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From Ecology Meaning and Religion.
Roy A. Rappaport
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Sanctity and Lies

in Evolution

I shall be concerned in this essay with the place of the holy in adaptive processes and, further, with the disordering of the holy in the course of evolution. I shall examine the holy and its constituents, the sacred and the numinous, in light of problems of language, namely those of false­hood, and shall, therefore, also explore the evolutionary significance of lies. In the course of the essay I shall attempt to identify, in addition to the ordinary lie, a number of forms bearing a family resemblance to it. I shall call them vedic lies, lies of oppression, diabolical lies, and idolatry, and I shall consider their roles in degrading the sacred, deluding the numinous, and breaking the holy. At the end I shall discuss the maladaptive consequences of such desecration.
In another essay, “The Obvious Aspects of Ritual,” I have argued that the sacred, the numinous, the holy, and perhaps even the divine, are products of ritual, but I have observed that they always escape from ritual’s confines. Sanctity, I proposed, emerges out of canonical invari­ance and its performance, first investing certain sentences expressed in ritual but flowing from those “ultimate sacred postulates” to others that are directly implicated in the affairs of society. Having escaped from
An earlier version of this essay, “Liturgies and Lies,” was published in the International Yearbook for the Sociology of Knowledge and Religion In the revision much that would have repeated arguments presented more fully in "The Obvious Aspects of Ritual" was excised and other discussions were expanded to increase their clarity.
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ritual, sanctity, sometimes with the support of the numinous, becomes a partial antidote to certain problems intrinsic to the very virtues of language. These were noted in “The Obvious Aspects of Ritual,” but may be treated at greater length here.
The first of these problems is that of the lie. There is a family of forms that may be designated “lie,” but at the beginning I shall consider only ordinary lies. I use the term “ordinary lie” to refer to the willful trans­mission of information thought or known by senders to be false. Lying is often associated with deceit, but deceit seems to be more general in scope. The term “deceit” implies, I think, an intention to mislead to the disadvantage of those who are misled. Both terms imply intention, but the defining intention of lie is related to the signal transmitted, that of deceit to the effect upon, or more specifically to the response of, the receiver. It may be that lies are usually deceitful and that deceit often employs lies, but some lies, like telling a dying man that he will be well, may not be deceitful, and deceitful acts may be other than lies in a strict sense. The horse that the Greeks left for the Trojans was not a lie, but it was the central element in what seems a rather implausible deceit. There are problems with these simple definitions, or rather characterizations, of lie and deceit, but they are sufficient for our purpose.
Lying seems largely a human problem, but deceit may be more wide­spread. At least there are phenomena of considerable importance throughout the animal world that do share characteristics with deceitful­ness: mimicry, bluff, camouflage, broken-wing behavior, playing possum. But intentionality is lacking from some of these phenomena, and be­sides, even the intention to mislead may not be sufficient to identify deceitfulness. There are contexts in which it is acceptable to mislead. No reasonable person would consider a feint in boxing, or a trap in chess, to be deceitful. The notion of deceit may suppose the existence of a rela­tionship of trust which deceit then violates, and it may be significant that aside from bluffing, the sorts of instances that I have noted among animals are generally employed by members of one species to mislead members of others with whom they do not share a communication code and with whom they certainly don’t stand in a relationship of trust. We may, nevertheless, be confident that even if deceit is more widespread than lying, and even if lying is not always deceitful, lying expands the possibilities for deceit enormously. The contention that lying is largely a human problem is not novel. Hobbes (1930: 31ff.,164ff.) said as much, and so in this century has Buber (1952: 7). More recently, Hockett and Altmann (1968) have added the ability to prevaricate to Hockett’s earlier list of the “design features” of human language. Thorpe, an ethnologist, in a discussion of Hockett and Altmann, observes that this ability is “highly characteristic
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of the human species and is hardly found at in animals” (1972:33). Thorpe’s qualification should be noted, for there do seem to be some well-attested cases of animals lying or doing something very much like it. A nondomesticated adolescent male chimpanzee called Figans by the researchers at the Gombe research station in Tanzania was observed to do something that might well qualify. It was the practice of the etholo­gists to leave bananas in a certain clearing to attract the animals for ob­servation. Expectably, high-ranking adult males dominated the assem­blages and appropriated most of the fruit for themselves. Now when chimpanzees have been at rest, if one gets up and leaves briskly others are likely to follow him, perhaps because he is assumed to have seen or heard something. On a number of occasions Figans led the group away from the feeding area in such a manner, coming back quietly and alone a short while later to gorge himself in solitude. Van Lawick-Goodall states that “quite obviously he was doing it deliberately” (1971: 96). Marga­ritha Thurndahl (personal communication), who watched Figans on other occasions, suggests that his guile was even more elaborate. He would act as if he had heard something and dash off vocalizing, stimulat­ing others to vocalize as well, returning then under the cover of the general commotion. We can admire Figans’s ingenuity, but our very admiration is a recog­nition of how awkward and difficult is lying that relies upon gross physical action, and how few must be the occasions in which is possible. It is not surprising that even for apes for whom lying is evi­dently possible it is probably uncommon. But for many, if not indeed most, other species, lying may not occur because of a certain familiar feature of animal signaling recently characterized by J. C. Marshall, a linguist, as follows:

The most striking differences between animal signs and language behaviour are to be found, then, in the rigid, stereotyped nature of the former and in the fact that they are under the control of independently specifiable external stimuli and internal motivational states. [1970: 234]

In other words, given a particular state of affairs, internal or external, a particular signal will be transmitted because the signal is related to the event in roughly the same way that a nimbus on the horizon is related to forthcoming rain. The rustling of the peacock’s fan, this is to say, is as intrinsic to his sexual arousal as his tumescence. It is a perceptible aspect of an event indicating to the observer the occurrence of other non­perceptible aspects of the same event. It is a simple sign (in Peirce’s terms “index,” (1960: 143ff.), of that event. In contrast, linguistic signals are not intrinsic, but only conventionally related, to their significata.
