On Dichotomies and Why They Are Dangerous

13 04 2008

I just want to start out by saying that dichotomies are both inevitable and necessary. In the end, all of history is a dichotomy: the struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, the Lover of Mankind and he who seeks to destory it, etc. At the end of the day, we will have to chose what side we are on, and it will not be a painless choice. It will be hard and require much sacrifice.

Having said that, dichotomies are not perfect on this side of death because man is not perfect. People hesitate, they commit errors, and they act in fits of passion. This is the reason why even when we do good, evil may come from it, or vice versa. Stuck in this mire of mortality, perfect action is impossible. We must muddle our way through it the best we can.

In my own life, I have tried to ameliorate this uncertainty by creating and acting upon strict dichotomies. It was only when I came to the conclusion that life could not be divided in such simple terms that I returned to sanity. Here is a list of predominant dichotomies in my life, in no particular order:

faith vs. reason
theology vs. philosophy
truth vs. justice
Aristotle vs. Plato
Novus Ordo vs. traditional Mass
Vatican II vs. Tradition
purity of Faith vs. obedience
spirit vs. flesh
reason vs. emotion
traditional vs. modern
Catholic vs. Protestant
Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy
Patristics vs. scholasticism
the beautiful vs. the real
Anglo vs. Hispanic
captialist vs. Marxist
etc.
etc.

Most discourse, especially of the Internet variety, is propelled by these dichotomies. People get excited about dichotomies. They allow people to take a stand, spend money, call into radio shows, spend time on the Internet to prove the other side of the dichotomy wrong, etc. If you post a poem on your blog, people might post one or two comments, saying, “that was pretty” or “visit this site for hot lesbian cheerleaders” (oh, that’s a spam comment…) But post something on Sola Scriptura, and you get everyone coming out of the woodwork to valiantly defend their standard in the dichotomy (552 comments, mostly by the same three people). It reminds me of the Pythagorean dictum, “Do not speak of the divine things without light”…

Refuse to take a side in the dichotomy wars, and people may accuse you of being mushy, empty-headed, or just plain confused. People will acuse you of causing scandals, of misleading people, and yes, of bullshitting. But at this stage in the game, I am weary of dichotomies. Taken by themselves, they solve nothing. Case in point, the whole subjectivist/objectivist divide. Or better yet, the bête noire of the day: relativism (here tremble in horror and disgust). I don’t mean to sound cynical or jaded, but was there ever a time when people accepted “objective truth” because they thought it was self-evident and beneficial to all? Maybe they only did it because people were standing over them with a stick ready to wail on them if they even breathed funny. As much as we hee and haw about the moral degeneration of this society, few of us would have the stomach to punish homosexuals for consensual sexual acts or burn heretics at the stake. And if you say you do, then I would say that YOU are the one who is bullshitting.

And that is why I want to peddle my product to you today: Neoplatonism. Yes, you can say that it is one part of the divide, but no group of thinkers has been so eager to bridge the divide between dichotomies. Neoplatonists like Aristotle too, if interpreted properly. Neoplatonists believe both in subjective reality and its objectivity. And the ethos of its thought is “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”. That is, show people the beautiful, what they are doing right, and lead them up from there. Show people that the divine is much closer than they think, and that it penetrates all things, that it is the ground of all things.

In my own life, it is Neoplatonism and the scholarship of Pierre Hadot that have helped me acheive a point where I can be at peace with this world that I find myself in. True, I still hee and haw probably more than all of you. But at the end of the day, I see all the pretty things around me, and I know that it’s going to be alright. I am not going to let the black and white of dichotomies, party-lines, or arguments govern my life. Man’s soul is above all of that; they are only tools to acheive a higher good. And that higher good, the union with the One (Christ) is not acheived by argument in the dialectical sense.


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3 responses

15 04 2008
FrGregACCA

“And the ethos of its thought is “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar”. That is, show people the beautiful, what they are doing right, and lead them up from there. Show people that the divine is much closer than they think, and that it penetrates all things, that it is the ground of all things.”

Yes, indeed. However, sometimes, the dichotomy of (cosmic) baseball bat vs. side of the head is required.

More seriously, your post points very well to why Christianity was able to grow such deep roots in the philosophical soil of late antiquity.

14 04 2008
Sean

Tupac v Biggie

14 04 2008
Sean Roberts

You forgot Br. Cassian vs. Haters.

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