” in Buddhism is not an event subject to the chain of causality in nature. Therefore, it is essentially a supernatural event. Buddhism is also replete with beliefs concerning supernatural worlds or “lokas” and various sorts of supernatural entities such as “Asura” or demon, “Deva” or god, “Preta” or “hungry ghost” and so on.
Confucius believed in “the Mandate of Heaven”, a supernatural order governing the vagaries or vicissitudes of terrestrial life. Many of the rituals countenanced and advocated by Confucianism rest on supernaturalism, e.g., belief in ancestral spirits and the importance of honoring them.
Supernaturalism violates the two central principles of common sense rationality I described earlier. There is no evidence for supernaturalism and there is good evidence against it. Hence, supernaturalism, or the belief in supernatural forces, beings, etc., is irrational.
I will be examining this topic in two subsequent posts. For now, I will say that the only convincing evidence for supernaturalism would be the occurrence of miracles, blatant violations of laws of nature in the absence of attenuating or extenuating conditions, in response to prayers or “petitions” seeking some sort of intervention in the natural course of events.
Since there are no such miracles, supernaturalism is false.
And, therefore, there is falsity or falsehood in the very essence of religion. To espouse false beliefs and practices based on such false beliefs in the face of available evidence clearly showing that falsity is irrational.
Hence, all religiousness is irrational.
It follows that the more religious you are, the more irrational you become. And the more this religiousness pervades your life, the more the scope or range of irrationality in your life. With this increase in the scope or range of irrationality in your life, the closer you get to insanity or lunacy.
Of course, you can live with a seriously divided rationality: common sense for money matters and religiousness on the weekend confined to the synagogue, church, mosque, temple, or “sangha”. But this division also carries its own risks of increasing the fissures in the mind.
Further, the imperatives of religiousness are imperialist in their nature. They inexorably tend to subsume more and more of one’s inner and outer life. Hence, it is but a matter of time before their scope or range extends to the whole of one’s life with the predictable consequence of increasing irrationality and the risk of impending insanity or lunacy.