Skip to content

The Education of Desire – T. Gorringe

May 25, 2016

TEOD 2I once berated a preacher who was moralising about people with AIDs, saying that they bought it on themselves by their promiscuity. I pointed out that Augustine speaks of a ‘God-shaped hole’ which we seek to fill. I reckon that people who seek casual encounters are really looking for love, in which case they are looking, ultimately, for God. Instead of condemning desire, we should be seeking to refine it.

Many Christians think that ‘desire’ is something wrong, that leads us into sin. However, Augustine and others talks about our desires, warped through they maybe, as searching for the God within. Books like Befriending our Desires and Choice, Desire and the Will of God deal with this, as does this book. It also worth looking at A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.

Sensory malnutrition is as much a problem as obesity in the age of ‘supersize me’. Professor Gorringe takes Christian spirituality out of the Middle Ages and into the culture of consumer capitalism with this 21st Century reassessment of the role of the senses in theology.

It’s based on a series of lectures delivered in British Columbia and begins a comparing of the 19th Century English painters Constable and Turner; and the question “Why a world? Why this material sensual place, this interweaving of quarks and gluons, which we inhabit? Why blood, bone, semen and faeces? Why senses?”

If the creation is a foreshadowing of glory, Gorringe writes, then the senses are what allow us to explore it. For the Christian, salvation is bodily.

St Augustine had a conflicted relationship with the body. I was particularly fond of the passage he wrote beginning, “When I love you, what do I love?” (Confessions 10.6). For Gorringe, “It is beautiful, but it is not the gospel”.

Karl Marx wrote that the forming of the five senses was a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present.

Gorringe’s thesis is that our senses are the means by which God chooses to explore materiality through us. The discipling of the senses, and through this the education of desire, is the work of genuine spirituality.

This is not a simple task because free will gives us choices about where to invest our desires.

From Helen Keller onward ‘normalisation’ guided approach to ‘handicap’. Many disabled writers now criticise normalisation as oppressive because it comes at the expense of the disabled person’s needs and rights.

Realising that ageing is disabling helps non-disabled people to see that people with disabilities are not ‘other’; and that they themselves are TAPs (Temporarily Abled Persons).

Impairment is given but disability is socially constructed. “It seems to me that in creating the conditions for freedom God has created a world in which randomness and chance play a fundamental part.” No malice aforethought, no testing of the human creature, as in Job, is involved.

There is no satisfactory canon of normality; certainly not the idolatry of the young, fit, healthy body. Christians do not have an able bodied God as their primal image.

Independent adults who do not need help are themselves handicapped in the context of the dependence necessary to live in the image of God. The wounded healer tradition also challenges the notion of bodily perfection.

Gorringe unpacks the fact that the body, through the senses, has become something of a scapegoat for the popular perception of sin.

He points out that Sarx (flesh) for St Paul is not rooted in sensuality – rather in religious rebellion in the form of self-righteousness.

Of the sins of the flesh – only two refer to the body per se – lust and gluttony.

Pornography is big business in Western society. Gorringe discusses this phenomenon with an aside that women’s eroticism, unlike men’s, has more to do with touch than sight.

But pornography, he writes, is not centrally about women or sex at all, but about transgressing boundaries. “Sexual relations between men and women always render explicit the nature of social relations in the society in which they take place and, if described explicitly, will form a critique of those relations.”

Consumer capitalism has given us clean water, an amazing diet, housing that would have seemed paradise to the urban poor of the 1800s as it would to the two-thirds world slum dwellers today. It has given us accessible transport, global communications and greater life expectancy. For the first time in history human desires can be met and God hands us over to the power of our desires. (Rom 1.24)

But following our desires does not fulfil us but actually enslaves us. The heart of the New Testament critique of desire is that it is a form of addiction which destroys our freedom to serve both God and our neighbour.

Both Greek and Christian traditions point to the need to discern between real desire and desire posing as egoism. The critique of capitalism rests on a distinction between needlessly stimulated desires on the one hand and real needs on the other.

To the caveat that both desires and needs are socially constructed Gorringe replies that the peculiarity of a consumerist culture is the attempt to obliterate the distinction between them.

All high cultures recognise that the nondivine imagination needs training and exercise – education.

Freud’s ‘repression’ is understood by both the classical and the Christian tradition to be discipline. It is not about denying the body, but about channelling its energies creatively.

The current problem is where the market – which is what we call society – has to infantilize us in order to survive. Instant gratification is the name of the game.

Freud, for all his iconoclasm, highlighted the way in which we replace the God of the gospel with the domineering God of the super-ego. A nightmare projection; a god which does not exist.

Gorringe remarks that Greece prioritized sight while Israel prioritized hearing.

Sound has to do with hearing, interiority, and hosts the voice of conscience and reason. Silence can be profoundly communicative, but it is defined by words.

Plato called music ‘spells for the soul’, and of course there are good and bad spells. The enormously successful visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang in February gives credence to the spellbinding ability of music having brought together traditional enemies.

Sight opens the soul to the material world. Gothic cathedrals reveal the metaphysics of light, but that few contemporary eyes can see it.

Touch is a neglected sense if the thesis that Christians are Christ’s hands and feet in the world is taken seriously.

Taste is perhaps the poor cousin of the senses when discussing Christian spirituality. But in the Oscar winning movie ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ Jean Dominique Bauby, although unable to move a muscle except his left eyelid, could remember the pleasures of taste and treat himself to a banquet in his imagination.

Through these senses, Gorringe writes, God has given us leave to be delighted.

Of course this raises the theological problem of ‘disability’and healing.The author writes that it is not for those who are not disabled to colonise this discourse. He uses material written by people with disabilities.

Our sense of hearing is subject to “a wind tunnel of gossip”; the press is a “gigantic maw of lying” (Karl Barth); and real lies – counterfeits which fully resemble the truth – are rife in the advertising milieu in which we live.