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They are, to follow both Peirce and a usage widespread in American anthropology, symbolic.
The advantages of symbolic communication are so enormous that some anthropologists (White 1949: 22ff.) have claimed that its emer­gence in evolution can be compared in importance and novelty only to the appearance of life. Symbolic signals can be transmitted in the absence of their referents, and therefore discourse can escape from the here and now into the past, the future, the distant, and the hypothetical. The scope of thought and action is increased by magnitudes and dimensions by the use of the symbol, but the problem with which we are concerned is intrinsic to its very virtues. When a signal can be transmitted in the absence of its referent, or when, conversely, an event can occur without ineluctably signaling itself, lying becomes possible. It may be noted that the criterion of intentionality is implicit here. When communication is symbolic, it is no longer “under the control of external stimuli and in­ternal state,” no longer under the control of that which it signifies. It is, rather, subject to a higher-order control to which choices are available, and choice implies intention.
     It is no doubt the case that Marshall (as others before him have done) overdraws the distinction between the communication of animals and of men if “animal signs” are taken to be transmitted only by animals and “symbolic communication” only by humans. Men continue to communi­cate through “animal signs” (Bateson 1972a: 177 ff.), and there seems to be some symbol use by animals other than man, even some animals not taught symbols by men, and, as we have noted, some instances of what might be lying have been observed among them.
The point is that lies are the bastard offspring of symbols. While there may be some use symbols by nonhuman animals, the reliance of humans upon symbols surpasses by magnitudes any rudimentary use of symbols by other species, and therefore lying is essentially a human problem. I take this problem to be fundamental. The survival of any population of animals depends upon social interactions characterized by some mini­mum degree of orderliness, but orderliness depends upon reliable com­munication. If the recipients of messages are not willing to accept the messages they receive as sufficiently reliable to inform their actions, their responses are likely to tend towards randomness, becoming increasingly less predictable, leading to yet more random responses, reducing orderli­ness yet further. When the communication system can accommodate lies it becomes a problem to assure the recipients of messages that the information they receive is sufficiently reliable to act upon (see Wad­dington 1961).
Not all symbolically encoded messages are problematic, of course. Those communicating necessary truths or well-known and immutable
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facts or empirical laws may not present difficulties. The message that 1+1=2 does not trouble a normal receiver. Given the meanings assigned to the terms it would be self contradictory to deny this statement. Simi­larly, the assertion that the application of sufficient heat to ice produces liquid water is not likely to excite doubt. But most socially important information is not of these kinds. A law concerning heat, water, melting points, boiling points, and so on does not tell what the temperature of a distant lake is at this time, or whether the fish are now biting. That 1+1=2 does not tell us how many men are coming to help us or how many dollars remain in the treasury. The information upon which humans must act is seldom concerned directly with the general laws in accordance with which systems—psychological, biological, social, eco­logical, physical—operate, but rather with the contemporary or future states of those systems. Frequently it is not feasible for the receiver to verify such information transmitted to him; often, indeed, there is no possible way for him to do so. For instance, among the Maring, a people with whom I lived for a while in New Guinea, men communicate their pledge to give military assistance to groups of which they are not mem­bers by dancing at those groups’ religious festivals (Rappaport 1968). There is no way for their hosts to verify or validate the sincerity or steadfastness of their pledges. How then can they rely upon them?
With symbolic communication there emerges not only the possibility of lying, but also of sanctification. Sanctity seems to emerge out of ritual, or at least it is continually re-established in religious ritual, but ritual is more widespread than religious belief. Indeed, the term ‘ritual” has been used to refer to formally similar conduct observed not only among members of other species but even of other phyla. Among the obvious shared characteristics of all that is called ritual are stereotypy, material non-instrumentality, performance, and, possibly, emotional force. It is also generally accepted that among both men and animals ritual is a mode of communication.
     In all ritual, both animal and human, there is transmitted what Lyons (1972: 71ff.), following Abercrombie (1967) and Layer (1968), calls indexical information,” that is, information concerning the current physiological, psychological, social state of the transmitter. This is probably all that is transmitted in most or animal rituals. For instance, when one baboon presents his rump to another he is communicating his submission; when the other mounts he is communicating his dominance. Nothing else seems to be communicated, which is to say that the mes­sage content of the ritual is exhausted by the indexical messages trans-
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mitted in the ritual. But some human rituals are different.
Although human rituals have an indexical component, and although this com­ponent is always of great importance—a matter to which we shall re­turn—the message content of some human rituals is not exhausted by the indexical messages transmitted in them. Additional messages are embodied in the canon, the fixed sequence of formal acts and utterances not encoded by the performers but merely transmitted by them. The originators or encoders are likely to be taken to be creators, or ancestors, or spirits, ancient heroes. The messages encoded in liturgies vary, but in some of them rather curious postulates, typically without material referents, are likely to be found. Included here are such sentences as the Shema of the Jews and those included in the Christian creeds. In the rituals in which Maring men pledge their future military support there are addresses to ances­tors, and it is reasonable to posit as an analogous postulate “Deceased ancestors persist as sentient and powerful beings.” Such postulates, being without material referents, are not in their nature falsifiable, nor can they be verified, and yet they are taken to be unquestionable. I take sanctity to be the quality of unquestionableness imputed by the faithful to such unfalsifiable postulates. That the unques­tionableness of ultimate sacred postulates is a consequence of the in­variance of the canons in which they are expressed has been argued at length in "The Obvious Aspects of Ritual" and need not be discussed further here. This use of the term "sacred" is, of course, more restricted than is usual. I use it to refer to one aspect of a more inclusive category, "the holy," that includes not only the discursive sacred, but also the non-discursive emotional aspect of religious phenomena, which I call the "numinous." In my usage, "sanctity" is that part of the holy that can be expressed in language and that, as it were, faces conscious reason and discourse. Indeed, it accords with this usage to say that sanctity is a characteristic or quality of discourse rather than of the objects, real or putative, with which the discourse is concerned.
