I’m a very religious person. I believe (one way of saying it) that manifest reality is produced by an unmanifest reality. I believe in one Highest Good and Highest Truth, and I would like to keep it always in mind as I deal with life. And I think religion in general can and should – and occasionally has been – good for humankind. It can encourage us to set our aspirations high, to treat each other compassionately and to find spiritual replenishment in everything we do.
In general, you could say I’m pro-religion. But yes, I have been making some fairly critical statements on this blog about a certain religious doctrine and the behavior of some of the people who espouse that doctrine. I’m speaking, of course, of the claim that the Bible is “the word of God and literally true, word by word.”
As multiple surveys – like the General Social Survey I’ve mentioned a few times, and the recent PRRI survey – have shown, people who interpret the Bible literally (or say they do) are the most prone of any religious group to hold prejudices against minorities of different kinds. They’re also the group that most wants to censor speech or writing they disagree with. And today, they are the only religious category in which a majority still favor restricting or punishing certain sexual orientations and gender identities, purely because the Bible says they’re bad.
There are a lot of ways to refute the claim that the Bible is literally true from beginning to end and the accompanying claim that its divine authorship guarantees its authority as the only reliable guide to divine and human reality. What I want to say this time is somewhat inspired by the alchemical woodcut that I put at the top of the page. I added the word bubble to draw attention to the element of conflict the picture shows. On the left, we see a Christian bishop attired in his official regalia and clutching the symbol of his office, the shepherd’s crook. On the right stands a dual-natured person, male and female in one body. The bishop is making an admonishing gesture and the androgyne holds something that seems to have been formed into the letter “Y.”
I think the artist was showing the contrast between the highly civilized and formalized religion of the medieval church and the “natural religion” of the human soul. By that period, the church was as much a body of definitions and dogmas as a collection of people. And expressing disagreement with the church on a fine point of doctrine could often prove fatal. But the natural human being is curious, has a need and a drive to explore, to learn, to understand, to know. It’s a drive that can’t be stopped by rigid, lifeless laws and limits. We will always ask “Why?”
I can’t say for sure whether that Y in the picture is really a visual pun on “why.” It could be purely symbolic, pointing to the unification of the divided. A forked stick, like a fork in a road, can be seen from two directions. If you’re traveling in one direction and come to a fork, you see it as one road splitting in two. But if you’re traveling in the opposite direction, it would look like two roads converging into one.
Carl Jung argued at great length that the medieval alchemists were using their art of chemical transformations to bring about their own spiritual transformation. The process begins with a dark, formless mass that is changed step by step to produce an increasingly pure and living substance, symbolized at last by the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, uniting Intelligence and Love, Logos and Eros – the divine wedding, the sign of the transformation and unification into wholeness of the inner human.
The Bible is of course a book and by definition is all Logos: all words, statements, stories, explanations, rules. And the “religions of the book” – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have all tended to add more words, filling vast libraries, in fact, with increasingly fine distinctions, restrictive definitions and narrow decisions – a dense web of boundaries that believers are forbidden to cross.
Logos without Eros is lifeless and uncreative, Eros without Logos is chaotic and self-consuming. Like Yin and Yang, Logos and Eros must join to create and sustain, must join and rejoin infinitely in the cosmic dance of light and dark. And no one, no voice, no book, will ever say everything that needs to be said about it. There is no final word – unless it’s “Why?”