Gorringe points out that far from being the flesh corrupting the spirit, these breaches of the 9th Commandment are actually the spirit corrupting the flesh.

Touch brings us the blessing of the caress and the curse of the blow. Torture is the rule rather than the exception in the contemporary world, and is considered in the context of the relation of power and helplessness; the fragility of our ability to care, and the danger of our fantasies of omnipotence.

Smell is an important social and moral indicator – references to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ smell permeates our vocabulary.

Smell, like taste, cannot be measured scientifically. It does not have a highly developed vocabulary – but a person can detect between 10, 000 to 40,000 different odours, and this sense has a direct line to memory.

Finally, bodily integrity is where body and soul work together as God intended.” To live graciously is to seek the kingdom and pursue it, and that… is what we are called to use the senses for and it is failure to do so which is what we mean by that much misunderstood term ‘sin’, which never… refers primarily or above all to ‘the flesh’.”

“The body has become one of the idols we worship… But neither bodies nor pleasure are intended as ends in themselves, and when they are treated as such they become idols.”

Consumer capitalism possesses all the classical attributes of deity – omnipresence, omnipotence, infinite (it knows no limits).

However, it exploits the body by devaluing it in its natural state and using it in the service of Mammon, creating a narcissistic society of permanent adolescence.

As a consequence we are faced with the epitome of idolatry – ecological forces are fair set to destroy the idolatry of consumption. Only spiritual mastery of the greed itself can help us. Given the atomization of Western cultures by capitalism, the re-establishment of a moral consciousness must be reconstituted, but this would involve the subordination of money.

The Christian ascetic tradition represented an attempt to realise what Freud called the ‘reality principle’ as opposed to the pleasure principle.

Holiness and grubby reality are not opposed but go together, as St Paul points out in the Corinthian correspondence. Asceticism was really about what liberation theology calls “the option for the poor” – the choice of voluntary poverty to put oneself alongside those enduring involuntary poverty.

Effective cultural change will involve a change of attitude to the body. What is needed is a movement for the liberation of all forms of desire, including eros, from the tyranny of consumerism.

We need a body-friendly asceticism.

What is going on in the Church at the moment is a profound move beyond present structural boundaries – but we will continue to need boundaries. The church exists where human desire is educated, disciplined, by Word and sacrament.

In the context of the consumer capitalism in which we live it has to be both affirmative of the physical body, and of the earth, and for that very reason hostile to all forms of consumerism.

Christian resistance to torture, for instance, depends on having a visible social body in order to counter the discipline of the State.

The Eucharist affirms the body and therefore protests every attempt to colonise, patent and exploit it.

The author worked in parishes for six years (I knew him when he was curate of Chapel Allerton, Leeds in the early 1970s) before going to South India to teach theology at the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, where he worked for seven years. On return to Britain he was for nine years Chaplain, Fellow and Tutor in Theology at St John’s College, Oxford. In 1995 he became Reader in Contextual Theology at St Andrew’s and in 1998 took up his present post as St Luke’s Exeter Professor of Theological Studies.


God has given us leave to be delighted

“Desire needs education and Christianity is an alternative education of desire.”

Bodily integrity is where body and soul work together as God intended

At the heart of a theology of the senses is the perception that the possibilities of the material lie within the immaterial God, that the material is not foreign to God, hut a form of God’s self-expression. Christianity has always rejected the Manichaean option that creation was a mistake. if creation was from nothing, then creation represented a choice, an option for matter. To the argument that such a world was necessary for beings who could learn to love freely, a focus on the senses adds the dimensions of beauty and of exploration. If the creation is patent of glory then the senses, material themselves, are what allow us to explore that. The senses are what allow us to explore the world we are given, hut I want to go further and suggest God chooses this form of reality, and endows us with senses, to celebrate and to explore the mystery and the magic of God’s own creation. Not just that we celebrate and explore it, but that God celebrates and explores through us.

God celebrates. What was God’s purpose in creating human beings? The answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is:

‘To love him and glorify him for ever’ (Qu. 6). Humans celebrate their creator. But according to Scripture it is the other way about as well: God celebrates this gracious creation, and us within it. There is the fine text of Zephaniah 3. :
The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will joy (gil) over YOU with loud singing as on a day of festival.

The verb translated joy or exult means to leap or dance. What the text actually says is that God dances over us, dances with joy over God’s creation, celebrates in song and dance.

 The very first record of the eucharist we have comes from Paul’s problems with the congregation in Corinth, who were split between rich and poor. Paul lays into the rich members of the congregation because they eat without regard for their poor members. When the rich overeat, and the poor have to go hungry, he says, this dishonours the church of God — it can’t be eucharist (1 Cor. 11:.20). It is in this situation he
rehearses the tradition of what we call the Last Supper. Then he says: those who eat and drink in this way — ignoring differences between rich and poor — will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Those who eat and drink without discerning the body — that body which is made up by all believers — eat and drink judgement against themselves (i Cor. 11.2.9).

Behind this passage lies Deuteronomy 15, the section of Deuteronomy which deals with Jubilee. Deuteronomy orders a remission of debt every seventh year, and says that if that is followed, ‘there will be no poor amongst you’ (Deut. 15.4). This is the passage Jesus alludes to in the story of the anoint­ing at Bethany (Matt. 26.6 ff.; Mark 14.3 ff.; John 12.1 ff.) which is so often misunderstood. Some of the disciples say: This could have been sold and given to Oxfam. Jesus says: If you remember what is said in Deuteronomy, and if Torah was followed, there would be no poor amongst you.

Paul, too, has it in mind. The eucharist, he says, is the instantiation of this Jubilee legislation, which, by remission of debt, sees that there will be no poor amongst you. If you main­tain and even increase such divisions, then you turn eucharist into its opposite, and simply bring judgement on yourselves. From the word go, when we first encounter the eucharist in the church, therefore, there is a direct link between debt remis­sion, the elimination of poverty, and celebration of eucharist.