     While sanctity may have its source, so to speak, in “ultimate sacred postulates,” it flows to other sentences which, unlike them, do include references to material objects and activities, sentences directly con­cerned with the affairs of society. In literate societies theological exposi­tion may sometimes be the vehicle for transporting sanctity from ulti­mate sacred postulates to sentences including material terms. But ritual association, which does not depend upon writing, is surely more ancient and remains more widespread, and it is also more persuasive and binding (see “The Obvious Aspects of Ritual”). The message “We shall help you in warfare” transmitted by Maring men by dancing at the festivals of their friends, seemingly partakes of the truthfulness that is a property
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of the ultimate sacred postulates with which it is associated. To sanctify messages is to certify them. This function of sanctity remains important in the swearing of oaths.
     I am not arguing that sanctity eliminates falsehood, although it may decrease its prevalence. I do argue that sanctification increases the will­ingness of recipients of symbolically encoded messages to accept the messages they receive as sufficiently reliable to act upon. The problem of falsehood is not merely that of falsehood itself, nor even of its direct effects, as devastating as they may be, but of the corrosive distrust bred by falsehood’s mere possibility. To the extent that the recipients of messages accept them as trustworthy their actions will tend to be non-random and therefore predictable. Moreover, the regularity of their responses may bring about the states of affairs that they assume. To put it a little differently, the validity of some messages is a function of their acceptance (Bateson 1951: 212ff.), and their acceptance is a function of their sanctification. As far as informing behavior is concerned, sanctified truth is a third member of the set that also includes the necessary truth of logic and the empirical truth of experience.
     I am also not arguing that all the messages of any society have ever been directly sanctified in ritual. I am proposing that the sanctification of strategic messages must have been important in the evolution of man­kind, and whereas the sacred would be literally unthinkable without symbols, so the emergence of symbolic communication might not have been possible without the sacred, because, among other things, of the subversive possibilities inherent in the capacity to lie.
Like lies, the ultimate sacred postulates from which sanctity flows are made possible by symbolic communication, by freeing the signal from that which it signifies. Thus, the quality of language out of which the problem of falsehood arose also proposed its solution through a move of astonishing—yet inevitable—simplicity and profundity. Whereas lies are made possible by the freeing of signals from material significata, ulti­mate sacred postulates are made possible by the freeing of significata from material embodiment altogether. It may be noted, in passing, that if lying is the intentional transmission of information thought or known by the transmitter to be false, then ultimate sacred postulates, which in their nature are unfalsifiable, cannot be lies in an ordinary sense. They can, how­ever, be faulty in ways related to lying. We shall return to them later.
The emergence of sanctity may be an example of the evolutionary principle that Hockett and Ascher (1964: 137) have called “Romer’s Rule,” which proposes that the initial effect of an evolutionary change is

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conservative in that it makes it possible for a previously existing way of life to persist in the face of changed conditions. For example, in the passage that inspired Hockett and Ascher, the zoologist Alfred Romer (1954: vol. 1, 43ff.) argued that through the enlargement of their and other relatively minor organizational modifications of certain of their organs, the lobe-finned fish, who were ancestral to the amphibia, became able to migrate overland from one drying-up body of water to another, and thus were able to maintain their general aquatic way of life in the face of the intermittent dessication presumed to have characterized the Devonian period. Similarly, sanctity may have permitted the persistence of some previously existing mode of social organization, or even the survival of the associations of organisms termed “societies,” in the face of the threat posed to orderly social life by an increasing ability to lie.
     The certification of questionable information is only one of sanctity’s offices. All sorts of sentences may be sanctified, including directives specifying particular rules, such as “thou shalt not kill,” and homilies like it is more blessed to give than to receive,” and they may also include sentences certifying authorities, like “Elizabeth is by grace of God queen. Sanctification may, finally, be extended to, or invest, all of the sentences through which society is regulated. These are likely to include those in terms of which thought and attitude are organized: the truisms of child-rearing and kinship obligation, and all of the mythic discourse in which pangolins unite (Douglas 1966: 170ff.), snakes corrupt, and casso­waries are related to your brother-in-law (Bulmer 1967)—all of the myth and classification in terms of which the world is ordered.
     This is a matter of great importance given another evolutionary trend that was surely associated with the emergence of language. I refer to the decrease in the degree to which behavior and patterns for behavior are genetically specified. The replacement of genetic determination cul­tural stipulation of patterns of behavior has permitted men to enter and eventually to dominate the great range of environments the world pre­sents to them. But intrinsic to increasing flexibility is the concomitant problem that men are no longer genetically constrained to abide by the conventions of the societies in which they do happen to live. Sanctity in the absence of genetic specification of behavior stabilizes the conven­tions of particular societies by certifying directives, authorities who may issue directives, and all of the mythic discourse that connects the present to the beginning, establishing for men particular meanings from among the great range of meanings available to their genetically unbounded imaginations.
