New Testament Scholar and former Anglican Bishop, Tom Wright, wrote a letter to the editor of the London Times, arguing that gender fluidity is a “form of the ancient philosophy of Gnosticism.” He explains, “The Gnostic, one who “knows”, has discovered the secret of “who I really am”, behind the deceptive outward appearance (in Rifkind’s apt phrase, the “ungainly, boring, fleshy one”).”
According to Wright, part of this “knowing” involves denying the goodness of the natural world. The problem, he argues, is that nature “tends to strike back.” The next generation will become “confused adults” and will pay the price for this generation’s “fashionable fantasies.”
Nathanael Hayler (a transgender person) pushes back against Wright by arguing that transgender identity is an “expression of the disconnect one feels between their physical instantiation and their human potential.” Being transgender is not a rejection of the body, argues Hayler, but a rejection of the simplified binary nature gender.
Haylor clarifies how a non-binary person understands their body, but I am not sure he overturns Wright’s argument. Wright is saying, as I read him, that humans are born with biological signs that define gender. To ignore your biological sign and to define your gender by your inner-knowledge of who you are reflects a gnostic belief, namely, that your inner knowledge of your identity is more true than your biological sign of identity.
Candida Moss argues that Wright’s editorial is historically inaccurate in an article titled, “Christian Leader Says Trans People Are the Oldest, Most Dangerous Kind of Heretic.”
Moss dials the intensity up to about 1,000 because she claims that Wright is calling gender fluid people the most dangerous kind of heretic: “So, what Wright is really saying here is not just that transgender people and their allies are a particular kind of heretic, but they are the oldest and most dangerous kind.”
Moss completely misses the point. Wright is showing a philosophical analogy between gender fluidity and gnostic belief; he was not calling gender fluid persons the most dangerous kind of heretic. Good grief.
While Moss correctly shows that Gnosticism shared its belief with others, she does not show that Wright is wrong about Gnosticism. Some gnostics certainly believed that enlightenment would bring them back to a non-corporal existence. Perhaps Moss is objecting to a single category of gnostic belief? If so, Wright is hardly advocating that. He wrote a short, one paragraph letter to an editor. Not an academic treatise.
Her objections, to me, seem unhelpful. Note: I am not arguing that she is inaccurate about Gnosticism. I am saying that she has read into Wright’s statement way too much and that she fails to be charitable to him. To set the context, Wright wrote three sentences, Moss responded with an entire article, finding fault in almost everything he said.
Wright over-generalized how gender fluid people experience life, and he lumped gnostic belief into a general category. But he wrote a three sentence letter to an editor, and we must read him within this genre.
As a letter, he was short, to the point, and easily understood. I don’t think anyone assumes that he aimed to write a historically nuanced work on gnostic belief.
His point was: if your gender identity is based on an inner conviction rather than on a biological sign, then you share an affinity with an ancient philosophy, namely, Gnosticism.
Let’s at least consider his argument and its possible negative effect on the next generation, who are “vulnerable and impressionable youngsters who, as confused adults, will pay the price for their elders’ fashionable fantasies.”
There seems to be a global confusion between two groups of people; those who deny the biological signs of the body are real or meaningful and say only a claim of identity is meaningful, and those who accept the biological signs of the body are real and meaningful and therefore seek physical transformation for the home of the soul. The first group is gnostic (denies the reality of matter, sees all matter as the product of anti-God/anti-Truth). The second group aligns with the Christian philosophy of spirit embodied in matter. Transubstantiation and being “born again” through adult baptism, like change of sex, are physical acts seeking transformation to align matter and spirit, done with the belief that this physical alignment is vital for spiritual survival. Which rituals are “right” for a person is hotly debated, but these are not gnostic fantasies.