Force Dynamics and Religious Language
Force dynamics is especially suited to representing discourse that involves some type of struggle, whether it be mental or spiritual. Charteris-Black (2017), for example, talks about the role of divine anger in Old Testament texts to encourage or compel the sometimes complacent Israelites to maintain their faith. He also examines the competing relationship in the Hindu Upanishads between the harmful sin of lust (represented as lust/desire is fire) and the purifying (through fire) properties of detachment from worldly things. Richardson and Nagashima (2018) also explored internal religious struggle in force dynamic terms in their analysis of danger in Thai Forest Tradition dharma talks and Christian sermons. Picking up on the underlying conceptual metaphor a meditator is a fragmented entity, they examined three broad types of force dynamic relationships in the language of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s 2014 dharma talks. Examples of these three types taken from this collection of talks (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, 2014) are shown below.
- 5. You’ve got to make it one in the concentration: firmly established in mindfulness, very clear about what’s going on, not shaken by anything that arises or passes away.
- (pp 290-291)
- 6. You sometimes hear that strong states of concentration are best avoided because the pleasure is just so seductive that it’s going to pull you off the path. But if you don’t work with pleasure, how are you going to overcome it?
- (p. 174)
- 7. So do your best to fabricate it into a path, a path that really goes someplace safe, secure - a refuge where there is no lurking danger at all.
- (p. 391)
In example 5 the meditator as agonist is being encouraged to have a force tendency toward rest (represented figuratively through the conceptual metaphor mindfulness is a solid structuke) in relation to the competing force tendency toward action, represented figuratively by sensual thoughts as moving objects.
Example 6 works with an opposite conception, with the successful meditator as agonist having a force tendency toward action, figuratively represented as forward movement along a path toward a purposeful destination. Competing with this is the imagined threat of pleasure in strong states of concentration with a force tendency toward inaction and the potential obstruction of the mediator’s movement along the prescribed path (i.e., the mediator’s progress toward enlightenment).
Example 7 shows the need to protect the mind from the past attachments and influences associated with previous karma. It combines the two agonist force tendencies in examples 5 and 6 in an event structure spread over two stages. The first follows example 6 in that the meditator has a force tendency toward action in the form of purposeful movement toward a destination, while the second follows example 5 in that the meditator adopts a force tendency toward inaction, drawing figuratively on a fortress/solid structure source domain. In terms of the antagonist, at both stages there is the potential for danger in the form of competing force tendencies from past karma with a force tendency of inaction (blocking) in the first stage and a force tendency of action (destruction of the refuge/leading the mind away from the safety of the refuge) in the second stage (see Figure 6.5).
Richardson and Nagashima (2018) go on to compare the above types of language with the language of metaphor and danger in a set of sermons by John MacArthur, a prominent US Evangelical minister. One key term that plays a prominent role in this particular set of sermons is power, especially the power of God and its dominance over the power of sin and Satan. One of the sermons focused on the story of the demon-possessed man living among the tombs found in Mark 5:1—20. In the biblical account, the man is described as violent and a
FIGURE 6.5 Force tendencies in attachments to past karma and the practitioners mind
threat to the people living in the area, but when he sees Jesus, he runs over and bows down before him. Jesus subsequently casts the demons out of the man and sends them into a herd of pigs. In MacArthur’s description of the incident, he focuses primarily on the clash of powers between the demons who were in control of the man and God who casts them out and takes control of him.
So, the opening scene is the scene of the power of demons. We’ll call it “The Devastating Destructive Power of Demons”. But in verse 8 we make a transition to another kind of power, the delivering power of deity ... And this—this spokesman demon and these demons who are in mass in this man, they know the power that the Son of God wields, and they know it’s a greater power than theirs.
