Zero Or 1


If you understand anything about computers, you know more than I do. Most of us carry around a small computer we use as a telephone but also use for many other purposes. Many of us have access to a larger computer that we use for gathering and sorting information, communicating, and, frankly, playing. My hunch is that few of us have little knowledge of how these devices work; they are simply tools for our lives and their necessity becomes clear when they break, become lost, or simply start doing some of the weird things computers do. When that happens, our lives change dramatically; for many of us they are a prominent part of our daily existence. I am currently in the middle of some computer complexities that I have no clue how to rectify; thankfully, there are some people for whom 0 and 1 makes sense and, even more thankfully, they are willing to help me address my problems.

Apparently, computers speak to one another using a binary code involving multiples of only zero and 1; these alternatives are used to produce sequences that you and I would call words. A computer “operating system” interprets and organizes these electronic commands from various places (software) so that the computer becomes useful to us. That is all I know, and it may not be correct.

I also understand that there are multiple types of operating systems; different systems take the input they receive and sort, distribute, and display it differently. Think about when your phone has an operating system “update”— suddenly what is displayed on the phone has changed somewhat.

It is reasonable to me to consider that our brain acts somewhat like a computer. One might even suggest that we are born with a binary (zero or 1) operating system. During childhood this serves us well as we learn to negotiate the world. Sesame Street had a sketch and song in which our children were taught that “One of these things is not like the other.” Even as adults, we do a great deal of dividing into two groups. I am white but not black. I am Catholic but not Baptist. I vote for Republicans but not Democrats. The focus of this thinking is on myself; everyone is compared to me or every object not mine belongs solely to someone else.

I suggest that such thinking, although apparently inbuilt for us, leaves us seeing darkly, as through a glass, as Paul would say. He wants us to see face to face, which does not fit if we are stuck in an either/or dualistic pattern. That may be fine for children, but it is not appropriate for growing as God’s person.

You and I have been alive long enough now to realize that dualistic thinking does not address important and real dilemmas. Because humans are created by God, I suggest that we also carry another operating system, perhaps more correctly connected to our divine souls rather than just our brains. This alternative operating system does not divide the world into bits and pieces that are in contrast with one another, but instead integrates the world into parts that can have potential harmony. If we upgrade our spiritual operating system, we begin living from a different platform. This new platform makes us uneasy because we are so filled with dualistic thinking. If we stop thinking about another person as “outside” of us and begin “loving others as we love ourselves,” our behavior toward that person must change. Either/or thinking is a limited tool for dealing with real-life relationships such as compromise. Dualistic thinking is all about differences and winning or losing; love is seldom mentioned. God’s preferred operating system allows us to deal with ambiguity. It takes us into the world of forgiveness and learning to live with a certain degree of anxiety. This new operating system forces us to live with wonder and uncertainty; we must learn to live with a willingness to not know.

The book of Job has frustrated me for decades because Job and his family and friends clearly are living in a binary world. If God is for you, why are these things happening to you? An initial reading of the story causes one to hope and presume that, by the end, it will all resolve and make sense. Instead, God effectively says that Job will never understand. Furthermore, Job must accept his human state and accept his inability and need to know. Those were hard words for Job and hard words for me because we are trying to live as God’s people from the wrong operating system.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain


  • Well said! Amen!


  • Accepting my limitations is a hard lesson for me. Faith requires me not to demand explanations from God. Excellent insights, Jim.


  • I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Rohr lately. He has a lot to say about dualistic thinking too. I’ve come to believe our difficulty transitioning into this new platform causes a whole host of mental, emotional and relational difficulties. Perhaps, we struggle to accept the new platform because we must pass through suffering for the upgrade. Thank you for sharing!


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