Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Manichaens, the World, Beauty and God

Have been enjoying on my Kindle Voices of Gnosticism: Interviews with Elaine Pagels, Marvin Meyer, Bart Ehrman, Bruce Chilton and Other Leading Scholars (Miguel Conner)

Here is an interesting quotation by Jason BeDuhn of Northern Arizona University on the Manichaens.  This is in response to the meme that the Manichaens had a pessimistic, life-denying view of earthly existence.

And so, if you look at the Manichaean hymns, as apparently you have, you’ll see this poetry, a lot of affirmation of the natural world as the manifestation of God. And there’s even the claim in the later Islamic tradition, when it is trying to suppress certain radical forms of Sufism, the claim is made that the Sufis have learnt from the Manichaeans how to meditate on beauty as a form of drawing close to God. And of course that’s everything from meditating on a flower to meditating on the face of a beautiful woman. So, for more conservative Islamic forces, this kind of religious devotion to material forms is antithetical to the values they’re trying to cultivate. But it fits perfectly the Manichaean view that God is tangible in what is beautiful, is tangible in what affects the senses in a positive way. So God smells sweetly and God is light as opposed to darkness. These very sensory ways of talking about the divine which are the very things that Augustine and others criticised as too materialistic are actually ways in which you can see Manichaeans affirming the world as being permeated with divinity in a way that you miss in many other forms of spirituality.


Anonymous said...

I was shocked to learn about Augustine's response this matter. After reading this post, I started playing around a bit. I learned that he devoted more attention this than I realized.

Steve Allison said...

Edward, I've meant to do a little more research on this but every time I start to do so, I'm am sidetracked/interrupted. My hunch is that he probably, unconsciously, brought some Manichaeism ideas with him to Christianity.

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