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Worldviews in Conflict: Christian Cosmology and the Recent Doctrine of Spiritual Mapping (Part 1)

 

A number of emerging sects claimed that Christ only “seemed” to have a physical body, a heresy that had been exposed by John’s Gospel a century earlier.8 In addition, later Gnostic views of reality poisoned the doctrine of Christian life, since they taught that the physical body is essentially the worthless prison of the soul.9 The Gnostic and Dualist worldview portrayed the physical elements, including the human body as it was originally created, to be essentially evil.

Manichaean Dualism

Arguably one of the most damaging heresies introduced to the ancient Middle-Eastern world came from the teaching of Mani, the enigmatic prophet and founder of Manichaeism.10 Under his guidance the Manichees set out to resolve the apparent conflict between the concept of the essential goodness of the Creator and the presence of evil in the cosmos. Their solution drew attention to two fundamental forces in the universe: good vs. evil, or, to put it in strictly Christian terms: God vs. Satan.

The eclectic Mani had woven Buddhist, Persian and Christian ideas together, reconstructing Old Testament narratives in the form of Eastern mythology and corrupting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.11 By the time of his martyrdom (approximately 276), he had succeeded in spreading his new–but marred—religious insights throughout the Near East and into China, as well as the West in Rome and North Africa.

Even more important was his influence on one of Church history’s most illustrious early personalities, St. Augustine (354-430). It is believed that in apparent desperation over dealing with his own sensuous nature, the young Augustine had been attracted to the austere teachings of Mani.12 It is fairly clear that he was unable to completely shed his Manichaean influences as the elderly church bishop, even at the time of his most famous work, City of God. Manichaean doctrine, which had permeated both the Eastern and Western world during the latter half of the fourth century, has reappeared in many popular forms since.13

The principle problem with the Manichaen thesis is the errant view that God is limited in His power, thus it reduces the universe to a cosmic struggle or duel being fought between God and Satan. Putting it another way, the world of the Manichees was one that perceived God and Satan as virtually equals. This doctrine is best known as metaphysical or cosmic Dualism. Although they regarded God as the overall Creator and Father of spirit and light, they defined Satan as the one who created the physical world. They argued that Satan, not God, has hold of the events of life and the elements that make up the material universe. Explaining it simply, they believed the world belonged to the devil, but God was fighting to get it back.

The doctrine of the Manichees, as well as those cosmologies found in Docetism and Gnosticism, were branded heresy—and for good reason.14 The church fathers were incensed by the notion that God’s glory and perfection was being maligned by a corrupt worldview.15 They saw it as a threat to the fundamental Judeo-Christian cosmology that had been handed down from the time of Moses.

 

Origin of the Distinctive Western Worldview

The Prophet Moses had indeed delivered the Law, the Torah. However, equally important to the moral insights of the Ten Commandments and the spiritual significance of the levitical priesthood, was this revolutionary cosmology. Moses had succeeded in delivering a unique cosmology that was guaranteed to change the world as the ancients knew it. From the time of Moses onward, the Hebrew worldview contrasted sharply with her neighbors in the way they thought about God, the physical universe, and spiritual reality. In fact, some historians point out that the divine encounter between YHWH and Moses, recorded in Exodus 3, signifies a paradigm shift in the way Western16 culture historically viewed God and, ultimately, science. Historian Diane Darst, for example, makes this poignant observation:

Even his name, Yahweh, translates both as “I am who I am” and “he who causes to be.” This very abstract concept of a god transcendent to nature represented a bold departure from the idol worship and anthropomorphism of other ancient religions and made possible the development of modern Western science.17

This is a crucial point that should not be overlooked by anyone who has grown up in the West. Prior to Moses the religions along the Mediterranean landscape were as animistic and polytheistic as those in India or Tibet. The spiritualist worldview was the only worldview. Spirits lived in all things, both animate and inanimate objects. Bushes, trees, forests, rivers, rocks, mountains and sky—all were believed to contain spirits and life connected to the spiritual world order. The largely agrarian populations that nestled between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers worshipped deities that were limited to a particular region or city. In other words, in the cradle of Western Civilization before Moses, people put their trust in local gods and goddesses who were thought to be intertwined with nature itself.18

 

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Category: Fall 2001, Living the Faith, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Larry L. Taylor, M.A., D.Min., is Affiliate Faculty at Regis University in the Denver area and formerly professor of humanities at Portland Bible College. Larry Taylor founded a church in Colorado and has 17 years of pastoral experience.

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