Fantasies, justifications, hating the body and dealing with reality
Long, rambling post to make up for lack of posting today.
I already had a couple of thoughts banging around my head today about how body loathing is such a strong force in our culture already today because we got the movie Saved in the Netflix and found that it was much better than I thought it would be. The movie nailed it to the ground how religion is used both to squelch urges that don't need to be justified and to justify those urges that should be controlled for the greater good, a tendency that fundamentalist religions magnify. The examples that the movie used were the sexual urge and the urge to be powerful and important, amongst others. Characters throughout the movie were shown struggling against their sexual urges for no other reason than the exaggerated body-hatred that permeates fundamentalist Christianity and leads to the disgust-laced sermons against premarital sex and homosexuality. Our sexuality, the movie argues effectively, is a source of joy and life affirmation and definitely one path towards forming close relationships, as long as our minds are not contaminated with self-hatred and fear of the physical. Sex is a positive thing and needs no justification.
As a contrast, the urge to exert power over others is a harmful one indeed and should be dealt with accordingly. But in the modern, emotional, glamorous version of fundamentalist Christianity, there is not much room for humility, as is illustrated by a character played by Mandy Moore who uses her faith to justify a number of outrageous efforts aimed at making other students of the school compliant to her worldview, efforts that include kidnapping and framing others for a crime she commits. The small potatoes struggles in the movie reflect the larger struggles in the real world, where religion's complicity with the power-seekers has serious consequences indeed. Witness our President, for one thing. And the terrorists for another. (As an aside, the movie also deftly demonstrates how fundies manage to exaggerate pretty much irrelevant scriptural passages out of proportion while justifying it to themselves when they violate some of the big ones. For instance, the two most sanctimonious characters carry on and on about the evil of homosexuality and fornication, but in the course of the movie both violate the 10 commandments when one commits adultery and the other offers false testimony.)
The ugly truth of the matter is that fear of the body and the belief in a false body/mind dichotomy mostly overrules our meager stabs at reason. I hate to say it, because the people expressing the anti-sex viewpoint are no doubt good people, but I see that all over this discussion at Hugo's blog on the subject of sexual ethics. Hugo asserted what seems to me to be common sense--if you believe that life is a gift from some god, then it follows that sex as a source of so much bonding and pleasure in life is one of those gifts. People then followed up with comments that drip of loathing for the body and for sex, arguments against really enjoying it, arguments for chastity, etc. Read it; it's interesting.
I will state it firmly and clearly for anyone not paying attention in the back--I think our sex drives are just as much a part of our make up as human beings as our desires to eat, listen to music, get some intellectual stimulation and be loved. And so on, of course. The shame and anger around it puzzles me and always has even when I find myself succumbing to it. I think it's superstitious to give sex more power than it has. Not only that, but most people's sexual problems, including my own, are the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. This man here is a good example:
Yes, I had a sexual life - and it didn't do me particularly any good and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't. Given what I know now I don't consider it any great surprise that my friendship with Dan has grown only stronger and deeper through living chastely than when were having sex.
He means well, I know. But the implication is clear--physical intimacy somehow magically prevents people from achieving real intimacy. The funny thing about that belief is that it is utterly true as long as you believe it. It's not just a Christian thing, either. It's a well-established belief even in secular parts of our society that men at least cannot see any woman they fuck as a real human being, meaning that their only real friendships with women must be asexual.
I blame the false mind/body dichotomy. We all want so very badly to believe that there is some Platonic ideal of ourselves that exists beyond our aging, decaying bodies and that there is some kind of life beyond death. That's all a soul is--a concept of an ideal self that can live beyond the body. And if there is a soul that is our true selves then the body, its opposite, is a false and base self. And therefore indulging our physical desires somehow interferes with our spiritual desires. That's the fucked up reasoning that leads to the problems we have now.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if our collective society woke up one day and just gave up believing that we have souls and that our souls are somehow in opposition to our bodies. I know I'm not the only one with this fantasy--the enduring popularity of the song "Imagine" tells me that plenty of people often wonder what it would be like just to shake that cultural baggage all at once. It would almost surely make us better people. One of the points that the movie we watched today made very well is that our discomfort with the physical is exactly why people struggle so hard to understand that the handicapped are just as human as anyone else--their physicality is harder to ignore than everyone else's because differences just stick out. But one thing that would happen if we could just get over it already is that we would realize that sexuality and sexual difference are not so overwhelming that they have to be squelched lest they destroy our lives.