Thursday, October 18, 2007


So for me it works like this.

"Nooo. Don't bother me. I'm trying to consume delicious things bad for me while watching truly ridiculous, time-wasting television."

Okay. But I think I have a point to make.

It starts like this. If I want to figure out, say, the whole science and religion thing, how do I do that? Well, it seems to me that I can't, unless I can figure out what it's about. Perhaps it's about the nature, working, and meaning of physical stuff, in the light of the strong suspicion I have that physical ways of being aren't the only ones.

Well, then I say, all right, what about the physical? What do I as a Christian think, or how, about it? I use the various sciences to investigate it. Yes, sure. But I'm looking at all this data, how do I make sense of it? Via scientific theories. Sure, yes. But those, too, are data to me: if allopathic medicine makes sense and quantum mechanics makes sense (or something like sense) and evolutionary genetic biology makes sense and metallurgy makes sense, what do all those sense-making theories mean, taken as data points themselves?

To me they point to the orderliness and usefulness (if not purposefulness) of the physical. How does that fit with other things I already know to be true?

I start with resurrection. Resurrection says, we hope for the resurrection of our bodies. This is interesting. If you start with creation, you could always say that bodies are a trick or test to see if we'll stay spiritual, or that the physical is theater in which we enact a morality play, or a phase we must pass through. But resurrection says no, creation was about how we are meant to be. That being bodily, being physical, is inherent in human being, human existing, human nature.

If that's the case, then the physical can't be just neutral, a fact with no value that can be used for good or evil. It must be good, because it is part of the final as well as the initial intention God has for us.

If the bodily or physical is good, at least by intent, creation, and final repair and transformation, then that helps me. It helps me know that our interactions with the physical share something in common.
Our bodies, for one thing, are not prisons of the soul, or cootie-filled bags of temptation to be escaped, or limitations on our spiritual possibilities, but the mode in which we are supposed to be. So taking care of them is a fine thing to do: nutrition, wellness, exercise, diet, all acquire a more-than-pragmatic, more-than-self-centered, and more-than-Darwinian worth.
If bodies are worthwhile, and their care, nurture, and development are worthwhile, then so is their repair. Medicine acquires a foothold on meaning, beyond resistance to death.
If bodies are worthwhile, then we get a first glimmer of what we do about a correct body-image, a notion of self-image with respect to our physical form. There's lots to say here, but there is a meaning- and sense-granting place to start.
If bodies are good, then sexedness, being male or female, is not a crippling or a handicap. If sexedness is not bad, sex isn't likely to be, and sure enough, the commandment to be fruitful and multiply is given before the Fall. Repairing sex is a huge undertaking, but better start on it than not.
It's not at all clear to me that sexuality, or sexual identity, has any solid grounding in either science or Scripture. But whatever substance it has--and certainly it has a psychosocial reality that varies across time, cultures, and individuals--must be related to the notion of the worth of sexed bodily personal / relational beings.

But if the physical has any sort of inherent goodness, then nature, the environment, does. While prudential motivations to go green--let's not foul our own nest--are better than none, our role as stewards and gardeners may not be a punishment, but something deeply fulfilling. (See Nancy Pearcey's discussion of what she calls the cultural mandate, which begins with agri- and horti- culture.)

Besides the moral status of bodies, and the ontological status of sex, and the nature of nature as such, other areas of human interest connected to the physical include art and work.

To me, and maybe it's just me, all these things stick together: body image, sexuality, work, art, environmentalism. When you try to think of any of these apart from a notion of the spiritual worth of the physical world, you end up, as a Christian, in some sort of cognitive dissonance. But when you think of them together with that, then they tend to stick also to each other and get entangled theoretically, so that Gnosticisms that discount the body's spiritual or moral worth aren't over time going to have very coherent notions of the worth of work or of natural conservation and management. At the same time, it's not really possible over the long haul to believe in the resurrection and not develop a positive theology of sexed bodies or avoid some sense of creation groaning in anticipation of our redemption. It's about integrating your life and your worldview.

"Yeah yeah yeah, integration smintegration. I don't wanna think about all this; gimme my fried twinkie and Pantsoffdanceoff."

Okay. ((But I still think I've got a point.))


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