Objectification and Theology: Part 3

Is Christian theology strong enough to help women fight back the pressures of objectification?

I believe it is.  I believe that if we look into the Christian story, we will find a narrative that describes all the ways that God has said, “Yes!” to human bodies.  And if God is saying, “yes”, then who am I to say, “no”?

As we explore this topic, I will touch on the following areas:

  • Creation: God gave human beings bodies, and said that they are good
  • Incarnation: God loved human bodies so much that He took one for Himself
  • Resurrection: The body of Jesus didn’t stay dead, and He didn’t come back as a ghost
  • Ascension: The body of Jesus is ALIVE and IN HEAVEN right now
  • General Resurrection: All our bodies are going to be raised up to new life

I think that if we can come to believe that all these things are true, then we will be able to fight back against the forces that want to treat us as objects.  We will find worth for ourselves that transcends our bodies but doesn’t leave those bodies behind, either.

Feminism has rightly accused Christianity of treating bodies in general, and women’s bodies in particular, as if they were bad.  I hope to defend Christianity against that charge, even as I admit that some Christian thought has definitely contributed to the damage that women are suffering.

I hope instead to offer a Christian theology that tells the story of the goodness of the human body, the equality of women, and the amazing hope that all Jesus-followers have for an eternity of embodied awesomeness.

The God who created us wants us to be whole persons: body, mind, and soul.  I believe that without reservation.

I also know that a lot of damage has been done to women in the way they relate to others, to themselves, and to God.  Objectification is a cancer that is spreading through our culture, but I hope that if enough of us can learn to fight it, then it will someday be stopped.

Men, please don’t feel left out or accused.  You are victims of this culture of objectification as well.  You are increasingly becoming victims of objectification yourselves, and you have learned destructive ways of relating to women’s bodies and to your own bodies because of objectification.  I know that not all men are complicit in objectification, either.  Many of you are fighting for the rights of women to be treated as subjects, and that is very, very exciting.  I hope that you, too, can learn something about how much God loves you, body and soul.


Objectification and Theology: Part 2

People who follow Jesus should be pretty excited about how awesome their bodies are.

That’s what I came to realize one day while hanging out with some Christian ladies that I love.  They were starting in on the “fat talk.”  Oh, you know what I mean.

“I’m so fat.”
“No you aren’t, you look great.  I’m fat.”
“Whatever!  You probably never need to go to the gym.  Omigawd, you should see my husband…he never works out and he’s still losing weight.  It’s sick.”

They looked down at their bodies in disgust.

These bodies that God made for them.  These bodies that God blessed and anointed.  These bodies that had laid hands in prayer, comforted the sick, hugged friends, enraptured husbands, served food to the poor, preached the Word, played with children, performed amazing music, and stood in awe of God’s greatness.

These Godly women hated their bodies.

And it struck me, then, that there was nothing in the Good News that should allow that to happen.  In fact, it started to grow in my mind that the Christian story is one that—literally—raises human bodies to a pretty high level.

God loves human bodies so much that He took one for Himself.

In my last post, I started to introduce the history of objectification in our culture, and I explained that Christianity has inherited a dangerous form of dualism that treats bodies like disposable trash.  That attitude unfortunately resembles the attitude of Gnosticism.  The early Church had to fight with a breakaway group that was trying to mashup Christianity with something called Gnosticism.  Very basically, Gnostics believed that secret knowledge (gnosis) would get them into heaven, and they believed that heaven was a place of pure spirit, since matter was nasty and broken and full of sin.  Long-story-short, the early Church worked really hard to knock Gnosticism out.  They didn’t want that theology creeping into Christianity.

Because Christian theology ought to treat the body—and all matter—as good, created by God, worthy of redemption.

And that includes our bodies.

I believe that although women have to face objectification all the time in our culture—whether in fashion magazines, pornography (soft and hard), or what’s being called “rape culture”—that if we place our trust in the God who made us as embodied beings, who wants us to be embodied beings, then we can stand tall against the forces that want to turn us into objects.

It is going to be the broad purpose of my blog to share what I have come to believe about how much God loves our bodies, and about how we can learn to love our bodies, too.  Please feel free to ask questions along the way.  I’m leaving out the footnotes because I know that some people find them boring, but they are available upon request.

Objectification and Theology: Part 1

“I hate my body.”
“I’m so ugly.”
“If only I had a gap between my thighs.”
“I’ll go dancing again—but not until I lose some weight.”
“Do I need a boob job?”  “A nose job?”  “Liposuction?”  “Skin lightening?”  “Botox?”

Across North America, as women are looking into mirrors or other reflective surfaces, they are thinking things like this.  According to sociologists like Marika Tiggemann, body dissatisfaction is so common among women in North America that it is now considered normal.  I think that experience bears this out.  I’m willing to bet that if you are a woman, you have had at least one negative thought about your body this week.  There is something about your body that you wish you could change.

This is hardly news, of course.  By now we have also been exposed to great coverage of how the media is affecting our body image.  We know, at least on some level, that the images we see around us are affecting the way we feel about ourselves.

It’s just hard to access that knowledge in a dressing room under harsh lights, or first thing in the morning when we’re still half asleep, or in the bathroom at an office party when our makeup starts to smudge.

Feminists, of course, have plenty to say about why women hate our bodies.  They blame the patriarchy—that political and cultural tradition that says that men are large and in charge—and they point to our philosophical heritage of mind-body dualism.  Together, they say, patriarchy and dualism create a potent cocktail in which women are routinely objectified, treated as property in heterosexual relationships or as consumable sexual objects in the media.

Objectification messes us up.  On the one hand, it makes us feel like we are only bodies, or that our bodies are the only important thing about us.  On the other hand, we feel alienated from those bodies.  That is, we start to feel like our bodies aren’t really us.  They’re just clay that we have to mold to a specific shape.  And because of the influence of a misogynistic patriarchy, we also come to feel that our bodies are dirty, never-good-enough, worth nothing until a man decides they are worth something.

Christianity gets blamed for this attitude, and not without reason.  There is an ugly tradition of woman-hating in our history: men who considered women to be temptresses out to seduce them and destroy their virtue.  There is also some confusion in Christian theology about the body.  Some Christians have come to believe that our bodies are nothing more than meat-suits that we wander around in until we die and then our spirits go to heaven.

These Christians are mistaken.

They’ve (mostly) accidentally inherited some dualism from good old Plato…this idea that mind/spirit/soul is better, higher, purer than bodies/matter.  Sadly, when this dualism comes into play, women get stuck on the body/matter side of things, and men get to live on the mind/soul side.

Because women are considered impure matter under this system, we are treated like objects.  We are treated as if we have no souls, no minds, no spirits.

Is it any wonder that we end up treating our bodies like trash, and at the same time thinking that they are most important thing about us?