Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Human Body and Religion

I am always keenly interested in our understanding, appreciation, and uses of our human bodies.  Somatics and mind-body arts practices are one focus of my research and writing.  My own opinions about a philosophy of living one's life, and enjoying the use of our bodies are, generally, non-religious, Epicurean, skeptical, and philosophical.  

Religious views of the body-mind are a serious impediment to scientific and pragmatic progress. 


"Two thousand years of Christian discourse—anatomy, medicine, physiology, or course, but also philosophy, theology, and aesthetics—have fashioned the body we inhabit.  And along with that discourse we have inherited Platonic-Christian models that mediate our perception of the body, the symbolic value of the body's organs, and their hierarchically ordered functions.  We accept the nobility of heart and mind, the triviality of viscera and sex (the neurosurgeon versus the proctologist).  We accept the spiritualization and dematerialization of the soul, the interaction of sin-prone matter and of luminous mind, the ontological connotation of these two artificially opposed entities, the disturbing forces of a morally reprehensible libidinal humanity ... All have contributed to Christianity's sculpting of the flesh.

Our image of ourselves, the scrutiny of the doctor or the radiologist, the whole philosophy of sickness and health—none of this could exist in the absence of the above mentioned discourse.  Nor could our conception of suffering, the role we allot to pain and therefore our relationship with pharmacology, substances, and drugs.  Nor could our conception of suffering, the role we allot to pain and therefore our relationship with pharmacology, substances, and drugs.  Nor could the special language of practitioner to patient, the relationship of self to self, reconciliation of one's image of oneself with a ideal of the physiological, anatomical, and psychological self.  So that surgery and pharmacology, homeopathic medicine and palliative treatments, gynecology and thanatology, emergency medicine and oncology, psychiatry and clinical work all obey Judeo-Christian law without any particularly clear understanding of the symptoms of this ontological contamination.

The current hypersensivity on the subject of bioethics proceeds from this invisible influence.  Secular political decisions on this major issue more or less correspond to the positions formulated by the church.  This should be no surprise, for the ethos of bioethics remains fundamentally Judeo-Christian.  Apart from legislation on abortion and artificial contraception, apart fro these two forward steps toward a post-Christian body—what I have elsewhere called a Faustian body—Western medicine sticks very closely to the church's injunctions.

The Health Professionals' Charter elaborated by the Vatican condemns sex-change operations, experiments on the embryo, in vitro fertilization and transfer, surrogate motherhood, medical assistance with reproduction, but also therapeutic cloning, analgesic cocktails that suspend consciousness as life comes to an end, therapeutic use of cannabis, and euthanasia.  On the other hand, the charter praises palliative care and insists on the salutary role of pain.  These are all positions often echoed by ethical committees calling themselves secular and believing themselves independent of religious authority." 

-  Michel Onfray.  Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Translated from the French by Jeremy Leggatt.  New York Arcade Publishing, 2005, 2011.  ISBN: 10161145008X.  Annotated bibliography, 246 pages.  VSCL.  A lucid, strong, well reasoned, insightful, and stylish presentation.  Excellent explication of the French and European writing on atheism, anti-clericalism, irreligion, deconstruction of religions, and anti-fascism.  His detailed knowledge of religious customs and ideas is very impressive.  I agree with Professor Onfray's assessment about the negative influences of the three monotheistic religions surveyed; as I do with the dynamic and robust critiques of religion by Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris. The above quote is from p. 47 or Professor Onfray's book.  



When my mother, June, was dying of colorectal cancer, she spent her final days comfortably in a hospice.  When she died my superstitious Catholic father said many times that the hospice killed her, that the hospice practiced euthanasia, that the hospice was sinful and evil.  No matter how much I explained hospice care to him, he would not listen.  It is no wonder my mother did not want to see my father at the end.  I concluded that that he would rather have seen her suffer more, believing that suffering was good for the soul.  He was often a mean and rigid macho man, lacking loving-kindness and compassion. 

When I was 12 years of age, I was told by my priest confessor that masturbation was a mortal sin, evil, unnatural, and inspired by the devil; and, that I would go directly to hell for eternal horrific punishment if I continued to masturbate.  I knew that that masturbation was pleasant, harmless, disease free, legal, and entirely private.  I could not understand how if I should murder somebody I would go to hell, and if I masturbated I would go to hell.  These church rules and penalties regarding masturbation seemed to me arbitrary and absurd.

The longstanding mistreatment of women by religious authorities and religious rules is also completely unsatisfactory to me.  Dr. Ben Carson, for example, a recent secular Republican political candidate, believes our laws should be changed so that any woman who is impregnated by a rapist or through incest should not be allowed to have an abortion even if she chooses to do so.  Reflect also on how women are oppressed and mistreated under the domination by Islamic men.  

I was not surprised to read that the Catholic Church, Islam, and Mormons still all object to vasectomies.  Religions supported and encouraged slavery for centuries.  Religions significantly slowed the progress in anatomy for many centuries by refusing to allow post-mortem autopsies.  Large families are encouraged by religions (more paying believers in the long run I suppose) despite the grueling poverty of overpopulation.  Examples of the pernicious effect of religion on medicine, psychology and public health can, unfortunately, be multiplied with ease.  

The fact that people hold antiquated and false views about bodily functions is not so troublesome as the fact that their religious leaders want to force everybody to accept, obey and follow their nonsensical opinions.  These religions do not favor freedom of thought and action, scientific investigation, and freedom of expression.  Most sensible and modern 'social church goers' simply quietly ignore and disregard most of these outmoded ideas about bodily functions and behaviors pandered by their priests and preachers, if they can do so without being harmed by the local religious police enforcers.  


I have never gone to any church since I was 16, after I left Catholic high school.  What a wise move on my part to abandon the silly rules, anti-scientific opinions, fables, myths, superstitions, and authoritarianism of organized religions.  A good life is much easier to live and enjoy, without the burdens of religious twaddle.  


"The source of man's unhappiness is his ignorance of Nature. The pertinacity with which he clings to blind opinions imbibed in his infancy, which interweave themselves with his existence, the consequent prejudice that warps his mind, that prevents its expansion, that renders him the slave of fiction, appears to doom him to continual error."
-  Baron d'Holbach, The System of Nature


 

"The whole thing is so patently infantile, so foreign to reality, that to anyone with a friendly attitude to humanity it is painful to think that the great majority of mortals will never be able to rise above this view of life. It is still more humiliating to discover how a large number of people living today, who cannot but see that this religion is not tenable, nevertheless try to defend it piece by piece in a series of pitiful rearguard actions."
-  Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930 


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