Friday, August 23, 2013

James Hillman: Postmodern Romantic Reductionist, and Trickster

James Hillman
          For more than a decade James Hillman has been my favorite writer and most influential teacher. I discovered him in 1996 when The Soul's Code was published, which I devoured, or perhaps more rightly stated, which devoured me. My ideational world was turned inside out. From The Soul's Code I went on to read Hillman's opus, Re-Visioning Psychology. It is no exaggeration to say that the Ideas from this Pulitzer Prize nominated book changed practically everything about the way I viewed psyche, religion, myself, others and the larger world--specifically through the four main chapters titled Personifying, Pathologizing, Psychologizing, and Dehumanizing, which the author describes as "four ideas necessary for the soul-making process" (ix). His view of pathologizing was especially revolutionary, helping me to make room for emotional suffering and psychic fragmentation in a culture obsessed with chronic emotional well being and wholeness. In short, I am a devotee of Hillman's work. However, over time I have become troubled by some of Hillman's postmodernist and Romantic predispositions and their implications for psychology and socio-cultural ethics. I want to stress the word "some" when I say I am troubled by Hillman's work since I also feel that his radical correctives are extraordinarily necessary. That being acknowledged, James Hillman's methodological approach is heavily slanted in a modernist/postmodernist direction, which Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker describes
Steven Pinker
Beginning in the 1970s, the mission of modernism to afflict the culturally secure and comfortable] was extended by the set of styles and philosophies called postmodernism. Postmodernism was even more aggressively relativistic, insisting that there are many perspectives on the world, none of them privileged. It denied even more vehemently the possibility of meaning, knowledge, progress, and shared cultural values. It was more Marxist and far more paranoid, asserting that claims to truth and progress were tactics of political dominion which privileged the interests of straight white males. According to the doctrine, mass-produced commodities and media-disseminated images and stories were designed to make authentic experience impossible. (Blank 411)
Hillman clearly sets out to afflict the culturally comfortable and psychologically secure, approaching the soul by utilizing the postmodern procedures of relativistic fantasies and labyrinthine meanderings--minimizing psychological universals, fixed meanings and any kind of preordained psycho-social linear development.
            Hillman is also a self-confessed purveyor of Romantic assumptions. Romanticism is an 18th century philosophical movement affecting literature and art, marked by an emphasis on the imagination, emotions and poetry, often very personal and with a penchant for emphasizing suffering. Hillman admits that his adopted term, soul-making,  "...comes from the Romantic poets...William Blake...[and]...John Keats," and that we must return to their way of thinking, allowing "the [Romantic] Gods" of "Blake, Keats, govern our thinking..." (7).
            I will critique Hillman's postmodernist Romantic methodology by looking at what he calls the Enlightenment fallacies of literalizing, moralizing and naturalizing. I will refer primarily to his book Re-Visioning Psychology. Hillman identifies his methodological approach by calling himself a member of the "mafia of the metaphor to protect plain men from literalism," (149 italics mine). Notice that Hillman mentions his concern for the "plain man," which according to the Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a distinguishing trait of Romanticism: "an exaltation of the primitive and the common man" (Merriam-Webster). He also approvingly quotes Norman Brown: "The thing to be abolished is literalism...the worship of false images; idolatry...Truth is always in poetic form; not literal but symbolic; hiding, or veiled; light in darkness...the alternative to literalism is mystery" (149). Here we clearly see his mission to protect plain men from literalism--to deliver the emotionally distraught and psychologically maltreated, and misdiagnosed, from classical authoritarian elitist psychological systems which adhere to the doctrinaire letter of the therapeutic law. Hillman lays the responsibility for this literalist fallacy primarily on the Reformation in Northern Europe and the subsequent Catholic Counter-Reformation and Cartesian Enlightenment:
...from a tradition that has progressively depotentiated both images and words in order to maintain a particular vision of man, reason, and reality...The push toward progress has left corpses in its wake...Roundhead minds were more concrete than the stones they smashed...[acting out] the new literalism that was losing touch with metaphorical imagination. (10-11)
Hillman uses the pejorative term "Roundhead" to refer to the supporters of the  Parliament against the Monarchy during the English Civil War. This included many of the Puritans who wore their hair closely clipped round the head, providing an obvious distinction between them and the men of courtly fashion with their long ringlets. These Puritans and other literalizers, in Hillmanian parlance, were those who opposed images, the veneration of the Saints and the mystery of personification via imagination in favor of a strict monotheistic factual adherence to holy Scripture or pure reason.
