Spiritual good, material bad??

Often I meet folk on my travels who say: “Prayer, reading your Bible, going to church, telling others about Jesus and a few other things [my cheeky edit: not many] are great things to do.

However travelling for fun, taking time off, sleeping, having passions, playing sport, doing art, playing computer games and sex….well they’re not so good.”

Why?  Well, they’re, erm, not as spiritual!  Or so the thinking goes in most religions. 

The Islamic call to prayer reminds us that prayer is better than sleep.  I struggle to have a normal human conversation with Jehovah’s Witnesses who I meet!  And in forms of Buddhism, we must try to escape this world and the trappings of physical reality.  Even sadly some Christian preachers I’ve heard saying that the “real you” is just some soul part that will go to be with God forever in some airy fairy land in the sky.

Often called “dualism” in theology/philosophy, this ancient belief that makes you feel guilty about doing fairly normal things in life and does not look fondly on the fact that Christ is Lord over everything in life, always lurks round the corner in most Christian circles.  I would argue it stems more from Greek Platonic thought (Plato) than from the Bible but it profoundly shapes the way many of us think.


Plato and some amphitheatre steps.  Probably annoyingly the cultural equivalent of having a picture of me next to a Leprechaun.

Here’s two ways it did for me at university:

I was raised with a passionate heart for Jesus and sharing Him with others.  With great Biblical teaching all my childhood, and wonderful practical training with United Beach Missions, the facts of eternity just seemed to spark an inevitable reaction with me as my convictions grew (oh so gradually!).  First year at university and I would sit and weep at my desk in Sherwood Hall, watching carefree people go past in their hundreds on the way to a lost eternity.  Thankfully the CU taught me amazing ways to share this with campus, but still, this heart for people debatably meant that I felt that doing my studies was not as God-honouring as evangelism.  Or at least the maths part certainly.  Philosophy mentions god the odd time…so that’s alright, no?  I’m thankful for those who quickly saw which way I was going and corrected my trajectory very gently, so that I could delight in serving God in mathematics lectures as much as in CU meetings!

Secondly, I guess I met dualism in my philosophy lectures.  It’s one of the most ridiculed concepts in all of philosophy (or at least Descartes was in my lectures!), and so in an aggressively secular department (all the god-dy type people went off to do their philosophy through the Nottingham Theology department with John Milbank et al.), I faced a challenge.  I think many Christians studying philosophy are stuck thinking they need to defend popular dualism.  We have a soul and a body, so we have to be philosophical dualists!  Whilst not all believers have agreed (bizarrely, if you ask me), I think some form of dualism is probably inevitable, but just not Cartesian or not necessarily even substance dualism either.  What does that leave you with?  A headache perhaps.  But I’ll have shot at answering it sometime else for those of you who are more philosophically minded.  I do think it’s more reasonable than it’s given credit for!  Or so I spent my dissertation trying to prove.

Not sure whether your travelling can really be as God-honouring as outreach?  Check out this on washing dishes, that may provoke some thoughts: A theology of mundane things, like washing up

Or try reading Julian Hardyman’s “Maximum Life” (previously “Glory
Days”).  I’ve a few second-hand copies if people want.
maximum life