Our Bodies = Ourselves

Over at Patheos, the “Bad Catholic” blogger has a fascinating analysis of our culture under the headline of “Our Culture Sucks.” Though I think that’s going too far, I do agree, as the writer argues, that the Sexual Revolution has made us more puritanical about sex, and not less:

. . . if our culture had followed Whitman’s over-exuberance instead of the cold, calculated goose-step of the Sexual Revolution, perhaps we’d be happy. Sinful — without a doubt — but not without hope.

Alack and alas and all that, as it turns out, we ignored the poets and chose to follow a sexy mob of eugenicists, pharmaceuticals corporations, wannabe feminists and moral relativists into the Inferno. And what has been the tangible result? This: We live in an age in which the body is more feared than ever. The Puritans would be shocked by our Puritanism, were they allowed a glimpse.

Think about it. We are supposed to feel more comfortable with exposing skin; loving ourselves, displaying our bodies and otherwise being sexually free, yet cutting is more of a problem than it has ever been, bulimia and anorexia remain at their modern highs, and the rate of cosmetic plastic surgery continues to shoot upwards. The Old Puritans fought the body by denying it what it yearned for. The New Puritans hurt the body, reshape it, and abuse it in a vain attempt to satisfy the yearning.

The Catholic thinker and writer Peter Lawler made a parallel point over at First Things last November, writing that the free love revolution was “less [about] sexual liberation than safe sex, which is as unerotic as sex can be.” It’s true. What’s more unerotic than latex? Even Camille Paglia, a sixties radical who idolizes sexuality, has made a similar argument, though from her decadent, Pagan vantage point. She thinks that the anti-sex agenda of the feminists–which emasculates men, denies the body, and anesthetizes sex–was puritanical in the repressed WASPish vein. Taking the comparison a step further, she thinks the feminists’s screeching crusades against date-rape and sexual assault are just modern versions of the Salem witch-hunts.

While Lawler and the writer at Patheos want to pull the reigns in on the sexual revolution, Paglia wants to let them loose by bringing  ”sophisticated European sexual values to puritan America.”

The conservative writer Mary Eberstadt couldn’t disagree more with Paglia’s diagnosis of our sex-obsessed culture. In her provocative 2009 essay “Is Sex the New Food?”, she argues that we’re living in an indulgent bodily age, defined by fad diets and sexual license. Today, we are puritanical when it comes to food, but pagans when it comes to sex.  If you haven’t read her essay, you really should:

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.

So what does it finally mean to have a civilization puritanical about food, and licentious about sex?

The answer, for the Bad Catholic, is that “We live in an age in which the body is more feared than ever.” Is the problem that the body is more feared than ever, or is it that we have put the entire stock of our identities into our bodies? The Bad Catholic notes, “The body, as ‘confirmed’ by Descartes, is but [a] cage for the soul, an agressor to be staved off, an opponent to be conquered.” This is a key, key point.

Descartes divided our identities—the whole of our being—into two elements: body and mind. With the rise of scientific materialism and empiricism, the idea that there could be a part of our selves that transcends the body—a part of our selves that couldn’t be measured, counted, seen, or touched—fell out of favor with the cultural elites and, soon, with the culture as a whole. The rise of neuroscience in biology, epistemology in philosophy, and artificial intelligence in computer science have all been attempts to reduce the mysterious mind to the tactile brain and, in the process, bury the soul. The result is that today, your identity is derived from your body.

Our bodies=ourselves. Our value, as humans, comes from our bodily experiences (this is the whole point of The Vagina Monologues); our psychological and emotional problems have bodily, material solutions (this accounts for the rise of antidepressants and “cutting”); when life feels out of control, some people take comfort in exerting excessive control over their bodies and what they eat or don’t eat (anorexia, bulimia, and excessive exercising); and we even practice the virtues through the vehicle of our bodies (moderation and the rise of fad diets).

Eve Ensler, the creator of The Vagina Monologues, has said, “I live in my body a lot, and I don’t live in my head very much anymore.” The same can be said of our culture at large. Here, the elegiac words and powerful wisdom of Shakespeare are as fresh as ever:

MACBETH

. . . Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?

DOCTOR

Therein the patient

Must minister to himself.

In the space of several lines, Shakespeare manages to undo this fantasy that human beings, like cars, are the sum of their physical parts, an illusion that has fastened itself onto our popular culture with dangerous consequences.

  1. katievs

    Great topic, Emily!

    On this point, for those who want to explore it in some philosophical depth, my former professor, the great and good John F. Crosby, has written two especially pertinent short essays on John Paul II’s meditations on embodiment, which my husband and I have re-published at our site.  The former Pope, Crosby writes,

    …seems to have sensed, prophetically, that the moral confusion of our time derives in good part from the estrangement of persons from their bodies.

    Here they are.

    Embodiment

    Embodiment and morality

    It’s very ironic, isn’t it, that our culture’s body obsession seems to both cause and mask a profound antipathy for our bodies? 

  2. Jeff

    From Dawn to Decadence gives a little perspective. There have been “sexual revolutions” before the 1960s. Contraception, even. The world didn’t end. It’s inherently unsustainable.

    What’s new is a gigantic feminist and socialist death ray aimed at the traditional family and emanating from universities and government institutions. They can sustain the damage well past what any people would normally tolerate.

    It’s also important to note that most all of the damage has been done in the name of empowering women and enfeebling men. On this point, Paglia is right.

