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 Replies

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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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