sacred vs. secular? confronting dualism with holism

A couple of days ago I was walking with someone having a conversation about music. We were talking about bands we like and all the rest when they asked me a question about a particular band;

“Are they a Christian band?”

At that moment I had a… well, let’s call it revelation. I literally stopped walking as little pieces of previous musings came rushing into my now-moving-a-million-miles-a-minute mind. Then came my utterly profound response;

“What do you mean?”

Well, maybe not quite profound…

Though maybe what I was trying to get at was more meaningful than my response would have suggested. My point was that I think the dualistic categories of “Sacred” and “Secular” which we set up are deeply flawed. In the case of my conversation I didn’t see why we should create a little group of bands and artists who we deem “Christian” (how can a band be Christian anyway?) while simultaneously labelling everything else “secular”. Apart from being profoundly arrogant and separatist, I think this dualistic kind of thinking violates the Lordship of our God.

If the God embodied in Christ is truly the Lord over the whole world, then the categories of “Sacred” and “Secular” are attempts to say that only some aspects of the created order (the “Sacred”) are actually under that Lordship, which of course is nonsense.

The picture expressed in Genesis is of God creating humanity in his image, and their children and children’s children and so forth – that is to say, all humanity is created in God’s image. In line with this kind of thinking, then, if God’s creativity is reflected in his image, it is not limited to Christians. Rather his creativity is reflected in all humanity, and thus in what far too many Christians deem “secular” expressions of art. In fact I would be willing to say that some of the most godly expressions of creativity can be found in so-called “secular” places, while some of the most abominable expressions are created by Christians (just YouTube “Sonseed”…).

I suppose I am saying that a Christian sub-culture (i.e. Christian music, art, books etc.) is not only an unnecessary thing, but also something that violates God’s creative Lordship over the entire world. Rob Bell, in a message I heard him preach once, believes this kind of thing happens when people begin their story in Genesis 3 instead of Genesis 1-2 – they begin with the problems humans have and with the apparent need to escape from the world rather than with the goodness of the world and the people therein created by God (“You start the movie late and a bunch of stuff isn’t going to make sense…”). I think Rob’s comments are an astute observation of an even larger set of problems than the one I am addressing now (but that will have to wait for another time).

This creating a distinction between Sacred and Secular is part of what is called dualism. Christians are way too dualistic sometimes – sacred vs. secular, body vs. spirit, natural vs. spiritual, religious vs. non-religious, religious vs. scientific, us vs. them etc. etc. etc. But if Ephesians 1 is correct and God is uniting all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth, then the dualisms we uphold are really quite ridiculous – God’s saving plan for all creation in Christ becomes usurped by our dualism, for it demonstrates that we don’t really believe everything is coming under submission to Christ.

But of course if Jesus is really Lord over the world then dualisms are bankrupt. There needs to be a return of Christians to holism – the view that things and realities are bigger than merely the sum of their parts, and that these organic “wholes” interact in the universe (also called wholism). Holism affirms that the world is good, and that all humans are created in God’s image thus being able to create beauty though they may not acknowledge the Creator.

Holism affirms that religious vs. scientific/political or spiritual vs. natural and other such dualistic categories are at best arbitrary – God is present in the world and cannot be removed from certain spheres or tasks (this is one of the key messages of Christmas – God is with us!)

Holism affirms that Jesus Christ is Lord over all…

…over everything.


Posted on December 16, 2009, in Culture & Art, Theology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I think that Dualism is a framework for Christians to see the world. Some Christians have been brought up within the church to be repulsed by sinning and so dualism is the framework by which they see things in order to comprehend the world around them i.e. Is this Christian?/going to get me into heaven? or is this Secular?/ going to send me to hell?
    You could look at the world through the Holism framework; however alot of Christians may find this difficult and complex. They may also miss the purpose behind the ideas presented i.e. Jesus being Lord of all. Like the Romans modern Christians may see His Lordship and our adoption into the family as permission to do whatever we like. Christians may then fail to see that we’re trying to be more like Christ because he, in essence, was the only ever perfect Man and therefore is the perfect representation of what it means to be human. So Dualism appears to be a framework to discern activities which will bring the individual closer to heaven, or closer to hell. Switching to Holism as a framework may require a lot of understanding or may distort the viewpoint of the individual. There is so much depth involved in this approach. So Instead of analyzing the framework that we used to view the world around us, perhaps we (as Christians) should focus on our beliefs in comparison to what we know and see how these beliefs contrast to our holistic understanding of God and the world around us.

  2. Unless of course that framework (Greco-Roman thinking) is a foreign import to Scripture and its mode of thinking (Hebraic).

    It’s one thing to say some people have a certain framework and that is understandable – it is quite another to affirm all frameworks and claim they can all understand God equally.

    If Jesus is Lord of all, doesn’t a dualistic framework, almost by definition, not adequately comprehend such Lordship? The same goes for God’s Creatorship – he created everything (matter included) – dualism by definition doesn’t comprehend this.

    Even you claim about trying to be more like Jesus will suffer under dualism because Jesus’ holistic self (man and deity) is going to be separated out to the point where they are played out against each other. Normally the humanity is seen as the lesser part, and thus dualism may well even become a barrier against becoming a true human like Christ because such humanity is downplayed or worse.

