“I…I’m not sure I follow. I want to understand you, but you seem to be telling me two different things. You tell me the vision was true, then you talk about salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ like it is all smoke and mirrors.”
“On the contrary. Your whole life was a trick of smoke and mirrors. Salvation is what clears the smoke and shatters the mirror. You were one of the fortunate who allowed this to happen in your lifetime, but now you sit here in death with a handful of broken glass and cry ‘Why, why why?’ Let it go, Ananias. Indeed, I am telling you two different things that you need to accept together. Your gospel is true; God’s truth is bigger.”
–The Continuing Story of Ananias and Sapphira
To explain the idea that “Eternal Life has us,” I’m going to stick to the premise stated earlier that the source of a problem often contains a seed for the solution. If Jung is right in saying “religion is a defense against the experience of God,” it may also crack open the door to a passageway we wouldn’t have found if we hadn’t wondered what it was hiding from us.
My first spokesperson for this effort will be one of my favorite human beings, Wendell Berry. His Wiki page does him little justice (I recommend Wikiquote instead), summing up his many roles as “an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer,” and later adding that he describes himself as “a person who takes the Gospel seriously” –meaning, one would conclude from reading his body of work, he gives it credence as a guidepost for his path, but he also examines the scriptures critically while maintaining his faith, and isn’t afraid to speak out with views that are contrary to the local orthodoxy. A bit of a heretic, he is, in other words.
Here is what Mr. Berry had to say on the matter of the Judeo-Christian concept of the soul in his essay “Christianity and the Survival of Creation“.
“The crucial test is probably Genesis 2:7, which gives the process by which Adam was created: ‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.’ My mind, like most people’s, has been deeply influenced by dualism, and I can see how dualistic minds deal with this verse. They conclude that the formula for man-making is man equals body plus soul. But that conclusion cannot be derived, except by violence, from Genesis 2:7, which is not dualistic. The formula given in Genesis 2:7 is not man equals body plus soul; the formula there is soul equals dust plus breath. According to this verse, God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing His breath into it, He made the dust live. The dust, formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul, it became a soul-that is, a whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, not as a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.”
We are probably not too far into this exposition for me to take pains and, for the sake of clarity, maybe even overstate the lack of interest I have in using scriptures as a source for historical facts. Quite the contrary (and though I will not speak for Mr. Berry, I have reason believe he would agree), I find this basis for faith antithetical not only to the truth, but to their usefulness as well. To read Genesis 2:7 like an eyewitness account of an event in a newspaper, or even a more patently subjective witness like that of a history book, is a bit like being blind from birth and listening to someone describe the color red in purely visual terms; to then espouse what one reads in scripture as facts in the manner of an evangelist is to take the further misstep of persuading another blind man that red is the only REAL color. So I hope it is abundantly obvious that I am not presenting scriptural evidence in the sense of a “God said it, I believe it” argument, or as an indication that I believe that we are alive because a supernatural being breathed into our nostrils.
That said, one thing I love about Wendell Berry is the gift he has for speaking his conscience in a manner that meets his audience where they are. The full context of the essay suggests that he is addressing conservative Christians, calling them out for supporting institutions that are wantonly destructive of God’s Creation and therefore, he argues, a direct affront to God. He refers to scripture numerous times, without once challenging the validity of their literal interpretation. It is more than the simple fact that Berry, himself a devout Christian, knows he would lose his audience if he did; he also knows that this isn’t the point, that the problem has never been in the words of scripture themselves. He knows that tearing down the words tends to breed an anti-Christianity that, in some limited aspects, can be of benefit to our collective concept of ecology compared to the fundamentalist’s disdain for it, but too often fails to inspire the highest good of deep, reverent love for the integrated web of Creation. He knows the seed for that love is there in his chosen gospel because he has seen it and felt it and let it grow to fruition in him.
He knows that the tree which gave him this seed is diseased, possibly even dying. But like a good doctor, he doesn’t blame the tree or try to cure the symptoms –he addresses the disease. He knows this is the true path to regeneration, the only chance for this species to survive and fulfill its purpose.
The disease –what makes us unable to see the forest for all the trees– is dualism.
Dualism is an admittedly vague term with many applications across myriad schools of thought, most of which are fantastical and boring and not worth extrapolating here. Instead I am going to focus on the mother of all duality, a phenomenon called binary opposition that exists entirely in the human mind.
(And what I mean by that pejorative-sounding statement is not that binary opposition is a figment of our imagination, like a unicorn or an anthropomorphic god sitting on a cloud in the sky. Think of it more like a filter over the lens through which we view the world. If we wear rose-colored glasses, for instance, the world will look rosy. So it is with binary opposition: it makes us tend to group things we perceive in contrasting pairs.)
The simple Wiki definition for binary opposition is “the system by which, in language and thought, two theoretical opposites are strictly defined and set off against one another. It is the contrast between two mutually exclusive terms, such as on and off, up and down, left and right. Binary opposition is an important concept of structuralism, which sees such distinctions as fundamental to all language and thought. In structuralism, a binary opposition is seen as a fundamental organizer of human philosophy, culture, and language.”
Indeed, binary opposition is the foundational principle of language itself; language would not exist without it (which is not to say all languages utilize binary structure in the same way, but we’ll clear that up later). A word means what it means, within its specific context (key point); it doesn’t mean what it doesn’t mean. Meaning and not-meaning have a binary relationship there. No sane person would argue that. (Subjective interpretation of words notwithstanding, for this just amounts to a juggling of contexts.)
So, insomuch as language creates the world we know, we are correct to perceive binary opposition in it.
Problem is, language does not create the world. It is a tool we use within a greater scope of relating to the world of which we are a part. But reality, the natural world, isn’t built upon language. Our interpretation of it, yes. But the actual universe, our connection to it, ourselves? Not a linguistic structure. Not a binary relationship.
Our projection of binary relationships onto the actual world is a massive illusion in which every human being participates. It is our greatest source of confusion and, ultimately, suffering.
It can be a useful illusion, of course. Right now, assuming you are reading this on a computer or another digital electronic device, you are looking at the manifestation of a program consisting of an elaborate series of 1’s and 0’s that tells your device precisely what images and words to display, within the specific context you requested. This is the secret to a whole sphere of virtual reality our devices create for our entertainment, education and record keeping, from digital music to video games to everything on the worldwide web. All made possible, it is widely believed, by the binary relationship between 1 and 0.
Except there’s one problem with that creation myth: 1 and 0 do not have a binary relationship in the classic sense. In fact, I intend to demonstrate that one of the reasons for the near omnipotence of our digital world is that it is not built in the clunky binary manner of verbal language (which, upon closer examination, is a lot more like the old school analog technology that digital is replacing). Rather, it is a perfect microcosm of the simple formula by which our whole physical realm is created: the interplay of the finite and the infinite.
The next section will be a little dry and geeky. I feel like it might need to be optional. If you want to give it a try, follow this link to Part 3. If geeky isn’t your speed, I’ll try to let the segue from here to the next installment (Part 3) be as seamless as possible. I’ll just need you to take this idea at face value: 0 is more than just “not-1,” it is a placeholder for the infinite space between and around –and even within– the finite 1’s.