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Posts Tagged ‘Manichaeism’

NOTE: Entire video embedded merely for visual aesthetics; for just the relevant portion, which is about two and one half minutes long, click here.

“The night is dark and full of terrors!”

So speaks Melisandre, the “Red Woman” (Carice Van Houten), priestess of the “Lord of Light.”  Apart from the scoundrels of House Lannister, she is probably the character in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” that everyone most loves to hate.

Rather than attempt an in-depth character analysis, I want to limit my focus to Melisandre’s religion.  I must admit, when I was first introduced to it, I thought it was a crack at Christianity, given it’s emphasis on there being only one true God and on issues such as sin and righteousness (not to mention the destruction of idols).

MelisandreSo let’s break it down: How is Melisandre’s religion similar to Christianity, and how is it different?

First, the similarities.  Like I said, it insists on the worship of one God.  Names and titles applied to the God of the Bible — such as “Lord of Light” and “Our Lord” — are applied here also.  Like Jesus Christ, Melisandre’s god also performs visible miracles — most notably the raising of the dead.

Okay, now for the differences.  The priests and priestesses of the “Lord of Light” practice blood magic and human sacrifice, which are very much repugnant to the Judeo-Christian worldview.  Furthermore, Melisandre is a seductress and an adulterous woman.  She very quickly persuades the lord Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) to make love to her by promising him an heir (something Stannis’ barren wife can’t give him).

Melisandre_ShireenBut the defining moment thus far happened in the third episode of the current season.  In this episode, Melisandre comes to share her faith with Stannis’ secluded young daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram).  She starts by telling Shireen that there are not seven gods (as her father’s religion taught), but only — get this — two gods: The Lord of Light, and the Lord of Darkness…and they are always locked in battle with one another.

To me, this came as both clarification and relief.  This is not Christianity.  This is Manichaeism.

ManicheansI won’t give you a history lesson, never fear…except to say that Manichaeism was an ancient religion declaring a dualistic universe in which a supreme good divinity and a supreme evil divinity — both equally powerful and equally divine — were engaged in perpetual struggle.  The turmoil in the world and in each human heart could essentially be traced to that. (St. Augustine of Hippo vigorously opposed this philosophy in the fourth century, as is well documented in his “Confessions.”)

But, as C.S. Lewis argued in “Mere Christianity,” this worldview is untenable.  If the two gods in question are both equal in power and opposed to one another, that means they are finite — which, in turn, means that they are contained by and dependent on Someone or Something Else.  Christian philosophers have long held the monotheistic worldview to be more logically consistent: 1) There is one God, Who is infinite, eternal, and all-good; 2) He created everything good, and that includes the material world; and 3) Goodness is therefore absolute, and evil is to good what the cavity is to the tooth.

melisandre-fire-3Would this explain Melisandre’s questionable morality?  Perhaps.  After all, if her dualistic worldview is true, then right and wrong are relative to one another; good is only good because it is not evil, and vice versa.  What is more, there’s really no question of either side being better than the other; which side you are on is a matter of preference.  One can much more easily justify the use of evil in the service of good as a Manichean dualist.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Wait ’till next time.

Image of Manicheans from Wikipedia; other images obtained through a Google image search

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Before I begin, I should make it clear that Easter begins, rather than ends, on Easter Sunday — despite what retailers might have us believe (no offense intended to people in retail).

Gnosticism

There is an ancient religious-philosophical system known as gnosticism.  In a nutshell, gnosticism espouses the following general principles:

1. Matter is evil.  The material world, including our physical bodies, is created and ruled by a demon called the Demiurge.

2. Gnosis (Greek for “knowledge”).  Certain people — a very select few — are selected to be “saved” by becoming spiritual through a hidden, infused knowledge.  When they die, their true inner selvestheir spiritual souls — will break free from the prison of their physical bodies, and they will fly away to a realm of pure spirit.

ManicheansA related school of thought was Manichaeism, which flourished for a little while in the Near East during the early A.D. period.  St. Augustine of Hippo was a member of this school of thought for a little while, before converting to Christianity.

In his great work “Confessions,” Augustine shares an important insight that he gained after his conversion:

(. . .) and with a sounder judgement I held that the higher (I presume that he meant spiritual) things are indeed better than the lower, but that all things together are better than the higher ones alone (“Confessions,” VII:xiv — John K. Ryan translation from Image Books)

What was it about Judeo-Christian revelation that would have led him to that insight?  Well, for one thing, there is the Genesis creation account, which speaks of how God created the material world in all its splendor, climaxing in the creation of mankind…body and soul.

God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. (Gen. 1:31)

ResurrectionBut with the Resurrection of Christ, the Son of God, God in the flesh, this point is super-eminently reaffirmed.

With the Resurrection, any form of Gnostic dualism is definitively refuted.

With the Resurrection, God reaffirms the goodness of His creation, and especially of humankind.

With the Resurrection, the value of the human body as part of a person’s identity is radically reaffirmed.

With the Resurrection, the material world (to which the body is necessarily related) is not only– and not to be redundant — reaffirmed in its goodness, but, as Fr. Robert Barron says, “rais(ed) (…) up to a higher pitch.”*

Indeed, the Resurrection is the wellspring of renewal — not just for humanity but for all of creation, created good but damaged by sin.  And in Christ, God has seen fit to make us leaders in this great renewal.

That doesn’t mean that we will be able to build a perfect world here on earth, of course.  But as we prepare for that Final Day when Christ ushers in a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:1), we must strive to spread the truly good and liberating news of the Divine Love and its definitive victory in all we say and do, bringing it to bear upon our everyday affairs and upon the things of this world.

Kind of makes Easter seem more exciting than images of bonnets and baskets, doesn’t it?

Images from Wikipedia

http://www.lentreflections.com/why-easter-matters/

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