Bad Theology Kills- Self Worth
Updated: May 14
Our bodies are evil.
That's what I used to think.
I grew up reading the first few chapters of Genesis and all of Galatians and when I did I came to the simple conclusion that my body (my "flesh) was weak and dirty and cursed.
I must deny my fleshy desires in preference for things of the spirit.
"I beat my body and make it my slave."*
"I am a sinner, condemned and unclean."**
"I walk by the spirit, so not to gratify the desires of my flesh."***
"At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness." ****
I came to understand two things:
1- My spirit was good.
2- My flesh was evil and I had to keep it in check.
Conclusion: I am originally sinful.
Here's the problem: If you take this "flesh is dirty and evil", but the "spirit is good" concept to the end of the road it ends in masochism as a form of worship, and low self-worth/self-hatred that can lead to depression, eating disorders, etc. (Find links to this study and an abstract below.)
Images of priests whipping their own backs come to mind. Now, we don't see that extreme masochism very often but when I look around I do see...
Fear of pleasure
Denial of physical needs
Low self worth
Obese preachers calling us to prayer nights.
The abundant fruits of this unholy theological tree.
As with all of these "Bad Theology Kills" posts all I'm doing is bearing witness to some bad fruit that's been allowed to grow and questioning the trees it came from. If the belief that our bodies are defiled and bad is found to be directly linked to shame and poor self-worth, which can then lead to depression, eating disorders, etc. then maybe that belief needs to be examined closer.
What if there is a different narrative? What if our bodies are good?
I preached a message on this a couple years ago and I have never received so much emotional reaction as this one incited. Both by people feeling freed and healed, and people deeply disagreeing and pushing back. I have become fascinated with why this subject induces so much anger and insecurity in some people, and so much freedom and healing in others.
What did I say that pissed people off so much? Take a deep breath, sit down, and brace yourself. Here is what I said:
You've probably heard the story in Genesis 1 of the fall of mankind. Mankind cursed since that day. (Sort of. If you read it again you'll see that God never cursed man, but instead cursed the earth. But that's a whole other rabbit hole I'm not going down in this post.) From here we get the narrative that we all fall to the temptation of sin because of an inherited weakness in our "flesh". Our bodies.
But there is a story BEFORE that story of bad flesh.
Its the story of GOOD flesh.
Actually its the story of VERY GOOD flesh.
Genesis 1:31 "And God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good."
Genesis 2:25 "And the man and his wife were naked and they were not ashamed."
We talk about "original sin" a lot.
How about we talk about "original blessing".
What if when we shared the good news of Jesus as evangelists we didn't confront people with their inescapable sinful natures and condemn them for it upon punishment of hell, but instead, what if we simply called them back to their original intended beauty? What if we painted a picture of something that was good, very good, and simply reminded people what they are made of.
"You are the dust of the earth filled with the breath of God." Is my favourite thing to remind people of.
If you knew that, if you really, deeply came to understand the beauty and mystery of what it means to be a precious creation spun out of the imagination of a Holy God...how would that affect the way you walked down the street? How would it affect the way you let people treat you? How would it change the way you looked at and treated others?
What if you looked at yourself in the mirror and thought "God made me originally awesome."?
Because, I think He did.
And I think you are.
* 1 Corinthians
** Not actually scripture, but lyrics from a Hymn called "I Stand Amazed" Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1856-1932)
*** Galatians 5:16 rephrased in the first person possessive
**** Genesis 3:7 NLT translation
Further Reading Resources on the link between "original sin" theology and body image:
"Mahoney et al. (2005) found that college students who perceived their bodies as having sacred qualities or as being a manifestation of God reported higher levels of satisfaction with their bodies.Jacobson, Hall, and Anderson (2013)further demonstrated that belief in sacred qualities of the body was associated with greater body esteem (i.e., a positive body image and satisfaction with the body) over and above the effect of religious commitment for undergraduates. Pizzigoni (2017) found that belief in sacred qualities of the body was associated with less body shame (i.e., shame about the self because of the body) in a mixed sample of adult women at a university and women in treatment for eating disorders. ..."
Jacobson, Heather & Hall, M. & Anderson, Tamara. (2013). Theology and the Body: Sanctification and Bodily Experiences. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.
https://www.counseling.org/resources/library/ACA%20Digests/ACAPCD-35.pdf Eating Disorders and Religious/Spiritual Beliefs, Juleen K. Buser, Ph.D., NCC and Mark S. Woodford, Ph.D., LPC, MAC , Professional Counseling Digest, American Counselling Association 2010
Fat Jesus, Isherwood. https://www.amazon.ca/Fat-Jesus-Christianity-Body-Image/dp/1596270942
Further Reading Resources on "original blessing".
https://cac.org/original-blessing-2017-01-04/ Original Blessing, Center for Action and Contemplation. Richard Rohr. 2017
https://www.matthewfox.org/donation-store/original-blessing-a-primer-in-creation-spirituality Original Blessing, Matthew Fox