  3. iWc
    Why do women cheapen themselves, and train their little girls to do the same? Why is there no shame in it? Clothes function to allow the wearer to “dress” the way the soul wishes to see itself. Clothes serve this function. A suit makes someone act serious, while sports clothing helps frame the mind for play. That is useful for utilitarian purposes – nobody doubts that uniforms exist for a purpose, and that they go some distance toward directing people toward filling a preset role. But there is more than this. We live in an age that is very interested in the visual. Between the much-maligned advertising campaigns promoting the way a woman is “supposed” to look, and a considerable amount of popular wisdom that people should learn to love their bodies, to accept them as they are, we end up with a society that thinks that the body is the same thing as the essence of the person! In other words, the body becomes of primary importance, and the soul loses value. <tbc>
  4. iWc
    Some of this is as old as mankind itself. After all, if a boy finds a girl attractive, she, especially if not yet scarred by experience, instinctively thinks the boy actually likes her. After all, women see themselves much more as a unity than do men: a woman’s dress and appearance is her conscious projection of how she sees herself, while a man has little difficulty separating his appearance from his actions. So if a man finds a girl attractive, then he must, the naïve girl thinks, be interested in the whole package. Sadly, this is a lesson that most girls and women learn the hard way. But the modern world has gone a step further. Because our society values appearance above all else, women have learned that their bodies are far more important than their souls. And when they think of themselves that way, the reality follows.
  5. iWc
    And so we have countless women who know that appearance is everything,&nbsp; that there is really no reason to cover or disguise a beautiful body because, after all, it is the body that matters. In order to think it matters to dress modestly, one must first value the things that are not hanging out there for everyone to see – kindness, a warm personality, intelligence, or anything else where the very attractive features are found between the ears. So when the “rest” of us encourage our daughters to dress modestly, it is not because we want her to be ashamed of her body, or because we do not want others to find her attractive. On the contrary! We do it because we want our daughters to project an image of themselves that includes elegance, an image that puts her soul on equal footing with her body. If she dresses that way, then it will help her to think of herself that way – and then the thoughts of others can follow accordingly.
  6. DocJay

    I’ve seen beautiful women reduced to tears over minor imperfections and men with abdomens the size of&nbsp;Morocco suck it in and feel satisfied. &nbsp;We all must minister to&nbsp;ourselves and find the balance.

  7. Duane Oyen

    I think that the culture has completely reversed the role of sex.&nbsp; We get bombarded with slatternly public conduct by singles, and the reaction is to induce asceticism into committed relationships in an Hegelian antithesis.

    God created man and woman.&nbsp; He gave them to each other for life, to have a very hot, steamy, one-on-one relationship.&nbsp; Marriage is supposed to be the sexiest thing in life, any where, and it is our responsibility to make it that way for our spouses.&nbsp;

    When have you ever seen marriage celebrated as sexy in the popular culture?&nbsp; All media overflows with young single people either getting it on or talking endlessly about it.&nbsp; Not one TV show or fillum I recall depicted married people who are together for 25 years, consciously desire each other, and act on it with great frequency (i.e., whenever either one is in the mood).&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;

    Instead, we get sniggering about marriage being boring.&nbsp;&nbsp; It is a culture problem&nbsp; when the only erotic depictions of long married people are in Cialis commercials, where the preposterous assumption is that the world is full of 45-50 year old couples whose only problem is that He suffers from ED.&nbsp;

  8. iWc
    Duane Oyen:&nbsp;

    &nbsp; Not one TV show or fillum I recall depicted married people who are together for 25 years, consciously desire each other, and act on it with great frequency

    Well, duh. That is because it would be totally unrealistic.

    &nbsp;

  9. Duane Oyen
    iWc

    Duane Oyen:&nbsp;

    &nbsp; Not one TV show or fillum I recall depicted married people who are together for 25 years, consciously desire each other, and act on it with great frequency

    Well, duh. That is because it would be totally unrealistic.

    &nbsp; · 1 hour ago

    The way we humans fail or because it is impossible?&nbsp; Positive role models are important.&nbsp; So I think I’ll go home to see my lovely wife……

  10. DocJay
    Duane Oyen

    iWc

    Duane Oyen:&nbsp;

    &nbsp; Not one TV show or fillum I recall depicted married people who are together for 25 years, consciously desire each other, and act on it with great frequency

    Well, duh. That is because it would be totally unrealistic.

    &nbsp; · 1 hour ago

    The way we humans fail or because it is impossible?&nbsp; Positive role models are important.&nbsp; So I think I’ll go home to see my lovely wife…… · 26 minutes ago

    I’m going to support Duane here. &nbsp;I am quite happy and I take inspiration from couples married 50-60 years that still have active romance in their lives. &nbsp;I would suggest that half the older couples I know maintain a thoughtful loving relationship with one another. &nbsp;Those types of women can easily be role models for our youth unlike the theoretically self empowered philandering whores that the media glorifies.

    I’m off to see my lovely wife now too.

  11. runnybun

    In Sex, lies and Amanda Knox, James Bowman brilliantly touches on this same topic in a different context.&nbsp;He cites Jennifer Lipman in the Daily Telegraph, writing&nbsp;that in the&nbsp;Facebook&nbsp;age, Amanda Knox’s fate could fall on anyone.&nbsp; He cites Ms Lipman as writing, “…the endless obsession with&nbsp; (Knox’s) looks, her sexual history and “scandalous” behaviour belongs to the era of Victorian prurience…”.&nbsp;&nbsp; Bowman says, “Victorian pruience, surely, was no match for the prurience of today”.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;He&nbsp;concludes among many other things,&nbsp;that a world where no none will be interested in&nbsp;sexual adventures, is a&nbsp;utopian dream.&nbsp; &nbsp;I submit that Mr. Bowman&nbsp;maybe&nbsp;onto the&nbsp; same fruit of the Sexual Revolution as&nbsp;”Bad Catholic”.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;

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