Sophistry, Dualism, and the Demonization of the Body.

While delving deeper into Ligonier’s podcasts and Truth for Life, and continuing to delve deeper into the Scriptures and History, I found myself staring at an email from the Colson Center a few weeks ago, which brought me back to the Breakpoint Podcast, and introduced me to the Upstream Podcast. 

   I’ve had good, challenging discussions with friends and family about our culture and the visible church and where both seem to be going.  Yet problems seemed disparate and unrelated until I listened to Breakpoint’s delving into the burgeoning teen depression and suicide issue, and Upstream’s delving below the surface on the same issue to demonstrate that the trans-sexuality movement is actually the product of an old form of heresy that oddly and blasphemously syncretized the teaching of Plato (dualism of mind and body), the Sophists (particularly the skeptics), and the Scriptures–namely gnosticism.  Something clicked in my mind.  

   I’ve been aware for some time (thanks to Schaeffer, Dreher, Chesterton, Lewis, C Taylor, Tolstoy, Hardy, W. Percy, and a return to Boethius and Dante) that the Englightement and Age of Reason weren’t an awakening to clarity,  but rather a return to the muddled slumber of the Sophists.   Descartes did the same thing the Sophists did, dichotomizing the individual and the world (subject/object duality) and alienating the individual’s body and mind.  He did so rotely, without answering the questions that philosophy and theology had been asking for centuries.  His move was abrupt and discontinuous, and all the modern world (especially the Continental Philsophers) played sychophant to his childish game.  The abrupt change that gave us modernism was not a well-thought through change despite Descartes’ fascination with his own mind; it was merely a dog returning to its vomit.  

   I’ve come to realize that the trans-gender movement is merely an extension of the old gnostic duality which separates us into distinct, opposing containers of mind and body.  This thinking trivializes the body, and yet simultaneously denigrate the body as evil (thus not trivializing it and demonstrating the typical contradictory nature of gnosticism).  The reawakening of this ancient duality in a modern, scientific and industrial/materialistic world gave us some of the strangest and most violent ideas the world has yet faced. 

Scientific racism, which was a heterodox combination of bad science, manifest destiny, and poor theology brought us William Harper’s terribly confused argument for pro-slavery.  Despite Angelina Grimke’s sound refutation of Harper’s addled blasphemies, Americans still seem to accept not only that American slavery was comparable to its ancient counterparts, but that observable outward characteristics of race are somehow more significant that an individual’s character and will.  

   The bridge from scientific racism to gendered chauvinism doesn’t stretch far. Chauvinism also rapidly gained in popularity in the modern age, shallowly categorizing men and women by apparent traits (phenomena).  It even went so far as to re-awaken the old Greek idea that women were fatalistically irrational because of their reproductive organs.  As an aside, “hystera” is Greek for “ovary,” from whene is derived hysteria.  The great poet of our age, T.S. Eliot, used this diagnosis of his wife Vivienne not only to dismiss and despise her, but to offer her to Bertrand Russel. He, of course, despised her even more after the menage-a-trois,  finishing her off by committing her into an asylum–yes, this is the age of science we live in, where ‘science’ conveniently rationalizes abuse, malice, and even genocide.  It works in multiple directions, and just as any form of racism is blasphemous and ugly, so female chauvinism is just as ugle as male chauvinism.  Carole Seymour-Jones’ Painted Shadow is a good read for those who want a representative case study of the violent effects of chauvinism. Noel Rae’s The Great Stain is a sobering collection of primary sources which give a far more accurate presentation of how slavery in the Americas harmed everyone involved.

   The mad thinking that gave rise to scientific-chauvinism and scientific racism is based on the dichotomization of soul and body, with a growing emphasis on the body as the limits of our being (materialism), yet dismissing it as necessarily evil and the single fatalistic determinate for the soul and value of a  person.  Talk about capricious and psychotic. Who would not despair at such a grim picture?

