Body Ownership

Life forever on this planet raises many theological, demographic, social and philosophical issues. On this blog, I attempt to speak to many of them and to resource other expert opinions. But central to this discussion is one I have not yet addressed- whose are you and how will that ownership be managed?

It isn’t so simple as it may first appear. All of us belong to a social network that may depend upon our contributions. First, there is family. There is also extended family, the neighborhood in which we participate, our business, our financial obligations and beyond. These complexities come to light when someone dies. There are forms to fill out with the government, titles and deeds, family and friends to call, bills, managing possession of the corpse, living arrangements that may change due to a loss of income, insurances, etc.

Some of these people contacted will file paperwork. Others will sit down and stare blankly at the suddenness of the loss. Some will mechanically open the cadaver and examine it for reasons of public health or liability. Who does our body belong to? There seem to be many claims on it…especially when we die.

But on this blog, the assumption is life, not death. So, who owns our body while we live? Contrary to our daily list of responsibilities, the strong implication is that your body is not your own. Yes, you must feed, clothe and house it and not be a burden on others, but does that make it your own?

Back in my childhood, I was taught St. Paul’s view: the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I took this to mean that I couldn’t have any fun without feeling guilty. Yes, there were a few approved physical activities, but there was always the thought of a holy judge looking over my shoulder in case I had too much fun or got too self-absorbed. Not that the judge would do anything to correct me immediately, but that the judgment would be hanging over my head, accumulating until I died. I learned that the most pleasing thing for the Holy Spirit was for me to work. Really hard.

Who does your and my body belong to? On second thought, perhaps it is the Holy Spirit, but a pleasure-loving, generous and helpful one. Honestly, I am more motivated to take good care of my body as a gift from God or Nature. Certainly, my body is a marvel. I did not create it on my own, and yet it is both a privilege and pleasure to keep it healthy, clean and able. If I treat it as my own creation, I can slack off a bit and who is to say I can’t do that? I can smoke a few cigarettes, sit around for hours playing video games and ignore signs of ill health because it is only me that must pay the consequences.

Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self Realization Fellowship, also took this view. “The body is God’s temple.” He taught his followers to take care of their body and also stay in a positive mental state. It’s not that a positive mental state requires a healthy body, but mental states tend to reflect the body and vice versa. Further, care for the body as God’s temple seems to indicate a fuller and more spiritual understanding of whose we are and how best to live: like residing in a beautiful, complex temple, gifted by a loving God.

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