The Body in Christian History

The proverbial “fall of man” hinges on what one contemporary theologian terms, “transgression through an orifice.” Eve succumbed to her hunger, her tortured craving satiated in a terrible instant when she filled her mouth with the flesh of ill-gotten knowledge, the fruit whose sweetness poisoned the world. Ever since, threads of Christianity preserve both the celebration of the [male] body in the incarnation of the Christ, and subjugation of the body through asceticism, imprisonment, and starvation, in pursuit of an entirely spiritual, false, god. 

The podcast Trouble in the Flesh, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, interviews women in the fields of religious studies, history and politics for their insights on how female bodies have been used and abused by Christian thought. While listeners might disagree with some of their ideas (such as one author’s book written about a fat, female Jesus), they raise questions that deserve deep discussion: what are the limits of healthy desire, which, far from alienating us from God, can draw us nearer to him? Who gets to tell the stories of women, especially those female saints whose spiritual devotion was, in the words of their male hagiographers, wrapped up in feats of bodily denial? How do we define bodily “purity” without perverting it into something much darker, like the glorification of the thin, the white, the virulently and sometimes violently masculine? I also have experienced the visceral fear of my body being “corrupted” by my own desires; when I was younger, I alienated myself from my body in the most dramatic of ways because I did not know how to live in it. It’s a small voice within me, never quieted, that whispers, how to honour God with my body?, and remembers that Jesus returned from the dead with scars carved in his flesh that he even wanted the doubters to touch.  

  • Jennie has a degree in animal biology, loves learning unfamiliar words, and is extremely fond of God’s gift of chocolate. She lives in Zeeland, MI.

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