Published by Worldview Publications
April-June 2002 

“Life Is Bound Up”1

Mounting evidence indicates that God endowed mankind with god-consciousness about 10,000 BCE. In this context, recent neurological research into such conditions as temporal-lobe epilepsy and schizophrenia suggests that this consciousness was located in the right temporal lobe of the brain.

Consciousness is an aspect of the mind that serves as an analog or symbol for the real world. In other words, consciousness is not the world but, rather, a metaphoric model of the world. We may see a tree, touch a tree, smell a tree, and label a tree a “tree,” but our sight, touch, smell and words are not a tree. A tree is a tree! Likewise, the inner consciousness — sight, touch, sound and word God — does not constitute God. God-consciousness is simply an analog or metaphor for God.2

Nevertheless, the endowment of analogical god-consciousness accelerated human development and led to the transformation of human culture from hunting-gathering to pastoral and agricultural modes. God-consciousness further provided an essential pedagogical function in directing human migration, settlement, technology and innovation. However, not all peoples advanced equally or in the same directions. Some adjacent peoples domesticated animals, while others domesticated plants. Not surprisingly, these differences soon led to conflict among neighbors. Agricultural peoples were offended when their pastoral counterparts allowed animals to invade and devour domesticated crops. At the same time, pastoral peoples were disturbed when their agricultural neighbors hunted, trapped or otherwise disposed of pastoral animals.

While attempts were made to establish mutual boundaries, these efforts frequently proved futile. As a result, about 3000 BCE the domestication of animals and plants was extended to the domestication of other human beings. This has been termed “grand domestication” or “over-domestication.”3 However, the domestication of other human beings inevitably led to violence and wars of aggression, suppression, enslavement and even genocide. In order to justify this grand domestication, mankind sacralized violence with “authorization” from the gods of war, the gods of nature, the gods of power.4

It was in this context that the true God acted about 1000 BCE to terminate universal god-consciousness. As this endowment suddenly waned, there was desperation and despair over the “lost consciousness.” Cuneiform tablets, entitled by their first words Ludlul bel nemeqi (“I will praise the Lord of wisdom”), date to the reign of Tukulti-Ninurta I, tyrant of Assyria (1230 BCE). These tablets record the departure of the gods from the bicameral (two branches or chambers) mind:

My god has forsaken me and disappeared.
My goddess has failed me and keeps at a distance,
The good angel who walked beside me has departed. . . .

My god has not come to the rescue in taking me by the hand,
Nor has my goddess shown pity on me by going at my side.5

As an exception, dysfunctional individuals with schizophrenia or temporal-lobe epilepsy retained some form of god-consciousness. Not surprisingly, these disabled individuals often superseded more competent persons in the exercise of temporal and spiritual power.

Contractual Possession and Religion

Meanwhile, for over 3,000 years there has been a universal human effort to regain the lost god-consciousness. Defined as “religion” — re- (again) ligion (to ligate, tie, bind)6 — this effort has generally involved the struggle to repossess god. For many, in fact, human self-consciousness itself has become identified with God. For example, the famous French philosopher and mathematician, René Descartes (1596-1650), declared, “I think, therefore I Am!”7 It has not been uncommon for some to claim that their conscious mind can be transported anywhere in the universe at any time — past, present or future! Those predisposed to this delusion fail to recognize that their self-consciousness is simply a symbol or metaphor for reality, not the reality itself. One may be conscious of a shrub, a rock or a person, but such consciousness does not constitute the actual shrub, rock or person.

Others have claimed to possess a “re-ligioned” consciousness. That is, they believe that God rises from the primordial ground of all being to the level of their self-consciousness. Again, the tragic error has been to raise one metaphor — “ground of all being” — to the level of still another metaphor — “self-consciousness.”

Another approach, drawn from philosophy, has been to assume that the one supreme God is immovable, impassible and unapproachable, so that it is impossible to directly “re-ligion” (re-ligate, tie, bind) oneself with such a god. In this situation it is assumed that an uncreated divine spark, soul, spirit, form, idea, reason or essence (ousia) emanates downward from the heavens to reside in and repossess human consciousness. Again, the assumption is misguided, since emanation itself is a metaphoric assumption that attempts to possess another metaphoric or symbolic property.

