Are Symbolic Correspondences The Same Thing As Racial Stereotypes?

Note, August 26, 2015: When I first wrote this, eight years ago, I was somewhat intrigued that there were all these militant atheists who had suddenly gone to war against God (or that idea as realized in the world's religions). Of course, a big focus of these New Atheists (who included Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris) was anything newage, including Tarot. Dawkins was always the least interesting, and seemingly most angry, of these atheists. Whereas my 2007 comments about Dawkins hinted at my general unease at his absolutism and unqualified confidence (and general lack of mirth) in his own beliefs, I have subsequently concluded Dawkins is a bigot and a clod, obviously possessed of a relatively poor intellect. Indeed, my reaction to New Atheism in general is that it hasn't been either successful or in any way interesting. Perhaps this is because, as I note in my article below, the stupid debunkery engaged in by people like Michael Dummett (anti-occultist and Catholic true believer) is pretty much the same as that engaged in by people like Richard Dawkins (anti-occultist and Catholic basher). With respect to the potential harm posed by occult Tarot to our culture, I would argue that if harm were the measure by which we recommended a practice's elimination from our culture, the practices of science would be way ahead of Tarot on the disposal list. And of course, this raises another point, which is that Tarot has been on the disposal list of authorities for centuries now. And if atheists cannot see a certain irony in the fact they are wanting to impose the same kind of bonfire of the vanities on irrational pastimes as did the Catholic Inquisition, maybe they seriously need to self-reflect—and perhaps even seek out a good Tarot destiny reading.

In part one his new BBC4 series, The Enemies of Reason, dour Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion), asks what is the difference between occult-based symbolic correspondences— especially when applied to the typing of personalities such as we see in astrology—and racial or ethnic stereotypes.

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Richard Dawkins, in the above video clip, says correspondence-based human typing and prediction are "facile discrimination...based on no evidence",  tantamount to racial and ethnic stereotyping.

Noting that people would likely take quite a bit of offense to daily newspaper columns devoted to analyzing their personalities and giving them tips about their future on the basis of their national origin or ethnicity, Dawkins says that astrology horoscopes should be viewed as similarly offensive in that they also "are guilty of facile discrimination, of dividing humanity up into exclusive groups based on no evidence."

Dawkins' critique is of course really aimed at the idea of symbolic correspondences, which underlies all the beliefs and practices in Western occultism. If symbolic correspondences, or the practical uses people make of them, are no different than racial and ethnic stereotypes, one has to ask why anyone should think using them, especially in any serious way, is advisable.

Dawkins, much as Michael Dummett has done in his books on the history of Tarot cards, expresses concern for the people who take the occult claims of astrology or Tarot seriously. If the latter are really giving or taking advice, based on information that has no credible, factual basis, should they not be thought of as fools (for taking it), and charlatans (for giving or selling it)?

And if that is the case, doesn't that critique apply to any oracular use of Tarot, and even to its use for alleged spiritual attainment or transformation, and beyond this to any occult practice including for example magick?

Dawkins, who of course is a devout and passionate atheist, would say the answer to these questions is a devout and passionate yes! Oddly, that is the same answer one would likely get from Michael Dummett, the devout and passionate Catholic. One wonders what kind of debate those two might foster (or fester) about Tarot, or how dumb Dummett really is for still believing in God and Christian dogma.

As Dawkins says:
"There are two ways of looking at the world: through faith and superstition, or through the rigors of logic, observation and evidence—through reason."
He definitely sees Tarot practitioners as dangerous pushers of what he calls an "epidemic of irrational, superstitious thinking."

Anyone suffering through the very dark age of the Bush regime might agree wholeheartedly with that dismal assessment. Although, is Tarot a contributor to that problem, or a potential remedy? Given the numbers of the irrationals in Tarot, one should consider any remedy for bad thinking offered by the cards to be of little help.

Dawkins confronts one symptom of the Irrational Epidemic—Tarot card reading— in this case "psychic medium" Simon Goodfellow. Under the microscope, Goodfellow cracked up on "g's" and "e's" and the lovableness of cats.
Among his Tarot targets, and without exactly naming her, Dawkins clearly points to Rachel Pollack, and her book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, as an example of what he calls "new age gurus who exhort us to run away from reality" and "those who profit from obscuring the truth."

It is difficult to argue with Dawkins on his main points, and why should I wish to (since I have been making these points for years now). Indeed, the people Dawkins humiliates, by allowing them to actually publicly state the newage drivel they believe or professionally avow, are very familiar to me, the very sorts I have been upsetting on numerous forums for over a decade now.

That said, Dawkins does often come across like the sort of party-pooping zealot who is not merely interested in making fun of the kooks, but who pretty much thinks wiping out kookery altogether— in a "final solution" way—would work to the extreme betterment of the functioning of the Matrix. I can sympathize with the frustration he clearly feels confronting the vast unwashed hordes of idiotic irrationalists (i.e., humanity). But, personally, I find myself in agreement with the historian Martin Marty, who said when Bill Moyers asked him about the effect of what Moyers described as evangelical atheism:
"Well, the surge of [religious] fundamentalism is going to out-number the literate atheists by hundreds of thousands to one."
Marty then reminded us about what Kafka wrote:
"In a struggle between you and the world, bet on the world."
In view of that, a better, certainly more honest, attitude for atheists and scientists to adopt would
be the one expressed by the very scientific Agent Smith in The Matrix:
"I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can't stand it any longer. It's the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I've somehow been infected by it."
And of course, he was, poor fellow—or program.

Or, as Dawkins puts it:
"As a scientist, I don't think our indulgence of irrational superstition is harmless. I believe it profoundly undermines civilization [an assertion admirably supported if one spends but a brief time reading the tripe on most occult, and especially Tarot, forums]. Reason and a respect for evidence are the source of our progress, our safeguard against fundamentalists and those who profit from obscuring the truth."
I just wonder when exactly this "safeguard" is supposed to start working. It seems quite useless so far. Also, and admittedly this is a relativist position which Dawkins despises, but there may be many ways of looking at and deciding the value of "the truth", or for that matter determining what is the truth. In the end, there can only be functional atheists, not real ones, for no one can honestly or rationally affirm that he knows there is no God or no metaphysical reality. So, agnosticism is the fundamental position of a true rationalist and skeptic.

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that we shall grow, or for that matter survive, as a species (assuming that is a worthy goal), with the current levels of irrational idiocy that are literally enshrined in all our cultures. I doubt that attacking that affliction in a relatively tiny world such as the occult is likely to bring much improvement to the bigger, more deadly, picture, but let us say it is a good place to study and critique a highly refined symbol of the problem.

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