Dualism divides everything into twos. Thinking naturally moves to threes unless one has been convinced that there are never more than two options and that there is no way forward.
Unfortunately the only way that these posts see the light of day at this point are by being pointed to here. They compose a triad of what I would call “transcendent reality” posts – part of a new spirituality struggling to be born in which transcendence is not some “believed” penetration of a realm which we cannot penetrate, but rather a portion of that impenetrability within us all.
I wrote Beyond Creed in 1983. When I submitted it to a church publisher I was deemed a heretic. When I shared it with my friend Will Campbell, he said no one would ever publish it. When I ran into the writing of the late Da Free John in the late 80s, I felt we were on the same page when it came to nondualism. When I moderated Estochat on Ecunet, I made the text of Beyond Creed available for anyone to see and got virtually no response. Finally a few years ago I broke it into sections and published it myself as Beyond Creed: From Religion To Spirituality. The title can be googled and found in a number of versions including an ebook. I will also send the text as a Word attachment to anyone who requests it.
Recently I published The Legacy of Adi Da (RIP) . Since then I have had a back and forth email correnpondence with John Forth who is an intelligent advocate of the high importance of Adi Da and his thought and art. Then this evening I was reading a paper John recommended on the relation of Adi Da to psychology. The paper made much of the fact that Adi Da had developed and moved beyond all dualisms and had been a pioneer in this respect. My first thought was that Nietzsche had done a tolerable job of moving beyond dualisms. Then I went back to Beyond Creed, written before I was aware of Adi Da. Here are the sections in which dualism is dealt with in Beyond Creed. This thinking accords with my personal understanding and the spectrum thinking that is at the foundation of my approach to reality.
Dualism, division, the opposition of sides — these emerge in the Gospels themselves when we consider these two Jesus figures.
Jesus is presented as the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God but by him. His name has almost magical properties.
Jesus emerges as the teacher by the Galilean lake, as the iconoclast who says it’s more important to heal someone than go to church.
And it seems one must choose. But can we?
Even if scholarship finds ways of editing out the messianic elements in the New Testament, it is we who must go with the statement attributed to Jesus that a house divided cannot stand.
This statement precludes messianism unless it is radically interpreted to remove from itself all of its deleterious elements.
Even then, such formidable problems are left that the choice presented below becomes only way to arrive at a hermeneutic capable of dealing with the New Testament’s contradictory testimony.
Here it is necessary only to underline what the choice is:
The choice is between
1. A holistic (integral) understanding that is universal in every respect and thus affirming of all individual selves and
2. A messianic understanding which requires the displacement of self and obeisance to a messiah figure.
In the most simple terms, it is the choice between believing the apocalypse of Jesus, which is based on responsibility for serving the least of humankind (Matthew 25), and accepting the institutional-messianic declension of reality:
If you are not “in Christ Jesus”. you shall not be “saved”, here or in the world to come.
Jesus came walking from the mountain and said that his father Abba is near and if we repent and believe, it is very good news for us and our world.
Two statements, one an ethical summons, the other a creedal declaration, may be said to define the tension within the various remnants of Christendom today.
The ‘Jesus saves’ emphasis may be said to dominate the evangelical wings of the various churches.
The ethical call to care for the “least of these” has at least some hearing within all churches as well.
At no point in this essay should it be assumed that a wholesale judgment is being made regarding the degree to which messianism holds sway from one precinct to another.
The point is that when it does it diverts and deludes with resulting harm to the basic thrust of the gospel, which Jesus preached and embodied.
The early church turned the non-entropic message of Jesus into an other-worldly faith based upon the idea that Jesus’ suffering on the cross and his resurrection proved out his “claim” to be the Messiah or Christ and that by believing in Christ we achieve reconciliation with God and that this reconciliation involves our being part of a chosen group who will join God after death in heaven.
Henceforth the only survival of Jesus’ gospel message is in terms of behavior within the church and this is always secondary to the creedal imperative — confessing Christ becomes the paramount activity of … Christians.
The problem with this is that it stops God and Jesus in their tracks.
It eliminates the absolutely central prophetic strain and it so distorts the all sufficiency strain that the resurrection itself is utterly misinterpreted.
The resurrection is God’s ultimate sentence on entropy. It is a final declaration that from bottom to top God intends to make all things new.