Finally, my fourth connection between the eucharist and the global economy: this economy takes the form of a competitive power contest, the kind of contest our education system is today designed to train us for. We are all familiar with the debt problem through Jubilee 2000, but debt is only the tip of the iceberg. Trade is more serious still. The doctrine of free trade is the mantra of United States-led capitalism, but in fact, no country has more protectionist legislation than that country, and it pursues its own advantage in the market place savagely. The Multi Fibre Arrangement (MFA), which pro­tects Europe and America against cheap imports from the South, is in force till 2005, and what’s the betting it will then be renewed? The overall cost of the MFA to developing countries is estimated at about $50 billion a year, roughly equal to the total of development aid. The EU specifically excludes metals, agricultural products and textiles from free trade schemes. Discrimination against basic commodities remains the biggest weapon against the poor countries, even more serious than debt.

Forty per cent of world trade is in the hands of the top 3 50 companies. The largest io corporations control assets which represent three times the total income of the world’s poorest 38 countries. Of the world’s TOO largest economies, 5o are transnational corporations. The 48 least developed countries account for less than o.3% of world trade. Real commodity prices were 45% lower in the 1990s than in the 198os. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment, defended passionately by Britain’s Labour government, was intended to give com­panies power over democratically elected governments ­except those in the United States, which had all voted opt-out clauses. For the moment it has been stalled, but it will certainly be back.

Another aspect of the dominance of the global economy by the transnationals is the attempt to patent, and make money out of, life, a process Vandana Shiva has dubbed `biopiracy’. For example, US and Japanese firms have taken out patents on neem-based solutions which have been used in India for millennia. When Monsanto marketed (a disastrously unsuccessful) cotton seed it notified farmers that ‘Saving or selling the seed for replanting will violate the limited license and infringe upon the patent rights of Monsanto. This may subject you to prosecution under federal law: As Brewster Kneen puts it, ‘Genetic engineering is an expression of ingratitude and disrespect, if not contempt. It is a vehicle, in practice, of an attitude of domination and ownership, as expressed in the assumption that it is possible, reasonable, and morally acceptable to claim ownership over life. The claim that it is possible to own life, at least to the extent of being able to claim a patent on a life process or life form, is so outrageous socially and ethically as to be hardly worth debating.’ Not, however, to corporate lawyers.

After the blessing and the breaking at the so-called Last Supper come the famous words, ‘Do this, in remembrance of me.’ Do what in remembrance of me? For centuries it has been assumed that it is the repetition of a set of liturgical actions but, given Jesus’ practice in the Gospels, that seems highly unlikely. He wasn’t a person wedded to rituals, except for the small intimate human ones of welcoming children, seeing that people get fed, caring for the sick.

The command to ‘do this’ seems to relate much more to Jesus giving his life for others, and so ‘do this’ means, let the breaking and the sharing of your continued table fellowship remind you of how my life was broken and poured out for others, and may you do likewise.’ And this is in fact how people like Augustine understood the eucharistic sacrifice. It is part of Jesus’ project of constructing an alternative society. This way of understanding it is in line with the account of the Last Supper we have in John. According to John Jesus gets up from table, girds himself with a towel, and performs the action of a slave, washing his disciples’ feet. Reflecting on such stories Paul writes: ‘Let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus, who because he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’ (Phil. 2.6). The translations always say, ‘although he was in the form of God’, subconsciously presupposing the managerial gods of paganism, with their six-figure salaries. But Paul, like Jesus before him, thinks rather of the God of Israel, who serves Israel, becomes a slave for them. To have the mind of Christ is to adopt this alternative lifestyle. William Cavanaugh argues that the Church’s resistance to the regime of torture ‘depends on its ability to constitute itself as a disciplined social body capable of countering the discipline of the State’.

Liturgy and sacraments are disciplines of bodies and souls which help form people into the habits, or virtues, neces­sary to perform the Gospel imperative to take up one’s cross and follow Christ. In the contest over bodies, both individual and social, Christian resistance will depend on having a visible body, ie a counter discipline and a counter performance.?

He writes in the context of torture. Let’s put his argument in the context of a consumer economy, and a world structured round great corporations, now blasphemously proclaiming themselves to be ‘servants’. Jesus said to his disciples: ‘It shall not be so amongst you.’ This word, in Mark 10.43, is a fundamental counter-cultural text. We are called to resist these destructive practices of power, and to envisage and to practise the economy of reverent consumption, the economy of service. Big business tells us that only the way of power makes sense, that big is beautiful. The story of the trek through the desert includes an encounter with tlic ma lingers of the big corporations, and the editors of the financial papers, and the politicians and the neo-liberal economists. Moses sends out his scouts, and they come back with beautiful bunches of grapes, but also scared to death:

We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and large; and besides we saw the descendants of Anak there . . . to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so seemed we to them. (Num. 13.27)

Things don’t change, do they? We peek at the people who occupy the promised land, with their armies, and their lawyers, and their ownership of the press, and their business success, and all their money, and we say: ‘Let’s go back to Egypt.’

The descendants of Anak tell us that power and success is the only way because that is how people are made. But excuse me, when it comes to how people are made, it is not for them to lay down the law. I don’t find Social Darwinism in the New Testament. Perhaps I don’t find the altruistic gene there either, but I do find the view that only by renouncing power and learning to serve do we find our full humanness. Can that become an economic principle? Of course it can. The word for it is cooperation. Economists faint at the term not because it is impossible but because it means the end of hierarchy, power structures, managerial salaries. In this ongoing argument things are changing. At the moment the latest manifestation of capitalism, finance capitalism, is at its acme. But the bottom line is, it’s unsustainable. We have to find another way of doing things. World leaders are fond of telling us there is ‘no alternative’. They are right, though not in the sense they intend. And so we’d better start learning, and in our imagining we can nourish ourselves by returning to the eucharist.

