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A few months ago I was having a conversation about the difference between some forms of Western Spirituality and Eastern Spirituality, and why some Westerners are so attracted to forms of Eastern Spirituality. In the end, we reached the conclusion that it might be due to some forms of Eastern Spirituality focusing on being present in the body and most forms of Western Spirituality essentially viewing the body as an evil necessity before you move onto the afterlife.
This then tied into some thoughts I had about yoga, and then some more thoughts I had when my yoga instructor told the class to be and feel heavy, to let our weight sink into the floor, and to let our legs and feet support us, not our shoulders or neck. The mindfullness meditation that I do from time to time, also focuses on being in the body, on being present in the moment, and focusing on the breath, on the sensations of sitting or lying still for a period.
This blog post, which I will attempt to selectively quote from, pretty much sums up my experience of Christian teachings (Catholic for the most part) in relation to the body versus the soul:
Many of the early church Fathers were educated in Greek philosophy or came under its influence. The result was an amalgamation of Christian theology with Greek philosophy.
The theology of the early Middle Ages was dominated by the towering figure of Augustine of Hippo, who completed the fusion of the Pauline emphasis of sin and grace through faith with a Neoplatonic view of man that stressed the imprisonment of the soul in the body. This dualism led to an increasing asceticism in the life of the medieval church, which meant an attitude of indifference or even outright hostility toward the body. The official theology of the church concentrated on getting the soul of the believer into heaven, through the Sacraments, or at least on saving it from hell, as the doctrine of purgatory developed. —James N. Lapsley, Salvation and Health, p.39.
Coming down to the medieval period, Lapsley continues:
If the health of the body was not forgotten, it was once again generally relegated to the status of a matter of relative indifference, which might as well be sacrificed to gain eternal bliss. This was the situation that obtained as Martin Luther grew toward manhood at the turn of the sixteenth century. —Ibid., p.41.
The medieval church did not understand what the New Testament meant by “flesh” and “spirit.” In real Greek fashion she understood these terms to designate two parts of man — the higher and lower natures. Since things like body, work, eating and sexuality belonged to the “flesh,” they were regarded as inferior functions, if not tainted with evil. On the other hand, prayers, fasting, celibacy and religious tasks were regarded as “spiritual” and therefore superior, if not meritorious.
Or a concept of “soul-salvation” which is not a “whole-salvation” can lead people to think that since God is not very concerned with the body, neither should they be too concerned about how they treat the body. It is amazing how many Christians think that they display their spirituality by neglecting the body. If they hasten a coronary by bad living habits, they think that this will be a good testimony of their dedication to the Lord’s work.
It makes sense then that those people attracted to religions and forms of spirituality that focus on being present in your own body, treating it well, and stepping gently on the world around you, are not going to be attracted to Christianity necessarily. It makes sense that people who want to look after themselves, their environment, and their planet are attracted to forms of belief, exercise and spirituality that support those things.
This is, in part, why I do yoga as a form of exercise. It’s one that recognises my body, my journey through life, my ability, and is patient with where I am at today. I am not after the spiritual aspects of yoga, but being a form of meditation and exercise that developed from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain philosophy, it is differently grounded to the philosophies that I grew up with. When I did ballet as a child, we were not taught to move with our breath, to ground ourselves and be connected to the ground we stood on, and we were not taught how to breathe properly (being a singer helped there). Instead we were taught to be as light as air (which is funny in retrospect), to glide, gracefully above the earth as if we were not made from it. Fencing, my preferred form of competitive sport, is again a sport about being light, and nimble – and one not designed so well for women, but that’s a different story.
To take up room, to be heavy, to be your body are radical notions in Western Christian philosophy where the body is seen as something that carries around the soul while you do enough good deeds to get into your deity’s good books before being allowed to be rewarded with heaven after you die.
Oh, and I chose the title of this blog, as one of the worst lines in the Bible – the need to sleep, to eat, to live are seen as a weakness versus things that actually need to be addressed.
