Parallel Lines

Michael Metzger

The Western world operates according to two lines of thought. They’re parallel. That’s not good. What distinguishes parallel lines damages the Christian faith.

Parallel lines are a recent development. The ancients imagined life as spheres, as in the shape of the universe. Or God. The Corpus Hermeticum, a body of early Christian texts from Hellenic Egypt dating back to the 3rd century, pictured God as a sphere. This continued through Giordano Bruno (16th century) who described God as “an infinite sphere.”[1] We see spherical thinking reflected in architecture, as in church domes.

With the Enlightenment, interest in the sphere waned. René Descartes, the man most associated with the Enlightenment, conjured up a universe with parallel lines of knowledge. Seeking to safeguard the knowledge of God from science, he restricted scientific knowledge to only “clear and distinct ideas.” This is the realm of reason, measureable and observable. The problem is, God is Spirit, shrouded in mystery and immeasurable. Descartes recognized this, conjuring up a parallel line—religion.

The Western church rapidly came to a “comfortable cohabitation with the Enlightenment.”[2] Christians adopted Enlightenment ideas, unwittingly using parallel line language such as “integrating faith and work.” Integration implies two entities. Yet there is no Hebrew word integrate. All creation is integral, seamless. One God. One creation.

Or we hear “connecting Sunday to Monday.” I speak from experience. At one time that was my organization’s moniker. But I came to see I was wrong. We don’t connect a seamless world. One God. One creation. Cohesive.

And how about the phrase “engaging culture?” Engaging implies the church is here; culture is out there. We have to engage it. Parallel lines. But culture is not a “thing” out there that we seek to “engage.” It is the air we breathe. You don’t engage air.

Parallel lines paved the way for positivism, a 19th century movement that made a hard distinction between reason and religion. The reason line deals with facts. It’s superior. The religion line deals with faith. It’s inferior. As evangelicals were pushed to the periphery—exile—many created parallel sub-cultures, “Christian” schools, music, books, and so on. This unwittingly furthered linear thinking, a parallel lines world.

Now we’re discovering how linear thinking is a product of the brain’s left hemisphere. Recent findings from neuroimaging reveal the left hemisphere loves straight lines, not curves or circles. This is problematic, as the left lobe has no direct contact with reality (no straight lines are to be found in the natural world). The left hemisphere doesn’t care. Left to itself, it’s confident in its capacities yet in denial about its own limitations.

We observe this in today’s left-brained Western church. Some of my friends who are Christians don’t like hearing this, but what distinguishes parallel lines is they never intersect. Never. I can’t say it enough. Parallel lines never intersect. As long as the church operates according to parallel lines, it will never integrate, connect, or engage anything.

The reality is the world God created doesn’t operate on parallel lines. The truth is, linear thinking Christians are not in the reality business. In reality, God is an infinite sphere. The universe is a sphere. When Christians use language reflecting parallel lines, they make it highly unlikely that others will ever take the gospel seriously. One example.

The other night I met a man who works in private equity. He’s hesitant about social impact investing. It sounds mushy, risky for ROI. This man runs on one line—markets, which are efficient (shortest distance between two points is a straight line). He’s left-brained, the half with an affinity for the mathematical. He imagines morality operating on a second line. Social impact investing might be effective, but who knows? It doesn’t look efficient. In his mind, markets and morality operate on parallel lines. They don’t intersect.

Another example. I’m working with a firm that has “the public good” as its aim. The public good was once understood as seamless with The One True God who is good. We can’t seek the public good if God operates on a parallel line. They never intersect.

The solution is dis-covering the integral nature of all things, the seamlessness of the universe. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is “a treasure hidden in the field” (Mt. 13:44). This is an older sense of discovery, of finding something that was already there. In ancient times, it was believed truth is covered and we have to dis-cover it.

Neuroscience is dis-covering the two hemispheres collaborate in a spherical pattern where we get closer and closer to the truth yet never completely arrive. We know in part—something the Apostle Paul wrote 2,000 years ago. We would be wise to ditch the Enlightenment, dump its language, and re-dis-cover the ancient wisdom of spheres.

 

[1] Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010)

[2] Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 33.

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12 thoughts on “Parallel Lines”

  1. Like it Mike. Existence doesn’t have to prove itself. Science believes things only exist after proof. If we ignore creation we seek to prove ourselves a reason for our existence.Tis why IMO the bible encourages gardening, before running and soldiering. Running and soldiering without the creative wisdom lacks compassion.

  2. I used to teach at a school where we attempted an integral curriculum. Not integrated, as that implied that we as teachers were putting together formerly separate things, but integral, as in discovering facets of God’s creation. Pretty neat idea.

    Curious how you would advise your fund manager – assuming he wants to honor Christ with his whole self, but is operating in an industry with a profits-first linear model. Since the linear model is part of the culture, whaddya do?