However, we still need to define the fundamental problem with all attempts to recover the metaphor of god-consciousness and to “re-ligion” it to another metaphor — human self-consciousness. Very simply, all these mistaken attempts would reduce humanity itself to a possession under contractual law. Thus, it is assumed that if only I could submit, if only I could fully obey, if only I could appease God, I could again repossess God — or God could repossess me — within the realm of my own consciousness. We should note that this contractual approach has another dimension. If I fail to submit, to obey and to appease the metaphoric god, I inevitably become subject to the existing power structures, since they claim to already possess and control the “re-ligioning” of God to mankind.

World power structures — political, economic and religious — arose from the common determination to establish boundaries that would justify the external possession and domination of the created order and, later, justify control over the internal repossession (“re-ligioning”) of god-consciousness. Since it was almost universally assumed that uncreated god-consciousness was reality, the created order was believed to constitute the gulf that separated mankind from God. It is no wonder that the created order was considered profane, irreversibly damaged or fallen, and therefore subject to ultimate destruction. Thus, the exclusion of the created order was essential in order to “re-ligion” God with mankind and mankind with God. In the meantime, if mankind would submit to the “higher powers” — the power structures, which claimed to possess and dominate the external created order and to control the internal repossession of god-consciousness — then mankind could await the final, liberating reunion with a metaphoric god’s single, universal, disembodied, conscious essence at death.

So it is that for 3,000 years humanity has been engaged in a “re-ligious” struggle, with an attendant “sacred” violence that is determined to repossess and demonstrate god-consciousness. Current events suggest that mankind is indeed willing to risk the integrity of the entire created order to attain this metaphoric goal! In fact, fundamentalistic nihilism is so intense in our time that it even seems willing to risk the annihilation of all reality in order to repossess the imagined metaphor of some emanational spark!8

Covenantal Relationality versus Contractual Possession9

Confronted with this apocalyptic vision of ending Creation, terminating history, and replacing actual created reality with analogical properties such as god-consciousness, there is only one other option. That choice is the intended egalitarian relationship among persons rather than the possession and domination of assumed property, goods or services. In short, that choice is covenantal relationality rather than contractual possession.

Since it assumes the co-existence of relationships among embodied persons, covenant excludes the termination of the created order, insisting instead on its exaltation before God. Because covenant excludes possession, it means that self-consciousness is not a possessive god but is a necessary step toward relating with God as mutual persons. Here it is important to recognize that, as part of the created order, mankind cannot become uncreated without returning to the nothingness from which God first brought forth the miracle of Creation (creatio ex nihilo). That nothingness is not only devoid of persons; it also is devoid of possession! Thus, despite much popular opinion, the “re-ligioning” of mankind to God cannot involve the creature’s becoming an “un-creature.” Covenant therefore excludes an ultimate uncreated essence. Rather, it demands an ultimate Creation. Covenant must therefore mean that the uncreated Creator-God himself has chosen an irrevocable transformation to “become” created Reality.

In the biblical story, this divine option was conveyed to Moses in the desert of Sinai. The former Egyptian prince, who had become a shepherd in exile, encountered a burning bush, where God declared his name. Abbreviated as YHWH, that name was ’eheyeh ’asher ’eheyeh — “I will be, I will become, I will effect [create] on behalf of others.”10,11 The God with the name that is above every name then delivered the Chosen People from their contractual bondage as chattel, property, goods and services.

Once the Chosen People were brought from the Red Sea to the foot of Mount Sinai, God delivered the ten fundamental promises to his people. These promises first assured them of their ultimate personal relationship with God apart from all analogies, metaphors, symbols or “images” (Exodus 20:2-7). Furthermore, these promises were declared to be irrevocable and not dependent upon any work of mankind itself (Exodus 20:8-11).12 Finally, these promises assured the people of their ultimate human equality with each other — i.e., “You will not dishonor, kill, abandon, steal, lie or covet [from] one another” (Exodus 20:12-17).13