            This is Hillman's revolution. He wants to restore psyche as imagination--to return to soul as that which provides access to perpetual mysteries which cannot be frozen in facts or systems. He seeks to re-vision Psyche as always shifting with no fixed location or absolute perspective. In fact he describes[i] soul as: 
...a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a   thing itself. This perspective is reflective, it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens. Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground...[soul] refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences...the imaginative possibility in our natures...that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical. ( x, bold italics mine)
From this description of soul/psyche we see Hillman's predilection for the Romantic geist which emphasizes deep personal emotions and autobiographical experiences over that which is traditional and authoritative. Hillman roots psyche in the emotionally charged archetypal realm, the sphere of the vibrant Gods, of the "little people" in the depths Who exist prior to the human's being. This view of a vacillating psyche neither freezes the perspectival frame nor solidly frames an experience since "all realities" are symbolic rather than literal, fluid rather than fixed. This approach is similar to Martin Heidegger who begins his philosophizing methodology with the human as Dasein,[ii] or simply being-in-the-world. Dasein refers to the human not so much as "the thing that thinks," but as the "thing that is thought," and then thinks. In such a view, the horizon is always open and opening--solid facts and systems are dead and stifling.
            Robert Avens book, The New Gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman and Angels, artfully explicates the procedural relationship between James Hillman's archetypal psychology and Heidegger's philosophy of Being, making it clear that neither man supports objective or factual Truth. Rudiger Safransky, arguably Heidegger's best biographer writes of Heidegger's methodology, which captures Hillman's as well:
Near the end of his life, Arthur Schopenhauer once said, 'Mankind has learned a few things from me that it will never forget.' No such statement is known of Heidegger. He did not create any constructive philosophy in the sense of a world picture or moral doctrine. There are no 'results' of Heidegger's thinking, in the sense that there are 'results' of the philosophy of Leibniz, Kant or Schopenhauer. Heidegger's passion was for questioning, not answering. Questions appeared to him as 'piety of thinking,' because it opened up new horizons...where man experiences himself as a location where something gapes open. (429)
Similarly Hillman concludes Re-Visioning Psychology by writing: "Though this has been a groundwork of irreplaceable insights, they are to be taken neither as a foundation for a systematic theory nor even as a prolegomenon for any future archetypal psychology" (229). Both Hillman and Heidegger denied that they were constructing systems, neither philosophical nor psychological. Heidegger never spoke of "a" philosophy, but of philosophizing (What 65), and Hillman never spoke of "a" psychology but of psychologizing (113). Heidegger called his philosophical method a "talking through" (67) while Hillman called his psychological procedure a "seeing through" (113). For Hillman all exercises in literalizing or systematizing are fallacious attempts to freeze the eternal mystery into solid facts--facts which stifle and suffocate soul. For Hillman, even literalisms and facts are reduced to non-factual mysteries:
Literalism is itself one kind of mystery: an idol that forgets it is an image and believes itself a God, taking itself metaphysically, seriously, damned to fulfill its task of coagulating the many into singleness of meaning which we call facts, data, problems, realities. The function of this idol--call it ego or literalism--is to keep        banality before our eyes, so that we remember to see through, so that mystery       becomes possible. Unless things coagulate there is no need for insight. The    metaphorical function of the psyche depends on the ever-present literalist within each of us. (150)
With Hillman there are no literal ideas or solid facts. As a methodological reductionist he shrinks all literalisms to just another part of the psychic mystery and demotes facts to nothing but coagulated ideas perpetrated by the misinformed ego. All ego-generated facts are false Gods--idols which simply serve to remind us that everything is fluid and ever shifting.
