Christ did NOT teach that the body is evil and the spirit is good.
This idea of mind/body conflict came from other religions. It gets in the way of understanding Christ’s teaching. For Christ, all four types of needs (spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional) or motivations describe a cycle, an evolution of what we are and what we can be.
The body and mind live through spirit and lead back to spirit, they are separate from it. As the human spirit or soul is separate but perhaps a part of the Holy Spirit. (See the longer discussion of the nature of Holy Spirit here.)
Mark Chapter Nine offers a long discussion of spirit. It starts with the transfiguration then discusses the return of Elijah, a boy afflicted with an unclean spirit, then Christ’s resurrection, and other aspects of the connection between spiritual and temporal reality.
In discussing the nature of the unclean spirit that afflicts a boy, this chapter covers topics such as the purification of spirit, the “distance” between the spiritual plane and the physical plane. In this plane of reality, spirit is invisible, affecting the world only through control of the body. Through living on this plane, spirits are cleansed.
Christ transfiguration and resurrection are example of the barriers between the spiritual and physical being broken down so that we can understand them better.
We get in touch with the spiritual plane by denying our bodies in fasting and focusing our minds through prayer. Every point on the cycle is both a beginning and and end since cycles repeat themselves, but spirit is the ultimate starting point and the ultimate end. In various places in the Gospels, the four keys in the form of their symbols are described in very different orders. These orders describe the key cycles that Christ teaches.
Power over spirit comes from belief, but the spirit has power over the physical. (Mar 9:23) Our spirit in the sense of our self-awareness gives us purpose. The spirit is an awareness that is contrasted with the dumb body (or a dumb spirit). There is the regular spirit of a person, and unclean spirits, and the Holy Spirit. In the Gospels, the idea that people can lack spirit (poor in spirit) is one of the first ideas that Christ teaches. In the New Testament, person who who we would call mentally ill is describes as being possessed by an unclean spirit. It is from the Holy Spirit, that is, God’s spirit, from which we gain knowledge that we cannot normally get.
Spirit is described as having an existence separate from a body. Unclean spirits can leave a body and return, but when they leave, they still exist outside of the body. They are not gone in the same sense that we think a mental condition is cured through treatment. A dead human spirit can even be reborn into a new body (Elijah). The spirit is eternal apart from the body.
Our spirit is also separate from our mental processes. The spirit might inspire a thought or an action, but it is not the thought itself. Christ describes unclean spirits that are separate from the body as still having thoughts even though they don’t have bodies. Though spirits can exist without bodies, a spirit with a body can act in the world. Christ describes people in the afterlife as having bodies as well, but of a different form, like the bodies of angels.
There is a sense here that some types of spirits (Mar 9:29) can avoid being disconnected from the physical plane by disappearing (”going out into nothing”) and reappearing. This type of motivating spirit is intermittent, capable of hiding. Since it is not always manifest in our reality, we cannot deal with it.
We get in phase with the spiritual by disconnecting from our physical reality through fasting and focusing our mental reality on the spiritual through prayer . Fasting and prayer makes an unclean spirit more tangible. This seems to indicate that certain types of mental disorders are more likely to manifest themselves when their victim lose touch with physical reality, venturing to much into the spiritual plane.
Christ describe his words of being of the spirit. People are born of spirit and baptized by spirit.
All animals have a spirit. The “unclean” spirits that can control people can also leave then and control animals. The Greek term for “unclean” has the sense that some types of things must be cleanse of their impurities. Being “unclean” is their state when they have not or cannot be cleansed of these impurities.
There is a very subtle inference in discussions about spirit, especially unclean ones, that spiritual growth is a process of cleansing our spirits of their impurities. Unclean spirits have not or cannot be cleansed. I say “our spirits” because there is the sense that we are a bundle of spirits, that is, a bundle of different motivations. More than one spirit can can inhabit a body, that is, a single person can have several several different conflicting sources of motivation and makes up what we think of as “us.” Sometimes the boy is himself and other times the unclear spirit is in control. Some afflictions, in this case a disease like epilepsy are symptomatic of an underlying spiritual distress.
Goodness Is Completing the Flow
Generally, all motivations are all good when our desires flow from one to another. The problems arise when people get “stuck” on one of these areas. People can even get stuck in the “spiritual” or rather their intellectual idealizations of the spirit.
When we get stuck on any one level, the need become “useless” (to use a better translation for the word–poneros–mistranslated as “evil” in the Gospel). Thus satisfying our physical hunger is good, but if we get stuck on eating and ignore our mental, emotional, and spiritual needs, it becomes worthless. Personal relationships are good, but worrying about what society thinks is a worthless. Even the spirit can become worthless when it becomes a formal practice that overshadows all other human needs.