Friday, February 10, 2006

The Dichotomy of 'Man'

I've alluded to this idea before. It's what I meant when I said "...neo-platonic dichotomism and its affect on the culturally disenfranchised west...." What does that actually mean?

When you think of humanity in the realm of the individual, do you think of a whole person or a makeup of different elements (ie: body, spirit, mind/soul)? Does the way you live (or the way others live) match the way you think? Whether it does or not, which perspective does it reflect?

I would argue that most of us in the West (ie: North America, not specifically cowboy-west), whichever way we would pose to understand our makeup, live as though we are, in essence, a conglomeration of different parts. This is dichotomism (or trichotomism). This, I believe, is linked back to neo-platonism which elevates the psuche ('mind/soul') and/or the pneuma ('spirit') above the soma ('body'). That is, neo-platonists believe (and believe that Plato believed) that the physical world is just a shell for the true essence of humanity: the mental/spiritual.

So what?! What does this actually mean? Well, Western culture (largely perpetuated by Western Christendom alongside re-elevation of the mind in Modernity) has bought into this fully. Think about it. How many activities or practices or whatever do you actually involve your whole self in?
I'll point out the obvious problematic example in Joe Christian:
-Joe works for a construction company (mainly physical, somewhat mental)
-Joe takes night school to get a better job (almost entirely mental)
-Joe goes to church on Sunday (spiritual) but leaves his faith at the door on his way out and goes home to eat nachos and watch football (physical and mental only).

Obviously I'm exaggerating the case but I think you get my point.

Alright, what's the resolve? From my example you may point out that 'Joe' just needs to pray more during the week to have more 'spiritual' existence/exercise (kind of like 'walking the spiritual dog'). Ok, maybe. But I pointed out the neo-platonic idea for a reason. Yes, 'Joe' is spiritually starved, but isolating his other 'elements' isn't good for him either. If you were to ask 'Joe' what he considered to be the most important part of his being, being a 'good Christian' he would answer his spirit. In fact, I bet most of us would order our importance as spirit, mind, then body (whether we practice that or not).

So here's my point: God made us as whole individuals. In fact, he made us as parts of a larger whole of community too. I will not argue against the idea that we have different elements (the Bible can attest to the existence of both physical and metaphysical) but I will not buy into the idea that we should keep said parts quartered off from each other. Good athletes will tell you that the game is just as much mental (or perhaps even more so) as it is physical. Think about that. What if our worship services engaged our body/mind/spirit deeply throughout? How about our 'menial' jobs? What about (*soapbox alert*) eating?!?! Imagine a meal where our bodies were comfortable and being fed and our minds and spirits were engaged with each other in 'conversation' and thankfulness to God.

For more on 'holism' see 'the Bible' (especially any parts written by someone who had any degree of a 'Hebrew' connection).

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