Fear of the body stems from fear of death

I’ve been having some really good conversations lately with a friend of mine who grew up a devout Catholic and is now a functional atheist. He brought up a topic today that I haven’t thought about in a while – how the fear of the realities of the human body stem from a fear of death. I’ve blogged on the topic of “getting out of life alive” before, and this is an extension of it. I first started thinking about how negative reactions toward the profane stem from a fear of death when I read an essay posted on Experimental Theology a few years ago:

[…] many profanities appear to be associated with the psychology of disgust and contamination. Urine, feces, blood, and other bodily effluvia are routinely referenced in obscene speech as well as being reliable disgust elicitors. But the profanity/disgust link is incomplete as it fails to capture facets of religious cursing (e.g., damn, hell), references to sexual intercourse (e.g., the f-word), or references to body parts (e.g., breasts, genitalia).

[…] One facet of [Terror Management Theory] research has been to examine how various facets of everyday existence can become existentially problematic, particularly when functioning as death reminders. We are unsettled upon being reminded of our death and, thus, tend to repress or avoid aspects of life that make death salient. Much of this research has focused on how the body functions as a mortality reminder. The vulnerability of our bodies highlights the existential predicament that we will one day die and decay. Further, the gritty physicality of the body (e.g., blood, sweat, odors, waste) highlights our animal nature which functions as an existential affront to our aspirations of being transcendent spiritual creatures. Based upon these insights, an impressive body of empirical work has strongly linked body ambivalence to death concerns. Much of this research is summarized by Goldenberg, Pyszcynski, Greenberg, & Solomon (2000) who conclude: “[T]he body is a problem because it makes evident our similarity to other animals; this similarity is a threat because it reminds us that we are eventually going to die.”

We are so scared of the human body – farts, female body hair, menstrual blood, semen, pooping, etc, etc, etc. These things are not to be talked about in a respectable setting, they are, to quote George Carlin, “bad, dirty, filthy, foul, vile, vulgar, coarse, in poor taste, unseemly, street talk, gutter talk, locker room language, barracks talk, bawdy, naughty, saucy, raunchy, rude, crude, lewd, lascivious, indecent, profane, obscene…” Of course, they are also natural parts of human anatomy and physiology. These things remind us that we have mortal human bodies, and that reminds us of death.

Anyways, if you have the time, go and read the whole essay, it’s quite fascinating.

The narrow spectrum of (approved) moral thought in the Catholic Church

The recent comments made by Pope Francis on gay marriage and contraception have made their way around the news circuit:

“The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life,” Francis said.

[…] The pope also issued a strong defense of Pope Paul VI’s controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which upheld the Church’s traditional ban on birth control.

“He had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth,” Francis said.

[…]

The comments also came less than a week after a speech to diplomats at the Vatican in which Francis criticized “legislation which benefits various forms of cohabitation rather than adequately supporting the family for the welfare of society as a whole,” saying that such legislation had contributed to a widespread sense of the family as “disposable.”

On contraception and Paul VI, Francis said in a November 2014 interview with an Italian newspaper that his predecessor’s “genius was prophetic.”

“He had the courage to stand against the majority, to defend moral discipline, to exercise a ‘brake’ on the culture, to oppose [both] present and future neo-Malthusianism,” he said.

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Some thoughts on “The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith”

I came across a post on Patheos from Neil Carter titled, “The High Cost of Leaving Your Faith” that essentially discusses why the journey from faith is often long for those of us who lose belief. There are many similar themes to the ones I addressed in my previous post, “Leaving religion is harder than joining it.” I want to highlight a few parts that spoke to me:

If you read the brutally honest things I say you may find yourself asking “Why on earth did you cling to your faith so long after this?  How could you?  With no satisfying answers forthcoming?” The simple truth is that the cost of leaving my faith was too high for me to allow myself to go down that mental path. […]When your entire life is built around a religion, leaving it means leaving your life and starting over again from scratch.

I cannot overstate how powerful a deterrent this is to people who already have seen enough to know better than to remain in their faith.  They have enough information to critically analyze the beliefs they were taught, but they push the questions down, holding them under like trying to hold a beach ball under water.  It can take a lot out of you, but it must be done or else you could lose everything—your friends, your family, your job, your marriage, your kids…you name it.  There is no end to what people may take away from you to pressure you back into submission to their faith.  See, from their perspective, people’s eternal destinies are at stake here.  No punishment (excuse me, “discipline”) short of hellfire is too drastic to coerce you back into faith in (their) God.  It’s only because they love you that they will take everything from you in order to save your soul.  “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” the Good Book says.

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Comedy and religion

One thing that has surprised me in my journey away from religion is how much of a role comedy played given how much I love well-reasoned arguments. I used to think of comedy as the opposite of that – hyperbolic and sarcastic to get a cheap laugh from the masses. I can now appreciate comedy, which comes in a number of forms, because it can use language to point out truths by evoking emotion. How comedy played a role in my loss of faith is this: it pointed out the absurdity of Christianity. I think a reason there are so few conservative and Christian comedians is because they buy into absurdity and are blind to it. That’s not to say that there isn’t absurdity outside of conservatism and Christianity, but in America that’s where the bulk of it lies. With comedy there is nothing that is off limits, and the limits placed by Christianity make it hard for the genius of comedy to be realized in that context.

Here are some routines that brilliantly point out the absurdity of Christianity as we know it(warning: adult language):
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