"LIFE ...and how to survive it" - Robin Skinner & John Cleese

From Robin Skinner & John Cleese "LIFE ...and how to survive it" - (Methuen; London:1993)

John: ... In fact you could claim that most values in the West are derived from Christianity, and you don't find anything more inclusive than the words of Jesus Christ. ...

Robin: ... people interpret each myth according to their level of mental health....

John: So let me get this right: a less healthy person will take a healthy idea and turn it into something less healthy?

Robin: Absolutely! And vice versa too. ... Each person will bring their own family attitudes and feelings to their interpretation of myths about loyalty. So if hey come from a very unhealthy family, they'll feel that the group should all hold practically identical views, and that anyone who questions these views is a 'trouble-maker' who is being 'disloyal'; they'll feel hostility towards outside groups, and a disregard for the rights of such 'outsiders'; and they'll feel intense and demanding dependence on all the other members of the group. ...loyalty to unhealthy people is simply paranoia dressed up and re-labelled. p. 253 -255

John: So the healthy behaviour is to look at the thinking behind regulations; the less healthy behaviour is to take a literal and inflexible interpretation of the letter of the law. It sounds to me a general principle of mental health. p. 261

John: Well, I'll attempt a rough summing-up so far. We've been looking at the idea that each person interprets the world according to his or her level of mental health. And it seems to me that the unhealthier we are, the more literal minded we are in the interpretations of the letter of the law, as it were; and the healthier we are, the more influenced we are by the broader idea that lies behind the formulation of the myth that we are interpreting. p. 266

John: ... we poor teenagers were hearing sermons every Sunday so breathtakingly half-witted that the only valid response was reading, sleeping, or invading the pulpit.... Any God, I felt, who would seriously approve of what was going on in that church would be out of his infinite mind. p. 268

John: So a religious idea will be interpreted by a person in a way that fits in best with their existing psychology?

Robin: Yes, and it can therefore support them in functioning at the best level they're capable of, given their limitations. ... Well, take people functioning at the least healthy level first. They'll understand religion as a collection of rules, of rewards and punishments, of threats and promises, all enforced by a powerful and frightening God.

John: The extreme black-and-white thinking found in young children?

Robin: That's exactly what it is. The thinking of such people has got stuck at that level, and though it's normal in a very young child, it's obviously unhealthy in an adult. ...

John: And how is God experienced?

Robin: He's seen as a terrifying, domineering, bad-tempered dictator, who wants everyone to spend heir time admiring him and telling him how marvellous he is. ... So naturally people holding this view feel they have to do lots of things to keep Him sweet, so that He won't get into a bad mood and blast them with thunderbolts, or boils, or rivers of blood.

John: A little bit like the church congregation in "The Meaning of Life", who, when invited to praise God, all chant 'Ooooh, you are so big', and 'You're so tough and strong, you could beat anyone up, even the Devil', and 'We're really impressed don here' before singing Hymn 42 'Oh Lord, please don't burn us'. I can remember as a nione-year-old, thinking that God couldn't be so stupid that he wouldn't se through such blatant buttering up. p. 270 - 271

John: So the way I can explain our position now is to say this: there are different ways of following Christ - which correspond to different levels of mental health - and therefore it's quite legitimate to make fun of the less healthy ways, not least because they actually conflict with His teaching! The Inquisition was not an example of 'Blessed are the meek'. p. 275 - 276

Robin: ... I'll start at the bottom level again. As we said just now, for the least healthy, religion is based on the kind of thinking typical of very young children. And young children have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, wishes from deeds. So at this level, religion is valued as magic - as a means of making wishes come true, without acknowledging scientific laws and relationships of cause and effect.

John: You mean at this level we believe that we only have to repeat a prayer of incantation, or perform some other prescribed routine, in order to make the world do what we want.

Robin: Yes, and when you're thinking like this, whether or not your wishes come true seems to depend only on how strongly you believe in the procedure! p. 277

Robin: ... to the extent that you face and accept your own psychology, including all your weaknesses and faults ... to THAT degree will you be able to accept and love others. And conversely: to the extent that you love others, to that degree you will be able to love yourself. p. 282

John: Well, everything that you've been saying implies that [Fundamentalism] is a manifestation of a fairly low level of mental health, doesn't it? For a start, Fundamentalists call for a literal interpretation of scripture, and as we saw when we were discussing secular values, focusing in on the letter of the law is a characteristic of the less healthy. In addition, wise people tend not to exhibit literal mindedness, so it seems singularly inappropriate to assume that this is the vein in which great spiritual teahers are speaking. Then again, whether we're talking about Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Hinduism, the values of Fundamentalists seem aimed at making themselves feel better by placing all negative and destructive emotions in people with different beliefs, and enjoying the golden glow of self-justification that results. ... You know that simile: 'As rare as a Fundamentalist who loves his enemy.' ... the Inquisition did largely miss the point of 'Love Thy Neighbour', didn't they? Wasn't burning heretics 'worse' than being tolerant towards them? ... p. 287

John: In other words, the aim is integration?

Robin: Yes. It's even there in the language. The words 'whole', 'healthy' and 'holy' all have the same root. They're all expressions of the same idea. p. 308