I mentioned dualism in my last post. I’ve been reading a lot about dualism lately. I was first introduced to the concept by reading Michael’s blog over at The Christian Monist. He’s got quite a story to tell, and it’s really good stuff. He writes a lot about dualism, and how much it pervades our culture and colors many of our beliefs. Dualism has many different meanings, depending on the context in which it is being discussed. But for here and now, dualism, as it relates to the modern American evangelical Christian, is a way of viewing the world in very black and very white terms; having a very defined, hard-lined set of beliefs, i.e., what is “good” and what is “bad.” Dualism, in this context, usually views the spiritual world as being superior to the material (or “seen” world). An evangelical, for example, might call this “godly” versus “worldly.” Traditionally, for an evangelical, there were secular (or worldly) jobs, such as a doctor, a banker, an accountant, etc., or godly jobs (usually church- or ministry-related). We speak of “God’s ways” and “man’s ways,” as if they are always utterly and diametrically opposed.
This line of thinking may lead us to erroneous conclusions that we do not need to seek the care of physicians and opt instead for “God’s healing,” or believe that schooling “God’s way” is always the better option for our children as opposed to secular public school, or believe that we can “tithe our way out of debt,” instead of correcting the destructive financial behaviors that have gotten us into our mess in the first place. Not only is this line of thinking foolish, it is often downright dangerous, because I often see Christians acting in direct opposition to what the experts, in any given field, would tell us to do. I think it isolates us, and we live in our little Christian bubbles for fear of being “contaminated” by the world and its insidious practices. The very wonderful world and people that God created and loves.
Historians would also say that dualism is the frame of mind with which the entire modern era has been shaped. But I wonder if this line of thinking has always been present since the Fall of humankind. According to biblical tradition, we did choose the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, after all. As we have moved out of the modern era and into the post-modern era, however, this type of thinking seems to be becoming more and more problematic. Gray is now the new black and white. Those once hard-drawn lines are now blurred. Don’t believe me? Think with me for a moment about your favorite currently-airing TV show…Got it? Okay, think about the characters on said show. Got ’em? Now divide those characters into two groups for me, Group A being the “good guys” and Group B being the “bad guys.”
Not so simple, is it?
I was commenting to my husband a while back how most, if not all, popular television shows right now have characters whose morality is harder and harder to define. From the unconventional, but brilliant Dr. Greg House, to Sayid from “Lost,” these characters all have one major thing in common: Their complexity. Are they good or are they bad? Loyal and brave Sayid has a background as a professional interrogator (i.e., he tortures people to get information from them); and Vicodin-popping Dr. House, while a brilliant medical doctor, usually relies on controversial and sometimes unscrupulous methods in order to find the cure for a patient, which he usually does. Whatever happened to the shows where the bad guy was clearly bad, and the good guy clearly, well, good? Some Christians see this as yet another example of the moral decay of our society. I, however, have to disagree. I believe this is because we’re no longer that gullible or naive. We are aware and have become more acquainted with and more honest about our own frailty, as well as our own beauty, as human beings.
This has resonated with me on a lot of levels. It seems I’ve struggled with the effects of dualism in my own life. I have often viewed this world through black and white lenses, and have, therefore, missed out on developing wonderful relationships with people that *gasp* think differently than I do! I’ve denied myself experiences for fear that it would make God angry with me. I done things, stupid things, that have flown in the face of wisdom and science, simply because I thought it was “God’s” way of doing things.
What I am realizing is that this entire world belongs to God. And there is no where on this Earth that God is not. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth and everything on it belong to the Lord. The world and its people belong to him” (CEV). Psalm 139:7-8 says “Where can I go to get away from your Spirit? Where can I run to get away from you? If I go up to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in HELL, you are there” (GW). God is not some prudish grandma with her panties in a wad, who stands far off when we are hurting, angry, in pain, falling down, making mistakes, etc. Going through seasons of suffering and pain has taught me the invaluable lesson that not only is God NOT far off during those times, but that God is in the very thick, the very heart of darkness, suffering, and pain. God is, as they say, good.
As Christians, we should know that even within the worst of us, there lies the possibility of hope, forgiveness and redemption. That we are, as Anne Lamott says, “diamond hearts, wrapped in meatballs.” That in every situation there lies the possibility of goodness, faithfulness, and love. And instead of isolating ourselves from the pain of this world, we should try to be more like God, roll up our sleeves, get involved, and get our hands dirty.
That is, afterall, what Jesus did.