Why do we argue with each other? There are undoubtedly constructive discussions and criticisms. In doing so, we are supposed to find better answers and solutions. It should be the beauty of collaboration.
However, we inevitably experience the destructive nature of argumentations and contentions. In this case, both sides don’t share the common goal. The goal is more for defeating the opponent. They are not interested in the constructive outcome but becoming the winner by defeating the other.
The debate has such characteristics. One has no option to accept the other to develop any alternatives where both sides could see the best answers and solutions, called the win-win situation. Most of the time, the debate doesn’t have such an option in the first place.
How about the dialectical approach? In this case, we see both sides as thesis and antithesis. There should be a higher realm of synthesis through a series of interactions between both. In principle, the dialectical approach should be at this position. In reality, however, various critical theories focus more on the oppressor and oppressed dichotomies. The synthesis can never be a win-win situation, but a mere triumph of the one side. The winner is absolutely right, and the loser is absolutely wrong. That’s it.
Far from the ideal of a win-win situation, the reality is brutal and destructive. All of us, unexceptionally, can never get out of the prison of self-righteousness. From the inception of humankind, we have been shouting out loud, “I am right; you are wrong! We are right; they are wrong! We are good; they are bad; even they are evil! We should kill them!”
In the Garden of Eden, even allegorically, from the start, Adam blamed Eve when God asked them why they ate the fruit of knowledge, which was prohibited.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.Genesis 3:9-12
And Eve blamed the serpent. After eating the fruit of knowledge for both Adam and Eve, they had a strong sense of self-consciousness, which inevitably entailed a desperate sense of self-righteousness in their minds.
And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.Genesis 3:13
After eating the fruit of knowledge, they got suddenly aware of themselves. They realized that they were naked. They hid from God and covered their bodies with fig leaves.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.Genesis 3:7-8
And this sense of vulnerability makes us more desperate and obsessive to cover up ourselves. Realizing nakedness, both Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves, which symbolize our worldly knowledge. With fig leaves, they believed they could cover up their ignorance and vulnerability. Moreover, we thought we could be wiser, smarter, and more knowledgable with fig leaves. Nevertheless, they had to hide from the Lord. So do we.
What does it mean to say that they realized nakedness? It was not only that they were naked physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The fruit of knowledge gave them a (false) sense of separation from the whole. They and we are not part of the universe anymore, but a tiny existence that faces it, feeling that we stand outside it. We call this false sense of separateness such as ego and self-consciousness. Suddenly, we have sensed that we are existentially vulnerable.
What is the fruit of knowledge? That is what made us self-conscious and self-righteous. Suddenly, we see the power of knowledge, feeling we are vulnerable without knowledge. In other words, we are naked without fig leaves. And we lost God. We voluntarily hid from Him. Since then, we can know Him indirectly through knowledge — through fig leaves covered naked bodies.
In this regard, the conversation between Jesus and Nathaniel is symbolic.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.John 1:47-51
Nathaniel admired Jesus because he knew that Nathaniel was under the fig tree. And, Nathaniel accepted Jesus because of the knowledge that Nathaniel thought he possessed.
Jesus, however, verily told Nathaniel that there must be something greater than the fig tree. Knowledge is what we could know God indirectly; it is what we cover us up, just like Adam and Eve covered their bodies up and hid from God. The Gospel is not that kind. It is verily, verily greater than the fruit of knowledge.
It is what Adam and Eve did not get. It is the fruit of life.
And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:Genesis 3:22
We have been in the prison of self-righteousness. In this prison, we blame each other, even kill each other. We believe we are always right, and others are always wrong, because of the knowledge we are supposed to possess. Such knowledge is broad and various from religions, traditions, philosophies, ideologies, and sciences. The more knowledge we possess, the more prideful and pathological we become. That is the poison of the fruit of knowledge.
C.S. Lewis said as follows. Recognizing himself called an “intellectual giant,” he knew that the intellectual and spiritual pride was destructive, even cancerous. It is difficult, even impossible, to overcome it.
For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.
And, Paul himself knew it. He knew that with the fruit of life and the words of the Gospel, “God made the wisdom of this world foolish.” The world’s wisdom is not more than the fig leaves that poor Adam and Eve hid their naked bodies, and answered back to God in justifying themselves.
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;1 Corinthians 1:19-23
We are in the prison of self-righteousness, believing a false sense of the power of worldly knowledge. We seek a sign and wisdom like Jews and Greeks in the days of Paul. We are proud of being under the fig tree like Nathaniel. We are not different from poor Adam and Eve hid nakedness with fig leaves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We hide our nakedness from God with a pile of worldly knowledge. This realization could be a small step of our true humility to seek God through repentance.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:3
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