Worship built around the fact of resurrection is an invitation to stasis.
Jesus castigates worship stasis regularly in the surviving narratives of his cornfield encounters with critics, in his appropriation of the Sabbath and his declaration of the precedence of human need over altar activity.
The notion of a sacred space, even the outer court of such a space, as anything less than a place where all sorts and conditions are made welcome and where God alone is worshipped, is at odds with Jesus’ belief and understanding.
It is possible and necessary to reinterpret the New Testament in awareness of the dualism that it promotes.
The prophetic preacher of God’s closeness and all sufficiency vindicates the unique place of Jesus globally in the eyes of a world that sometimes understands him better than the churches do.
But it appears that the unity that Jesus achieved — a vindication of both the prophetic strain and God’s all-sufficiency — was quite literally more than his followers could bear.
Jesus’ followers created small communities based on the initial gospel and understanding of Jesus, but for whatever reasons lapsed into a theology of the Name which turned faith into assent and belief into proposition and removed both from Jesus’ exclusive focus upon a God both righteous and all-sufficient who was also near enough at hand to empower a change in the way the world functioned.
But there is another explanation for the initial misunderstanding that has to do with good and evil, with God and Satan, and with victory over the principalities and powers.
The initial confusion, as we have seen, led to enthronement of Jesus as the Christ and the elaboration of priestly worship built around events in his life and on belief that he rose from the dead.
This erected a screen between Jesus’ gospel — the prophetic, Beatitudinal way and God’s all-sufficiency — and the world.
The stuff of creedal messianism found its way into the narrative because it already existed as an active belief of Christians –within fifty years of the death of Jesus.
It has survived and flourished through the years, grist for the manipulative mill of mystery, miracle and authority, stoking fires built by Armageddon- mongers — the seed of a disempowering dualism.
But if we return to the narrative, which must be acknowledged to have more than one level or strain, we can advance a different construction than that of creedal messianism, one which does not deny elements within the creed, but which sees them as consistent with the gospel that Jesus proclaimed and manifested.
In essence one could maintain that Jesus’ victory constituted the abolition of the power of dualism in the world because it constituted the vanquishing of the very power of dualism, the person of Satan.
Satan, for Jesus, does not exist as an eternal principle of evil, but as an entity who has existed as part and parcel of the fallen world.
Now Jesus in effect defeats Satan.
Jesus does this by building his gospel on twin principles of unity and responsibility.
God is now in power and by repentance we can become God’s. God is ultimate unity and repentance is our acknowledgement that we are in fact responsible; we cannot any longer project our evil onto an external screen and call it Satan.
Jesus’ battle with Satan is a battle to put in place a new paradigm — a holistic schema in which all dualisms are finite entities which can ultimately be transcended.
Thus the good news is not that evil no longer exists, but that the power now is in place to overcome it.
Evil is finite.
Principalities and powers are finite.
Both are conditions or states for which we are responsible.
The explanation for the horrendous ills that wrack our world still do not lie in Satan or in the stars — they lie squarely in the human propensity for the waste of life, the crushing of creativity, the disfiguring of beauty and the rape of natural resources.
From Augustine’s presuppositions flow a chain of corollaries which, to this day, continue to confound the Beatitudinal ethic of Jesus, in particular his blessing of peacemakers.
Beyond a wholesale authentication of the dualism of good-evil, God-Satan and an almost casual condoning of official killing, Augustine also did much to suggest that practice does not hold a candle to creedal affirmation.
Let us read with some care the following from Book One of The City of God.
Augustine is wondering why, during the recent sack of Rome, barbarians showed themselves to be gentle victors, filling the largest churches in the city with persons to whom they gave quarter.
He states that “in them none were slain, from them none forcibly dragged; … and … none led into slavery … Far be it for any prudent man to impute this clemency to the barbarians. Their fierce and bloody minds were awed, and bridled, and marvelously tempered by Him who so long before said by his prophet, ‘I will visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes’ nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from them.'”
Augustine continues: “Will someone say, Why, then, was this divine compassion extended even to the ungodly and ungrateful? Why, because it was the mercy of Him who daily maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good … Therefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves … Stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor.” (Chapters 7, 8 passim)
It is not a misrepresentation of Augustine to say that he lays the groundwork for a full-blown Christian triumphalism.