Christianity Does Not Reject the Body
Christianity Does Not Reject the Body
The “spirit-good / body-bad” dualism that often passes for Christianity is actually an ancient gnostic error called “Manichaeism,” and it couldn’t be further from a biblical perspective. In fact, it’s a direct attack on Christianity at its deepest roots. If we’re to rediscover God’s glorious plan for our sexuality, it will be necessary to contend with some ingrained habits in our way of thinking that stem from Manichaeism. So let’s take a closer look.
Mani (or Manichaeus), after whom this heresy is named, condemned the body and all things sexual because he believed the material world was evil. Scripture, however, is very clear that everything God created is “very good” (see Gen 1:31). This is a critical point to let sink in. Unwittingly, we often give evil far more weight than it deserves, as if the devil had created his own “evil world” to battle God’s “good world.” But the devil is a creature, not a creator. And this means the devil does not have his own clay. All he can do is take God’s clay (which is always very good) and twist it, distort it. That’s what evil is: the twisting or distortion of good. Redemption, therefore, involves the “untwisting” of what sin and evil have twisted so we can recover the true good.
In today’s world, sin and evil have twisted the meaning of the body and sexuality almost beyond recognition. But the solution is never to blame the body itself; it’s never to reject or eschew or flee from our sexuality. That approach is gnostic and Manichaean in its very essence. And if that’s our approach, we haven’t overcome the devil’s lies. We’ve fallen right into his trap. His fundamental goal is always to split body and soul. Why? Well, there’s a fancy word for the separation of body and soul. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Death. That’s where Manichaeism, like all heresies, leads.
The true solution to all of the pornographic distortions of the body so prevalent today is not the rejection of the body, but the redemption of the body (see Rom 8:23): the “untwisting” of what sin has twisted so we can recover the true glory, splendor, and inestimable value of the body. John Paul II summarized the critical distinction between the Manichaean and Christian approaches to the body as follows: If the Manichaean mentality places an “anti-value” on the body and sex, Christianity teaches that the body and sex “always remain a ‘value not sufficiently appreciated.’” In other words, if Manichaeism says “the body is bad,” Christianity says “the body is so good we have yet to fathom it.”
We must say this loudly, clearly, and repeatedly until it sinks in and heals our wounds: Christianity does not reject the body! As C.S. Lewis insisted, “Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body – which believes that matter is good, that God himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness.”
Of course, it would be an oversight not to acknowledge that, in this life, our bodies are often a source of great unhappiness and sometimes terrible suffering. Genetic defects, disease, sickness, injury and a great many other maladies and misfortunes – not the least of which is the inevitability of death – can cause us to loathe our bodily existence. Or, united to the bodily sufferings and death of Christ, our bodily maladies and misfortunes can become something redemptive – for us and for others. Suffering, as I once heard it said, can either break us, or break us open to the mystery of Christ. Matthew Lee Anderson expressed the conundrum well: “This is the paradox of the body: The body is a temple, but the temple is in ruins. The incarnation of Jesus affirms the body’s original goodness. The death of Jesus reminds us of its need for redemption. And the resurrection of Jesus gives us hope for its restoration.”