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  • Director’s Dicta: I AM a Body; I HAVE a Body; or am I EMBODIED?
  • Director’s Dicta: I AM a Body; I HAVE a Body; or am I EMBODIED?

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    February 26, 2024

    Lies that Live– Part 3

    By Dr. Jeffery J Ventrella

    A woman trapped in a man’s body??!!

    “Life ain’t easy for a boy named “Sue”![1]

    In Part 2 of this series, I noted that the song My Way poses the right question:  What is a man?  Psalm 8 likewise poses this nearly identical question, but with an important twist: “what is man that you are mindful of him?”  The difference between the two is not the question, but the answer.  My Way’s answer rests on a lie:  man’s essence supposedly consists of radical ethical autonomy and thus answers the question only by referencing himself.  Scripture in contrast informs us that the answer must be discerned by referencing mankind in relation to his Creator: “that you are mindful of him.[2]  When we define mankind without considering the Creator, our answer to the question will be deficient and dangerous.  My Wayism rests on a defective moral compass (ethics).  

    Other errors abound however relating to human ontology or metaphysics, particularly relating to how we consider mankind’s physicality.  How should we view our bodies?  Do our bodies matter?  What do they mean?  Do they have any meaning?  

    In particular, we see errors of Reductionism and Dualism, both of which deny the Christian creational truth that mankind is an embodied creature.  Let’s get to the gist.

    Reductionism: “I AM a Body”

    As the term suggests, Reductionism reduces humanity, viewing it as something less than it actually is.  Modern Reductionism is a by-product of Darwinian precepts:  All that exists is the physical and the material.  Thinking, emotions, and dreams are illusions caused by physical and chemical interactions in the brain—nothing more.  The consequences to this lie are draconian.

    First, if nothing other than the physical exists, then morality is likewise illusory:  what one bag of chemicals does to another is ethically irrelevant.  Social interaction under this lie reduces to power dynamics. This means that politics becomes about seizing and wielding power – nothing more, legitimating coercion to do so.[3]  Entire political systems have been predicated on this reductionistic conception of humanity: Marxism and Stalinism.  In stark contrast to this, the Christian worldview animated the development of Classical Liberalism.  Classical Liberalism valorized each human and protected liberty by allowing a virtuous market to cultivate human flourishing under the rule of law.[4]

    Second, this reductionistic move also means that if thinking is illusory, that is, merely a chemical by-product, then rationality cannot be grounded.  The tools of logic, rationality, and argument simply become masks for manipulation or oppression instead of truth seeking.  And, civility, charity, and kindness also become expendable:  why seek to persuade someone if you possess the power to impose your view on them?  Why try to win them when you can whip them?  This is the root of Critical Theory we previously explored.[5]  

    Contrasting with this necessarily irrational view, the God of all creation bids those reflecting His Image to renew their minds[6]and even to “Come now, let us reason together.”[7]  In fact, God commands us to provide reasons for the hope we possess:  

    “being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”[8]  

    This command could not be obeyed on reductionistic grounds because reasoning itself is illusory.  Paul refused this reductionistic turn.  When interacting with Festus, Paul instead boldly embraced, not the lie of reductionism, but the true rationality of the faith: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.”[9]

    A third problem stems from the fact that this form of materialism denies the existence of “nature” – everything is simply in flux—matter in motion.  Without a robust creational norm of Imago Dei that valorizes each human because they are human, why can’t some persons subjugate others?  Why can’t someone exclaim “I like children; they’re delicious!  Who are you to judge?  Cannibals have rights too!”

    Absent the truth of a universal fixed human nature, no basis exists for equality under the law:  maybe chattel slavery should exist – Aristotle thought so.[10]  Maybe some people shouldn’t have protection for free expression – Herbert Marcuse, the Cultural Marxist and Critical Theorist thought so.[11]  These views all embrace a reductionistic lie.

