I can hear the objections already. “You’re talking about analytic, binary discussion and we’re talking about an ‘ism’, an attitude that habitually divides the world into sacred and profane. That’s Dualism, and that IS the problem.”
Well, yes, but why call it Dualism and not simply Sin? The problem is not that we divide things into twos, but that as sinners we are always seeking areas of autonomy. Divide it as you like, I still want a part for myself. Convince me that God wants my money as well as my prayers, and I will observe that I can’t actually give away all my money, so there must be some part that I can keep. That part is mine. Convince me that God wants “all my time, not just Sunday mornings”, and I’ll note that I cannot physically think of God all the time and get my work done also, so it must be OK to think about other things some of the time. That time will be my time.
This may be particularly the sin of religious people, since the non-religious do not have the problem of determining what portion is God’s if none of it is. I see this in God’s repeated rebukes to Israel that, while she might be observing the sacrificial rites well enough, she is not leaving the gleanings, or not observing the Jubilee, or, in short, not submitting the whole of life to God. Even in the conquest of the land of Israel we see a symbolic failure in this area. Israel was supposed to take the entire land, to consign all the Canaanites to the ban, but instead was satisfied with a partial conquest, with part of the land being explicitly under God’s rule and the rest remaining under the rule of the other gods.
I fear that by discovering and discussing this thing called Dualism we are making the problem seem subtler and more philosophical than it is. It can lead to long-winded missives like this one. It can suggest that this is something new in the church, which (I believe) it is not. It can suggest a philosophical etiology (Bacon and Descartes and the Enlightenment) and hence a philosophical cure, instead of a human-nature etiology and a hortatory and penitential cure.
Furthermore, and more subtly, it may make us suspicious of otherwise useful thought if we think we find “dualism” there. I am thinking specifically of such thinkers as Francis Bacon and Descartes. These men wrote within a Christian framework, and both explicitly (even if perhaps deceptively, as some think) gave glory to God and considered Truth to be Truth indeed. (Descartes realized that to prove the existence of anything outside himself he had to first prove the existence of God. Chew on that a while, materialist.) I have found their writings to be very useful in thinking about the nature of God’s world and our knowledge thereof. However, in Christian circles, because they were “dualists”, I find mostly suspicion and ignorance of what they actually wrote.
For example, until very recently all I knew of Thomas Aquinas was what I read in Francis Schaeffer’s works as a college student. There, I learned that he was largely responsible for this dreaded dualism, creating an “upper story” and a “lower story” in life. This is also the impression my son has obtained, thirty years later. (See May 19, 2004 entry on his blog.) Not a word about the richness and amazing scope of his thought, which ironically embraced almost all aspects of life in a way that we would welcome in a Christian author today! When discussing Truth in a mixed group of grad students (St. John’s College), it was clear to the Christians in the group that Thomas Aquinas is very definitely on “our” side. What a shame that all he is remembered for today among even our better-educated Christians is that he was the father of that terrible Dualism!