Superb Literature Messes With Me
I believe that the Bible contains within its page’s superb literature. I think it’s superb because I no longer see it telling me what to think, rather it MAKES me think. It MESSES with me. It engages with me and I it, deeply and reflectively. It is provocative literature.
For years now, off and on, I’ve been captivated by the story in Genesis 3, probably because I’ve always journaled this question “what’s wrong with me” ever since I was a teenager. “Nothing is wrong with you other than that you think something is wrong with you” is the rebuttal. Yet – that is a judgment that doesn’t completely resonate. It sounds corrective and even enlightening, but there’s something amiss and dismissive about it. The truth is, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt a subtle disquieted thing in my soul. It’s hard to explain. I wrote many pages trying to find out how it got there but the longer I seek insight and wrestle with this, the more I see that this is not a “me” phenomenon. This is not a “Kristen” issue. It’s not merely personal, it seems to be universal. The ancients seemed haunted by this and wrote down a profound story to try and answer “what’s wrong with us?” – that is how I see Genesis 3 in a nutshell. In other words, I’m not alone in this search. The ancient ancestors echoed this. Perhaps this is really a universal and human phenomenon. This story beautifully illustrates something profound and relatable to me even though it’s a very ancient story.
Yesterday I asked God to help me become less and less offendable over time. I thought about asking God to make me unoffendable and found several books on Amazon by Christians titled “Unoffendable” but I’m skeptical about the reality or implications of attaining that goal. I rest in the opinion that only God is truly and purely unoffendable, and Jesus demonstrated this. Yet for me, at least right now it boasts as too perfectionistic, and not very down to earth. I see spiritual bypassing to attain that goal, at least for me. Nonetheless, I’d like to become less easily offended. I told God that I’m pretty hypocritical in this respect, I have a low tolerance level for people (especially those who are closest to me probably because they mirror certain aspects of my shadow) who are easily offended and take everything so damn personally and react by hiding this fact and lash out at me for their shit. To be fair, I can admit that I do this too – but not as much as other people I can think of! Maybe I’m wrong and I need to first look at the log in my own eye…“Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5, NRSV
I digress…irregardless, I told God and myself that I’m offended by how easily offended I am!
This morning these thoughts came… (I swear, I’m a bit obsessed with Genesis 3 again)…
Eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil is about feeding off the narrative or getting my sense of self or identity or value from moral judgments about others including myself. Moralizing the Self and others leads to polarizing the Self and others. Having or possessing judgments versus them having or possessing me is a subtle but very important distinction. Humility grows with practicing this distinction.
Judgements about good and evil present as “desirable knowledge” that will elevate me. I do become a bit of a “God in my own image” as I feed my Self with moral judgements. I forget that I am ummm, NOT GOD. That role is not well fitted for me because when I take up this role unconsciously, blurred lines cross over into identity. Without humble conscious awareness, this creates relational ruptures within myself and others, to varying degrees. What is more useful is to focus more on judging what I can know to be true or false, for me.
I cannot know for certain what is right or wrong for others because I cannot perceive for others, objectively. I have a human bias, specifically I have a “Kristen bias” and you have a “(your name) bias”. This isn’t “good or bad” but I do believe it is what is, which is truth – simply what is.
I was listening to a Jordan Peterson podcast and Jonathan Haidt said something that has both struck me and stuck with me along similar lines of Genesis 3! Mr. Haidt said that “Moralism messes everything up” when Jordan asked him to clarify what he meant by “moralism” Mr. Haidt said “Moralism is that if you look at things in a framework not of true versus false but of right versus wrong, bad versus good, once you put on that frame…Tyler Cowen has a quote somewhere in a Ted Talk he says ‘We think in stories but as soon as you interpret things in a good versus evil story, your IQ drops by 10-15 points’….Arguments become all out war…you lose touch with truth and your goal is to win and strangely you win in ways that alienate the person you are trying to persuade…making your case with moral grandstanding…”
This really struck me as profound in light of the Genesis 3 story and the symbolic “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. Today I am witness that eating from this tree creates many problems; the least is of polarization and alienation between intimates and every level of society. When we receive our sense of identity, meaning, or value from our moral judgments/positions (eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil), the environment for polarization is ripe. I suppose this is what Jonathan Haidt meant when he said “moralism messes everything up”. It’s not that having moral judgments is problematic, but rather – moralism is not merely possessing moral judgments, but being possessed by them – they are your source of life and identity and defending them starts to cause you to lose touch with a conscious state of what is true and what is false. And I would add what we don’t know is true or false, admitting that is admitting a kind of truth in itself which is ultimately what I’m coming to understand is humility. Owning and making peace with the truth of our human limitations with openness and acceptance is being in harmony with the truth. In contrast being offended and resistant to our limitations (humility) can lead to hiding from the truth within, and when we defend ourselves from owning our truths that we don’t like, there’s a self-rejection/denial that must be defended with something that is not so warm and sincere. This usually leads to being easily offended! Until we lean into and learn from discomfort, it’s a wise teacher.
Now when we intentionally make a move towards finding out what is true or false, not what is right or wrong, good or bad/evil – this will often prove more helpful for human relationships and civilizations to make and maintain progress.
I’m finding that approaching the bible not as a “moral rules” book is very satisfying to me. It’s a storybook. There are many ancient characters and themes that I find are still relevant and have profound implications for wisdom in daily living.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on what I believe about the Jesus story. Some believe this is a legendary story birthed out of conspiracy, some believe that this is a historical story based in people giving honest, human (fallible), accounts. I’m leaning more towards believing the latter, yet that’s why I trust it – its too imperfect to be conspiratorial and because of this I find it provocative and yes, even offensive at times. In some uncanny way this inspires me and touches me, in an ineffable way.
Now I suppose that any of these views on the Jesus story have their own implications. Personally, I believe he was a historical figure that died by means of Roman crucifixion and that the accounts of him being resurrected are honest (imperfect but not conspiratorial) accounts, and that the implications and meaning of this man’s life and death, and his teachings, are still being wrestled with inside myself and many others. I find this Jesus to be akin to how I find the bible; provocative, mysterious, and illuminating. I don’t see much space for retreating in the bunkers of neutrality while engaging with this stuff. So, on one hand, I guess I can understand why people are avoidant or hesitant to engage this fine piece of ancient literature called the bible. Studying the accounts of Jesus and his teachings isn’t “playing it safe”. This ancient literature is compelling to me (and others across time and culture) and forces me to think and reflect deeply about my life and the essence of life itself.
While there are many emotions I feel towards both the bible and Jesus (of which some seem to contradict each other) – indifference is not one of them. This is an area I am not complacent in, and at times I need a break because of that.
Who was Jesus? Who do others say that he was? Who do I say that he was? What are the implications of how I answer these, in the here and now? These are worth deeply and honestly contemplating for myself and with others who will not either moralize or patronize me, either way.