The Revival of Mani
August 21, 2002
The Revival of Mani
by Gary Leupp
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.
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