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Dualism: Roots of Beauty Bashing

Dualism: Roots of Beauty Bashing

Where did the idea come from that Christian should only wear plain clothing?

Dualism is one of the most profound influences on how we view spiritual life, yet most Christians are not even aware of it. The American ethic is a result of the combined ideals of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans.

Approximately 200 B.C., the Greeks began to move south which resulted in a coming together of the Greek and Hebrew cultures. This was a very chaotic time as these two immensely different cultures collided. Over the next 400 years the Greek culture took over and nearly eliminated the ancient Hebrew culture. This ancient Greek culture influenced many subsequent civilizations, including the Roman and European cultures, our own American culture, and even the modern Hebrew culture in Israel today.

Plato’s doctrine of dualism has had a greater effect on the way Americans–—including Christians–—think and view the world today than the teachings of any other single man in history. Plato hypothesized that life is divided into two realms: spiritual and material. He said that the spiritual realm is good and the physical (material) realm is evil. Church fathers Origen, Justin and Clement were greatly influenced by Greek thought.

Werner Jager said, “…the most important fact in the history of Christian doctrine was that the father of Christian theology, Origen, was a Platonic philosopher at the school of Alexandria…he built into the Christian doctrine the whole cosmic drama of the soul, which he took from Plato.”

Many Greek-minded Christian converts spend time merging Plato’s and other philosophers’ teachings with the Bible. According to their views, everything in the world is constantly changing and evolving, and so there are no fixed moral standards or absolutes. Morality is based on man’s opinion, not the will of God.”

Dualism in Entrenched in the Church

Dualism can be seen throughout Christian literature. The battle over this issue penetrates into the core of Christianity. The ancient Greeks regarded the body as a prison of the soul. The goal of the wise was to gain deliverance from all that is bodily in order to liberate the soul. One must restrain oneself from physical pleasures because they may become a hindrance to spiritual growth.

In stark contrast, the Hebrews viewed all of life as good and each person as a complete unit of body and soul. Instead of trying to flee this world and focus on the world to come, the Hebrews passionately desired to serve God in this physical world created by God, who called it good.

When we divide life into spiritual and material categories, it causes greater value to be placed on the pursuit of spiritual things over the pursuit of earthly things. This becomes obvious when we look at the hierarchy within the Christian community. We consider a seriously devoted Christian will become a foreign missionary; a less devoted Christian will stay close to home and become a pastor, while others who are even less devoted will work in the material world. A biblical view of work negates dualism. One can love God with all his heart whether he is a missionary, pastor, butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. God calls all Christians to full-time Christian service. There is no sacred part of life that can be separated from a secular part.

Augustine’s dualism views marital sex negatively, and elevates celibacy as the highest way of life. He viewed all sexual acts as shameful because, in his view, all sex was rooted in lust.

The Reformers View

Reformers such as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin abandon the medieval Roman Catholic attitudes that marriage was inferior to celibacy, that all sexual contact between marital partners was a necessary evil to propagate the human race.

This dualistic view created problems for Christians, because Mary physically gave birth to Jesus. The Roman Catholic solution was to proclaim Mary sinless and holy, and deny that she had other children. The Catholics viewed bread and wine as too earthly to be the blood and body of Christ and therefore made rules that only clergy could control the sacraments so these physical elements could be spiritualized.

The Protestant Christian world also is steeped in dualism. Christian mothers feel pressure from this dualistic view because tending to children is seen as a lower type physical job and not as spiritual as ministry or other church activities, while in a truly biblical view, motherhood is highly esteemed as the greatest contribution a woman can make to the human race.

A biblical view of curriculum also opposes dualism. Love for God and neighbor encompasses all of life and therefore all subjects. We should not worship God during Bible study and leave Him out of all other subjects.

Dualism profoundly affects modern Christians in America For example, President Clinton won at least one of his two elections after his true character was revealed, proving that most voting Americans believed that Bill Clinton could be untruthful and unfaithful in his personal life, yet somehow that would not affect his public life. Jesus taught that a good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit, and whoever can/can’t be trusted with little can/can’t be trusted with much (see Luke 16:10).

