This post from Reditus perfectly makes the point that I have discussed, but less effectively, in my series on dualism.
A haunting image that has been etched into my mind manifested itself to me in a Russian Orthodox church during the All-Night Vigil for the Feast of the Annunciation. At a certain point during Matins (I won’t bore you with the context too much), the bearded priest stood before the icon of the Annunciation and chanted one of those old leftover ancient Slavonic chants with censer in hand. I am not sure why this made such an impression on me: it was a good hour into the service, and I know little Old Slavonic (I can sort of muddle my way through understanding what is going on.) The priest wore a sky blue phelonion gilded in gold, the robust baritone voice echoed through the church, and the melismatic chant reached back into time and grabbed from it some hidden reality that gleamed like the clouds at dusk…
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I have been arguing for a more positive view of dualism over the course of the last several posts, while heading towards the larger end of describing my mode of Biblical interpretation, and discussing what I accept, what I reject, and why. My thesis is that Christianity has been traditionally more strongly dualistic than is acknowledged to be the case in modern times, and that a return to a more dualistic attitude would redress a current excess in the other direction, return Christian thought to its roots, and have salutary effects in many areas. Having said that, I have to come out and say that dualism (appropriately enough!) is a two-edged sword.
The type of dualism I’m talking about there is not the dualism of Daoism, in which the opposition is not between good and evil or spiritual and material, but between opposite principles (dry/moist, hot/cold, male/female, etc.). It is the dualism that has been prevalent in the West (by which I include North Africa and the Iranian Plateau, since ideas from these areas circulated in the Mediterranean world), that is, a dualism of spirit world/material world and good/evil, the spirit being seen as good or predominantly good, and the material as evil, less good, or at least inferior.
One obvious shortcoming of this form of dualism popped up on the discussion thread at Vox Nova, which I’ve referred to before. One of my interlocutors, A. Sinner, had the following things to say, my emphasis:
Ah, how tragic it is to see so many people today exalting the life of the body over the life of the soul. Christ Himself says “And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.”
A society does not need to criminalize everything (indeed, I WOULD in fact argue for the decriminalization of prostitution, etc). But, at the same time, in given circumstances, it CAN criminalize. And certainly it sends a weird message if killing people’s bodies is a crime, but killing their souls (which is what heretics do; their crime is Objectively much worse than any murder) is not.
Given a certain perspective, this is a fair point. Read the rest of this entry
It’s funny–I’ll get to a point where I think I’m about to wind the whole series down, and things come up. I’ll read something or have a conversation or have an exchange on another blog or think of something, and then I realize there are things I’ve neglected or forgotten to address or need to address. Then the post to address that leads to another and the whole thing expands. Sigh. Oh, well–we’ll just have to deal with it!
Upon thinking, I realized that I still haven’t dealt sufficiently with dualism, nor have I linked it sufficiently into the overarching theme of this series, which is about the Bible. To deal with the second of these issues first:
Here, here, here, and here I’ve discussed how dualism has come to be perceived as an outmoded and incorrect viewpoint in the modern Western context. It is seen, especially in religious contexts, as outworn, outmoded, and no longer viable in the modern era. My contention is that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction against dualism, and needs to return. I have also discussed how the Greeks were always more dualistic than the Semitic peoples; and though I didn’t say it explicitly, this, I think, is part of the reason for my temperamental preference for the Greeks.
My tendency is to think that Christianity in its origins and for much of its history was much more dualistic than we like to think. For the reasons stated above, this dualism is more pronounced in the New Testament than in the Old. This is certainly one factor among many in my preference for the former. I’ll elaborate on this more in coming posts. Meanwhile, I think it’s worth taking a look at Christianity itself and seeing if my assertion here is in fact correct. Read the rest of this entry