Human Development in Scripture

Walter Brueggemann, one of my favorite Scripture scholars, brilliantly connects the development of the Hebrew Scriptures with the development of human consciousness. [1]

Brueggemann says there are three major parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Wisdom Literature. The Torah, or the first five books, corresponds to the first half of life. This is the period in which the people of Israel were given their identity through law, tradition, structure, certitude, group ritual, clarity, and chosenness. As individuals, we each must begin with some clear structure and predictability for normal healthy development (a la Maria Montessori). That’s what parents are giving their little ones—containment, security, safety, specialness. Ideally, you first learn you are beloved by being mirrored in the loving gaze of your parents and those around you. You realize you are special and life is good—and thus you feel safe.

The second major section of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophets, introduces the necessary suffering, “stumbling stones,” and failures that initiate you into the second half of life. Prophetic thinking is the capacity for healthy self-criticism, the ability to recognize your own dark side. Without failure, suffering, and shadowboxing, most people (and most of religion) never move beyond narcissism and clannish thinking (egoism extended to the group). This has been most of human history up to now, which is why war has been the norm. But healthy self-criticism helps you realize you are not that good and neither is your group. It begins to break down either/or, dualistic thinking as you realize all things are both good and bad. This makes idolatry, and the delusions that go with it, impossible.

My mother could give me “prophetic criticism” and discipline me and it didn’t hurt me indefinitely because she gave me all the loving and kissing and holding in advance. I knew the beloved status first of all, and because of that I could take being criticized and told I wasn’t the center of the world.

The leaven of self-criticism, added to the certainty of your own specialness, will allow you to move to the third section of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Wisdom Literature (many of the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, and the Book of Job). Here you discover the language of mystery and paradox. This is the second half of life. You are strong enough now to hold together contradictions in yourself and others with compassion, forgiveness, and patience. You realize that your chosenness is for the sake of letting others know they are also chosen. You have moved from the Torah’s exclusivity and “separation as holiness” to inclusivity and allowing everything to belong.

The death of the newsfeed (Benedict Evans)

All social apps grow until you need a newsfeed
All newsfeeds grow until you need an algorithmic feed
All algorithmic feeds grow until you get fed up of not seeing stuff/seeing the wrong stuff & leave for new apps with less overload
All those new apps grow until…

A pessimist might say this looks like slash & burn agriculture, or perhaps the old joke ‘No-one goes there anymore – it’s too crowded.’ That is, for social, Metcalfe’s Law might look more like a bell curve. I don’t know what the next product here will be (I didn’t create Snap, after all). But tech like this tends to move in cycles – we swing from one kind of expression to another and back again, and we might be swinging away from the feed.

Finally, any such changes have consequences for the traffic that sharing creates. ‘Like’ buttons made it frictionless to post any web page you want into your feed and push it to (some arbitrarily calculated percentage of) your friends, and many hands have been wrung about how much traffic this can drive and how Facebook moves things up and down the feed ranking. But sharing links inside Stories isn’t the same, today, and a link you share in a WhatsApp or iMessage group with 5 friends will only be seen by them, and Facebook has no lever to pull to make this more or less visible. On the other hand,  the ‘WhatsApp forward’ can take such a link and send it viral across a country, and where Facebook can ultimately kill a link or an entire source across the whole site if it really wants to, it’s very different for a P2P messaging app to make that call (outside China, of course). That is, the plea from many media companies to ‘up-rank’ their posts in the newsfeed – to make people eat their greens – and to kill ‘fake news’ links is at least theoretically possible on Facebook. It’s not possible in iMessage – with end-to-end encryption, Apple has no idea what you’re sharing.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Searching for Meaning

Rabbi Harold Kushner explained in his foreword to Man’s Search for Meaning:

The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. . . .

Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

.. June 15, 1941: For a moment yesterday I thought I couldn’t go on living, that I needed help. Life and suffering had lost their meaning for me; I felt I was about to collapse under a tremendous weight. . . . I said that I confronted the “suffering of mankind” . . . but that was not really what it was. Rather I feel like a small battlefield, in which the problems, or some of the problems, of our time are being fought out. All one can hope to do is to keep oneself humbly available, to allow oneself to be a battlefield. [2]

This is what it means to hold the contradictions and the pain of the world, as we do in contemplation. Hillesum accepted her destiny. She believed, as I do, that we are called to be both the agony and the ecstasy of God—for the life of the world. For me, to be a Christian means to accept that battlefield, to accept and to somehow participate in the mystery of death and resurrection in oneself and in the universe. It is a process of “oneing” with Foundational Reality, which some call at-one-ment.

Social psychologist Diarmuid O’Murchu writes:

Creation cannot survive, and less so thrive, without its dark side. There is a quality of destruction, decay, and death that is essential to creation’s flourishing. . . . And the consequence of this destructive dimension is what we call evil, pain, and suffering. Obviously, I am not suggesting fatalistic acquiescence. Indeed, I am arguing for the very opposite: an enduring sense of hope, which it seems to me is not possible without first coming to terms with . . . the great paradox. It is . . . the unfolding cycle of birth-death-rebirth. And it transpires all over creation, on the macro and micro scales alike. [3]

Yes, I know, sisters and brothers, suffering is and will always be a mystery, maybe the major mystery.

Richard Rohr: Listening and Learning

Human history is in a time of great flux, of great cultural and spiritual change. The psyche doesn’t know what to do with so much information. I am told that if you take all of the information that human beings had up until 1900 and call that one unit, that unit now doubles every ten years. No wonder there’s so much anxiety, confusion, and mistaking fact for fiction and fiction for fact!

In light of today’s information overload, people are looking for a few clear certitudes by which to define themselves. We see various forms of fundamentalism in many religious leaders when it serves their cultural or political worldview. We surely see it at the lowest levels of religion—Christianity as well as Judaism, Islam, and secular fundamentalism, too—where God is used to justify violence, hatred, prejudice, and whatever is “my” way of doing things.

The fundamentalist mind likes answers and explanations so much that it remains willfully ignorant about how history arrived at those explanations or how self-serving they usually are. Satisfying untruth is more pleasing to us than unsatisfying truth, and Big Truth is invariably unsatisfying—at least to the small self.

Great spirituality, on the other hand, seeks a creative balance between opposites. As Jesuit William Johnston writes, “Faith is that breakthrough into that deep realm of the soul which accepts paradox with humility.” [1] When you go to one side or the other too much, you find yourself either overly righteous or overly skeptical and cynical. There must be a healthy middle, as we try to hold both the necessary light and darkness.