To put this a little differently, the second problem intrinsic to the powers of language is alternative. With an increasing range of cultural orders becoming genetically possible for any human organism, the
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adaptive capacities of the species are enhanced and its adaptive processes accelerated. But possibilities for disorder are also magnified. If cultural orders are built upon words, there is not only the possibility of false words, but of many words, not only of lie, but of babel, of overwhelm­ing alternative. The conception of alternative orders is an inevitable con­comitant of lexicon and syntax. If it is possible to say “Christ is God and Jove is not,” it is possible to say or imagine “Jove is God and Christ is not.” If it is possible to say “Monarchy is good and democracy is not,” it is possible to say or imagine the converse. The conception of alternative may be the first step toward the disruption of the existent if not toward the realization of the alternative, and any conventional order must pro­tect itself against the disordering powers of the linguistically informed imagination. If there are any words it thus may be necessary to establish The Word. Once again Romer’s Rule may be cited. Although the initial effect of an innovation is conservative its subsequent effects might not be. As the terrestrial vertebrates emerged out of the genetic changes initially making it possible for the lobe-finned fish to maintain an aquatic of life, so sanctity, once emerged, provided a principle upon which the great range of novel human social organizations made possible by language could rest.
     Lie and alternative, in sum, are two fundamental problems—perhaps the two fundamental problems—besetting language. It is of interest that Buber (1952) takes them to be the two grounds of evil.
I have argued, however, that sanctity —also a precipitate of language, but of language subordinated to propriety-generating canonical invariance— ameliorates those evils by certifying the truthfulness of putatively factual information and the correctness of convention.
     Truthfulness and correctness are, of course, related notions. It is of interest here that, according to some scholars, in the Zoroastnianism of the ancient Persian empire (Duchesne-Guillemin 1966: 76ff.) as well as in Vedic India (Brown 1972: 252ff.) the term rta meant both truth and order and the word anrta may have been used for both lie and violation of correct order. We may note a second member of the family of lies. Whereas an ordinary lie is of the class of incorrect statements, statements that do not correspond to the states of affairs they purport to describe or report, what we may call vedic lies are incorrect states of affairs, states of affairs, that is, that do not conform to the specifications they purport, or are supposed, to meet.
Ultimate sacred postulates, which are often expressed only in ritual, may sanctify sentences concerning ethics, authorities, categories of thought,
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the maxims of socialization and the rules of social interaction, economic organization and ecological relations—sentences, this is to say, having directly to do with the regulation of society. To put this into terms proposed by Victor Turner (1969), ultimate sacred postulates, perhaps supported by “communitas,”* the “destructured” and often numinous state of society prevailing in ritual, may sanctify what he means by ‘structure,” the differentiated, rational organization through which soci­eties conduct their day-to-day affairs and meet their material needs.
     That sanctity supports social order is one of anthropology’s most ancient truisms. That it may increase the adaptiveness of social systems is not, for flexibility is central to adaptiveness, and to maintain the pre­dominance of some conventions against the challenge of alternatives seems hardly to be to maintain flexibility. The ability to modify or replace conventions is central to human adaptiveness, and the suggestion that that which constrains change preserves such an ability seems, at first, to be virtually paradoxical. Flexibility, however, is not mere versatility but, rather, a product of versatility and orderliness. The innumerable possibilities inherent in words and their combination are not all elimi­nated by the unquestionable Word enunciated in ritual’s apparently invariant canon but are reduced, constrained, and ordered by it.The conventions through which societies are regulated, it should be empha­sized, are sanctified but they themselves are not sacred. The ultimately sacred, and thus absolutely unquestionable, is, in an orderly adaptive system, confined to certain postulates expressed in the most invariant portions of liturgies. A feature typical of ultimate sacred postulates is of great significance here. I refer to their material and social vacuity. In “The Obvious Aspects of Ritual” I observed that this feature places them beyond falsification. Now it may be suggested that this self-same charac­teristic is of importance to the flexibility of adaptive systems as wholes.
     I have discussed the nature of these systems in “Adaptive Structure and Its Disorders” and can be brief here. Such systems, including social systems, do not have special goals or outputs, their properly adaptive goal being nothing more specific than to persist, which is to say to continue to be able to transform themselves in response to the vicissi­tudes of history and environment. As Lawrence Slobodkin (1968) has put it such systems are “players of the existential game,” a game in which there are no payoffs having value external to the game because the “player” can’t “leave the table,” a game in which, therefore, the only reward for successful play is to be allowed to continue to play. Since the conditions and even the rules of play are likely to change, flexibility— the capacity for orderly self-transformation—is advantageous, rigid
*I am using the term in a slightly more restricted sense than does Turner.
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commitment to particular modes of play—particular conventions or institutions—is disadvantageous, or even lethal. Now ultimate sacred postulates, which contain no material terms, do not in themselves specify particular material goals or institutions. They can, therefore, not only sanctify any institution while being bound to none but can also sanctify changes in institutions. Continuity can be maintained while allowing change to take place, for the association of particular institutions or conventions with ultimate sacred postulates is a matter of interpretation, and that which must be interpreted can always be reinterpreted without being challenged. So, gods may remain unchanged while the conventions they sanctify are transformed through reinterpretation in response to changing conditions. Usage is not sufficient to establish conventions but the conventions established in liturgy may be modified, through reinter­pretation, in response to changing usage arising out of changed historical conditions. It may be suggested here that reinterpretation is facilitated by the cryptic as well as the nonmaterial nature of ultimate sacred postulates. It is important, if a proposition is to be taken to be unques­tionably true, that no one understand it, and it is not surprising that ultimate sacred postulates are often "mysteries".*
     This brief account suggests an encompassing corrective operation through which regulatory structures that have become oppressive or maladaptive are divested of their sanctity. Material and social conditions are in some considerable degree a function of the operation of regulatory structures which, in turn, are sanctified by postulates the ultimate sacred status of which is contingent upon their formal or numinous acceptance by congregations of the very persons whose lives they order. If material and social conditions remain oppressive or unsatisfactory, the willingness or ability of congregations to sanctify the structures responsible for their misery will, sooner or later, be adversely affected and, if conditions do not improve, those structures, or those manning them, will sooner or later be stripped of sanctity.
