Logos and Eros

The natural human being is curious, has a need and a drive to learn, to understand, to know.

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?”

No True Christian

This young woman’s parents (and their church) had been preaching to her that God will send all LGBTIQ people to hell, quoting all the usual Bible verses condemning these things.

Quite a few years ago, a transgender teen spoke up at a support group meeting I attended about her problems at home. She was very upset, understandably so. Her parents were part of that minority of Americans I wrote about last time who believe the Bible is “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” (Based on the wording of a question (code BIBLE) in the General Social Survey (GSS), a massive long-term, large-scale survey conducted regularly since 1972. (Data available online at http://sda.berkeley.edu/sdaweb/analysis/?dataset=gss14).

This young woman’s parents (and their church) had been preaching to her that God will send all LGBTIQ people to hell, quoting all the usual Bible verses condemning these things. The one that seemed to damn her most definitively for her gender identity was Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

The reason she found it so disturbing, she explained, was that she really wanted to be a good Christian, but she was being told that to be a good Christian, she must believe the Bible is literally true, and if the Bible really is literally true, then God must condemn her for wanting to express her deepest feelings about herself.

I found it all pretty upsetting and disturbing, too, but for different reasons. At the time, I had already been studying religion and the history of religion for several years, and I knew that many of the claims that Christian Fundamentalists make about their teachings are simply untrue. And eventually, I told her so.

“You don’t have to believe that,” I said. “Most Christians don’t believe you have to interpret everything in the Bible literally. Many of the greatest thinkers of the early church didn’t believe that – they even taught that taking the Bible literally was just wrong in a lot of cases, and you have to look for the higher, spiritual meaning behind the surface meaning.”

All of which is quite true.

For starters, turning again to the GSS, among respondents to a question about what religion they belong to (code RELIG), only about two out of five people who identify themselves as Christians give the TWOG response (The Word of God) to the BIBLE question I wrote about last time. In other words, TWOGs are a minority not just among Americans but also among American Christians. The largest number, 50 percent, are what I call INSPs (“The Bible is the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally, word for word”) and about 10 percent even give the least Fundamentalist response (“The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by men.”)

Of course, TWOGs/Fundamentalists regularly claim that if you don’t agree with them on this point, you’re not a “real” or a “good” Christian. Besides being an example of the classic “No True Scotsman” fallacy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman ), if this claim were true, it would mean that many eminent church fathers, including Clement of Alexandria, Saint Jerome and even Saint Augustine (beloved by Fundamentalists for formulating the doctrine of original sin) were not “real Christians.”

The real reason Fundamentalists preach Biblical literalism (though they don’t actually practice it consistently) is, I believe, pure authoritarianism and dates to the Reformation: rejecting the authority of the Roman Catholic church and especially the Pope, the Protestants embraced the Bible as the only sure authority for religious belief and practice – but authoritative only if interpreted according to their own teachings.

There are numerous problems with the whole Fundamentalist approach, but one of the most glaring is the fact that the effort to declare the Bible an infallible authority about everything in the universe boils down to another classic logical fallacy, the argument from authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority ).

What that boils down to is that it doesn’t matter who makes a statement, you still have to judge whether the statement’s content is true, i.e., corresponds with reality. Alas, in many, many cases, the Bible’s statements do not. Threatening people with eternal damnation for not believing things that don’t make sense isn’t “good Christianity,” it’s just bullying.