The other day I got one of this summer’s pop hits stuck in my head – Tove Lo’s “Talking Bodies.” Not one to reject pop music outright, I will grant that the melody is catchy. But the lyrics make me feel gross. The bridge is particular frustrating:
Our baby making bodies we just use for fun
Let’s use them up ’til every little piece is gone
This made the hyper-vigilant anti-gnostic in me cringe. Here we have a song, which has probably been heard, danced to, and sung along with by millions of people, making the claim that bodies should be “used” and even “used up,” as if they are tools or objects. The implication is that the body is separate from the rest of the person, and is just not as important.
This mentality flies in the face of the Christian narrative. In the beginning, God made bodies, and called them good. God imposed physical laws on his people that shaped their minds by way of their hands, feet, skin, genitals, foreheads, and stomachs. God has a body, that’s been in a uterus, in a manger, around a table, on a cross, and in a tomb. Ultimately, God’s body was raised from the dead. Over and over again, the Christian story shows that bodies, objects, places, and other tangible things are important, to God and thus to us. This is not just because bodies are a temporary temple for our minds, spirits, souls, or whatever the buzzword is these days, but because flesh and blood are important in and of themselves. Otherwise, the heaven we anticipate would probably just consist of a bunch of misty ghosts floating around somewhere in the cosmos. Instead, the Church continues to affirm that “we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. (Amen).”
This is why many Christian worship services include things like art, music, incense, water, bread, and wine – because when God calls us to worship him, he wants all of us, not just our minds. Song and sacrament engage and form all of our senses, enabling us to honor God as whole people, skin, ears, noses, and all. This is why Christians have given great care to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and healing the sick – because serving others means serving real, entire people, and not just saving their souls.
If I thought that caring about bodies, and people as whole, embodied beings, was important only to Christians, then I would stop here. This would be just another example of how the Church is set apart from the world, and me griping about the song mentioned above would be just another instance of a Christian hating secular music or something. But I think the problem here extends far beyond the doors of the Church, and I think all kinds of people can and should get riled up like I am now. I’ll make this point with two examples.*
A little while ago, people went up-in-arms against TLC’s Duggar family, after it was revealed that their oldest son Josh molested a babysitter and several of his sisters, with no legal consequences. In the still-developing aftermath, this horrible piece of literature surfaced – it’s an infographic designed by a popular homeschooling curriculum company. It implies that in instances of sexual abuse, the main concern ought to be the victim’s heart – Are they bitter? Did they forgive their offender? Are they using this as an opportunity to trust God? – and not the abuse (…or injustice…) itself. This whole mess has mainstream America really pissed because, in general, we understand that even when abuse is in the distant past, and even when there aren’t lasting physical scars, it affects the whole person.
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, the Olympic athlete formerly known as Bruce Jenner came out as transgender, making her debut as Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair (perhaps you saw it). The popular – or at least, very common – response to this is support and praise. Even though this is one of the first times that our society is collectively thinking through what it means to be transgender, many people realize that one’s gender-identity isn’t just in their mind. Trans people are often compelled to change the way they look, because gender is also a bodily issue, and who we are on the inside affects who we are on the outside.
The reason I’m bringing these seemingly unrelated events together here is simply to demonstrate that many of us – not just Christians – actually do believe that the body and the self are inextricable, perhaps more than we even realize. We live in a society where any sort of abuse is universally appalled. We live in a society where people are often encouraged to change their bodies to match their identities. And somehow, we also live in a society that creates music that sets bodies apart from the person, and thus objectifies them. We’re on our way, but we’re not there yet.
*These examples touch on very sensitive subjects, and my knowledge and experience in both of these areas is extremely limited. So take my commentary with a grain of salt, and please call me out if I’ve done a poor job talking about these issues.