Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Book of G

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago during a timed-writing exercise for my Bible Students. I'm just experimenting with posting directly to Blogger from Google Docs. Pretty cool.

The Book of G:

The Hebrew Bible's Jedi Training Manual

The Book of Genesis, on one level, is about the development of a nation, and that nation’s troubled and deeply conflicted relationship with the God who chose them. On another level, it can be viewed as an extended metaphor for the journey to maturity that every spiritual master must go through. If God, as Carl Jung suggests, is a name for the collective unconscious, then each of the characters can be seen as a name for the stage of development that the awakening soul travels through. From the na├»ve child eager to grow old too quickly to the fully developed Jedi Master, Genesis outlines a course of spiritual development that parallels that of the martial arts.

The stage of the young child – which Genesis calls Adam & Eve – is one of innocence and trusting. There were always snakes in the garden, but the child sees them as friends instead of enemies. For the child, the relationship between the conscious and unconscious is an easy one – the conflict doesn’t exist because there is no awareness of the duality. While ignorance is blissful, it is not the same happiness that accompanies spiritual mastery, because it needs only be tempted to realize how incomplete it is. The true spiritual master does not succumb to temptation (cf. Joseph and Potiphar’s wife), because he knows he is already complete and does not need anything else. The blissful child lacks this awareness, and so is simply waiting for the slightest provocation to slip into misery. If the snake hadn’t offered the apple, Eve would have found an equally appealing temptation to send her on the path to spiritual maturity. God in this case is not arbitrarily punishing them, since he obviously wanted them to eat the apple. Without the apple, there could be no Joseph. The meaning of the apple is revealed in Joseph, just as the meaning of Joseph’s slavery is revealed in the famine. God sends the serpent to help his consciousness start the journey, in the same way that we are sent nightmares to help heal us and deal with the more disturbing aspects of our lives. The logical extension of this – and one that most people don’t like making – is that evil (personified in the snake) is an agent of God’s purpose, without which God’s purpose cannot be fulfilled.

The unconscious then causes a crisis in the life of the individual which now must be dealt with. Because our hero (let’s call him G) is still spiritually immature, he looks on his punishment as a threat to his identity, and not as an opportunity for a grand adventure. Thus, G slips into the second stage: preservation of the individual ego by destroying any perceived threats. Genesis calls this stage Cain & Abel. This stage lasts a long time, both individually and globally (it’s the reason for all wars), and only perpetuates itself by bowing to the defense mechanisms and destroying perceived threats that are actually brothers. This cycle gets progressively worse until Lamech (seven times worse than Cain), and can only be solved by a complete cleansing of the psyche. The unconscious accomplishes this through the flood – a metaphor for the total spiritual cleansing that can happen after major tragedies, which Jung suggests are projections of the unconscious even if they seem to be external. The other people drowned in the story are not mentioned with much compassion, because they are simply vapors in the unconscious that continue the cycle, and therefore must be destroyed. Like in the Bhagavad Gita, we need not lament these losses – to do so would be to enable our addiction to violence and unhappiness.

But cleansing is not rebirth. Noah represents the stage when an addict enters rehab and abandons his enabling friends, but this is not spiritual maturity or healing. It is only the first step to recovery. Noah’s drunkenness shows that G still has a lot to learn, and the Tower of Babel represents how – in our desire to move quickly into maturity – we try to skip steps to get there. It will be a long, slow process, but at least the journey has begun.

Abraham represents the first conscious steps of this journey. His story is the most fully developed so far, and represents the first seeking for an explanation of the ways of the unconscious, and a means to develop a cohesive relationship with it. Abraham struggles valiantly but is still blocked by his need for self-preservation. He seeks to appease the unconscious through sacrifices that symbolize his own ego. He negotiates with the unconscious, seeking to find the line where the deity will finally be appeased. But sacrifice again is only a stage. It appeases God, because it shows the unconscious that it need not feel threatened. But legal arbitration is not the same as true communion.

