The body and homosexuality, part 2

In the last post, I said that the physical resurrection really matters to Christians, and that treating it as a metaphor just won’t fly. That’s because the body, for Christians, isn’t just a tool exterior to ourselves that we use for a few years while we learn spiritual truths.Anatomy of a Male Nude, by Leonardo da VinciIt’s a part of our identity. The body and the spirit together make a human being.

This can all seem rather abstract and irrelevant, so I thought it’d be helpful to discuss how it matters in the context of moral behavior. I am taking the example of homosexuality (one of many examples I could have chosen) because this is a point on which, superficially, the Baha’i Faith and the Catholic Church seem to agree. But looking under the surface, we see that our two religions have very different rationales explaining our teaching.

The Bride of Christ

In Christianity, we believe that the Church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus Christ established the Church as the way in which his presence and his teachings would continue on the earth. This is important for Baha’is to understand about Christian teaching. For Catholics (and for most Christians in general) we’re not just floating around with no guidance except for the text of the Bible, whose meaning no one can agree on. We have the Church – the bride of Christ, the mystical Body of Christ, the community of believers, Christ’s instrument for the salvation of all. Baha’is believe that God made a covenant with mankind, that he would never abandon them. Christians believe this too – and we believe God fulfilled his promise when Christ instituted the Church.

I’d like to focus on one definition of the Church I mentioned above – the Bride of Christ. We see this imagery a lot in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. For example in Hosea 2:19-20, God tells Israel

I will betroth you to me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to me
In righteousness and justice,
In lovingkindness and mercy;
I will betroth you to me in faithfulness,
And you shall know the Lord.

Woman’s Head, by Leonardo da VinciOther passages can be found in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Psalms. The entire Song of Songs (also called the Song of Solomon) is a love song that has always been understood in the Jewish and Christian traditions to express the love between God and his people.

This theme continues in the New Testament. Jesus in several places in the Gospels refers to himself as the Bridegroom, and the imagery is repeated in Paul’s letters and in the book of Revelation. I’d like to bring attention to one of these passages, Ephesians 5:22-33. Here is part of the passage:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought husbands to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.

This association of the husband-wife relationship with the God-people relationship that we see throughout the Bible is very important in Catholic teaching, and has very deep ramifications.

First, it should be noted that marriage is not simply a contractual relationship, as it is regarded in secular society (and in Islam, for that matter). Marriage for Christians (particularly those in the Orthodox/Catholic tradition, which represents the majority of the world’s Christians) is a sacramental relationship. By sacramental we mean two things: it represents God’s nature, and it accomplishes God’s work. God, as we all know, is love. The marriage relationship is designed as a relationship of love, and thus manifests God’s chief attribute.

This statement, “God is love,” not unlike many statements in the Bible, has become a cliche in our culture and unfortunately it has lost most of its umph. So let me dwell on it for a moment. What does it mean to love? It means, in its highest sense, to desire the good of the loved one above all else. One who loves perfectly has no regard for himself, but will sacrifice all that he has and is for the loved one.

The primordial relationship

This brings me to the Trinity, a matter for which the Baha’i Central Figures have nothing but utter contempt. This is unfortunate, because I think their contempt blinds Baha’is from making an effort to understand it, and understand why Christians believe in it and what it means to them. In fact, part of why the Trinity matters to Christians is what it means for sex and marriage.

There are three persons in the Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in the sense that they are all God, but they are distinct in terms of their relationship with each other. It is the relationships among the three that I want to focus on.

Christ Carrying the Cross, by Leonardo da VinciThe Father loves the Son. He loves him perfectly and completely, pouring out all that he is for the Son. The Son reciprocates that love, completely and utterly. He also pours out in love and self-sacrifice all that he is for the Father. The Father and the Son are eternal of course, but their eternity is not static. It involves an eternal self-giving and self-sacrifice for the other. The love that the Father and Son share for each other is so complete and profound that it results in the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can be understood to be, in himself, the love the Father and the Son share for each other.

This is a relationship that exists within God, and so has no beginning or end. This is a defining characteristic of who God is. He is not a static unity. He is a relationship of persons, who love each other so utterly that their identity cannot be separated. When we speak of the human being as created in God’s image, this is part of what we mean. We humans are social animals and desire community and love because we are the image of God, who is within himself interpersonal.

We image God in a special way in marriage, because it is within marriage that two people make a life-long commitment to each other. In a marriage, you give all of yourself to and for your spouse. You give your wealth and your time, you sacrifice bad habits, you compromise on your personal desires, because you value your spouse’s well-being above your own. If the husband sacrifices all of himself for his wife, and the wife sacrifices all of herself for her husband, then they image God. The most personal and intimate way in which the husband and wife give themselves to each other is through sex.

The reason sex is so intimate and personal is that it involves our bodies. If you give someone money, for example, you’re giving them something outside of yourself. Since Christians regard the body as a part of the person herself, and not something distinct from herself, we regard the things we do with our bodies as being of special significance, because our bodies are us. If you give your body to someone, you are literally giving yourself to that person.

