Heresy of Constant Conflict

As secularism grows and theological literacy declines, it’s little wonder that ancient heresies are rushing into the void.

Thus, 65% of evangelicals agree with the Arians that Christ is a created being, and the Gnostic repudiation of the physical realm and the significance of the body runs rampant in our postmodern culture.

Today, as our politics grow increasingly polarized and as our society risks being torn apart by ideological conflicts, we need to be on guard against another heresy: Manichaeism.

Founded by a 3rd century Persian teacher named Mani, Manichaeism started off as an independent religion, like Gnosticism, and later insinuated itself into Christianity. Manichaeans believed that reality consists of a continual conflict between two equal and opposite forces: “a good spiritual world of light, and an evil material world of darkness.” In this cosmic dualism, human beings liberate themselves from the material darkness to attain “enlightenment” by a special knowledge. 

Heresies generally start with an element of truth. The Arians rightly taught that Jesus Christ is true man, and the Gnostics correctly taught that the spiritual realm is supreme. The Manichaeans rightly recognize a conflict between good and evil, God and the devil, light and darkness.

But evil is not a “force”; rather, it is a transgression of God’s law. The devil is not equal to God; rather, he is a defeatedfallen angel. Christ is the “light of the world” who has overcome Satan’s darkness (John 1:5; 8:12).

The Manichaeans believed that Jesus is God, but they denied that He is man, since the “flesh” is evil. Like other heretics, they believed that Jesus only seemed to have died and to have risen physically from the dead (a position known as “Docetism,” from the Latin word for “seeming”). Jesus merely symbolized the principle of spiritual light. The Manichaeans also rejected the creator God of the Old Testament, teaching that the universe was a byproduct of the cosmic conflict.

Today many people see good and evil as “forces” rather than as manifestations of sin and righteousness. They interpret the world and their lives in terms of conflicts between these forces and care deeply about being on the right side.

Manichaeism’s dualism shows up in the current political scene. The political left emphasizes a dualistic, primal conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed, between economic classes or sexual orientation. Conservatism falls into this temptation sometimes too. For example, conservative Roman Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò described the 2020 election as a battle between “the children of light and the children of darkness.” This demonizes the opponents, seeing them as monsters rather than pitying them as lost souls.

Such dualistic thinking, a staple of all conspiracy theories, is dehumanizing. It is easier to sin against those you do not view as human beings, even sinful humans, but as expressions of an intrinsically evil “force.” 

This is not to say that oppression is not real. Moral issues — such as abortion and racism — are indeed matters of political conflict. But, for Christianity, they are more than just power struggles.

Augustine, who was once a Manichaean but turned to refute this heresy, made the case that everything that God has created is good. Sin perverted God’s good creation.

And so today, power is not always oppressive and thus intrinsically evil. Sinners will misuse their power for their own benefit. But those who cling to Christ’s forgiving and atoning work seek to use their power in the service of justice, to love and serve the neighbor.

Christianity alone offers a constructive way forward. Christ does not offer an uncertain response to evil and wickedness, but having drawn all sin into Himself, He defeated our sin on the cross. In Him and through Him, there is only forgiveness and life. There is not dualism here: there is one God “who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:6). 

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

7 thoughts on “Heresy of Constant Conflict”

  1. Political parties aren’t a special subset of people especially prone to transgressions of God’s law (thought it’s tempting to think so!). Humans, made in the image of God, transgress God’s laws, and political parties are made up of humans.

    The bad news: We are sinners and have transgressed these laws, regardless if you self identify as the political left or the political right or any other partisan group.

    The good news: Jesus Christ has taken upon Himself the sins of the world and calls us to repent in believe in this Mercy that God has provided in Christ: forgiveness of all of our sins. That’s good news for our leftist citizens and rightist citizens and even our non citizens.

    So instead of causing confusion with less than perfect political statements, lets talk about evil and the remedy that God has given us.

  2. “The world and its god cannot and will not bear the word of the true God: and the true God cannot and will not keep silence. While, therefore, these two gods are at war with each other, what can there be else in the whole world, but tumult?” – Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will

  3. We do not believe as the Manichaeans that there is a conflict between equal and opposite forces. Yet, Scripture clearly contrasts light and darkness. Believers are called children of light who are to expose the works of darkness. In the article, exposing the works of darkness is falsely likened to demonizing the opponents by those who follow conspiracy theories. The author also commits the fallacy of bifurcation in assuming that those who oppose evil beliefs necessarily dehumanize others. One can certainly pity someone as a lost soul, while simultaneously exposing their deeds and beliefs as monstrous. Finally, those who turn from darkness to light also turn from the power of Satan unto God. Scripture makes it clear that Satan is still active in this world. It is not dualism to acknowledge this truth.

    Ephesians 5:8-13
    8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of the [b]Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather [c]expose them. 12For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. 13But all things that are [d]exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light

    Acts 26:18
    To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in me.

    1 Peter 5:8
    8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:

  4. I am writing this out of love. While I understand and agree with much of what you outline in this essay, I found one particular paragraph concerning.

    In your article you say “ The political left emphasizes a dualistic, primal conflict between the oppressors and the oppressed, between economic classes or sexual orientation. Conservatism falls into this temptation sometimes too. For example, conservative Roman Catholic Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò described the 2020 election as a battle between “the children of light and the children of darkness.”

    So you know that EVERY member of the “political left” holds the above to be true? Please refrain from making broad general statements about groups of people.

    I do, however, see that you were careful in characterizing the “political right” when you said “Conservatism falls into this temptation SOMETIMES too.”

    These types of broad general statements just simply do no good and appear to have a political slant. We are all sinners but by the grace of Jesus Christ are forgiven and saved.

    John 15:12

    God bless. ❤️

  5. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Eph. 6:12-13 ESV

    1. This is the verse that came to mind reading the article. Satan counts on people thinking they aren’t pursued by him and his followers.

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