One particular religious group has been right all along, and all the rest were wrong.
So says the religious the “triumphalist.”
To a liberal religious ear, this binary thinking sounds almost comical.
It shouldn’t, really. You believe in right and wrong. Why, you yourself have said on occasion, “We have to eliminate the wrong answers, so that we can find the right one.” You may even believe we need wrong answers. Admit it: you have comforted a friend with the words, “You have to have the bad in life in order to appreciate the good.”
Why not take one more step, and transfer your thinking into the religious realm. Why not say, “You have to have damnation in order for salvation to have meaning?”
Because: binary thinking, so helpful in practical problem solving, doesn’t work for religious concepts or experiences. As Reb Zalman reminds us, “words like God, soul, angels, values, morals…have meaning when we are in altered consciousness.”
It’s hard to remember, because we participate in a “communal collusion” that everyday consciousness is primary.
From a spiritual perspective, this communal collusion is crazy. It is crazy to use scientific thinking to grasp spiritual concepts. Yet we do it all the time.
Today, as much as ever, we need someone to remind us: we are crazy.
Someone like the prophet Zechariah, author of chapters 1-8 of the book called by his name.
Zechariah sees with an inner eye. Nighttime dreams show him the true direction of current events. He dreams of four military horses, who roam the earth and report: the world is at peace. Of a measuring line that cannot be used because Jerusalem should have no boundaries. Of a Temple lamp that can be kindled with the light of God’s spirit.
Living in the 6th century BCE, just as Jews return to Judea, under the intelligent rule of the Persian emperor Darius, this Zechariah knows: the time has come. Now, on this very day, “The many peoples and the multitude of nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD. On that day, many nations will attach themselves to the LORD and become his people and he will dwell in your midst” (Zechariah 8:22, 2:15).
If you dream it, he implies, you can see it. If you see it, you can welcome it. If you welcome it, you can make it happen. If you can make it happen, it can happen now. If you dream it, it is happening now. If we can dream that nothing divides us, then really truly, nothing does.
“Unity” has meaning when we are in altered consciousness.
The kind of altered consciousness in which we see that consciousness is both inside and outside each of us. The source of experience lies beyond our bodies, brains, or minds. What we are, who we are, is not bounded by our thoughts. Even if the conventions of language and dogmas of religion make it hard to see this truly.
For Zechariah, altered consciousness is more real than everyday consciousness. Binary thinking is not the best thinking. When many people learn how to see past it, “that day” will be today.
Zechariah’s unnamed student who updates the book, adding chapters 9-14, explains his mentor’s view.
The first “division” named in the Torah is the division between light and dark, marking evening and morning, the first day (Genesis 1:4). But, “In that day,” when our perception changes, “there shall be neither sunlight nor cold moonlight, but there shall be a continuous day…of neither day nor night, and there shall be light at eventide” (Zechariah 14:6).
And, “in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one” (Zechariah 14:9).
All we have to do is remember: it’s not a crazy vision.
Adapted from my presentation at Ohalah: Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal, 2015
Sources: Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, “Deep Ecumenism,” Talk at Elat Chayyim, 1998. Marc Brettler, How to Read the Bible (JPS, 2005). Herve Gonzalez, “Zechariah 9-14 and the Continuation of Zechariah during the Ptolemaic Period” (Journal of Hebrew Scriptures vol 13, 2013). Tanakh, New JPS Translation (1985). Tanakh, JPS Translation (1917).