The church’s task varies according to its context. In the eighteenth century, when the poor were drowning themselves in gin, it might be right to insist on being teetotal. Today the equivalent of gin is consumption. In countering that, the eucharist, affirming the body and therefore protesting every attempt to colonize, patent and exploit it, stands at the centre of Christian life. In the eucharist the Word of justice which becomes the bread of life for us in Christ is given us as manna — nothing more; bread for our revolutionary journey; bread for a new world; bread for the poor. This, finally, is what manna is — Word and sacrament, food for our journey. I have several times used the phrase, the ‘so-called Last Supper’. And the reason is, of course, that Jesus broke bread with the disciples at Emmaus, and by the lakeside. The fixation on what happened before Gethsemane and Calvary concentrates on the cross at the expense of resurrection. But of course, they interpret each other. Only because there was Emmaus is the eucharist a sign of hope. In Luke’s story the disciples stay in Jerusalem until Pentecost, and only then are they slowly scattered to the ends of the earth. In Matthew it happens at the resurrection itself. These stories too have their Old Testament analogue. They recall the conclusion of the story about the manna. It reads: ‘And the people of Israel journeyed on’ (Num. 11.35).

how do we understand impairment and disability in the light of the messianic promises and of Jesus’ healings? One response begins with the assumption, which I mentioned at the beginning of the first chapter, that the world is a vale of soul-making. Impairment, this response goes, is part of that, for both the impaired and those who care for them, and it can claim exemplary scriptural warrant. For example, in Exodus 4 we read:

Then YHWH said [to Moses], ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’ (Ex. 4.11)

Drawing on such texts Simon Home quotes his disabled partner, Mel, who says, ‘My impairment is genetic, so when I was made, God included my impairment, and I have no problems with that.  What I do have problems with is the fact that society disables me. God did not make me to be someone who is disabled by society.’ And she quotes texts such as Leviticus 19.14: `You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God.’

In these texts we already find anticipated the distinction between impairment and disability which I outlined a moment ago, denouncing the disabling role of society but accepting that impairment comes straight from God. This second assumption is something I find myself unable to share.

When I began my ministry I was chaplain to a small hospital which had two wards for military personnel, some of whom had been there since the First World War. Amongst these was Steve. Steve was 18 when he was parachuted into Arnhem in 1944. A German shell blew away part of his head. Somehow he was got out, brought back to England and put into this hospital, where he lay in a coma for two years. At the end of two years he came round. He was completely paralysed: only his lungs worked. When you visited him you held a cigarette to his lips to enable him to have a smoke. He would tell you of the amazing Ezekiel-like visions he had had during his coma. And he always said: ‘Tim, that shell had my name on it. It was intended for me.’ I have encountered many similar sentiments since. Making sense of the apparent chaos of reality is one of our deepest needs. We can’t bear to believe that everything is purely arbitrary. To believe that God is somehow behind every event can be a comfort, not least to those who are suffering. Nancy Mairs says of her own MS and her husband’s melanoma: ‘Nothing stands “outside”. Every­thing belongs. We’re all weaving some cosmic tapestry of which I’ve been able to glimpse only a few threads.’

Despite the scriptural warrant for this kind of view, I have to say I can’t believe it. It seems to me that in creating the con­ditions for freedom God has created a world in which randomness and chance play a fundamental part. This does not mean we are abandoned to anarchy and chaos because there is meaning in the larger picture. We can take two analogies to try and understand that. There is the analogy of statistical science, which finds regularity and pattern in what seem to be collections of entirely unrelated facts. That genes may produce uncomfortable results for us, to say the least, is not due to God landing me with a congenital deficiency, but due simply to the way a free creation operates. No malice aforethought, no testing of the human creature, as envisaged in Job chapter z, is involved.

Another analogy might be Turner’s famous practice on varnishing day in the exhibitions of the Royal Academy. Turner liked to explore the analogy of art to creation. He would hang a canvas which seemed to be ‘a mere dab of several colours’, ‘without form and void’, like chaos before the creation inviting scorn, scandal and derision. The day before the exhibition was due to open he would come and work intensively at the picture, and miraculously it would suddenly all make sense. I like to think that what we call eschatology, God’s drawing of all things together, might be analogous to this practice of Turner’s. The final picture will be fabulous, though at the moment we simply can’t see that. At the moment all we see are splodges of colour, both light and dark. One thing which is certain about all created reality is that it is finite. Before the end, the Christian faith affirms, things will be ‘pulled together’ by the divine artist so that they make sense.

If we do not accept the idea that God intended impairment, where does this leave us? First, of course, it leaves us with a stringent critique of a disabling society. There are many aspects to this, and I want to return to the issue of normality, and attitudes towards those who have impairments. Mat Fraser, a disabled actor and comic in Britain, who has recently been given a mainstream show on British television which he has called Freak Out records his wish that ‘one day the dis­abled will be just there; their disability as invisible as they themselves were previously’. He says of his role in a TV drama in which he plays a drug dealer and his disability is never mentioned: ‘Now that’s radical.’

Sally French criticizes the philanthropic model of disability adopted by charities which tends to portray disabled people as helpless, sad, courageous and in need of care and protection. Amongst stereotypes of disability she finds their portrayal as pitiable and pathetic ‘both patronizing and offensive’. Jenny Morris attacks the tendency of non-disabled people to praise the courage, heroism and achievement of the disabled: ‘When people tell you how wonderful you are the judgement that being disabled must be awful and intolerable lies behind it. How can we take pride in ourselves when disability provokes such negative feelings among non disabled people ?’ In parti­cular she mounts a withering attack on sentimental portrayals of the impaired in the Tiny Tim mould. French argues that dis­abled charities which emphasize the ‘tragedy’ of disability `perpetuate the inaccurate assumption that living with impairment is a life shattering experience. This effectively robs some disabled individuals of the self confidence to overcome disability.’ The view that disabled people are helpless and must be cared for fails to acknowledge that with appropriate support people with impairments are able to achieve the same level of autonomy and independence as non-disabled people.

