Furthermore, Descartes is hardly the first to commit the error of dualism. Rather, Manichaeism, Gnosticism, neoplatonism, and even Buddhism fall into the same cosmic heresy of dividing the world into naughty and nice, and then escaping into the nice.
Yes, but isn't this the whole point of religion? How is this different from the whole satan thingy?
There is no doubt that some forms of Christianity have and continue to fall into dualism, even though the whole Christian message is rooted in a metaphysic that is supposed to render this impossible. Rather, there is one creator, and everything he creates is good. To the extent that something fails to be good, then it is not the result of an evil co-creator or co-equal force of darkness -- as, for example, Ahriman is to Ahura Mazda in Zoroastrianism.
I would suggest that it is a permanent human temptation to divide the world in this manner. In modern times it is most effectively practiced by the left, which cannot function without demonization, vilification, and calumny.
For example, one of the (admittedly many) reasons MSNBC has tanked so badly is that demonization works fine when someone else is in charge. When the left is in charge, who's left to demonize? Pizza parlors, bakers, imaginary rapists, nonexistent racists, dissenting tea partiers, etc.
As Ace wrote, "the left is now patrolling the already-won battlefield to find survivors and shoot them -- while forever casting itself as the trespassed-upon victim." Or as Iowahawk tweeted, "Don't compare yourself to a Selma marcher when you're unleashing the dogs and firehoses." Another tweetist reminds us of how "the civil rights movement really got going when Rosa Parks went door to door trying to find someone who wouldn't give her a ride." The left desperately searches for demons to account for the evils it unleashes.
I think it's fair to say that people truly long for a simplistic, dualistic world, because then it's so easy to recognize and eliminate the problem. But if the problem runs straight through the human heart, then it's not so easy. Then it's even possible for a negro to be racist, or a person with a vagina to be incompetent, or a sodomist to be a bully, or an immigrant to be a drain on the rest of us, or a man of tenure to be a retard!
Yesterday I saw a clip of Bill Maher going on about how all religions are stupid. Easy for him to say, since his religion of Pure Light by definition has only intelligent and virtuous people like himself.
Along these lines, I recently read a book called At the Heart of the Gospel, which is a kind of popular summary of Pope John Paul II's theology of the body, which in turn is -- in JP's view -- a summary of Christianity itself.
For at the heart of the gospel is what? A union of God and man, of spirit and flesh, of time and eternity -- as opposed to a division of these things. Not only is this is a radical notion, but it must be counter-intuitive, otherwise why would God have to go to all that trouble of making it known to us? And one reason why it is so radical is that it goes against our tendency to reach for a facile dualism.
At the heart of the gospel are actually two principles: Incarnation and Trinity, the latter of which counters the dualistic temptation from a different angle.
West starts with a passage from the Catechism: "The flesh is the hinge of salvation," and "We believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh."
But there have always been misbelievers who split "body and soul in order to 'free' love from... the 'unflattering' and 'unholy' realities of bodiliness." Again, that is the easy way out (and a mirror of the other easy alternative into a soulless hedonism): the former is "angelism," the latter "animalism" (Descartes and his descendants are angelists).
But just as Jesus is God and man, we are human and animal, not one or the other. The task is not to repress or deny the animal, but rather, to elevate it; or better, to infuse it with the same "divine descent" that came into the flesh more generally. That descent goes all the way down.
Thus, in the words of Cardinal Newman (quoted by West), the object "is to reunite things which were in the beginning joined together by God and have been put asunder by man." We need to re-integrate our dis-integration (or rather, recognize that "it is accomplished").
The "descent of God is intended to draw us into a movement of ascent" (Ratzinger, ibid). I find it useful to visualize this as a continuous spiral of (⇅), whereby man may participate in this trinitarian movement. The movement, of course, goes all the way down and all the way up -- to hell and back, you might say. We know it goes all the way to hell, because we have read and heard countless spiritual autobiographies of people who were reached in hell's kitchen and managed to turn their lives around.
We will get back to our main subject on Monday, but this is very much related to it, because "by fleeing the material world in search of the spirit, we actually embrace the essential tenet of materialism" (West).
In other words, one can be a materialist both by embracing or rejecting matter, i.e., by taking one side of the Cartesian dualism. In this way, the rejection only gives more force to its opposite tendency, otherwise those atheist activists would be out of business.
In short, "The Christian response to both materialism and spiritualism is the Incarnation," such that "there is no reaching the 'higher' without pondering the 'lower'"; or, "we reach the 'higher' precisely because" it "has descended into the 'lower'" (West). This is both the logic of the logos and the logos of logic.
And we can't accomplice this climb this without a body, "which has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world" the otherwise hidden mystery of God.