One of the first major issues that the catholic church had to address in post-apostolic times was various forms of gnosticism. Gnostic beliefs can be simplified, and perhaps oversimplified, into a system that views the material world to be flawed to such a degree that some might consider it to be bad or even evil in the sight of a spiritual and good God. Flowing out of this belief there arose various challenges to crucial Christian beliefs, particularly the Incarnation and the Resurrection of Jesus. To some degree or another, one or both of, these beliefs were denied to be true by gnostics. The flesh was bad, and God, who is the utmost example of perfection and reality, would not descend to become flesh, and he certainly would not have remained in the flesh at his glorious resurrection from the dead.
Jump to the present day, and you find a culture that has swung in the opposite direction. Many westerners have completely given up on the idea of God, on the idea of there being any sort of reality beyond what can be measured scientifically. A great number have become functional atheists and agnostics, even if they claim some religious affiliation. Rather than believing our universe to be a flawed world, second to God, they believe it to be the only world that there is. There is no spirit, no magic, no miracles, and no transcendent meaning. And following out of this belief is a type of naturalistic religion, a hyperveneration of earth and the material universe. It is found in the obsession we have with GMOs, with major international treaties relating to climate change, with months-long protests when our water supplies are threatened, and continual research and advancements towards weaning ourselves of fossil fuels. We greatly desire to understand our natural roots and to feed our bodies naturally, and fuel our lives with renewable resources. We have become deeply aware of our dependence on nature and on this tiny speck of dust hurtling through the voids of space at 67,000 miles per hour.
But on the flip side of the coin, a rather strange development is occurring alongside our increasingly naturalistic worldview, and it is one that spurns the material world. It is a worldview that denies reality and ignores physical truths, supplanting them with imaginary pretenses that exist only in our minds. This is made quite obvious from the movements taking place in every corner of our culture that seek to uncouple biological reality from gender and sexuality. It is a movement that now makes calling a pregnant woman an “expectant mother” politically incorrect because the pregnant person, who has all the biological parts of a woman, might actually be a man. It seeks to make gender-separated bathrooms and locker rooms a thing of the past. And now most recently, it seeks to erase the definition of the word boy from Boy Scouts, to allow girls who think they are boys to be in the Boy Scouts.
It is also part of a philosophy that seeks to blur the lines between different types of sex acts, making people believe that there are no differences between them, and that there is no benefit of one over another for the greater good of society. Incredulously, society is going along with it. Our culture no longer believes that there is any difference between acts that are naturally ordered towards the propagation of our species and acts that, well, combine a reproductive system with the tail end of the digestive tract. One doesn’t even have to be a theist to see the differences. You don’t even have to believe that homosexual behavior is a sin to see that there is a fundamental difference, that these things are different, and will never be the same. But I digress.
This strange new reality where we reject GMOs or food products that have been treated with hormones as being unnatural for us, but are totally willing to cut off our genitals and pump our bodies with hormones in order to pretend that we are something that our DNA says we are not, is mind-boggling. It is bewildering that a society that so desperately invests in the exploration, understanding, and preservation of the material world, and discovering its place in that world, can so quickly turn on itself, ignoring the plain evidence of what and who we are.
We have arrived at a time of great confusion and contradiction. This is a place where a form of gnositicism and naturalism are clashing, and yet, most people are unable or unwilling to see their own self-contradiction. But this cannot last forever. Our society is killing itself with this self-denial. It cannot survive this bizarre self-inflicted mortal wound. But out of the ruins of society, reason will rise, it always does. Future generations will look back and shake their heads. They will wonder how we managed to fool ourselves into believing the things we are currently willing to believe in the face of a contrary reality.
My prayer, of course, is that as a culture we would wake up before we crash and burn. But in case we are not provoked out of our stupor in droves, my prayer is that many individuals of good-will would have their eyes opened to reality, to see that there is both a material and a spiritual reality and that they exist in harmony. I pray that all of us, every single one of us, has the opportunity to experience the peace and healing power of Christ, and to experience the goodness of our bodies and the goodness of our souls, and that we would be granted the grace to bring them to exist in unity.