Eve was created within the lush beauty of Eden's garden. But Adam, if you'll remember, was created outside the Garden, in the wilderness. In the record of our beginnings, the second chapter of Genesis makes it clear: man was born in the outback, from the untamed part of creation. Only afterward is he brought to Eden. And ever since then boys have never been at home indoors, and men have had an insatiable longing to explore. --John Eldredge, Wild at HeartThis is from pages 3 and 4 of Wild at Heart. It sets up (at least) three central premises of the Eldredge formulation: 1. We're taking the Bible literally here, people. Calling Genesis "the record of our beginnings" is a neat little way of taking away allegorical interpretations. 2. Men are, and always will be, the explorers and adventurers. Adam, fundamentally, didn't want to be in the Garden of Eden. 3. Women don't like leaving home. They're creatures of the Garden who weren't made for the dangers of the Wilderness. It's a neat, fairly subtle way of supporting and stratifying gender roles. It's still deeply confusing to me, too, because I think that Eldredge genuinely wants to like and respect women, but he can't allow himself to because he's a Biblical literalist of the worst kind. You'll probably want to know what I mean by that. I was once the worst kind of Biblical literalist. I believed I had to take it all literally, so I did. In cases where the Bible said one thing and my observations said a different thing, I took the Bible's side against my own logical assessment. This requires a great deal of double-think. Enough double-think will drive someone with a strong force of personality to try to make other people support the otherworldly view. It will also drive people crazy. It's still not something I talk about so much as I talk around: I spent about six months teetering on the verge of insanity because I knew one thing to be true but believed that god had told me another thing was true. I don't blame this on religion or myself, particularly. I honestly believe that if I had grown up as, say, a liberal Presbyterian I would still be religious. The Christian environment in which I found myself, however, was toxic and filled with ideas about human nature, inter-human interaction and, frankly, god itsownself, that are insane and illogical. The thing is, it's like a disease that directly attacks the immune system. Once you're exposed to it you're permanently weakened to its influence. In order to understand it you have to understand the concept of Biblical literalism. See, the Bible says a lot of stuff and the Biblical literalist takes it all, well, literally. But the only things that need to be taken literally are the convenient things and the things that allow the Other to be excluded. "Literal," too, is an odd concept. The Biblical literalist will tend to be the one who says you have to accept Jesus Christ as your "personal lord and savior." That's not in the Bible. Quite the opposite, in fact. There are several points in the Acts of the Apostles where the head of a household accepts the message and it's followed by, "And all his household was saved that day." There's even a point, if I remember correctly, where a king accepts and the entire province is saved that very day. That's not very personal. But it makes a lot of sense if you understand that in the ancient Roman Empire the concept of "personal" wasn't so much in existence. There was family and there was tribe and the individual was tasked with holding up to ideals of the larger body. So if the head believed one thing, the rest were supposed to, as well. The literalist will also tend to be the one who believes in a singular Antichrist and the Rapture, which aren't anywhere to be found in the Bible, either. Biblical literalism is an ahistorical concept. It imagines that there is a "now" and a "then," with the "then" being the time the Bible sprang in to being, full formed, as if from the head of Zeus. It is possible, the Biblical literalist contends, to read the Bible properly (which means "at face value," or "literally," which are not at all the same thing) and be able to suss out the intended meaning of the writers and, through that, truly understand the mind of god. Again, though, this takes place where it's convenient. There is a passage in the Gospels where Jesus says that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. For it is better, the Rabbi says, to enter Heaven as a cripple than be denied it, period. First of all, go to your local church where the Bible is preached literally and do a quick count. Tally up the number of eyepatches, seeing-eye dogs, and arms that end in hooks. You'll probably get a number that comes to roughly the same statistical level as if you did the same thing on the street outside your nearest Starbucks. If your Starbucks isn't inside the local VA Hospital, Center for the Blind, and Retirement Home for Aging Pirates, chances are you've just walked in to a church that's neglecting to take the Bible literally. Second, Jesus here exhibits a remarkable level of misunderstanding about the nature of Paradise. See, those who believe in things like the Rapture and Heaven all know that they will be raised to join Jesus in the clouds and be given their Resurrection Bodies, which will either make us all look like Vorlons or supermodels, depending on who you talk to. So you could basically do your best imitation of the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and you'll still get in to Heaven with everything intact or morphed to pure energy or whatever. Either way, Jesus is wrong about the nature of the resurrection in this passage. I'm hoping that Jerry Falwell mentioned that when he got up there, because I was really looking forward to spending eternity looking like Derek Zoolander. Biblical literalists, too, are remarkably susceptible to some of the most insane extra-Biblical mumbo-jumbo. Again, the Rapture and the singular Antichrist didn't come from the Bible itself. They came from an external source that wast taken as Biblical truth because, um, it sounded good. Or something. I really don't know. I was in chuch one night. A friend's father spent about ten minutes telling me that Jesus would come back during his lifetime. The Bible, you see, had promised that once the Jewish people were put back in the Promised Land the End Times would come within a generation. So, according to this interpretation, Jesus is contractually obligated to show up by the time someone who was born the day Israel was declared a nation in 1948 dies. Of course, people now regularly live in to their seventies or eighties, so we've got time. Hell, a 112 year-old dude recently died. Of course, Genesis limited the number of years man can live to 120, so we might be waiting another sixty to hit that magic return of Christ. Then again, though, a generation is traditionally given as twenty years and at the time the Bible was written the average life expectancy was maybe thirty to forty, so by all rights the world should have ended sometime during the Carter or Reagan Administrations. Whew, this face value literalism stuff is a lot harder than it looks. Anyway, I've now taken three pages and haven't actually gotten to the point I was originally planning on making. Let's break for now. But think of Mike Scott and that sanctuary and the voice of a girl and a circle of light that goes clear across the world. I'll pick up from there while I try to explain what the Garden means and what Eldredge thinks it means and why it's important to know the difference.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
W@H: Idlewild, Part 1
I entered the sanctuary I heard a voice of a girl Sending out a circle of light Clear across the world I shuddered in the power Like a ceiling in a storm I've been looking for this place Since the moment I was born I flew back to New York City Singin' the big city blues With the sand of Findhorn Bay Still clingin' to my shoes I tried to restart my life But the life I knew was gone I had to let go everything But that's another song --The Waterboys, "Long Way to the Light" I've loved the Waterboys pretty much from the first time I heard them. Mike Scott has an amazing ability to draw pictures with words and sound and do so in a way that uses an reimagines classical and mythological imagery. I'm almost tempted here to say, "The Garden, the Golden-Haired Woman, and the Wilderness," and leave the explanations of Mike Scott to do all the work. Alas, I cannot. For I am not here to try to say what the Garden or the Wilderness is, but to explain what it isn't and what Eldredge thinks it is. Once again, for someone who claims to follow the work of Bly, Eldredge does an amazing job of completely missing the point. But I suppose that's what happens when you take the Garden of Eden as a literal, not allegorical place. I learned today that the Dark Ages came from the beginnings of allegorical interpretation of the Bible, but as Mike Scott says, that's another song. And I think I'm about a week away from being able to properly consider, let alone discuss, the sermon I heard today.