Spiritual body

Robert George claimed that the whole basis of his sexual theory is that we are not personal spirits dwelling within and using impersonal bodies. Thomists agree with this, though it is admittedly a point where STA admits of difficulties of interpretation and perhaps a small number of competing commitments.

George’s claim allows one to explain what was traditionally called sexual deviancy as a desire for a fuller life, i.e. as the life of an angel or god. If the body is simply a tool or a resource that I use as I see fit, then my “I” is a pure spirit.

I have to confess being extremely attracted to the doctrine of the I as pure spirit. I’m saddened by the thought that George’s theory is true, and I would much prefer to live in a world where it wasn’t. I’d prefer this world to be a pure object set in front of me as opposed to entering into my very subjectivity. I’m scandalized by a world that lives in the face of death. I don’t belong in this place where nothing else – dogs, trees, meadow grass, the sun, whatever –  is bothered by death or the reality of its non-existence. Let the body live there, have no business with things that exist like that.

I can get so worked up about this as to suspect George is a nihilist – what is the insistence on the bodily nature of the human person if not an insistence on the annihilation of persons? Give me sodomy! Contraception is our only hope of life!

But when you hit the point of arguing that the good of masturbation grounds your hope of eternity, you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. But to look back at your other option shows it with all the downsides and disgust that it ever had. So what now?

Christianity seeks to transcend both options with a doctrine of spiritual bodies, though one suspects we no more have a category for “spiritual body” than we have for category for a noun with a single meaning that is both abstract and concrete. The gospels seem to testify to such a thing being out of joint with experience – hence we find John saying of the resurrected Christ that “no one asked if it was him, for they knew that it was he”. Imagine having any experience of recognition for which this would be the appropriate description! Again, Christians have puzzled over the chronology of the Easter story for a very long time, and it is usually exhibit A for any critical scholar seeking to show the incoherence of the Gospel. My own sense is that it reflects the actual confusion of where Christ was and what he was doing. Existing among his disciples seems like an option for Christ, as though space-time was just something he checked-in on, whenever, wherever, and in as many places as he felt like.

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