By: Christopher West
I was recently watching The Empire Strikes Back with my boys. I grew up on the original Star Wars Trilogy and have enjoyed sharing these movies with my kids. But I wasn’t much of a theologian when I was a boy. Hence, Yoda’s glaring heresy (Merriam-Webster defines this as a “denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church”) went right passed me when I was sitting in the movie theater as a ten-year old. At one point during Luke Skywalker’s training, Yoda pokes Luke on the shoulder with his cane and mutters in his classic half-Grover/half-Miss Piggy voice, “We are not this crude matter. Luminous beings are we.” Before reading further, can you spot the heresy?
Flesh vs. Spirit
The human body is not “crude matter” housing our true “luminous” selves! This is the heresy of “dualism” which introduces a false split in the human being between body and soul. In the authentic Christian view of things, the human being is an incarnate spirit or a spiritualized body. As the Catechism says, “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: that is, it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body.” Furthermore, “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature” (CCC, n. 365).
John Paul II insisted that the “body can never be reduced to mere matter: it is a spiritualized body, just as man’s spirit is so closely united to the body that he can be described as an embodied spirit” (Letter to Families, 19). It is only because of original sin that we experience a rupture within us between the physical and the spiritual. Lacking the reintegration of spirit and flesh to which we are called in Christ, we inevitably lean towards one side of the divide or the other, towards “angelism” or “animalism.” One promotes a “spiritual” life at the expense of the body and the other a “carnal” life to the neglect of the spirit.
Animals or Angels?
Angelism views the human person as a spirit merely housed or even imprisoned in the body. Since the “real person” is something purely spiritual, angelism not only considers the body external to the person, it tends to view the body as an obstacle to spiritual fulfillment. The angelistic moral code is rigorism; it tends towards prudishness and a fearful repression of bodily feelings and desires. Many Christians throughout history have fallen prey to this distortion. Even today people make the calamitous mistake of considering this “holiness.”
Animalism, on the other hand, stifles the spirit so that it can live a “carnal” life unhampered by the voice of conscience. Its moral code is permissivism, condemning any manifestation of temperance as a hindrance to freedom. Animalism promotes bodily pleasure as man’s ultimate fulfillment. Hence, it encourages men and women to indulge their (disintegrated) bodily impulses without restraint, leading toward the indecent and the shameless. All we need to do is turn on the television or the Internet to see how prevalent this distortion has become.
Dualism attacks the very foundations of Christianity. Christianity, at its core, involves the incarnation of spiritual reality. How do we recognize the anti-christ according to St. John? He is the one who denies Christ come in the flesh (see 1 Jn 4:2-3). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not concluding that Yoda is the anti-christ. But I am saying we should be aware of the subtle and not so subtle ways our culture promotes a dualistic view of the human person. So the next time someone says to you, “Aw, you’re an angel.” Say, “No, I’m not. I’m an incarnate spirit …and you’re a heretic.”
Well, you better leave that last part off.