The Hebrews’ Scriptures did not depict Yahweh and his enemies as being outside the world, but, on the contrary, very much a part of it. In response to Greek and other influences Judaism became more dualistic over time. By the time of Jesus, the Jews were bitterly divided on the subject, with the Sadducees defending the older view against Greek influences and the Pharisees advocating modern dualistic ideas.

Many think Paul taught dualism when he used the term flesh but in most of Paul’s uses of the term flesh he was speaking of the sin nature (Romans 7:18, 25; 8:7–8; 1 Corinthians 3:1–3; Galatians 5:17; 6:8; Colossians 2:18, 23; 1 John 2:16; 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 2:10).

Dualism lead to beauty bashing. Anything physical, even our cloths was considered evil. 

In Feminine by Design Dr. John Garr addresses the clothing passages in Proverbs:

In Proverbs 31, he [Solomon] also described the “Woman of Valor” as being clothed in high-quality, colorful clothing (v. 31:22) highlighting the fact that she gave proper attention to her dress and grooming so that she beautified her physical appearance as well as her spirit. When Solomon concluded his observations with the note that “charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting,”(v. 31:30a)  his  only intention in making this statement was for the purpose of underscoring the fact that even the aging process could not diminish the beauty of “the woman who fears the Lord” (v. 31:30b) because she continues “to be praised” by “her own works” (v. 31:31). The inner beauty and dignity of her character served to augment and extend her beauty through her senior years when the inevitable effects of time impact the physical body.

Solomon’s quintessential Woman of Valor was not designed to impose the image of an over-idealized, mythical “superwoman” upon all women, nor was it an effort to establish unrealistic and unattainable goals for women in general. The praise accorded her merely projected a composite sketch of womanhood that outlined the virtually limitless possibilities for successful ventures that women who are free and equal may choose to undertake. Since this song of praise to the virtuous woman was one that the king’s mother had taught him (v. 31:1), it is entirely possible that it could have been first sung by Abraham as an ode to Sarah, as some rabbinic commentaries suggest.87 Whatever the case, this woman did not need to sacrifice her femininity in order to be a woman of “valor.”

Beauty and Beautification 

In a later chapter of Feminine by Design Dr. Garr shows how Ezekiel speaks of Israel as clothed in lovely feminine apparel far from plain:

Ezekiel described the manner in which God had shown mercy to Israel in terms of feminine beautification and accoutrement: “I clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet, and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with jewelry; I put bracelets on your arms, a necklace about your neck, I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth.”(Ezekiel 16:10-14) Solomon even spoke of “beautiful feet,” (Song of Songs 7:1) a metaphor that Isaiah employed to describe those who brought good news to Israel.1 (Isaiah 57:2).

Ornamentation that were common for Israelite women were used as metaphors to describe God’s actions toward his people. It was God himself—not the people, their prophets, or their kings—who was doing the adorning and beautifying of Israel. If beautifying the beautiful by means of dress, jewelry, or cosmetics had been viewed by God as being “carnal” or as evidence of a lack of spirituality, the Holy One of Israel would never have described his own activities toward his people with such terminology. Because God employed the elements of beauty and beautification that were common to his chosen people to underscore important spiritual principles and to make promises of his own beneficence toward them, it is clear that he both endorses and encourages the enhancement of beauty. It was only natural that God would use such metaphor to describe his attitude toward his beloved, his chosen people. The Creator of everything beautiful could only be expected, then, to encourage the co-creativity of beautification that reflects his own image and likeness in his human creation.

Despite the teaching of many Christian leaders who, because they were influenced by Hellenistic dualism, demanded the covering of the flesh because they believed it was inherently evil, the body of neither female nor male requires concealment because it is degrading or evil. As E. M. King affirms, “We possess each one of us in our own bodies … an object of the greatest beauty the Creator made on this earth.”  The body, like various aspects of the spiritual nature of humankind, was made in the image of God, and it was pronounced “good” and “very good” by the Creator himself. The nakedness of the first humans was also part of God’s design for his “good” creation. If there had been anything shameful about the bodies of the material creation that he had formed from the earth, God would certainly have clothed that shame.

Garr, John D. Feminine by Design: The God-Farshioned Woman. Golden Key Press.

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