Thursday, August 16, 2007

Reflections: Dualism - In the beginning


1: a theory that considers reality to consist of two irreducible elements or modes
2: the quality or state of being dual or of having a dual nature
3 a: a doctrine that the universe is under the dominion of two opposing principles one of which is good and the other evil b: a view of human beings as constituted of two irreducible elements (as matter and spirit)

Of the four dictionary definitions of “dualism” above, I am most interested here in parts "a" and "b" of number 3. Orthodox Christianity, at least as expressed in Catholicism (as I understand it, which is admittedly not that well) would deny the truth of each of these definitions. In the biblical book of Genesis, it is stated that when God had finished with the Creation, he saw that it was good. As God the Father is the sole Creator of everything, and since God is omnibenevolent, it follows that everything in Creation must be good. Logic tells us that a Creator who is all-good could not create a bad thing. Neither, in a non-dualistic, monotheistic universe, could there be a second creative principle, entity, or being that is responsible for the existence of evil things. Therefore, evil can have no objective existence. So “3 a” above cannot be applied to a valid description of the creation, as perceived by orthodoxy.

When considering human beings, orthodoxy teaches that spirit and body together form one unit and are not viable as separate entities. According to Catholicism, for instance, both the body and the soul are created by God at the instant of conception. The general resurrection at the end of time will be a resurrection of actual physical bodies—the same bodies possessed by each individual before his death. So “3 b” above describes an erroneous way to look at humanity. But I have problems with this interpretation of the book of Genesis. I find the mythical imagery and symbolism of the first two chapters of Genesis -- those which deal specifically with the Creation -- to contain elements suggestive of dualism.

To begin with, the first two chapters of the book of Genesis are clearly comprised of two distinct versions of the creation myth. This fact, in itself, suggests a sort of structural dualism. This structural dualism can be shown to be necessitated by (at least) two different authorial conclusions concerning the processes of the Creation. Without going into the various scholarly disputes concerning the number and religious biases of the hypothetical author(s) of the book as a whole, we can here propose that the juxtaposition of the two differing versions of the same creation myth demonstrates a need felt by the ancient editors to acknowledge the competing, or composite, truths of a dualism of the type suggested by dictionary definition "2" above.

The creation myth as presented in the first chapter of the book of Genesis actually ends with the third verse of the second chapter: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." [All quotes will be from the King James version, unless otherwise noted.] In chapter one, the Creation goes without a hitch, from "Let there be light," to resting on the seventh day and instituting the sabbath. In Chapter One, there is no creation of Eve from Adam's rib; rather: "...God created man in his own image...male and female created he them." There is no afterthought here; no reaction to the problematic perception of Adam's lack of a mate. By contrast, in the 18th verse of the second chapter, we have: "It is not good that the man should be alone..." Not good? Mistakes were made?

In chapter one, after God has separated the waters into seas, thus creating dry land, we have, beginning at verse 11: "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit...' and it was so... and God saw that it was good." But in the fifth verse of the second version, "in the day the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it grew; for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground." There seems to be a strange lack of foresight on the part of the Creator here. It also seems that Adam, once he is created, is destined to be a field hand, tilling the ground (after God gets around to moistening it) in order that God can plant that vegetation, the ideal forms of which he has previously created in heaven. Finally, in verse 6 "...there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." It is not clear from this account whether God caused the necessary mist to rise from the earth, or merely took advantage of it when it happened spontaneously. There is no mention of the man being made in God's image.

So it is clear that the two versions of the creation myth, as presented in the first two verses of the book of Genesis, tell similar stories which differ in subtly important ways. The second version presents a Creator who does not seem to have thought of everything in advance, who backtracks and improvises as various contingencies arise. In the first chapter, all goes smoothly; every plan and act of God is really is wholly good in the beginning.

At Chapter 3, however, things begin to go very badly indeed, and it is in these circumstances that the implicit dualism of the book of Genesis becomes even more readily apparent. We shall next consider the two trees God had planted in the midst of the Garden, and the nature of the talking serpent who is so instrumental to the Fall of Man and to the doctrine of Original Sin.