In a previous article I argued that Christians who think “The Word of God” means exactly and exclusively a leather-bound Bible with gold edging are laboring under a false assumption. The Bible itself uses the phrase to mean “the spoken word”, and the prophets Jesus, and the apostles had issues with the veneration of the literal words of scripture. I also pointed out that the history of the Bible shows no signs of God intending it to be his one and only communication to humanity.
I postponed the question “How did the Bible come to be so venerated” for another article – this one.
I’d like to begin at a very high level with a concept that Robert Pirsig uses in his works, particularly “Lila – an Inquiry into Morals”, and which I’ve discussed briefly before here:
Pirsig talks about “Static Quality” as opposed to “Dynamic Quality”. You may remember, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, that Pirsig refuses to actually define “Quality”. But in spite of that difficulty, we would look for “Quality” at the cutting edge of experience. The ground floor of reality – before there is any time for analysis, or for subjects and objects to be distinguished, or for categories to be applied. You could easily associate “Quality” with God, or with the “God behind God” to use Tillich’s phrase, or the Tao, or many other things.
This primal Quality enters our existence as something called “Dynamic Quality”. As such, it is unstructured, but full of creative power. It is the force behind change, growth and new development. You may recall that I said the phrase “the Word of God” in the Bible conveyed a sense of dynamic creative power, that entered into a person or group and grew in an organic manner. This is Dynamic Quality. This is what the Bible seems to be referring to when it talks of God’s “Word”.
As the force of Dynamic Quality enters the world, it becomes habituated. It develops form, structure and order. It becomes “Static Quality”. This corresponds to things like the Bible. A static expression that solidified out of dynamic spiritual experience. Static Quality gives us laws, moral codes, dogmas, cultural patterns.
It’s easy to think of Dynamic Quality as “good” and Static Quality as “bad”, but both are necessary. By itself, Dynamic Quality is like fire. Its energy can not only create, but destroy. Jesus’ saying in the Gospel of Thomas is interesting in this context: “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes… He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.” (Thomas 10,82)
But if it is totally uncontrolled, fire can destroy too much. Without something to contain and preserve the creative achievements of Dynamic Quality, there can be no progress. This is where Static Quality comes in. Static Quality is a stake in the ground – a foundation on which the next wave of Dynamic Quality can build. If it were not for Static Quality, every new human being who comes along would have to build from scratch starting with stone-age technology, stone-age thinking, and stone-age art. Isaac Newton said "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. The giants represent Static Quality, whose job is to solidly maintain the progress of the past.
On the other hand, Static Quality can easily become TOO static. Laws, systems, morals, dogmas and cultures can become so entrenched in the static that Dynamic Quality has little room to operate. In trying to keep the village safe from fire, Static Quality can end up outlawing fire entirely, and so dooming the village to cold, stagnant death. Whenever a system becomes so rigid that no new creative development can occur, Static Quality has been allowed too much authority.
So any culture, institution or system must find the appropriate balance to allow growth without dissolving into beautiful chaos. One of the reasons science has been so successful is because it seems to have found such a balance. New theories are encouraged, but established theories have some inertia, and are somewhat difficult to discard.
In religion, on the other hand, Static Quality has become a serious problem. Using the weapons of Divine sanction, with eternal rewards and punishments – Static Quality has been elevated to an ultimate religious virtue – Faith. Faith in the sense of absolute acceptance of an absolutely unchanging creed, and an absolutely infallible canon of scripture – the written Bible.
Dynamic and Static Quality often alternate in waves of fresh inspiration followed by a crystallization. Evidence of such waves can be found in the history of the Bible.
More on that next installment