In contrast to the dharma talks’ emphasis on the inner struggle that takes place during meditation, the focus here is on a clash between external supernatural powers and their struggle for dominance within a particular individual. In force dynamic terms, MacArthur’s description of this story posits two distinct antagonists exerting greater force tendencies at different points in the story on the weaker force tendency of the agonist (the man). At first, a stronger demonic force possesses the man. Neither the text nor MacArthur’s sermon mention the man’s role, if any, in becoming possessed, only the result of being under the demon’s control. Evidence for this comes when Jesus meets the man for the first time and only the demons talk through him. After Jesus casts out the demons, the man’s voice is heard for the first time (begging Jesus to allow him to accompany him), but Jesus rejects his wishes and directs him to stay and tell others about what happened. The focus is therefore on being directed by the right power, not a sophisticated
FIGURE 6.6 Force dynamic relationships in the possessed man and Jesus
analysis of inner psychological struggle. This is represented in Figure 6.6. In the first sequence, Jesus is marked with a dotted line to indicate that the power of God has yet to be exerted. However, in the second sequence, the demons are marked with a dotted line to indicate that they immediately relinquish their application of force once Jesus arrives (and only negotiate with Jesus about their next destination).
When comparing the force dynamic relationships in the language of the Thai Forest Tradition dharma talks to those in the language of the MacArthur sermon, a difference in orientation is evident. Believers do not simply have different confessional creeds; rather, they experience being religious in different ways.
Force dynamics, in conjunction with agency, can also be used to analyze how people think about religion and science and how they intersect. In the second debate (hosted by the Fixed Point Foundation; see www.fixed-point.org) between Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, and John Lennox, a mathematician, philosopher, and Christian apologist, both agency and force dynamic relationships are used to conceptualize evolution and scientific progress. The following is taken from one of Dawkins’ turns:
- 1 the whole point of Darwinian natural selection
- 2 is that it works without design
- 3 without foresight
- 4 ...
- 5 that is exactly how it works
- 6 before before Darwin came along
- 7 it looked perfectly obvious that even if evolution happened
- 8 there must be some guiding force
- 9 to tell animals or plants how they ought to evolve
- 10 natural selection is a blind force
- 11 the things that survive survive
- 12 ...
- 13 natural selection is a mechanical blind automatic force
- 14 it is it’s not
- 15 I can’t say it’s not guided
- 16 there’s no need for it to be guided
- 17 the whole point is that it works without guidance
Dawkins explicitly refers to both natural selection and the idea of God as a force in lines 8 and 10. God is viewed as a personal force that guides and directs living organisms, while natural selection’s impersonal nature is conveyed through references to blindness and mechanical automaticity. However, both share the common element of exerting a force tendency on living organisms that facilitates their development in a very specific manner.The crucial point for Dawkins is that we must make this dichotomous choice, and even if natural selection does not logically preclude the possibility of a divine being, it does render the idea of God as a force tendency superfluous. These alternative force dynamic relationships are illustrated in Figure 6.7.
In his rejoinder, Lennox challenges the notion that God and natural selection are alternative antagonists. Lennox’s argument is shown below.
- 18 when Newton discovered the law of gravity
- 19 he didn’t say
FIGURE 6.7 Natural selection and the idea of God as alternative forces
- 20 marvelous
- 21 now I know how it works I don’t need God
- 22 God is an explicator at the level of an agent
- 23 not a mechanism
- 24 so that we can study mechanisms in biology
- 25 the more sophisticated they are
- 26 the more that they might well point towards an agent
- 27 you don’t argue away the existence of an agent
- 28 by showing that there is a mechanism
- 29 when Newton discovered the law of gravity he didn’t say
- 30 now I know how the universe works
- 31 I don’t need God
- 32 no
- 33 his wonder at how it was done
- 34 increased his admiration for the creator
- 35 who had done it that way
Lennox bypasses Dawkins’s either/or conception by postulating the idea of a divine agent as the creator of the mechanism of natural selection. Lennox is not a Young-Earth Creationist, so he sees no contradiction in embracing Dawkins’s view of natural selection or in viewing the law of gravity as having a force tendency on living organisms.Yet he differs from Dawkins in his conviction that these forces were themselves brought into existence by God. It is worth noting here that in this example the agent is not involved in a force dynamic relationship with natural selection or the law of gravity. This is because at this point in the debate Lennox is viewing the agent as a creator of these forces rather than a competing force tendency.
