October 22, 2009
The Pfc’s Coup: Monotheism
In my last post, The Rise of Dualism, I described how Plato and his Neoplatonic followers embedded the notion of body/soul dualism deep in the bedrock of Western thought.
From Plato’s time, our Western tradition of thought has consequently been structured by a cascade of dualities: mind/body; soul/body; eternal life in heaven/temporary life on earth; reason/emotion; man/nature. These dualities are fundamental to the way we think.
But it was when Christianity arose, merging the Hebrew idea of an omnipotent God with Plato’s idea of the abstract Good, that the pfc was able to take virtually total control of human consciousness. In the first few centuries of our common era, as Christianity pervaded Western thought, the dualism first conceived by Plato became the only acceptable view of existence.
Our bodies became vessels of evil. In the words of St. Paul, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Or as the Book of John says: “he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” And the hatred of the material world, combined with a love for eternal salvation, continued unremittingly down the generations. The Cloud of Unknowing, a highly regarded spiritual text of the 14th century, describes the body as a “foul stinking lump”:
For as oft as [the soul] would have a true knowing and a feeling of his God in purity of spirit… he findeth evermore his knowing and his feeling as it were occupied and filled with a foul stinking lump of himself, the which must always be hated and despised and forsaken, if he shall be God’s perfect disciple.
Hundreds of years later, New England clergyman, Cotton Mather was urinating against a wall and was disgusted by the sight of a dog relieving himself too. He came up with a unique response:
Thought I; ‘What mean and vile things are the children of men… How much do our natural necessities debase us, and place us… on the same level with the very dogs.’
My thought proceeded. ‘Yet I will be a more noble creature; and at the very time when my natural necessities debase me into the condition of the beast, my spirit shall (I say at that very time!) rise and soar’…
Accordingly, I resolved that it should be my ordinary practice, whenever I step to answer one or the other necessity of nature to make it an opportunity of shaping in my mind some holy, noble, divine thought…”
The examples are endless. For over a thousand years, people of European descent thought of themselves as a “strange hybrid monster” composed of two disconnected parts, a soul and a body, fighting against each other.
This culminated in the seventeenth century, when the philosopher René Descartes who, after Plato, has probably had a greater impact than any other philosopher on modern Western thought, transformed this dualism into a form that would work for the modern world, with his famous conception of “cogito ergo sum” – “I think therefore I am”. Only our thought was truly reliable. Our sensations couldn’t be trusted. In Descartes’ own words “there is nothing included in the concept of body that belongs to the mind; and nothing in that of the mind that belongs to the body.” The body was just a machine that wore out, a temporary abode for the immortal soul.
And if the body were just a machine, then it followed that animals were nothing other than machines, because they didn’t have human souls within them. In fact, all of Nature was just a machine. A machine that’s there for the purposes of mankind, since didn’t God say in Genesis that Man shall “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth”?
This is what I mean by the pfc’s coup. First, Plato established the idea of the pfc’s conceptualization function as a separate dimension existing in its own image: an eternal world of abstraction. Next, the rise of Christianity gave a name to that abstraction – God – and assigned it infinite, universal power. Finally, the pfc (although of course it wasn’t known by that name) was identified as the only part of each human being that could connect with that infinite power – the abstracting mind, the immortal soul.
And now that this dualism was firmly established, everything else was fair game. Nature was there to be used for our purposes. Other peoples needed to be conquered in order to save their infinite souls that they didn’t even know they had.
In my next post, I’ll look at how the the rise of science permitted the pfc to expand its power even further – establishing a true tyranny over our consciousness.
 I Corinthians 15:50
 Book of John, 12:25
 Quoted in Huxley, A. (1945/2004). The Perennial Philosophy, New York: HarperCollins, p. 37
 Quoted in Orians, G. H. (2008). “Nature & human nature.” Dædalus(Spring 2008), 39-48. (p. 40)
 Lovejoy, A.O., ( 1964). The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
 Quoted by Capra, F., (1982/1988). The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture. New York: Bantam Books.
 Genesis, 1:26