The Dance of God and the Devil
Last year (I'm just getting around to finishing these thoughts) Christopher
Lydon, host of Open Source, was interviewing Harold Bloom, and
quoted a lady from his church by saying, "It [this religious experience]
isn't about your mind, but about your whole being." Bloom responded…
well, he really didn't, so let me respond for him by saying that if it
doesn't engage your mind as well, then it isn't worthy of attention.
Clearly this battle of heart and mind has been waged for thousands of
years, and it is a battle worthy of internal courage and valor. When
either extreme has triumphed in a culture, madness is its ruler. The extreme
of the intellect was, in Western European culture, the culmination of the
French Revolution. The extreme of the passion was the Third Reich and the
But Lydon's quote still stands, for the religious expression must engage
the entire being. One shouldn't be asked to lop off one's head to enter
into the eye of the needle, nor rip out one's heart.
I'm not advocating complete, or even logical answers to the questions
life poses to us. Many a religion has a ready answer, but a quick platitude
neither stirs the soul, nor placates the mind. Let's face it, there really
aren't many answers. Besides answers are over-rated… it's asking the
questions that will heal the Fisher King and heal the inner land.
Why? Because it is the question that spurs the quest (yes, both words have
the same linguistic roots). The hero arms himself, not with the sword of
truth, but the sword of searching for the truth. It is the path that is
important, not the benches we build on each of our vistas. Alright, enough
of the obvious metaphors…
I've seen many pious people stressed over contradictions in the Bible, and
I have to smile. Not for some smugness of my own, but for the goodness of
the fight. It should bother… That may actually be the point for why they
were never removed when so much else was edited.
But this provocation reminds me of a subject that I've been wanting to dust
off my soapbox for a while now… the issue of the paradox… for that is
the dance of God and the Devil, and we're all invited. A paradox, in the
vernacular, is a contradiction of two truths.
My favorite paradox is the platypus. How can a mammal that suckles its
young also lay eggs? How can a hairy animal also have a bill like a duck?
It crosses categories. Of course, to the non-scientist, the answer is quite
clear… the definitions of mammal, bird, and reptile aren't mutually
exclusive. They are human constructs and as such show the contradiction of
our understanding and classification of knowledge… not of reality.
((The term paradox comes from the Greek philosophers, and to read Plato's Parmenides, someone from the outside would easily state that the problem with paradoxes are in the adjectives (or "Forms").
I've heard lectures, debates and arguments about conflicting ideas in the
religious realm. Some, over discrepancies in the Bible are just in the
realm of biblical criticism, are mindless and not very inspiring. But
others, like wrestling with the Doctrine of the Trinity, or the Christian
Atonement, are more interesting. Of course, these topics may have been
overdone in the mind's of the listener to the point loosing its
effectiveness at inspiring.
But a good paradox will break us out of our complacency and prune us into
growth. As an example, a good paradox is the issue that fans the flames of
the intelligent design debate. Many want to believe that a god created
the universe in order to give personal meaning and purpose to the world. To
help resolve the paradox, try to step outside of the box of current
understanding. For instance, maybe it would be more worthwhile to discuss
personal meaning without tying that to God (see my previous thoughts
on this debate).
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