            Let me state clearly that I generally agree with Hillman's critique of western literalism and absolutism, however, he goes too far. While his perspective is a welcome corrective to the many reductionist philosophical, religious and psychological systems smugly asserting unassailable ideologies, he tends to reduce everything too simply to "only" mystery and Romantic emotionalism. Without apology Hillman strives to deflate, deconstruct and dethrone the heroic human ego  which he feels has usurped the archetypal dynamism of the Gods. Yet by being so one-sided in his campaign to move away from any form of literalism, morality and facts, he seems at times to literalize deliteralization, to absolutize relativity and to construct a deconstructionist "non-system" of Psychologizing, getting himself into a paradoxical pickle. Novelist Walker Percy quipped, "a deconstructionist is an academic who claims that texts have no referents and then leaves a message on his wife's answering machine asking her to order a pepperoni pizza for dinner" (Blank 209). While it may be true that humans cannot live by bread (or pizza) alone, it is just as true that humans are not able to live on a strictly liquid diet of capricious ideas alone. By moving too quickly and too dogmatically from the possibility of literal facts and ethical rudiments, one runs the risk of becoming practically meaningless--leaving the plain man with neither a compass nor rudder on his psychological boat.
            Hillman tends toward a kind of neo-gnosticism, as Avens' book The New Gnosis: Heidegger, Hillman and Angels suggests, by reducing psyche solely to some sort of mysterious non-physicality--something like the proto-physical prakriti in the Hindu Sankhaya philosophy. Hillman runs the same risk, as do all gnostical systems, of devaluing matter by positing psyche as not only the matrix from which realities emerge, but the amorphous essence as well. His emphasis on psyche as invisible, unstable and relative makes it difficult to function in this solid world where Newton and Descartes still have seats at the methodological table. A reality ultimately comprised of psychic fiction[iii] and ethereal images comes close to elevating the anima over the mundi, diminishing the human capacity to get hold of something solid. Steven Pinker takes on this postmodernist tendency to reduce reality to representation, or to what many postmodernists call a "crisis of representation". Pinker points out that the Concise Glossary of Cultural Theory emphasizes the primacy of images in postmodernism and cultural studies: 
Reality is seen rather as always subject to, or as the product of, modes of representation. In this view we inescapably inhabit a world of images or representations and not a 'real world' and true or false images of it...In a further move...we are thought to exist in a world of HYPERREALITY, in which images are self-generating and entirely detached from any supposed reality. This accords with a common view of contemporary entertainment and politics as being all a matter of  'image,' or appearance, rather than of substantial content. (Blank 213-14)
This pretty much describes Hillman's position on the imaginal realm, a hyperreality that never firmly plants itself in the literal materia mundi. Recall what Hillman said about literalism and reality: "Literalism is...damned to fulfill its task of coagulating the many into singleness of meaning which we call facts, data, problems, realities" (150 bold italics mine). For Hillman there are no literal facts or realities in Psyche. Pinker's critique of imagination as a hyperreality, and even hierarchical reality, appears to be applicable to Hillman:
Actually, the doctrine of hyperreality contradicts the common view of contemporary politics and entertainment as being a matter of image and appearance. The whole point of the common view is that there is a reality separate from images, and that is what allows us to decry the images that are misleading. We can, for example, criticize an old movie that shows slaves leading happy lives, or an ad that shows a corrupt politician pretending to defend the environment. If there was no such thing as substantial content, we would have no basis for preferring an accurate documentary about slavery to an apologia for it, or preferring a good expose' of a politician to a slick campaign ad. (214 second set of italics mine)
I'm not sure whether Pinker intended the phrase "matter of image"  as a play on words, but it is apropos. A methodological attitude that does not place as much ontological significance and value on matter as on image implicitly devalues the world of matter, accurate information and factual truth. This does not mean that facts and matter ought to trump images and become an alternative hyperreality, but that there can be true and false images which correspond with true or false factual manifestations. This is the same debate that went on in the early Christian theological deliberations regarding the nature of Christ as divine fantasy and/or human flesh--what came to be known as the Gnostic vs. Orthodoxy conflict. A similar discussion is currently going on in the world of quantum physics around the question of whether light is comprised of waves or particles or both?[iv] While I am sympathetic with Hillman's methodological emphasis on image, fantasy and imagination, I believe he often devalues the substantiation of the invisibles. It might be argued that he tacitly creates a kind of Cartesian split, which he abhors, between psychic and material (factual) realities.