   Fast forward to our generation.  We have more dissension in the form of brutal chauvinistic statements than ever before.  Social media is full of gender generalizations that are demeaning and degrading.  Some are indirect, others direct, but all have the effect of degrading one’s gendered body as both evil and valueless. Should we be surprised that boys think they are evil if they become men, despising their bodies because women tell them they are barbaric beasts who instinctually crave sexual intercourse and trample women to get it?  Should we be surprised that, when girls are told they are powerless objects of lust who are fatalistically bound to being subjugated by men, wish to become men?  When told their bodies are merely summations of atoms which unavoidably provoke violent behavior from themselves and others, how can they not hate the bodies with which God created them?  Who would not be depressed and confused if caught in the despairing belief that one’s body is trivial and evil?  And who would not despair even further when convinced their escape through the destruction of their gender through hormonal injections leads to further confusion and psychosomatic disorder. The solution of the ideological left for gender-dysphoria is no better and no less violent than the pottasium-bromide issued to Vivienne Haigh-Wood(Eliot)’s to treat her dysmenorrhoea, alleged hysteria, and alleged precociousness. It is just as cruel and just as destructive.

There is some hope for us. The world has faced this enemy before and the Church has gotten the upper hand. The awareness of gnostic dualism’s reintroduction means that the Adversary is drawing on an old scheme with modifications. We need only find those who vanquished it before to know how to fight it successfully. Not only the Apostolic epistles, but the writings of Tatian, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, and Athanasius (among other early church fathers) will be of great help in defeating this empty and contradictory philsophy of demons and men. We need only to return to these writings with, God willing, eyes that see and ears that hear. In order to do so, of course, we must repudiate the popular teachings which have replaced the substance of Scripture with the titillating, shallow cliches and ideologies that now fill our churches.

   We have found ourselves fighting ancient arguments without arming ourselves with the sound doctrine these men (and women) gave us, and are horribly unaware of the Adversary’s schemes.  Those schemes have been reborn into the age of science and technology and given new and stronger deceptions.  Virtual reality “convinces” children that they can be the avatar,  forgetting who they are in a sort of hazy apoplexy.  Hormonal treatments can be used to distort the body in accordance with mislead hopes of reframing the self by reshaping the body.  It’s time to cease slumbering, and return to the weapons of sound doctrine, logic, and language. Anything less than this, and the Adversary will wreak great havoc.

   Do not think this will be accomplished by a religious and philosophical elite. The best of us is not immune to the Adversary’s attacks, no matter how much we hunger and thirst for justice by seeking right thinking (sound doctrine) and right action, and a phalanx without supporting troops is doomed to failure.

For my own part, I resonate with the despair many face,  based on a struggle that only seems to grow with time,  and a spirit that grows faint from the struggle.  Though I know them untrue, the malicious misanthropic statements of others still haunt me and make me cry out in the dark.  The themes and messages  of gnostic dualism and its particular attack against the gendered body has come not only from literature (even from the Victorian period or ancient Rome), but even from close friends and family.  Even the woman who has shared my bed has used those messages to dismiss and despise me in heart, soul, and mind, an experience so close to that of the phophet Micah  Worst of all, I fear I may even have repeated the dualistic lies to myself and others without even recognizing my folly. 

  Do not be fooled into thinking that moralism is in any way an effective tool against this evil.    Modern (especially Kantian categorical) moralism is rooted in the same Cartesian dichotomy that has brought about this crisis. It is not related to the old concept of natural law, except in a deceptive outward form. The visible church’s retreat into what has been called the “religious right,” a set of shallow therapeutic and moralistic ideologies has rendered it vulnerable to pharaseeism. Just as the Pharisees were blind to sound doctrine, so is the post-Victorian/post-Kantian visible church.  Sound doctrine being the constellations of thoughts within and across Scripture, the abstracting of shiny stars (individual verses) here and there to support ideological propositions rather is a dangerous game of misrepresenting Scripture and the God who gave it to us.  It is the present game the visible church is playing to its own destruction. Moralism is not an adequate substitution for just thought (sound doctrine), just judgement, and just action (works). The Scripture depicts God as one who speaks only truth, whose “judgements are true and right,” and “whose right hand is full of justice.” His people, called to conform to Him, must abandon shallow moralism to pursue justice.

