Archive for December, 2020


Dualism – we are always being asked to choose one over the other. –Bell Hooks

Consider theology again.  Monotheism – I am thinking of the three Abrahamic traditions – is not an easy faith.  I am thinking of Isaiah’s words: ‘I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil.’  I ask myself: How can the God who is Love create evil?  This also seems to me to be an essential question for each of the Abrahamic Traditions.  Abraham himself asked: ‘Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?’  Later on Moses asked: ‘Why have you done evil to this people?’  

Each of the ‘People of the Book’ traditions responds in the same way.  For each the simplest (not simplistic) answer is what the bad God does is a response to the bad that we do.  Evil, in this sense, is justice, punishment, retribution.  Simply put: ‘It is because of our sins.’  This presents us with a daunting challenge.

It is not easy (truly an understatement) for we, the People of the Book, to embrace God as the source of good and bad, judgment and forgiveness, justice and mercy.  The Hebrew Bible offered us two powerful names for God: Elokim (E) and Hashem (J) – God-as-Justice and God-as-Compassion. 

I experienced this paradox many years ago when my son, Nathan, had been ‘naughty.’  I found myself embracing two thoughts, the thoughts of a father and the thoughts of a judge.  I found myself switching back and forth between the two polarities.  A judge punishes, a father disciplines.  A judge seeks justice, a father seeks forgiveness and reconciliation.  A judge enforces the law, a father embraces compassion. 

I realized that it is easy for me to cross the threshold into dualism even as I embrace monotheism.  Dualism dissolves complexity in the simplistic – ‘I’ versus ‘You’ and ‘We’ versus ‘Them’ for example.  Theologically, viewing Satan as pure Evil enables us to view God as pure Goodness.  Our dualism enables us to blame Satan for the pain and suffering that exists.  There is clarity: God IS Good and Satan IS Evil.  This duality also enables us to guilt-free see our Faith-Tradition as ‘Good’ and the other’s Faith-Tradition as ‘Evil’ and to then harm the other rooted in ‘guilt-free good-faith.’ 

But what if monotheism requires us to embrace the complexity and interdependence of ‘good-evil’ (virtue-vice, light-darkness)?  We struggle.  We don’t like complexity.  We seek the simplistic (not the simple – we know the ‘simple’ is anything but).  We don’t like the abstract; we seek the concrete.  We want independence not interdependence.  We want problems to solve not polarities or paradoxes or dilemmas.  Dualism provides the way to the quick-fix. 

In short, Dualism is dangerous.  Pathological Dualism is disastrous.  Why?  

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Duality is the root of our suffering and of all our conflicts. –Norbu

Good morning Gentle Reader.  For a number of months now I have been visiting and re-visiting the concept called ‘Dualism.’  This morning I will begin to share some of what has emerged into my consciousness. 

I disagree with Norbu.  Dualism arrives in many forms and one is particularly dangerous.  Here are a few that are not inherently dangerous and that continue to serve us well.  I am thinking of Platonic dualism.  Plato distinguishes between mind and body – the physical and spiritual.  Then there is theological dualism.  Theology images two different supernatural forces at work in the universe.  Then there is moral dualism which invites us to ‘own’ that both good and evil reside within us and that our charge is to choose which to embrace.

There is also what Jonathan Sacks calls pathological dualism.  This dualism believes that we humans are divided into two groups – one is absolutely good and the other is irredeemably bad/evil.  Each of us is either one or the other.  One is saved; one is redeemed; one is the ‘chosen.’  The other is walking-evil, a child of the Devil – Satan personified. 

How does this work?  We can borrow from psychology.  Psychology offers us two concepts: ‘splitting’ and ‘projecting.’  We humans do both and one result is dualism, including pathological dualism 

A young child is rooted in the concrete – he/she cannot abstract; there is no gray area for the young child.  Things/people are either good or they are bad.  A sign of maturity is that one is able to view each person as a living paradox – each of us is good and bad (think: light-darkness, virtue-vice and good-evil).  Sadly, some children do not develop this ability; they continue to see people as good or bad. 