            An unintended consequence of this postmodern Romantic relativism may be that it actually prepares people to become vulnerable to utopian political and religious fantasies based on an asymmetrical and ungrounded view of human nature and worldly reality. If all is flux and fantasy and there are no solid standards of any kind, then the preacher or politician with the most emotionally appealing fantasy finds easy recruits for his/her great new society of imagination--a virtual reality with no substantial truth.[v] Some of Heidegger's critics point to this methodological and epistemological Romantic relativism as the reason Heidegger was so easily recruited into Hitler's early Nazi socialist utopian vision. John Lennon's song, "Imagine," serves as an example. While it provides an emotionally satisfying image of some utopian future, is it grounded in the actual condition of the current cosmos? This is Pinker's incessant critique of the postmodernist attitude--a propensity to "wish it so" and to make those fantasies the foundation of some magical, even multicultural, future. Is not soul-making better served by facing the hard actualities of the world rather than resorting to an escapist fantasy realm? The path seems to lie somewhere between imaginal fantasy and factual reality.
            Hillman's methodological disdain for anything solid and permanent causes him to exhibit a disdain for the pragmatic and moralistic use of myths:
Despite their graphic description of action and detail, myths resist being interpreted into practical life. They are not allegories of applied psychology, solutions to personal problems. This is the old moralistic fallacy about them, now become the therapeutic fallacy, telling us which step to take and what to do next, where the hero went wrong and had to pay the consequences, as if this practical guidance were what is meant by 'living one's myth'" try to use a myth practically keeps us still in the pattern of   the heroic ego, learning how to do his deeds correctly. (158)
Hillman's point that we need to keep the hermeneutical options open is well taken--however, humans are "in fact" limited by and to space, time, matter, culture and their "heroic egos," requiring at least provisionally solid solutions and practical guidance for a given situation. Jung made it clear that he counseled two kinds of people: those who needed solid factual steps to resolve a pressing problem, and those who were in touch with the Collective Unconscious and capable of dialoguing with the imaginal realm. Not everyone is adept at "psychologizing". It would seem that a truly polytheistic methodology could make room for the literalists among us. The fact is that many if not most polytheists view their deities as literally existing in some way.[vi] Hillman places much of the blame for literalism on monotheism. He critiques Kant's "categorical monotheistic mind" (157), but we need to recognize that such a mind is as much a part of the human psyche as are the erratic polytheistic Gods of "Orphic and Neoplatonic mythology" (147).
