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Manichean Theology


Stephen Sizer used the term Manichean Theology within his article (below) and while you ‘smarties’ out there probably knew exactly what the definition of the term was, I didn’t.  

When that happens I go searching… and you may have noted I did locate the definition and provided a link within the article. 

Anyway, while looking for the definition I also came across a note concerning the Manichean Worldview, which I thought was very interesting and wanted to share a few quotes from it:

Democracy, patriotism, internal and external wars, all political tactics based on factional conflict are supported by a worldview which I call the manichean worldview (“manichean” referring to an ancient religious dualist movement, but nowadays applied to any polarizing, black/white belief).

…propaganda… lead(s) the way in promoting this worldview, and has contributed to its insinuation into public discourse.

A few principles ..isolated from it:

1. There are “good people” and “bad people.” People can be divided into two general camps, “good” and “bad.” “Good” means: anyone who is on our side. “Bad” means: anyone who is against our side. There is zero consideration of morality whatsoever in those evaluations, as they denote one’s faction exclusively. “We” (the side with which the person is assumed to identify) are never “bad.”

2. “Good people” are pretty, smart, happy. “Bad people” are ugly, stupid and ill-tempered. “Good people” are the “light side,” “evil people” are the “dark side.” No “evil person” believes that he is doing the right thing: “evil people” are always corrupt and angry.

3. Anything a “good person” does is “good,” even if it consists of actions which are universally condemned, like theft, murder or torture. In the manichean worldview, the end completely justifies the means, no questions asked. In the “good” world, there is no moral responsibility whatsoever. Just belonging to the “right faction” gives you total free reign.

“Bad people,” on the other hand, bear full moral responsibility for their actions. If a “bad person” steals, kills or tortures, he should be punished for doing so, unlike “good people.” As a part of that, we also have a tendency to generalize positivity and particularize negativity towards members of our in-group (e.g. “atheists are great people,”), and do the reverse to others (e.g. “Pat Robertson came out for pot legalization,” “Christians are stupid”). There can be times when the distortion between what the manichean perceives as “good” and the actions of the “good person” becomes too great: the “good person” is then either called an “anti-hero,” or everyone denies that the person was on their side to begin with. No “bad person” or “bad” label can ever, ever be pinned on the “good side.”

4. The world is a struggle, which can only be won by violence. The “evil people” must be subdued by force, because they are on the wrong side by definition. When victory is achieved, “the end” has been met, and nothing could possibly go wrong from that point on. (source)

Obviously this was not written by a Christian nor does it claim to be looking at this through the lens of Christianity or come from a Christian website.  But what I found interesting was how much this worldview can be applied to many American Christians today. Not only those who claim to be Christian Zionists but to those who see the world’s population as being divided into “bad” and “good” people – not saved or lost…or in Christ or without Christ. In fact, many of my fellow Christians even view entire Nations or groups (races) of people through this non-biblical distorted lens. As a consequence of this manner of viewing our fellow man, we, the Church, project hate toward those who we claim are “bad” people by continuing to demonize them, while at the same time pointing out just how “good” and “moral” we are  –  instead of obeying the command to love them and present to them the the Gospel which leads to everlasting life.

Perhaps I’m not explaining my thoughts very well…

just musing 

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7 comments on “Manichean Theology

  1. We’re all, by nature, “Manichaeans” because its the best way to try and stay ahead of the curve. You’re right that America, not just deluded Christians but everyone, thinks in these terms. George Bush or Obama are Hitler, the republicans/democrats are evil etc etc. We live by our heroes and mythologies, our country, our history, whatever that may be, has to be on the right side, the driving force of history. Whether the Zionists who believe America made a covenant with God, or liberals/neo-conservatives who think the world is driven by a progress, a torch, that America wields at the present time.

    I read recently, and thought it was well put, that either the second-death or the banquet of the Lamb, both are populated by forgiven sinners. The difference is in whether they received that forgiveness or spurned it.

    People who want to count themselves the “good guys”, who have almost single-handedly always committed the most atrocious crimes, can’t stand to be classified along with the losers and failures of this world. How many Americans, on that last day, would march off to the fires of hell if Osama bin Laden received the love of Jesus and was sitting down at his table.

