Voices: Greatest commandment frees humans from duality

Posted Aug. 22, 2008, at 8:43 p.m.

BY LEE WITTING

As myth would have it, the dualism of the world became apparent with Eve’s decision to eat the fruit and “know” good and evil. Before then, Adam and Eve were covered by God’s grace so completely, they knew only good. They were whole and unconflicted.

Satan tempted them into the matrix — the dualistic world we live in today, and we are entrapped in it to our very core. A few weeks ago, Robert Krulwich, in a piece on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” described the psychological condition of the two sides of our brain, and how they do and don’t relate.

For example, when they are separated by surgery (which is sometimes done to treat epileptic seizures), the two sides of the brain actually will war with each other for control (one hand will open a book to read, only to have the other hand slam the book shut).

This struggle goes on in normal brains as well. Thus, the only way to reconcile “ourselves” into a functional human being is to meld the contradictions we feel into a fictional synthesis — a story we tell ourselves and others about who we are and why we do what we do.

That’s our story, and we’re stickin’ to it.

All the duality of this world, right down to our intrinsic natures, makes the notion of Manichaeism very attractive to the human mind. If you’ll recall from my column of three weeks ago, Manichaeism was a third century heresy that taught there were equal forces of good and evil contesting in the world — sort of a God vs. Satan situation — where both sides were equal and eternal. (Guess which one of the two would like us to believe that heresy.)

In many ways, the larger issue of Gnosticism, of which Manichaeism is a part, hinges on intrinsic dualism, as well. Gnosticism embraces the dark side, giving it weight and authority. It teaches there is secret knowledge, and that is the path to salvation. In many ways, it teaches exactly what Satan taught Eve — that we can be like God through gaining knowledge.

And how do we gain knowledge? By cramming it into our dualistic brains where our own dualism turns it into a kind of half-fiction, as interpreted by our egos. The result is not a pretty picture. Taken to the extreme, it can become the stuff of which Hitlers are made. Dualism might be called the Father of Lies.

But wait, you say. If the intrinsic nature of the world is dualistic, how can we escape it?

First, you should understand what dualism amounts to. Scientists have calculated the nature of Creation, and have recognized that it amounts to nothing, literally. That is, if all the essential dualism of the universe — matter and anti-matter — were recombined, they would annihilate each other. Nothing would be left. And that makes perfect sense, since God created it from nothing in the first place.

Second, the nature of truth is non-dualistic; it is reflected in the Oneness of God. This is a fact given voice to by Jews and Muslims, but not given its due by Christians, who tend to think of Jesus apart from the Father. But the Trinity is One God, and that is important. Drift from that concept, and our dualistic brains start rewriting God’s story. (Dan Brown’s fictional book, “The Da Vinci Code,” is just one example of our dualist brains at work.)

Satan’s obsession with dualism is a play for equality with God. Gnosticism elaborates on this attempt with the notion of an evil creator god, the Demiurge, posing as the Monad in Old Testament scripture.

If all this seems far removed from modern Christianity, consider this quote from the Columbia Encyclopedia’s entry for “Manichaeism”: “To account for the existence of evil in a world created by God, Mani posited a primal struggle in which the forces of Satan separated from God; man, composed of matter, that which belongs to Satan, but infused with a Godly light, was considered a product of this struggle, and was looked upon as a paradigm of the eternal war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness … Light and dark were seen to be commingled in our present age as good and evil, but in the last days each would return to its proper, separate realm, as they were in the beginning. … The Christian notion of the Fall and personal sin were repugnant to the Manichees; they felt that the soul of man suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter. Evil was a physical, not a moral thing; the misfortunes of man were miseries, not sins.”

Though this entry comes from the 1963 edition, it sounds just like a page from our Star Wars-video game theology of today. Gnostic heresies are alive and well, and living in the minds and hearts of today’s Christian youths. But see how it elevates — even glorifies — evil? It puts Satan on an even playing field with God. Yet Satan is only another part of the Creation, another element destined to return to nothing.

There is only one way to escape the duality trap, and that is Jesus’ great command to love God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That is why it is the greatest commandment: because it frees us from our dualist impulses, our conflicted brains, to make us one with the nature of God.

Lee Witting is a chaplain at Eastern Maine Medical Center and pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor. He may be reached at leewitting@midmaine.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.

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