Incarnational Theology, Flannery O'Conner, and Cartesian Dualism
I've been turning over in my head lately notions about dualism, especially Cartesian Dualism and its subsequent philosophic downfall after the rise of phrenology and eventually the modern explanations of human thought in terms of locality of function (i.e. that different parts of the brain handle different parts of thought).
Now, I reject Cartesian Dualism, not just because it's been shown to be lacking in terms of theoretical explanatory power, but because I reject the underlying principles on which it is based.
While I was looking into Orthodoxy, it seemed that much Protestant theology seems to be predicated (to varying degrees) on the underlying assumptions behind Cartesian Dualism. In fact, it many ways, it seems to be dualistic at its core. The dualism of most of Protestantism is evidenced, among other things, by its iconoclasm, low or absent sacramentality, and a nearly complete absence of ascetic discipline. It struck me as quite Gnostic in its dismissal of the physical aspect of man, and more importantly, of the Incarnation. (Now, Jeff and my other Anglican/Catholic readers, before you start to comment...wait a minute!)
Now, I know that not all sectors of Protestantism are this way, but from my own experience in the Quaker and Foursquare churches, there were no sacraments, no ascesis, no iconography -- the only attention paid the body was in a moralistic "you shouldn't do THIS with your body" sense. The Incarnation, in the evangelical thought I was exposed to, was only important in so far as it provided a way for Jesus to "pay the penalty for our sins." In other words, Incarnational theology was totally subservient to a gross from of penal-substitutionary atonement soteriology. Feasts such as the Transfiguration and the Ascension meant next to nothing in the evangelical context.
The Anglican and Catholic teachings and practices do not substantiate this argument in quite the same ways. In fact, it was my experience in the Anglican Liturgy, the reading of the BCP, and my contact with a local Catholic monastery that helped me tremendously in my journey to Orthodoxy.
But I still wondered why is it that such anti-materialism is rampant in the evangelical Protestant doctrinal ethos? Why is it that the body of man and the Body of Christ are separated?
It has been said before, but one could say that all heresies are ultimately heresies against the Incarnation -- the final scandal of God's communion with man. This, I believe, is why so many Protestants are scandalized by icons, sacrament, veneration of the Theotokos and the other saints, and ascetical discipline. All these things are essential witnesses to the Incarnation and are the means by which we participate in its life-giving reality, the means by which we become, as St. Peter says, "partakers of the divine nature." How do we, people who are a union of body and soul, partake of the divine nature if we do not do it with both body and soul?
This disembodied approach to communion with Christ is similar to a return to the old religions of the pagan world -- a fundamentally unreachable God Who is fundamentally so unlike us as to make Him untouchable. Recently, Fr. Daniel Byantoro, a convert to Orthodoxy from Islam, came to speak at a Lenten retreat here in Portland. Fr. Daniel made the point that much of contemporary evangelical Protestantism has more in common with Islam than with historic orthodoxy christianity by virtue of the fact that they are lacking a holistic anthropology and soteriology of the body, as well as a shared heavy emphasis on "textualism" as opposed to "sacramentalism."
I am reminded of the Southern Baptist woman in the Flannery O'Connor story "Parker's Back." When Parker wants to show her the tattoo of the Byzantine Christ he has on his back, saying that the woman should see what God looks like, she replies, "God don't *look*." Well, I believe that God *does* "look"; He can also be touched. Thus, sacrament. Thus, icons. Thus, ascesis. Thus, veneration of the saints, etc�
Without that which the historic, undivided Church has given us, how do we *know* that the Incarnation has become real?