Following my breastfeeding anti-Cathar Virgins, more thoughts on dualism. These really are blue-sky speculations, and I’ve no reputable historian like Duby to give me cover.
It’s hard for us to get any handle on the Manichaean mentality. As with reincarnation, modern Westerners just don’t get the point. This may well be down to the sheer completeness of the thirteenth-century Catholic victory over dualism. It never came back in Western Christendom. The Reformation struggles were on quite different ground; even the thoroughly Augustinian Calvin didn’t suffer the pull his master struggled so hard to free himself from. It was a theological paradigm shift, in Thomas Kuhn’s famous phrase.
I suspect that this was a much bigger deal than we realize. Consider some of the possible effects – in the post-Enlightenment world, now part of the heritage of Jews and secularists.
The control group here is Orthodox Eastern Europe. Orthodoxy didn’t go down the same road, and SFIK for it the world remains essentially a vale of tears that has to be endured, not remedied. The function of the church is to enable souls to escape it into transcendence. Any church involvement in politics is purely defensive, not transformative. (Around 1992, I had the odd experience of witnessing a meeting in Bulgaria between the abbot of the leading Orthodox monastery and the Dominican confessor to the King of Spain. The Dominican wanted to know what the church’s agenda was in the transition to democracy; the abbot was only interested in getting funding for the liturgy.) And it was in Western, Catholic and post-Catholic Europe that the following happened first.
1. The death of the Devil
The revolution evicted the Devil from any organic role in the creation; he ceased to be the necessary, balancing force of death and destruction that at the same time enables new growth and life, a Tiamat or Kali. He became a purely malignant force of moral evil, as in Dante. Initially this led to an appalled fascination and the paranoid witch craze. But in the long run, he became a spare wheel, doomed eventually to be replaced by a dinky little aerosol puncture kit. You could account for human failings and natural disasters perfectly well without him. Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là, as Laplace said of God. Now he’s vanished.
If the world is run by a malignant being, or it’s a struggle between two opposing beings, there’s no reason to think it will be comprehensible. Making the creation wholly God’s means that his plan is rational and may be figured out, as Muslims never doubted. The scientific enterprise, suspended for Christians since the end of antiquity, could and should be restarted. Significantly, Copernicus came from and worked in the Catholic western part of Poland (Thorn and Cracow), not the Orthodox eastern part, which must have been very similar on most other metrics.
The political implication of dualism is quietism; of monism, engagement. The material here and now matters to God and matters to the Church. Again, the initial results were unpromising: an increase in religious violence, starting with the Crusades and going on to the wars of the Reformation period and the colonial conquests. But the continuous impulse from both Catholic and especially Protestant religion to try to improve things, to identify and carry out God’s presumed plan for creation, did require continuous experiments in social engineering. Some of these, like the Inquisition, were quite horrible; but eventually the Dutch and the English tried tolerance and constitutional government. It really has nothing to do with Athens.
If I’m right here, we owe much of the modern world to the Cathars and their failure. Montségur did not burn in vain.