Fleeing the Body

In yesterday's post I discussed what I've described as "Incarnational ambivalence" in my research, a gnostic anxiety that, as I describe in Unclean, pervades Christian experience.

Throughout Christian history, the faithful have experienced the body with a profound sense of unease. The body is filthy and animalistic. Worse, the body is a source of wickedness and defilement, the location of lust, craving, and desire. Especially sexual desire. So there is a chronic temptation to deny, mortify, or flee from the body into a hyper-spiritualized experience. 

In Unclean I make the argument that some of this anxiety around the body is existential in nature, that our bodies remind us of our chronic vulnerability to death, corruption, and decay. Incarnational ambivalence is a symptom of a culture characterized by a "denial of death," to borrow from Ernest Becker. Hiding from our bodies is a way of hiding from our own mortality. Our culture is characterized by what some scholars have called "the pornography of death," a culture where death becomes, as I describe in Stranger God, our "dirty little secret." In such a culture, to speak of death is illicit, uncouth, and impolite as such mentions burst our collective fantasies of perpetual youthfulness and vitality. In a culture characterized by the denial of death we dye our grey hair, inject Botox, dive deep into fitness and diet regimens, enjoy a midlife crisis, and search for the Fountain of Youth in wellness quackery. We think six-pack abs or breast implants will make us immortal.

In short, a lot of our anxiety and ambivalence surrounding our bodies isn't on the surface but is repressed and manifesting in a wide variety of defense mechanisms. And much of this anxiety and defensiveness bleeds into the Christian experience as well, driving ever-present gnostic temptations.

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