Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Body in different belief systems

Nietzsche claimed that Platonism was disguised Christianity, a comparison that doesn't hold up. However, Platonism similarly sees the body as a distraction that hinders contemplation of the pure forms that the soul alone can grasp. The concept of Eros is often associated with Plato however, and is a sort of polymorphous bodily desire. Freud claimed that the Id was identical to eros, which is accurate. Both are synonymous for physical desires more generally, including but not limited to sexual desires.

Differs from Christianity in emphasizing orthopraxy, or 'right behavior', over orthodoxy, or 'right belief'. This puts it more in line with Judaism and explains the similar dietary restrictions and cleansing rituals in both religions. A Muslim friend tells me that kosher meals can be replaced for halal meals in a pinch. Physical cleanliness is also an important part of Islamic orthopraxy. While there is a body/soul split as in other religions, the Muslim must live correctly in the world, giving Islamic texts an emphasis on real-world life that is often described as more 'natural' than other religions. The body is not seen as a source of shame in Islam. However, the status of women is assumed to be subordinate in most Islamic literature.

The reason it differs from Judaism and Islam is largely because of Paul's emphasis on salvation through faith in Galatians. While the body is seen as a temple, the landlord of that temple is God. This means that Christians must not defile their bodies, but ultimately, the state of their soul is based in belief. What it shares with Platonism is the idea that the believer is of the world, but not in the world. That is to say that the devout Christian will focus on the hereafter and the state of their soul with little concern for bodily comfort. The extremes of this idea are visible in Christian martyrology and later flagellants. However, because the Christian's salvation is ultimately a matter between themself and God, behavior is less important than belief.

The body is seen as fragile and fleeting. In much Buddhist literature, it is criticized and attachments to the body are antithetical to all Buddhist thought. For instance, the monkish practice of asubha bhavana requires young monks to contemplate corpses in order to give up attachment to the physical, similar to the use of memento mori images in Christian art. For a similar reason, much Buddhist literature encourages disgust at women, who might otherwise tempt monks to physical pleasure. One charming comparison holds that a woman is like a jar of vomit and razor blades with honey smeared at the opening.


The Pagan Temple said...

That Bhuddhist one about women reminds me of a story written by A C Bhativadante Swami Praphuphada, the founder of The International Society For Khrishna Conscousness, for the ISHKCON magazine. It was called "Liquid Beauty". In a way it seems I might have told you that story before so I won't go into it here, but it is similar.

Rufus said...

I don't remember it. I think Krishna is based on hinduism, right? I've been trying to read the Upanishads, but they're definitely not easy. I'll see if you posted the story on your blog.

The Pagan Temple said...

Khrishna Conscousness is a sect of Vishnaivism, which is one branch of Hinduism. As practiced today, it is unusual for a Hindu sect in that it take a fundamentalist, literalist view of the Bhagavad Gita, their major sacred text.

No, I hadn't posted it on my blog, sorry I caused you to waste yout time looking for it. I will post it though, as it is a good story.