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Body Talk

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My last post before I started this new blog was about the Christian view of the body, particularly that pernicious bent given to the body’s natural desires by the flesh. My purpose was to lay the foundation for a discussion of the way we now tend to separate the mind from the body. We have come to think of ourselves in mechanistic terms. Our brains are hardware; our minds are software. In principle, at least, if not in fact, our minds could run on different hardware, perhaps even on better, faster hardware. We could achieve a kind of psychic immortality by porting our minds to machines we would be better able to upgrade and maintain.

This kind of thinking now permeates our culture and causes us to regard our bodies as houses or shells in which the real person for a time resides. When the body dies, the person dies as well because there is no longer hardware available to support the software. And there is no backup tucked away in a closet somewhere to be taken out and loaded on new hardware. Dead persons are like lost software and go into the bit-bucket of time. There’s no getting them back, so let’s move on.

Some no doubt think that this mindbody split was inherent in Christianity. To a certain extent they are right. No less authority than Jesus himself told the dying thief he would see him in paradise, and Paul told the Corinthians that to be away from the body was to be with the Lord. But Paul makes it clear that while we may long to be with the Lord, it is not as bodiless spirits but as people having a heavenly body, not subject to the laws of sin and death as are our present bodies. So while Christians see the mind (or spirit or soulI intend the intangible part of a person without worrying at this point about subtleties) as distinct from the body, they also see mind and body inseparably joined as the design of God. If we succeed in porting the mind to a man-made contraption, the result will no longer be a human being and may be an abomination to God.

Christians also believe that the mind lives on after death apart from the body. Exactly what kind of life it is we do not know. Nor do we know much about the experiences or capabilities of disembodied souls. Scripture is nearly silent on the subject. We can infer that they experience pleasure and pain, are able to communicate (at least with God), and still have desires. But it is not clear that they are able to have any impact on the physical world. They also do not appear to have the power to communicate with the living, despite claims to the contrary made by spiritualists.

Many scriptures condemn the flesh, and some have therefore concluded that the body (or the material world) is evil. Christian orthodoxy, however, maintains that the body is good. Otherwise, there would be no point to the resurrection.

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Presumed Intelligence

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Suppose you are walking along a beach and you come across these lines scrawled in the sand:

Our vegetable love would grow
Vaster than empires and more slow

What would you think?

  1. That you had received a message from God
  2. That some human had been musing on Andrew Marvell’s poetry
  3. That some random process of wind and sea and sand crabs had accidentally produced marks resembling words

Certainly, it is possible to believe any of these. Yet I think most people would assume that the lines had been written by some human agent.

Now suppose you investigated and found that no one had visited that stretch of beach for days. Suppose you were able to show beyond doubt that the lines could not have been written by a human being. Then what would you believe? If the lines had to have been written by a non-human agent, which is more likely: God or nature?

I confess I don’t know. As a theist, I’m not even sure that a distinction between the two is significant. (In other words, if I were able to witness the words being formed by wind and sea and sand crabs, I don’t think I would find it any less supernatural.) I think I would cling to the notion that a human agent must be involved. After all, why would God quote Marvell?

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