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Two Types

“There are two types of people, those who divide people into two types, and those who don’t.”

It’s a joke, but there is some truth in it, isn’t there? A more serious way of putting it would be that in our increasingly porous world, the real struggle isn’t between East and West, as chauvanists on both sides would have us believe, but between people who fear those who are different from them and those who embrace diversity as a strength. I’ve never been convinced that Muslims, Christians or Jews—or Hindus, pagans or atheists—are any more prone to extremism than the next guy. What I am sure of is that given the right provocation, any culture is capable of turning against “outsiders” it sees as a threat to its existence. The worst kind of outsider is the outsider within, whether it be the Jews of 1930s Germany, blacks in the American South during the same era, or real or imagined terrorists in the wealthy nations today. Some of us look at those who are dressed differently from us, have different features or speak a different language, and see someone we want to learn from. Others look at that same person and see an enemy. Some of us divide people into two types, and some don’t.

My blogger colleague leblase asked me to take my last post, Leaving the Garden, and reimagine it in the present day. How does the myth of Adam and Eve apply to us now? Why does it matter how we interpret it, whether as a tale of disobedience against an all-powerful Father, or as an acceptance of our self-awareness and responsibility? What I said about “two types” of humans is the beginning of my answer. Some people, normally the same ones who see everything in terms of “us versus them,” believe that the world is based on immutable laws handed down from outside, from a position of ultimate authority. For them, the goal of life is to attain certainty about those laws and follow them without deviation. The other type of person—the rest of us—whether we believe in God or not, are convinced that our intelligence serves a purpose, so we trust it more than we do authority when we are figuring out how to behave in the world. We are the ones who ate the fruit and left the garden. The bin Ladens and Dick Cheneys are apparently still there, arguing with the snake.


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