Gnosticism and the transgender issue

Since June I have found myself coming back again and again to Robert George’s presentation at the CBHD summer conference. In it he talked about how our society has a concept of who we are as human beings that says we are non-bodily persons who inhabit or use non-personal bodies. This idea has its origins in Greek gnostic thought which was picked up by Descartes and modern western philosophy. It is significantly different from the Judeo-Christian concept that a human being is a unity of spirit and body. This difference helps me to understand why many in our society reach conclusions that are so radically different than those reached by those who have a Christian world view.

Currently the university where I work and teach is dealing with how we should respond to those who see themselves as having a gender that is different from their biological sex. As a Christian university we must decide whether those who live out that way of seeing themselves is in conflict with how we expect the members of our community to conduct themselves as an expression of our faith in God and a desire to live lives that reflect his truth and are growing in Christlikeness. We believe that a fundamental part of having a vital Christian community is having agreed upon moral standards by which we conduct ourselves as we live together. That allows us to foster the spiritual growth of our students and all of us in this community.

Because of that we need to determine whether living out a person’s transgender feelings is in conflict with our understanding of biblical moral truth. Robert George’s talk helps me to see that transgenderism is founded on the gnostic idea that the body is a non-personal entity that the person uses. If the real person is based on that person’s thoughts and feelings then a person’s subjective sense of the gender they should be is more real than the person’s physical biological sex. This is in conflict with the Christian understanding that we are created by God as a unity of spirit and body, and that the physical reality of our biological sex is more certain than the feelings of our fallen minds. This understanding of who we are means that the proper loving response to those who feel that they ought to belong to a gender that is different from their biological sex is to help that person understand why they might have those feelings and help them find ways to accept and thrive as the person God created them to be.

This also seems to me to be an appropriate way for Christians in medicine to approach this issue as well. It must be clear that this does not mean that we should condemn those who are convinced that they have a gender that is different from their biological sex. All of us are fallen and have things we do not see clearly. We should approach everyone with compassion, but compassion does not mean affirming something that is not true. We can lovingly help those who have a conflict between the gender they feel they belong to and the sex that they have been given understand that there is another way to see that conflict which can result in more complete healing.

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4 years ago

The premise behind this workshop does not reflect the reality of the transgender experienced. Although there are people in the media who talk about individuals as “trapped” in the wrong body, this is inaccurate. Many cisgender individuals assume their gender is set because of their anatomy. This may not be the case. Hormones appear to assist in the creation of gender identity en utero. Gender identity is nearly universally set by the age of 4. For most individuals, gender identity matches physical anatomy. For others, it does not. This is not a sense that the “spirit” or “soul” is trapped in the body. It indicates that the individuals interaction with the world is better suited to the social and physical gender different from his/her anatomy. This might be more similar to someone with a genetic predisposition, which lack the ability to re-direct through medicine. The assumption of this course seems to imply that an individual’s spirit could be redirected by God toward the physical anatomy. We have no evidence that this occurs.