I've long wondered if the American religion isn't really gnosticism. There are so many unifying elements to many American spiritualities, and surely none less than the denial of the body as the locus of true spirituality. Consider, if ever so briefly, such a roll-call of denial.
Mormons deny alcohol and caffeine. Evangelicals proliferate "video-based" churches, as if being present to others or the pastor is merely accidental to what "really matters." Furthermore, all manner of Americans accept yoga as a generic practice, instead of an instrinsically Hindu one. The increase of Twitter and Facebook only increase the amount of disembodied experiences we have with others. Truly, gnosticism is an undercurrent in the cultural system, and most of us seek after existential meaning unaware of our denial of the role of the material wrapped up in the immaterial.
Whether one is a Christian or not, many Americans think of themselves fundamentally as a "soul," and not also a body. Only rank materialists are the exception. In addition, despite the fact that every month in my church we say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body," people in my church are regularly scandalized to find out that Christians believe eternity is a physical existence. One could correct such gnosticism-in-the-water with appeals to Isaiah or Revelation, but there's also an American prophet that comes to mind: Walker Percy.
In his novel, Love in the Ruins, his main character, Tom More, criticizes what he calls both angelism and bestialism. Angelism is the desire to ignore the role of the body in the search for meaning. On the other hand, bestialism means following the body's base desires with no thought of transcendence. More consistenly finds himself in the latter category as a "lapsed Catholic" with alcoholic habits and many girlfriends. And yet, during a humorous conversation with his girlfriend, Tom More lucidly but privately responds to his girlfriend's question: "My God, what is it you do in church?"
What she didn't understand, she being spiritual and seeing religion as spirit, was that it took religion to save me from the spirit world, from orbiting earth like Lucifer and the angels, that it took nothing less than touching the thread off the misty interstates and eating Christ himself to make me mortal man again and let me inhabit my own flesh and love her in the morning.
Percy touches here on a view of the body that transcends typical gnostic reductionism. If we just "think right," we won't necessarily change. If we just "change our emotions," neither can we inhabit our flesh and love others in the morning. We need mind, heart, and body. We need to be present, to eat of Christ, to engage our body in ultimate meaning. We need to relish our bodies as gifts. And if we're Christians, we believe in a greater body, following the firstfruits of that first Resurrectionist.