If we truly see the church as a relevant vehicle to bring life to society we must ask this important question.
‘Has the teaching and practice of religion served as a vehicle of unifying or separation?’.
The next question we must ask is this. “Does our practice of religion line up with the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
If we align ourselves with the teaching of Jesus then we must have a religion that re-unites and re-ties us to each other and to creation. The emphasis of the New Testament is love of God and love of neighbour. Christ came to bring unity between God and humanity. My fear is that religion today in its many forms is known more for what it is ‘against’ and what it ‘cuts off’ than as a unifying force in the world. I believe this is because the Church, or religion as we know it today, has been influenced and formed by three things.
2: Left Brain Thinking
Since mid fifth century BC dualism has been an overarching philosophy of humanity. Basically this is the belief that there are two opposing forces, good and evil. This is first recorded in Egyptian Religious beliefs by the contrast of the gods Set (disorder, death) and Osiris (order, life). There is a force at work in the world both secular and religious and it is called dualism. Early Christian dualism is based on Platonic Dualism where God is good and Satan is evil. Personal Dualism separates body and soul. The Puritanism era in the 17th century sought to purify the church and told us that sex and sexuality and the body was evil and that is where we get most of our theology from today in many conservative churches. Sex or the flesh is evil and only spirituality and God is good.
This is in stark contrast to New Testament Christianity which believes that all things are created by God and that his creation is good. We are loved, we are accepted and there is no shame. A gospel that promotes community and acceptance. We don’t have to look far to see that even in the godhead, there are three in one. The entire gospel is one of unity and peace. Not separation and disconnection.
Of course it is dualism that dictates most religious responses today. If it is deemed not ‘of’ God then it must be evil. There is only black and white, in and out, you are either going up or down. You can see then the trouble with our deeply engrained and inherited philosophies and how christians interpret the bible through this lens.
To complicate things even further, since the death of Christ, religious systems have been built according to the left hemispheres of our brain. Let me explain.
Left Brain Thinking
The human mind is a very complex thing. It can however be divided into two main parts, which correspond to the two sides of the brain. The two sides or hemispheres are imaginatively called the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. These two sides of the brain think in two different ways.
The left side of the brain thinks in logical, rational ways. This is what some people call our intellect. It breaks problems down into parts (called reductionism) and seeks to solve problems by examining the parts. It thinks in black and white terms, right and wrong, good and bad (called dualism). Left-brain thinking is called rational thinking (this is also known as linear thinking).
The right side of the brain thinks intuitively, in wholes, in systems (called holism). It thinks creatively, laterally, imaginatively. Right-brain thinking is called intuitive thinking (also known as non-linear thinking) and it is not logical (Ref)
The right brain sees how things connect and unify. The left brain separates realities into air-tight compartments/categories/pigeon-holes (Ref)
It is important to realise that the ancient Hebrew language and community operated out of right brain thinking. The Hebrew Bible, with its emphasis on personal relationships — the love of God, neighbour and stranger — is a right-brain work. Yet today it is interpreted by left brain thinkers therefore the context and meaning of the original texts are often warped and misinterpreted (Ref).
Enter the Greek and Roman Empires and their influence on Christianity and the Hebrew texts. Ancient Greece gave the world its first science and philosophy, two supremely left-brain activities. Equally, we can see why the thought-world of Ancient Israel, with its integrative vision of monotheism, was so different.
Most of the Old Testament was written in Ancient Hebrew. Like most early scripts, Ancient Hebrew was written like Hebrew and Arabic are today—without vowels and written from right to left. It is a right brain language, says Sacks, because to understand the meaning of any word, “you have to understand the total context in which it occurs.”
It was then translated into Greek which was the worlds first left brain language.
Rabbi Sacks explains further:
‘We can go farther still and speculate how Christianity became a synthesis of the two. Its founder was Jewish and steeped in the religious values of Judaism. But the first Christian texts were written and read in Greek. The result was a set of right-brain ideas transcribed into a left-brain alphabet and culture. Out of that creative tension, Western civilisation was born.
Western society over the last thousand years has further added to this by preferring left brain thinking. It has elevated left brain activities to the neglect of right brain thinking.
Rationality and verbally centered mental processes often asscoiated with masculinity are left brain activities. These have been elevated whilst at the same time, right brain thinking which is intuitive, imaginative and holistic thinking is associated with feminine modes and processes and has been devalued and looked at condecendingly. This is patriarchy.
Patriarchy is a system where men hold the power and domination. This has been the system of the Church since its earliest days. Women and right brain thinking is seen as a negative, weak and emotional beings. Thus we get women as the weaker vessel. Women are too emotional, women need to submit etc, etc,. Dualist thinking has added to this by subscribing to the belief that women are primarily vessels of sexuality. They are then ‘sexualised’, they are more evil, like Eve they are not to be trusted.
Our society has consistently favoured masculine values and attitudes and has neglected it’s feminine counterparts.
“We have favoured self assertion over integration, analysis over synthesis, rational knowledge over intuitive wisdom science over religion, competiion over cooperation, expansion over conservation (F.Capra).
Strangely left and brain functions are not gender oriented. In fact the most healthy people have a good balance of both. The two sides working together harmoniously would be the unification of science and religion, ‘sacred and secular’, and dare I say it to the atheists amongst us, the unity between God and humanity, both of which are so rigidly (and artificially) separated in our world (Ref).
The human mind is the product of both hemispheres. If the connections between them are broken, the result is dysfunction of the personality. We need both: the analytical left brain that allows us to take things apart to see how they work, and the integrative right brain that puts things together to see what they mean. Rabbi Stacks
The same is true for religious systems or churches. If the connections between right and left brain activities are broken the result is a dysfunction of the system.
The teaching of Jesus tells us that we are all created equal. There is no male, no female. He says that our Christianity will be known by our love, not by our left brain thinking or male superiority nor by our rule book or how many hoops we jump through. Jesus came to free us from oppressive and authoritarian processes, to bring freedom to those who are captive and to bring good news.
The ancient Hebrews were big picture thinkers. They operated out of holistic thinking whereas left brain thinking compartmentalises and works with small components. This has a huge bearing on how the bible is to be understood (Ref). On how the gospel is to be interpreted. We must not use the bible to fit our own narrow version of God.
So I finish with the question that I asked at the beginning:
‘Has the teaching and practice of religion served as a vehicle of unifying or separation?’.
A little more on left and right brain thinking that Mercedes Benz used in their advertising campaign:
Left brain: I am the left brain. I am a scientist. A mathematician. I love the familiar. I categorize. I am accurate. Linear. Analytical. Strategic. I am practical. Always in control. A master of words and language. Realistic. I calculate equations and play with numbers. I am order. I am logic. I know exactly who I am.
Right brain: I am the right brain. I am creativity. A free spirit. I am passion. Yearning. Sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter. I am taste. The feeling of sand beneath bare feat. I am movement. Vivid colors. I am the urge to paint on an empty canvas. I am boundless imagination. Art. Poetry. I sense. I feel. I am everything I wanted to be.
F capra, the Tao of Physics, 1991, edition, 15.
Rabbi Sacks: http://www.rabbisacks.org/right-hemisphere-brain-knits-tgthr/
Dr Carol Head: https://drcarolhead.com.au/tag/left-hemisphere/
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