February 22, 2007


When I was in melbourne I spent some time with a bunch of people that spoke with high disfavor about a concept they called "dualism." In their eyes, this dualism has corrupted the church, separating many things that should have never been separated. Mind and body, for example; in the church, they say that the dualist's distinction between mind and body has led to a crusade to "save souls" instead of God's redemption of the entire person. They also say that the dualist corruption was a greek invention that permeated the church, that Jesus' intention was never to allow such distinctions to be made. After all, Hebrew culture was very monistic; daily life and church life, sacred and secular, were all within the realm of spirituality.

Basically, the complaint is that the church neglects the whole person in favor of their soul. The physical is vilified, made to be evil. Beliefs and thoughts/concepts are more important than physical actions. It even leads to "them-and-us" thinking, where Christians are somehow better than the rest of the world (they're not).

Now, I agreed with them at the time. I still do, sort of. But I think, after today's philosophy class, that I'm starting to conceive of things a little less simply. That's what philosophy does to you - it makes your thinking less simple, more complicated. I figure the world is so complicated that we tend to over-simplify everything so that it can fit into our nice little boxes. My melbournian friends took issue with that too, so I figure what I'm doing is simply building on their arguement.

Dualism, as I've spent time understanding it today, is really more about the distinctions that exist between mind and body. The mind/soul/spirit entity we seem to have is distinct from our body/physical nature. It's laced through our language in two different ways: the "I AM my body" and the "I HAVE a body" types. The trouble is, our language is very unclear as to which part we hold to be true; we use both sayings (and many like them) all the time. Since the majority of philosophy is really just about changing definitions so that your premises can then support your conclusions about something, how do we come to the definitions of words? For another time, perhaps.

Anyway, I'm becoming convinced that the "Christian Monists" as they're called in philosophical circles (see, you learned a new word today), are really just dualists with a higher agenda. They've rejected Plato's view of dualism in favor of something more holistic. Perhaps it's just a question of semantics, but as I'm finding, semantics are VERY important in a society where each person defines many different words in many different ways. Perhaps this is the true source of relativism.

Basically, Plato said yeah, there's a mind/soul and there's a body. But the thing is, bodies are bad. Not sure why he thought this, although I'd gather he was probably upset about aging and that his body could get hurt. Mid-life crisis maybe. Ok. So that's Plato in a nutshell.

Thing is, scripture makes it fairly clear that our bodies aren't evil. They're just bodies; God made them and he called them 'good.' When Adam saw Eve, he was obviously impressed, because wouldn't you know it, soon enough we get Cain and Abel. And lots of Christians (myself included) believe that God built within us an appreciation for beauty, for the physical world, that the world of stuff isn't itself inherently bad, it's what we DO with it that can be a problem.

What my australian friends object to is the "Platonification" of Christendom. We (christendom) have started buying into Plato's ideas that bodies are evil because evil things can be done with them, instead of acknowledging the truth that our bodies are simply neutral objects to be used as we see fit - for good OR for evil. It's a matter of choice.

"People" are really hybrid beings, a fusion of mind, soul, and body. If you like, they are ways of conceptualizing the different functions of a single person, but that's the same way we conceive of God as a trinity. It's not like we say "Jesus was evil because he was a physical being", we say he was one-third of God!

I worry a bit that Christian Monists are going to do the same thing that Platonian dualists have done, only in reverse: vilification of the spirit, or even denying that we as human beings HAVE such a component, that we are only bodies and that our spirit is really just another part of our bodies. The distinction is actually somewhat important - if our bodies DIE, how then are they redeemed? What we as Christians need to capture is the importance of holistic thinking. PEOPLE are more than just one thing - we are complex. The nature of the relationship between our pieces (mind, soul, body) can reflect God. If we begin to deify the body, we become no better than other monists, the people who say things like "all we have is the physical world we live in, so make the most of it" (the message being, have as much sex and alcohol as you want, there are no limitations).

We need to put it all back in perspective, restore the balance. The mind is important. The body is important. The soul is important. But they all have to be conceived of both as separate identities (each requiring its own disciplines) and as a single identity requiring our attention as a holistic being (the whole requiring its own disciplines). In doing so, we are liberated to experience a more full existence, each perspective contributing to the whole story of our lives. Mind, soul, body = Person. Three in one, one in three. Sound familiar? It should.


Rob said...

Little confused - so are Christian Monists the ones you were discussing about meeting/"kind of agreeing" with in Melbourne?

What is their distinction on this Dualism? Do they consider the body to be penultimate - take the rejection (and rightly so) of Platoist/Augustian body hatred to a logical extreme?

I'd love to comment more, but right now I'm just confused at what issues are in play.

Chris said...

Well, basically what I'm saying is that Christian "monists" are really just dualists who reject the platonian logical extreme. As I said, it seems like semantics but it's not. To say "we don't have (at least) two parts to our nature" is sort of denying what happens when we die.

Basically there are two flavors of monists: people who say we only are physical and people who say we're only mental. I can understand those monists who want to argue that we're made up entirely of our mental constructs, thoughts, images, feelings and the like, but the people who say "we're just physical beings" have another thing coming.

Mostly the Christian monists (usually fall in the "physical" camp) say that the Hebrews thought of us as one substance, rather than mind/spirit and body as Plato/Augustine did. To this I say "bah!" The Hebrews connected body and mind/spirit so fluidly that it might have looked like we are only of one substance, but it's not the case. They broke down the pieces and then reconstructed them again.

If you look through Deuteronomy/Leviticus, you discover all sorts of interesting things about how to prepare cows, what fabrics to use, how to do a sacrifice, what to do the night before sabbath, etc ... ALL in the same book! This is because the two worlds - the world of the everyday and the world of the spiritual - were so intertwined for them that they ran together almost seamlessly.

shawna said...

2Corinthians 5:1-5

Chris said...

2 Corinthians 5:1-5, TNIV
"Awaiting the New Body"

1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Chris said...

Not sure what you're saying Shawna, are you using this scripture to acknowledge our dualistic nature? I'd say the language lends itself to that, but then again, Paul was himself influenced (lingually as well as philosophically) by the Greco-Roman Hellenistic worldview ...

shawna said...

Well, from reading the bible I would say its made pretty clear that we are not only body I didn't know there were Christians who argue that that's all we are...are there verses in the bible you could tell me, I'm curious to look them up

and Paul was also influence by the Holy Spirit.

Chris said...

Ah, I see what you're saying. Yeah, I suppose that usually it's only a matter of semantics, but in this case, I think it goes beyond that. I, by the way, wholeheartedly agree with you (of course it's there in scripture), but the few monists I know are reacting to the dualism presented by so many evengelicals today, where our bodies are objects of horror and cruelty and should be destroyed, their needs met only as necessary to survive, rather than things to be taken care of and celebrated inside the boundaries that God's provided for us.

For example, the most glaring problem about evangelical dualism is that there is hardly any mention of sex in most churches, except to tell teenagers not to have it (ever). Instead of discussing the issue as a community, the issue is instead buried into obscurity as taboo, ne'er to be broached again, until somebody finds out that so-and-so had sex and ruined their chances at salvation. Then that too is buried and it just sets up this downward spiral of problems. So of course, what do monists do but take the other extreme instead of trying to regain the balanced position.

My favorite ... ah, "proof text" as it were ... is Luke 10:26-27: "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?" He answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"