The Ten Commandments was one of the first Biblical epics to command a mass audience, and so my parents took me into downtown Detroit as a boy to be sure I saw it in its full widescreen glory in one of the few theaters capable of so screening it.
The movie was well worth the price of admission then, although one sees it mostly now as a special event on cable on Passover or Easter weekend. The message of Moses to Ramses of “Let my people go!”, and the miracles God produced to achieve that unlikely liberation seemed to get at the core of the common heritage of both Judaism and Christianity, whether we were talking about the bondage to kings or the bondage to mortality. Certainly, if the point was to keep the Egyptians in power over the Israelites, or the priestly class mediating between the Romans and the Jews in Jerusalem, I missed it.
So I was somewhat confused to see Matt Frizzell, a member of the Community of Christ Standing High Council, pick this time of year to write in his personal blog here a post identifying sin with our separation from God and our fellow humans. (I was especially confused because I’ve been profoundly moved in the past in comment discussions with Matt in which he has seemed to identify sin with being complicit in injustice, i.e., with being unendingly unwilling or unable to pay the price necessary to stop it.)
Matt opens his post:
“Christian theology begins with separation.
“In Genesis, the separation is told in the story of the Fall. The Fall is a mythical account of humankind’s separation from God. It tells how existence is ripped from God’s immediate presence. Separation from God precipitates into separation from one another. This is a central aspect of the myth. Adam and Eve, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent, the apple, Adam & Eve’s shame, then banishment, and Cain killing Abel – all tell the story of humanity’s end of innocence. It is a divine drama about the fragility of human relationships, our reasoning, and the power of agency. Ultimately, the Fall is about our discovery of a knowledge that does not forgive. It is the knowledge of good and evil, our separation from one another, suffering and its consequences.
“We moderns easily over-interpret and under-interpret the Fall. Our celebration of science, perspectives, and individual want for control make it easy to miss or avoid its point. If we forget that the Fall is a story about the human condition, it is easy to miss its message about our essential separation The point is that human experience eventually reveals a profound and fatal separation at the core of our existence. It is a separation so deep and irreparable that it can only be explained as separation from God. More than any individual act of transgression or feeling of personal guilt, our basic separation from one another and God is the heart and soullessness of sin. The two are entwined, coincident and reconciled together.”
But, as I noted in my last post, Restoration theology, including both LDS and RLDS/CofChrist traditions, “begins” somewhere else. This theology begins with God proposing something to other advanced entities who are already separated, individually differentiated intelligences. The proposal is that they raise to their own level — make in their own image — lesser, already existing intelligences. And it is the response of those advanced entities to the proposal that sets the place of what happens on earth in a cosmic meaning before the dramatic words of Genesis 1:1 appear.
That this greater aspect to the drama ends up being told in “flashback” — scattered throughout the D&C or (for the LDS) in the Pearl of Great Price as the scriptural writers struggled to reconcile various oral traditions and their own experiences of revelation — is irrelevant to its importance in unification of the Restoration tradition with the rest of Judeo-Christianity.
Sin is quickly revealed in the “flashback” to be the willingness to resist that proposal — to hobble humanity’s will, in fact– in order to ensure that none would be lost (lost from whom?). Presumably, any entities that advocated that position were not willing to advocate a loss of will for themselves, and so were a bit unclear on the concept of “in our image”. They were not agonizing over their separation from God or others; they were agonizing over others separating from them, and were willing to bind others to their own will. This was their soul-wrenching contradiction with reality, and I would suggest that it is this contradiction, rather than the contradiction Matt emphasized, which continues to characterize the human condition as well.
When faced with the choice of lifting others up as separate beings realizing their full individual possibilities of existence, or binding them to our will, we repeatedly choose the latter even for those who have done us no harm, or even those whom we love.
This is what I have understood Matt to say in the past, and I believe the truth of those earlier views was robust.
By contrast to “Lucifer”, the way of the Son was to embrace separation for the fulfillment of the great proposal. He was never inclusive in the sense of “you belong to me and therefore I can use you for my purposes”. His teachings of community enhanced individuality, rather than seeing community and individuality as in opposition to each other.
I used the term “contradiction with reality” intentionally. The modern Community of Christ, like much of the religious left in our Western culture, elevates “community” above “individuality”, at least in rhetoric.
