Under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we abuse scripture. We bind it up in leather, with gilt pages and we worship it. We thump it on the pulpit, we display it on the brass stand or podium, and when we do open it to read it, we shop for – and find – the bullets, knives and bombs we need to protect our separate selves and our separate religions. The tree always gives us the fruit for which we ask.
Scripture is the place where the stirrings of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) meet the mind of humanity for distillation into concepts and words. Bodies of scripture, combined with years of interpretation, become the normative structure and formative tradition for religions and even whole societies. That is, perhaps, a useful social function. But it also, when scripture is adopted as uniquely and exclusively authoritative, becomes the blinders of division that keep us from open interaction and rich cross-fertilization between traditions. At its worst, it becomes the justification for oppression, violence against individuals, sexes and classes, used most abusively to support terrorism and war.
Types of scripture lend themselves to particular forms of abuse. Historical narrative – the bulk of the Bible being the prime example – can, for instance, lead us to believe that the struggles and understandings of one culture are more than that. We allow them to become the defining history of C/S/M/S to the exclusion of all others. We miss the richness of interaction and learning when we idolize the characters and stories rather than seeing them as a useful record of human experience, much like our own. When we close the canon, we in essence deny and shut down our own direct and vital connection to C/S/M/S.
Revealed scripture – the Koran, the Book of Mormon and more recently, A Course in Miracles – lends itself most easily to manipulation. Followers may be tempted to grant it an air of particular exclusivity. Again, the learning of the content is ignored in the sacralization of the whole. We may find ourselves using it to define in-groups and out-groups, or to idolize the founder who received this intense spiritual download.
Myth – like we find in the Bhagavad Gita, the biblical creation narrative or the many stories of the Buddha – is sometimes written off as not being real. We think, “How can something that is not real be as authoritative as something that is real?” Or equally as risky, we make it authoritative, clinging to and slinging around a literal interpretation of a good teaching story.
I personally find most easily accessible the experiential writings – the Psalms, the Upanishads, the struggles of the prophets. Somehow it is easier to place myself side-by-side with another human who relates their experience of wrestling with or finding unity on their spiritual path. But the same risks apply. I might be tempted to grant sacred status to the experience of another while denying the reality of my own interaction and relationship with C/S/M/S. Or I might ignore the truth that is there because I grant higher status to another source.
We get all messed up with judgment under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good Evil. We make this sacred and that secular. We assign qualities and attributes to make things more or less than what they are. And we do the same to ourselves.
In general, we have adopted a low view of ourselves in relation to all that we choose to label sacred. We insist that we are stuck in our separation from C/S/M/S and that “believing in” this set of writings or the tenets of that religion will save us from our assumed natural state of doom.
I believe scripture. I don’t believe in it. What am I saying when I say that? Under the Tree of Life, everything – absolutely everything – is available to us for learning and for growth. The written experience of all cultures and interactors with C/S/M/S is useful. We have tools to use, not objects to worship.
We don’t need to grant authority to one book or another. C/S/M/S is our author, and we are the breath of that creation. We have the same dynamic relationship as the prophets and writers of any past. And we share the same temptations to isolation and to ego.
We have the opportunity to rest and to revel in the word, in all the words that we encounter in each day of our life. They are the expression of our human discovery of connection and unity with C/S/M/S.
When we sacralize and canonize scripture, we profane our own lives. The fruit is ours, to pick, to eat and to live. It was never intended to be worshipped or to be thrown as a weapon at someone else.
Here we are, under the Tree of Life. Let’s settle down with a good book.
© Two Trees in the Garden. Share what is useful. Let folks know where you found it.