by Phillip D. Collins ©, Nov. 17th, 2005
One of the many dialectics that has divided humanity throughout history is spiritualism against materialism. As is typically the case with dialectics, the competing ideational entities involved in the conflict are not dichotomously related. Instead, they represent variants of metaphysical irrationality. One elevates the soul to the detriment of the physical body. The other elevates the physical body to the detriment of the soul. Invariably, the synthesis of these two results in cynical nihilism and the primacy of some authoritarian Gnosticism. It was just such a dialectical climate that Christianity successfully circumvented.
In the present cultural milieu, which is experiencing a resurgence of Gnosticism, one of Christianity’s primary goals should be to re-establish the human body as an object of reverence and avoid the morbid preoccupation with death that is intrinsic to the polar extremes comprising the aforementioned dialectic. Otherwise, Western civilization shall become a culture of death. If this sounds like an exaggeration, then one need only consider the case of Terri Schiavo. The state-sanctioned murder of Schiavo is a direct corollary of America’s descent into cultural nihilism and Gnosticism.
Michel Foucault asserted that “the soul is the prison of the body” (30). This assertion is somewhat true in relation to spiritualism. Spiritualism tends to bestow absolute metaphysical and epistemological primacy upon the soul. Meanwhile, the body is treated like an unfortunate and annoying afterthought. Although the soul is obviously important, spiritualism virtually detaches it from the physical body and depicts its relationship with corporeality as some sort of accident. Within the spiritualist conceptual framework, the body becomes an impediment to humanity’s acquisition of knowledge and is regarded with increasing derision. This seemed to be a commonly held view among the early Greek philosophers. Such was the contention of Socrates and his protégé, Plato. In Phaedo, Plato writes:
…the body provides us with innumerable distractions in the pursuit of our necessary sustenance, and any diseases which attack us hinder our quest for reality. Besides, the body fills us with loves and desires and fears and all sorts of fancies and a great deal of nonsense, with the result that we literally never get an opportunity to think at all about anything. Wars and revolutions and battles are due simply and solely to the body and its desires. All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth, and the reason why we have to acquire wealth is the body, because we are slaves in its service. That is why, on all these accounts, we have so little time for philosophy. Worst of all, if we do obtain any leisure from the body’s claims and turn to some line of inquiry, the body intrudes once more into our investigations. Interrupting, disturbing, distracting, and preventing us from getting a glimpse of the truth. We are in fact convinced that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul itself. (65A-66E)
Invariably, such a dismal Weltanschauung promulgates a morbid preoccupation with death. After all, given the physical body’s alleged inconvenience, is not death a welcome liberator? Again, this was a shared contention of both Socrates and Plato. As the discourse in Phaedo proceeds, Plato exalts death:
It seems, to judge from the argument, that the wisdom which we desire and upon which we profess to have set our hearts will be attainable only when we are dead, and not in our lifetime. If no pure knowledge is possible in the company of the body, then either it is totally impossible to acquire knowledge, or it is only possible after death, because it is only then that the soul will be separate and independent of the body. It seems that so long as we are alive, we shall continue closest to knowledge if we avoid as much as we can all contact and association with the body, except when they are absolutely necessary, and instead of allowing ourselves to become infected with its nature, purify ourselves from it until God himself gives us deliverance. In this way, by keeping ourselves uncontaminated by the follies of the body, we shall probably reach the company of others like ourselves and gain direct knowledge of all that is pure and uncontaminated-that is, presumably, of truth. For one who is not pure himself to attain to the realm of purity would no doubt be a breach of universal justice. (66E-67B)
Obviously, such a Weltanschauung is hardly life affirming. In such a world, self-immolation would constitute a meritorious duty. Eventually, this way of thinking was married to Christianity, birthing the aberration of Gnosticism. According to Gnosticism, the physical universe is hell. Corporeal existence is a prison that fetters man through the demonic agents of space and time. Remaining consistent with the Greeks’ death worship, Gnosticism also entertained suicide. The Albigenses are one case in point. This Gnostic sect mandated suicide, favoring starvation as the chief means of dispatching one’s self (“Albigenses”).
