Bodies Matter

Bodies Matter

I feel like Hercule Poirot. Not in the sense that everywhere I go I leave a trail of corpses behind me, you’ll be pleased to hear!

No, I feel like him in those moments towards the end of a story when he says (in a Belgian accent I can’t reproduce here) ‘I have been stupid. Stupid!’

As some of you know, I wrote my dissertation for my philosophy MA on the topic of how we treat dead bodies and what that says about what it means to be human.

I was interested in the fact that although certain (very dominant) strands of philosophical thought consider the body to be no more than a shell or prison in which the ‘real’ person is trapped, the fact that we treat corpses with such respect suggests that there is something of greater significance in our fleshly form than we generally acknowledge.

I knew that was important, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on how or why. It matters to the abortion debate, because it affects the point at which we acknowledge that an embryo is a person. It matters to the euthanasia debate because it affects our decisions about when a person no longer has a worthwhile life. (Briefly, in both cases, if possession of a body is a significant part of what makes you a person, the roles your mind and capabilities play in those decisions must necessarily be smaller.)

I knew, however, that I was missing something. I knew I hadn’t quite finished the puzzle.

Enter Andy Crouch.

In Christianity Today yesterday (!) Andy wrote about the Same Sex Marriage debate and pointed out that which should have been self-evident to me: bodies matter.

What unites the LGBTQIA coalition [if you don’t know what those letters refer to, read his article!] is a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way. What matters is not one’s body but one’s heart—the seat of human will and desire, which only its owner can know.

Of course! That’s the connection my brain has been trying to make all this time! It’s no wonder no one has a good answer for ‘why can’t I act on these feelings?’ when we’ve spent years, if not centuries, prioritising the intellect and the experiential over the physical.

The bodies we’ve been put in, the things they’re designed to do and the way they fit together matters because they’re not just inconvenient shells or carrying cases for the real people hiding inside; they are essential parts of our beings and our personhood.

How I feel is not who I am, and it doesn’t need to affect what I do.

I’ve written about that before, even very recently, but still haven’t managed to make the connection.

I’m so glad Andy’s little grey cells were working more efficiently than mine. Thanks, Andy, for making the connection for me, and for a great article with some really helpful points about recognising this same sin in our own attitudes and actions instead of pointing fingers or throwing stones.

7 Comments On This Topic
  1. Father Stephen
    on Jun 27th at 9:51 am

    I’m sorry, you are going to have to elaborate for me. It’s probably me being stupid, very stupid, but I’m compeletely missing the point of what you are saying.

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Jun 27th at 10:04 am

      No, it’s not you, I woke up this morning thinking I’d probably been too elliptical. Does this paragraph, that I inserted but a bit too late to make it into the email version, help at all:

      “The bodies we’ve been put in, they things they’re designed to do and they way they fit together matters because they’re not just inconvenient shells or carrying cases for the real people hiding inside; they are essential parts of our beings and our personhood.”

      What I’m trying to say is that just because a person feels an attraction for people of the same gender, the way our bodies are designed (or have evolved, if you believe that) is a clue as to how sexual interaction is supposed to work.
      Devaluing the role of the body in understanding who we are and what is right and wrong leads us to rely on our feelings and emotions in a way that leads us into all kinds if trouble.

  2. Rebecca H
    on Jun 27th at 11:15 am

    That’s interesting and fits well with general advice about not being ruled by emotions/trusting human logic, but I’m not sure it can help with how we treat those who are born without clear sexual categories, because they are then usually given a choice of gender based on feeling.
    I think the LGBT community would also argue that there’s a difference between emotional feelings and the deep instinctual conviction that they have in their attraction or identity.
    A tricky balancing act perhaps? Yes the feelings aren’t entirely an adequate measure for our identity but they can’t be cast aside just because they contradict with anatomy- otherwise that leaves genetics as the determining factor, which is equally isolated to secularism.

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Jun 27th at 6:14 pm

      Thanks Rebecca. Yes, you’re right that we can’t just cast feelings aside as being of no relevance. It’s about finding the balance and not overemphasising one aspect at the cost of the other/s.

      And yes, I agree that people in the LGBT community experience something deeper than just a passing fancy or a light ‘feeling’. Apologies if in my haste I gave the impression that I was belittling what they experience. I don’t intend to, I’m learning what a cost and battle it is to deny those feelings (Andrew Wilson is very good on that).

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Graham
    on Jun 27th at 2:11 pm

    Whilst we consider our bodies to be the medium through which the spiritual happens, the apparatus by which it can be manifest. Interestingly it seems that what we do with our bodies enhances or impedes how the spirit can work. This is very noticeable in sexuality. There is a tendency in Christianity to value the spiritual over the physical but Genesis and Revelation seem to suggest that one cannot be effective without the other. Perhaps the main purpose of our feelings, emotions, imagination are to connect with the holy spirit but of course they do respond to all sorts of other desires both selfish and carnal

  4. Ann
    on Jun 4th at 10:43 pm

    Something I didn’t think about when you first posted this – it matters in issues of equality – as far as I know the slave trade in England (and America) was based on the fact that black people weren’t entirely human, they didn’t have the same spirit, soul and emotions and therefore could be, and needed to be, treated differently. The modern slave trade works on the same principle, women and girls have no worth, they are there simply to be used as men see fit in those circles.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.