    Holism may seem complicated to people with a dualistic outlook, though Holism in itself far more simple I think. The dualistic categories people set up may well seem odd to an outsider looking in.

    Thanks for your thoughts! Look forward to the reply.


  3. There are many barriers when it comes to understanding God and the frameworks in which people use to view God definitely can place limitations on the conceptualization of God. However a lot of tension and stubbornness can become apparent when frameworks are discussed and challenged.

    I had this discussion with some Christian friends last night and the conflict and aggression that arose due to this topic was unexpected. Through their reaction I came to the conclusion that challenging individual perceptions of God by challenging individual frameworks in which people look at God and his character is a very difficult and fragile matter. I feel that the general Christian population cannot see beyond the rules, regulations and social expectations of being a ‘Good Christian’. It bothered me that some people are so deeply rooted to one idea that they cannot even discuss another option without becoming argumentative.

    I agree with you that Holism isn’t a difficult concept to comprehend however the stubbornness and fear of the unknown from the individual may prevent people from changing their outlook on God and Christ. I think we can try to sell the idea of Holism however it will be difficult for the concept to be received in an accurate and impacting manner.

  4. I don’t mind whether or not the music I’m listening to is by a Christian mob or not. From experience, whether or not particular songs were produced by ‘christian’ people often doesn’t usually have a significant impact on the finished product (in terms of lyrics). Many bands seem to just say that they are christian folk to attract the larger markets and gain access to specific ‘christian’ book and music stores.

    As for your objections to the sacred/secular divide, I don’t know that many people are thinking along the lines of Jesus’ lordship. For many of my friends it is a matter of whichever music is more likely to be helpful for them to fit into communities which have a kind of Christian high culture which affirms that the more times Jesus is mentioned the better . Also, after realizing that the lyrics of the music that we listen to does impact our thinking/doing/emotions/etc, heaps of people have begun to assume that non-Christian artists will be unhelpful.

    Your point about the image of God and Jesus’ ends-of-the-earth lordship is true. I completely agree with you that ‘non-Christian’ cultures DO create godly works of art. For example: Paul quotes pagan poetry in Acts 17 to prove a point.

    I believe that secularists are a big driving force (or were and just kick started this thing off) behind the so called sacred/secular divide.

    So I suppose that I completely agree with you, but think that these people are unconsciously taking on a philosophical position which is handed down to them from other Christians, and most of them don’t even know why they think this way or the other.

  5. Manslow are you serious? How could you hack on Sonseed!! That was the song that made the world stand up and take Christian music seriously. And I think if we are going to be honest, you are just jealous of the bass player/vocalist and that bounce/wiggle that he does when he plays.
    (I’ll give you $20 if you play that song during the meet/greet at the 6pm service, but you have to do the wiggle)

  6. *Anna* – I have often used to term ‘framework’, though perhaps the word ‘horizon’ is more appropriate in this case (I like the way Gadamer spoke of ‘horizons’). A horizon is the totality of understanding a person or group can have within a given time and culture – you can only see (understand) so much before your vision comes to an end at the horizon (hope that makes sense to you).

    So everyone is walking around with a certain horizon. As these horizons come into contact with other horizons (horizons of texts, or other people), they fuse and thus they are changed. The result is that understanding changes for the person.

    My hope is that this occurs with Christians. I agree that for many Christians such a change is difficult for whatever reason. However, does that mean that the message of Christ should allow people (his own people no less) to remain the same, with the same horizon or framework? I’m sure we would both boldly proclaim “no!”.

    I’m certainly interested in your take of what being a ‘good Christian’ means to people. I would agree, though I can’t be sure exactly what *you* mean by the phrase. Would love to hear your thoughts on it.

    *James* – I’m sure that when most people see the “sacred/secular divide” in, say, music, they aren’t connecting it to Jesus’ Lordship (as you said). But that does not alter the fact that such a view is none-the-less a reduction of that Lordship.

    You are right that many songs out there are unhelpful for a person’s mind or life, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that the so-called “Christian” market is always better…

    The sacred/secular divide did indeed have its roots in Enlightenment dualism (kick God upstairs to ‘heaven’ and private experience/belief so we can run the world how we want) and thus is a secular creation. However the Christian sub-culture we see today is the work of Christians themselves.

    Again, it is true that most people are unaware of their capitulating to a modernistic dualism, even in the fields of music and art. However this capitulation is ultimately to (unwittingly) say that Jesus is only Lord of Koorong.

    *Baz* – My friend, you are odd.


  7. $20 says you’re right!! 🙂

  8. Hey mate! Slow in reading your blog… sorry.
    Love this… very much in line with Wright and Bell (Without the universalism of Bell)
    I love creativity echoed in humanity, like Scorsese, Tim Minchin, Ben folds ect ect……
    But Why do they have to keep polluting it with gratuitous sex scenes, deception, lies, profanity, and blasphemy!! (to name a few). Man such beauty marred by flawed humanity!
    Well i suppose its all groaning for redemption!

    Much love Brother!

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