Thursday, August 9, 2012

Adam and Steve

I think I finally figured out why people keep saying "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." It's so clear to me now, as it should have been all along: it was right there in the book. Yes, Adam and Eve.

God doesn't want anyone to get married whose names aren't Adam and Eve. These are the only two name pairings that God wants. It's traditional marriage!

So is your name Adam? Then you can only marry a person named Eve. Is your name Eve? Then you can only marry a person named Adam. Is your name neither Adam nor Eve? Sorry, you can't get married... unless you want to offend God.

I know this inconveniences a lot of people, but the Bible is pretty clear on this. For a long time now, this garden story has been held up as the example for how we should live our lives, whom we should marry, how we should treat women, the importance of obeying our parents, the existence of original sin, and many other things. But it's time to stop overlooking the obvious: wedding registries at Williams-Sonoma are for Adams and Eves only.

Either that, or the Bible forbids all marriage except between males who were created from dust and women who were made out of those males' ribs. Also a possibility.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Tao of Jesus: A Spiritual Analysis of the Gospel of John

"There was something formless and perfect before the universe was born. It is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. It is the mother of the universe. For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao. It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things." --Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching


The Word

Heinrich Zimmer said (as Joseph Campbell was so fond of quoting) that the best truths can't be spoken and the second-best are misunderstood. This quotation sums up my spiritual analysis of the Gospel of John (and I'm afraid this is going to be one of those essays in which the thesis is stated over and over again with different examples). The Tao is the name for the former (can't be spoken, beyond all words) and Jesus' words are the latter (misunderstood, attempting to express inexpressible through metaphorical words and actions).

To explain what I mean, I'd like to walk us through the book of John, the most spiritual of the gospels, beginning with its cryptic opening:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

You can see already that we're dealing with concepts that are difficult to explain with words. It is no accident that the word Word (sometimes translated as Logos) is used, as both a proper name and a concept, attempting to explain what Jesus is, re-writing (or at least clarifying) Genesis to declare that "in the beginning" Jesus created the world and was apparently the subject of "Let there be light." And lest we begin thinking that these things are physical (and how can they be, since the Word is described both as being "with God" but also God himself?), John writes that those who accept the Word/God become "children of God, who were born, not of blood... but of God." So we're not talking about bodies. We're not talking about "the world" as a planet. We're talking about the inner life, otherwise known as the spiritual life.

On the other hand, John is constantly blending these spiritual words with things that are "worldly" indeed. Jesus Christ is a specific, presumably historical human in this book, and -- throughout -- Jesus can't seem to decide if he's a full-blown Taoist guru attempting to explain the unexplainable or if he's a reformer of Judaism, beholden to those traditions while desiring to make them less dogmatic and more spiritual ("The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ"), even if it requires him engineering his own literal and metaphorical death.

The schizophrenia of this book might be due, in part, to the retro-fitting of the more established Christian religion (this book wasn't finished until about 100 years after Jesus lived, and of course everything was gathered second-hand, at best) into what may have once been a more pure Toaist-like (or at least Eastern or mystical) teaching, one in which "God" is not an actual entity but only a symbol of the transcendent, a name to help us experience things we can't understand. But, tempting as it is to use this to explain the inconsistencies in Jesus' teaching (Western vs. Eastern, legal vs. mystical), I have to admit that Jesus seemed to have his feet in both worlds: the spiritual and the literal/physical/historical. So I will tackle both as they occur.

If you want to see what a pure version of Taoist teaching looks like, look at the first chapter of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching: "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding."

Note the similarities but also the contrasts between this and the opening of John. "God" may be a good simile for the Tao, but John claims that the Word/Jesus is God, something named, something that "can be told." And while Lao Tzu says that darkness within darkness is the gateway to all understanding, John says that the Word defeats this darkness by being the light. One offers truth only through a passive uncertainty, while the other offers truth through a rather specific entity. One thing is agreed upon by the two sources, however, which is that the Word did create everything, since "naming is the origin of all particular things." Before the Word, there was the Tao (a name for the unnamable), and nothing but it, but through the Word came everything else.