A few years back, National Geographic ran a photo essay on the Alaskan tundra. In the publication notes at the back, the photographer recounted a conversation with a native regarding the urban tourists that passed through each year. When asked to characterize them, the native, a man who lived in solitude for most of the year, remarked that “They seem lonely.” That loneliness reflects not a lack of human association Rather, it is a deep disconnection in our souls from the root of life.
This problem is so characteristic of modern societies that, in our search to escape our constructed reality, we tend to gloss over the defects of ancient cultures. Pagan worshippers extol the virtues of Roman worship for its naturalism, ignoring the paternalism that gave license to fathers to murder their dependents. The homeopathic intuition of native healers is lauded, ignoring the vicious lore of hexes and curses. And nobody appears to want to reflect that xenophobia was endemic to all the ancient cultures, with outsiders that looked and spoke differently treated as inferiors.
But if the ancient world mixed its spiritual vices and virtues, it is still fair to ask why the spread of modern civilization has resulted in a spiritual divorce. Naturally, critics seeking to heal the divide focus on the dominant elements of modern culture. I am sympathetic to these concerns:
- Science applies methods of analytical reductionism to reveal creative possibilities. Unfortunately, reducing things to their constituent parts is not something that souls engage willingly: to do so would be a form of suicide. Therefore, science achieves its most impressive manifestations in the material realm. Scientists seeking funding for fundamental research have a strong motivation to ignore their failure to explain spiritual phenomena, and tend actually to pretend that souls just don’t exist.
- Capitalism heralds the efficiency of the free market in responding to unforeseen public needs and opportunities. Unfortunately (as recognized by Adam Smith), the metric of success – the accumulation of wealth – is too crude to support political control of resource exploitation by the greedy. Worse, concentration of wealth has allowed the exploiters to broadcast rationalizations for their behavior, almost all of which cast the exploited resources as spiritually deficient, and therefore not deserving of protection.
- The traditions of Abraham (dominated by Christianity in American society) tackle the problem of masculine aggression by heralding the power released through submission to unconditional love. Unfortunately, the target population persists in its aggressive recidivism, to the extent that scripture is often quoted selectively (when not completely rewritten) to justify destructive behaviors that are decried universally by the avatar(s). This perversion divorces us from the noblest masculine manifestations of spiritual maturity.
Given the problems outlined above, I would be surprised if it were impossible to assemble evidence that each of the three elements can facilitate depravity. The science of eugenics justified medical experiments on populations (both human and animal) that were considered to lack souls, and therefore believed to be unable to feel pain. Unbridled greed first drove the adoption of slavery in the New World – both of native populations and imported Africans, and now drives us pell-mell down the road to ecological collapse. And the “Great Commission” to propagate the good news of Christ’s resurrection has been used to justify violent suppression of indigenous cultures.
But is it fair to stop there? After all, is not the material construction of our modern reality, with its buildings, appliances and tools, far more conducive to liberty from fear than the natural world we inhabited previously with its predators, diseases, weather and natural disasters? Does not capitalism also distribute wealth and create monetary velocity that supports personal initiative, thereby providing an escape from exploitation? And have not the traditions of Abraham been foremost in providing charitable support of those in need?
For those seeking spiritual reconnection, this seems to leave us in a limbo of ambiguity. If we cannot find the seeds of disconnection in our history, then how are we to escape from the mistakes of the past?
The answer I have held out here is that the way out is to recognize that it’s not just about us.
One of the great gifts of the Bible is that it charts the progression of human spiritual maturity from the heralded “era of innocence” experienced by primitive cultures. In The Soul Comes First, I explain the Biblical days of creation as the history of the evolution of the senses as revealed by the souls that survived the experience. The Garden of Eden is a similar metaphor, in my view. It describes the ideal state sought by the pagans – man and spirit united to create a world of peace. But that unity is sundered by the serpent, who tempts the woman – the nexus of life-engagement – into partaking of the “fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” For that sin, man and woman are cast out of the Garden.
As I expressed it recently to a friend, the great tragedy of the Fall was the sundering of trust. That trust was not only between mankind and spirit, but between man and woman. Ever since, we have been engaged in the sterile course of trying to fix blame for the problem. What we fail to realize, however, is that the source of the problem existed before the Garden. We did not create the serpent, although we were susceptible to its wiles.
We were cast out of Eden not because application of our intelligence was evil, but because we had admitted sin as a guide to our intelligence. Rather than allowing Life to guide our intelligence for good, we became committed to a course of resolving the difference between good and evil, and of developing the strength to choose the good. This is an extremely dangerous path, and the spiritual collective decides that we must be cast out lest we partake of the “Tree of Life” and live forever.
Again, we can think of this in material terms, but from the perspective of the soul of life, this is to say “if man, having admitted the serpent into his mind, enters into the Soul of Life now, then we will never be rid of the serpent.” In Revelation, this aim is made quite clear: the serpent/dragon attempts at one point to assault heaven, and is ultimately destroyed in the final confrontation with Christ.
But what is the serpent? The best way to characterize it is in the contrast between reptilian and mammalian parenting: while the mammalian newborn is nurtured for weeks or years before being forced into independence, the baby Komodo dragon must climb a tree to avoid being eaten by its mother. The reptile manifests the virtues of the predator, seeing in others only resources to be consumed.
So the problem is not science, or capitalism, or Christianity – it is with the ancient reptilian spiritual infection that we must purge. It is our path, on the knowledge of good and evil, to master that influence. It is a skill first encouraged in Cain (“sin crouches at your door, but you can master it”) and delivered by Jesus to the Apostles when he says “what you loose here on earth will be loosed in heaven, and what you bind here on earth will be bound in heaven.”
But until we as a species accede to the disciplines taught by Christ, we will discover, the further we walk with sin down the path of knowledge, the more distant will become our relationships with the Spirit of Life. Not because we can be expected to do differently, nor as punishment for our weakness, but as a matter of its own self-preservation.