It was in this radically new context that YHWH led his people to the Edenic Promised Land. Meanwhile, to emphasize the Sinaitic event, God extended his covenantal promises first through the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Then, through David and the Davidic dynasty, these promises were placed on exhibit and their fulfillment foreshadowed in the Temple and its services. The second apartment of the Temple — Most Holy Place — was designed to represent YHWH and his promised “being” on behalf of humanity. The first apartment of the Temple — Holy Place — was designed to represent YHWH and his promised human embodiment — his “becoming” on behalf of the same humanity. Thus, the incense represented the element, “air.” The bread of the Presence (shewbread) was a metaphor for the second element, “earth.” The seven-branched candlestick symbolized the third element, “fire.” Just outside the apartment was the laver filled with the fourth and final element, “water.” For in ancient times it was believed that these four elements constituted all creatures. Finally, the altar of burnt offering in the outer court of the Temple was the place of sacrifice. Again, from the most ancient times, ritual sacrifice was a representation of Creation.14 The outer court therefore foreshadowed YHWH as “effecting” or “creating” on behalf of others. For nearly a millennium the Jerusalem Temples were thus intended to convey YHWH’s ultimate purpose of achieving covenantal relationality with mankind. Since the creature could not become uncreated except by returning to “nothingness,” YHWH determined to be, to become and to effect the “creation” of himself as the New Adam on behalf of all other created beings!

Conclusion

Human consciousness is not reality. Rather, it is an analogical property, symbol or metaphor for reality. Thus, mankind’s age-long passion to repossess — to “re-ligion” — the lost god-consciousness has simply been an attempt to restore a metaphor rather than to achieve reality. Furthermore, attendant attempts to restore a supposedly uncreated god-consciousness by eliminating the imagined barrier of the created order are actually efforts to exclude reality. In this context, to imagine that mankind, the creature, can become uncreated is to consign humanity to ultimate nothingness.

The plain fact is that YHWH alone can fulfill the relationality of the covenant. He alone can irrevocably and unconditionally fulfill the created order and realize its ultimate and eternal purpose. He alone can creatively bind us to himself and to each other. Thus, YHWH is not our “re-ligion” — re- (again) ligion (to ligate, tie, bind). Rather, he is our “Ligion.” He does not intend to possess us as contractual property. Rather, he desires to relate to us as mutual persons. He has therefore bound up his personal life to us so that we can become relationally and personally bound to him and to each other.

Notes and References

  1. See Genesis 44:30. (go back)
  2. “Consciousness becomes the . . . [metaphor] full of our past experience, constantly and selectively operating on such unknowns as future actions, decisions, and partly remembered pasts, on what we are and yet may be. And it is by the generated structure of consciousness that we then understand the world.” — Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1990), p. 59. (go back)
  3. See Karl W. Luckert, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire: Theological and Philosophical Roots of Christendom in Evolutionary Perspective (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 21-24. (go back)
  4. See Jaynes, Origin of Consciousness, on archaic authorization. (go back)
  5. Jaynes, pp. 225, 226. (go back)
  6. See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, s.v. “religion.” (go back)
  7. “Cogito, ergo sum; I think, therefore I am.” See Karen Armstrong, A History of God (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), p. 300. (go back)
  8. “At the root of fundamentalism are nihilism, hopelessness and despair.” — Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God [A Reader’s Guide] (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000). (go back)
  9. See “Contract versus Covenant,” Outlook (Feb. 2002). Cf. “Sin and “Atonement,” Outlook (Mar. 2002). (go back)
  10. See Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1960), pp. 38-49. (go back)
  11. See “The Dawn of Self-Consciousness,” Outlook (Oct. 2001). (go back)
  12. Scott Hahn, Salvation History: One Holy Family, at www.star.ucl.ac.uk/~vgg/ rc/aplgtc/hahn/m2/slvhst1.html. (go back)
  13. See Moshe Greenberg, “Biblical Attitudes toward Power: Ideal and Reality in Law and Prophets,” in Edwin B. Firmage, Bernard G. Weiss and John W. Welch, eds., Religion and Law: Biblical-Judaic and Islamic Perspectives (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), pp. 101-112. (go back)
  14. “ . . . [A]ny sacrifice is . . . the repetition of the act of Creation.” — Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return: Or, Cosmos and History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954), p. 11. (go back)

 

Copyright © 2002 Worldview Publications