God and the dualist imagination part 2: Jesus & dualism

In post 1 of this series, I said that I believe dualism is inherent in the way that evangelical Christians have come to conceive of ‘others’ – those of different belief systems or lifestyles to the standards deemed ‘acceptable’ by the prevailing evangelical thinking.

I want to go to say that I believe this to be a deeply flawed approach, and one which seems contrary to the way of approaching otherness modelled by Jesus.

Jesus approach to those of other faiths, other lifestyles and other social classes is profoundly open and egalitarian. The gospels include stories of an encounter with non-Jewish astrologers and times spent with tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars and centurions.

He was a friend of sinners, and was condemned as a glutton and a drunkard for the way that he ate and supped with others as though he were part of their community. Jesus does not model a dualistic way of living, nor does he model a dualistic model of ministry – his encounters with those other to his own way of life are gentle, peaceful and respectful.

Various people have critiqued dualistic thinking, Julian of Norwich noted that ‘The fullness of Joy is to behold God in everything’; and Bede Griffiths advocated an approach which drew on the teachings of both Thomas Aquinas and Sankara – in believing that in God there is “no division, or ‘composition’ of any kind. He is ‘without duality’.” (Griffiths, Return to the Centre, 1978, 24)

When considering the otherness of different faith traditions, the former chief rabbi, Jonathan Sachs expresses similar views in ‘The Dignity of difference’ where he talks of religion as being “the translation of God into a particular language and thus into the life of a group, a nation, a community of faith.” (Sachs, The Dignity of Difference, 2002, 55)

Read more tomorrow in Part 3.

4 thoughts on “God and the dualist imagination part 2: Jesus & dualism

  1. Interesting series, Simon. I’m pleased that you’re asking these questions (I am, too) and glad for the bite-sized posts. I agree there is much in Jesus’s approach which is resolutely non-dualistic. There is also some that is, which perplexes me. ‘Whoever is not for us is against us’, he says. And elsewhere, ‘whoever is not against us is for us’. (Makes you wonder which of those he actually said – they’re subtly different, surely!) And the Gospel writer John liked to contrast ‘whoever believes’ with ‘whoever does not believe’, and ‘those who received him’ with ‘those who did not receive him’. It’s an easy hop from there to those oh-so-easy categories ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’. Do you think that John was expressing a sense of duality that wasn’t originally there in Jesus’s message?

  2. Great question. First thing to say is that I am being very broad in my use of the term ‘dualism’ I think that NT Wright defines about a dozen types of dualism, and anyone else worth mentioning categorises a similar number, I on the other hand just use it as a straight term, which is extremely lazy of me.

    Having said that though, I think there is a couple of things going on here – I should first of all say that my reading of John is that he does have a somewhat dualistic perspective, which comes I imagine from his reading of the Jewish texts. This means that his writing will reflect his perspective.

    Secondly though this is not an absolute form of dualism, which is what we have slipped in to – I think John with his Hebrew dualism would not have accepted our more Platonic version with ease. Indeed the first verse of John gives an idea of the Hebrew Monism which underlies his thinking – the word was both with God, and was God. IN him was life, and that life was the light for all mankind, etc.

    Theologians such as Miroslav Volf however would say that John is profoundly not dualistic, something which I find a bit difficult to accept.

    So yes, my first response is that John is reflecting with some level of dualistic distortion Jesus’ original image. I don’t see this as a problem if we can accept the imperfection of human agency in the construction of the scriptures.

    I realise that this comment is already about as long as the original post, which goes to show how difficult it is to hold an uncomplicated stance on anything like this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s