Baha'i News -- The Revival of Mani
The Revival of Mani
The Revival of Mani
by Gary Leupp
War talk is comforting because it renders
the choices apparently stark and the options superficially clear.
The idea that this ["war on terrorism,"] is a Manichaean
struggle between our forces of democracy and good and their forces
of fanaticism and evil is a consolation and an inspiration.
London Observer, September
The arrogance that marked the latest
Manichaean pronouncement of the U.S. President, George W. Bush,
alleging an "axis of evil" on the international stage
has justifiably produced a backlash of adverse reactions.
The Hindu, February 4, 2002
President Bush is serious about his Manichaean
formulation of the war on terror-"either you are with us,
or you are with the terrorists."
Wall Street Journal, March 27, 2002
Bush's Manichaean approach to the post-Sept.
11 crisis has its virtues, but whether it will hold up as a sensible
way to deal with as complicated an international problem as the
United States has ever faced remains to be seen.
New York Times, April 6, 2002
simplicity is a genuine virtue in, for
example, mobilizing a nation for war. It was quite effective
for a while when Bush declared, after Sept. 11, that we were
engaged in a Manichaean struggle with a single overarching enemy
Michael Kinsley, April 18,
People all over the world are calling the Bush
administration "Manichaean." Since Manichaeanism isn't
taught in our high schools, I thought it might be a good idea
to put these references into some context.
Once upon a time in the land of Persia
(Iran-a great country which has contributed immensely to human
civilization)-there lived a man named Mani. Mani probably lived
from 215 to 276, in a complicated religious environment. Zoroastrianism
was the longstanding state religion; Christianity, Judaism, and
Buddhism were also vying for influence in Iran's Sassanid Empire.
Mani tried to pull them all together into a new, universal religion.
(Religious syncretism was common in Iran, where Bahai also originated.).
He proclaimed himself a prophet, in a line including Zoroaster,
Buddha, and Jesus. His eclectic teaching quickly spread like
wildfire into Syria, Europe (as far as Spain) and China. It was
the state religion of the Uighur Empire in the 12th century.
Most Catholics don't know it, but St. Augustine (who lived in
North Africa) was a Manichaean for a decade before he embraced
Christianity in 386. Mani's doctrine became the third world religion,
after Buddhism and Christianity, spread by missionaries up and
down the Silk Road, until it was stymied by repression in Europe,
and official opposition in China, and the rise of Islam in southwest
Asia. It pretty much disappeared by the ninth century---a world
faith that failed.
And why did it fail? In part, because
it was so simplistic. Mani saw the world as a battleground in
which Good/Light and Evil/Darkness existed in eternal conflict.
No gray areas for him. From the beginning, there had been a Realm
of Light (in the north), ruled by the Father of Greatness; and
the Realm of Darkness (in the south), ruled by the Prince of
Darkness (representing smoke, fire, storm, mud and darkness).
(Some may observe that this term also applies to a contemporary
political figure, but I don't want to digress.) These two existed
in a state of perpetual warfare until the Father sent Jesus the
Radiant, who then awakened Adam, the first man, and the first
in a long line of prophets including Zoroaster, Abraham, Buddha,
Jesus, Paul, and Mani himself. At the end of time, there will
be a great war, after which Jesus will return. The world, will
implode, setting off a conflagration that, burning for 1468 years,
will constitute the final victory of Light.
Again, this doctrine pretty much died
out over a thousand years ago, but there are some New Agers,
and some in Washington inclined to what the French foreign minister
has called simplisme, who seem really, really into it.
Gary Leupp is an an associate professor, Department of
History, Tufts University and coordinator, Asian Studies Program.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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