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Religious Dualism

Dualism is the idea that the world is subject to two opposing principles. Where religion is concerned, it particularly refers to two opposing powers, good and evil, divine versus demon, that have caused existence as we know it.

It may be compared to single power doctrines such as monism (the world driven by one principle), monotheism (one god/power) or polytheism (many powers). In describing and comparing dualism, one can discern between relative dualism (each power dependent on the other, e.g. the idea that the devil is a fallen angel and therefore subordinate to god) or absolute dualism (each power from and for eternity). Also, one can discern either a tension perspective (where the two powers exist eternally - cyclical time perspective) or destiny perspective (where one power eventually wins - linear time perspective). Finally, dualism in a philosophical sense may refer to the concept of two existences (transcendence or a realm apart from this world), whereas religious dualism does not, only refering to the separation of two powers.

Historically important varieties of dualism include:

  • Egyptian - Seth, a god of disorder versus Osiris, a god of fertility.

  • Greek - Uranus and Cronus primordia gods, versus Zeus et al, modern gods. Within the groups of gods dualism was also present, such as the god of war versus the god of love, the god of the world versus the god of the underworld etc. And within people dualism was also seen: the soul (god-like element) was imprisoned in the body.

  • Gnosticism - Gnosticsism which for example recognised the body as evil and the soul as good and saw reality as having a superior world and an inferior world and our perception being somewhere between the two. Iranian gnosticism was more radical dividing existence in to light and dark powers, whereas Syrian- Egyptian gnosticism was more relative.

  • Iranian - Iranian dualism was represented in Zoroastrianism in which there is the good spirit (Spenta Mainyu) and the bad spirit (Ahura Mazda) opposing each other.

  • Indian - There are several Indian dualisms. There are concepts of opposition of gods (devas) to demons (asuras), one to many, reality and appearance, matter and spirit.

  • Chinese - Ying and Yang are the best known expressions of Chinese dualism. They refer to feminine/masculine, lunar/solar, terestial/celestial, passive/active, dark/bright etc. Yin and Yang are the double manfestation of the the one and only Tao - The Way.

  • Judaism - Some evidence of dualism exists in the concepts of good and evil, truth and error, god and satan but this is more limited to forms of mysticism than core doctrine whcih remains monotheistic.

  • Christianity - similar to Judaistic dualistic concepts and similarly not part of the core doctrine. Principally revolve around the dichotomy of matter and spirit, earthly represenation and heavenly representation.

  • Other dualistic concepts - principally among aboriginal and nomadic peoples are concepts of a mischievous trickster that can rival or collaborate with the supreme being. Most of these systems are not dualistic at their core but do have dualistic concepts.

Perhaps the most important theme of dualism is the relationship of good and evil. In dualistic systems, good and eveil are opposed forces, whereas in nodualistic systems the choice between good and evil is one to be made by people themselves - evil arises because of improper choices of free will.

Spiritual Systems Main Religions
Agnosticism Atheism Monotheism Polytheism Buddhism Islam
Ancestor Deism Naturism Theism Christianity Judaism
Atheism Dualism Pantheism Totemism Hinduism  

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