Proper Regard for the Body - 1
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gn 2:7). Not only did man become a functional animal, he was endowed with a spiritual essence, a “soul” in our terminology, thus making man a unique hybrid of earthly and heavenly substance. “For as the body without the spirit is dead …” (Jas 2:26); i.e., human life is an integrated whole involving body and spirit; to remove the spirit is to cease earthly function.
There is something mysterious about this dual nature. On the one hand the body is a powerful influence on our soul (our emotions, self-perceptions, sense of well-being, etc.). Human appetites (hunger, sexual desire, comfort, etc.) act powerfully on our inner thoughts and motives. We often define ourselves or others through body features (male/female; tall/short; redhead/ blonde; Latino/Scandinavian; sick/well; youthful/aged). The difficulty of controlling our appetites can be so frustrating that we may long for release from this body or treat it in some severe fashion (self-denial; self-harm), or we may just give in to desires and rationalize why it is okay to do so.
On the other hand we sense that we are more than a body, that we hold beliefs and values that demand control, self-denial and submission of the appetites to those higher principles. The “fight or flight” impulse must be controlled; our words must be governed; a guilty conscience convicts us when our values have been violated, even if we benefitted from it. A large part of maturing is the ability to find balance between the body and soul and foster peace between the two.
Because of this ongoing struggle, it is tempting to develop an unhealthy or downright harmful view of the body. It seems there has always been the tendency to downplay the body, to separate it from the spirit and pretend as if what one does with the body has no bearing on our true identity. We don’t have to go back to the early Gnostics to see this; we only have to look at the confusion of our own age.
Abortion. Those who advocate destroying life in the womb justify it on the basis that a living body is irrelevant to personhood. It does not matter that a fetus has a heartbeat, can feel pain or attains viability. Biology is discounted, for biological factors support pro-life arguments. Pro-abortionists assert that personhood is not defined by a spirit/body unity; rather, personhood is “fluid” and is determined by relative considerations such as an arbitrary set time post-partum, whether the child is wanted by parents, or some degree of self-awareness.
Listen to this philosophy in the words of an advocate: “A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She's the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always. The fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing” (Mary Elizabeth Williams, “So What If Abortion Ends Life?”, quoted in Nancy Pearcy, Love Thy Body 62).
But clearly, Scripture teaches that a valid human life is one composed of spirit and flesh, regardless of the level of development of that life. Neither a fetus nor a Alzheimer’s patient has a mature self-awareness, but to deny personhood to one is to deny it to another, yes? Callous mutilation and disposal of the body of a baby can only be done by an otherwise rational person by discounting the value of the person being killed.
Fornication. The current American/Western culture has gone far beyond “falling in love” and experiencing sexual intimacy before marriage. No, the current mantra is “hookup” or “friends with benefits” or some other label of casual, recreational sex with absolutely no emotional investment.
Pearcy notes: “The key to understanding the secular ethic is that it is based on a materialist view of nature. It tells us that our bodies are products of purposeless, amoral Darwinian forces and therefore they are morally neutral. The implication is that what we do with our bodies has no moral significance. The self is free to use the body any way it chooses, without moral consequences … The dualistic mentality encourages young people to disassociate their bodies sexually from who they are as whole persons. It devalues the body and drains relationships of their moral and emotional depth” (ibid 121, 118).
Again, Scripture teaches that sex is not merely a biological function though it has physiological aspects including pleasure and reproduction. But beyond this, Paul says physical passions are restricted to the spiritual union of husband and wife: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body; but the wife does” (1 Cor 7:2-3). And, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18). It is a form of hedonistic dualism that says what we do with our bodies sexually has no impact on our personhood. It is a lie that Satan has been effectively peddling for millennia.
Transgenders. This is perhaps the most extreme form of attempting to split the body from the inner person. Transgender advocates insist that biological sex – the presence of sexual organs, hormones and other distinctive physiology – have no bearing on gender identification. That is, on some emotional, self-conscious level a human can identify as male, female or other gender-blend they choose. Again, the clear, scientific uniqueness of the male and female body is discounted, and advocates insist that there are no differences whatsoever between males and females; gender is merely a social construct. This has spawned the attempt to destroy all practices in our society that are gender-specific.
But Scripture again is clear: “male and female He created them” (Gn 1:27). Unbiased medical scientists and doctors affirm the fundamental differences between men and women not only in physiology but in personality, emotion and mental function due to hormones, chemical processes and other elements of biology. Yet radical transgender advocates insist on letting males who “identify” as females compete in women’s sports – with predictable results. At least in this world, our identify is formed by an amalgamation of body and soul, of physiology and spirituality, and to ignore this unity is to confuse ourselves at the basic level of human life.