Your sacred text is a catalyst: What is it catalyzing? 2019.0118Rev.2019.0119 DRAFT

I might have put it more provocatively: Your sacred text is only a catalyst, for that's what all texts are: catalysts. (This is a major theme of Dragon Puzzle Story.) I know that in the case of revered texts this may sound blasphemous, but I'm afraid it's obvious on the face of it, as we shall now see.

What is a catalyst? The word catalysis was used in the familiar chemical sense as early as 1836CE, to mean "change caused by an agent which itself remains unchanged." By 1900CE the name catalyst had been given to the causal agent itself. It turned out that many of the proteins in the human body were enzyme catalysts, and this formed little less than a revolution in the scientific understanding of life. For a time catalyst had little meaning beyond the precincts of chemistry, but by the 1940CE's the word began to be used figuratively to describe agents that caused any sort of change while remaining unchanged themselves. By now it is obvious that catalysts are a universal phenomenon, and that a generalized catalyst is any entity that precipitates change while emerging relatively unchanged itself.

Examine any text. Does the text have any effects? Is this text having effects in your brain as you read it? Does a text precipitate changes of mind and the actions of readers in general? For the sake of drivers at STOP signs I hope so. Yet what happens to the text as it exerts its effects? Nothing. (Practical catalysts are, like every other compounded thing, subject to the change of eventual decay.) This is the case for all text, whether sacred, profane, banal, or of any kind whatsoever. Texts are catalysts, period, and a sacred text is no exception.

In the case of chemical catalysts, say enzymes, one may ask what exactly is being catalyzed. Thus for example the enzyme salivary amylase accelerates the conversion of starch to sugar in the mouth. In fact most biological catalysts are known and named exactly in accord with their effects.

As with biological catalysts we may ask of any text, "What does this text catalyze?" The question you just read, for example, likely catalyzed an internal inquiry by your brain. Enzymes occasionally have multiple effects, and the same is true of texts. While a STOP sign may with high probability cause cars to slow down, a sacred text may have simultaneous and contradictory effects. One person may read in a scripture a call to peaceful acceptance, while another reads in the same text a call to arms.

Ascertaining what a particular revered text catalyzes is not a simple task, but with the aid of probability, statistics, and a cool head one can make coherent observations. For example, one may observe that a particular religious text was cited as justification for killing a countable number of times in a given year. One may observe that the likelihood of such a rationalization correlates with conditions of economic decline. And so on.

When we see texts as catalysts we can hold them to account. We can amend them, or make new texts that correct old ills. Here all texts, as with prayer, are like kites that don't fly unless grounded in consistent action. This is a huge subject, but seeing texts as the catalysts they are offers one more approach to finding lively peace on our home planet.