Logos and Eros

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

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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?”

Non-Binary Binary

Instead of the biologically or anatomically determined model of gender that our society seems to prefer these days, I’d like to suggest something different, something non-binary though still, in a way, binary.

I’ve been working off and on for a long time with the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of divination. It’s based on the concepts of yin and yang, which are more or less familiar to a lot of people today. Indeed, there are probably millions of people in America today who have what they think of as yin-yang tattoos, wear yin-yang jewelry and post yin-yang images to Facebook.

The familiar symbol of two circling fishlike energies, one black and the other white, is actually called the t’ai chi, which means something like “supreme ultimate.” (The slow-motion martial art that people call tai chi is actually “t’ai chi chuan,” or “supreme ultimate boxing”.) What it symbolizes is an interaction of forces that gives rise to all the phenomena of the world around us.

Those two forces are associated with all the varied dualisms or dichotomies that we humans are prone to see in nature, in society and in ourselves. Yin, “the receptive,” is associated with things dark, earthy, inward-tending, nurturing, passive. Yang, “the creative,” is assocciated with light, the sky, outwardness, activity and aggression. Culturally, yin characteristics have been associated with the feminine and yang characteristics with the masculine, but the association isn’t essential – within ancient Chinese philosophy the daughters and sons of the highest principles represent combinations of yin and yang; only the mother and father are purely one or the other.

Using the I Ching for divination involves casting coins or sticks to obtain combinations of six “lines,” each of which is either yin or yang, with the resulting “hexagram” defining a situation or moment that can then be interpreted according to the relative preponderance of yin or yang and their positions in the structure of the moment.

The reason I think this might be of interest in discussions of gender is because out of the 64 possible combinations of yin and yang in the I Ching, only two are pure yin or pure yang. That’s only about 3 percent. Pure yin amounts to just 1.5 percent, and pure yang likewise.

So if we were to look at the I Ching as a model for gender, we would expect to find only about 3 percent of the population expressing either pure masculinity or pure feminity, and the remaining 97 percent expressing some combination of yin and yang, including eight that are equally yin and yang.

None of these combinations is fixed or static; on the contrary, each easily becomes another with the change of even one line. That’s why the book is called I Ching, which means Book of Changes.

So I think it’s worth looking at this very ancient and very deep text for possible applications to the study of gender identity and to our personal individual circumstances. I think all of us have experienced fluctuations in how we feel about our gender, and the I Ching could provide us with some help in articulating what we feel, as well as a model of how duality or multiplicity or complexity can finally be the expression of ultimate oneness.