Recently, I’ve been struck by how much Christians talk about their “enemies”.
It prompted me to ask why anyone would choose to look at the world in this way. Who would want to categorise people as either friend or foe? What a perverse way to look at life!
George Bush exploited this black and white view after 9/11. He said if we weren’t for America then we had to be against them. If we mourned with them we had to also condone their invasions and assassinations. There were no shades of grey. If you couldn’t be their friend then you were, de facto, an enemy.
Christianity is not alone in this dualistic view of life but it is the predominant perspective in many of our cultures. The division of people into friends or enemies prompted me to think about the other ways this oppositional view of life expresses itself. We also see it in the division of the world into good or evil, body or spirit, saved or damned.
Some extreme Christianity movements such as the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, which seems to have influence in Ghana, actually believe a real battle taking place in our world between the forces of good and the forces of evil, calling it spiritual warfare. They even invented a sort of spiritual GPS called ‘spiritual mapping’, to locate the evil spirits! It’s an embarrassingly simplistic way of understanding the world. There is a Buddhist teaching that says that until we stop clinging to the concept of good and evil the world will continue to manifest as friendly goddesses and harmful demons. If you look at the world in terms of good and evil then, of course, that is what you see. Your experience of life is created by the way choose to view and understand it.
Ironically, whilst suggesting it can heal and make us whole, the Christian perspective would persuade us that we are not whole people but are, by essence, fragmented. They would have us believe that we are two different things – body and spirit; that somehow our consciousness exists separately from our brain. It’s becoming harder to maintain this notion in the light of scientific understanding. For example, why would brain damage radically change someone’s personality if there was a “Me” independent of the brain?
Some Christians define themselves as the Truth holders, the righteous ones, and see themselves as separate from those they define as the wicked and unsaved – the ones who won’t be joining their special club in heaven! It’s the us and them syndrome that has created so much damage in our world.
This dualistic approach to life creates a Christian schizophrenia. For example, we are told to love enemies yet take a secret pleasure in watching them smited! We separate the person we are in church from the one we are the rest of the week.
Ironically, these binary definitions of good and bad seem to become interchangeable in the hands of Christians attempting to understand why bad things happen in a world that is overseen by a god they believe is only good. Take, for example, the untimely death of an innocent child. Most reasonable people would agree this is bad. Yet too often we hear the claim that the tragedy is actually good as ‘everything happens for a reason’. They hypothesize an unknown master plan by God in which our ‘earthly’ definitions of good and bad are not as sophisticated as God’s, who, apparently, works on a different moral level. Then they claim we should get our moral understanding from God after the distinction between good and bad has become so corrupted that black now equals white!
The catchword these days is holistic: to look at things as a unified whole, where everything interacts and effects the other, where the parts cannot be viewed as separate entities from the whole. Many scientists are recognising that studying the individual components of something does not go far enough and they have to be viewed in their relationship to the whole. The environmental movement is showing us the way the entire ecosystem is a balanced self-sustaining structure where the destruction of one part causes all the others to readjust.
Interestingly, some Eastern traditions believe that reaching Enlightenment means overcoming a dualistic view of life. Rather than celebrating it and institutionalising it as a component of its beliefs, it is seen as something to be transcended. Nietzsche also called for some of us to operate in a space beyond good and evil.
Encouragingly, many Christians are now starting to see that this antagonistic view of life, although enshrined within Christianity, is, in many ways, anti-Christian and are attempting a move towards a holistic perspective.
As we move away from traditional dualistic ideologies the beautiful intricacy of life reveals itself. But for some this is too much to bear and they take refuge in a world of Us and Them.