Sep 9, 2013

Posted by in Culture | 3 Comments

Miscellany 54: Electronic Gnosticism

In the last Miscellany, I expressed concern about e-texts encouraging a sort of functional gnosticism. I am not at all opposed to using technology – as I pointed out in that post – but rather, I am opposed to overconfident, unreflective use; and I am particularly concerned that some uses of technology are part of a larger, and highly problematic, shift in the way we view what it means to be human.

Electronic texts, and social media, are by themselves tools like any other, and can be put to good use – and I use both of them.

However, reading electronic texts, and interaction in ‘social media’ (where the society is virtual, not physical) does tend to suggest, and reinforce, a dissociation between mind and body, to the point that people can very easily think of themselves as ‘mind’ rather than ‘mind and body, body and soul’.

That false dichotomy between soul and body is unfortunately very common. One of the most popular expressions of it – and this appalls me on many levels – is in a quote that is spuriously attributed to C.S. Lewis, but in fact comes from Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz: “You do not have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.” This is NOT something that Lewis ever said – he did not write it anywhere, nor would he have written it anywhere, because it is entirely opposed to the incarnational, biblical, orthodox Christian doctrine that Lewis held, which affirms that we are ensouled bodies.

(Please, I beg my readers: stop re-tweeting and sharing that quote… and while you’re at it, please check the attribution before you share any Lewis quote!)

I am particularly wound up about this, because this particular quote undermines one of the most important aspects of Christian faith. We are NOT souls that happen to have bodies – we are whole beings made by God, and our bodies are part of our selves as much as our souls. At death, we are separated from our bodies for a time – but ‘disembodied souls in heaven’ is most emphatically not the final condition. There will be a general Resurrection, and all will receive bodies once more. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the first-fruits of that Resurrection, and he has a glorified, physical, resurrected body.

So, theologically, our bodies matter – they are not trash to be thrown away when we die.

And that plays out in how we treat our bodies now. They are not ‘things’ to be done with as we please, to be used for entertainment any-which-way, or modified as our fancy takes us. What we do with, and to, our bodies has effects on our souls, and the state of our soul will have an effect on our bodies. (“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” is false on many levels.)

Okay, this is a Miscellany, where are the links? Here are some examples of the effects of that (false!) separation between soul and body, the (false!) idea that the ‘mind’ is the real self, and that the body is just something to be manipulated.

Plastic surgery for an ‘ideal’ Korean face?

Genetically modified babies.

Becoming Google zombies. (I already see droves of the walking dead, iPod style. And it seems to have started with the Walkman – remember those?).


Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type (2010; 2nd ed. forthcoming, 2014, Ignatius Press). Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.


Share this post...
  1. Incarnation sets Christianity apart from any other belief system in unique ways. What’s not to love about God with skin and an address?

  2. I have used the line, I am a soul that has a body, in the past but usually in contrast to materialism which denies the soul completely. I will be much more cautious in the future with that type of language.
    That being said, it does seem to me that there is a priority given to the soul. (1) The soul continues to exist after death. (2) The soul is re-united with a different body in the resurrection.
    We are created to be a unity of soul and body, but our body present body will not exist eternally, while our soul will.

  3. Holly Ordway says:

    Interesting thought, Ken. I’m not sure I agree about the priority given to the soul, though. Paul’s language about resurrection seems to suggest a transformed body, not a totally different one. And we already have, in this life, the experience of having a ‘different’ body over time, as growth and cell turnover in our bodies mean that the physical self of right-now is not the same as the physical-self of a few years ago. And Jesus’ glorified Resurrection body is definitely physical (touchable, physically present, able to eat and drink). I think we tend to overlook the significance of the Ascension in that it’s not just the precursor event to the gift of the Holy Spirit, but it means that Jesus is Incarnate at the right hand of the Father, and is now Incarnate eternally.