The New Gnosticism

86% of teenage girls are on a diet or believe they should be on one. This has several ramifications (not the least of which that only 14% of teenage girls are okay with their current weight), but only one is the subject of this post. A vast majority of teenage girls believe in the value of dieting, yet no one is willing to fast.

This issue is not limited to teenage girls, they simply provide the statistic. Dieting is deeply ingrained in our culture as a good, yet, despite our supposed ‘Christian nation,’ fasting is scoffed at or ignored. A Christian woman who would rush out in pursuit of the latest dieting fad would rarely be found honestly considering fasting, much less trying it.

It’s fairly obvious that the heart of the issue is not the practice itself, for there is little in the way of difference of fact between dieting and fasting: both involve the willful reduction of the intake of food. The difference lies deeper, namely at the level of the person: one is willing to diet because it is a physical action with a physical result (loss of weight). Fasting, on the other hand, is a physical action with a spiritual result (growth in holiness). It is this divide that causes the problem.

Modern American society has long been diagnosed as belong to a New Gnosticism. It is not quite like the old one that despised the body in its entirety. Rather, it divorces the body from the spirit (or mind), holding that one does not really effect the other. Thus we can eat so as to improve the body but we cannot expect eating to improve the spirit (reductionism of the mind to body results in eating for the mind but this does not extend to spiritual things). It is now normative to think that anything done with the body has no effect on the spirit.

This is fundamentally antithetical to Christianity. Man is created as a person, body and soul. They are not separable elements but tightly interwoven. We look forward to the Resurrection because it will be the final unity of body and soul, the recreation of man as he ought to be. Yet even in this earthly life we are still body and soul and cannot do anything without both. If you try to do something with your soul along nothing happens and modern science has proven that even thoughts have a physical backbone.

We must learn to reintegrate man, body and soul, to see that we are not a body with a soul, nor a soul with a body (unlike the quote regrettably attributed to C.S. Lewis says). The unity of body and soul is essentially absolute in this life with a division existing only at death, and then only until the Resurrection when we are remade as we ought to be. Once no longer divided the pursuit of dieting over fasting will fade and we can again begin to truly exercise our full human person, body and soul.

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