Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Other Worldview, by Peter Jones

Peter Jones.  The Other Worldview: Exposing Christianity’s Greatest Threat.  Bellingham, WA: Kirkdale Press, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

In The Other Worldview, Peter Jones distinguishes between two worldviews.  He calls one “Twoism,” and the other “Oneism.”  Twoism, which Jones believes, distinguishes between the creator and the creation.  That is why it is called “Twoism”: there are two parties, creator and creation, and one is separate from the other.  Twoism also honors the distinctions that God made in creation (i.e., male and female).

Oneism, by contrast, conflates God with creation.  This occurs in a variety of manifestations.  According to Jones, paganism treated nature as divine.  Pantheism regards the cosmos as divine.  Gnosticism believes that there is an inner divinity within humans with which they should get in touch.

Jones contends that Oneism is prevalent today, and he believes that Oneism is dangerous.  For Jones, Oneism promotes narcissism, as people search for the God within.  Oneism has also encouraged the sexual revolution, according to Jones.  It dismisses God’s distinction between male and female through its acceptance of homosexual sex and transgenderism.  The psychologist Carl Jung, who is particularly criticized in this book as anti-Christian, did not conform to traditional Christian views on sexuality (i.e., fidelity within marriage).  Although Oneism speaks highly of social justice, Jones does not believe that its adherents have the capacity to create a just society.

Jones does not just criticize Oneism, but he also promotes Twoism, particularly Christian Twoism.  For Jones, Twoism encourages love for others rather than a narcissistic search for the divine within or a feeding of one’s fantasies.  Twoism worships a being higher than oneself, gives God thanks, and submits to God in holiness.  Twoism hopes for God’s eschatological renewal of the cosmos.

Jones asserts that there are only two perspectives: Oneism and Twoism.  One either worships the Creator, or one worships the creation (Romans 1:25), as far as Jones is concerned.  Jones also seems to think that Christianity is the only truly (or fully) Twoist religion, on account of its belief in the Trinity.  For Jones, God loves Godself within the context of the Trinity and did not create humans out of any neediness on God’s part, but rather out of love.  This God is truly independent of creation.

Jones does document his claims, or he at least points readers to resources.  He refers to Jung’s writings, Hebrew Bible scholarship about paganism, and “Oneist” writings.

My main problem with the book is that it paints a picture of a monolithic threat, when reality is more complex than that.  That is the impression that the book left on me as a reader.  Jones, who went to Harvard and Princeton, is probably aware of complexities and nuances, but such an awareness was not salient in his book.  In effect, Jones lumped a bunch of people and ideas together, interpreted their beliefs in a less-than-sympathetic or less-than-empathetic manner, and warned Christians about this dangerous boogeyman whom he was presenting.

But not all of the people Jones was criticizing are Oneists.  The extreme sentiments of a few radicals on sexuality, even if they are scholars, does not speak for all supporters of homosexual rights.  Not all (or probably even most) Oneists support narcissism, pornography, or dehumanization of other people.  People can take Oneist thoughts in a positive direction (i.e., love the other, for the divine is in her, too), just as one can take Twoist thoughts in negative directions (i.e., intolerance, self-flagellation for being a sinner, etc.).  How would Jones feel if a left-wing secularist were to make generalizations about conservative Christians, painting them as a dangerous movement or a sinister conspiracy?  People have done that, using the sorts of methods that Jones uses in his portrayal of Oneism.  There may be something valid in both pictures, but neither is entirely accurate, or fair.

Jones’ book would have been better, had there been more acknowledgment of nuance.  Jones could have acknowledged nuance, while still mounting an effective critique of Oneism.

Moreover, from a scholarly perspective, I would have liked to have seen more nuance in Jones’ portrayal of ancient Near Eastern paganism.  Jones does well to point to scholarly resources on this, including older Hebrew Bible scholarship that held that the pagans divinized nature.  Still, ancient Near Eastern paganism did have creation myths, which leans towards a Twoist model.  Jones should have wrestled more with the extent to which ancient Near Eastern paganism was Oneist, and the extent to which it was Twoist.  I recognize that Jones did not intend this book to be a scholarly work of Hebrew Bible scholarship, but rather a popular book.  At the same time, some recognition of nuance would have made the book better.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

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