Some of the worst stereotypes of disability come from the religions, and indeed from Scripture. Suffering, including dis­ability, is regularly linked to sin, not least in the story of the man born blind in John 9, though it is vehemently protested in Job. Leviticus debars those with impairments from priestly duties (Lev. 2 . 8–2 ). And the psalms make much of virtuous suffering, whilst we are regularly exhorted to care for the lame and the blind, those who cannot help themselves. `These three themes,’ says Eiesland, ‘sin and disability con­flation, virtuous suffering, and segregationist charity illustrate the theological obstacles encountered by people with dis­abilities who seek inclusion and justice within the Christian community.’ In the same way, in the history of the church, sickness, including physical disability, has served to ‘enhance the merits of the just through their patience, to safeguard virtue from pride, to correct the sinner, to proclaim God’s glory through miraculous cures, and finally, as the beginning of eternal punishment as in the case of Herod.’28 To be fair, the solidarity which is really needed has also been there, though only spasmodically. But today, in Jurgen Moltmann’s words, we are clearer that ‘We cannot get rid of disabilities but we can overcome the disabling of those with disabilities. We can heal the dis-eased relationship between those with and without disabilities. This will occur not through solicitous care and helping but rather through solidarity and living together.’

Stereotypical views of the disabled can lead to shockingly inhuman treatment, and all writers on disability are able to tell stories of disabled groups, or families with a disabled member, being turned away from restaurants or pubs because they will `upset people’. Such actions cannot be condoned, but at the same time it is important we understand them properly. In the light of one such story Frances Young comments: ‘You cannot force integration. Nor can you simply condemn those people who cannot cope with their own feelings . . . The horrific ways in which the handicapped are sometimes treated is the tip of an iceberg of human embarrassment:3° To go back to Francis Bacon, perhaps our reaction to disability is similar to our reaction to his painting, an inability to face the truth about ourselves, about human weakness and the fact that we are all bound up in the bundle of life together.

The disabled themselves, despite rejecting an oppressive `normality’, do not want to be singled out as heroes or as especially ‘spiritual’ by virtue of their impairment. Nancy Mairs rejected a reviewer who spoke of her ‘valiant battle against multiple sclerosis’ as ‘maudlin’. ‘Keep this in mind: I am only doing what I have to do. It’s enough.'” She will not allow that either she or her husband are heroic. ‘Suffering has few heroes, least of all those who wish to live ordinary lives.’

If a cure were found, would I take it? In a minute. I may be a cripple, but I’m only occasionally a loony and never a saint. Anyway, in my brand of theology God doesn’t give bonus points for a limp. I’d take a cure; I just don’t need one. A friend who also has MS startled me once by asking, `Do you ever say to yourself, “Why me Lord?” “No Michael, I don’t’, I told him, ‘because whenever I try, the only response I can think of is, “Why not?” If I could make a cosmic deal, who would I put in my place? What in my life would I give up in exchange for sound limbs and a thrilling rush of energy? No one. Nothing. I might as well do the job myself. Now that I’m getting the hang of it.’

To discount attributions of heroism is one thing, but the point of the distinction between impairment and disability is that it is society which is often deeply disabling. To illustrate that we only have to look at the world of the deaf. Sally Sainsbury records the results of studies she did with the deaf in Britain in the 1980s which redefine what we mean by ‘exclusion’. Here are some of their voices:

A Deaf  retired worker: ‘Life is different if you’re not hearing because it’s hard to find friends, know what’s going on . . . The hearing are different from the deaf and dumb. Most people can’t understand what I’m saying . . . Usually I manage to read and write letters, but if they are complicated I go to my sister. Everything takes longer if you are Deaf.’

Mrs Jackson explained, ‘Because I can’t understand, the greatest problem is being dictated to by others as if I were a child or a young person . .

Miss Cox said, ‘Because I find lip reading difficult everyone treats me as if I’m mental.’

Mr Douglas summed up the common experience of those in hospitals: ‘Because you can’t communicate, you miss out on friends and experiences. You don’t understand what’s going on or what will happen next. There’s not much reading and little talk, and everyone pushes you around.

Miss Ayers, aged 35, who lived in the half-way psychiatric hostel, said: ‘My mother signs a little bit, but my father doesn’t know any signs, and nor do my brother and sister. I find I can talk a little bit to my mother.’

Mrs Salisbury, a widow of 88, who was a patient in a hospital for the mentally ill: ‘I had two brothers and a sister. But I didn’t really get to know them or my parents.’

The habit of treating the deaf as mentally ill persisted in Britain at least into the 1980s:

One deaf woman with cataracts communicated only by touch; she had no speech, and being illiterate, the only contact she could make with staff was by self mutilation, facial expression and touch. According to the ward sister, she had had no communication of any sort with other patients for several years.

A deaf woman who had been born without eyes was assumed to be subnormal and her parents had been persuaded to send her to a mental handicap hospital. Here, there was no record of a psychological assessment, or attempts to train her to care for herself or to communicate. Now in her mid forties, she was inaccessible and solitary, immobile most of the time in a bent, seated position. She was totally dependent on staff for feeding, dressing, bath­ing and going to the lavatory.”

The study underlines the significance of Ong’s point that hear­ing is the most interior of the senses, and therefore the most profoundly disabling to be without. By the age of three, normal children have 1,000 to 2,000 words. In comparison, the deaf child has fewer than twenty-nine at the age of four. Two-fifths of the deaf people Sainsbury interviewed found daily chat difficult, and a fifth found it impossible. As many as two-thirds of deaf people never attempted to discuss subjects such as politics, religion or sport with hearing people. Almost a third of the deaf were barely if at all literate, at most able to make some attempt at writing, but always referring corres­pondence to hearing people for advice and at worst unable to devise letters of any description except by copying word for word.42

The conclusion of Sainsbury’s study was that ‘The deaf lived lives which had much of the appearance of those of the hearing, but in practice, they were not part of the hearing community: the deaf lived lives which were parallel to those of the hearing. And in terms of social activities they were enabled to do so by the existence of the deaf community, which, in large measure, was sustained and reinforced by the existence of deaf clubs.'”

