Body Talk

So you’re not getting a new body when you die. Sorry about that. It all comes down then to what you’re going to do with the one you’ve already got. I don’t know what condition it’s in. Your genes and the wear and tear it’s undergone in life will determine that. My own isn’t too bad for its age, I guess, though it suffers from inexplicable aches and pains these days (fibromyalgia) which is probably only going to get worse as I get older. All the same, that’s better than the alternative, so I’m not going to let it stop me from enjoying life.

And that’s what I’d recommend to you too. Enjoy life, enjoy your body. Indulge it in its appetites. The Christians who tell you you’re wrong to do so, who quote verses like Romans 8.13 at you are missing the point:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Denying yourself will not take you to Heaven, won’t make you a better person and won’t make Jesus like you any more than he does already (which is not at all, on account of his non-existence.) Of course, it’s sometimes a good thing to delay gratification, if others might be adversely affected, for example, but usually it’s not. Most of the time it’s okay to do with your body what you want to do with it – it’s yours for that reason. So enjoy training it, exercising it, eating well and wisely, grooming and pampering your body, keeping it as fit and clean as you possibly can. Enjoy being creative and caring. Be sensual (as in enjoying its sensations) and have all the sex you want, however you want it – with protection, specially if you don’t intend creating more little bodies – and with whichever consenting partners you want. Your body has evolved to be like this. You have evolved to be like this. Anything else is an aberration.

Why am I saying this? Because having reached 65, I’m very aware of the physical limitations that make themselves known as one gets older. Your body, my body, everybody’s body will eventually and irrevocably let each and everyone of us down. You will have experienced some debilitation already, whatever age you are; temporary illness, ailments of one sort or another, injuries, viruses, infections and malfunctions. Your body will eventually undergo the ultimate malfunction and let you down completely. It will die. Don’t leave it until that time approaches – and which of us knows when that is? – to appreciate it. Enjoy it now, whatever stage of life you have reached and whatever shape your body is in.

Am I preaching hedonism? Not exactly. But I am recommending you take pleasure from whatever activities you use your body for, no matter how mundane they are. And let’s face it, all human activities, including the cerebral, involve the body one way or another. Be a sensualist, as in enjoying the body’s sensations, and find pleasure in all things. Give pleasure in return and in many varied ways to others.

Isn’t this more life-enhancing than all that unhealthy ‘death to the flesh’ stuff (Romans 8.13) at the heart of Christianity, which regards the body as corrupt (Romans 7.24), sinful (Romans 7.5), lowly (Philippians 3.21), weak and dishonourable (1 Corinthians 15.43) and unworthy of a place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15.50)? It surely is. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15.32 that if the dead are not raised in new spiritual bodies then we may as well live our lives according the maxim, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’. There is no resurrection, there are no bodies other than the ones we have now, so perhaps, for once, Paul was on to something.

Christians’ Favourite Delusions 28: Evolution says we are no more than animals

AngryHere we go again. Christians claiming that evolution reduces human beings to being ‘just’ or ‘no more than’ animals.

Does it? Where? The ‘just’ and ‘no more than’ are unnecessary and invalid value judgements. They’re not there in Darwin, who goes out of his way to avoid making any such statement, while Richard Dawkins explicitly rejects the idea that we are ‘just’ gene carriers.

Evolutionary theory recognises that humans are indeed animals – with no ‘just’ or ‘no more than’ to qualify the fact. How can we not be animals? We do everything they do; like them, we have – indeed are – physical bodies that breath, eat, sleep, excrete, bond, mate, experience pain and pleasure and fight; we are, like most other animals, territorial and also like them, we put a great deal of effort into ensuring our own survival and that of our offspring. Even Christians who deny the body and its demands engage in these kinds of animal behaviour.

Of course, we also do things other animals don’t, or don’t to the same extent; we have remarkably complex social arrangements, which have resulted in our developing systems of morality and sophisticated ways of dealing with each other (though our morality is remarkably flawed); we have achieved much in the fields of culture, technology and in our understanding of the world and the universe beyond our tiny planet. We have also made a mess of our environment.

Our intelligence, our self-awareness, is the evolutionary equivalent of adaptations developed in other species. Our characteristics may seem to us to be somehow superior to those of other animals, but really they’re not. They have enabled our continued survival and allowed us to achieve all that we have, both good and bad. But in evolutionary terms, they are no different from the refinements that have enabled other animals to do the equivalent in their environments. This doesn’t mean, however, we are ‘just’ or ‘no more than’ animals. No creature is ‘just’ an animal and human achievements are all the more remarkable because we’re animals.

What Christians usually mean by their ‘just’ and ‘no more than’ is that as animals we are not extra-special to God, not ‘made in his image’. And of course, we’re not; there’s no God to be extra special to or made in the likeness of. Even if there were, he doesn’t seem to be particularly pre-disposed towards us; we exist as physical bodies that are as susceptible to the same hunger, disease, illness, injury, weakness, infirmity and death as any other animal. We are not immaterial, spiritual beings – though presumably the Christian God could have made us that way if he’d wanted to. To say, as some Christians do, that we are spiritual beings temporarily trapped in material bodies, or that we must deny the body and its demands to become spiritually perfect, is the grand perversion that is the Christian faith. It denies the reality of this physical, material world and our own natures. Any spirituality we might claim for ourselves is a projection of our intelligence and self-awareness; any morality the result of those complex social arrangements.

So, we are not ‘just’ animals, nor are we ‘no more than’ animals in any way that makes sense biologically. We are animals, remarkable perhaps in rising above our biology from time to time, but animals nonetheless, whether Christians want to believe it or not. ‘Just’ and ‘no more than’ don’t come into it.