In order to develop a relationship with the unconscious that goes beyond a mere standoff in which both parties agree to an uneasy truce, the awakening soul must learn to listen on a deeper level to the callings of the unconscious. This stage could be represented by Isaac, whose life is left fairly blank in Genesis. We hear about Isaac’s love for Ishmael, and his silent submission to be sacrificed, but then hear nothing from him until he is an old man. The whole middle part of his life is a blank. Later in his life, he is duped by Rebekkah and Jacob, but seems fairly distant from the affairs of the world. Looked at from a certain angle, this is the behavior of a hermit or a monk. And who can blame him? His mother banished his best friend and brother, and his father seemed ready to sacrifice him. After such traumatic childhood events, it’s only natural that he withdraw into himself. It’s this withdrawal that creates the space necessary in meditation, the whole purpose of which is to be able to listen and respond to the voice of the unconscious. Only in a focused stillness, away from the noise of the world, can we hear the “still small voice” that speaks to Elijah. We have very little information about Isaac, and so these are conjectures, but they are certainly consistent with the evidence.

And so now we arrive at a very interesting stage of spiritual awakening. Most monks spend years in this stage, and lay people look on this as the arrival of spiritual maturity. But what happens in meditation is like planting a garden. It’s the waiting for what happens in the spring. What happens in the spring is Jacob.

Jacob bursts forth as the first charming, truly likeable character who takes his destiny in his own hands. Granted, his actions are often amoral or immoral, but that’s part of his charm. Like Brer Rabbit or Tom Sawyer, he survives by his wits and bends social convention to his own purposes. His life reads like an adventure story. He is the arrival of the butterfly after a long sleep in a cocoon. Now spiritually awake, he is excited by the supernatural power that comes with deeper levels of awareness. He single-handedly lifts an enormous stone from Rachel’s well, he manipulates the breeding patterns of sheep to become rich, he does the work of many men and fathers thirteen children in one chapter. Jacob is life caught on fire – awake to his own spiritual powers and in love with life. He is the epicurean bodhisattva warrior, an unstoppable, charming and thrilling presence unencumbered by dusty morality. We won’t see his likes again until the arrival of David. No wonder God loves him.

But the journey is far from over. In the stage of Jacob, G is a sort of shaman, able to manipulate nature to his own advantage, and the unconscious now – instead of fearing him – is charmed by him. A personal relationship now becomes possible, because both sides are intrigued by the other. God even reverses the Tower of Babel by building Jacob’s Ladder. And instead of destroying Jacob from fear, as he did mankind in both the flood and Sodom & Gomorrah, he engages in that most boyish of pastimes – wrestling. What boy didn’t wrestle with his father at some point after dinner? Wrestling does not imply antagonism. It’s a splendid game.

But Jacob is spiritually awake enough now that God has to cheat to win! The conscious has developed to the point where it is a worthy opponent for the unconscious. G’s Jedi training is now complete.

And thus we come to the stage called Joseph. Joseph is the fully awakened, spiritually mature being. His early days with his brothers – which some may interpret as petulant – are actually simply the utterings of a precocious child. His statements about his dreams are not pretentious – he merely relates them, and his brothers and father draw the conclusions. He is a child prodigy – misunderstood as Mozart was – who can only come into his own by pursuing the hero’s adventure. He ends up in all the right places – prison, tempted by a seductive woman, tested for patience and forgiveness – and because he is spiritually mature, he meets all of these tests and passes them all. The genius of the Book of Genesis lies in its use of parallels, so that the temptation which destroys Adam & Eve has no effect on Joseph. The hardships that torment Job give Joseph no pause. The crimes committed by Cain, and perpetuated in Isaac & Ishmael and Jacob & Esau are finally resolved in Joseph, who finds the way out of the cycle of violence by practicing the art of forgiveness. Abraham and Sarah doubt the word of the Lord (with good reason!) and take matters into their own hands (Hagar  Ishmael), but Joseph has transcended time, so that he can step back and see the entire tapestry. He is the only character in the Bible so far who has a full understanding of God’s purpose, as he says to his brothers – God enslaved me so I could save you. God tempted Eve so I could become a Jedi Master. People suffer so that they may reach spiritual maturity, which often takes many generations, and with that maturity comes great powers and abilities, and also great responsibility.

So Joseph completes the spiritual training and solves the complex problems that Genesis raises. Of course, his maturity is an individual one, so he is not a good leader for the hundreds of thousands of Egyptians and Israelites who eventually become enslaved as a result of his public policy. His maturity is complete on an individual level, but not yet on a collective one.

