The Assumptions of Human Duality

Most everyone I know around the Internet has a “problem” with spirituality. The atheists have a problem figuring out why some people are not content with materialism or naturalism and the religionists have a problem understanding why people cannot believe in the supra-natural. I think the “problem” goes deeper than that. The problem is the philosophy of dualism, which informs every religion from Christianity to Islam. Without the idea of dualism all religious questions about the afterlife would be a moot point. So what is “dualism?” There are numerous definitions of dualism depending on your focus on morals, philosophy, or materialism, but for my purposes I am defining dualism as the belief that our “soul” or our consciousness is separate from our bodies. Many religions base their entire belief systems on the concept of the dual nature of humans, one nature which is related to God or the gods or the supra-natural and the other based in the material world, always opposed to spirit and in the control of evil, Satan, etc. Paul and the other writers would be out of business if dualism weren’t true because the entire New Testament is based on dualism.

Dualism is seemingly everywhere. We see in “twos” all the time; sky:earth, up:down, mind:body, male:female….. but we know, deep down, that two is not the final number for any of these things. Why do we insist that it is? I contend that the only reason people believe in gods is because they so desperately wish for an afterlife, a place after death in which our consciousness lives on in the presence of someone or thing and that we are preserved eternally. And I most vehemently further contend that the belief in dualism and moreover a belief in an afterlife are the SOLE reasons people believe in God. Nothing else makes belief in such an entity worthwhile. In other words, there’s nothing in it for us if the afterlife is a lie. People will be moral without gods. That’s been proven. So we don’t need gods for that. Now some will argue, equally vehemently, that they most certainly would believe if heaven or hell did not exist, but I don’t believe them. As humans we desperately want our actions to have meaning in equal measure with our wish for vengeance. Both sentiments, which come naturally to humans, automatically ensure that our religions will reflect this.

There is a Synchro-blogging event going on concerning this very topic and there are some excellent posts out there. You see, I don’t think we can over-think this issue of duality at all! It’s the key to how we will think about the world and it will guide our thoughts toward or away from believing in Gods or the super and supra-natural realm. Christians accept the duality of humans automatically. So do Muslims. I’m not sure that Jews do. There are monistic hints and patterns in the Old Testament and I’m not conversant enough in Judaism to know for sure. I sure would like to ponder some questions though:

  1. Can there be an afterlife and not be a God that “presides” over it?
  2. Can an afterlife exist without the concept of reward or punishment?
  3. What does it mean for us if we truly face the concept that there is no division between our minds and our bodies? How do we then live?
  4. Doesn’t morality become truly “moral” if there is no heaven or hell?

Just some thoughts to ponder on a Sunday morning.

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12 thoughts on “The Assumptions of Human Duality

  1. 1. Can there be an afterlife and not be a God that “presides” over it?

    I believe that possibility is plausible. A “coalesced god-head isn’t an absolute prerequisite for an afterlife of some sort.

    2. Can an afterlife exist without the concept of reward or punishment?

    I think it most likely does exit without reward or punishment. Those are simplistic human concepts. I would guess that “consequences” would be a better world.

    3. What does it mean for us if we truly face the concept that there is no division between our minds and our bodies? How do we then live?

    I have no clue. I believe that there is a division between the Flesh and the Spirit, but that there is an intersection of the two; we call it life.

    4. Doesn’t morality become truly “moral” if there is no heaven or hell?

    It would be easier then to make truly moral choices. The heaven v. hell paradigm opens the door for the “fear conscience” which is not true morality, even if is the most effective means of maintaining a stable society.

  2. jonolan,

    Good answers. I would take issue with #3 however. I believe that the intersection or communion of mind and body is all we have and there never has been a division except in mind itself. Life is all of a piece.

  3. Don’t forget yin & yang.

    I have to take issue with your statement “Now some will argue, equally vehemently, that they most certainly would believe if heaven or hell did not exist, but I don’t believe them.”

    I do believe in God but the question of an afterlife has nothing to do with it. I freed myself from the bonds of religious thinking and the things I beleive are true about God are my personal experiences that I choose to explain by his existence. If anything happens after death, it is obviously not for me to know with any certainty what it is. In the spirit of the Serenity Prayer, I have happily let go of the need to think I can control or understand what happens to me after I die.

    I still believe God exists but there’s very little religious dogma, especially as pertains to the afterlife, that I associate with what I believe.

    That being said, I know a few rabbis who would applaud your questions and happily waste away the day debating the topic.

  4. Howdy Marge!
    The only reason I make that statement is because of the motivation. Really. Why believe in a God if there is no afterlife? What good does it do? I’m honestly asking because living as if there were a God but not believing in something after death seems useless to me.

  5. Try to think about God without the things that you have learned from religion. Call him Bob, if it helps. Forget heaven and hell – no angels, no Christ, no righteous anger. What do you know strictly from your personal experiences with a high being?