That the frankly appalling experience of exclusion revealed by Sainsbury’s study is not inevitable is made clear by the experience of Martha’s Vineyard, in New England. From the seventeenth century to the early years of the twentieth, the population of Martha’s Vineyard manifested an extremely high rate of profound hereditary deafness.

In stark contrast with the experience of most deaf people in our own society, the Vineyarders who were born deaf were so thoroughly integrated into the daily life of the com­munity that they were not seen, and did not see themselves, as handicapped or a group apart. Deaf people were included in all aspects of life, such as town politics, jobs, church affairs and social life . . . On the Vineyard, hearing and deaf Islanders alike grew up speaking sign language. This unique socio-linguistic adaptation meant that the usual barriers to communication between the hearing and the deaf, which so isolate many deaf people today, did not exist.”

This existence of parallel worlds brings us back to the question of normality.

Collectively, says one study of deafness, the deaf ‘are torn between affirming and bemoaning their deafness, between looking to fellow members for self identity and self esteem and looking to the larger world which is all around them.’ One manifestation of this ambivalence is the phenomenon Goffman, in his study of stigma, called ‘passing’, i.e. passing as normal. Because of the great rewards in being considered normal, he says, almost all persons who are in a position to will ‘pass’ on some occasions. The example he gives is of a deaf person who, when invited out to dinner, would either sit next to someone with a strong voice, choke or cough if asked a direct question, ask someone to tell a story she had already heard or ask questions to which she already knew the answer. Today, as I noted earlier, there seems to be a consensus that it is necessary to insist on equality and difference. In Britain, for example, there is now a demand that British Sign Language be treated on a par with any other language.

If profound deafness raises sharp questions about exclusion and provides us with a paradigm of how society may be dis­abling, other questions are posed by mental handicap. Frances Young’s son, Arthur, was severely brain damaged as a result of a placenta which was too small and inefficient, which deprived him of necessary oxygen during his development in the womb. In her account of her attempts to come to terms with this and to celebrate Arthur, alongside her other children, Young faces the hard questions such handicap raises. According to the ‘vale of soul-making’ theodicy God intended people to grow to maturity in faith and love. But what about those who are incapable of doing so? We are a psychosomatic whole and a damaged brain means that the whole personality is damaged and lacks potential for develop­ment.” What about autism, a condition in which the person finds it impossible to relate to the external world or to other people?49 There are people, Young reminds us, ‘like Arthur and more limited than Arthur, of whom it is very difficult to speak of some kind of “person” distinct from the brain damaged body . . . There is no “ideal Arthur” somehow trapped in this damaged physical casing.’5° I shall return later to the implications of these questions for our understanding of the resurrection.

These questions, and the exclusion of the deaf, put in sharp focus Jurgen Moltmann’s suggestion that disability should be understood as a gift of the Holy Spirit. ‘Every disability is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift that we do not discover only because we are so focussed on what a person is missing . . . Having a disability, whatever form it might take, is also a gift of the Holy Spirit, if through and in the disability one is called to be God’s image and glory on earth.’

How far are we able to pursue this suggestion? Does it have any limits? I recall a former student of mine in India, severely disabled, who in a discussion of resurrection said: `If resurrec­tion means I keep this body, I don’t want resurrection.’ What about Sally Sainsbury’s forty-year-old woman, deaf, and born without eyes? Can we really speak of that as a gift? What about those unable to grow? And how are we to distinguish between mental handicap, on the one hand, and a mental ill­ness like paranoid schizophrenia on the other? Supposing that such a condition is genetically caused, is it not both an illness and a handicap, and a profoundly disabling one at that, because it constitutes a danger to society? We could not regard such a condition as a gift, but then where do we draw the line? Is the capacity to act morally the crucial indicator? If so, where would it leave severely brain damaged people like Frances Young’s son? When Diane Devries was born without legs and with only stumps for arms, her doctor fainted.” She is amusing about that, but in all my experience of childbirth one of the first questions those not in the labour room ask is: `Are mother and baby all right?’ If the answer is affirmative, very commonly people say ‘Thank God’. But then, Susan Wendell asks, is saying ‘Everyone wants a healthy baby’ morally and politically similar to saying, ‘Everyone wants a white baby?’ If not, how is it different? Is there as much reason to preserve the functional impairments and structural imperfections of human bodies as there is to preserve their genetic diversity?'” How would you answer that in the light of the need first to affirm the disabled, and at the same time to make sense of the messianic promises?

The disabled themselves refuse any romanticization of dis­ability. R. A. Scott notes that it is supposed that the blind dwell in a world that is apart from and beyond the one ordi­nary people inhabit. ‘This world, which is believed to be less gross and materialistic than our own, is said to be infused with a spirituality that gives its inhabitants a peculiar purity and innocence of mind. Those who live in the world of the blind are believed capable of experiencing unique inner feelings and rising to aesthetic heights that are beyond the abilities of all but the most unusual of sighted men.’  But it seems that there is no evidence to support the claim that the sensory apparatus of the blind child is actually more acute; she just uses the senses she has more effectively. Sighted children, when blind­folded, often do better at tactile tasks because sight helps us integrate information from all our senses.”

Setting aside any false romanticism, it is true that sonic disabled people are able to understand their impairment in a positive sense. Nancy Mairs found herself compelled to examine ‘what about life-with-MS . . . is worth having. And celebrating.'”

If anyone had told me that at the age of 43 I would be crippled and George have cancer, and my family dying I would have cried out ‘Oh no, I could never survive such pain!’. But if anyone had told me, in the presence of these realities, I would find myself, without warning, pierced by joy, I would have been stunned speechless, certain that my informant was either perverse or outright mad.

