The “New” Gnosticism

It seems as if the debate about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) has spawned a new form of gnosticism, that ancient heretical philosophy which grew up and flourished for a time around the nascent Christian Church.

Gnosticism was a pseudo-Christian philosophy that took hold around the second century C.E. Its chief tenet, based on Platonism and subsequent Greek philosophy, devalued the material world and exalted the spiritual as that of actual importance. As such, the human body was regarded as “the prison house of the soul.” The spiritual world of thoughts and ideas were preeminent while inferior physical realities created by the lesser god (the demiurge) were disdained as repugnant and base. So when it came to discussion about the person of Jesus, his physicality and humanness were devalued and denied. He was pictured as an ethereal entity floating above the ground not truly linked to this physical world, but detached from it. In this philosophical malaise, the thought of a physical resurrection was rejected as repugnant too. Jesus, they believed, had been spiritually resurrected, not bodily as the canonical Gospels asserted. Essentially, those who espoused gnostic ideology denied the reality of their own bodily existence and physical identity.

Fast-forward to the 21st century where we now encounter a new form of gnosticism. It has occurred to me that the whole gender identity debate and transgenderism issue is in many ways similar to gnosticism. Biological and physical traits are seen by the purveyors of transgenderism as unimportant and unlinked to one’s true identity. This means that the biological, physical reality is denied while a new and more potent reality transcends it, namely, that which one feels and believes oneself to be is much more important to one’s identity than mere biological factors. In other words, it is not my biological markers that play an important role in establishing my identity, but it is my non-physical markers such as thoughts, beliefs and feelings that set forth and secure my identity. In this new way of self-identifying I am permitted to deny my concrete physical attributes in order emphasize the metaphysical part of my nature and give priority and preeminence to the nonphysical. This is nothing short of a revitalized gnosticism.

Coupled with the denial of physical reality, the ancient Gnostics also believed they possessed a superior esoteric knowledge (hence, the name gnostic, which derives from the Greek word for knowledge or enlightenment). This acquired new knowledge, they believed, elevated and even catapulted them to higher level of being and consciousness. They had transcended the material world through this gnosis arriving at new and lofty plane of pure spirit. It was into this world of ideas which already percolated in the first century, that the earthy teachings of Christianity emerged and took root. Eventually Christianity which affirmed the value and goodness of the physical world came into direct conflict with the emergent teaching of gnosticism. For starters, Jesus arrived on this planet as a squalling baby amid the rough and rustic physicality of first century Judea. Born into truly humble and this-worldly circumstances, he walked on solid ground, sweat real sweat, and bled real blood. He ate real food, experienced real physical exhaustion and pain. He even actually died on a real Roman cross and three days later actually was bodily resurrected from a real grave. His whole life and identity was intrinsically and directly tied to his biological, physical reality.

My point is this: by denying their physical and biological realities, those who champion their transgendered identity are buying into a philosophy almost as ancient as Christianity. They are saying that their physical self does not  comport with reality and thus does not possess real value in establishing their identity. Only their beliefs, urges and feelings count in establishing their core identity. This true identity, they say, transcends the physical manifestation of their own bodies. In essence, they claim to have accessed a superior knowledge, a knowledge which has led them to a new level of self-awareness and self-consciousness. But what effect does such “knowledge” have on their souls? Living with this dichotomy between undeniable physical reality and their inner urges and longings can only lead to psychic distress. Surely this schizophrenic dissociation from physical reality must be damaging to the soul. Is there another way?

Christianity presents a worldview of wholeness in which body and soul are one. The physical and the metaphysical are merged, material and immaterial walk hand in hand. This understanding generates a healthy, holistic view of self. Moreover, in the Christian worldview, one’s identity derives not from transitory feelings about who I am – which, in truth, vary with mood swings and circumstances – but is strategically founded on who God says I am. The biblical record of creation identifies me as a body-soul created as God’s image (Genesis 1:27; 2:7). The New Testament elaborates further by identifying those who obey the Gospel as adopted children of a loving Heavenly Father (Ephesians 1:5-14). These identifiers outstrip any notions of self-identity based on feelings or beliefs that are in conflict with biological reality. Having both a human body and a human soul, I have intrinsic worth. Embracing Jesus Christ as my Lord further identifies me as a child of the Creator and King of the entire cosmos. In this worldview alone do I find my true identity which in turn assures me of my infinite value.

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