PRETTY GIRLS ARE IN DEMAND: THEOLOGY OF THE BODY NOTES, WEEK ONE
: Dude, this was awesome. You should be going! St. Matthew's Cathedral
, conveniently located right by the Dupont Circle metro, every second and fourth Saturday at (...shudder) 10 AM. (They have free coffee!)
Here are my notes from the second meeting (which likely reflect my obsessions rather than the actual discussion... and lightly edited to add clarity, links, and a joke). Keep in mind that where I don't draw conclusions, it's because I don't have any. I'm not being coy here, just laying out the areas I find most interesting:1. Though He No Doubt Delights the Eye/Of Other Hippopotami
: The Genesis accounts of creation separate humans from the other animals, and emphasize that we must understand ourselves primarily through our similarities to God, rather than through our similarities to or differences from other animals. We are the only creatures given a job
in Paradise. All the platypus has to do to fulfill its telos
is, like, be its weird-ass mammal egg-laying self, whereas humans can't get away with just being "human, all-too-human." We actually have a task which we can either accept or refuse.
Implication: We can't learn much about what we're supposed
to do by studying other critters, no matter how interesting a chimpanzee might, inherently, be.
Query: What about vicious dogs? We often talk as though they are somehow culpable for their actions; or, if not culpable, at least definitely not fulfilling their telos as dogs. We're fine (...I think?) with sadistic cats toying with mice, but bitey dogs bother us. Why is this? CS Lewis basically said (in The Problem of Pain
) that a dog's vicious or virtuous actions were attributable to its owner. I am not sure to what extent I buy that claim. I know I was deeply unsympathetic to Lewis's project in that chapter (I have zero empathy for other species--empathy for other human beings is hard enough!) and so I am not the best judge of his argumentation. (In general, I find that lack of charity in debate leads to lack of understanding.)2. I'm a Man You Don't Meet Every Day. (or, A Man of the Corydon Class):
In Eden, Adam and Eve do not have children. The theology of the body takes Adam and Eve as icons of the human person. What does it mean that the nuptial meaning of the human person was expressed, in Eden, prior to
and in the absence of
(Insert discussion of art vs children which is wildly fascinating to me
but possibly less fascinating to most of my heterosexual readers)
What do we gain by viewing the male-female couple relationship as special and set apart, prior to any claims about children?
People bubbitz about "complementarity," and while I don't necessarily disagree with that discourse (see here
), I also don't really get a lot from it. I think what the nuptial imagery of man and woman says to me is that reconciliation
is at the heart of human personhood. Marriage, in this view, is an iconic representation of reconciliation--concordance... a kind of compromise where each participant is more
than before, rather than less. --Or to maybe be more clear, marriage is an iconic representation of eros
as desire for union with someone different
--complete union, without subsuming the beloved within the lover, without diminishing the differences. Which of course is how we relate to God; cue "bridal mysticism" soundtrack.
I think, or hope, that queer readers can also accept that, at the very least, the man/woman nuptial relationship is somehow different, intense, metaphorically charged, and suggestive of this kind of eros and reconciliation, in a way that man/man and woman/woman relationships are not.
On this tip, a) I wondered what the alternatives might be to the Edenic, nuptial-icon view of human personhood. The only thing that immediately came to mind was the story of the round people (you know, from the Symposium
, purr hooray), which is lovely and suggestive but also deeply self-centered IMO. I mean, in the round people story, the solution to human alienation is another particular person. This strikes me as a giant opportunity for exploitation, imposing one's own image of the beloved on the actual existing beloved, treating the beloved as a means toward self-realization, and, generally, cruel and silly romanticism of the "I know you're my wife, but my graduate student really understands
me--with her breasts!" school. And
b) do defenses of homosexuality rely on anti-iconicity? (Is that even close to being a word??? I suck
.) Do defenses of homosexuality rely on a kind of "We are all (only) individuals" reading of the human person, where the maleness or femaleness of the body drops out of the analysis, subsumed under the particular desires of the autonomous individual? If so, is that a philosophical fact or a psychological one?
(My point here is that yes, of course we're individuals, but what do we gain if we also view ourselves and one another as icons?)
...insert lots of half-formed thoughts here, of which perhaps the most interesting is whether homosexual iconicity (sorry!) would necessarily be or has historically been a "shadow dance," a play of refractions of the self, and whether that's bad.3. Isn't everything the theology of the body?
Why is sexual difference the core of the "theology of the body"--as opposed to e.g. what workers can be made to do with their bodies, or what guards can do with prisoners' bodies? ...JPII's (and Jesus's!) focus on the Genesis account should highlight that although everything we do, we do with our bodies, there is something primary and essential about our sexual identities, according to the Bible. The Bible doesn't present Adam and Eve as icons of the employer/employee relationship, the comrade/enemy-soldier relationship, or even the parent/child relationship. We start with a man and a woman. Why?
What do we learn from asking "why"?4. "Father, how far can you go with a girl?"
Opposition to abortion and to torture both stem from an iconic view of humans: The particulars aren't the only things that matter (fetuses are incompetent, Al Qaeda members are guilty), the point is that these are human individuals, and as such they are made in the image of God. They (we) are always, from the beginning 'til the end, icons of the living God. Nothing we do or fail to do can undo our iconicity.
This is why the question in the David Lodge novel
comes up in the "torture debate." But it's the wrong question. If you ask--in the sexual or the just-war context (or in what we're learning is so frequent and compelling to sin-sunk man: the nexus of both
)--"how far can you go?", you won't actually get an answer. The only way to get an answer to that obvious and necessary question is to go back to the beginning: Who is this person with whom you're dealing? Who is this girl? Who is this terrorist? Start there, and your question will become, not "how far can I go?" but "how can I serve?"
...Of course, I live a few miles from the White House, and so as soon as I had this thought the sharper part of my mind asked, "Oh lovely, and how do
you serve Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, darling?"
I don't know the answer. But I do know that it's the right question; that framing the question that way derails the pro-torture arguments; and that the right answer to the question is never "I serve him by degrading him and treating him as subhuman."
Now that I think about it, I have one basic rule for politics: Before you enter politics, you should know, for sure, what the word "humiliation" means, in the cash value of experience; and you should empathize instinctively with those who suffer it.5. Workers of the world, get back to work!
Humans are, intrinsically, workers (see point #1); there is work in Eden. It's perhaps easiest to see this when we think about the anchorless, helpless nature of a life without work. (Fr. Caulfield, who leads these TOTB things, pointed out that "It's sometimes an 'out' for us to think" that our work lives are detached from and irrelevant to the Gospel.)
My query here is: Are any of my readers equally familiar with the rhetoric of the Catholic Worker movement (esp Dorothy Day herself, who is Teh Awesome with a big anarchy A) and Opus Dei? Both seem to focus on the person as worker. It's kind of obvious to me how they differ. How are they similar?
So yeah. This was a fantastic experience and I am really looking forward to the next meeting, on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. You should come!!!