            And while we are on the topic of Platonist ideas, I find it a bit ironic that Hillman spends so much time touting the procedural ideas of Plato and Plotinus without a discussion of how their polytheistic archetypal forms were based on a kind of actual metaphysical if not factual Absolutism, found in Plato's middle and later writings. Such an argument is seen in the Euthyphro where Socrates and his opponent agree that the eternal Truths, pietas in this case, precede and supersede the wills of the gods. In other words, virtues like Piety, Justice, Beauty, Truth, Love and so forth were not dependent on the fickle gods--Hillman's archetypes--but that even the deities are subservient to some sort of absolute, quasi monotheistic Being called The Good, Beauty, etc.. This Platonic monotheistic realm of Absolutes allowed Philo the Alexandrian Jew, the early Christian theologians (especially Augustine) and later Islamic scholars to sympathize with if not outright borrow so heavily from Plato and Plotinus for their monotheistic notions of absolute virtues, as well as posit a universal basis for an unchanging moral code. Even during Homer's pre-Platonic period, the Goddess Themis was understood to reign not only over the proper relations between all humans, but was viewed as the basis for order upon Mount Olympus as well: "Even Hera addressed her as 'Lady Themis'...The sword [Themis often held] is also believed to represent the ability Themis had [of] cutting fact from fiction, to her there was no middle ground" (Themis).  This idea of a foundational, factual moral base is also found in ancient Hindu and Egyptian cultures which subordinated all of the divine and human rulers to Maat (Egyptian) and Rta (Hindu)--the Goddesses of law and order, truth and justice. These examples point to some sort of absolute notion of "rightness" in the world. These ancients seemed to defend the idea of fixed standards[vii] for the human psyche, for Nature and for political society. So you see, while I appreciate Hillman's postmodernist methodological course correction, I am compelled to call for a balance which allows room for the actual existence of absolutes and standards as more than literalist stooges located in the heroic ego--nothing more than some part of the ethereal mystery.[viii]
            Hillman's post-modernity also brings into question the human attempt to interpret dreams factually and practically. He once again splits nature and imagination by referring to what he calls the "Naturalistic Fallacy":
...nature cannot be the guide for comprehending soul. To understand dreams in terms of their likeness to nature simplifies both nature on the one hand and the spiritual and psychic meaning of dreams on the other, by finding analogies for what is presented in dream images only in the realm of nature...[for example]...a blighted tree in the mind must be compared with...blighted trees in the realms of psyche and spirit...Naturalism soon declines into materialism...[insisting]...that material reality is first and psychic reality must conform with it: psyche must obey the laws of physis and imagination follow perception...the fundamental fact that the events of imagination do not occur in empirical nature. (Re-Vis. 84-85)
Hillman very rigidly declares that "nature cannot be the guide for comprehending soul," and that "the events of imagination do not occur in empirical nature". First, I am very sympathetic with this view, and do believe we are not limited to a naturalistic approach to psyche and dreams. Thus, I am not completely disagreeing with Hillman, but simply stating that he is far too dogmatic in his deconstruction of the relationship of the dreaming psyche to nature and actual daily life. Since the beginning of recorded history humans have interpreted their night dreams as providing clear and natural images that correspond to their day lives. In the Hebrew Bible Joseph interprets his own dreams as well as the dreams of a baker, a cup-bearer and a Pharaoh in a naturalistic fashion--providing help for daily material existence. Catherine Albanese in her work, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion, speaks of the Algonquians, the Iroquois, the Seneca[ix], the Huron and many other indigenous Native Nations as "dream cultures" guided by "dream logic" whose "dreams provided guidance for daytime matters" (105). Albanese cites Jesuit missionaries and European settlers reporting that the earliest African-Americans frequently consulted their dreams as sources of instruction for guidance in the material world (88, 238). Jung's dreams gave him unceasing instruction through clear symbolic correspondences between psyche and nature. I reject Hillman's reductionist methodology which too strictly separates psychic dreams from any possibility of natural correspondences.
            Let me conclude by qualifying all that I have said--Hillman is a slippery fish. His relationship to Henri Corbin demonstrates that he can allow room for spirit and metaphysics, although at times it feels more like a begrudging acceptance or circus juggling act. He does this by resorting to a kind of sleight of hand Cartesian split between spirit and soul in Re-Visioning Psychology (67-70). Corbin scholar Tom Cheetham underscores Hillman's balancing act in The World Turned Inside Out: Henry Corbin and Islamic Mysticism, explaining how Hillman's psychological relativity might be reconciled with Corbin's Sufi-based metaphysical spiritual psychology. At one point Hillman resorts to calling his archetypal notion of pathologizing "an operational mode" rather than an ontology with reference to Corbin's pure light realm of the mundus imaginalis (Cheetham 80-81). Hillman clearly creates a nook in his postmodernist approach for Corbin's metaphysical certainty. This, and many other examples, make it clear that Hillman is not a consistent postmodernist.