However, I just don’t think that’s the way reality is designed to work. Separation isn’t a bug in the system; instead, it is an essential part of the system’s objective.
We see this process work out in the physical world everywhere we look. As the computer simulation to the left shows, when you take the best understanding we have of gravity and the early conditions of matter and energy in the universe and let those operate naturally over a few billion years, a uniformity of conditions gives way to ever more refined and differentiated structure: a spiderweb in which the filaments themselves are galaxies separated by vast voids of emptiness. It is in the separateness that life grows, individualizes, and commences its own purposefulness.
The same “directionality” toward differentiation and separation shows up in the development of human consciousness. Instrumentation now allows unprecedented monitoring of the brain’s operation as it engages in various tasks. Various scientists have chosen to study the workings of the human brain during spiritual and mystical experiences. This research indicates that spiritual and mystical experiences are fully integrated with brain chemistry and electrical behavior just as in the case of every other conscious or unconscious thought process observed. They can be induced by chemical or electrical means, or by hypnosis. For example, the sense of connectedness and belonging to the entire universe typical of many experiences reported by mystics appears to result from the suppression of certain brain activities we consider “normal”. Self awareness – the sense of a separate I-me-mine – appears to be a highly evolved capability, as if the mystical experience temporarily removes a “higher” mental capability and lets us view reality more akin to the way our ancestral organisms did. The mystical experience is primitive.
By assuming that separation and differentiation equal brokenness, I think we are missing half of what is happening in creation. Instead, the development of individualism stands on the same evolutionary and theological footing as any other aspect of our humanity. With human development having taken more than four billion years of earth history to achieve, any theology that regards humanity as consistent with divine purposes must logically regard human individualism as also purposeful. For a God to create such individualism with the expectation simply of restoring it to a common whole seems pointless.
I believe God drives us toward a future of complexity, not community. He’s a Parent who is intent on seeing us grow up. Complexity involves the simultaneous creation and differentiation of community. It is a far richer concept than community. Complexity is far closer to what Christians have traditionally referred to as the “glory” of God, and it is a concept which more accurately describes the processes we see operating in the physical universe.
And I come down on this strongly because this seems to be one of those periods in history when the rhetoric about community has especially become a guise by which powerful individuals justify a claim to maintaining or acquiring privilege:
“Do it for the ‘community’, but be sure to use me (or my church, or my party, or my profession, or my institution) as your ‘broker’. I will be your patron. My expectations are very reasonable, and I can make much better decisions for you than you can.”
Thus, the early chapters of Genesis do indeed lead to the outcome of the story of Cain and Abel, as the first murderer conceptualizes his “brother” Abel as just another animal to be governed as the “keeper” Cain wishes.
As I write this, the news is filled with recurring examples of keepers in the center of powerful economic and political systems that are supposedly based on community solidarity and equality paradoxically preserving those close to the keepers while the larger community for which the keepers assert authority is destroyed. And the response to the destruction? Demands for yet more resources and authority for the keepers.
How does Chinese communism produce politburo leaders with multi-million dollar personal wealth from annual salaries of only $20,000? Why do those most concerned about effects of hard-times on our cities remain silent about the contribution of our city’s political machines to the demise of those cities, while objecting to withholding further resources from those same machines? Why do some bankers and governments receive absolution in the Eurozone, while other bankers and governments who acted the same are condemned, and the peoples of their nations sacrificed into economic depression in order to prevent the break-up of the community? Who resists the temptation to climb above the community?
In a religious sense, we may acknowledge that we can not be God, but we may still try to be the gatekeeper between man and God, which is the next most prideful thing.
Contrast that distorted concept of community with the following summary of Jesus’ stance:
“You are healed healers, he [Jesus] said, so take the Kingdom to others, for I am not its patron, and you are not its brokers. It is, was, and always will be available to any who want it….Bring a miracle and request a table…” –John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, Overture.
The discussion of sin always seems to come back to the need for people to discover and repent that it is our hands hanging onto others chains or pulling their cross into its position. We sin personally, and it has become embedded in our every institution by the acts of the generations before us. But the solution is not in the direction of ending separation as often as it is in heeding the command, “Let my people go!”