I always read the Rev. Billy Graham’s column when it appears in the paper. He is about as fundamentalist as they come, but I find I often agree with him, if I translate his statements from his simple one-dimensional language to something deeper and more universal.
Arrogant of me, to be sure, but today it produced an epiphany of sorts.
The question posed to Dr. Graham was this: How can Jesus be both man and God? Graham’s answer was a lecture on an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and all-righteous being who willed the universe into existence. This being (the Father) and Jesus (the son) are one and the same.
Lovely words but totally useless to the rational mind as long as we focus on the idea of a “being” as an individual entity.
In the words of the philosopher William James, “... from nothing to being there is no logic bridge.”
I have lived long enough to know the limits of logic. Man is not logical. Man is an emotional creature and prone to action that is self-deceiving and self-destructive. But mankind is also capable of amazing deeds of grandeur.
Yesterday I picked up a discarded copy of “Scientific American” at the local library and read an article that may provide an intellectual bridge between the kind of religious fundamentalism I find so objectionable in Graham and other fundamentalists (and so dangerous in a global society) and a broader understanding of God.
The Foundational Questions Institute (the name does boggle the mind a bit, doesn’t it?) asked a group of physicists and philosophers to submit essays on following: Is reality digital or analog?
They expected most of the scientists to come down on the side of digital. After all, modern physics is based on the idea of “quantum” which means discrete and therefore digital. But according to the Institute, the best essays held that reality is actually analog, or continuous.
What does this mean to those who seek God? Is God a discrete being apart from the universe (digital) or is God continuous with the universe (analog)? Does God exist apart from man and the material world? Or is God an animating force that fills all creation and is intrinsic to life in all its forms?
Apparently, we have a choice. When we look at a painting by George Seurat, do we see the dots (digital) or do we see the picture (analog)?
Better yet, think of the figure-ground illusion, Rubin’s Vase. One moment the viewer is looking at the silhouette of a vase. The next moment it becomes the silhouette of two faces. We can’t see both at the same time.
The reason I find Dr. Graham’s fundamentalism dangerous in today’s world is because it acknowledges only one understanding of man’s relationship to God. Furthermore, fundamentalism divides the world at a time when it is increasingly important for all of use to work together. It makes enemies where none need exist.
Fundamentalism paints a very flat picture of reality. Things are either black or white, right or wrong, and this isn’t the way the world works.
The minute you insist that your perception of God and God’s will are the only reality and the only path to salvation, the world becomes divided between right and wrong — us and them. This becomes an excuse for war and all the other evils that plague mankind.
To answer the original question: How can Jesus be both God and man? Only if reality is analog; only if everything is connected to everything else. Jesus is everyman and God is everywhere.
This means whatever you or I do — for good or ill — does matter. Nothing we do is ever lost. Wrong can be forgiven, but it can never be completely wiped out. We’re all part of the same organism.
And yes, Dr. Graham, there is life after death, but only if there was life before birth.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.