When I was a student in the 1980s, one of my left-wing, feminist friends said that the Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher, ‘was not really a woman’. At the time, I laughed it off.
But I thought about it again this week when the Labour MP Rupa Huq told a fringe meeting at their party conference that the conservative Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, was ‘only superficially Black’.
She may have said this because Kwarteng is perceived as ‘the wrong sort’ of Black because he is Eton educated, wealthy and a Tory. Huq has since apologised and been suspended from the Labour party.
Both the private comment about Thatcher and the public one about Kwarteng were wrong and stupid. But I think there is a deeper link between the two. And its roots are in a centuries-old philosophy called Gnosticism.
Gnosticism is a belief which promotes a radical separation between the world of physical matter with that of the spirit. At its root, it believes that matter was the creation of a lesser god, whereas the supreme God, being pure spirit, does not sully himself with the material world.
Gnostic thinkers could not accept the Christian belief that God became man, the doctrine of the incarnation. But the thinking infiltrated Christianity and sought to warp the faith into a more dualistic philosophy. Gnosticism was one of many heresies that the Church has had to battle with.
In 1999, the then England football manager Glenn Hoddle, spoke to a journalist about disabled children from a standpoint of his New Age, pantheistic beliefs.
Hoddle believed that our souls are continuously re-incarnated: our bodies come and go, but our souls are eternal. The law of karma decides what kind of body you get next time round. Thus, if you get a disabled body in one lifetime it’s bad karma working from a previous one when your eternal soul inhabited another body.
There was a widespread hostile reaction to Hoddle’s words. The Prime Minister of the time, Tony Blair, always adept at reading the public’s mood, quickly stated that Hoddle should resign. Despite decent results on the pitch, Hoddle was sacked by the Football Association. It was a sign that perhaps orthodox Christian belief is more culturally embedded in our nation than many assume.
Today, we see Gnostic influences on the rise through ideologies which seek to challenge the idea of humanity as an integration of body, soul and spirit.
Gender dysphoria is a complex condition that has been in existence for generations. But today there is a growing ideology around trans issues which promotes the idea that people can ‘inhabit the wrong body’. Biological sex is less real or significant than our inner feeling as to who we truly are. If there is a mismatch, it is the body which should be altered.
On the other hand, our inner, spiritual self is sacred and must suffer no interference. In fact, to suggest our inner-self should change is sacrilege.
Thus for some biological maleness or femaleness is superficial. In the same way, being Black is not about genetics and skin pigment, but about having an inner ‘Black identity’. Thus Kwarteng is not truly Black because he is, in his inner soul, an educated and privileged Conservative. Mrs Thatcher was not truly a woman, because underneath a feminine bodily exterior, she was a strong, ruthless leader.
Christians should reject influences that deny the integration of body, soul and spirit. All components of our humanity are God-given and are sacred.
Fully integrated hope
Humans are created in the image of God. And God became human in the person of Jesus Christ. The eternal future God promises is not a disembodied heaven with spirits floating about on clouds but an earthy, renewed and fully integrated creation. What the Bible describes as ‘a New Heavens and New Earth’ (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21).
Therefore, what we do with our bodies, and other people’s bodies, is of critical and eternal importance. Matter matters. This is why care for our creation is such a key priority. It is why we should care about people’s physical destitution, their mental health and their spiritual welfare.
Gnostic influences live on and must be rejected. It is why Rupa Huq’s remarks about race, Glenn Hoddle’s about disability, and much of the trans ideology is dangerous. Separating body, soul and spirit does great harm. What God has brought together, let no one separate.
Rev. Martin Kuhrt is Vicar of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Aylesbury
This guest article was written in response: Listening to the ‘others’ we talk about
17 thoughts on “Dividing body, soul & spirit: Gnostic heresies live on – by Martin Kuhrt”
Thank you Martin. Very perceptive and thought provoking. I need to mull over this…
Thanks David, best wishes
Thank you. This writing is brave and deeply thoughtful. I’m not even sure I fully understand its implications but it appears to align with my own concerns about the growing bondage of self we are experiencing in the 21st century; it has me thinking, and wondering, I especially appreciate your powerfully stated conclusion: “What God has brought together, let no one separate.”
Thanks so much Tobias. I must admit, the last line was a suggestion from my brother Jon!
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Why am I not surprised? 😉 You make a good team.
Thanks very much Martin, very thought provoking and for me a new approach but one which helpfully brings together a variety of cases within the uniting umbrella of gnosticism
Great piece, Martin. Really useful to see integration as the proper response to gnosticism, a la Genesis 2, where ‘spirit + earth = living soul/being/nephesh’
Reminds us of the earthiness of God’s highest creation. Huw
Thank you, Martin, very much . Have recently finished Nancy Piercey’s Love thy body. As she says, ‘No respect is given to the telos – the purpose of the body. Accepting our bodily given means that a whole width of human experience is open to us. ..The Bible gives a high and humane view of the person as an integrated whole. ..We assign to the human body a much richer dignity and value.’ So critical, as you say, to explain the Maker’s design, and male and female made in the image of the triune God.