God obviously still has work to do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arizona

A great trip to Arizona with my wife for our fifth anniversary. I posted stuff on a site called On the Road. You can view it all here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Palin Posts Healthcare Opinions On Facebook

Sarah Palin (& everyone else) REALLY needs to stop lying about the health care bill. Please be intelligent about this. No bill is perfect, but spreading lies of this caliber is completely irresponsible.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ancient Rumblings

Here is an intriguing article about sin and salvation by the author of The Evolution of God, a book I would really like to read. It posits that our evolitionarily useful sense of guilt was developed by religion into the concept of sin. The need for salvation is a consequence of this, and the author implies what I have always believed - that whether or not God exists in the way that perceive or believe her or him to, the drive for salvation is a useful human urge. Therefore the belief in God is more practically useful on a general plane than not believing in God. Of course there are drastic exceptions on both sides - deeply moral atheists and unabashedly hypocritical believers.

I am reading another book right now called The Alphabet Versus The Goddess, by Leonard Shlain, which covers similar ground for different reasons. The section on human evolution is particularly fascinating. The hunter/gatherer stage lasted around 2,990,000 years (!), and so many if not all of what feel like natural human instincts were developed during this time. The right and left sides of the brain developed different tasks during this time, and this in turn was caused by the development of an opposable thumb to climb trees, a heel when the trees in the jungle parted, and then the consequent mastery of throwing things, which led to the particularly hominid means of hunting from a distance. But as hominid brains got bigger, the size of the brain was limited by the circumference of the female pelvis, which led to babies born without being fully developed, as other animals are. You then have a baby who cannot walk or even lift its head at birth and thus requires a type of nurturing that is unique among the species. Human brains continue to develop for twenty years, which necessitates a division of labor as females care for babies who cannot care for themselves or even cling properly to their mothers.

So, Shlain argues, this accounts for the division of labor in primitive societies, and the differences in the brain, which cause a huge psychological rift between men and women. Hunters survive by being analytical, thinking in a linear way, concentrating with a single-minded focus. Mothers, on the other hand, need more peripheral vision (which they have, since they have more rods in their eyes than men), to be able to care for children while simultaneously gathering subsistence food. The other duality that comes into play here is between relationship to others (gathering) and survival (hunting), which in many ways contradict each other. Survival necessitates an us vs. them mentality, leading eventually to the particularly human act of murder, even of the family. The resultant dualities in the brain (since men and women all contain all of these elements) is the split that has caused much confusion and anxiety, as well much of the ability to recognize the beauty and fragility of the world.

Shlain's thesis is that these hunter/gatherer societies were the most egalitarian in history, as well as the best balance in the brain hemispheres. But with the domestication of crops and animals, hunting was no longer necessary, and so the outlet for male aggression, previously so vital for survival, was diminished to almost nothing. This is when the era of human sacrifice began, as well as sports, battles, and wars. But where he's headed with the book is how the development of the alphabet made the left brain dominant, though it was the younger twin. Like Jacob to Esau, the younger twin supplanted the elder, which is a theme throughout the bible and all the religions and philosophies of the Axial Age. In the Hebrew Bible, true human nature begins with the murder of Abel by Cain, and Genesis is not complete until the younger brother (Joseph) not only supplants but finally learns to forgive his brothers. But that imbalance, between the twin hemispheres struggling for dominance, is what we are left struggling with today.

Of course, we have moved beyond the agrarian society (almost none of us have any real idea how out food makes it to our plates), but we are left with 10,000 years of patriarchal instincts, on top of and often in conflict with 2,990,000 years of hunter/gatherer ones. No wonder we feel alienated and confused!

I am just beginning to process a lot of this (I am familiar with most of the theories from Joseph Campbell's Primitive Mythology, a true masterwork on the topic), but I hope to write more about it, since it fascinates me so deeply and has for so many years. We have shifted so much to the left brain, with its surgical spotlight focus, but you can tell by the insistence of religion in spite of scientific evidence, by the persistence of art despite the dominance of cheap commercialism, and by the hunger for mythology as evidenced by the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomena, that the older twin is beginning to demand her birthright once again. Deep in the recesses of the psyche, the goddess is beginning to stir once again.