    When I asked myself these questions, the concept that formed is a being that created or allowed the formation of the reality we experience as humans. This being (Bob) is caring and available for guidance when we seek it. I kind of see him as a concierge to this life.

    Maybe you are making a connection between God and morality that is really a concept conceived of by religion. The concierge in my hotel isn’t much interested in nor a participant in my next destination, he is mainly concerned with providing the best comfort and hospitality on this trip.

    If there is an afterlife, I suppose I’ll be pleasantly surprised when I get there and if God had anything to do with it, I’ll thank him. Meanwhile, I’ve a lot of sightseeing to do in the here and now.

  6. Hi MoI,

    Here are my long-winded, ill-informed responses to your questions:

    1. Can there be an afterlife and not be a God that “presides” over it? I can’t think of a reason why not. This world doesn’t appear to have anyone in charge of it, so why would the next (if any)

    2. Can an afterlife exist without the concept of reward or punishment? It can be argued that every moment has some aspect of reward or punishment attached to it, seeing as each moment contributes to a series of mechanisms which lead to one or the other as we perceive them. But, as far as a “sheep and the goats” scenario, I’m not so sure. If there is someone waiting to judge me for my actions, then my defence wouldn’t be much different than anyone elses: I didn’t have a reliable source for the information for which I’m now being held accountable. I’m not sure how meaningful that process would then be.

    3. What does it mean for us if we truly face the concept that there is no division between our minds and our bodies? How do we then live?If there is no separation between our bodies and our consciousness, then the question of an afterlife becomes moot. Our bodies will die, and therefore so will our consciousnesses. What remains is whether or not to follow our impulses to create a better world in the present, and continue to pursue a model of morality which is not dependent on what we get out of it personally. The only other alternative is nihilism, and (possibly) despair.

    4. Doesn’t morality become truly “moral” if there is no heaven or hell? If morality is based on the fear of losing a big payoff, it is a weak and flimsy thing in my opinion. The hell question is trickier, I guess. There is an impulse that makes us hope that someone like Hitler is not treated in the same fashion as, say, Dr. Albert Schwitzer, if there is an afterlife. But, the idea of justice seems to be a pretty elusive thing inthis life, without thinking about how it works in a possible afterlife. In the end, we have no frame of reference for it other than what we make up for ourselves. The idea of hell then is pretty problematic, as evil is not really judged on an even playing field. I know a lot of evangelical Christians would chime in to say that “this is why you can only be saved by grace”. But to me, grace is only grace if it’s extended to everyone, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done. I’m of the Ron Sexsmith “God Loves Everyone” school on that one. But then, we’re back where we started. Yet there again, maybe any grace we experience when we die is the grace we ourselves are able to exercise by letting go of our demands for justice when it comes to mass murderers and other architects of atrocity, along with the everyday grudges we hold. Hell and eternal punishment then becomes unnecessary. I guess that sort of trivializes crimes against humanity, right? In the end, I really don’t know what all of this means. But if there is no afterlife, we can only do what we think makes a better world on the little patch of it we find ourselves in, however we define it. The rest doesn’t really make much difference.

  7. Rob,

    You wrote:
    “Yet there again, maybe any grace we experience when we die is the grace we ourselves are able to exercise by letting go of our demands for justice when it comes to mass murderers and other architects of atrocity, along with the everyday grudges we hold.”

    Now that’s interesting. I think that must be the hardest thing anybody’s called to do, which is why we probably long for an afterlife. Of course, if we do that, then without an afterlife, wouldn’t our offers of grace be meaningless anyway since the ultimate redress of wrongs isn’t by a Being that applies justice but just by our own recognition and giving up of vengeance? Who would care about our attitude then?

    Good, thoughtful answers that I’ll have to ponder some more…. Thanks!!!

  8. This is the reason I hope that there’s an afterlife: I want to know where this story is going. This goes beyond any need for justice to be done, although I admit that this is certainly a part of it. Beyond that, I suppose the meaning behind extending grace to those who have done us wrong to me is less about who’s impressed by it, and more about making our way deeper in to whatever this thing is really about. Vague? You betcha! But this is me on my best day, thinking that all the celebrated moments in my life and flashes of inspiration which I like to call my Sense of Wonder actually points somewhere larger, to something more real. I blame C.S Lewis, personally.

    On other days, I might think that this way of thinking trivializes pain and suffering in this world as something to be dismissed in the light of a hope for an afterlife. Some horrendous things have been done, and are being done, to people in the name of the very religions that talk about Heaven and Hell. It’s hard to blithely dismiss that in favour of some twinkle of hope that it all means something in the end. How would my point of view be changed if I were born in different circumstances? What impact, if any, does that have on the way the universe and our existence is, or (more problematically) has been designed to be? I am entirely torn over the issue, basically.

    But it’s great to talk about it!

  9. This sounds terrible, but it’s good to know that others are “torn about it.” Most don’t think about it all or think about it too much. Like you, I’m uncertain, but I’m hoping for a HUGE redress of wrongs at the end of it.

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