Sunday, 19 February 2012

Stoicism, Gnosticism, and Spirituality

It has been a while since I have shared any thoughts, almost 2 months exactly. However, as I drove home this evening I was having a bit of a droopy mood, which was kind of odd because I heard a rather invigorating and compelling sermon that makes one think about one's true allegiances. Which got me thinking about my emotions. I'm a man who historically has struggled to understand my own emotions. I have come a long way in this, but I still bear some of the burden of my past being raised in a culture that highly values stoicism. This eventually led me to thinking about the different parts of a human being. In the Bible and North American culture(though subculturally and across cultures the distinctions sometimes are blurred or not recognized at all) we generally categorize the human into 4 parts that interact in various ways, the body, the mind, the soul, and the emotions.

I got to thinking about these distinctions and what it means to be spiritual. What does it mean to be fleshly? Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:1 says, "But I, brothers could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ."(ESV) This is somewhat dangerous territory as the Gnostics show is historically. The temptation is to conclude that everything of the flesh is evil and only things that are spiritual are right and just and holy. This led to heresies concerning the nature of Christ on earth. So what was the gnostics' mistake? Well, its really one of degree. They took something to its extreme end. Well, if these fleshly things are bad, then all flesh must be bad right? Therefore we should have nothing to do with the flesh. And we still have many of those kinds of thoughts in North American culture.

But things of the flesh are not always in conflict with things of the spirit. Is our desire for companionship and fellowship a fleshly desire or a spiritual desire? Its both. The problem comes when they are in conflict. We can't always have agreement between the mind, the spirit, the emotions, and the body. So what does it mean to be spiritual? It means to choose the spirit above the other aspects of ourselves when they are in conflict. When the body tells you to gawk at the girl across the room, but your spirit tells you it is sin you have two choices. You can be fleshly by gawking, or spiritual by not gawking. Whichever of the two is the impetus for your decisions is what you are. For Stoics, the idea of emotions is like the gnostic idea of the flesh. It is to be avoided at all costs. If a person makes all their decisions based on emotions, we would call them an emotional being. And I myself often find my emotions in conflict with other parts of myself, especially my mind and spirit. But not always.

We have some pretty deep roots in North American culture concerning both gnosticism and stoicism. We highly elevate the mind and the spirit, even within Christendom, and consider emotions and flesh to be evil. Though I might still even say that I would consider the mind and spirit to be more motivating factors for my decisions, to consider the emotions and flesh to be evil is wrong-headed and sometimes dangerous. Here is my problem with it all. If you consider the emotions and flesh evil, what do you do when your whole being is in accord with something? What if something that you decide or are considering or experiencing resonates with all of you mind, spirit, body, and emotions? If emotions and the flesh are evil a priori, then you would likely choose against it just because of their involvement in it. Now I don't think anyone holds to this particular extreme of decision making, but I want to use it to highlight our general misconceptions about everything God has given us as humans. He has made us in the flesh, with a mind, with a spirit, and with emotions.

So a spiritual man is someone who considers the spirit to be the top priority. An emotional man considers the emotions the top priority. A fleshly man think first of the body. And a logical man(though this is not exactly accurate for logic is only one mode of thought, but is usually used generically to refer to things of the mind) considers the mind to be the highest. So ask yourself, are you spiritual?

For His Glorious Name,

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I think the distinction between body and flesh is important, as Jesus had a body, and enjoyed many things, but was not fleshly. It is important to remember that sin can corrupt every area of life (I end up having to do quite a bit of taking thoughts captive, after all, that verse says "every" and I think for me especially it's an accurate term.) God knows the heart of man. And indeed, so much of life hinges on motives. Throughout history there have been many instances of God condoning or condemning an act (the same act) based on motive. Consider even the different accounts of men offering sacrifice to God. So to be motivated by God's spirit, by His will and for His glory, yes, that is the highest motivation of all.