On the other pole of this dialectic resides materialism, which bestows absolute primacy upon matter. Commensurate with the ascendancy of this metaphysical doctrine has been the dogmas of both Karl Marx and Charles Darwin. Ironically, both of these ideologues were merely reiterating the precepts of Gnosticism within the context of metaphysical naturalism. The Encyclopedia of Religion reveals that “both Hegel and his materialist disciple Marx might be considered direct descendants of gnosticism” (576). Darwinism, which acted as the legitimizing science for Marxism, amounts to little more than a Gnostic myth. Dr. Wolfgang Smith elaborates:
As a scientific theory, Darwinism would have been jettisoned long ago. The point, however, is that the doctrine of evolution has swept the world, not on the strength of its scientific merits, but precisely in its capacity as a Gnostic myth. It affirms, in effect, that living beings created themselves, which is in essence a metaphysical claim… Thus, in the final analysis, evolutionism is in truth a metaphysical doctrine decked out in scientific garb. In other words, it is a scientistic myth. And the myth is Gnostic, because it implicitly denies the transcendent origin of being; for indeed, only after the living creature has been speculatively reduced to an aggregate of particles does Darwinist transformism become conceivable. Darwinism, therefore, continues the ancient Gnostic practice of depreciating “God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth.” It perpetuates, if you will, the venerable Gnostic tradition of “Jehovah bashing.” And while this in itself may gladden Gnostic hearts, one should not fail to observe that the doctrine plays a vital role in the economy of Neo-Gnostic thought, for only under the auspices of Darwinist “self-creation” does the Good News of “self-salvation” acquire a semblance of sense. (242-43)
Edified by the Gnostic myth of Darwinism, Marxism was disseminated on the popular level as both communism and fascism. Both of these ideological camps (which are not diametrically opposed, as some political scientists would have one believe) qualified as forms of secular Gnosticism. In fact, both represented continuations of the Gnostic crusade to “immanentize the Eschaton” on this ontological plane of existence. James Webb explains:
In this century, with the presentation of traditional religious positions in secular form, there has emerged a secular Gnosticism beside the other great secular religions–the mystical union of Fascism, the apocalypse of Marxist dialectic, the Earthly City of social democracy. The secular Gnosticism is almost never recognized for what it is, and it can exist alongside other convictions almost unperceived. (Webb 418)
Following the Gnostic tradition of the Albigenses, the social contracts underpinning communism and fascism amounted to enormous suicide pacts. Most of the socialist totalitarian regimes of the 20th century self-destructed, either by financial stultification resulting from Marxist planned economies or by violent revolution.
The dialectic of spiritualism against materialism may witness a Hegelian synthesis in the emergent philosophy of Transhumanism. This philosophy not only expresses an inherently Gnostic derision for the physical body, but an overall disdain for humanity as well. Christian philosopher C. Christopher Hook expands on the continuity of Gnostic thinking within Transhumanism:
Transhumanism is in some ways a new incarnation of gnosticism. It sees the body as simply the first prosthesis we all learn to manipulate. As Christians, we have long rejected the gnostic claims that the human body is evil. Embodiment is fundamental to our identity, designed by God, and sanctified by the Incarnation and bodily resurrection of our Lord. Unlike gnostics, transhumanists reject the notion of the soul and substitute for it the idea of an information pattern. (no pagination)
Transhumanism carries on the secular Gnostic tradition, attempting to “immanetize the Eschaton” on this ontological plane through the technological transformation of mankind. The Transhumanist contends that biotechnology, nanotechnology, and neurotechnology will propel humanity into a “posthuman” condition. Once he has arrived at this condition, man will cease to be man. He will become a machine. Like spiritualism, Transhumanism portrays the relationship between the soul (which Transhumanists reduce to a mere information pattern) and the physical body as one enormous cosmic mistake. Transhumanist ideologue Bart Kosko flatly declares: “Biology is not destiny. It was never more than tendency. It was just nature’s first quick and dirty way to compute with meat. Chips are destiny” (qutd. in Hook, no pagination). Again, the Gnostic proclivity towards suicide becomes evident. According to Transhumanism, man can only become more once he has killed himself.
This perpetually metastasizing and mutating form of irrationality owes its existence to the dialectic of spiritualism against materialism. It was probably this dialectic that Thomas Aquinas sought to overcome. As a medieval Christian philosopher, Aquinas had, no doubt, been exposed to more than a few Gnostic thinkers. Endowed with a certain degree of philosophical foresight, Aquinas would have recognized the logical ends of Gnostic thought and its ramifications for the future (although it’s doubtful that even Aquinas would have prognosticated where it has led today).
Aquinas argued that Plato’s substance dualism went too far. Aquinas agreed with Plato’s contention that the soul is a per se subsistent entity, which is possible given its ability of abstraction apart from the body. However, Aquinas disagreed with Plato’s contention that the soul represents an entirely independent species and genus of substance. Such a contention makes the relation of the soul and the body accidental. Thus, death would not qualify as a substantial corruption. This contention is obviously false. The problem stems from a categorical misallocation. Categorically, the soul qualifies as a subsistent form of a substance, not a primary substance. The soul is the energizing mechanism of the corporeal body. It animates the hylomorphic composite of man. This is an appropriate portrait of the soul, especially given its etymological origin. “Soul” is derived from anima, which also provides the root for the word “animation.”