            So then, in this critique I am not arguing that I find Hillman wrong as much as I find him imbalanced. I am mildly disagreeing with his tendency toward reductionist relativism. In his crusade "to save the phenomena of the imaginal psyche," (3) Hillman sets out to "free the vision of the psyche from the narrow biases of modern psychology, enabling the psyche to perceive itself--its relations, its realities, its pathologies--altogether apart from psychology's modern perspective" (3). He believes that the domains of psychology, psychopathology, science and metaphysics have "fixed the methods in all these fields so that they present a unified front against soul" (3). The phrase "fixed the methods," provides us with a very telling clue from the pen of James Hillman. His methodology wants to unfix the fixed, and he does it well. However, Hillman's methodological relativity does not do justice to the other, more "fixed" realities, of human existence. One may posit a realm of archetypal relativity and a world of facts and truths. The contemporary postmodern perspective forces many in the academic community to shudder at such a prospect, but that shudder may reveal a desire to avoid taking a stance and defending an idea as being true and substantial--unless of course one is conversing in the privacy of his/her ideological clique, or ordering a pizza.
            Biologist Rupert Sheldrake proposes a sort of solution to this conundrum between factual law and total relativity by suggesting that we speak of "habits of nature" (Sheldrake) rather than the laws of nature. This way we can see the ever evolving flux and form of nature (and psyche), recognizing both the metaphorical and poetic as well as the provisional periods of "factual" literalisms needed to have laws and solid forms as we navigate the world of science and the practical events in the "Vale of Soulmaking".
            Hillman knows what he is doing and what his methodology is, but  I don't think he actually cares that he is a postmodern Romantic reductionist--after all he is a proud member of the  "mafia of the metaphor to protect plain men from literalism".  Mafia members know they are breaking the law--they just don't give a damn. Hillman is fully aware that he is a Romantic reductionist and employs his deconstructionist methodology by intentional design. He believes that the past 2,000 years of Western culture and psychology have neglected images and the imagination:
...psychology has been obsessed by one overvalued idea; man...[we have been]   looking at soul in the ego's mirror, never seeing psyche, always seeing man...monotheistic Reformational man, enemy of images. But to move toward a renaissance, psychology would have to abandon one of its most tenacious Reformational convictions. It would have to move from concern with the moral to a concern for the imaginal; the image before the judgment, the imagination before the human, Psyche before Prometheus and Hercules, before Moses, before Christ...We have not yet witnessed a psychology of the depths elaborated from the other side of the mountains, from the imagination of Hellenism, Renaissance Neoplatonism, and polytheism. (Re-Vis. 223)
            In his concluding remarks in Re-Visioning Psychology Hillman writes with a whimsical smirk: "...all that is written in the foregoing pages is confessed to with passionate conviction, to be defended as articles of faith, and at the same time disavowed, broken, and left behind. By holding to nothing, nothing holds back the movement of soul-making from its ongoing process" (229). It seems to me that Hillman is first and foremost a Trickster, and in that regard, postmodernism is neither that "post" nor "modern," but an ancient form of afflicting the culturally secure and comfortable. Bravo Dr. Hillman--just allow me a few facts.