    Seems like single-minded pursuit of any one thing, like profits, power, a feeling or a high, divorced from any context, would be a pretty good definition of insanity.

  3. In Euclidean geometry parallel lines never intercept. However, in a non-Euclidean geometry such as Synthetic Projective geometry, parallel lines do intersect in Infinity at the Ideal Point.

    Each geometry serves us well in the appropriate areas within its bounds. Father’s Wisdom is needed for when Euclidean geometry is a better model or a non- Euclidean geometry provides a more accurate model of a reality

    “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord

    “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Isaiah 55

  4. As always, a thoughtful post. Thanks. But I think a distinction should be made between two senses of the word “integrate”: the metaphysical sense (the “order of being”) and the epistemological sense (the “order of knowing”). You rightly identify the folly in using “integrate” in the metaphysical sense , as if “faith” and “work” existed as separate entities. From this definition the rest of your argument carries through. However, often the term “integrate” is used in an epistemological sense, to indicate these two things have been bifurcated in our thought and we must bring them back together in our thinking. In fact, due to the influence of the Enlightenment faith and work (faith and culture, faith and scholarship, etc.) have been bifurcated in our thinking, as you argue so well above. But for that very reason there is the need for epistemological integration, bringing together in thought what has always existed as a unified whole in reality. Or so it seems to me.

  5. Mike, I often hear the Western Church speak of the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. I rarely hear about the transcendental of “One” or “Oneness.”

    If Transcendentals are a mirror of the Trinity, the parallelism you speak of seems to be a diabolical (dia- “across, through” + ballein “to throw”) attempt to divide the Trinity.

    Creation holds endless triunities which reflect the splendor of the Trinity. A sacramental worldview is steeped in the Oneness of the Trinity – memory / will / understanding … melody / rhythm / harmony. Primary colors are meant to bleed together.

    In the East, it seems this Oneness is not so much spoken about, more silently understood and contemplated.

  6. Reflecting(shedding light on, rather just mirroring) further, including Ray,Tim,Stan,Jeff and David’s perspectives and the fact that we have each accessed the internet with differing technology, in the context of our DNA and creation, I conclude the multitude of variables are beyond confining to one model or code.
    Otherwise we would have Eve eating a computer to achieve a programmed response from Adam in his parallel gender universe, to name but one triggered response.All in the fraction of a ‘day’ that our ‘minds’ have compiled in ‘translation’ and ‘interpretation’.

  7. I wonder if this article missed the fact of the Fall. With sin, disintegration and Fragmentation occurred between us and God, between man and woman, between people, between man and nature, between man and work. The lines became parallel. Thus our role in this world as believers is to restore, reconcile, become one (John 17). As you wrote in times past, the word religion means to reconnect and make whole. Perhaps spheres belong to “ought” and parallel lines are the present “is.”

  8. Mike Metzger

    Interesting idea, Glenn – but I don’t think your suggestion works. It’s dualism.

    With the Fall, the universe started to unravel, become disordered. Parallel lines are examples of order, not disorder.

    My hunch is that parallel lines are the product of the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment is a damnable lie, a present instance of the fall. In that case, it does represent what is. But not as you imagine. The Enlightenment is trying to square a circle, order the world, but not in accordance with how the world ought to be. Religion is rebinding to what it ought to be. It’s not integrating, but discovering what is already there…

    I think you misunderstand the gospel in that ought, is, can, and will are always happening simultaneous, all mixed together. You sound like you’re proposing a dualism.

  9. Does light travel in straight lines ? What does particle wave duality tell us about reality ? The perceptions of relativity. Not everything that fits in a box is box.

  10. Mike,

    I realize, with you, that the world created by God is not defined by parallel lines. What “is” (ultimate reality) as God created it, is (as you put it) already whole. Thus, I am certainly not a dualist.

    My point, also agreeing with you, is that because of the Enlightenment, as an expression of the Fall, our world “operates according to two lines of thought. They’re parallel. That’s not good.”

    And, as you put it, “The Western church . . . adopted Enlightenment ideas. . .”

    Thus, the paradigm and practice of the world and often within the Church has, in general terms, split away from God’s design. People, as you state, think in terms of parallel lines, and therefore don’t experience the beauty of God’s designs.

    Dorothy Sayers wrote: “The Church . . . has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s workers have become irreligious or, at least, uninterested in religion.”

    This is an expression of the fall. A deception, or as you stated, a “damnable lie.”

    Thus, there is a need for believers to reconcile, or integrate, or align our thoughts and decisions with God’s reality. When people talk about integrating faith and work I hope they are helping people to escape Enlightenment thinking and be reconciled in thought and practice with God’s designs.

    As you said so well, “All creation is integral, seamless. One God. One creation.” This is reality. Now we just need to live and think accordingly. We need to integrate our faith with truth.

  11. Pingback: The Problem With the Integrating Faith and Work Idea | | Investing Matters

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