We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Another Way of Thinking About Dualism

We know that we have left death and come over into life; we know it because we love others. Those who do not love are still under the power of death. (I John 3:14 NRSV)

Ideological (and theological) dualism is the division of people into two categories, those who are good and those who are evil—or, those with whom we agree and those we don't, or those who look like us and those who don't, or...the the variations on ideological dualism are multitudinous.  Until recently, dualistic thinking in categories of black and white was fundamental to Western culture.  It is still massively influential although going out of favor esp. among younger people.

In dualistic thinking at its worst, there is no middle ground between good and evil.  One is either on God's side of the devil's.  This form of dualistic thinking promotes a host of ugly -isms beginning with racism.  It lurks behind a good deal of the oppression that one class of people visits on another.  It encourages dualistic thinkers to treat others as categories.  It is brick and mortar for the walls we build between people.

Taking our cue from the above verse from I John, however, it would seem that we can't ultimately escape at least one dualism that is central to the whole Christian enterprise—the dual poles of life and death on the continuum of love (which runs from total love to the total absence of love).  We live between life and death.  Some live closer to death and some closer to life.  We are called away from death and to live in love, which is to be truly alive.

It is true that I John 3:14 conveys the sense of a pair of absolute opposites, life and death.  The thing is we don't actually experience full spiritual life or complete spiritual death.  As humans, we live on a continuum between the two.  As Christians, we live on the path that leads away from death and toward life.  We are (or, at least, seek to be) those who are walking away from death and coming over into life.  The single measure of our journey is love.  The more we love, the closer we get to life.  And the measure of love is Christ, who sacrificed himself for others (I John 3:16).  Thus, life is giving oneself for others.  Death is living for self alone.

Ultimately, none of this is about the religious label we wear, the dogma we subscribe to, the color of our skin, or any other of the things ideological dualistic thinking often takes with such oppressive seriousness.  It is about living in Christ, as best we can, and trusting to God's grace in all else.  Amen.