Monism and Dualism, Metaphysics and Ethics
Contrary to persistent misperceptions:
Metaphysical dualism implies Ethical monism.
Metaphysical monism implies Ethical dualism.
Simply explained, it means this: When we are Metaphysical dualists we presume an unbridgeable chasm between Creator and creation, such that there can be no natural participation between the two. Thus only the Creator is wholly good, and the creation, being devoid of the Creator by nature, is wholly evil in itself. Thus, the only way for created beings to have any share in the life of the Creator is to be chosen out the evil world by the Creator. This creates a dualism in the created order as well: Some are chosen, and hence good. Others are not chosen, and hence evil.
Those that are chosen are given moral rules to live by: Rules to love, to show mercy, to protect life, to cease murder and theft and lying. But these rules apply ONLY to the chosen. When dealing with the non-chosen, those who are chosen may steal from them, lie to them, murder them, and hate them with impunity. This is because the non-chosen are evil, they do not matter, and are bound for hell anyway. Thus those who are Metaphysical dualists arrive at Ethical monism, because any action or attitude can be justified as good, or condemned as evil, depending on who is doing it to whom. Love for fellow humans is completely compatible with hatred for other humans, and murder and genocide can be meritorious when commanded by God against infidels and the non-elect. There is no qualitative difference between good and evil.
The value of all ethical deeds is precisely the same, and any value assigned is based on the arbitrary whims of the Creator. Whatever God commands is good, and there are Scriptural examples from several religions which show that God sometimes commands mercy to be shown, and lives to be saved, while other times God commands sacrificing individuals, or even entire populations to be annihilated without mercy. All are equally “good” in God’s sight, and thus “good” and “evil” become meaningless.
On the other hand, when we are Metaphysical monists, we assume that all of reality is part of the same Ultimate Reality. We may reflect different sides or dimensions of Ultimate Reality, but all beings are upheld and beloved by Being itself, which we call “God” or “Source” or “Creator”. Thus, the creation is always in some sense a manifestation and expression of the Creator, and hence creation is inherently good by nature. In this understanding, all persons are chosen and beloved by God, and are upheld at every moment by God’s Being. The central problem is that many persons— perhaps most— do not know or understand they are chosen and beloved by God. Thus they act in ways which demean and disfigure and destroy God’s life in themselves and in others.
This implies a rigorous Ethical dualism: Some actions and attitudes are evil because they are against the full flourishing of God’s life in ourselves and others. Other actions and attitudes are good because they contribute to the full flourishing of God’s life in ourselves and others. And the distinction between good and evil remains no matter who is the subject and object of these actions, because all creatures are equally beloved partakers in God’s life (even if they do not know or understand it yet). And the goal of life is to remove and overcome any action or attitude which blinds us to our union with God or which diminishes our ability to partake in God’s life.
This Ethical dualism does not make every decision easy, as if every situation presented a clear cut choice between a good option and an evil option. Indeed, many choices are between greater and lesser evil, such as when a police officer has to choose how much force to use on a violent criminal, or when a doctor in a tragedy must choose who to save and who not to. But it does mean that there is an enduring moral value for every act, and we can never justify doing evil to someone on the basis of “them” being evil and non-chosen, while “we” are good and chosen.
And thus we arrive at the counter-intuitive conclusion: Metaphysical dualism results in an Ethical relativism in which we can use God as license to perform any evil act we want to, so long as that act is aimed at “them”: The non-elect, the unchosen, the evil, the reprobate, those who are not like “us”. And on the contrary, Metaphysical monism results in a rigorous Ethical objectivism, in which some acts and attitudes are good or evil for all people at all times in all situations. This is contrary to how most people are trained to see the matter.
It seems to me that many Metaphysical dualists are tricked into thinking that they have a firm moral code, given by Divine Command, written on stone tablets, objective and enduring. And they can think this way so long as they ONLY think about how they are supposed to treat others they can identify as “chosen”. But they are trained to systematically ignore how they are given permission by the same God to hate and hurt those who are outside of their circle of Divine election. These same Metaphysical dualists are then often trained that Metaphysical monists are Ethical relativists, because they wrongly think that since all is ultimately One, then anything is permissible and nothing is evil. But nothing could be further from the Truth. On the contrary, since all is ultimately One, then it is axiomatic that any act which hinders us from realizing that oneness is evil, and against the will of the One in whom all things hold together.
This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.