     The phrase “sooner or later” is important here. The withdrawal of sanctification is likely to be a more or less direct function of under­standing, and the operations of some societies may be so mystified or so complex that the sources of distress are grasped only slowly. Moreover, even when the nature of the difficulties becomes more or less apparent people are often willing to put up with a good deal in the name of God. It is probably well that they are, for unhappy conditions are likely to be as reversible as they are ineluctable, and fortitude is often a better response
*A Catholic Dictionary defines a “mystery properly so called” as a “truth which, though it is not against reason, so far transcends it that no created intelligence could ever discover it, and which, even when it is revealed, is impenetrable by any created intelli­gence” (Attwater 1961: 336).
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to them than deliberate corrective action. Premature structural responses to adversity may cause long-run difficulties as they alleviate short-run stresses
(see “Adaptive Structure and Its Disorders”). The restraint and fortitude that sanctification encourages may provide time for less pro­found, more easily reversible corrective responses to operate first, sanctified structural changes following only if less radical corrective measures fail. In short, sanctity maintains order in adaptive response sequences.
     This simplified account of sanctification and desanctification describes a cybernetic structure, for those who are subordinate to sanctified regula­tory hierarchies are those who invest them with, and may divest them of, sanctity. Therefore, if authorities wish to maintain their sanctity they must keep the operations of the regulatory structures they administer in reasonable working order. If they do not they may find themselves deprived of sanctity, either passively as people withdraw from participa­tion in rituals supporting existing hierarchies (possibly because they no longer experience numinous emotions while performing them) or ac­tively by being deposed through sanctified procedures (e.g., Frazer 1963: 308ff)or, possibly, through the instigation of prophets who challenge their connection to the sources of sanctity, or even declare new ultimate sacred postulates.
     This ultimate corrective operation inheres in systems as wholes. It is interesting in this regard that the etymology of the word “holy” is shared with the words “whole” and “health.” In this light the use of the term “holy” for the larger category that includes both the discursive sacred and the nondiscursive numinous seems to me to be especially appropri­ate. The sacred and the numinous, the rational and the affective, the everyday formal structure of society and its occasional ritual festive state of communitas, form wholes through the mobilization of which the ambitions of separate men may be subordinated to common interest while at the same time the operations of society are continually reviewed and tempered by the needs of those composing it. Wholeness, holiness, and adaptiveness are closely related if not, indeed, one and the same.
It may be that liturgical order, sacred understanding, and the sanctifica­tion of convention together constituted an evolutionary response to the increasing possibilities for lie and alternative that developed as con­comitants of symbolic communication and that continue to threaten the social orders built upon symbolic communication. Can it not be argued, however, that liturgical operations and the sacred and supernatural enti­-
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ties at once conceived through them and rationalized by them are as false as the lies for which they are antidotes?
     It is obvious, first, that ultimate sacred postulates cannot be lies in any simple sense because, as we have already noted, to the extent that their terms are nonmaterial, they are nonfalsifiable. Moreover, even if they could be shown to be in some sense false, there may not be on the part of those transmitting them any intention to transmit false information. More important, it is possible to argue that ultimate sacred postulates, which are without material referents, are members of the class of state­ments the validity of which is a function of their acceptance (Bateson 1951), and the same may be said of the regulatory sentences they sanctify. The process of naturalization that occurs in some liturgies is likewise straightforward, and the states of affairs that come into being through liturgical actions are, finally, as much of nature as those that come out of tectonic activity. “Brute” and “institutional” facts (Searle 1969: 50ff.) are inseparable in nature.
     Other possible flaws which are not encompassed by any narrow defini­tion of lie but which are, nevertheless, related to lie may be intrinsic to liturgical orders, and to the conceptions emerging out of them of forces or sentient beings transcending mortality and society, or even space and time. I note first, mainly to disagree with it, the charge that religious conceptions are inherently deceitful simply because they are illusory. In the next section we shall turn to more substantial difficulties that may beset liturgy and sanctity.      It is well known that Freud took religious conceptions to be illusions, and for much the same reason that Durkheim took all religion to be in some sense true, Marx (1842, 1844) took it to be false (Skorupski 1976: 32ff.). Durkheim, who rested his case largely upon Australian aboriginal material, took such conceptions to be symbolic representa­tions of society, veils of mystification being perhaps necessary because men are likely to find the necessity of the apparently natural, and the authority of the naturalizing supernaturals, to be more compelling than mere rational conventions as bases for living in some degree of concord with other men and nature. Marx, in contrast, who was concerned largely with state societies, took religious conceptions not to be more or less useful or necessary mystifications but deceptions facilitating the manipu­lation of the many by the few.
     Freud and Marx were in considerable agreement in seeing religious conceptions not only to be illusions, but because illusory deplorable, for illusion denies to man the illuminations which his unclouded reason could provide him, and prevents him from establishing social orders founded upon reason.
But the twentieth century has perhaps taught us that the faith of the nineteenth in reason may have been too sanguine.

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I think we know now that conscious reason has not been an imprisoned angel that would save us if only it were freed from its bondage to the irrational. To the extent that it has been possible to free reason it has been freed, perhaps as never before, in the time of our fathers, our grandfathers, and ourselves, and it has discovered evolution and rela­tivity and the double helix. It has also spawned monsters of such power that they threaten the existence of the species that reasoned them into being. But we do not need history to tell us that noble conceptions are not alone in being born of conscious reason. It is in consciousness that men scheme and conspire against their fellows, and if reason is not always downright treacherous, it is often narrowly self-serving. Indeed, the word “rational” in economics, the discipline that probably more than any other guides the affairs of modern societies, has come to refer to a class of activities that pits men against their fellows and that must be, in some sense, antisocial: the application of scarce means to differentially graded ends to maximize the position of the actor vis-à-vis others. If rationality in the economic sense is what conscious reason can come to it may be suggested that reason alone could not provide a secure and sound basis for social life even if it could be freed from the nonrational. For­tunately it can’t be, for the nonrational is not only the home of rage and fear, but also of art, poetry, and whatever it is that people mean by the word “love.” Moreover, the understandings that eventually lead to formal theories concerning space, time, matter and energy are as likely to be grasped initially by the left hand of the nonrational as by the right hand of conscious reason (Bruner 1970).