    In contrast the Christian view expresses the truth that all humans are the Imago Dei, loved and valorized by God Himself, who shows no sinful partiality[12], and thereby He calls all to love their neighbor as themselves.[13]  This God “desires all [in context, kinds of] people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”[14]  See again how central truth is to the Christian enterprise.

    Accordingly, the apostles predicate moral reasoning on the common fixed nature universally shared by all humans.  To pagans, Paul and Barnabas engaged in this way: 

    “Men, why are you doing these things [an ethical evaluative inquiry]?  We also are men, of like nature with you . . .”[15]  

    And, to Christians, James likewise appealed to the shared human nature spanning generations in making an ethical point: 

    “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours . . .”[16]  

    Reductionism, because it denies nature, rejects morality, and cannot justify rationality, betrays what it means to be human and thereby generates cultural chaos.

    Dualism: “I HAVE a Body”

    Another lie embraced by many is a Gnostic notion:  this idea claims that the material/physical is “lesser than” or “inferior to” the “spiritual” or “inner” being and therefore should be de-privileged.  The “real you” is internal and non-material; the body is simply a container or casing or husk for the “real person” residing inside.[17]  All that really matters are the “higher” and “spiritual” things.  Christians and pagans both live this lie at points.  Where do these lies lead?

    Gender ideology, to consider just one current example, is fueled by this lie.  The notion is that the body signifies nothing normative; it’s simply raw material to be made to conform to inner desires. At best the body is therefore irrelevant to human meaning, and at worst it asserts bigotry, and therefore comprises something to ignore, manipulate, or mutilate.  Thus, we hear the simplistic anthem: “I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body.”  This is a philosophically naïve position for several reasons.[18]  

    For our purposes here theologically, this move illustrates Paul’s assessment:  people “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”[19]  This suppression leads to the Truth being exchanged for the Lie.[20]  Note, however that the truth is not obliterated or destroyed; lies hold down or ignore the truth, but cannot escape its abiding reality.  This means:  Scalpels and chemicals don’t create sexes; only the Creator “from the beginning” could do so and did so.[21]  To think, act, or legislate(!) otherwise is to live a lie and embrace delusion.

    Christians have sadly also imbibed versions of this lie.  How so? Consider this cherished hymn:

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus
    Look full in his wonderful face
    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace
    [22]

    Notice the assumption:  Physical earth = bad or at least less important to “spiritual” endeavors like focusing on Jesus.  But recall that Jesus is the mediator not only of redemption, but also of creation.[23]  Accordingly, focusing on Jesus should intensify how we see, understand, and appreciate the things of this earth since He created, sustains, and will redeem them.

    That lyric tends to forget that God redeems us from sin, not from the creation.[24]  Forgetting this truth leads to thinking – and acting – as if our only righteous goal is “winning souls” to populate some ethereal disembodied otherworldly heaven. 

    Another error stems from thinking that the Kingdom is only about or limited to “higher” “spiritual” or “eternal” things thus fostering a church-centric ghetto, as opposed to an un-siloed kingdom-centric agenda.  Recall that Jesus commanded His followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.[25]  

    This form of dualism also fosters faux distinctions or exaggerates actual ones leading to distortions in living the Christian life:  sacred/secular, law/Gospel, nature/grace, clergy/laity, “full time” ministry/ “mere” work, religion/relationship, et al.[26]  As Andrew Sandlin explains summing up this point cogently:

    Privileging the non-material and de-privileging the material is a Gnostic tenet.  In the Bible, the conflict is never between the physical and the non-physicalit’s between righteousness and sin.  Sin is the problem; materiality is not the problem.[27]

     Truth: “I am EMBODIED”

    So, What IS a man?  He is a living soul consisting of interwoven corporeal and noncorporeal aspects, beautifully crafted into Imago Dei.  People do not HAVE bodies; rather, they ARE embodied.  Human bodies are not neutral raw material nor are they hostile to humanity.  Biology is not bigotry but beauty.  Our bodies express our sexed design and nature.  God created them male and female.  The Lie whispers otherwise in a thousand ways.  We are called to be holy and that occurs by the Truth, which is the Word.[28]  And, the One who is the Truth[29]assures us that the works of the father of lies will be crushed.[30]

    The TxC Fellowship will equip the next generation to understand, articulate, and apply these foundational truths in their callings. Please pray that this message of Spirit-drenched, Gospel-fortified cultural apologetics will transform these young students.  Because, while ideas have consequences, changed people change cultures.

