In the original essay that I am reworking in these blogs, at this point I jumped into exegesis of some passages in Genesis and Mark. Here that would be way too abrupt. I need to provide some background on what I will be doing next.
What I have written will surprise many people (at least among those who actually read it), delight some, outrage others, and confuse quite a few. I’m not trying to upset anyone. I hope that all who read my discussion might say, “These are indisputable facts, this is logical reasoning, and these are therefore inescapable conclusions; so let’s revise the map and get on with life.” But I know that only a minority will react that way.
Scott Peck is best known for his The Road Less Traveled, one of the best guidebooks for spiritual discipline of the last century. I used it as a text when teaching a course on adult spiritual development for the University of San Francisco in the 1980s. His next book, Children of the Lie, was even more significant to me. Peck was the Army psychiatrist who chaired the court martial that investigated the My Lai massacre. He faced the problem of evil in that trial. He defined evil as gratuitous malevolence, that is, being willing to harm someone unnecessarily. (But not just humans; the torturing of animals is one of the earliest earmarks of a serial killer.) He argued that, since evil does not exist separately from human volition, it could be considered a mental illness. If so, it could conceivably be cured and extirpated someday. That would be an achievement devoutly to be hoped for.
He begins Children by pointing out that much evil in history has resulted from people’s refusal to revise their maps, the mental maps, not paper ones. A map consists of data selected from a territory that is being mapped. The total amount of data about anything real is virtually infinite. A map cannot include it all. Have you ever heard the saying, “The map is not the territory”? Many people have, but few seem to apply it to themselves.
Evil begins when people think their mental map includes all the important information about what is being mapped. It worsens when people believe their map was hand drawn and signed by God himself, and that it therefore cannot be altered or questioned. When someone brings new information that does not fit anywhere on the map—and the human situation is that there will always be new information—those who believe that revelation has ended with their map will almost always deny that the information could possibly be true and will sometimes—here is where evil manifests—shoot the messenger, hoping that doing so will cause the information to go away. But if the information is true, it will return, just as putting Galileo under house arrest did not cause the Sun to revolve around the Earth.
I am not laboring under the illusion that anything I write could possibly cause the Roman Catholic Church to change any of its doctrines, teachings, rules, or policies in the slightest. Many better people than I have tried to do that in recent years. However, as I mentioned in the previous entry in this series, American Catholics have been thinking for themselves for more than forty years, much to the dismay of the administration in Rome. I am inviting them to think about what I have written. For that matter, if my reasoning is correct, my conclusions will be of some interest to anyone who is willing to entertain the hypothesis that Rabbi Joshua the Nazarene (popularly know as Jesus Christ, of course) was somehow, in some way, something more than just another human being. I’m not asking anyone to immediately assent to all the propositions of the Nicene Creed. I’m suggesting that one undertake an openminded rethinking of just how different he had to be in order for the stories about him to make any sense. On the other hand, if you are not willing to entertain that hypothesis, then you might as well not bother to read the next blog or two.
Before getting on with the theology, I need to make an assumption explicit: I consider the rediscovered writings of the early non-Roman Christians (especially the Gospel of Thomas) to be historically neither more nor less trustworthy than the four gospels included in the “New Testament” collection. Many current scholars, especially members of the Jesus Seminar, make that assumption also. I will explain the case for it in a later essay.
To transition into the theology mode, let me comment on another aspect of the Constitution’s teaching on sexuality. The passage on marriage argues that sex outside of marriage is wrong only because it can and often does damage the ability to form the kind of total commitment to another person that a lifelong marriage depends on. The theology here does not assume that sex is sinful or evil or at all wrong in itself; it is merely a natural appetite. Rather, the argument is simply cautious: it is not prudent to risk spoiling something that can be infinitely precious. That is a rational argument, a far cry from medieval insanity. And why is such total commitment and fidelity important? It’s not an abstract virtue, like duty, honor, country; those are necessary for the survival of society but rarely benefit an individual directly. The document argues (if one understands Catholic theological terminology) that the sexual ecstasy of a totally committed married couple is an order of magnitude beyond what anyone can experience in any other sort of relationship or context. Why?
Here I must offer my own interpretation of what happens; the passage in the Constitution just asserts it, but does not explain it.
A totally healthy and totally committed married couple can be totally open psychically to each other. They have no barriers, no secrets, no reservations. In the instant of mutual orgasm, their minds, souls, spirits, personalities, whatever you label it, may merge into a single person. For that instant they break free from the illusion that we are separate individuals, and they feel the edge of the ecstasy of a full enlightenment. Afterward they know absolutely everything about each other, even more than before, though much of that knowledge cannot be stated verbally.
That merging experience is not a metaphor. I have experienced it. So have a great many other people. Few people talk about that, of course. Other people would think they were nuts, right?
What sort of crackbrained metaphysical hogwash is all that?—you may ask. Actually, I am now fairly sure that it was part of Jesus’s original teachings and has a scriptural basis. That is what we will look at in the next installment.