But I do have a
liking for some
aspects of another Eastern religious philosophy: Taoism. Lao-tzu
and the other guys who formulated this philosophy really penetrated, I think, to
something of the true nature of the world—they just didn’t know that Yahweh
made the world. The Taoists say that, while all reality is ultimately unitary,
it is expressed in terms of duality. And doesn’t there really seem to be a
twoness that runs through everything in life: male and female, wake and sleep,
light and dark, sweet and sour—even war and peace, as Lev Tolstoy would say?
For the Taoists, though, no two opposites in a pair are truly unconnected.
There’s always a flow of energy across the divide: one partner is in the
ascendancy now, but in time it will be the second partner’s turn, and the seed
of the one is planted in the other. (Think of the copulating swooshes on the
South Korean flag.) The Taoists’
advice to fall in with the cycles of life and to optimize your effectiveness by
striking in the potent hour is a cousin—distant, perhaps—to the Reformed
Christian’s emphasis upon cooperation with providence (I’m Reformed). Some
of Jesus’ puzzlers, like “you must lose your life to save it” and “those
who humble themselves are exalted,” are near kin to the paradoxes of which the
Taoists are so fond.
What would Lao-tzu think about the binary bits of computer code
unleashing a creativity revolution in our day, including the birth of AI and its
What would he think about brain research, which is showing that one
hemisphere tends to handle creativity, while the other does analysis, but
Personality tests often try to shunt people into pens with these labels
“analytical” and “creative” (or “rational” and “emotional,” or
“linear” and “nonlinear”). Here’s my take on it: people in fact often
do have a bent toward one side or the other, but no one is all the way over to
one side and neither capacity ever works properly without the other. Rationality
is sterile without creativity, and creativity is diffuse without rationality.
(My favorite writer, Nabokov,
lepidopterist as well as novelist and poet, spoke of “the precision of art”
and “the passion of science.”) Furthermore, people can grow in either
capacity, and from life-stage to life-stage, even from day to day, their balance
changes, willfully or otherwise. Am I trying to have it both ways—affirming
the division between reason and emotion while also not affirming it? You bet. If
that seems irrational to you, try to understand it with your intuition.
Now let me introduce another pet theory of mine. (If you read my earlier
The Postmodern Organization of the Church” here in Next Wave, you’re getting it twice, you poor thing.) It’s simply
that Western society as a whole tends to oscillate between an Apollonian
option (order, symmetry, mind) and a Dionysian
option (freedom, asymmetry, heart) as each metaparadigm in each great
cultural-intellectual era replaces the former. The modern era—for convenience,
I bracket it at 1500 to 1999—was an Apollonian era, giving us, among other
things, Enlightenment Rationalism.
And since each era reacts against the last, the postmodern era now finding its
legs is Dionysian, with the present-day cries to raze Rationalism coming as no
surprise. Of course, the law of the interpenetration of opposites holds here as
well. The yin of Dionysus lies within the yang of Apollo; switch it around and
it’s still true. Individuals, for instance, may run counter to the
metaparadigm of their time; I think of William
Blake. Eras-within-an-era may run counter too; I think of the Romantic
movement. Still, the more fundamental fact is that there’s a discernible
pendulum swing from Apollonianism to Dionysianism occurring today as we move
from modernism to postmodernism.
If about now you’re wondering what all this has to do with something
cool about the Bible (see title), I’m getting there.
As people are now slipping into the new-old outlook of Dionysus, they are
finding that the Bible contains the sort of material that can touch their hearts
as postmoderns. They like the poetry in the Bible. They like the Bible’s
wisdom polished into little proverbs like river pebbles. Most especially, they
are drawn into the Bible’s stories and through them sense what it is like to
live in relationship with God.
as I recommend to writers in my booklet Publishing
for Postmoderns, the Bible uses words as toys as well as tools: The book of
Lamentations employs several forms of the acrostic. The Psalms contain numerous
metaphors (admittedly, pretty basic ones)—shield, tower, wing. If you know the
original languages, you can find instances of wordplay: Peter/rock. The chief
characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism, or the so-called “rhyming of
ideas.” And, then, the Bible is nothing if not variform and multivocal.
a case study for what I’m saying, the teachings of Jesus do nicely. Like the
Bible as a whole, many of the red-letter passages have a slippery quality to
them: you can’t always say this means that and be
done with it. You’re forced to stop and walk around the sculpture of Jesus’
words, examining his enigmatica from all sides and trying to tease out their
multiple potential meanings. Wise Bible students are cautious about claiming
they’ve ever got Jesus pinned down. (The Sanhedrin-Herodian-Praetorian nexus
thought they’d done it with nails, remember, and he rose.)
Better to admit the slippery element in Jesus’ words and—as I’ve begun to
do—enjoy it. With God, there’s
always something more.
But to reverse perspectives once more, even the
teachings of Jesus contain much that is plain and clear. Indeed, if you were to
look at the Bible from the position of modern, as opposed to postmodern, tastes,
you would find just as much that would appeal to you in its material (law,
doctrine) and its techniques (propositions, straightforward description). So the
cool thing about the Bible is that it contains both: the propositions and the
narratives, the head fillers and the heart warmers. The Bible itself, in other
words, includes both Apollonian and Dionysian components, beautifully double-helixed.
You can always find something that appeals to you, and the bits that seem less
appealing … well, they are still there between the table of contents and the
maps to prevent too extreme an unbalance in your perspective.
Now let’s ask ourselves, why does the Bible contain both kinds of components? Answer: Because it
was all inspired by the one God who encompasses in himself both sides of
reality, the rational and the emotional. We are made in this God’s image, and
so we can all respond in some measure to both aspects of his book. The Bible is
right for everyone, for every age. Cool.