    Contemplation and meditation are our strength-training, just as C.S. Lewis demonstrates in his Pilgrim’s Regress. Yet we must be aware the medieval and modern worlds both distorted contemplation.  By associating contemplation with only internal meditation on ‘spiritual’ matters, the spiritualism of the modern age has distorted our metaphysical view of God’s Creation, unjustly and foolishly dispatching with the sensory world.  Yet the sensory world is intentionally designed to call the self outward, to beauty beyond itself, and ultimately to the Beauty of the Creator beyond the sensory world.  Without a sensory world, there is no echo for the soul, nor anything to prompt or spur the soul to thought.  This distortion is most salient in literature.   What is commonly called projection in modern literature is an incomplete description of how we and the sensory world relate.   Even the solipsistic Emily Dickinson’s thoughts do not start from within her, but from a sensory world around her that calls forth her thoughts.  So also David writes “deep calls to deep” because he sees/recalls a waterfall and an ocean, and both call him out of his depression to consider the God whose wisdom has created both himself and the waterfalls and oceans.  

  We live as creatures who unify the spiritual and material realms.  Like the God who united himself with human flesh, we cannot be ourselves apart from both spirit and flesh.  To embrace this is to embrace oneself as “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and to live in a world where nothing is inherently evil because it is palpable.  Our five senses do not deceive us absolutely.  The world of sense is not totally other, just as God and angels are not totally other.  The God who created us not only bound us with Him in body when he formed Adam’s and Eve’s respective bodies, but also in spirit when He breathed His own life into humanity.   He has now doubly bound Himself in the incarnation of Christ, reaffirming the spiritual and material wholeness of His image-bearers, and repudiating the Adversary’s accusations that we are worthless, valueless creatures.  He has strangely bound all humanity together with the incarnation just as all were bound to Adam in the creation.  Thus even the pictures the Scriptural pictures of eternal life juxtapose the righteous and the wicked:  Abraham talks to the rich man across a divide; the upright rule over the powerless and supine forms of the wicked; and those outside the city are still in close enough proximity to gnash their teeth at what they see and hear.  There is no trivialization of humanity by any means in the Scripture.  Hell may be a laughing matter for Lady Wisdom, but that is because those who are consigned there are worthy both of laughter and of hell.  They will never be worthless, and must never be slandered.  Gnosticim is thus the great and fallacious slander of the Adversary. He would have us think highly of ourselves and elevate ourselves before he convinces us that we are mere objectified things.  One can hear the Adversary’s voice in Descartes, for in the duality of “I think therefore I am,” and classification of men and women as mere “thinking things,” mankind is raised up just high enough to be cast into utter despair.  Even Gollum knows better than to follow false lights. 

   With all that said, I can’t over-recommend the podcasts from the Colson Center, or a close look at the Colson Fellows Program (https://colsonfellows.org/program-overview/).  The latter particularly goaded me, since it instantiates Rod Dreher’s books (Live not By Lies, The Benedict Option).  Combining Dreher’s ideas of delving into the early church writings with a small group over beer or coffee (stamtisch) with the Fellows Program may be our best bet as visible churches exchange sound doctrine and the historical church for trite cliches and superficial niceties that do not confront clear injustice.  

   If I haven’t explained this well, please ask questions.  I acknowledge that I am making allusions to church history and doctrine that not everyone may be aware of. 

   Have any of you delved into this?  Any thoughts? Any recommended resources? Anyone you know that can add to this discussion?

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