    That sort of dualism is par for the course in our pride. The difference isn’t in good and bad but between those who hate the light for exposing their darkness and those who see their darkness and take it into the light.

    Cal

    • The difference isn’t in good and bad but between those who hate the light for exposing their darkness and those who see their darkness and take it into the light.

      Amen. That’s a wonderful observation Cal. One i won’t forget.

    • “I read recently, and thought it was well put, that either the second-death or the banquet of the Lamb, both are populated by forgiven sinners. The difference is in whether they received that forgiveness or spurned it.”

      And a large part of what separates these two groups amounts to arrogance. We live in a day when even those who identify themselves as “Christian” have a great tendency toward arrogance. I can’t help but think of the case of Rios Montt in Guatemala. He was widely regarded as a hero and a patriot in the US back in the day. He has associated himself publicly with Christians and has maintained a public profession of faith. And yet, during the time he was in power, he was AT LEAST aware of grave atrocities that he CHOSE to overlook and simply write off as collateral damage of war. And when you watch video interviews of him during that period, you are left with a realization that this man who styled himself as a Christian was in fact very arrogant and self confident with a complete lack of the sort of sensitivity and discernment that one should expect from a Christian. And apparently he surrounded himself with people every bit as arrogant. Those members of the native population who had the misfortune of living in areas controlled by opposing forces were “the bad guys” delineated by a wide brush stroke. There was a clear perception of black and white, good and evil. The result was a great tragedy with an endless number of innocent human beings experiencing torture and death as a result. This is an example of what a Christian can accomplish when under the control of a self righteous arrogant spirit. And there are parallels to that in America today that are downright frightening when you consider them. The power of “good people” (and I DON’T use that term sarcastically) to execute great evil in order to attempt to accomplish what they see as a noble end. The reality is that we are ALL capable of that, may God deliver us from that fate of being the bull in the china shop destroying innocent lives in order to impose some sort of “Christian” Utopia. Rios Montt lived it and now he is paying the price as well he should. I truly feel sorry for him and hope that he has privately come to a point of repentance over it all, BUT I feel far MORE sorry for those innocent multitudes whose lives he destroyed by his arrogant determination. And I only hope a similar tragedy doesn’t come to a neighborhood near us, because the danger is real. These things don’t just happen to other people.

  2. Coincidentally, I also ran into the term “Manichean” just today, while reading through Calvin’s discourse (in his Institutes) on Original Sin and man’s depravity. Apparently they ascribed the creation of man to some other Creator, since they didn’t want to believe that God had anything to do with the fall of mankind. I don’t know about the type of dualism mentioned in the article, but certainly they all suffer a warped understanding of human depravity, both in the people they praise who tickle their ears, and in themselves, not knowing that their works also are but “foul rags” in the sight of God.

    • Thanks Ricardo…

      The word (and term) was foreign to me, having never heard it mentioned or come across it in my reading.

      I don’t know about the type of dualism mentioned in the article,

      You’re referring to Sizer’s use of the term in relation to Christian Zionism?

      I believe i understand what he was referring to but want to be sure. Stephen Sizer is a “friend” on Facebook so i thought about writing and asking him to explain it further. Think i will today. If he responds i’ll share it here.

    • “You’re referring to Sizer’s use of the term in relation to Christian Zionism?”

      Yes. I was running on half a brain at the time (it was 6am) so my post wasn’t as clear as I intended it. What I meant was “I’m not sure if the church in America today can be compared to the Manicheans… but they (Christian Zionists) certainly suffered from the same warped view of human depravity.”

  3. That was fast :-)

    I asked,

    You referred to Christian Zionists and dualistic Manichean theology in your article…not being familiar with the term (Manichean theology), I looked it up but am still somewhat confused. If time allows can you explain it in relation to Christian Zionism?

    He replied,

    Dualistic in the sense of the good guys and bad guys – Israel and America against the rest of the world. Manichaeans is the technical term….

    Thought that was what he was referring to, but wanted to be sure.

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