Because we should never tire of talking about people’s individual right to make their own medical decisions, their own choices about their body, and their own life choices (as a collective, of course as individuals, we probably all get tired of this at some time or another).
So the new Pope, who was reported on Friday as being more “meh” about abortion because the Catholic Church had done that to death recently, and all the other good messages in the fresh and fragrant Gospels (his words not mine) were being lost in the “thou shalt not” stance of the church, came out today condemning abortion in order to placate the hardliners in the Church who thought that the Pope was being soft on abortion. Because there is nothing more inspiring that someone saying, “yeah I know, this message is getting old and there are other things we should be talking about, but did you know that WE HATE ABORTION?”
Of course people only have abortions because of convenience according to the Pope:
Pope Francis offered an olive branch of sorts to the doctrine-minded, conservative wing of the Catholic church on Friday, when he denounced abortions as a symptom of today’s “throw-away culture” and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them.
which as we all know is complete bollocks. I had an abortion to save my life, an abortion that would not have been performed in the hospital I had first arrived at, Saint Vincents, despite the fact that I was internally hemorrhaging and had I been left untreated I would have died. I know other people who have had abortions because they believed that they were not capable of being parents at that time. I know people who have had abortions because being pregnant would cause a myriad of potentially fatal health issues. I know people who have had abortions because they could not afford to have a child. I know people who have had abortions because they were mortally afraid of being pregnant and having children. All these issues and more do not make up a “throw-away culture”. I don’t know anyone who has medical procedures for the fun of it.
The most telling part of the Pope’s comments on abortion is that the people who are pregnant aren’t even mentioned. There is lots of talk about babies and children (despite the fact that it’s not until they are born that they are babies or children), and those babies or children having Jesus’s face (which is just a bit creepy), but nothing about the people whose lives may be in danger or whose ability to manage a pregnancy and the next 18 years of raising a child is being questioned by them. It’s telling, it says “The Catholic Church cares more about babies than it does about the people whose body they incubate in, who will then spend the next 18 years or so raising, feeding, and attempting to afford them”.
He did repeat it on Friday, however. In his comments, Francis denounced today’s “throw-away culture” that justifies disposing of lives, and said doctors in particular had been forced into situations where they are called to “not respect life.”
“Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, has the face of the Lord,” he said.
He urged the gynaecologists to abide by their consciences and help bring lives into the world. “Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things,” he said. (The Guardian)
I certainly feel secure in my medical treatment knowing that there are doctors out there who do not have my best interests at heart. I certainly feel welcome in the Catholic Church, an institution that does not trust women to be able to make up their own minds on issues. I completely trust a religious institution that tells me that sex must have consequences for those who are fertile and have uteri.
The Catholic Church has consistently been anti-choice for as long as abortion has been a public issue, they are at least consistent with that. They’ve consistently been on the side of a cluster of cells that cannot survive outside the individual it is growing in (while consuming their blood, energy and nutrition), instead of the individual who may or may not want that cluster of cells. They have been consistently on the side of sex having consequences for those with uteri, instead of celebrating that sex is good for you, and consensual sex without consequences actually improves the wellbeing of everyone. They have been on the side of that cluster of cells, instead on the side of families and individuals who are already struggling with poverty, disease, an excess of children, or immediate health consequences.
So eager is the Catholic Church to see more children born, that even in cases where the embryo is non-viable, they will still attempt to block access to abortion if at all possible. We know that the Catholic Church will block access to abortion too when there is the choice between saving the mother’s life or leaving her pregnant and dead.
Every time I think that the Catholic Church might begin to reform, this shit comes up and I swear off it even further than I already have. An organisation of men who think they know what is best for women – sounds similar to our own Government right now, but still – the Catholic Church is not a friend to those with uteri, and if you are a member of it, you need to remember that if you ever need to assert your right to your body.
Other useful reading by Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism on this topic:
- Social safety net? Heck no! Women must pay for sex!
- Awesome Comment Award: Emjb on how fetuses are made
- The Pro-Life Movement, Erasing Women Edition