Like a bad cold that just won’t go away, Pat Robertson has once again embarrassed the Christian community with his lack of tact, inane mutterings, and terrible theology. Just last week Robertson told a caller on his show that divorcing his Alzheimer’s stricken wife was biblically justifiable because, after all, his wife is “no longer there”…she’s just a “shell” of what she once was…she’s a “walking death.”
Normally when good ole Pat opens his mouth I just make fun of him behind closed doors. But I think his comments to this caller last week actually reveal something much more threatening – an actual heresy.
Early in Christian history our forefathers (and some mothers) had a theological squabble over a belief called Gnosticism, which in short was the belief that the human body was an unnecessary part of human existence (indeed, even a bad part of human existence) and that the true “self” is a spiritual self.
The implications of this belief were huge. For example, the Gnostics wanted to deny that Jesus ever even appeared in a human body, and he certainly didn’t resurrect from the dead in a literal human body. After all, if the human body is evil, why would God want to mess around inside one?
The early Christians fought hard against Gnosticism by affirming that God created our bodies and that our bodies are gifts from him, even though they are fraught with sin, disease, and will some day die. In affirming the goodness of the human body, the early Christians were not only able to defeat the Gnostic teachings, but they also maintained the integrity of the Christian belief that God took on human flesh AND will one day resurrect humanity, in the flesh.
And by affirming that God took on human flesh and will resurrect all of our bodies, the early Christians maintained a biblical understanding of humanity which necessarily included our bodies, not just our minds and souls.
There are other indicators that this ancient heresy of Gnosticism is still around today, such as the belief that after we die we will spend eternity floating around as spirits in heaven.
But the point of my post here is that Pat Robertson, for all his prior theological mistakes, has really revealed his cards on this one. If the early Christians affirmed that the ENTIRE PERSON, body, mind, and soul, were created by God, then this woman with Alzheimer’s is not somehow less of a person because her mind is leaving her. She has not lost her humanity. She’s not somehow “gone.”
Rather, if we take Christian doctrine seriously, her living, breathing body is still a strong indication that she is STILL there. She is still fully human. She is still reflecting the image of God.
Pat Robertson’s comments reveal that his belief is that a person’s true self is the spiritual self…that the body is ‘just a shell’ that can be discarded when the mind and/or spirit has moved on. And so in this matter, he has ventured into ancient heresy.
But his ignorance on this matter, should serve as a warning to all Christians to be better informed about how our understanding of scripture and human worth can be so easily mistaken. Let this be a reminder to all of us, that our bodies matter to God, whether they are perfectly healthy, terminally ill, or losing their minds.