This inability to see and embrace the idea that each person is both good and bad – and thus capable of doing great good or great evil – leads first to splitting – sharply dividing good and bad – and this leads to projection – labeling the ‘other(s)’ as bad and this enables one to view one’s self as being good. 

Splitting and projection also occurs within groups – AND – this is where things become quite dangerous indeed.  Now we know that in order to achieve ‘my identity’ that I must divide myself from the other(s).  For the individual this is normal and healthy and necessary.  It is not necessarily healthy in groups as too often this leads to ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ – the ‘in-group’ and the ‘out-group;’ the people like us and the people not like us.  We have a natural bias to ‘in-group bias.’ 

The negative begins to happen when we add value statements; we think more favorably of ‘us’ and less so of ‘them.’  When bad things happen to ‘us’ we are tempted to enjoin the dual process of splitting and projecting.  In order to preserve our ‘goodness’ we begin to project ‘badness’ on the other(s).  We become the innocent and they become the guilty. 

It is crucial to note that it is not theology that is at play here – although some will link it to theology in order to enhance their goodness and the others’ badness/evil.  What is happening is that we are regressing to childhood: We are good. They are bad.  Our conclusion: Bad things are happening to us because of the bad people; we must ‘deal’ with the bad people. 

In PART II, I am going to initially spend some time with theology again and then return to pathological dualism. 

All of the big problems of our world today are rooted in the philosophy of dualism. –Kumar

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Love one another as I have loved you. –God

The crime against humanity reminds us that there are crimes so heinous that they cannot be defended by the mantra: ‘I was only obeying orders!’  There are acts that are so against the Abrahamic Tradition, if not our very concept of humanity, that they cannot be – must not be – justified by claiming they were/are the means to a holy or righteous end.  They cannot be justified by rooting them in ‘God’s Name.’

In fantasy and fiction this type of Evil is committed by those who have been seduced by the ‘Dark Side’: Darth Vader, Lord Voldemort, Sauron and the Joker.  In real life this Evil is committed by human beings seeking to restore the illusion of a ‘Golden Age’ or who are willing to sacrifice their lives and the lives of others for a greater good or a holy cause.  Often their mantra is: ‘I am doing God’s work!’  This is how ‘Dreams of Paradise’ become ‘Nightmares of Hell.’

As you read this, Gentle Reader, a question might emerge into your consciousness – it did emerge in mine: How do dreams of paradise become nightmares of hell?

Historically there are three popular responses: (1) Religion is the major source of violence; (2) Religion is not a source of violence; (3) Their religion is the major source of violence; we are for peace and they are for war.  None of these responses is true AND all are true (a paradox, indeed).  The Abrahamic Traditions – Jews, Christians, and Muslims – define themselves as religions of peace and each has given rise to violence against ‘the other’. 

Now there has been a rise in religious extremism in all three of these faith-traditions in the twenty-first century.  The ‘Age of Secularism’ which had been birthed in the seventeenth century was now being subverted by the emerging age of religious extremism.  For example, the Abrahamic tradition of compassion is being subverted by intolerance; the Abrahamic tradition of love of neighbor is being subverted by suspicion and self-protection – protecting ‘our religion’ from ‘your religion (this list could go on but these two examples will suffice for now).

What both secularists and theists have forgotten is that we human beings are, by nature, ‘meaning-seeking’ beings.  In our search for meaning we too often forget that science tells us how but not why and that technology provides us a plethora of choices but does not provide us with guidance as to what to choose.  The ‘State’ gives us freedom to choose and on principle does not provide us guidance when it comes to exercising ‘choice.’ 

Science, technology and democratic states are crucial to our well-being AND yet they are unable to answer the three questions that every human being will ask at some time in his/her life: Who am I?  Why am I here?  How shall I live?  We live in an age of maximum choice and a minimum of meaning. 