This note of celebration takes us back to the idea of the senses as God’s means of celebrating and exploring God’s world. What about impairment can we regard as a means of celebra­tion in the same way?

In answering this question I bear in mind David Pailin’s crucially important warning that we must not seek to under­stand handicap in terms of what it makes possible for others, which rests on what he calls the ‘contributory theory of human worth’.” According to this theory what grounds our worth is what we contribute to human society. Handicapped people contribute, the argument goes, by allowing others to care for them. Not so, says Pailin, for ultimately this depersonalizes us  and degrades both carer and cared for. Rather, worth is bestowed by being loved, wanted and respected. Worth ‘is given to each person by the way that others, including — and ultimately — God, regard him or her’.

Presupposing this, it remains true that handicap, like every other aspect of human life, has its own place in the overall human economy, those aspects of being human which call us to celebrate. To affirm that is not to go back on the view that God does not design or cause handicap as a way of ‘testing our mettle’, or for any other purpose. That would be to write the `contributory theory’ into the very structure of the universe. Rather, given the world as it is, we learn to give thanks for what our neighbours, including our handicapped neighbours, give us. In the first place, then, I would say this was the chance to learn about the dependency and interdependency proper to human life. In the Christian tradition a positive value is set on weakness (1 Cor. 1:26), and Paul lists setbacks and sadnesses amongst gifts of Spirit ( 2 Cor. 4.7). It was precisely this which was anathema to Nietzsche, but, as Frances Young says, `Handicapped people remind us that life is not all go-getting and individual achievement. There are more fundamental human values. Handicap demands mutual support, a sense of communal sharing. It challenges our selfishness and our ambition and sectional loyalties.’ And Susan Wendell notes that ‘An adult who needs someone else’s help to eat, wash, dress and use the toilet may see very clearly how a culture despises this kind of dependency, but also how the same culture promotes the self deception that “independent” adults do not need each other’s help.’ The reality of handicap is, then, ‘a critique of our illusions’. Remember, we are TAPS, temporarily abled persons. Whether we like it or not, illness and handicap are a fundamental feature of the world God saw and pronounced ‘good’.

Simon Home suggests that, ‘Living dependently is living in the image of God.’ He argues this on the grounds that God has chosen to be to an extent dependent on us, dependent on human response to promptings of our consciences. ‘In this dependence on us God experiences both impairment and dis­ability.’

We have to recognize, however, a negative side to depend­ency. Scott comments that the disability of blindness is a learned social role. ‘There is nothing inherent in the condition of blindness that requires a person to be docile, dependent, melancholy, or helpless.’ On the other hand, ‘The blind person is . . . by virtue of his dependency, the subordinate in a power relationship. As a rule, none of the alternatives avail­able to subordinates in power relationships are open to him. He cannot forgo the service required, since performing important activities of daily life depends on the cooperation of sighted persons. It is unlikely that he will turn elsewhere . . . Finally, he cannot very well rely on force to have favours done for him. He is, therefore, locked into a position of com­pliance.’

So disability can teach us about both true and false depend­ence. But secondly, it can be in its own way enabling. Nancy Mairs asks, ‘What’s wrong with “difficulty” ? . . . I want to redeem it, as both a word and a concept. I want to speak it out loud, without apology, in the same matter of fact tone I’d use to say, “I prefer black cats to spotted ones” . . . And then I want to figure out how I can not merely admit to having a difficult life but also use the difficulties I’ve acknowledged to enrich the life.’

One may cry harder in the clutches of a troubled existence, but one may laugh harder as well . . . In addition to making me more humorous I think the difficult life has made me more attentive . . . the most valuable response I’ve  developed is gratitude . . . What I’m grateful for is that, in spite of having MS, I’ve fulfilled ambitions I never dreamed I would.

Sally French documents how many health professionals have found disability enabling. For example, a psychiatrist with MS finds that this has helped her to become more sensitive to the needs of others and speaks of herself as being doubly qualified, `firstly as a patient and secondly as a doctor — the order is important’.” A deaf therapist commented that ‘they don’t see me as a health professional who knows it all who doesn’t really understand, they see me as a disabled person’. A blind social worker reports being able to address clients: “I’ll help you but there are certain ways in which you are going to have to help me” and the client doesn’t feel totally taken over or totally worthless’. All these are examples of the ‘wounded healer’, the tradition which recognizes that only those who know sickness from the inside can heal, and exemplified, of course, by Christ.

Further than that, there are profound ways in which handi­cap can enrich our lives. Frances Young says of her relation with Arthur: ‘Where I minister to others, Arthur ministers to me. He shows me what life is about, brings me down to basics, gives me peace, helps me to resolve the tensions, and it is with him that I find the fruits of the Spirit.’70 We have to realize, she says, that handicap is different, not ‘sub’. ‘The basic trust­fulness, lack of inhibitions, and that indefinable virtue ­simplicity — often seen in the mentally handicapped may be the very qualities that it would be criminal to educate out of them.’77 On these lines the mother of a Downs syndrome child said, on her child’s twenty-second birthday:

What I’ve enjoyed about Kathleen is how she appreciates everything, life in general. No matter what she got she always appreciated everything. She thought as much of getting a card as she did of getting a box of chocolates. There’s always been this great love and affection between us.’

Thirdly, handicap constitutes a critique of idolatry of the young, fit, healthy body. Wendell writes: ‘I regard the current level of cultural idealization, objectification, quest for perfection, and demand for control of the body as a collective sickness of the soul, and an alienation from experience and reality. I believe that people with and without disabilities would benefit from lessening the desire to control one’s body and increasing the desire to live in respectful harmony with it.’ Moltmann agrees, arguing that the values of health, achievement and beauty can make people inhuman. ‘Persons who equate being human with being healthy cannot abide see­ing a sick person. Persons who identify being human with power to achieve will despise weak persons. Those who seek out beauty in persons will regard every disability as ugly. Implied in any idealization of the body is the rejection of some kinds of bodies or some aspects of our normally recalcitrant bodily life. In a society where denial of our particular bodies and questing for a particular body is ‘normal’, respect for handicapped and non-ideal bodies is an act of resistance and liberation. Over against this disabling ideal we have to set an understanding of true health as ‘the strength to live, the strength to suffer and the strength to die’.