The body is tailored according to the parameters of empirical utility. It serves a teleological function for the soul. The body to which the soul is united must equilibrate all of its biological qualities. Otherwise, it would be prone to consistent empirical miscalculations. Although empirical miscalculations do occur, they are not quite so frequent because the body maintains a delicate balance among its various biological dispositions. Moreover, this equilibrium allows the body to correct empirical miscalculations. Viewing the physical body from this vantage point, one automatically dismisses Gnosticism’s derisive notion of all things corporeal. It demolishes the portrayal of the body as an impediment to the soul and reverences it as wonderfully designed machine. This is a position reiterated by King David in the Scriptures: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias recapitulates:
Jesus made it clear that the body is not just informationally different from other quantities; it is purposefully different. That is why the resurrection is a physical one at its core. The body matters in the eternal sense, not just the temporal. (71)
In emphasizing the physical body’s purposeful difference, Zacharias reinforces the teleological function that it serves for the soul. In Summa Theologiae, Aquinas illustrates the centrality of the physical body to humanity’s acquisition of knowledge. Through the body, humanity obtains sensory data concerning individual things. Thus, the body supplies the passive component of knowledge. This is the fundamental stage of knowledge acquisition. It is the bedrock upon which the active component of knowledge, which is supplied by the mind, rests. Aquinas elaborates:
Our intellect cannot know the singular in material things directly and primarily. The reason for this is that the principle of singularity in material things is individual matter; whereas our intellect understands by abstracting the intelligible species from such matter. Now what is abstracted from individual matter is universal. Hence our intellect knows directly only universals. But indirectly, however, and as it were by a kind of reflexion, it can know the singular, because… even after abstracting the intelligible species, the intellect, in order to understand actually, needs to turn to the phantasms in which it understands the species… Therefore it understands the universal directly through the intelligible species, and indirectly the singular represented by the phantasm. And thus it forms the proposition, “Socrates is a man.” (Pt. I, Qu. 86, Art. I)
However, the Christian role for the body is not merely a sensory instrument for the soul. In fact, according to the Christian Weltanschauung, the physical body is integral to man’s communion with God. Zacharias eloquently expands on this theme: “…in His [Christ's] incarnation He exalts the body, first by being conceived in the womb of a virgin, then by taking on human form and giving it the glorious expression of God in the flesh” (72).
Thus, the physical body is not simply analogous to a temple. It is the temple itself! Zacharias explains:
The Christian does not go to the temple to worship. The Christian takes the temple with him or her. Jesus lifts us beyond the building and pays the human body the highest compliment by making it His dwelling place, the place where He meets with us. (73)
The apostle Paul argued this position several times in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 6:15, Paul writes: “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” Later, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul recapitulates this message: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Evidently, the physical body is extremely important to the Christian. This was the position that Aquinas philosophically dignified in Summa Theologiae. His mission was two-fold: reconcile the body with the soul and re-establish the temple of humanity. This must be the mission of contemporary Christianity as well.
- “Albigenses.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1980 ed.
- Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Pt. I, Qu. 86, Art. I, in Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Ed. Anton C. Pegis (New York: Random House, 1945), I.
- Eliade, Mircea (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Religion. England: Macmillan, 1987.
- Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1977.
- Hook, C. Christopher. “The Techno Sapiens Are Coming.” Christianity Today 19 December 2003.
- Plato. Phaedo. Trans: Hugh Tredennick, in Plato: The Collect Dialogues. eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (New York: Pantheon Books, 1961).
- Smith, Wolfgang. Teilhardism and the New Religion: A Thorough Analysis of the Teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Illinois: TAN Books, 1988.
- Webb, James. The Occult Establishment. Open Court, 1976.
- Zacharias, Ravi. Jesus Among Other Gods. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000.
About the Author
Phillip D. Collins acted as the editor for The Hidden Face of Terrorism. He has also written articles for Paranoia Magazine, MKzine, News With Views, B.I.P.E.D.: The Official Website of Darwinian Dissent and Conspiracy Archive. He has an Associate of Arts and Science. Currently, he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Wright State University. During the course of his seven-year college career, Phillip has studied philosophy, religion, and classic literature. He also co-authored the book, The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship: An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the 21st Century, which is
available online here. He also moderates the Yahoo discussion group “Panoptic Age.”