When it comes to our search for meaning, Religion is crucial – more crucial than science, technology or democracy.  No society has survived without some type of religion which involves a search for a response to those three crucial questions. 

Sadly, for me at any rate, too much of the religion of the twenty-first century is not that of the Abrahamic Tradition; it is an idolatrous form.  In this iteration, greed is good, being adversarial is admired, judging and hating the ‘other’ is virtuous, demonizing those not in ‘our tribe’ is the norm and permits us to guilt-free harm the other in the name of God.  We have replaced the God of Love with the God of Intolerance, the God of Injustice, and the God of Hate.  Violence is a Virtue.

The greatest threat to freedom, compassion, mercy, and love is radical, politicized religion.  This threat enables evil to be done completely and to be done guilt-free, love-free, compassion-free, and mercy-free. 

I leave us with the words of Jonathan Swift: We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.  

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Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. –Blaise Pascal

When religion turns men into murderers, God weeps.   In the Book of Genesis, God watches as the first child commits the first murder.  Then God continues to watch and within a brief period of time the world becomes full of violence.  God ‘saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth.’

Then we read one of the most heart wrenching sentences in religious literature.  ‘God regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.’ [Gen.6:6]

How many times in the history of religion have we humans killed one another in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, hated in the name of the God of love and inflicted great cruelty on one another in the name of the God of compassion?  More than we can count.  Even as I put finger to key I can hear God speaking to those who act in these ways while claiming to speak on God’s behalf.  God is saying quite clearly: Do Not Speak Thus in My Name!

For thousands of years polytheist religions wore the robe of sanctity in order to cover man’s naked pursuit of power.  Then Abrahamic monotheism emerged as both a sustained protest and an alternative.  Over time it made extra-ordinary claims.  It claimed that every human being, regardless of color, culture, creed or class was in the image and likeness of God.  It sought to liberate the powerless.  It claimed that the life of each person is sacred.  It claimed that a society is judged by the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members.  It stated clearly that murder is BOTH a crime and a sin against humanity and a sin against God.

Abrahamic monotheism was clear: Between all people there should be a covenantal bond of righteousness and justice, mercy and compassion, forgiveness and love, reconciliation and healing.  Abrahamic monotheism emerged into the world as a rejection of the power that corrupts and as a rejection of the use of force that enables some to become masters and others to become slaves. 

Think about this.  Abraham himself, a man revered by billions of Christians, more than a billion Muslims and millions of Jews, ruled no empire, commanded no army, conquered neither man nor territory, performed no miracles and was not deemed to be a prophet.  He did challenge God – ‘Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?’ [Gen.18:25]  Abraham sought to be true to his faith.  He also sought to be a blessing to all, regardless of their faith.  This is the simplest definition/example of the Abrahamic faith that I know.  We who are rooted in Abrahamic monotheism are called to be true to our faith AND we are called to be a blessing to ALL, regardless of their faith.  Why do we continue to choose to make the simple so complex? 

The use of religion for political ends and for the control of others is not righteousness, it is idolatry.  Remember, it was Machiavelli, not Moses, Jesus or Muhammad, who said that it is better to be feared than to be loved.  It was Nietzsche who wrote that ‘God Is Dead!’ – His ethic was the will to power. 

When we invoke God to justify violence against one another we are not engaging in acts of sanctity but sacrilege.  We are, in fact, blaspheming; we are truly taking God’s name in vain.  We are engaging in what Jonathan Sacks calls ‘Altruistic Evil’ – Evil committed in the name of God and in a ‘sacred cause.’ 

This Evil is the kind of evil that we all recognize as such: killing the weak, the innocent, the young and old.  These are acts of Evil-Incarnate.  Killing others because of their religious beliefs, race, ethnicity or nationality is Evil-Incarnate.  We did, once upon a time, recognize this.  For example, one consequence of World War II was the codifying of ‘crimes against humanity.’ 

[To be continued…]

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