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Dualism in Cosmic Struggle


The second type of dualism is one that believes that two basic forces are in conflict with each other. In this case, there is no chance for a balance between the two forces. In fact, the forces are not seen as two aspects of being, but as either good or evil. Consequently, the world is viewed as a battleground between these two moral forces.

The ancient Persian religion known as Zoroastrianism illustrates how divine power can be conceptualized as forces that are in conflict with each other.  Zoroastrianism arose in Persia in the Seventh Century BCE, although there is some debate about the exact date of origin. The prophet Zarathustra (Zoroaster) received a revelation that there was one God, known as Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd).  The spirit of Ahura Mazda (known as Spenta Mainyu) is opposed by an evil spirit known as Spenta Angra.

In this cosmic struggle between good and evil, every individual must take sides. In fact, one will be judged at the time of death based on his/her choices to join the side of good or evil. Those who worked for evil will be condemned to punishment in hell; those who worked for good, will be rewarded with life in paradise. The world is moving toward a climactic battle in which the forces of good will defeat the forces of evil. Ahura Mazda. This triumph will conclude with the resurrection of the dead, a final judgment in which all souls are forgiven for their sins, and the transformation of creation into an ideal world free from evil and death.

Although early Zoroastrianism seemed to indicate that both the good and evil spirit emanated from Ahura Mazda, later Zoroastrianism assumed a more radical dualism in which the evil spirit (which was also known as Shaitan or Satan)was the creator of the material world, and was virtually co-equal in power with Ahura Mazda. 

It should be noted that the dualism of Zoroastrianism influenced both Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism, belief in an evil being, angels, the resurrection, and final judgment were not very common until the 6th Century when Judaism encountered Zoroastrianism in Babylon. In fact, the Persian leader, Cyrus, who allowed the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem, was a Zoroastrianism. This is not to say that these elements were not present in ancient Israelite religion before the time of the Exile. It is reasonably to conclude, however, that Zoroastrianism gave Judaism a new vocabulary for expressing itself. Although Judaism rejected the radical dualism of Zoroastrianism, many groups accepted the idea of a cosmic struggle between good and evil that would result in a climactic battle. Many of these movements (known as apocalyptic movements) thrived in the final centuries before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

This radical dualism or later Zoroastrianism would also find its way into some Christian thinking, especially in Gnosticism and Manicheanism. Gnosticism is a name given to a number of distinct groups in early Christianity.  Although the particulars of their beliefs might vary, they generally held that the material world was created by an inferior God whom they equated with the God of the Old Testament. This material creation has entrapped the divine spirit which is the real nature of humanity. Consequently, the Supreme God sent Jesus to impart the secret knowledge that human beings need to escape from their imprisonment in matter.

If one accepted the logic of the Gnostics, the inevitable conclusion was a denial that Jesus was God in the flesh. In Gnosticism, matter is evil and the result of a botched attempt at creation by an inferior God. If matter is evil, how could God be made flesh? Thus, the Gnostics believed that Jesus only appeared to be human and only appeared to die. The entire life and death of Jesus was spiritual in nature. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the first teachings the church declared to be heretical was the Gnostic doctrine concerning Jesus.

In the third century, the teacher Mani combined elements of Christianity, Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism to formulate a philosophy that came to be called Manicheanism.  According to this world view,  the world was created by the basic elements of light (soul) and dark (matter).  The intermixing of the two led to the soul being polluted by matter. Mani thus concluded that humans must seek to free themselves from evil (matter) through prayer, abstinence, and self-denial.  Like the Gnostics, Mani believed that Jesus did not have a material body and did not actually die. The influential Christian theologian Augustine was a Manichean for nine years before abandoning the philosophy.

One could conclude that the radical dualism of Zoroastrianism, forced Christianity to define itself even as it rejected radical dualism.