Last week I started the blog post with an example of dualistic thought. That is, the idea that life can be separated into categories with one category being more important than another. For example, the physical earth (mountains, birds, trees, etc.) is far less important than doing religious activity. This type of dualism is a sacred/secular divide. The problem in this case is that in our thinking we perceive the physical world as less important than the spiritual world or certain activities more or less important than others. Thus, we are prone to think that washing baby nappies (as the Brits call diapers) is of less value than attending a Bible study. I want to address later what Macaulay and Barrs address as verses in the Scriptures that appear to be misleading, when, in fact, they are not. But before we do that, let us relook at dualism to make sure we have an understanding of it.
Exactly what is Dualism? As I stated previously, dualism is the idea of dividing a concept or idea into two opposing or contrasting elements, for example, good and evil. From the current belief system of materialism, we are taught that there is no good or evil. There is only our existence in a material universe. Good or evil is only the perception of a particular person or group. Other examples are human and nonhuman, sacred and secular. The problem becomes when one category is more highly valued over another. As in the example that I gave last week, the valuing of one category over another frequently comes out of one’s understanding of life—who we are and why we are here. Such dualistic thinking creates a problem in that it directs one’s thinking away from whom God designed us to be (fully embodied spiritual beings) and pushes us towards a division that is not mandated in Scripture. In other words dualisms are a necessary part of life. But our underlying beliefs about life guides our understandings related to dualistic thinking.
For example, sometimes it is necessary to make a dualistic distinction, but other times it is not necessary to make dualistic distinctions. Again, these distinctions arise out of one’s view of life. Here are two examples of necessary dualism. One I have already mentioned: good and evil. I believe a necessary division should be made between good and evil. There are good and evil forces within our world. But, if one does not believe in God and only believes in the physical world, then, there cannot be good or evil. One is only left with power: who will win the battle of ideas or who will win the physical war and dominate the other person or group. Another necessary category distinction is human and nonhuman. Most of us value human life as made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) which would distinguish us from nonhuman life. Psalms 8:3-8 tells us:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (New Revised Standard Version)
Here we see a clear distinction between what the Scriptures refer to as humans and a distinct category referred to as nonhuman. However in our current culture the distinction of human and nonhuman is becoming less and less. This presents a whole host of problems which we will not get into here. But we can see that sometimes dualistic thought or categories are necessary to prevent chaos in society. But sometimes we create dualistic thinking when it is not necessary because unknowingly we have adopted thinking about life that is misguided. Let me explain by an example from my own experience.
My Experience Growing Up
I grew up in a very conservative Baptist church that prided itself on being fundamental, Independent, Bible-believing, and a number of other distinctions and descriptors. It was important growing up to be in church frequently. In fact, one could live life almost entirely separated from the rest of the world. It was always interesting to me how we could daily go to work, but evenings and weekends were frequently spent at church. Our whole life beyond work could be at church or hanging out with Christian friends. Shutting the two worlds (work and church) into two categories became the norm. However, honesty, integrity and working as unto the Lord at work is just as important as doing our evening or weekend Christian activities. God is Lord of our work just as he is Lord of our church activity. But in that church environment to be a truly “good” Christian I must go on visitation (visiting people in the community not so much as an act of kindness to assist with a need or just to visit an older person who may need contact with others) on Thursday night to “win the lost.” Notice the goal here is not to develop a relationship with the person, but to “save his or her soul.” It seems to me it would have been more productive to have had spent time getting to know a person or family (maybe associated with work) who are not believers by “doing” life together such as helping one another through sickness, or helping one another through a difficult time or just enjoying a “game” night. In these types of situations we get to know others better and trust builds. Otherwise, why in the world should someone listen to me or anyone else during a “visitation” visit. It almost felt as if the “visitation” visit was an item to check off our Christian list.
As a young person growing up in this environment we were not allowed to go to movies. Most young people did any way. Notice immediately the double life it creates. The argument was that going to movies was to participate in the evilness of Hollywood. Now, Hollywood certainly has its evils and we should be careful of what movies we attend. But movies are an art form that can be very much appreciated. But in my growing up years, going to a movie was to participate in the world or to be “of the world”. The teaching we received was meant to remove us from the world and to seclude us in our small Christian community. The point that I am making here is that to remove ourselves from the world and to seclude ourselves just within the Christian community is not the way to be salt and light. It is a clear example of the sacred/secular divide. What may have been more helpful is to have a movie night, discuss the movie with friends (maybe even a work colleague), both Christian and nonChristian. Dialogue is a very helpful thing to help us understand one another. Seclusion keeps us divided.
I hope this has set the stage for next week’s blog post that further digs into the sacred/secular divide by looking more closely at what Macaulay and Barrs say about this topic. Once we have a clear understanding of the sacred/secular divide, we will look at how this thinking shows up in education. See you next week.
Carroll Smith lives with his wife Andra in Roanoke, Virginia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2019 Carroll Smith