Bodies and Christ

I don’t like Saint Paul, and I never really have, but today’s second reading from his letter to the Corinthians [1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20] and Fr.’s homily gave me a new angle of looking at the Church’s teachings regarding our bodies. Most of the time the only things I hear about the Church’s teaching regarding the body are criticisms of the restrictiveness of the requirements; if we think of our bodies as loans from God, not actually ours, but allowed for our use, then these things start to make sense not as restrictions but as guides to the proper appreciation of our being. There really is only one thing to keep in mind: each and every way in which we use our body should glorify the guy who is letting us use it in the first place. That leaves plenty of leeway for enjoyment of our bodies. The church doesn’t really restrict the things we can eat or drink, but when those acts become more important than treating our bodies with dignity, they cease to be for the glory of God, and you get gluttony as the result. Seen from this angle, the context of rigorous religious prohibitions against abortion and sex-for-pleasure makes more sense. One results in the destruction of a body created by God and the other is a bastardization of an act intended for procreation; neither show the respectful use of a body that’s on loan from the man upstairs.

Similarly, not using our physical abilities for charitable actions or even small acts of selflessness are misuses of the intended purposes of the body. And you see, I’m so used to thinking of what we’re not supposed to do with our bodies that I’ve gotten away from the most important point. We are supposed to enjoy our bodies at every moment that we have one, but we’re supposed to enjoy them gratefully, not selfishly.

Now whether all of this is an acceptably understood interpretation of God’s will is still up for debate [and the basis for my dislike of the Church’s dependence on Paul’s epistles]. But if we assume that it is, this path is still a damn hard thing to do. Our animal nature exerts purely selfish demands [but the experience of having an animal nature is what should be appreciated] and social nature puts other demands and other temptations that can easily teach people to hate their bodies or the things their bodies do, or things done to their bodies. It is such a tough path to follow that it might not be much of a surprise that it is easier to focus on spiritual and intellectual relations and leave the body out of it altogether.

6 thoughts on “Bodies and Christ

  1. Our human bodies and “sin natures” are likely the envy of God’s entire creation (angels being the most obvious analog). This is because we face a choice at every moment to glorify God or satisfy ourselves. We have been given the opportunity to glorify God in a way that is most pleasing to Him, that is, of our own free will. According to my understanding of the Bible, humans are completely unique in this situation. The more difficult the choice, the more personal sacrifice, the more God is glorified.

    In my own religious experience (conservative, protestant Christianity), I’ve found a huge emphasis on this interpretation of Paul’s letters, to the point where it’s been more important to carry on this bodily piety than it has been to love your (non-church-going) neighbor.

    Several years ago, there was a time when I was trying to keep my body pious in this manner, constantly asking God to sustain me through it, though He’d probably tell you I did it wrong, or something. I couldn’t do what I thought he wanted. It took so much out of me and made me such an unhappy person that now, I too tend to focus on spiritual and intellectual aspects. Hopefully I’ll be able to someday reconcile Paul’s exhortation for bodily righteousness with my own experience.

  2. Adam, I am a bit confuse and trying to understand why St Paul who was one of the worst sinner and woman hater would take such a prominent role? Just asking?

  3. I think the easiest way to explain it is that SAUL was the sinner until God laid the smack down on the road to Damascus, and after that intervention, SAUL repented and became PAUL and stopped all that crap. Forgiveness of sinners is an important part of Christian theology, especially if they make efforts to live virtuously after their conversion. The history of Christianity is full of sinners who have furthered the religion; St. Augustine for example.

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