Does the Body Matter
By Joseph John
Feeling gender dysphoria
Not so long ago, I read an article entitled Transformation of a Transgender Teen. It tells of a 12-year-old girl in the United States of America, who send a message to her parents whilst they are attending a church function. The message reads, “Mom and Dad, I need to tell you that I am not actually a girl. From today, my pronouns are they/them.”
The experience of this adolescent girl in identifying or expressing her gender identity in a manner that did not match her physical/genetic sex would have been shocking for her parents to hear but had already become a known “condition” within psychiatric and behavioural science circles. While initially described as a gender identity disorder, it then assumed a non-pathological status; namely, gender dysphoria meaning discomfort or distress over one’s gender.
When the adolescent girl, who had been born a girl with all the corresponding female anatomy, called her parents to relay her message, she did so having felt she was more a “male” person than a “female” and thus, felt led to want to change into becoming a male person. In doing so, she was making not only a momentous decision but, more importantly, a momentous claim! In essence, she was claiming she could be whatever she saw herself to be!
Can we decide our own sexuality/gender?
Can human beings choose to ignore or disregard the nature of their bodies and treat it any way they wish to? Can we just on the basis of how we feel or think about our bodies decide and wish our body to be this or that?
Sadly, assertions of this nature are increasingly being taken with all seriousness and fast becoming, in some quarters, the prevailing view. Christian writer Nancey Pearcey in a recent book, Love Thy Body, notes the increasingly current view: “… the body does not matter. It is not the site of the authentic self. Matter does not matter. All that matters is a person’s inner feelings or sense of self.”
While medical science has been aware of certain anomalies within the area of sexuality and has sought to treat these conditions with great care and sensitivity, there is nevertheless, among certain groups of individuals, the view that whether we are male or female, woman or man is determined not by what we were determined to be at our birth but by us now as we feel ourselves to be. We can, it is asserted, decide own sexuality/gender solely on the basis of how we feel/think about our bodies to be.
This view that is becoming increasingly ascendant in the West, and also in countries in the East that are plugged in and susceptible to practices in the West. The view is
our bodies are no more than a collection of physical systems put together. Our bodies do not tell us anything about what our bodies are made for and how we are to regard and employ our bodies and deploy our sexuality. It is only the self that we are that tells us how we are to regard them and use them as we see fit.
Prominent American lesbian/feminist Camille Paglia captures the essence of this philosophy in her book, Vamps and Tramps, when she says: “Fate, not God, has given us flesh. We have absolute claim to our bodies and may do with them as we see fit.”
If our bodies are truly no more than the products of chance forces of one kind or another, then the question of what the body is here for escapes us and there is no way we can know who or what we are.
Are these current moral/ethical concerns with respect to the human body in relation to homosexuality, transgenderism, sex outside marriage, abortion, euthanasia, sex change etc., new and never before experienced? No, it has appeared over the centuries in different forms and has been responded to.
Old Testament view
These concerns were present during both the period of the Old Testament and at the time of the early church.
During the period of Israelite history when there were other civilisations with their respective philosophies of human life and of the human person, the Old Testament expressed its deep conviction of who the human individual is in these words: “For You created my inmost being, You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be”. (Psalm 139:13-16 NIV)
The psalmist who framed these words was clear that we are created beings — neither put together by impersonal forces nor self-made. This admission by the psalmist that each of us had been skilfully crafted within our mother’s womb lent support to what has come to be considered a high view of the human person and the human body. The human body is no mere appendage but the very work of God’s own hands. The human infant was the work of God’s creation and not the work of human creativity.
The Greek view
When we come to the period of the New Testament, we are made aware, for instance, of the prevailing Greek view of the human body. The Greeks viewed the human body with disdain calling it the “soma sema” (the prison of the soul). This issued in many of the immoral practices of the Greek and Roman civilisations. But this was not so in Hebraic thinking and in what was later to be Christian thought that viewed the human body to be no less the very creation of God.
Affirming the body as God’s good creation
This witness of the Bible to the specialness of the human body is its affirmation of the realm of the material. It was Archbishop William Temple, who during the period of the World War II, made a comment that “Christianity of all religions is the most materialistic”. What he meant was that Christianity, unlike a number of other religions and worldviews, unashamedly considered the material realm of the world to be worthy of attention because it too is the work of God’s creation.
At this time in our history when we are assailed by philosophies that run counter to what we find in Scripture, it is important for us to reflect and affirm afresh what we know to be true. Astute theologian and ethicist Oliver Donovan has highlighted a few pointers in one of his writings, Begotten or Made?, that can be of help to us.
He notes that as Christians, we confess our faith in the natural order as the good creation of God. We cherish nature, even as we defer to its immanent laws, and as we plan our activities in cooperation with them.
Key points in addressing issue
So back to the question raised at the beginning of this piece — can human beings choose to disregard the nature of their bodies and treat it any way they wish to, based on their feelings or thinking about our bodies?With respect to this issue, we may then say the following to help us in our thinking and behaviour.
Firstly, remember we are embodied beings. The coming of God in flesh — the Incarnation — re-affirms the goodness of our bodily selves, which is God’s gift to us. We cannot do as we wish as, in short, we do not own our bodies. God does! We are for the length of our physical lives embodied beings and the only time we do not have a body is from the time of our physical death to the point of Christ’s return for us and …then we will be raised to life and have new bodies. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10).
Secondly, we are gendered beings. In Genesis 1:27, it says that God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created him. What is made clear is that when God created man, he created them as embodied beings and as male and female. Gender is the fundamental reality of human existence. To be gendered — to be created male/female is God’s creative work.
Thirdly, we are sexual creatures. The Bible teaches the body to be sexual in nature, meaning it can be affected in numerous ways. We can and are moved by what happens in our relationships to and with others. The Bible is unashamed in its teaching that the human body has been created sexual. ”For this reason a man will leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh“ (Genesis 2: 23- 24). There is no shame to genital sexuality.
Fourthly, the body is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. In that mind-blowing passage in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul finally says: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.” (v 19)
We may in our encounters with others meet those who do not share our faith and our worldviews This may, at times, include believers too, who have succumbed to prevailing worldviews regarding sexuality, gender sexual relations and whatever else. We will have the opportunity to help them see the goodness of God’s creation in these contested areas.
Joseph John worked in the Fellowship of Evangelical Students as a staff worker before assuming leadership of FES from about 1989 to 1995. He then re-joined Counselling and Care Centre where he had previously served till 2021 and then set up a private counselling service. Over the last 20 years while serving as a counsellor, he has taught at the School of Counselling, Singapore Bible College. He worships at Bethesda Serangoon Church