     Conscious reason is incomplete, and so are its unaided understandings. The common sense of conscious reason, which has its loci in individual organisms, proposes a sense of separation. Consciousness separates hu­mans from each other, each in solitude behind his own eyes, each imprisoned by his own skin, each enclosed alone between the dates of birth and death. The common sense of separation endorses the common sense of self-sufficiency and autonomy, notions that are sanctified virtu­ally to the point of apotheosis in Western capitalist society. But of course they are illusions. Although humans are metabolically separate from one another, and although consciousness is individual, humans are not self­ sufficient and their autonomy is relative and slight. They are parts of larger systems upon which their continued existence is contingent. But the wholeness, if not indeed the very existence, of those systems, may be beyond the grasp of their ordinary consciousness. Although conscious reason is incomplete, the mode of understanding encouraged by liturgy may make up for some of its deficiencies. Participation in rituals may enlarge the awareness of those participating in them, providing them
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with understandings of perfectly natural aspects of the social and physical world that may elude unaided reason.
     Gregory Bateson’s recent (1972:448ff.) discussion of mind casts light on those aspects of nature that may be grasped by ritual’s insight. Bateson suggests that the minimum unit of idea is a “difference which makes a difference,” a bit in information theory. The elementary cyber­netic circuits around which such units of information flow are the simplest units of mind. Mind, that is to say, is immanent in cybernetic systems. While it is surely the case that some such circuits are contained entire within individual consciousness, the mind of the individual is more comprehensive than his consciousness alone, as Freud long ago showed us. We also know directly from experience that our information-process­ing circuits include more than our brains, because in response to some messages we experience changes in our visceral states, and these changes enter into the computations that produce our total reactions to the information received. We further imply here that the information cir­cuits that are significant to us include not only more than our brains but more than the selves our skins bound. We are dependent upon circuits that include portions of environments; some of them include many individuals, often individuals of a number of species. Whereas animals are, as a rule, quite separate from each other as far as metabolism is concerned, they are less autonomous with respect to information proc­essing. This is to say that matter-energy processing systems and informa­tion processing systems are not coextensive. But the adequate function­ing, indeed the very survival, of metabolically autonomous individuals as well as societies is contingent upon supra-individual information proc­essing circuitry immanent in social and ecological systems, and disrup­tions of such circuits are likely to lead to results not formally dissimilar from the effects of brain lesions or neuroses. In the absence of reliable information, total systems or their parts cease to be self-correcting. The doctrine of I-Thou which Buber (1970) proposes as an ethical dictum is in fact an adaptive imperative, and it does not denigrate Tillich’s concept of the “Ground of Being” or “Being Itself” (McKelway 1964: 123ff.) to suggest that the structure of information processing in nature accords with it. Bateson has recognized these similarities:
"...there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a subsystem. This larger Mind is comparable to God and is perhaps what some people mean by“God” but it is still immanent in the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology. [1972b: 461]"
Conscious reason may of course provide us with knowledge about the structure and function of ecological and social systems and present to us
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reasonable arguments for complying with their imperatives. But such knowledge and reasons are likely to be overcome by what economists call “rationality.” To ask conscious reason to lead unaided the separate individuals in which it resides to favor the long-term interests of ecosystems and societies over their own immediate interests may be to ask too much of it. Sustained compliance with the imperatives of larger systems not only may require more than ordinary reason, but may have to be maintained in defiance of a consciousness that in its nature informs men of their separateness. It may, indeed, require that the common sense of separation be transcended and replaced from time to time by an extraordinary sense of participation, of being joined together with enti­ties from which one is separated by the evidence of the senses and by com­petitive rationality into wholes—societies and ecosystems—that are natural but not in their nature directly perceptible.
     To perform a liturgical order is to participate in it, act as part of it; and where the ritual is public it is to join with others in this participation. In many rituals strong emotions are engendered and consciousness altered. Not infrequently there is a feeling of “loss of self”— that is, a loss of the sense of separation—and a feeling of union with the other members of the congregation and even more embracing entities. It is obviously important that singing, dancing, and speaking in unison are common features of public rituals. To sing or dance in concert or in unison with others, to move as they move and speak as they speak is, literally, to act as part of a larger entity, to participate in it; and as the radical separation of the everyday self dissolves in the communitas (Turner 1969) of par­ticipation—as it sometimes does—the larger entity becomes palpable. Such extraordinary or even mystical experiences seem to be profoundly satisfying but, more important here, they also may provide deeper and more compelling understandings of perfectly natural and extremely im­portant aspects of the physical and social world than can be provided by reason alone. In sum, liturgical order does not always hide the world from conscious reason behind a veil of supernatural illusions. Rather, it may pierce the veil of illusions behind which unaided reason hides the world from comprehensive human understanding.
But admiration for liturgy and sanctity must, at the end, be tempered, for they are both subject to real and malignant disorders of their own.
     First, it is obvious that if liturgical orders “naturalize” some conventions they must stipulate, at least tacitly, that others are unnatural. As a consequence, the conventions of other cultural groups are likely to be thought not to be simply different from those of one’s own, nor even
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merely immoral, but abominable. Those practicing them may, conse­quently, be taken to be other than, or less than, human, and treated accordingly. To use Erik Erikson’s (1966) term, cultural groups become pseudo-species. Sanctity and liturgy may magnify minor cultural differ­ences into seemingly major natural differences. They may not only envenom enmities for which they themselves were not initially respon­sible, but are themselves capable of setting men against each other.
