Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why dark is not (really) the opposite of light.

In our world there are basically two ways of looking at reality: the Persian way and the Hebrew way. That’s sounds fantastically archaic, but they’re really quite hip.

The Persian perspective is by far the most prevalent way of looking at the world. Made popular by Zarathustra, the Persian model insists that everything comes in pairs, which are opposites, and which together either create a cosmic conflict or some harmonious whole: good versus evil, light versus dark, up versus down, yin versus yang, and so on.
The Hebrew way of looking at things supposes that there are no two sides, just one side, or rather no side at all. It’s just us in a big world, and we evolve from a chaotic past to a harmonious future. Another important factor in the Hebrew way of seeing things is that evolution is towards some kind of attractor; some kind of central entity towards all things move, evolve or simply revolve.

All story telling focuses on conflicts, but the big difference between Persian story telling and Hebrew story telling is that in Persian story telling the antagonist always comes from the camp opposite the camp of the protagonist. The conflict ensues and a happy ending revolves around the camp of the antagonist being defeated but not annihilated. The enemy retreats, regroups and will surely be heard from again.

Hebrew story telling focuses almost entirely on conflicts that arise inside the favored camp, or even inside our hero’s head. If there is an antagonist camp, it usually receives very little screen time, and a good look at the story reveals that the actual conflict of the story is that of our heroes. If there is an enemy camp, that enemy will either be completely wiped out, or they will reconcile with our heroes and become one with them.

A typical modern example of Persian story telling is found in the Star Wars cycle. The “dark side” is an equal counterpart of the side we’re rooting for. It’s peopled by darklings and captained by some arch-darkling. The Hebrew answer to Star Wars (although they came first) is Star Trek, in which a federation of heroes goes out to encounter strange new worlds and become one with a greater realm. Star Wars is always about the battle against the others. Star Trek is most often about our own attitude towards antagonism, and our personal or collective growth. An insurrection in Star Wars tells of the good guys finally rising up against the utterly other bad guys. An insurrection in Star Trek most often has to do with a person or group that breaks away from the larger fold and turns on it.

Similarly comparative are the movies It’s A Bug’s Life (Persian, by Walt Disney) and AntZ (Hebrew, by Steven Spielberg & co), which were published pretty much at the same time and were obvious reactions to each other.

We’re free to admire and utilize either perspective and it would be folly to state that either Persian or Hebrew is the right one or the true one. But it’s also wise to realize that the Persian way of looking at things is as poetic or experiential as the word sunrise. Of course the sun rises, in our experience, although in fact the sun stays were it is and the earth turns. What to an observer seems like an act of the sun is in fact an act of the earth. Take away the earth-bound observer and the sun never rises again.

In that same way, up and down aren’t opposites; they’re merely directions from an observer’s perspective. Take away the observer and neither direction is either up or down. The same goes for warm and cold, or any other duo. Even darkness and light aren’t opposites. Light consists of substance (photons) but darkness is not the presence of some other substance. When we turn the light on in a dark room, the room fills with light, but nothing actually leaves. Darkness does not get replaced with light; it doesn’t go away. It just seizes to exist.

Because the Persian way of seeing things is so natural to any observer, even the Bible often gets interpreted in a Persian way. Many people believe that God and the devil are equal opposites, each with their realms and empires, and that darkness belongs to the devil while light belongs to God. But no, we can safely conclude that the Bible works the Hebrew way.

In the Bible God is the legal owner of everything. Light belongs to God but darkness as well. In fact, some of the core scenes of Scriptures occur in darkness (like the creation, the covenant with Abraham, the death of Jesus Christ). God, or at least communion with God, is that attractor that all evolution naturally aims for, and the devil ‘rules’ separation. A consequence of this is that only God’s realm is organized and based on understanding, forgiveness and communication. The devil ‘masters’ chaos, which is a paradox because chaos can only exists when there is no rule. The devil is the emperor of an empire in which the subjects aren’t subjects.

The same difference between the realm of God and the realm of the devil - a.k.a. Beelzebub, which means Lord Of the Flies - is the difference between a colony of bees and a swarm of flies. Bees are organized; flies are not. Bees adhere to central rule; flies do not. Bees have a home; flies don’t. Bees focus on flowers and help them reproduce; flies focus on corpses and dung and aid only decay, and if they help reproduction, it‘s the reproduction of diseases. Bees produce honey and care for their offspring; flies produce nothing and don’t care for their offspring. Bees are armed; flies are not. Any bee can venture into a swarm of flies unscathed. Any fly foolish enough to come close to a beehive, won’t even make it past the first line of defense, let alone come near the entrance.

