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- Added March 14th, 2017
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Either/Or "You either love him or you hate him"
By Helen Watson White in All Sorts
Helen argues that Christian should not accept this so-called dualism which polarises everything.Have you noticed that in reports of conflict there seem to be only two sides to an argument? You are one or the other: a lover or a hater, ruler or rebel, Left or Right, Eastern or Western, Christian or non-Christian, friend or enemy.
It's called dualism, binary thinking, polarization, and it's everywhere. But why should we accept it? It's not just over-simple, it's downright
wrong if we want an encompassing vision for our world. For Christians, it widens the divide that Jesus challenged, between Jews and Gentiles, Us and Them. Jesus was perhaps the ultimate humanist, committed to valuing humans of whatever kind or side.
If you are anti something, it's often assumed you are negative about other things as well. But what if part of you is pro? Take Christmas. There's debate in December between those pro or anti. But I would say which Christmas? There's the religious festival, and then there's the shoppers' Xmas; or there may be a family celebration that combines both. The present-giving originates from the wise ones' gifts in the Bible, even if it's no longer connected to the Jesus story.
While it's possible now to enjoy the seasonal gift exchange without knowing its origin, this wasn't the case in the nineteenth century when Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. This last December, as well as hearing excerpts of that famous story read aloud by a (Buddhist) nephew, I had the pleasure of reviewing a full-scale opera, by New Zealander Philip Norman, based on the Dickens tale.
The story is as popular as ever: a change of heart is brought about in the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge by compelling visitations from spirits of Past, Present and Future as well as of his late colleague Jacob Marley. Miser Scrooge's arid existence is contrasted with others' ability to enjoy life in the smallest things, to celebrate Christmas in a social gathering, with the presence of others being the main presents/gifts. The lighting designer had a field day with these contrasts, choosing a ghostly blue, wintery tone for what life feels like for the Poor, suffering (then as now) under the Money Men, and a warm golden glow for the 'fun-filled days' enjoyed by people who know they are rich in simply having each other to love.
Such a simplification belongs in the theatre, where it made a very obvious point. But there's another aspect that relates back to my
theme of Either/Or. Along with the division of characters into those partying in midwinter and those who are deprived, scornful, or hopeless all year round, there is a fusion of two principles which I found interesting.
One of the most persistent examples of dualism that emerged in our tradition is that the physical is divorced from the spiritual, the soul separate from the body. It was Greek philosophy that brought this concept into our religion; it is not a Hebrew idea, nor is it present in the theology of the early Christian Celts. In the Roman Catholic tradition (from where we've come), the body was such an enemy and distraction to the soul that from very early in the church's history, men and women became monks or nuns, abstaining from physical contact with others and punishing themselves for having fleshly desires.
If you think this idea died long ago, think again. As we read in a recent Connections article, it survived (as the 'mortification' of the flesh) into Luther's Reformation. A flesh-denying Puritan streak is still evident in some denominations, where 'having fun' in any physical way is counter to what is expected from Christian adherents.
In A Christmas Carol, however, the wholesome fun of Christmas, with games, dancing and music, is on the side of the Good, aligned with the spirit of giving, of generous and universal love. In the battle of Good and Evil, the ungenerous Scrooge is moved to change sides, proving our Methodist motto: Finding Good in Everyone, Finding God in Everyone.
We're going to have to say our motto daily as we face the consequences of America's choice of president. As he marshals the forces determined to deny basic human rights to those designated Other, or Enemy, we have to look very hard for any sign of a Scrooge- like capacity to change.
-- Helen Watson White