Most of you probably know that whole story about Adam and Eve from the Book of Genesis. How they were living in this idyllic paradise, in peace and harmony with creation and with each other, and completely fine to be hanging out naked. And then they end up eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, realize they are naked, get embarrassed, make clothes, and end up losing both the idyllic paradise and the perfect harmony that came with it. This tragic story came to be called “The Fall”.
There are many and various ways to interpret this story. And, first of all, let me say that I don’t interpret it literally, and neither should you. It is first and foremost a story meant to tell us something deeply true and meaningful about our own humanity, and our relationship with God, creation, ourselves and one another. One interpretation, which I came across in the writing of Richard Rohr, strikes me as particularly powerful. For Rohr, the story of “The Fall” is the story of falling into dualism, and its consequences are not at all good.
Prior to getting enmeshed with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve are happy and content. They are able to be open to everything around them and within them. Their vision is an expansive one, and it is whole. Everything has its place, and, as Genesis has it, it is all very good. They are able to encounter the world non-dualistically.
After they eat of the tree, however, their perspective is changed. Suddenly, they begin putting things in categories. Their holistic vision is fractured into pieces, and now there are things that are good and things that are bad. Adam and Eve are no longer able to encounter the world with openness; they close themselves down. They hide from the Holy one, and the clothes they receive represent a buffer that has been introduced between themselves and the world around them. And the result of this descent into dualism is that the world no longer appears to them as a paradise, and the harmony with which they were able to live with all of creation is lost.
This interpretation of the fall of human nature from non-dualism into dualism means, of course, that one of the ways in which the Christian tradition (and other traditions) seek to heal us is by helping us to return to non-dualism. Many of the parables of Jesus, which at first glance seem not to be entirely sensible, open up with new meaning when we see that they are aimed at moving us back into a non-dualistic perspective. To love both one’s neighbors and one’s enemies, for example, is a non-dualistic approach to life. This teaching seeks to lead us back to a place where we stop sorting people into the the “neighbor” and “enemy” categories, and learn instead to embrace all people as one human family. Love is the mechanism, the tool, the spiritual practice that can help us leave these categories behind.
Political campaigns both depend on dualism and exploit it. They require us to see one candidate as our friend or neighbor, and to see the other candidate as our enemy. Horrible things are said in the service of this dualism, lies are told, threats are made, dire consequences are predicted. At the root of it all is the conviction that one candidate must be right and the other must be wrong. One party must be right and the other must be wrong. That is the ultimate dualism.
It is a questionable strategy for political campaigning, but it is a disastrous one when it comes to the actual business of governing. As long as one group of politicians sees themselves as right and sees the other as wrong; as long as one group looks upon the other as the enemy, it is very difficult to get anything accomplished. As we have seen these past couple of years. Now that we have finally emerged from the heat of the election, it is time for our politicians to learn to see non-dualistically, to start looking at the whole, to recognize that all of us have a place, and that only by working together in the service of that whole can we actually move forward in our national life.
Of course, those of us who vote for politicians need to do the same. We need to stop looking upon some of our fellow citizens, and some of our leaders, as the enemy. We need to do exactly what Jesus said we should do: love not only our neighbors, but our enemies, and through the spiritual practice of love arrive at a place where we can actually work together for the common good.