Next time you watch Luke Skywalker battle Lord Vader with a light saber (an obvious metaphor for an intellectual debate; for any physical fight both have access to grenades and laser guns and the likes), or Captain Picard zip through the Briar Patch (Moses in Exodus 3) and engage the Son’a in favor of the Ba’ku, and so doing create a conflict within the Federation that threatens its very existence, maybe you should take off your shoes…

Maybe not.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is the Bible true?

Here at Abarim Publications we frequently receive emails from people who ask us – in various degrees of desperation – whether or not the Bible is true. Many of us have a lot riding on our conviction that, yes, the Bible is true, but we all hear about startling scientific reports that strongly suggest the opposite: The creation week made way for the Hot Big Bang Inflation Theory, the Ten Plagues never happened, the Exodus never happened, Solomon was just a minor tribal head, and so on. What’s with that?

What all of us need to understand is that what we call the Bible is nothing more than a best guess of what folks trough the ages thought that the source texts might mean. We work off translations and cultural interpretations of something that is vastly and unfathomably complex. In fact, our present understanding of the nature of the ancient Hebrew and Greek Scriptures is pretty much of the same level as the archaic  belief that the earth is flat and we might fall of the edge if we venture out to sea too much.

So no, the creation week doesn’t cover a period in historical time, and that hurts our pride a bit, maybe, but it doesn’t take anything away from the splendor of Genesis 1. Only from what we guessed Genesis 1 was about.

In the 20th century we saw the rise of quantum mechanics, chaos theory and complexity theory, all new and smashing insights in the working of the universe, and lo and behold, these methods applied to Genesis reveal that Genesis is right on a par with the hippest scientific slings and arrows. When we look at Genesis from a complexity axis instead of from a temporal axis - which is a dumb thing to do anyway because time is a by-product of creation, and thus The Beginning can’t be a point in the past (see my previous post) -  Genesis contains natural structures that mankind could not have consciously known about up until a few decades ago.

Then how did we get it?

The Standard Model of elementary particles (that’s the fundamental organization of the building blocks of the universe – subatomic particles and all that) was completed in the late 1990’s. When we finally had it, the Standard Model appeared to be as good as identical to the family of Abraham as described in the Torah. That family, says God in Genesis 13:6, would be like the ‘dust of the earth,’ and ‘dust of the earth’ is what God made everything out of in Genesis 1.

Whoever wrote that passage also compared the multitudinousness  of Abraham’s offspring to that of the kernels of sand on the sea shore  - billions and billions of them – and, in the same sentence, also to the stars in the sky - a mere few thousand visible to the naked eye; a mere few thousand people would hardly fill a town (Genesis 22:17). How did the author know that there are indeed billions and billions of stars out there, as many as there are sand kernels on a beach? And why did he expect his audience to accept that, and not throw him and his story out with the trash?

So is the Bible true? Goodness, we don’t even have an idea what the Bible is, or how we could have gotten our hands on it. There is clear evidence that the original Hebrew authors knew about the nature of the universe, from the vastness of multi-dimensional space down to the complexity of DNA.
As far as we can tell, the source texts of the Bible are at least as mysterious as the pyramids at Giza or the dessert drawings in Peru. And we are clueless about the lot of them.

My clumsy guess is that the Bible is very true, more true than any one of us could have ever imagined, and we just have to keep at it, keep interpreting, keep translating, keep comparing the unclear whole story that we got from history to the few clear parts of the mostly obscured story we get from science. Or as Dory said: just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

And the translations that we have may run a bit off track where creation and human history are concerned, but the source texts don’t. And the joy and consolation that waits for us in the translated versions of these event, and the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles have always been very real and readily receivable for anyone who can read or listen.

Communion with God results primarily in a lot of joy and peace. This He achieves by means of the Holy Spirit, not by means of giving us a knack for relativity theory and sorts. But knowledge is also promised at many locations in the Bible. Paul urges us to investigate all things and keep what is good, so go ahead and investigate. In this school of life theories come and go, and the convictions of today’s best and brightest tomorrow are dusty relics showing in trophy cabinets near the coat racks.

You know what? I’ll see you at recess. I’ll be out in the yard, playing marbles in the sun.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...