We Are Our Bodies
I’ve been digging around in an idea that pervades Evangelicalism. The Evangelical belief that we merely live in our bodies. American Christianity (which consists in large part of evangelicalism) has minimized the theology and, if you will, sacredness of the body, saying that the physical body was irrelevant except to house the soul.
When framed in the evangelical American context, this twisted argument has a lot of value. It was probably the easiest theological justification for America’s beloved human rights abuses: enslavement and genocide.
By necessity of white America's devotion to these practices, the black body didn’t matter to God.
The black experience didn’t matter to God.
Black suffering didn’t matter to God.
In this theology, suffering was how God taught his people lessons. It would make sense then, according to this theological hierarchy, the European Christians God “chose” to” save and lead” the physical and moral world could use suffering to teach lessons. Conveniently, it was decided using suffering (again, to be clear, these are human rights abuses) to forcibly extract land and labor from so-called inferior humans in order to build a global empire was acceptable to God as well.
The physical and mental anguish were presented as part of God’s perfect plan.
“You are a soul, you have a mind, you live in a body.”
This is what I heard all the time in church. I can’t help but wonder if this is leftover from the theology of white oppression. The difference between the mind and the soul was never explained, but in many ways they seemed to overlap.
Evangelical theology has a functional disregard for both the body and mind, minimizing very real mental health disorders and often attributing them to personal sin or spiritual attack. It requires you to cut off parts of yourself in order to be a true believer.
In order to be a Christian, you have to engage in a form of self-colonization. You have to amputate your blackness, Latinness, Nativeness. You have to amputate your sexuality, your queerness, your masculinity if you’re female, your femininity if you’re male, your passions, your dreams, your intelligence, your critical thinking. No form of otherness is accepted within their narrow interpretation of Christianity.
Evangelicals will tell you that the resulting emotional and mental anguish and suffering are just holiness working in your life. Somehow they never have to answer for the fact that permanent pain is not positive growth.
I want to push back against this theology.
Pain is not an indicator of health.
Pain is not how you judge success.
Embracing pain temporarily can have its place.
Embracing pain as permanent is not proof of personal or spiritual growth.
Surgery can extremely be painful. But the goal of surgery is to ALLEVIATE PAIN AND USHER IN BETTER HEALTH.
Exercise can be extremely painful. But the goal of exercise is to alleviate future pain and usher in better health.
Childbirth can be extremely painful. But the goal of childbirth is to alleviate pain and usher in better health. Both for the individuals and society.
Physical pain is often the first indicator of disease in the human body. Physical pain is a signal your body sends encouraging you to seek treatment.
So why should we make mental and emotional pain as an indicator of health or the end goal in the spiritual experience?
The Writer of the book of Hebrews (who was kind of a jackass) tells his readers, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
While I understand that the writer’s audience was possibly fearing for their lives, trying to feed their families, under threat of the Roman Empire, I would argue that this scenario is neither aspirational nor prescriptive.
What the writer recommends is not health, but war. I would hope this is apparent. Within the context of whiteness [a construct that is inherently and inescapably supremacist] implying that this passage is prescriptive is preaching self-colonization. It’s requiring you to amputate the "other" parts of who you are in order to ensure that you are in pain. When you are in pain, you are less able to think clearly and therefore easier to manipulate and control.
In so many ways, this theology hasn’t changed much since the days it was used to justify the enslavement and torture of black bodies. For many of us, so much has been taken from us in the name of Christianity or other fundamentalist versions a host of other religions. Our spiritual selves have been decimated, while those with power claim that pain is health, war is peace, bondage is freedom. For those of us systemically and historically disenfranchised and oppressed, they preach that our minds, our bodies, our experiences don’t matter in light of eternity.
We get to be free
How easy it is for one to preach such violence against our bodies when it doesn’t affect them in the least? How easy is it for the master to gather his wealth when his slave-drivers are the ones to crack the whip?
I am choosing to confront this spiritual violence, and call it what it is.
There is still good news. Just because something has been stolen from you by fundamentalism, by religion, doesn’t mean it is permanently lost.
Humans are spiritual starfish. We can grow back whatever religion steals from us.
Yes, healing is work. Yes, it takes time. But it is possible. We can take back what was taken from us in the name of God. We have grace, power, and autonomy. If you believe in God, our full selves are more glorifying to God than some mangled version of who we are. God doesn’t require that we burn our identity on the altar of whiteness. I would remind you that Jacob fought God to a draw. Zipporah fought God and won.
It is true that identity may not be who we are on an atomic level. I understand that. But it is as much a part of us as our physical bodies. There is no mind/body split. Our mind IS our body. These are not two separate entities (or three depending on how your pastor counted!) we are one.
We get to be whole.
We get to love our neighbors, serve the poor, fight for justice as our whole selves.
Do not mangle yourself for some White Jesus who expects your marginalization to continue as proof of your piety, while those with power, privilege, and supremacy do nothing to ease your burden. Jesus did not come to oppress the marginalized and put heavy loads on their backs. In fact, he condemned powerful people who were doing exactly that.
You get to be whole.
You get to be free.
From religion or with religion is your choice.
You get to do what makes you healthy.
When you’re healthy you can do so much more for others, which I think is very much the point. We are the ones who get to bring the kin-dom of heaven, and the more of us who are healthy, the easier the job will be.