Part 1: Myth and Meaning

I recently read Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture by Claude Levi-Strauss—the ‘father’ of Structural Anthropology—which is defined as: The quest for the invariant; or for the invariant elements among superficial differences (p. 8). In essence, this means that structural anthropology is searching for the changeless or constant qualities, functions, configurations or systems that bring order or understanding to an ever changing and chaotic world.

From a Christian worldview we would say that quest is simple—it starts and ends with God. However the fascinating part to structural anthropology is that it’s a secular field with spiritual undertows. Thus the invariant, though faith is recognized as a key stabilizer, can be ultimately constructed scientifically as well. Levi-Strauss brings up some fascinating philosophical and social points, and I would love to have further discussions about them because I feel they can greatly assist our own wholistic understanding of people and structures within culture.

Case: Philosophically Levi-Strauss believes in mythemes: that innate to humanity is the need for people to split everything in twos such that this dualistic grid is the most effective way for people to integrate cognitive data into personal action. He explains this with “each dualism produces a tension that seems to be resolved by a third party, mediating term, but that new terms turns out to be only ½ of a newly created dualism” (p. vii).

Ultimately, and here is the big point, “We are split creatures literally by nature, and we organize data like a simple digital machine. Our common sense is binary, the simplest and most efficient way to process experience seems to be by dividing it in half, and then to divide the halves in half, reformulating every question so that there are only two possible answers to it, yes or no” (p. viii-xi).

Wow! He just put a philosophical construct to exactly what I believe (and what Jesus taught) about yes/no questions (see the first part of the video below).

 

A few key points, as the implications to general humanity are greater than we ever thought:

1. Humanity works in cognitive rationalizations that naturally divide and subdivide any given topic into a base-level yes/no construct.

2. Yes/no allows us to then wrap our minds around intertwined constructs that we don’t fully understand or are not able to fully grasp. In other words, this cognitive process takes our mind from the confusion or fear of the ‘unknown’ to the comfort of the ‘known’ – or at least to the comfort in a feeling of ‘ability to handle’.

3. The problem with this innate action is that every situation in life (social, cultural, spiritual, personal, communal) then automatically becomes an ‘us vs. them’ scenario of ‘right vs. wrong’ or ‘good vs. bad’ or ‘success vs. failure’ and on and on. The dualism is what drives us crazy, and yet this paradigm (secular and Christian) is the fundamentally accepted means of reasoning because it brings recognizable insulators and boundaries to our ability to live and make choices. But a house divided against itself cannot stand—the reason humanity continues to plummet into self-selected and socially constructed secular categories, communities and religious denominations that have clearly defined delineations between the next.  

Now we are being shown the depth of God’s upside down Kingdom.

1. In the Old Testament, the baseline of the Hebrew faith (and of Jews today) is the Shema (Deut 6:4-9):

 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

2. Read this carefully: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The core of the Old Testament is God reminding humanity that He is One, unified, in direct opposition to inherent human cognition that can’t help but to divide and subdivide life, faith and experiences.

3. God then reminds us to impress this upon our children with constant reminders so that they will grow up not imputing subdivision, but rather Oneness is the Father.

4. Jesus then reminds us of this when asked what are the two greatest commandments, and also practices for us how not to answer yes/no to yes/no questions (see p. 178-185 in Love is an Orientation) in order to draw closer to God’s desired Oneness for humanity, in direct opposition of not only our fallen nature but also to our imputed understanding of engagement. What is so unique about this is that it doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian or not—the imputed baseline means of human reasoning are the same for everyone.

Conclusion: Living our life and faith in culture means that we must intentionally fight against the inborn human nature that pulls us towards the comforted subdivision of cognition rather than God’s ideal of Oneness—which often leads to living in faithful tension. As counterculture as this might be for humanity (especially Christians), looking at structural anthropology through God’s lens makes a whole lot of sense in regards to innate human nature and the philosophical understanding that comes because of it.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

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About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • http://www.loveisanorientation.com Andrew Marin

    Joe, your conclusion is actually what I was trying to communicate. I was trying to make a point of the unseen (generally unknown) depth of our Father and how Jesus lived life – and how their Kingdom principles are transcultural. Sometimes the Bible becomes something that is memorized, and this depth of the Word through the yes/no example is a reminder of how alive the Word really is.

  • joe

    Be careful not to make a common mistake of people new to Anthropoogy. It is not that Jesus taught something that Levi-Strauss discovered. The tendency has always been in human culture, well before Jesus. And because Levi-Strauss discovered/defined it does not mean Jesus was Right. Rather, the fact that many religious figures (including Jesus) across all cultures broke down their understanding of the world into this system of duality, means that Claud Levi-Strauss was correct.