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Thanks , This is thought provoking.
However I am not convinced that race and gender can be treated in the same way or that the narratives around race, whiteness, and blackness can be understood through the reference to gnosticism.
To start with race does not exist as a a creational given in the same way as sex does as a property of human bodies. “Race” a human social construct as many would argue so is “gender”. It is a social category and boundary marker applied in the context of human group interaction, and basically invented by white European’s in the period of their “discovery” and colonialisation of the “New World”.
So although “Both the private comment about Thatcher and the public one about Kwarteng were”.. in the first case wrong (and maybe in a gnostic way), but in the second case only politically stupid and clumsily expressed. In my view it is perfectly Ok to say that Kwasi’s politics may be surprising, as it tends to harm the vast majority of people who are “racialised as black”. We may be surprised because he would generally be regarded as black, but in the political sense he does not act as a black person might be expected. I’ve no idea how he identifies personally in terms of ethnicity, but there is no way he or anybody should be given an essential identity of “black” simply on account of his skin colour, or called out as not black because of his opinions or political actions, let alone insulted as “superficially black”.
The disability and gender cases are different. The blackness issue does not divide soul and body but only assumed identities and political actions.
Thanks Graham. Thanks for recommending Nancy Piercey’s book. Sounds an interesting read.
Thanks Greg. Yes I think you’ve got a good point about gnosticism not being the only factor with the comments about Kwarteng and race, and also I think it wasn’t the only factor in the comment about Thatcher. However I do think that there are strong gnostic currents influencing aspects of trans ideology, particularly the idea that we can be born ‘in the wrong body’ and that if there is a perceived mismatch between our physical, bodily identity and our ‘inner’ identity (soul and/or spirit) the body can be tampered with but the ‘inner self’ is sacred and must never be questioned.
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Like Greg – “Thanks , This is thought provoking.”
However, I know someone whose son has made the transition to daughter, and some years on is much happier and continues to grow as a person in her newly ‘modified’ body, with the blessing and acceptance of all the family. (I accept that there are ongoing valid arguments about the counselling that is required in these cases. But in this case, I am convinced that she is much more fulfilled as a female, and those arguments are a separate issue.)
My regret is that he/she didn’t enjoy any support from our church leadership in that transition, and has not attended our, or any other church, as far as I am aware, since. ‘He’ was a regular churchgoer, youth group member and on our church reading rota, but she is now effectively out of touch with (and out of reach of?) any Christian discipleship.
I wonder how you view the comparison between – someone who has a genetic abnormality such as a heart defect or a deformed limb – and someone who feels deeply that God has created her as a female but DNA has given her male bodily characteristics? How would you justify the rightness of corrective surgery for the one, and not for the other?
I don’t feel that this is anything to do with ‘assumed identities’ but more to with an innate awareness of how our bodies can be simply, wrongly configured, and in need of correction.
Thanks Tony. I think you’ve helped to identity the heart of the issue. If someone ‘feels deeply that God has created them female but DNA has given them male bodily characteristics’ I think there are two possible explanations. One is that the person is in the ‘intersex’ category. They have been born with ambiguous genitalia and perhaps even chromosomal abnormality. In this case the working out of the person’s gender identity may be complicated and ‘deeply held feelings’ might well be rightly the decisive factor in their sense of gender wholeness and wellbeing.
However the other explanation is the one that I feel is influenced by gnostic philosphy. This is that ‘God (pure light and uninvolved with physical matter) has created them female but DNA (the wicked demigod) has given them male bodily characteristics, such as male reproductive organs and male chromosomes in every cell in their body. Whereas, in their pure spirit and eternal soul, they are female, in the physical world of matter they are saddled with being male anatomically and physiologically. Anatomy and physiology can be worked on by surgeons and pharmacists, but it is regarded as sacrilegious for a minister of the Gospel or a psychologist or counsellor to seek to explore whether it is the soul or spirit that has been damaged and how inner healing might bring reconciliation with the physical body and bring wholeness of body, soul and spirit.
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Jon — My own jury is currently out as regards transgender ontology, but I think I should point out that, whether something does or does not resemble or align with some elements of a false philosophy does not necessarily mean that that thing is itself false. And given that we are in a fallen world, looking ahead to future healing for all kinds of things—including being born with all kinds of physical defects—it could be entirely possible for somebody to be born with the physical defect of not having the correct biological gender that matches one’s actual gender on other levels, and the person may really know what gender they are. (And certainly we know there are people who are intersex – what gender will they be in the new creation after the general resurrection? So we definitely know that one’s entire physical, biological sex can be at issue—so I see no reason that trans people could not be in that boat as well. (How does this apply to people who identify as non-binary? That’s between them and God to sort out. Some of us may be surprised at what the New Creation is like. I strongly incline to the gender binary being definitive, but I could find out I’ve been mistaken when the time comes.))