But because I am also a thinker, I think often of the sources of body hatred in this culture. They are myriad. We all know them. Today, I focus on one. This is inspired by a number of things, too many to go into here. But I picked up the Bible again recently, and concomitantly, I re-read Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain. It has made me want to write the following.
Let's start with Genesis. With the creation of man and woman. Did you know there are two creation tales? The one that we usually remember is the one that says that woman was made from the rib of Adam, that he came first. But that's not the first one.
Chapter 1, Verse 27. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
In this version of the story, God is both male and female. Both male and female are expressions of God's essence. And yet, that's not the story we are told in Sunday school. Frequently, if we are told of Eve at all, we are told of her being the source of original sin. And what was original sin, exactly?
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Eve didn't give humanity sin. She gave humanity knowledge And God's punishment for that had been like something handed out by an angry father. "How dare you speak back to me. How dare you question my authority. I will make you sorry that you were ever born."
Not only that, Eve becomes aware that she has a body, and in that awareness, a whole other world of sensory experience is opened up to her. What is to "know someone in the biblical sense?"
As Scarry writes:
Part of the knowledge that comes with eating of the tree of good and evil is that they stand, without protest, as creatures with bodies in the presence of one who has no body. It is crucial that these two be said together: the problematic knowledge is not that man has a body; the problematic knowledge is not that God has no body; the problematic knowledge is that man has a body and God has no body-that is, that the unfathomable difference in power between them in part depends on this difference in embodiness ... their awareness of the body will soon be correspondingly be heightened: the body is made a permanently preoccupying category in the pain of childbirth, the pain of work required to bring forth food...
And so, God places a curse on Eve and Adam's bodies. He makes it that they will die. He curses women to bring forth children in pain. He makes their bodies the source of suffering. He makes the fact that God has an urepresentable body and humans have a body the source of suffering, of separation, of pain.
And I think that we've been laboring under that ever since. Do I believe the Genesis story? No. Not personally. But it doesn't matter. Because so many people do, and for them, the body is the thing that got us into trouble with God. And other people's bodies are still getting us into trouble with God. Unruly women, gays and lesbians, teenagers having sex, people insisting that they have the right to determine how and when they die. It's all, according to some, designed to piss God off. And we know what happens when God gets pissed off. Look through the Old Testament. There's plenty there. You want something that will really set you back on your heels? Look at the Book of Lamentations.
Elaine Scarry has an entire section of her book devoted to God's lack of body. Yes, of course, in the New Testament, God does have a body in the form of Jesus Christ. And there's a hell of a lot of suffering that gets inflicted on that body. But in the Old Testament, God does not have a body. And what's more, the Fourth Commandment specifically commands that humans not dare to imagine what that body might look like-at least not by making graven images of it.
What does it mean that God does not have a body? To quote Scarry:
But to have no body is to have no limits on one's extension out into the world; conversely, to have a body, a body made emphatic by being continually altered through various forms of creation, instruction (e.g., bodily cleansing), and wounding, is to have one's sphere of extension contracted down to the small circle of one's immediate physical presence. Consequently, to be intensely embodied is the equivalent of being unrepresented and (here as in many secular contexts) is almost always the condition of those without power.
In other words, to be represented by a body is to be finite, to be less powerful, to be controllable. It is not the suffering of Christ that is offered by the right wing as the source of their politics. If it were, their politics would be more compassionate, would recognize the body as the source of pleasure but also of pain. Instead, they make references to the Old Testament, to Sodom and Gomorrah, to Leviticus, to all the parts of the Bible where God seems to punish humans for simply being human.
So, I've been thinking about all of this as the drama of Terri Schiavo has played out. I've been thinking of a young woman who believed her body was the enemy. Who set out to control it in the only way she knew how. By purging it, and in purging it, destroyed it.
And today, it is that Terri that I weep for. And it's why I want my party, the Democratic party, to embrace the body as a site of politics. To fight for the rights of bodies to love, and experience pleasure, and to have their suffering eased. The body is not the enemy.
cross-posted at CultureKitchen