Postscript: I recently found this comment by Ravi Zacharias which shows the ultimate failure of an exclusively postmodern perspective: "An utterly fascinating illustration of this duping of ourselves is the latest arts building opened at Ohio State University, the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts, another one of our chimerical exploits in the name of intellectual advance. Newsweek branded this building "America's first deconstructionist building." It's white scaffolding, red brick turrets, and Colorado grass pods evoke a double take. But puzzlement only intensifies when you enter the building, for inside you encounter stairways that go nowhere, pillars that hang from the ceiling without purpose, and angled surfaces configured to create a sense of vertigo. The architect, we are duly informed, designed this building to reflect life itself-senseless and incoherent-and the "capriciousness of the rules that organize the built world." When the rationale was explained to me, I had just one question: Did he do the same with the foundation? The laughter in response to my question unmasked the double standard our deconstructionists espouse. And that is precisely the double standard of atheism! It is possible to dress up and romanticize our bizarre experiments in social restructuring while disavowing truth or absolutes. But one dares not play such deadly games with the foundations of good thinking." For citation: Click here

[i] Hillman does not "define" soul, but "describes" it "by set[ting] down a few fence-poles to begin with" (Re-Vis. x).
[ii] For Heidegger, the human subject had to be reconceived in an altogether new way, as “being-in-the-world.” Because this notion represented the very opposite of the Cartesian “thing that thinks,” the idea of consciousness as representing the mind’s internal awareness of its own states had to be dropped.
[iii] Christine Downing said in our Jewish traditions class that she once told Hillman he was a monotheistic polytheist.
[iv] This was also a point of contention between Platonists and Aristotelians. Radical Platonists viewed the realm of Ideas as free from material impurities while those favoring Aristotle advocated a closer relationship between the Forms and Nature.
[v] John Lennon's song, "Imagine," serves as an example. While it provides an emotionally satisfying image of some utopian future, is it grounded in the actual condition of the current cosmos? This is Pinker's incessant critique of the postmodernist attitude--a propensity to "wish it so" and make that the foundation for some magical future--Freud's chimerical neuroses. Is not soul-making better served by facing the hard actualities of the world rather than resorting to an escapist fantasy realm? The path seems to lie somewhere between.
[vi] Religious scholars point out that taking myths and religions as literal and factual are the norm. Clifford Geertz says that religion is "…a system of symbols which acts to establish...moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" . According to the Encyclopedia Britannica article on myth: “Every myth presents itself as an authoritative, factual account, no matter how much the narrated events are at variance with natural law or ordinary experience"[vi] (Britannica Online). These descriptions recognize that myth and religion require a period of factual and literal psychological identity with a group before one can evolve to the metaphorical.
[vii] Steven Pinker the secular Harvard psychologist also addresses the facticity of fixed psychological norms from a strictly materialist point of view in his critique of modernism and postmodernism, specifically with reference to the existence of a universal standard of beauty: "Once we recognize what modernism and postmodernism have done to the elite arts and humanities, the reasons for their decline and fall become all too obvious. The movements are based on a false theory of human psychology, the Blank Slate...Human nature did not change in 1910,[vii] or in any year thereafter...Art is in our nature--in the blood and the bone, as people used to say; in the brain and in the genes...In all societies people dance, sing, decorate surfaces, and tell and act out   is deeply rooted in our mental faculties...Regardless of what lies behind our instincts for art, those instincts bestow it with a transcendence of time, place, and culture...Though people can argue about whether the glass is half full or half empty, a universal human aesthetic really can be discerned beneath the variation across cultures" (The Blank Slate 404-411). In chapters 15, "The Sanctimonious Animal,' Pinker addresses the existence of universal moral standards, albeit slippery at times, but nevertheless existent. Pinker cites a growing movement, even a revolution in the arts, against postmodernism. Graduate students are speaking out, critical of Foucault, Derrida, Butler and other postmodernist authors, in spite of the fact that critics are calling these students "a bunch of crypto-Nazi conservative bullshitters" (416-17). Karen Wynn Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University has recently shaken the worlds of psychology, sociology and ethical studies with her work on 6- and 10-month old infants. Wynn has investigated early social preferences and judgments, demonstrating the ability of babies to distinguish helpful from unhelpful characters in simple interactions enacted by hand puppets. Over 80% of the time, infants  prefer the good helpful characters to the hinderers. On her web site Wynn states as one of her research interests: "We are exploring the origins and development, in infants, toddlers and preschoolers, of moral concepts such as 'good' and 'bad.' What are the conditions that influence infants and young children to judge certain acts and individuals as good or right, others as bad or wrong?" (Wynn). Her husband and collaborator, Paul Bloom says:" What we're finding in the baby lab, is that...there's a universal moral core that all humans share. The seeds of our understanding of justice, our understanding of right and wrong, are part of our biological nature. The results make it clear to Wynn and her colleagues that children have an innate, structural awareness of good and bad" (60 Minutes). Bioethics philosopher Peter Singer wrote that these studies “have upset the previous wisdom, associated with such stellar figures in psychology as Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, that human moral development is the product of our rearing and our culture" (188). Pinker's and Wynn's work support what Levy-Strauss discovered--the human brain is comprised of innate structures or categories which give rise to similar stories cross-culturally. Neuro-scientists like Newberg draw similar conclusions from their S.P.E.C.T. scans of the human brain. If, as Hillman says, the soul has an autonomous ability to pathologize (57), why not an autonomous ability to make beauty and establish facts?