Lines 18 to 21 also resonate with Lennox’s view of the relationship between the idea of a God and scientific progress. According to Lennox, scientific knowledge does not make belief in God unnecessary, but rather confirms it. Lennox continues to develop this point later in the debate, where he sets up a force dynamic relationship between God and scientific progress, as we see below.
- 36 science arose in the 16th and 17th centuries
- 37 a meteoric rise that historians of science have looked at
- 38 and come to the conclusion
- 39 that one of the main motors driving the rise of science was faith in God
- 40 so far from belief in God being a science stopper
- 41 it was the thing that caused science to rise in the first place
Here, Lennox views science figuratively as a motorized object moving upward rapidly. The use of the engine metaphor makes the force dynamic relationship explicit: God as an antagonist with a force tendency of forward movement acts
FIGURE 6.8 Force dynamic relationships between God and scientific progress
on science, construed as an agonist with a force tendency toward inaction (see Figure 6.8).
This is then sharply contrasted with the opposite force dynamic relationship, that views God as an antagonist with a force tendency toward inaction, taking the form of a “science stopper” (line 40). This opposing conceptualization of science was presented by Dawkins during their previous meeting (see Richardson & Mueller, forthcoming, for their analysis of the force dynamic relationships in that debate). It is therefore not surprising that in his response to Lennox, Dawkins picks up on that earlier conceptualization and develops it further.
- 42 science doesn’t know everything
- 43 it’s one of the glories of science that we know what we don’t know
- 44 and we work on what we don’t know
- 45 try to shrink what we don’t know
- 46 it’s hard work
- 47 we don’t cop out by saying
- 48 oh if we come to a difficult problem
- 49 magic must have done it
- 50 or God must have done it
- 51 no we don’t say that
- 52 we say
- 53 right that’s a problem to be solved
- 54 ...
- 55 we don’t just lie down and give up
For Dawkins, the dualistic view of God and scientific progress is replaced with a personified view of science as a single entity knowing some things and working to know other things. This static binary contrast serves as a fulcrum in Dawkins’s argument, with the addition of the idea that the gap between current ignorance
FIGURE 6.9 Religion as a force inhibiting progress and potential knowledge needs to be crossed by hard, difficult work. On one side is a force tendency toward action in the form of the desire to “shrink what we don’t know” (line 45), and on the other side is a force tendency toward inaction in the form of the temptation to “cop out” (line 47) and “just lie down” (line 55) due to the difficulty of the task. At this moment in the debate, Dawkins does not include religion as an exclusive force in and of itself, but rather as one possible form that the force tendency toward inaction can assume. This is represented in Figure 6.9.
Both Lennox’s and Dawkins’s force dynamic conceptualizations of the relationship between scientific progress and religion also contain important implicit and explicit understandings of the nature of science. For Lennox, a key function of science is as a pursuit that brings us closer to the rational basis of the universe and therefore closer to the notion of a creator. This being the case, scientists, instead of pushing toward naturalistic explanations of pivotal moments like the origin of the universe or life, should instead look for clues in the natural laws that point to a supernatural ultimate agent. For Dawkins, science stands alone, and true science must by its nature be naturalistic and, in order to be successful, constantly on guard against the pull of supernatural explanations. Religious scientists may exist, but they are an anomaly. Commitment to religion implies an inherently anti-scientific stance.This implies that religious faith is not just a personal and innocuous whim, but rather an outmoded way of thinking with the potential to harm civilization by standing in the way of its progress. The effectiveness of drawing on force dynamics here is that these entailments do not need to be explicitly stated, so listeners may adopt the conceptual structure without explicit awareness of the entailments. In addition, the attraction of force dynamic frameworks is that they inherently reduce perspectives to a visceral binary form that is intuitively compelling to those looking for clear representations of truth and falsity.
