It seems to me that you’re being hard on yourself for no very good reason. I too, when I was “a staunch Catholic,” embodied the Catholic message. It was only when the message ceased to make sense, ceased to seem applicable to the reality I experienced, that I began to search for another to replace it.
Think of it this way. The Christian worldview is a map of reality. Many different versions of the map exist—the Presbyterian, the Roman Catholic, the Baptist, the Lutheran, and so on. Some versions are more elastic than others and can be stretched this way or that to accommodate its members’ inclinations. Some are completely inelastic, of course, or are stretchable in some directions but not in others.
The RC map has proved to be elastic enough to encompass evolution, but it can’t be stretched to include things like abortion, birth control, ordination of women as priests, and active homosexuality. Many sects are in crisis over such “border” issues. Typically, they end up splitting, with one sect’s map stretched to include actively gay members (or gay clergy or female clergy), the other’s not.
But the Christian map fits into a larger map, the Taker map, which is the focus of my attention. The Christian and Taker maps are congruent at many points right in the center of both maps.
For example, both agree that humanity represents an order of being that is separate from and higher than the rest of the living community. Both agree that the way we live is the way people were meant to live from the beginning of time. Both agree that if God ever had dealings with humans, we alone were those humans. Both agree that God (if there is one) could not have been interested in humanity before we appeared on the scene.
Both agree that there is nothing of importance to be learned from the first three or four million years of human life, which were fundamentally just a waste of time. Anthropologists and archaeologists stretch a small portion of the border of the Taker map to include the first three million years of human life, but the Taker map remains fundamentally undistorted, fundamentally centered around the ten thousand years that represent OUR history, which remains the “true” history of humanity.
In my books I begin by redrawing the map as it would be drawn by someone who had never known the Taker map, who had never belonged to a culture that once imagined the universe to be just a few thousand years old, the earth just a few thousand years old, humanity just a few thousand years old.
Humanity occupies only a tiny portion of my map, but if we enlarge the humanity portion of the map, we see that this portion isn’t dominated by the last ten thousand years; in fact, the last ten thousand years is only a speck, equivalent to less than one percent of the whole. And if we blow up this one percent, this enlargement doesn’t match the Taker map at all, even though both maps cover the same period. The Taker map, developed by Takers to reinforce their own cultural mythology, doesn’t resemble the map I’ve developed at all.
All my answers startle people, seem to be “out of the box,” because I’m using a different map from theirs. This is true even if they’ve seen my map. They haven’t made this map their own, and so are unable to generate the same out-of-the-box answers.
I may have told you this story. In the summer before last, I had a summer-long seminar here in Houston. At one point, however, there was a two-week hiatus when only one seminarist was here. Since he was too far from home to go home and come back, I had to come up with something for him to do, and what I came up with was this: I collected about 150 questions that people had asked over the years and posed them to him one at a time.
Now he had read all my books (and several times each), except for Beyond Civilization, which was then being written and discussed in the seminar. Despite the fact that he had read all my books, however, he was unable to answer a single one of the questions “out of the box.” He had seen my map, had studied it carefully, but he was still USING the map he’d grown up with.
When astronomers began to use Copernicus’s new map of the universe, all their answers were “out of the box.” But they didn’t say to themselves, as you’re doing, “Why are all my answers Copernican?” Why would they? Astronomers have never ceased being “Copernican,” even when they’ve gone on to deeper understandings of the universe (because Copernicus had it right, even if there was still plenty more to learn).
When, during the Renaissance, experimentation and observation began to replace authority and reason as the chief means of gaining knowledge, new explorers in all fields began to come up with answers that were “out of the box.” But they didn’t say to themselves, as you’re doing, “Why are all my answers based on experimentation and observation?” Why would they? Experimentation and observation will ALWAYS be a surer guide to knowledge than authority and reason alone.
When you’ve made my new map your own (“become the message,” to use the language of The Story of B), then all your answers will be “out of the box” to people using the old map. You don’t need to worry that using my new map makes you unoriginal (any more than astronomers feel unoriginal using the Copernican map or scientists feel unoriginal using the scientific method).
My strong guess is that (like the young man I described above) you may be able to “quote the gorilla” extensively, but you have yet to make the new map entirely your own, have yet to do all your thinking in that new framework.
posted: 10 Sep 2000
updated: 10 Sep 2000