Sunday, November 27, 2005

The God with a Bod

If only to be reminded how not to live, it is illuminating to investigate (very briefly and without venturing, I advise, too far beyond the wikipedia articles) the biographies of two of the most evil men who ever lived. I would be calling them that not out of undue judgment, but because both Aleister Crowley and the Marquis de Sade sought and relished the title. Interesting about the lives of both men is that their quest to be evil entailed a furious rejection of anything to do with Christianity, which might be an implicit proof of that religion's authenticity. Bona fide evilness doesn't exactly deem it necessary to rail against "spirituality in general."

For the purposes of this post however, also of note is that both these men did everything they could to escape, through either spiritualism or sexual abuse of self and others, the confines of their bodies. Perhaps because both men's significantly gifted (and squandered) minds knew the value of consistency, being vehemently anti-Christian meant being equally anti-body.

For refreshing contrast, take this quote from the famous 14th cent. Orthodox Saint Gregory of Palamas, defender of the somatically sensitive Eastern style of breathing prayer known as hesychasm :
"My brother, do you not hear the words of the Apostle, 'Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in us,' and again, 'We are the house of God?' For God Himself says, 'I will dwell in them and will walk in them and I shall be their God.' So why should anyone who possesses mind grow indignant at the thought that our mind dwells in that whose nature it is to become the dwelling place of God? How can it be that God at the beginning caused the mind to inhabit the body? Did even He do ill? Rather, brother, such views befit the heretics, who claim that the body is an evil thing, a fabrication of the Wicked One.

As for us [the orthodox], we think the mind becomes evil through dwelling on fleshly thoughts, but that there is nothing bad in the body, since the body is not evil in itself" (p.41).
But despite the proliferation in church history of passages such as these, it is still a popular misconception that Christianity is against the body, the blame usually falling on Augustine. Those who think this are wrong (and easily righted), but the facts often have little effect on misconceptions that prove so effective at selling books. For example, many western guides to eastern meditation practices start with the standard, "Christianity says the body is evil, and therfore you need this body-affirming book."

Nevertheless, the fact remains that just as one cannot be more radically humanist that by worshipping the God who became human, so one cannot be more pro-body than by worshipping the God who took one on permanently.