Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Problem of Monism and Dualism

I want to continue describing my position of 'foldedness'. I want to do this by examining what we might call the "elementary pattern of creation". By this, I mean there seems to be a kind of repetitive fabric within Creation, something God seems to have imbued within created reality. I will has out two popular paradigms, and then reflect upon what I think is a better way to think about it, namely Duality. But I will return to this later.

Allow me first to discuss dualism. Platonic metaphysics is built upon this premise, at least as we discover in Plato or even later Platonists. As we will see, I am not saying Plato is completely wrong, as is popular today. I'll return to this later. However, Plato posits a fundamental dichotomy between the world of the Ideal, the realm of the Forms, and the material world. The former is ethereal and eternal; the latter is corruptible and degrading.

The Human soul, in its reigning intellectual capacities and rightly-ordered affections, belongs to the realm of the forms. It exists as a kind of god, but one trapped in the shifting material world. Unlike Gnostics, who ascribe the world of matter to the intervention of an idiot or evil god, Plato did not see this world as necessarily evil. Rather, this world was merely deficient, a plane of shadows and simulacra. The created world was to be transcended not because it was horribly wicked, but because it is not the true home of the Soul.

But beyond Plato, dualism has many manifestations. It requires hard boundaries. As it is clear from above, Gnosticism is never too far away from any particular kind of dualism. In some ways, Plato is saved by his lack of interest in discovering cosmic origins. Plato thought it worthy to bring the forms to bear on shapeless form (even politics c.f. Republic). But why we ended up the way we did, Plato does not speculate except through "myths", fictitious stories to help the non-philosophic masses have a basic account that they can grasp.

One might say that the Gnostics lacked the sophistication to withhold speculation. Or perhaps they were engaging in a similar enterprise to Plato. They probably did both. But Gnosticism, beyond Plato, injected a kind of antagonism into the relations between the world above and the world below. Dualism doesn't require this, but combined with a certain reading of Scripture, such is inevitable. The world is carved up into the domain of God vs. the domain of the Devil, the Elect vs. the Reprobate. Yes, particular brands of Calvinism revolve around this kind of  dualism. These are hard-lines that are uncrossable. More could be said, but I will pause here and move on to Monism.

Another major philosophical pattern requires an erasure of all boundaries. Thus, reality is actually just One, and only held apart by false divisions and distinctions.The first major philosopher of this, Empedocles, invited a kind of radical skepticism in his wake. All is One, there is no Many, that is an illusion. Everything is not only connected, but identically the same. Anything that would contradict this is only a shade, a false image and misperception of the reality. This we see also in the early modern philosophy of Spinoza. He was accused of both being a pantheist (God is the All) and an atheist. If God is the collective sum of all things, it's not hard to see how that is, essentially, an evacuation of the theological. If everything is holy, then nothing is.

However, there are forms of Monism that do not require such radical commitments. I mentioned Calvinism before, which, many times, was relatively politically benign in its application. At least in its traditional forms. Kuyper was not the first or only, but he is representative of a shift towards a triumphalistic Calvinism that turned Dualism into a Monistic battle cry. All things belong to the Lords, and yet there remains a domain of the Devil. Therefore, Christian soldiers must charge into the breach and conquer. Christ calls 'Mine' over all things, and therefore Christians must bring all things to heel.

This kind of postmillenial monistic doctrine developed among the Puritans (before Kuyper's Dutch Neo-Calvinism). And while this sort of Puritanism was still being formulated, one sees how it was deployed to an exterminatory politics. The agents of Satan (New England Indians) were no longer contended to exist as opposite, they must be destroyed. This sort of eradicatory monism is not merely a Calvinistic doctrine, though it certainly has taken shape there. But its also present in certain radical Nationalisms. Germans were called upon to eradicate all "lesser races" in newly incorporated territories.

Monism as the erasure of all boundaries exists in many forms. One sees a form of monism in the sexuality chaos of the modern era, as the diversity of "orientations" really collapses into a singular notion of "desire" as the chief eraser. One sees this in certain theologies that not only erase boundaries between God and creation (pantheism), but also Israel/Church and World (Sphere Sovereignty, Erastianism, Social Gospel, Caesaropapism), this age and the age to come (deniers of a future resurrection or Christ's Second Coming), even the revealed boundaries of God (Modalism, Unitarianism).

In the last category, we can see a monistically defined doctrine of Divine Simplicity sees the collapse of all categories into one another. Thus, Love is Justice is Mercy is Uncreate is Spirit is God. "Is" operates as a giant equal-sign. Usually proponents of this are careful not to apply this to the Trinity Himself, but sometimes it's not clear.

Dualism and Monism are both particularly complicated attempts to understand the "elementary pattern" of creation. The problem both face can be summed up in an analysis of Human relationship with God. Dualism keeps man utterly separated from God, so to say that Man participates in the Life of God becomes not quite that. Roman Catholics invented the doctrine of "created grace" to avoid this problem. Many Protestants haven't quite figured this out, though some have learned from Aquinas. Since some Protestant theologies (not all, but quite a few) are in danger of collapsing the fullness of the Gospel into forgiveness, paradise seems to be not much different than Muslim conceptions, Man always alienated from God.

On the other hand, Monism would inevitably collapse man into God. While rarely would this result in a kind of transcendence of both God and Man into something else, it usually involves the erasure of Man. In ancient Asian paganism, as per the Buddhist vision, this is  Nirvana, the snuffing out of Human individual consciousness. Man, a drop of water, is returned to the Ocean of Being. In Hegelian metaphysics, the created Other assists God discover Himself and thus, in synthesis, absorbs Creation into His self-transcendence. Mankind, all Human history, and all things are instrumentalized. Certain Thomistic notions of the Beatific Vision have a hard-time explaining how this does not end up in an identification of Man with God, as Man becomes collapsed into God as Man sees God as He is in Himself. In a way, paradise becomes a kind of death, and death a kind of paradise.

In my next post, I will discuss what I consider to be a better option. I've listed many different philosophies and theologians, and I do not hold myself to be more intelligent. But I must boldly speak and lean upon the Word of God to complete this endeavor.

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