It is the faith of the modern world in labels. Labels serve to identify who we are and more importantly who we are not.
It is what election campaigns are about.
It is what modern religion and anti-religion are about.
It is about our modern consumer choices.
Binary faith is based on creating a world of perception in distinctly defined realms of good and evil.
We are all Suckers
In the end we are all suckers. We suck because we believe the labels represent reality. We want to believe, need to believe, and so we believe. And we get sucked into a binary faith that divides the world into good guys and bad, where we are always on the side of good.
We believe in the campaign ads, and the opinion pundits, and the advertising and even our family members and neighbors. We believe, not because they are right, but because we want to believe that they are right. We want to believe because we don't know what to believe. So, we end up believing just about anything that relieves us of the conflict of having to choose good over evil.We choose sides because we have never learned how to stand on our own. We let others do our thinking for us. As a result, we never figure out just how manipulated we have become in the modern world of binary choices.
You can tell when people have been hooked by binary faith. Their language is filled with talking points. Simplistic statements that are intended to clarify, set apart, and remove all doubt as to the veracity and validity of their individual faith in this person, ideology, product or group.
They laugh, cheer and celebrate when the other side is caught in some humiliating turn of phrase. Sarcasm and condescension is the core manifestation of the binary trap we find ourselves in. We laugh along with those posing as superior intelligent beings, wanting to be like them. In reality, we show ourselves to be weak, pathetic, ill-prepared to deal with a world that is not binary.
These people, often quite intelligent, with advanced degrees from prestigious institutions, have stopped thinking, and have become automatons. Automatomic thinking is thinking that occurs in a closed system of self-verifying statements, hermetically sealed off from any real, rational debate about what or who is good or evil.
With these closed cultures of opinion, no outliers are permitted. No real questions are allowed. Only those questions that prove the superiority of their group's position over against the inferiority of their binary opposite.
For all the connection between people the internet has brought to our world, it has not solved the problem of binary faith. In fact, it has accelerating its advance as it is easier to find and exclude people who either share or reject one’s faith.
I use the language of faith because in many respects this is the religion of the modern age. Binary faith is a belief system that provides meaning within a cult-like social structure. It is cult-like because for true believers, it is a faith that excludes the heretic and unbeliever.
For faith seekers, binary faith provides a basis for identity and acceptance into a community of faith whose demands are simple. Just believe and never doubt. Total compliance, no questions asked and inclusion is ours.
Modern Day Good and Evil
The supreme problem with binary faith is its inability to be honest about the real world. Binary faith is an answer to a dualistic abstraction of what is good and evil. “We are good; they are evil.” Simple faith for complex times.
The reality is that each person, culture, ideology, nation-state, religion, and political movement is a rich mixture of good and evil. Behind every evil act is some value which has been twisted for evil ends.
There is no way to absolutely separate good and evil as totally distinct entities. They live like kudzu vines intertwined around a forest of trees. Virtually impossible to eradicate the parasitic vines without killing the host.
So it is with the world as it exists. To rid the world of evil requires us to separate it out from that which is good, and then eradicate it. However, this takes us back the old binary trap of only two choices, choose the good or the evil.
But life isn’t so simple. It is much more complex, and the complexity requires us to be alert, reflective and aware of what is present before us.
The problem is that binary faith doesn’t want that. Good and evil are situational choices we make every day. We create good lives by making good choices, and evil by bad choices. It seems like a simple binary choice, but it is not. They are choices of degree and intention, choices of how my personal preferences affect the lives of others, measured in degrees of change and signficance of impact.
To make good choices we need three things.
First, we need a community that is open and hospitable to people outside our faith. The best description of this sort of community that I have found comes from the ancient Christian writer Paul, who in a letter to a church in the Greek community of Corinth that is caught up in its own binary trap. He used the metaphor of the body to describe the kind of faith community this church should exhibit. The metaphor follows a understandable line of thought of contrasting various body parts to show how each is essential to the function of the body. He may be writing about a specific church, but it applies to every faith system, regardless of type. Near the end of this metaphorical reflection, he writes this words.
“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26)
In a binary faith, we individually determine who the weaker, the less honorable, the least respectable person in society is. These are the people we reject because they represent the other side, or those we feel must protected because they are unable to think for themselves and stand on their own.
The result is a faith where suffering is not shared, and honor offered only to those who most single-minded and fanatical in their belief.
Good and evil aren’t binary forces. They are complex choices that either create the kind of community Paul illustrates or destroys it. Communities that are not based on demonizing the other are places where one may discover, in one’s self, how to deal with the tension between the forces of good and evil that are within each one of us, and then learn to create goodness in ways that build alignments between opposites.
Second, we need a clearly defined value system. This value system cannot be binary, but universal and holistic. It must be able to state what is the good for all humanity. It cannot simply be a belief that divides the world into two classes, good vs. evil. Or a system that is simply self-serving. Many universal, trans-cultural values may require my own self-sacrifice to be fully realized. This is antithetical to a binary faith.
Imagine a political faith or a commercial faith where these values are prominent.
Third, we each need to be persons of character. This means to live a whole life, not some perception of life based on our political and consumer choices that we've been suckered into. For our identity to be based on who we are, how we relate to others, and how we live our lives each day requires us to not divide the world into good and evil, haves and have-nots, in and out, weak or strong, honorable or dishonorable, acceptable or rejected.
Character comes from daily making choices that elevate the world we live in rather than destroying it through division. These choices are informed by learning to think for ourselves, listening to others and deciding a path in life that leads to being the person that our values say we wish to be. For this to happen, we need to be clear about what we believe and have a community of people who are willing to share in the suffering of people. As a result, it will be a community that also celebrates and honors each person in their advancement in the character of their living.
I realize that this may sound like I'm advocating a kind relativism that is at the heart of the modern notion of tolerance. I am not. I find tolerance, as presently practiced, a condescending mask towards the other, and a faith unable to address genuine issues of good and evil.
I don't believe all people are essentially good or bad. I do believe that some people choose to be evil, violent and destructive, and should be understood in this way. I believe that good resides in each person, yet at war with those inclinations toward evil that fills our world with hatred and arrogance.
I am not saying that all faiths, ideologies and beliefs are the same. I believe that there are a universal set of human values that have always existed that if lived fully would create a better world.
The End of Binary Faith
The end of binary faith comes in the collapse of faith into no faith and alienation from the connections that bind people together in community. I believe this moment in history is coming. The ideologies and institutions of the modern world are built upon a binary platform. It is not sustainable. What follows is not better.
Our hope is in ourselves to create communities based upon value systems that include all people without dividing them into preferential categories. These communities will thrive or fail on the character of the people in them.
This is part of the future that I see coming. It is not all bleak, but hopeful. It is though because I am convinced that once a person decides to think for themselves, to reject the binary designations of society and create communities of character, then the strength and sustainability of society will grow.
Of course, we must stop be suckers if this is change. We must stop being manipulated by those who see us as mindless sheep willing to do their bidding.
I am not a utopian. I don't believe that if we are just nice to one another, the world will be a better place. That is a strategy of mindless tolerance of evil that clearly exists in our world.
I am a realist. I see the end of binary faith as the only realistic hope for our future.