     Less obvious difficulties may beset the structure of sanctification. If adaptive systems are to remain flexible the degree of sanctity accorded to directives should be inversely correlated with their material specificity. A problem that may be intrinsic to sanctification becomes apparent here, for dissonance may develop between sanctity and specificity. Highly spe­cific directives may become oversanctified. A case in point might be birth control prohibition in Catholicism. To an outsider it would seem that birth control devices could be made acceptable through reinterpretation without challenge to dogma. But highly specific low-order directives concerning them are being accorded a degree of sanctity greater than their specificity warrants, a degree of sanctity approaching that of ulti­mate sacred postulates, or dogma, and the church seems to be suffering widespread defection as a result.
     Oversanctihcation of the specific, a disorder akin to mistakes in logical typing (see Bateson 1972c) and one that stifles social change, is a possi­bility intrinsic to sanctification. It may be, however, that it becomes especially likely, and thus especially serious, in state-organized societies, for in such societies specialized clergies, often in possession of powerful means of coercion, may be in positions allowing them to adjudicate questions of orthodoxy.
     But oversanctification of the specific may develop for reasons other than an inflexible orthodoxy’s confusion of specific rules with general principles. I have argued in “Adaptive Structure and Its Disorders” that as the subsystems of societies become increasingly differentiated and differentially powerful, the more powerful are ever more able to elevate their own special goals and interests to positions of predominance in the systems of which they are only components. As their special goals and interests are elevated they are invested with the sanctity of the more general postulates they replace or define. If, as President Coolidge said, The business of America is business,” and if America is “One Nation under God,” as the pledge of allegiance stipulates, then business and all that is related to it—profit, private enterprise, high consumption— become conflated with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The theologian Paul Tillich (1957: 11ff.) characterized the ‘absolutizing of the relative and the relativizing of the absolute,” which identifies the ultimate with the material and with the status quo, as “idolatry,” and he
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took it to be evil. I will only add that to accord a higher degree of sanctity to propositions or goals than their specificity warrants is to narrow the range of conditions under which the society can persist. Evil and mal­adaptiveness, it may be suggested, intersect in what Tillich called “idol­atry,” and I include idolatry in the family of falsehoods.
     If we can take to be “adaptively true” postulates the acceptance of which enhances chances of persistence, we can, I think, take idolatrous postulates to be adaptively false, for the apotheosizing of the material, it is ironic to observe, defeats the material goal of survival. I take idolatrous postulates to be false, be it noticed, regardless of the degree of accep­tance accorded them. This is to say that consent and consensus are not in themselves sufficient to establish all conventional truths. The only ulti­mate sacred postulates that can be adaptively true are those that, having no material terms, do not irrevocably commit the societies accepting them to particular institutions or conventions. “The lie,” said Martin Buber, “is from time and will be swallowed up by time; the truth, the divine truth, is from eternity and in eternity, and in devotion to the truth... partakes of eternity” (1952: 13f.).
     The very quality of nonidolatrous ultimate sacred postulates that seems to render them rationally illusory, that they are neither verifiable nor falsifiable, makes them adaptively true. Nevertheless, the possibility of idolatry, which bears a family resemblance to lie, is intrinsic to sanctity. Its likelihood, however, is perhaps increased with increasing social dif­ferentiation and technological development, both of which tend to in­crease disparities in the distribution of power among the subsystems of societies. Social differentiation and technological advance, both aspects of cultural evolution, place at the disposal of authorities coercive instru­ments at once increasingly powerful and decreasingly available to their subjects. The possession of such means of coercion diminishes the dependence of the authority upon his sanctity. As he become increas­ingly powerful he can stand more upon power (a function of men, resources, and organization; see Bierstadt 1950: 730 ff.) and less upon sanctity.
     This is not to say that powerful authorities necessarily dispense with sanctity. It is to say that as power accumulates the relationship between sanctity and authority is likely to be inverted. Whereas in the techno­logically simple society the authority is contingent upon its sanctity, in the technically advanced society sanctity may be degraded to the status of authority’s instrument.
     An aspect of this degradation may be a change in the basis of the unquestionable status of ultimate sacred postulates. Whereas they once rested upon the uncoerced acceptance of the faithful, perhaps supported by numinous experiences, they later come to rest upon force; heretics
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are burned, infidels put to the sword. When acceptance is coerced it becomes a lie, but it is not the lie of he who accepts. It is the lie of the coercer. We may refer to theselies as “lies of oppression.” In lies of oppression the coercer is not only the liar but also the ultimate victim of his own lie, for if, as I have argued, both acceptance and its waning inform the regulation of society, then for an authority to coerce accep­tance is for it itself to distort the information by which it is guided. Power threatens truth and threatens the cybernetics of adaptive systems, for adaptation relies upon information concerning current conditions that is in some degree accurate. This is to suggest that oppression is not only inhumane but maladaptive and, finally, self-defeating.
