CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Don't let us clergy types fool you. You might think we are highly specialized, devoted to a single aspect of human life called religion.
It ain't necessarily so.
My interests in high school and college fluctuated wildly among physics, ancient history, English literature, medicine and higher education. ("Higher education" is the profession in which we, who can't make a decision about what to become, decide to remain forever exactly what we are: university people.)
I went through so many wild and unpredictable shifts of focus that, when I called one of my former professors and said, "I'm going to become a rabbi," he just laughed.
"What's the joke?" I asked, stung.
"Today you're going to be a rabbi," he said. "Tomorrow you'll tell me you're going to be an astronaut."
I was infuriated. By what right did he know me so well?
But here is the great truth I've discovered. We clergy are (not always, it is sure; but quite often) Jacks or Jills of all trades. In our diversity of interests lies our strength, for there is no sermon more boring that the one whose scope is only religion, leaving out the rest of life.
As James Branch Cabell once said, "The trouble with truths is that, if they are taken out of relation to the rest of life, they become lies."
Enter Julian Jaynes. He wrote a book in 1976, which it took me a decade to finally pick up and read. Its baffling, unwieldy and off-putting title: "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind."
For the first time, I encountered a theory that offered an explanation of why ancient religious texts almost invariably refer to the voice of God (or of the gods) telling people what to do, and yet in the space of a few centuries the voice goes silent. And it happens across cultures, within the same short time period.