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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.


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