[lit-ideas] Re: Eugene Marais, baboons, and religious "instinct"

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 28 May 2014 18:03:16 +0200

By being 'raised' in a secular way, I don't mean that I was exhorted or
warned against religion; rather, it was absent. It wasn't practiced or much
talked about at home, or at school either, at least in the early grades.
(Later when it was talked about in the history classes, it was viewed from
a Marxist perspective, as a kind of superstition, or old-fashioned at
best.) Most of the people around us didn't seem religious either, although
I remember the mother of one of my friends going to Church on Sundays,
which I found rather odd. Nowadays many people here go to Church on the
religious holidays at least, and keep some other religious customs, but I
think that they mostly do it because it is 'tradition' and I doubt that
many are really believers. The point is, I don't think that religious
belief comes naturally unless you have been acculturated into it from an
early age.


On Wed, May 28, 2014 at 8:15 AM, Lawrence Helm

> O.K.,
> I wouldn’t use the expression you use, that I was raised a certain way.
> My grandmother, who was self-taught because she spent part of her childhood
> deaf, raised me until I was ten.  She didn’t teach me anything about
> religion as far as I recall.  What she did urge me to do was read all sorts
> of things.  She got me a library card as soon as I was eligible, and I
> did.  My siblings and I were sent off to church; the First Christian Church
> of Wilmington California, but my parents didn’t attend.  I recall that my
> younger brother used to keep the money we were given to put in the
> collection plate and buy candy with it.
> By reading “all sorts of things” I eventually got to the point where I
> could no longer accept the literalism of the sort of religion I was being
> presented with by the First Christian Church.  My mother did become
> excessively religious after I went into the Marine Corps, but she
> gravitated to a denomination that was decidedly not “main-stream,” the
> World Wide Church of God.  I used to have regular debates with her about
> it.
> During my agnostic period I read a lot of Marxist and Communist
> literature, got in some debates with some fellow-travelers if not
> communists, but was never convinced by anything I read.
> I decided I needed to pursue religion a bit more and went through
> something reminiscent of Hermann Hesse’s *Siddhartha.   *I wasn’t
> comfortable being a non-believer; so what I went through was the opposite
> of what you did.  My mother turned me off of Christianity because at the
> time I though her denomination or sect was typical.  I wasn’t sophisticated
> enough to realize that Herbert Armstrong and the World Wide Church of God
> was a something like a cult.  I spent time studying Zen, Buddhist writings
> (I recall mentioning this once before years ago and some lurker took me to
> task for not really knowing much about Buddhism, but he was a practicing
> Buddhist and I only read about it), Taoism – I liked Taoism, or at least
> the writings of Lao Tsu quite a lot.  I didn’t join anything*, *however.
> I then studied the Yoga third path to wisdom; which involved study rather
> than doing weird stuff with your body or sacrificing yourself in some weird
> way.
> I went through a divorce and then found that the only woman who interested
> me in marrying again was a committed Christian.  It didn’t hurt that she
> had model-good looks, but I wouldn’t have been interested in a woman who
> was caught up in any of the religions I had studied up until then.  This
> young Baptist lady suited me quite well.  Except, as usual, I spent the
> next 8 years studying theology and we ended up in a “reformed” Presbyterian
> Church.
> Continuing to read all sorts of things I now wouldn’t say that I fit any
> particular denomination.  Nicholas Wade would say that one can’t be
> religious unless he belongs to a religious “pack” of some sort.  I don’t
> agree with him.   I am technically a member of such a “pack” but no longer
> attend.  My wife would attend if she were able, but she is now an invalid.
> Does my being “technically a member” satisfy Wade’s argument that I need to
> be part of a religious “pack” (btw he doesn’t use the term “pack,” but I
> can’t recall the term he does use)?  I rather think not, on the other hand
> our church made two moves, each time further away from where we live and
> surely if we are physically unable to make the drive, they’ve got to accept
> that; so maybe we are still part of it.
> And there you have it,
> Lawrence
> *From:* lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:
> lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] *On Behalf Of *Omar Kusturica
> *Sent:* Tuesday, May 27, 2014 5:30 PM
> *To:* lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
> *Subject:* [lit-ideas] Re: Eugene Marais, baboons, and religious
> "instinct"
> Well, in a matter such as this where there is no compelling evidence
> either for or against, choice probably plays some role. Although, it is
> probably not a conscious choice.
> I have had some periods of being attracted to religion, even wanting to
> believe, but ultimately it did not overcome my secular upbringing .My
> parents may have had some periods of being attracted to religion as well,
> but when I was a child growing up in Socialist Yugoslavia, and they having
> been Communist Party members, they have raised me accordingly, thinking
> that this would be the best way for me to fit into the' modern' society.
> Since then, religion (Christian and Muslim)  has seen some growth in
> popularity and official acceptance in these parts, but I am still not
