In the world of Watership Down, the largest number in rabbit language is five, because rabbits can only count to four and thus anything more than that is “five.” The author doesn’t go into rabbit math in detail, but if we think about it, this is really a pretty simple mathematical system. The sum of anything more than 2+2 is five, the product of anything more than 2×2 is five, five minus anything is probably going to be five, and there is no division because rabbits can only multiply.
This strikes me as resembling certain modes of thinking. The whole appeal is its simplicity. Anyone can do it. Granted, there are some drawbacks: if all you know is rabbit math, most of real math will be incomprehensible to you. But rabbit math has a way of dealing with that incomprehensible complexity. It’s all just “five.” That’s all you can say, and in rabbit math that’s all you need to know. Much better than real math, which gets notoriously harder the farther you go. Even people who like math are going to have to do considerable work to master more than the basics. Rabbit math is easier.
You’re right, I’m thinking about religion. Granted, there are a lot of people who think religiously without going all the way to rabbit-math-level oversimplifications. But that’s the limit towards which religious thinking tends. Its appeal is that it simplifies things, and has a place to stick the incomprehensible. Magic (or miracles, if you prefer) covers everything beyond a certain level of understanding, and in religious thinking that’s all you need to know.
I remember sitting in church one day, back in my evangelical days, listening to a guest speaker explain the infallibility of the Bible. We know the Bible is infallible because the Bible tells us that it is infallible. That may sound like circular reasoning, but it isn’t (he assured us). And the reason it isn’t is because we’re not just trusting on human reasoning and on the testimony of men. God Himself has revealed the Scriptures to us, and therefore our conclusions are not fallacious, they’re founded on the infallible revelation of God Himself.
This was not a dumb guy. He had a college degree, and I believe a masters as well. He understood secular logic well enough to see that his arguments didn’t add up, and that he was basing his conclusion of Biblical infallibility on the assumption of Biblical infallibility. “Real math” was giving him a sum that was more than four, and he didn’t like it, so he reverted to rabbit math, and that solved his problem. Now it was all so simple once again. It was just “five.”
There’s a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin’s mom accuses him of having no common sense, and he retorts, “I have plenty of common sense. I just choose to ignore it.” That’s the problem with a lot of religious thinking. You can see the fallacies and other problems with your religion, you just choose to ignore them. Rabbit math is easier, and therefore better. And for anything you can’t understand, there’s an easy answer: God did it. It’s just five. And that’s all you need to know.