The Dangers of Binary Thinking: When a 2D thought meets a 3D universe

Mystery cannot be contained by two dimensions. We seem to escape mystery within the walls of our binary reality. If life was as simple as a switch, we could simply turn off or turn on solutions. In fact, we do that very act every day to choose hot or cold water out of the faucet. We change the channel or swipe to the next stream of content on our smartphones with ease. Choices, no matter how full of first-world sophistication all reduce themselves to a binary question. With thousands of TV shows, hundreds of thousands of songs, and millions of click-bait articles to peruse, the choice is either a yes or a no. The muscle that might have once been used on imagination and wonder is now occupied to manage the firehose torrent of information and entertainment headed in our direction. Our schedule will not allow exploration, however.

Reasonable people eventually see that there are more than binary choices in the complex landscape of our planet. We know, for instance, that our universe is in three dimensions and that cultures and climates color our patterns of thought and life experiences. If you happen to see the political postings on Facebook or Twitter this season then you are often led to believe that there are only two choices, regardless of who you may pick. Even the thought of choosing a third party presidential candidate comes with boos and hisses and the common “you are wasting your vote” mantra. Really? To reject the binary world means you are breaking some sort of secret agreement. There has to be winners and losers in every story, right? One person wears the black hat and the other the white hat. I dare to say in the very quiet corners of our humanity a tug to drink in mystery calls every one of us. Now, these quiet corners are fewer and fewer between millisecond swipes of Words with Friends or Snapchats. But, they exist and we are tense from the constant collision within our souls.

We do have an enemy. When the Apostle Pauls says our fight is not against “flesh and blood” he may be referring to the fact that ISIS, or whoever is your enemy is not really the enemy. Still, we are enamored with winners and losers. A good fight sells better than collective reason. The latter is what will save us. The first simply entertains us. The harsher truth is that some read the Bible for its binary, reductionist piety rather than for the mysterious description of an uncontainable Creator. We really are not happy with God at the moment, it seems. In binary thinking, faith gets a bad rap. Race and immigration policies, for instance, bring us a religious anger when we try to solve them with a magical binary formula. Rarely do we admit to a third side, a possible spoiler to the normative rancor in our midst. It is so much easier to wear a team jersey and call the other guys the black hats. What if we are being seduced by the powers of evil to be less human? Does it not seem reasonable that God’s enemy will attempt to dethrone the image bearer of the Creator?  This is where evil lurks and where it trolls our daily lives.

When it comes to our work, a third dimension calls us out from the page and into real-life. A songwriter may have a good idea on paper, but if she sings it will it speak to my soul? If launching a business plan can actually come to life and enrich customers is not something transcendent achieved? This incarnation from idea to reality far exceeds our expectation of “plug and play” because it is not just about what works. It is about who we are and why we exist. Think about it, the Telegraph was the first texting tech. We’ve been texting since before huge sideburns were a thing! We long as people to be connected, so whether it is a road, a printing press, a telegraph wire or smartphone app we respond as humans do. The speed of the tools now has outpaced the speed of our souls—exponentially. This is why we all have an exercise bike that is commonly used to dry laundry. As with our physical loss of labor, our soul’s muscles have atrophied when it comes to contemplating the mysterious of God and his creation. Our modern faith movements have tried aggressively to use the binary, but still, fail the soul at many levels. Why? It is when the word becomes flesh and actually walks about do we see life in another dimension–a third dimension. This colliding scandal is unacceptable to our modern mind. This is the “God with us” reality we as Christians barely grasp but confess. A God who is both entirely God and entirely human surely breaks the binary mold. How will we follow suit?

Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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