Sex and creation

Studies of Embryos, by Leonardo da VinciNotice that it is in this union of bodies, i.e. union of selves, where new life begins. It is no coincidence that sex and reproduction are connected. You don’t have to believe in God to see the connection; it’s obvious just by looking at the natural world. We Christians happen to believe in God, and we believe God made the connection between sex and reproduction for a reason – because it is an image of God’s nature.

God could create human beings however he wanted. He could make them grow on trees, or sprout out of the ground like dandelions. He could certainly do all the creating by himself. But he doesn’t. He chooses to take us as his partners in the act of creation. He invites two of his children to join him in creating a new person. This is a profound gift, and also a profound responsibility. And he delegates this power to us through the sex act. He designed sex as the way we participate in God’s creative power.

One of the worst lies ever told about Catholics was that we believe sex is dirty. We don’t believe that. God forbid! In fact, we believe the opposite. Sex is holy. Sex is a sacred act, and to perform it with impunity is to commit sacrilege.

There are many ways in which you can show love for someone else. The sex act is different because that is how new persons are created. That is why homosexual sex is not allowed in Catholicism – because it is a joining of bodies (joining of selves) without creation.

I mentioned above that we are created in God’s image. That includes our gender. Our femaleness or maleness is in God’s image. Genesis 1:27-28 says,

So God created man in his own image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…”

We are the image of God all the time, but we are the image of God in a special way in the marital embrace, because it is there that we are the image of God as Creator. Our bodies are therefore just as much the image of God as our spirits are.

So for Christians, the body is an intrinsic part of the human being. To bring us back to the Resurrection, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead in the body is an essential part of our faith. The Resurrection is how we are brought into eternal life. God created us as a spirit-body duality, and it is through this duality – both our spirits and our bodies – that we image God. And it is in the entirety of our being as humans – both our spirits and our bodies – that we will enjoy eternal life.

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3 Responses

  1. Jonah,

    This is a very lovely and clear pair of posts. I’m not Catholic and there are important pieces that I disagree with, but I can also respect the whole cloth here. The difference between the place of the body in the Baha’i Faith and in Christianity is really important to me, and played a big part in my exit from the Baha’i Faith. I hope to write about it sometime on my blog. Thanks for beating me to it. I think this difference is critical to understanding why the differences between the Baha’i and Christian versions of the Christian story really matter to Christians but can sometimes be hard to get Baha’is to even see or to see that they are important.

    Similar matters have been batted about on my blog lately. I don’t know if you have read my most recent post and particularly the comments http://bahaitheway.blogspot.com/2008/04/mind-of-big-lesson-plan-maker.html , but if you have a post in your archives which might form a relevant reply to Susan’s comments I’d be grateful if you would post a link as a comment. Somehow I think your kind of calm clarity would be appropriate. And it’s more your beat than mine.

    best,
    Priscilla

  2. I somehow want to say something about the homosexual part of this post, because that is the biggest part that I disagree with. I think that sexual union creates more than new persons. And because of that more, heterosexual couples who do not create children and homosexual couples can still live sacramental unions. I can understand why that might seem like a tear in the fabric, but the real tear in the fabric, I think, is all the people who are left out. Even a heterosexual person like me who is married but cannot have children due to illness would seem to be left out. My mairrage would, it seems, not be fully sacramental. And an exception wouldn’t satisfy. Nor would being included while others remain out. It’s thinking of the real people that makes the difference to me.

    my best to you,
    Priscilla

  3. Hi Priscilla,

    Thank you for your kind words. Regarding the thread on your blog, I don’t think there’s anything I could say to add to the discussion. I wholeheartedly agree with what you said about the Christian perspective. Some of the comments from folks debating you reminded me of what I wrote in Resurrection Pie, for what it’s worth.

    I think that sexual union creates more than new persons. And because of that more, heterosexual couples who do not create children and homosexual couples can still live sacramental unions.

    I agree that there’s more to sex than conceiving a child, but the possibility of conceiving is an intrinsic part of what sex is.

    I’m not sure what you mean by a sacramental union. What I meant in this context was that it images God as Creator. That doesn’t mean that we take the role of God and decide when a new person is created. That’s still God’s prerogative. But the sex act is his way of including us in his creative role.

    I don’t know your situation, but even a healthy, fertile couple is infertile during part of every cycle. That doesn’t mean that their marital act is sacramental only when they’re fertile. What makes the marital act a special acting out of the sacrament of marriage is that they are open to cooperating with God, if he should choose to create a new person at that time. It is the disposition of the couple that matters, not whether the couple is fertile.

    You don’t need to have sex with someone to show that you love them. What makes sex unique is that it is biologically designed to create new people.

    In the past few decades we have grown accustomed to thinking of sex and childbearing as unrelated. But biologically speaking they are inseparable. Sex joins the genetic material of two organisms to conceive a third. The human race continues from one generation to the next through sex. The line that connects us to all past generations of mankind runs through the sexual embrace.

    If we then take the sexual act, and perform it in a way that precludes the possibility of conception, such as a man with another man, then we are denying the purpose for which sex exists.

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