Here we talked about the creation of the material world and embodied intelligences (us) by God. Over here we looked at how truly free creatures must be created at a certain “distance” from God’s perfection, with the (probably inevitable) corollary that at least some, if not most, of them will fall away to one degree or another. Let us now start connecting these two threads and see where this leads us.
First, it is worth pointing out a slight nuance in the concept of the Fall. To the orthodox, the Fall of mankind came after embodiment. That is, humans were originally created as embodied souls. Since humans were, in this narrative, primordially innocent, there was thus nothing “wrong” with embodiment. Had the Fall not occurred, humans would have lived embodied lives in innocent perfection. Embodiment is a feature, not a bug, so to speak. The Fall distorted the relationship of body and soul; but that relationship in and of itself is fundamentally good. It is also important to point out that in this model, we don’t have a body; that is, we are not actually a spirit that just inhabits a corporeal form. Rather, we are a body; or better, we are a holistic combination of body and soul making up one single hypostasis (person).
C. S. Lewis puts it in somewhat mystical language in Chapter 14 of The Great Divorce:
I saw a great assembly of gigantic forms all motionless, all in deepest silence, standing forever about a little silver table and looking up on it. And on the table were little figures like chessmen who went to and fro doing this and that. And I knew that each chessman was the idolum or puppet of some one of the great presences that stood by. And the acts and motions of each chessman were a moving portrait, a mimickry or pantomime, which delineated the inmost nature of his giant master. And these chessmen are men and women as they appear to themselves and to one another in the world. And the silver table is Time. And those who stand and watch are the immortal souls of those same men and women.
Thus the body and the soul are in a sense different manifestations of the same thing, merely seeming different (puppet vs. giant) because of our perception of time.
In the Gnostic mythos, the body, along with the rest of the material cosmos, is created by the evil and/or ignorant Demiurge, who makes it as a sort of imperfect, Bizarro-world copy of the dimly perceived Pleroma (the perfect spiritual world of the Aeons, the angelic intelligences created by God). Thus, embodiment is a bad thing, as the material world itself is a bad thing, at best a pale reflection of the true Good, at worst a cesspit of suffering and limitation. Some versions of the Gnostic mythos posit embodiment as a theft of the Light–the spiritual essence that comes from the Pleroma–by the Demiurge and his Archons; in some versions, Sophia (the Aeon whose sin led to the existence of the Demiurge in the first place) deliberately “seeds” the human body with the Light, as a long-term “time bomb” that will defeat the Demiurge and ultimately bring about the end of the material cosmos. In this reading, embodiment is a good thing for the goal it will ultimately achieve; but it is still bad for us at the present. Our goal is to escape embodiment and return to the Pleroma.
Thus, the Gnostic perspective holds embodiment to happen after the Fall, or perhaps to be a sort of Fall itself; and the antagonism of the spirit and the body is not an accident, but it is baked into the cake, so to speak. We are not a body-soul amalgam, as in orthodoxy, but a soul–our true self–which is unfortunately connected to a body (or possibly many bodies–some forms of Gnosticism posit reincarnation) as a result of the entrapment of the Light in matter.
I have been arguing for a more positive view of dualism over the course of the last several posts, while heading towards the larger end of describing my mode of Biblical interpretation, and discussing what I accept, what I reject, and why. My thesis is that Christianity has been traditionally more strongly dualistic than is acknowledged to be the case in modern times, and that a return to a more dualistic attitude would redress a current excess in the other direction, return Christian thought to its roots, and have salutary effects in many areas. Having said that, I have to come out and say that dualism (appropriately enough!) is a two-edged sword.
The type of dualism I’m talking about there is not the dualism of Daoism, in which the opposition is not between good and evil or spiritual and material, but between opposite principles (dry/moist, hot/cold, male/female, etc.). It is the dualism that has been prevalent in the West (by which I include North Africa and the Iranian Plateau, since ideas from these areas circulated in the Mediterranean world), that is, a dualism of spirit world/material world and good/evil, the spirit being seen as good or predominantly good, and the material as evil, less good, or at least inferior.
One obvious shortcoming of this form of dualism popped up on the discussion thread at Vox Nova, which I’ve referred to before. One of my interlocutors, A. Sinner, had the following things to say, my emphasis:
Ah, how tragic it is to see so many people today exalting the life of the body over the life of the soul. Christ Himself says “And if thy right hand scandalize thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is expedient for thee that one of thy members should perish, rather than that thy whole body be cast into hell.”
A society does not need to criminalize everything (indeed, I WOULD in fact argue for the decriminalization of prostitution, etc). But, at the same time, in given circumstances, it CAN criminalize. And certainly it sends a weird message if killing people’s bodies is a crime, but killing their souls (which is what heretics do; their crime is Objectively much worse than any murder) is not.
Given a certain perspective, this is a fair point. Read the rest of this entry