Monism or Dualism? It all depends on where you're standing
I'm out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing this week in the North Cascades with my wife, complements of the Bethany community church's kindness, as they've given us this week as a gift for our ten years of service in Seattle. What a great time we're having so far.
Yesterday, while snowshoeing along the ridges of the glorious Methow valley, I was disengaging from the pain I was feeling by thinking about how eastern religions encourage us toward the realization that 'all is one', that the distinctions between myself and yourself, between tree and bird, between any 'this' and any 'that', are only illusions. When we see reality, all distinction melts away. This doctrine is called 'monism', in distinction to the 'dualistic' world view, which sees the distinctions as real.
But things get trickey for we who follow Christ, because the reality is that espouse a form a monism AND a form of dualism.
MONISM - Christians reject (or at least should reject) the dualism that was such a part of Gnostic thinking and the teachings of Plato. This dualism sees the world as matter and spirit, the latter being pure and former being corrupted. To the extent that this idea crept into the church, much that is good, created by God, and earthy, became suspect (good food, sexuality, enjoying the sunrise, etc.) There were lots of other destructive ways this dualism played out, but that's for another time. The result was that the church wrestled with this dualism and came to the conclusion that the dualism which villified all things material by drawing a harsh line between spirit and matter was false. Thus the church, when standing next to a gnostic, is monist - flesh and spirit are both good, both from God, all part of the same cloth of creation.
But when we turn to the east and face the deep monism of Buddhism and Hinduism, the church becomes dualist, because the church says, "Wait. I am me, and you are you, and neither of us is God, who is the creator of all of it. There is good and there is evil. There is right and there is wrong." The consequences of these ideas are huge. If I'm monist in the eastern sense, I'm forced to acknowledge that everything I see is illusion. If everything I see is illusion, my senses can't be trusted. If my senses can't be trusted, why engage them in scientific enquiry? And I can't even mourn properly when bad things happen becasue evil as a category is as much an illusion as good!
So are you monist or dualist? It all depends on where your standing. But when I'm standing near the top of Patterson mountain, overlooking the Mazama valley, I'm thankful that all of it is shot through with God's glory (almost monist, but not really), and I'm thankful too that I am me, and not that deer over there. The bigger mystery for me is why I think about stuff like this while I'm snowshoeing.