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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