Force dynamics therefore play an important role in the debate. Both Dawkins and Lennox offer differing conceptualizations of the relationship between religion and science, conceptualizations that are informed by their opponent’s language. They both use force tendency construals to explain their positions in simple language that evokes embodied experiences related to human comprehension of abstract concepts. The debate is then not simply an exchange of arguments around different interpretations of evidence, but an attempt to put forth a position that is both comprehensible and persuasive.
For analysts of religious language, force dynamics can also serve to demarcate mystical from more conventional language. A key feature of mystical language is ineffability (James, 1917). When it is felt that religious language is no longer capable of adequately describing experience, one indication is that agency as well as agonist and antagonist relationships begin to disintegrate. Silvestre-Lopez (2016) and Kowalewski (2018) both talk about a shift that occurs in Buddhist language about the emotions from force-based to object-based conceptions. This shift can be seen in how Buddhist practitioners describe emotions as they move from earlier to more advanced stages of practice. At the earlier stages, the practitioner is locked into a competing force dynamic struggle as they struggle to maintain mindfulness without their train of thought being carried away by thoughts and desires. At advanced stages of practice, this force-based construal of the situation evolves into an object-based conception where emotions become objects that appear in the meditator’s field of awareness yet are no longer in an antagonistic relationship with the mind.
This shift from force-based conceptions can be applied to the concept of source-domain reversal, where a believer draws on a particular source domain to make a certain point and later flips that source domain, using its opposite form to make another, related point (Richardson & Mueller, 2019). One example can be found in a YouTube clip of Sadhguru where he explains what enlightenment is by coining the term “en-darkment”. Sadhguru is well aware that enlightenment is typically described using the source domain of light. Yet he explains that a beam of light is only seen when it strikes an object. According to this analogy, the objects that cause the light to be seen are obsessive ruminations concerning one’s relationships or job. People take these things to be “relevant” and become attached to them. In contrast, enlightenment, here construed as en-darkment, manifests when nothing blocks the beam of light and it continues unimpeded and unseen (a similar analogy is found in the Atthi Rdga Suita, SN 12:64, of the Pali Canon). Sadhguru explains:
- 1 only if there is something which stops the light
- 2 light is an effective force
- 3 if nothing stops it
- 4 if you ignore it
- 5 it means nothing
In force dynamic terms, the practitioner, as the beam of light, is the agonist with a force tendency toward action, while aspects of daily life and the innate tendency toward attachment represent the antagonist with a force tendency toward inaction. This is shown in Figure 6.9. In the diagram, the force tendency of the practitioner is represented as imperturbability toward arising feelings and thoughts. This enlightened state is initially blocked by the overpowering force tendency represented by concerns about physical appearance and social status (the antagonist in Figure 6.10). However, enlightenment reverses the force dynamic so that non-concern becomes the triumphant force tendency (illustrated by the vertical arrow marking the removal of physical and social concerns as an impediment). The resolution of this force dynamic relationship is summarized by Sadhguru as unqualified irrelevance and freedom, metaphorically viewed as light passing unimpeded through space.
As Figure 6.10 shows, the use of force dynamics must be qualified here based on Sadhguru’s reference to enlightenment as unimpeded movement. This suggests that the blocking of light is indeed describable in terms of force dynamics: the force tendency toward inaction of the antagonist overcoming the agonist’s force tendency toward action. However, Sadhguru does not view enlightenment itself as the force tendency of the agonist overcoming the force tendency of the antagonist,
FIGURE 6.10 Force dynamic representation of light passing unimpeded through space but instead as the removing or dissolving of the force tendency of the antagonist. This fits with Silvestre-Lopez’s (2016) and Kowalewski’s (2018) observations that force-based metaphors often dissolve in the later stages of Buddhist practice. This also explains Sadhguru’s use of the term “nothing”. The sense of the term here parallels the sense posited by Lu and Chiang (2007) in their analysis of emptiness is form in the Heart Sutra. The mapping appears paradoxical, but it can be explained by positing that form is not being construed as literally empty, but rather as something that is no longer able to produce sensory attachments. Sadhguru’s point here is therefore not that bodies and jobs cease to exist when enlightenment is experienced, but that they become powerless objects no longer involved in a force dynamic relationship with the practitioner.