    For further study:

    • Nancy Pearcy, Love Thy Body:  Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality (2019)
    • Ryan P. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally (2019)
    • O. Carter Snead, What it Means to be Human:  The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (2020)
    • Wesley J. Smith, A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy (2010)

    [1] A Boy Named Sue, Johnny Cash version, verse 2

    [2] Consider Psalm 8’s answer to this important question. David references the LORD as Creator (1, 3), Man as distinctive among creatures because of God’s specific design and purpose for Man (5-8), and all these facets showcase the majesty of the LORD (9).  My Way’s self-referentialism is precisely the wrong method for rightly answering the question.

    [3] As Mao taught: “Every Communist must grasp the truth; “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”          https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch05.htm

    [4] See, P. Andrew Sandlin, Ed., Virtual Liberty:  A Christian Defense of Classical Liberalism and the Free Society Against Cultural Leftism and the New Right (2023)

    [5] See, TruthxChange.com, Resources

    [6] Rm. 12:2

    [7] Is. 1:18

    [8] 1 Peter 3:15

    [9] Acts 26:25

    [10] Some men “are slaves by nature. For them it is better to be ruled in accordance with this sort of rule, if such is the case for the other things mentioned.” Politics, 1254b16-21

    [11] Herbert Marcuse, https://www.marcuse.org/herbert/publications/1960s/1965-repressive-tolerance-fulltext.html

    [12] See, e.g., Acts 10:34; we likewise must avoid partiality, James 2:1

    [13] The Second Great Commandment (Mark 12:31) derived from Lev.19:18 .  This ethic clashes with so-called Kinist notions that suggest affinity should be meted out based on ethnicity or common culture.  See, e.g., the dreadful apology for Kinist if not racist ideology in Thomas Achord, Who is My Neighbor?  An Anthology in Natural Relations (2021), a book sadly making the rounds in some Christian Nationalist cul-de-sacs. The Good Samaritan parable enervates this defective idea.  Not coincidentally, Achord was the long-time podcast partner with Stephen Wolfe who authored The Case for Christian Nationalism (2022) a cringeworthy and theologically inept escapade in political philosophy.

    [14] 1 Tim. 2:4

    [15] Acts 14:15

    [16] James 5:16b, 17

    [17] The ancient heresy Apollinarianism embraces this same error: “Jesus is God in a body”

    [18] See Ryan P. Anderson, When Harry Became Sally, 105-08 (2018)

    [19] Rm. 1:18

    [20] Rm. 1:25

    [21] Mt. 19:4; for a tactical (and tactful) means to engage with people suffering from gender dysphoria, see this resource penned by a TxC colleague – https://gentlereformation.com/2023/06/20/transgenderism-and-kids/     

    [22] Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, verse 4, Helen Howarth Lemmel

    [23] Col. 1:16. It is no surprise that Paul, having affirmed Creation, then continues to later castigate the ascetic mentality of “taste not, touch not” practiced by some in the church as if such things were spiritually beneficial.  Col. 2:21-23

    [24] See note 27 infra.

    [25] Matt. 6:33; the root of the word “first” is protos, which means a priority, not sequence in this context.

    [26] Explicating the negative impact of all these things will need to occur on another occasion.

    [27] P. Andrew Sandlin, The Church Gnostic, substack, February 10, 2024 (emphasis in original)

    [28] Jn. 17;17

    [29] Jn. 14:6

    [30] Jn. 8:44, 1 Jn. 3:8