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Regarding Dualism

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.

Wife to Ren for 23 years. Mom to 4 amazing teens. Writer. Creative. Entrepreneur. God chaser. Disciple maker. I love Jesus, and I love His Church. I inspire, challenge, and encourage women to pursue Jesus wholeheartedly, to lay hold of the abundant life in Christ waiting for them, and to become all God created them to be.


    • Angela

      Brandy, I would love to hear some of your thoughts on Korean Christian culture and how it differs from American. I bet you’ll become an expert on that, since you’re experiencing both worlds!

  • Amy F.

    Amen, sister. Complexity is what makes people (and life) INTERESTING. Sin is still sin — there is no debate there — but people are such complex, wonderful creations…each one created for a specific purpose. I see Jesus just as you described how we should be: ” roll up our sleeves, get involved, and get our hands dirty.” SO RIGHT.
    As I have said many times, I am TIRED of the “suburban Jesus” that the American church is touting these days. Tired of the word “relevant…”

  • Shannon

    I kept thinking about Jesus and the way he lived and the way he taught, by example, by hanging out with the sinners, the whole time I was reading this post. Jesus’ compassion did not involve judgement. He opened people’s hearts and minds by example and through stories and his actions.
    He did not get masses of people to follow his brand of thinking; however, that came later by us. We all splintered up and analyzed this and that to argue our points and took claim to one and only ways to heaven.
    Culture is so often left out of our tiny discussions that end up being so egocentric and leaving out so many factors of people’s real lives. Everyone is connected to God, born from him and can easily be opened up to Jesus’ compassion but not through anger or pompousness or, dare I say, rules. Rules and fear of hell-fire work for some but I think it’s a cultural thing.
    Evangelicals have a difficult job, for sure. To spread the word is a huge task. To even wrap my own brain around it is unfathomable. I think that the evangelical who is most successful starts with an understanding of all God’s people as equals, sinners and saints all in one person, not a worse person than themselves.
    And you, Ange, you seem to understand this so well. You spread the word well. Thank you.

    • Angela

      Shannon, thank you so much for your encouragement. I love you and consider you and your precious family a great inspiration in my life!

  • Chris Lane

    Very nice post – I especially like that you clarified what you meant in saying Dualism, as that can be a very problematic word.

    In my opinion, a lot of this comes down to how one views the relationship between good and evil. I would argue that evil only has meaning in relation to good – they are not equal opposites, and evil is not merely the absence of good (like darkness to light or cold to heat). From the fallen angel to fallen man to the fallen world – evil is distorted, corrupted good.

    This is why we can see scripture used as a weapon to win arguments and glorify one’s own ego ; it’s also why we can sometimes see God’s signature or fingerprint in (fallen) creation (career mathematicians are more likely to believe in God than the general population).

    At least this is my reaction / understanding, I could be wrong… it has happened before…

    • Angela

      Hey there, Chris! Thanks so much for stopping by! I think you’re spot on here. C.S. Lewis says that evil is not an equal opposite of good, as you said, but more like a parasite. I like that analogy. Great thoughts!

  • hollyet

    in our journey of faith, walking it out in fear and trembling, it is a great step of maturity to admit we don’t know it all, that we’re not God, that we arenotin control of ourselves or others. many things are frightening in this life, terrible things happen to us and around us, and many times in our walks we are trying to find a safe place, even if it happens to be within rules or regiments of faith as we have perceived it or been taught. jesus was always led by the spirit, even he had to seek the Father every day and he was born of God. i think we leave out the fear and trembling bit quite often…we get comfortable in our regimes as it were in all their discomfort. i think that as we are filled more and more with god’s love- open to receiving it and giving it-we are more apt to walk in freedom; where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom: freedom to love, to forgive, to receive grace for ourselves and others; to measure ourselves by the word, in fear and trembling.

    • Angela

      Holls, if by fear you mean “awe, reverence, respect” than I would agree with you. I would like to admonish you in one regard, however. I do think that the ONE verse about fear and trembling, and verses like it, are taken out of context and abused and used to brow beat God’s people; to get them to “behave,” or to think “correctly.” I have lived too much of my life in “fear.” Fear of disrespecting someone whom I thought was speaking on behalf of God (only later to be found out that they were bat @$#%! craz-y, fear that I would make a wrong move, fear that God was going to be angry with me. I am realizing that this is nothing less than pure evil. I would even go so far as to say MORE SO than those obvious sins of non-believers, which we love to talk about ad nauseum. I think that fear is often used as a tool to control people; to get what YOU want them to do, and think the way YOU want them to think, and then we claim that this is what God wants!!! I’ve learned a lot of this just through being a parent. I can scare the crap out of my kids to get them to do what I want them to do, or I can spur them on through love and encouragement to live their lives in a fruitful way-EVEN IF I MAY, IN THE END, DISAGREE WITH IT!!!! I simply want them to live their lives with love, wisdom, and truth because I LOVE them and I want what’s best for them. I don’t think that we are careful enough in this practice. I think that American evangelicals have gotten really lazy in this regard. We know the truth. We’re right. No questions asked. No accountability. We’re aren’t open enough to taking a good critical look at our beliefs, for FEAR that the devil will come in and take control of our thoughts. We rely too heavily on bully tactics. And this is a distinctly American method, I think. We claim to have ownership of God, when it is God who has ownership of us. The proof is in the pudding. People are leaving the church at an alarming rate. I think the church has been far too long in the fear mongering business. Fear of a method, fear of a man, fear of “God.” And quite frankly, I’ve had enough. This is the place I am trying to move away from and from where this blog has been birthed. I hope I’m communicating that well enough.

      • hollyet

        yea, i was thinking that was the wrong phrase to keep repeating. 🙂
        i just mean we’re walking out our salvation in awe of god, not ourselves or others, and i think a lot of the teachings that go around end up exalting a method,etc, the point i think you were making earlier in your post. i think the holy fear of god, his word and ways gets lost along the way, that he is so much bigger than us, but also accessible to us, an interesting balance and yea, i’m gonna scurry off and shet my trap.
        you’re communicating fine, i just had a hard time getting on here to post, and then it all came out kinda choppy. sorry!

  • hollyet

    rather i should say: to relinquish control of our lives, to surrender.. and also to relinquish control over others..don’t mean that we have no self control!:)

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