Sin is Not Separation

March 30, 2013

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.

Image credit: Max Camenzind @ CamSoft, University of Heidelberg

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!”

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14 Responses to Sin is Not Separation

  1. Howard on March 30, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    I-me-mine is an inherent part of the mortal experience and a mortal experience is useful to our advancement. Was Christ focused on I-me-mine? Of corse not! Yes, God is a Parent who is intent on seeing us grow up but we are driven to complexity as training on our way to oneness not on our way to community. Oneness is achieved through ego reduction, it is not a community of egos. Complexity drives us to the understanding of nuance and by understanding nuance we begin to assimilate the simplisity of oneness.

    Greed is always found at the bottom of economic injustice. The genesis of greed iS the concept of I-me-mine. Capatalism is the greatest economic system in the world precisely because it efficiently rewards greed. It the best system for selfish 3 year olds in adult bodies to produce but not to distribute abundance. The law of conscecration is God’s chosen economic system for distribution but we are to immature to live it, too selfish to live it.

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  2. FireTag on March 30, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Howard:

    When Jesus prays “that they may be one as we are one”, I think the “as” is important, because again, when Jesus says that, and afterward, he retains that separateness. Indeed, what I am suggesting is that somehow, we keep following the path of forgetting the “three” in “God the three in one”.

    Howard, you may be right about “oneness” being different than “community”, although I think complexity just goes on increasing “to infinity and beyond”. :D

    But the three year olds asking to be put even more in charge seem to be the least likely candidates for maturity. Neither the economic nor political systems have yet developed strong enough antibodies against selfishness rising to power. I suspect even religious systems have not yet done that.

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  3. Howard on March 30, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Three in one refers to three separate roles accomplished as if they were played by one entity due to their oneness. The Father’s role is to evolve the mass of humankind toward enlightenment in an end justifies the means rapid pace benefiting the greatest number at the expense of the few an in the flood might be expediant as seen by him, the Son’s role is to mitigate and temper the Father’s pace and methods in favor of mercy for the few at the expense of the many and the Spirit’s role is to comfort and enlighten every individual who will listen thereby reducing the burden of both the Father and Son. Conceptually these roles could be considered, balanced and offset by one entity thus three in one and oneness coexist.

    Infinity and beyond! Cute! Yes, I agree with your last paragraph.

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  4. FireTag on March 31, 2013 at 9:37 AM

    Howard:

    I find a lot of similarity in the way you identify the tole of the Father as “justice”, and the Son to “mercy” to the way I think of those roles broken down as “impersonal” versus “personal”.

    We are both closer to a trinitarian view than to a 19th Century “folksy” view of an OT God giving way to a NT Christ that is sometimes expressed on the web. I wonder where that view comes from?

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  5. Howard on April 2, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    FireTag,
    Well, I don’t see a disagreement between my “trinitarian” view and the “folksy” OT > NT view you describe. Christ’s role didn’t become effective until the NT and he left behind the Spirit so to me the difference simply one of timing.

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  6. FireTag on April 2, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    Howard:

    I didn’t mean to imply you shared the “folksy” view, but rather that I have seen expressed by some that the Father wasn’t just “impersonal” or “just”, but actually capricious and cruel. (I called it “folksy” because I don’t see anywhere such an interpretation would arise from the formal theology of any version of Christianity I can recall.)

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  7. Howard on April 3, 2013 at 7:10 AM

    FireTag,
    Thanks for explaining. My view of the Godhead comes from personal revelation where it was explained that the OT role of the Father was expedient as opposed to capricious or cruel and that humankind was at a much lower stage of awareness and enlightenment then justifying threats of hellfire and brimstone to move things along. Further since the the gospel has to be dumbed way down for us it is released in a series of metaphorical stair stepped paradigms each eclipsing the previous not to be lived as their sum rather to be lived by moving higher and higher as our understanding grows.

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  8. FireTag on April 3, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Howard:

    OK, but does this mean that you are expecting humans to become LESS like the Father and MORE like the Son over time? Or am I missing something about your point?

    I can easily understand the paradigms by which we understand things deepening, as I can understand why the human conditions in a situation influence how eternal principles get applied. But I would NOT easily understand a cosmic change in role within the Godhead over a few thousand years of a fourteen billion year history.

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  9. Howard on April 3, 2013 at 11:51 AM

    We’re told that the Son is our example so that is our near term goal especially with regard to how we interact with each other beyond that if there is a beyond that I think we are to become more like the Godhead by incorporating all 3 roles. Don’t we play all three roles with our children?

    I’m not sure what you mean by cosmic change in roles. The godhead is made up of people. Cosmetic change amounts to expanding their collective knowledge which I understand to be “as much as is known” but is slowly added to. So I guess slowly added to could be considered cosmetic change. But I don’t see a cosmetic change in roles between the OT and NT or today. I see the enlightenment of humankind accelerating well beyond the rate of the evolution of their bodies. Call it accelerated enlightenment by intelligent design. We can learn faster than we can evolve. I see the OT as God kicking man in the butt and up the side of his head to get our attention and then setting down classroom rules called the 10 commandments to keep the peace while he teaches us what he really wants us to know which actually begins in the NT with the Son.

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  10. FireTag on April 3, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    Howard:

    Remember when I speak of cosmic, I’m placing this in a theology in which humanity is NOT the only species currently being created in the image of God (hence the blue graphic of galaxy evolution in the OP). So, I’m quite comfortable with Christ being central to our history on this one world, as long as that doesn’t involve a change in roles in which the Father gives way to the Son over the entire cosmos.

    And, no, that isn’t LDS theology; the CofChrist tradition doesn’t have generations of Gods succeeding each other. What I believe in is, as I suggested in the linked post “Remapping the Eternal Family” is a much more “extended family” in a very complex web of relationships under the totality of the Godhead.

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  11. Howard on April 3, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    FireTag,
    The Godhead I’m referring to is local beyond that it is my revealed understanding that there is a council of Gods and knowledge is shared. And beyond that?

    It would not surprise me that humanity is NOT the only species currently being created in the image of God. The odds strongly favor it and perhaps compel it? I would be surprised if that were not so!

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  12. FireTag on April 3, 2013 at 8:03 PM

    Howard:

    Personal revelation is personal revelation, and I understand that YOU have to go with the understanding that YOU have personally received, just as I do.

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  13. Howard on April 3, 2013 at 8:33 PM

    Just sharing my perspective and where it came from FireTag. :)

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  14. FireTag on April 3, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    Howard:

    I understand, and your perspective is welcome.

    I used the vague term “entities” in the OP because I think that the physical laws that give rise to consciousness are probably more general than we imagine; I believe it is possible to reconcile the idea of one Godhead with the notion of there being one or even many levels of being “higher” than humanity, but still “lower” than God. It was just too much to bite off in this post.

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