> really a believer.
> How are the things standing with you in this matter ?
> O.K.
> On Wed, May 28, 2014 at 2:09 AM, Lawrence Helm <
> lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> Thanks, JL, for the *African Genesis* (written by Robert Ardrey) reference.
> I searched page after page looking for references to Raymond Dart only to
> learn it was not Dart but Eugene Marais who had the baboon story.  He wrote a
> book entitled *The Soul of the Ape* in 1919, published posthumously in
> 1939.  He also wrote some articles one can find collected under the title *My
> Friends the Baboons.*
> I’ve gotten Dart and Marais confused, but I’ll leave them that way and
> simply quote Robert Audrey describing the Baboon story I sort-of
> remembered.  The following is from pages 82-83:
> “Marais could always tell when a leopard was in the neighbourhood of his
> own band.  Protected by nothing but the rocky hollows in the krans and
> concealed only by the limbs of the massive wild fig, the troop would begin
> to move uneasily.  He would sense the restlessness, and then hear a
> particular cry of disturbance.  Helplessly the troop would wait for unseen
> death to pass unseeing.  But one night the leopard came early.
> “It was still dusk.  The troop had only just returned from the feeding
> grounds and had barely time to reach its scattered sleeping places in the
> high-piled rocks behind the fig tree.  Now it shrilled its terror.  And
> Marais could see the leopard.  It appeared from the bush and took its
> insolent time.  So vulnerable were the baboons that the leopard seemed to
> recognize no need for hurry.  He crouched just below a little jutting cliff
> above him.
> “The two males moved cautiously.  The leopard, if he saw them, ignored
> them.  His attention was fixed on the swarming, screeching, defenceless
> horde scrambling among the rocks.  Then the two males dropped.  They
> dropped on him from a height of twelve feet.  One bit at the leopard’s
> spine.  The other struck at his throat while clinging to his neck from
> below.  In an instant the leopard disemboweled with his hind claws the
> baboon hanging to his neck and caught in his jaws the baboon on his back.
> But it was too late.  The dying disemboweled baboon had hung on just long
> enough and had reached the leopard’s jugular vein with his canines.
> “Marais watched while movement stilled beneath the little jutting cliff.
> Night fell.  Death, hidden from all but the impartial stars enveloped prey
> and predator alike.  And in the hollow places in the rocky, looming krans
> a society of animals settled down to sleep.”
> *Comment: * I have this account in quotes because I’m quoting Ardrey, but
> he doesn’t have it in quotes.  I checked a few Wikipedia references,
> couldn’t find any other reference to this story but found this one
> interesting:
> http://www.authorsden.com/categories/story_top.asp?catid=32&id=22445 I
> especially noted the paragraph, “In 1948, twelve years after Marais’
> death, Nikolaas Tinbergen[2] (1907-1988) reformulated Marais’ extremely
> important concept of the phyletic (inborn) and causal (acquired) memory.”
> I’m assuming that Marais had informed the difference between instinctive
> and acquired memory in apes in some clever way; which caused me to wonder
> if the human genes governing the learning of language are considered
> “instinct.”  Growing up I was taught that nothing in us is instinctive,
> Locke’s influence no doubt, but does anyone still say that?  The ability to
> learn language is instinctive – or does the fact that we don’t all know
> the same language but can instead at a certain age rapidly learn any
> language, disqualify it as “instinct”?
> Nicholas Wade argues that our religious inclination is as instinctive as
> language, contra Locke.  We don’t all practice the same religion – no more
> than we learn the same religion, but most (not those raised by wolves or
> apes, perhaps) of us learn some language.  But we all (perhaps) have the
> God-shaped vacuum referred to by Blaise Pascal.  But what about the fact
> that some of us have become atheists?  Does that disprove this idea?  Not
> necessarily.  I’ve noticed that many who claim to be atheists have taken up
> other religious-like beliefs.  Carl Jung wrote a very interesting book on 
> Flying
> Saucers:
> http://www.amazon.com/Flying-Saucers-Modern-Things-Skies/dp/0691018227 I
> read this book years ago and no longer have it, but if I recall correctly
> (a doubtful ability as is evidenced above) Jung argued that the belief in
> Flying Saucers was driven by the modern “abandonment” of religion.  He
> argued that humans have something like an “Oversoul” that satisfies the
> human need for religion, or God, by projecting the image of perfection (the
> mandala) in the sky.  Also, many turn to other things, astrology, for
> example.  Blaise Pascal believed that people couldn’t be completely
> satisfied by such ideas, but they did have the Locke-like freedom to
> fulfill this instinct-like need for God with other things.  But if Wade
> and Jung are right, could a person still manage a sort-of “pure” atheism in
> which he felt no “toward-God” urge?  I don’t know.  I have known people
> who claimed to have managed something like that, but then some of them
> later became believers in God.  Perhaps also there is the option of
> continuing in a state of unbelief, without flying saucers, astrology or
> anything equivalent, but having to suffer psychologically for this state.  I
> suppose one could *choose* to not-believe in God . . . or even speak for
> that matter.
> Lawrence
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