    His observation says nothing about Truth, but simply notes how groups of humans have culturally evolved because of the efficiencies produced by a binary thought process.

    If anything it shows how ordinarily human Jesus’s worldview was.

  • http://ASimpleAndSpiritualLife.Blogspot.Com Francis

    “Love Not The World”

    ”For the WHOLE world(not just a portion) is under the control of the evil one”…….(I John 5:19)

    “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world will pass away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of The Only True GOD will abide for ever.” (I John 2:15-17)

    “If you were of the world, the world would love it’s own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Master. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:19-20)

    “Where do wars and fighting among you come from? Do they not come of your lusts that war in your members? You lust, and have not: you kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: you fight and war yet you have not, because you ask not. You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts. You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is to be at enmity with The Only True GOD? Therefore whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of The Only True GOD.” (James 4:1-4)

    “The world cannot hate you; but the world hates Me, because I testify that the works of this world are evil.” (John 7:7)” and “The Messiah gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of The Only True God, Our Father.”(Gal 1:4)

    The Messiah testified: “If the world hates you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”(John 5:18) Truly, Truly, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone: but if it die it brings forth much fruit. He that loves his life in this world shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall have it unto life eternal.” (John 12:24-25)

    John testified: “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hates you.” (I John 3:13) “ James testified, “Whoever would be a friend of this world is the enemy of GOD”(James 4:4)

    The “earth and it’s life forms” are The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”, he who is “the father of lies”, he who “has blinded the minds of those who believe not The Messiah”! All the nations of this world are under the dominion of, and serve, the evil one for he provides the fuel that feeds mankind’s “imag”ination, and mankind’s “imagination is destroying and perverting Creation(land, air, water, vegetation, creatures, Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, Faith, Simplicity, .etc.) ;-(

    Once again, the “earth and it’s life forms” are The Creation of The Only True GOD, Father of ALL! The current “worldly” systems are the creation of, and under the dominion of “the god of this world”.

    Those who “love this world” all serve “the god of this world”, and play their part in the processes that seek to destroy The Creation of The Only True GOD. “And The Only True GOD will destroy them who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11:18c)

    Global warming, polluted air, land and waters, toxic wastes, sexual perversion, evil inventions of destruction, greed, hate, carnal warfare, dis-ease ,,,etc,,, are all destructive processes that have their root in “the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life”.

    The Truth Is Alive in those who have been born of The Spirit for “they no longer love this wicked, evil world and it’s things, nor do they love their own lives in this world”.

    They but seek and desire The Will of GOD, their Father and Creator, as they await their final transformation. “Corruptible to Incorruptible” ndeed and Truth!

    Now “the ground was cursed for Adam’s sake” because he “hearkened unto the woman”.

    Adam listened to a woman rather than obeying The Only True GOD. Yet because of Faithful Noah, The Only True GOD “no longer would curse the ground for man’s sake” because Noah obeyed The Only True GOD! (Genesis 8:21-22)

    And the Faithful today are exhorted to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.”

    Be not of those who deny and defy “The One GOD, Father of All”. Be not of those who are destroying and perverting the earth(land, air, water, vegetation, creatures) and perverting that which is Spirit(Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, Hope, Mercy, Faith, .etc.)!

    “Set your affections on things above”. Desire heavenly, eternal things. Quit serving ‘time’ in the prison that is this world and take heed unto The Call of “The Only True GOD” to ”Come Out of her, MY people!”

    “Come out” from among those who are destroying and perverting Creation and be of those who follow The Messiah on “The Way to The Truth of The Life”.

    “Come out” of the worldly systems, which are the product of mankind’s “imag”ination, especially the systems of religion. “Pure religion and undefiled before GOD The Father is this, to visit the fatherless(those who know not their Father[Creator]) and widows(those who have not experienced The Messiah and The Power that raised Him from among the dead”) in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world.” (James 1:27)

    Simply, all other religions are impure, defiled and of this wicked, evil world…….

    “religion” is personal(oneself), not corporate…….

    Faith will not create a system of religion!

    Faith is Family, not “religion”, and The Brethren of The Messiah seek and desire that which The Messiah sought and desired above all else:

    “Father, not My will, But THY Will Be Done”…….

    Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it’s systems of religion, for “the WHOLE world(not just a portion) is under the control of the evil one” indeed and Truth……

    Truth is never ending…….


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