Bad Theology Kills- Our Bodies
Updated: Apr 30
"The spirit is willing but the body is weak"- Jesus, in the garden.
There is a false teaching that has pervaded the church since the very beginning that is nothing but flat out dangerous. It leads to a hatred of anything material and a disregard or even disgust for the beauty of our bodies.
I'm talking about the belief in the spirit/body divide.
This is nothing short of heresy.
There is no seperation of body and spirit. That belief is rooted in ancient greek philosophy which presents the idea that the body is simply the container for the spirit, and that upon death your spirit would be released from its fleshy prison and return to the gods or whatever. Thats a belief that belongs to the ancient Egyptians, not the followers of Jesus. You're not going to find evidence for inner-invisible-ghosts that are eternal in the Bible. This belief is called Dualism.
Dualism- "Mind and body dualism represents the metaphysical stance that mind and body are two distinct substances, each with a different essential nature." Mind-body Dualism: A critique from a Health Perspective: Neeta Mehta, PhD
So how did we get here? To this place where christians widely accept and speak about our spirit and bodies as if they were separate?
I put it down to a mix of bad translation and influential greek philosophy.
In the bible there is a word we usually translate into "soul". But it doesn't mean soul in the way we have come to understand it. Its WAAAAY bigger than that. A better translation would be "my entire being". Every time you hear in the Psalms "My spirit cries out to you" it is really "My being cries out to you." (If you don't want to take my word for it watch this simple video explaining it.) This is your spiritual nature and your physical form. Everything that makes you you.
When we worship God with our entire being rather than just with our invisible imaginary inner ghost, we worship God more fully. Realizing that there is no "soul" (in the way that we have come to understand it) does not lead us to become less spiritual, but instead makes everything spiritual. If we are to worship God with our entire being then walking to work, cooking dinner, or going to bed can become spiritual. Everything is spiritual. There is no divide.
Jesus is the perfect example of what I'm talking about here. Jesus himself was the epitome of embodiment.
John 1:14 "God took on flesh and dwelt among us."
His spiritual teachings were deeply linked to physical realities. Turning water into wine, feeding people, healing people, touching people, washing feet... "Here, eat this bread with me." "Here, drink this wine with me." "Look, put your finger into my side."
We can not divide the spiritual and the physical.
Medical practitioners are now affirming the legitimacy of non-dual thinking and are trained in seeing the person as a whole being, not just a physical form. Take a look at the recent studies on how Adverse Childhood Experiences are the causes of medical conditions such as diabetes and addiction. (Worth taking a look at the ACE study here.)
Can theologians make the same leap that our scientist friends have and affirm the connection between our physical and spiritual form?
The benefits would be massive.
As summarized nicely here, five separate studies have linked dualistic beliefs to unhealthy behaviours.
"These findings support the researchers’ original hypothesis that the more people perceive their minds and bodies to be distinct entities, the less likely they will be to engage in behaviors that protect their bodies. Bodies are ultimately viewed as a disposable vessel that helps the mind interact with the physical world."
- Matthias Forstmann, "Mind vs. Body? Dualist Beliefs Linked with Less Concern for Healthy Behaviors", Association for Psychological Science
In contrast, when we begin to see ourselves as spiritual beings (not just a spirit encased in a body) the health benefits become apparent pretty quickly.
Everything becomes sacred, divine.
Worship begins to take on a whole new meaning.
We are more inclined to care for our bodies.
We feel more connected to the earth, others and our community.
There is no spirit/body divide.
Now go eat a salad and take care of yourself.
*Added after publishing: There has been a call for more learning and understanding on this! So here are some resources to guide you on your journey of learning more about dualism, non dualism and embodiment.
A little video of Richard Rohr explaining what I've just explained: https://youtu.be/fvg2DgjVgbE
Andrea Bieler and Luise Schottroff, The Eucharist: Bodies, Bread, & Resurrection (MN: Fortress Press, 2007) – “Our bodies are the most intimate places in which we live out our lives. They are the most intimate places from which we connect ourselves with the world, from which we form relationships. We cannot separate ourselves, our minds, or our spiritual lives from our bodily existence. In that sense, it is really true that we do not have bodies – rather, we are bodies." (pg. 133)
Regent Professor Rikk Watts audio teaching "Its About Life"
Check out this book review from my friend Shauna:
Fiorenza is difficult to read, but she’s worth it! In this book, she looks at the resurrection as an embodied thing – that Jesus was a body that was resurrected, not just a ‘spirit’ or ‘mind’ or ‘ghost’. Jesus is present in body and spirit, and goes ahead of us into the world, continuing God’s work. Jesus’ resurrected body, in this tradition, is still among us. Conversely, in the ‘visionary’ traditions, the resurrected Jesus is simply seen as a vision and not a material body. Rather than affirming a Platonic Jesus that rises above the earthly world for the more desirable heavenly realms, she argues that the empty tomb traditions give us a new understanding of Jesus as one whose bodily resurrection, not death, has the last word. This has been one of the more striking arguments for me.