Russell and Duenes

“Their Body Runs Their Life”

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So says Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart,

For usual human beings in the usual circumstances, their body runs their life. Contrary to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25, life is, for them, not more than food, nor the body more than clothing. As a matter of simple fact, their time and energy is almost wholly, if not entirely, devoted to how their body looks, smells, and feels and to how it can be secured and used to meet ego needs such as admiration, sexual gratification, and power over others.

Aside from Dallas Willard, it seems to me that far too little attention is given to the role of the body in human life generally and in spiritual formation particularly. We’ve always had a bit of an uneasy relationship with our bodies, vascillating between a kind of rigorous suppression of all bodily pleasures or a preoccupation with experiencing every bit of physical delight possible. Clearly our age is in the throes of the latter, as Willard so forcefully points out. The Christian notion of “the mortification of the flesh,” as the 0lder Divines used to say, is to the 21st century person quaint at best and laughable at worst. Consider,

1) By some estimates, Americans spend at least $10,000,000,000 a year just on beauty products. That’s ten billion big ones. Not only is such money being spent on these products, but hours each day are being spent applying them. Such is our interest in our bodily appearance.

2) We now have 24-hour ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN 3, ESPN Classic, ESPN News, Fox Sports, Fox Sports 2, TNT, TBS, and non-cable sports programming. What is sports if not a total focus on what athletes can do with their bodies? Now I happen to enjoy most sports, but clearly we’re talking about a religious obsession here.

3) According to a CBS article, Americans spend $35,000,000,000 (billion with a “b” once again) on weight loss products. According to a Forbes piece, in 2004 Americans spent $46 billion on diet products and self-help books. Think we’re interested in how our bodies look?

4) Spending on clothing and footwear alone has to be close to or above $100 billion dollars yearly. And just think of what the fashion industry worldwide puts toward the design, production, and sales of clothes. It beggars the imagination.

5) Without even bothering to look up numbers, consider the importance we put on the availability of every kind of food imaginable.

6) Include in all of this the way American bodies are used to sell everything from shaving lotion to sports cars, the eating disorders that tragically affect so many, and the emphasis we put on “having experiences,” meaning bodily ones. Life seems to be about moving from one experience to another.

7) Interestingly, there is also a growing desire in come circles to try and transcend our bodies and, via technology, continue to live beyond bodily death in some state of disembodied mind. This is the “technosapien” future envisioned by the techno-utopians.

In such a context, one cannot wonder why a Christian focus on bodily denial arrives as a dead letter. But just what is the place of the body in our existence? The Christian gospel would not exist if Christ had not “become flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). My students and I will be exploring the biblical teaching on the body over the next several weeks. We’ll see what we turn up.


Written by Michael Duenes

November 18, 2010 at 9:12 pm

Posted in Duenes, Theology

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