Friday, November 7, 2008

Christian thought, Cold War, and Manicheanism

As I have been surveying the current theological and intellectual world, I have noticed the good guy/bad guy motif. President Elect Obama is viewed as either Savior or Demon. The fact that he is probably neither hangs like an insult to both sides. Both sides seem to think that the middle lacks conviction and really the other side hiding. Conservatives and liberals view anything out of their ideology as really belonging to the other side.
This thinking has prevalent throughout the culture, both in theological circles and in secular culture as a whole. Red States/Blue States are put as diametrically opposed, as are Government and Business, Socialism and Individuality (or if you care community and consumer). Once divided as such, the other whether republican or democrat, Church goer or secularist, "Taste great" crowd or "Less filling" crowd stands as light against dark.

There seems to be a great divide between us. I am hardly the first to point out this Manicheanism in our current worldview. The question I want to raise is how did Manicheanisn come to dominate our culture? First things first, I should begin with a definition of Manicheanism. It is based on an ancient religion that saw the world divided by two waring Gods, a good God and a bad God. The religions founder, Mani 210–276 CE was from area of modern day Iran, and borrowed from Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Elcesaites, and even Buddhism. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact beliefs of the religion, it has come down to us as a belief in a clash good and bad (light and dark) Gods fighting for control. It also, and this is important, a clash between the good people of the light and the bad people of the dark. A person is either good or bad in their being. This stands in opposition to the Christian view of humanity, where all are sinners and only by God's grace are we redeemed and sactified. This is important as in orthodox Christianity, a bad person can be transformed into loving person. In certain Christian circles this fundemental insight has been forgotten and replace by a functional Manicheanism, where the Devil is raised to the level of another God fighting Jesus and the armies of the lightl. There was good reason that the early church rejected the tendencies of Manicheanism. In Manicheanism, there is no room for forgiveness, grace, or redemption. Agian, you are either good guy battling with the good God against the bad guy and bad God.

Back to my question of how did Manicheanism arise in our country. What comes to mind is the Cold War and the fears it bred in our thinking. I still remember the fear I grew up that at any point the USSR was going to launch a missle strike. Movies like Red Dawn and The day After reenforced my fears of the bad guys ready to kill the good guys. For over forty years the US and USSR faced of with each other, and this conditioned us to think in terms of us and them. Further in the spy games the two sides played, there where revelations of trusted people actually working for the enemy. People could be closet enemies. Forward to today, and that thinking is still in us. We have grown up thinking in terms or Right guys and Wrong guys. The legacy of the Cold War entangles our theology, politics and worldview.

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