[viii] The Greek word musterion is most often used when referring to something previously hidden but now revealed. In other words, there could be facts or laws, or habits of nature, as well as mysteries.
[ix] Albanese includes an account from a Roman Catholic missionary named Father Fre'men regarding how the Seneca observed their dreams: "The people think only of that, they talk about nothing else, and all their cabins are filled with their dreams. They spare no pains, no industry, to show their attachment thereto, and their folly in this particular goes to such excesses as would be hard to imagine. He who has dreamed during the night that he was bathing, runs immediately, as soon as he rises, all naked, to several cabins, in each of which he has a kettleful of water thrown over his body however cold the weather may be" (105). Father Fre'men's account gives no explanation, but it is likely that the Seneca dreamer took the image to mean that he needed cleansing, or to avert an imminent drowning accident.

Why do atheists spend so much energy opposing nothing?

Atheists seem to be literally obsessed with an entity that does not exist. This fascinates me to no end. People do not get so emotionally invested in such obviously irrational non-sense unless there is a spark of truth residing somewhere beneath the emotional pilot light within their psyches. Atheists remind me of C.S. Lewis's comment about his own former atheism: "I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world." 

I have yet to find an a-toothfairyist or a-easterbunniest. There is no Society of A-sataclausists as far as I know. People do not oppose something that is patently non-sensical and denied by everyone except small children who have not yet developed the ability to reason. But there are many reasonable people who believe in divinity of some sort--historically far more have than haven't. Fascinating.

I can only conclude that atheists have some sort of emotional and ultimately psychological investment in spending so much time and energy opposing Nothing. For example, those who rail against the historicity of the holocaust always have an emotional investment in the supposed "non-event". Could it be that atheists are just as guilty of what they accuse theists of--some personal benefit in their philosophical assumption? If the theist can be blamed for needing a crutch, then perhaps the atheist can be blamed for wanting his/her own way without restraint, or perhaps the atheist desires to believe that he/she is the sole source of all achievements. Someone once observed that "The atheist can't find God for the same reason that a thief can't find a policeman." How insightful. Peter Kreeft hits on the head with this evaluation: "Someone once said that if you sat a million monkeys at a million typewriters for a million years, one of them would eventually type out all of Hamlet by chance. But when we find the text of Hamlet, we don't wonder whether it came from chance and monkeys. Why then does the atheist use that incredibly improbable explanation for the universe? Clearly, because it is his only chance of remaining an atheist. At this point we need a psychological explanation of the atheist rather than a logical explanation of the universe." 

I also find that most of my atheist friends spend more time thinking about a "God" that doesn't exist than my theist friends who think about a God who does exist. I do know that they spend a lot of time opposing Nothing. But if there is a divinity and post-mortem consciousness replete with personal responsibility, then perhaps those God-obsessed atheists will get some merit points for their obsession with No One when they stand before the Non-existent Deity.=}