     I do not argue that with degradation of sanctity by power religious experiences no longer occur, nor that acceptance is never freely given. But, invoked in the churches of state-organized societies by visions of ultimate or other-worldly salvation, they may be disconnected, so to speak, from corrective effect upon the here and now. They no longer form part of an encompassing adaptive structure. Indeed, to the extent that the experience of ritual participation alleviates the anxieties of the faithful without alleviating the causes of their anxieties it bears formal resemblance to neurosis, as Freud (1907)claimed, and to opiates, as Marx (1844) claimed, and rituals are parts of deceits if they lead the faithful into bondage while promising salvation. Sanctity, itself the foundation of truth and correctness, and the numinous supporting it, when subordinated to the powerful and material become false, for they falsify consciousness. But the cost is great even for those who are not deluded. For them ritual becomes empty and meaningless, indeed the very term ‘ritual” comes to denote empty form (Douglas 1970:19). The act of ritual acceptance, once more profound than belief, becomes a proverbial form of hypocrisy. But in refusing to participate hypocritically no less than in hypocritical participation, the conscious minds of men and women become divorced from those deep and hidden portions of them­selves to which ritual participation introduced and bound them. The self becomes fragmented and some of the fragments may be lost. The con­sciousness that remains is likely to remain trapped in its radical separa­tion. For those not deluded there is alienation.
So the sacred and the numinous may get detached from each other and from their cybernetic or corrective functions. Given the association I have made between wholeness and holiness it is not inappropriate to say that they become unholy. As holiness stands to wholeness, adaptiveness, and survival, so does unholiness stand to fragmentation, maladaptation, and annihilation. It is of interest that in the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria (Scholem 1969: 110ff.) the origin of evil is not ascribed to the appear­ance of any particular substance or being, but to the fragmentation of a
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primordial unity. The disruption of the cybernetics of holiness is such a fragmentation.
We may recall once again the Vedic and Zoroastrian notion of lie as violation of sacred order, but now the order itself becomes disorderly, disrupting ecosystems, oppressing men and women, leading societies into decline. Many years ago de Rougemont 1944) made a distinction between ordinary lies and what he called “diabolical lies,” in recognition of the putative proclivity of “The Father of Lies” for appearing as his own opposite. Diabolical lies are not simply false trans­missions but lies that tamper with the very canons of truth. I think it not wrong to assign to this category assertions of sanctity for discourse the unquestionable status of which rests ultimately upon force, which is subject rather than superior to the authorities it sanctifies, which mis­leads ritual acceptance and numinous experience away from corrective effect upon the here and now, which encourages fragmentation and maladlaptation while promising wholeness and heaven.
     Diabolical lies are not new to this world, as Buber’s (1952: 7ff.) analysis of the 12th Psalm informs us. The psalmist, according to Buber,
“no longer suffers merely from liars but from a generation of the lie,.. the lie in this generation has reached the highest level of perfection as an ingeniously controlled means of supremacy.. [removing] completely.., the basis of men’s common life... those the psalmist has in mind speak ‘delusion’. . . they breed “delusion” in their hearers, they spin illusions for them... Instead of complet­ing their fellow-men’s experience and insight with the help of their own, as required by men’s common thinking and knowing, they introduce falsified ma­terial into his knowledge of the world and of life, and thus falsify the relations of his soui to his being.. . . In order that the lie may bear the stamp of truth, the liars as it were manufacture a special heart, an apparatus which functions with the greatest appearance of naturalness, from which lies well up to the smooth lips” like spontaneous utterances of experience and insight... all this is the work of the mighty in order to render tractable by deceits those whom they have oppressed." [pp. 8-10]
     Diabolical lies, like lies of oppression and idolatrous lies, are the prod­ucts of power, and if they are not new to this world, new and increasing possibilities for diabolical lying are offered by the increasing ability of ever smaller groups of men and ever more specialized institutions to control the flow of ever greater volumes of information more compre­hensively and the disposition of increasing concentrations of energy more totally. This ability has been enhanced by advances in technology, which is to say that it is correlated with what seems to have been the central factor in cultural evolution.
     It thus may be that humanity’s fall is one with its evolution: as its evolution has been founded upon its possession of words, so may its possession by words have sealed its fate. Of words are inevitably born not only ordinary lies and vedic lies, which may be benign, but also lies
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of oppression, idolatrous lies, diabolical lies, and no doubt other forms, that join together into the encompassing and world-dissolving genera­tion of the lie that seems to vex our times even more than the times of the psalmist. Be this as it may, ancient divines understood as well as we do, or better, the paradoxes of the human condition, and there is an early medieval Jewish legend of creation (Scholem 1969: 179ff.) that also seems to identify the fall with the word. Before He breathed sense into the earth that was to be man, God put his seal upon His creation’s forehead. The three letters aleph, mem, and tov, of which the seal was composed, encompass all speech, for they are the first, middle, and last letters of the alphabet. But in the mystical tradition of which this legend is a part, words themselves are creative and even identified with God himself (ibid.: 167 ff.). Thus, the three letters in encompassing all lan­guage encompass all things: they are the beginning, end, and continuity. They also spell the word emet, which means “truth.” When the sense that God had breathed into him led man, as it inevitably did, into lie, and vedic lie— violation of the order protected by the primordial pro­hibition against making distinctions —God erased from his forehead the letter aelph, which, signifying the beginning of all things, was associated most closely and unambiguously with Himself. This left on man’s fore­head the word met, meaning “death.”
     But in attending to ancient words we should remember that when they were expelled from Eden (“bliss”), the Hebrew name that man be­stowed upon the woman who was to be “the mother of all the living” was Chawwa, meaning “life.” It is not only human death that the fall invents, but also human life, a mode of existence characterized by discourse, and by the reason and choice discourse makes possible. For human life to persist it was necessary for the one commandment that had for a while preserved Eden to be replaced by the 613 derived from the Torah, for, being founded upon words for whose lies there is no sure cure, the conditions of human life are tenuous. But if discursive reason and speech are unique on this earth to human life, human life remains more than reason and speech, and the generation of the lie is continuously chal­lenged by the living—by prophets, mystics, youth, revolutionaries, and reformers—who, in their search for wholeness, restore holiness ever again to the breaking world by re-establishing the adaptive connection of the timeless sacred and the immediate numinous to the continuing here and now.


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