There is a mutually illuminating relationship between these observations on handicap in community and Christian under­standings of both what it means to be human and our under­standing of God. As Eiesland puts it, ‘Our bodies participate in the imago Dei not in spite of our impairments and con­tingencies but through them.’ We can say this because, if the Christian revelation is true, then God chooses to heal us through weakness and through the cross. ‘Christians do not have an able bodied God as their primal image. Rather, the Disabled God promising grace through a broken body is at the centre of piety, prayer, practice and mission.’ It was an axiom of fourth-century Christology that ‘Not assumed is not healed.’ This was an argument for Christ’s full assumption of human flesh. The implication of this is, says Moltmann, that `The eternal God took on not only the limited and mortal aspects of humanity but also the disabled, sick, weak, helpless and lifeless aspects of humanity. He took on our disabilities and made them an expression of his own pain. It is by taking on every sickness and every care and making them his own sufferings and his own cares that God heals all sicknesses and all cares.'” So impairment, or handicap, is part of the struc­ture of redemption. This does not call into question the idea that God explores the creation through our senses, but it does put it in a radically different light. It means, for example, that hedonism, as a religion of the celebration of the senses and nothing more, could never be our gospel. It means, as we see in the New Testament, that eros, for all its glory, can never be all that we mean by love. It means that there are depths plumbed by difficulty which are not plumbed by ease.

So let me return to Wendell’s question whether there would ever be a reason for genetic screening-out of handicap. I find myself saying ‘No’. There is something deeply depressing, and deeply antithetical to the Christian revelation, in the vision of a race of nothing but super athletes with high IQs. For one thing, I wouldn’t have any part in it. More seriously, the fourth-century theologians believed that Christ’s assumption of humanity had implications for the whole human race. This means that ‘in truth there is no such thing as a reduced or dis­abled life. In its own way, each life is divine life and must be experienced and respected as such: This is not to say that research to overcome MS or other disabling diseases is mistaken. Of course it is not, but has to be recognized, along with the support and love of the community, as a continuation of the healing Jesus practised in his ministry. What is vital, however, is to continue this research without calling into question the value of life of those who are disabled.

Finally, then, what about the resurrection?- We know that, as psychosomatic beings, our bodies are part of who we are, part of our ‘fundamental structure of being’. If handicap is part of that then it must have some relation to our existence beyond death. ‘Whatever transformations may occur as a person grows in holiness or moves into a different mode of existence,’ writes Pailin, ‘it is essentially that person as she or he is at the present moment, and not a different one or a potential one, who is embraced by the divine.’81 To think otherwise is to think that the handicapped person does not have worth to God as they are right now. This insistence seems to me, however, to overlook the role that dream, vision and hope plays in our ‘gestalt’, that ‘me-ness’ which will be raised, and which is not simply identical with our physical or moral selves. I think of Nesan, my Sri Lankan student, who was determined more by his spirit than his physical frame. `What is sown is perishable,’ says Paul, ‘what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown in a physical body, it is raised a a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15: 42-­44 ). This transfiguration of everything that we are, and of the whole creation, is surely the key to our thinking about resurrection: Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. (Isa. 60.1)

This radiance, the author of Revelation implies, will bathe the whole created world, and in it we will all be renewed (Rev. 21.23 ). In that renewal, I am sure, there will be neither impair­ment nor handicap but, as the Athanasian creed put it, ‘one equal glory’.

But are there such things as sins of the flesh? To this question I expect two quite different answers. Some will answer, ‘Of course there are.’ Paul con­demned gluttony, lust, drunkenness and adultery as ‘sins of the flesh’. He tells us in Philippians that those who make bodily desires their god are going to end up in hell (Phil. 3.18-20). Porneia, sometimes translated ‘sexual immorality’, and some­times ‘fornication’ is roundly condemned, especially by Paul. In the New Testament we find a clear division between flesh and spirit. Jesus says that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mark 14.3 8). Paul says that flesh wars against the Spirit (Gal. 5.16-17), mind against body. ‘With my mind (nous)’ , he says, ‘I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin . . . those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit’ (Rom. 7.2.5; 8.5 ). For this reason we are told we should mortify the senses. The author of I Peter speaks of fleshly desires which wage war against the soul (I Pet. 2.11). In 1 John we are told: Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world — the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches — comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2.15 ) which Scripture eschews. ‘The person thinks with his body,’ as Moltmann puts it. ‘The brain and the bodily organs instruct one another.’ Alternatively one can argue that there cannot be specifically sins of the flesh because everything goes through our head, and Jesus recognized this in highlighting the intention behind adultery (Matt. 5.27-8). Yes, he talks about a look, but that’s as far as the flesh goes. It’s really about the imagination, what the rabbis called the yetzer ha’ra, the evil intent. As it says in Genesis, ‘the imagination (yetzer) of humankind is evil from its youth up’ (Gen. 8.2i). These alter­native approaches illustrate the fact that we are, in Terry Eagleton’s words, ‘cusped between nature and culture’, a fact which Paul explores in Romans and Freud in his case studies.? As with any arch, the danger is that we can easily fall apart.

The marginal significance of ‘sins of the flesh’ is confirmed when we look at the tradition of the seven deadly sins. Only two refer specifically to the body — lust and gluttony. The rest — anger, greed, envy and sloth — are what you might call `spiritual’ sins, and topping the list is pride, which both Christians and rabbis have always agreed is the paramount sin. So the body, actually, is not a particular focus for sin.

The first, and probably mainstream, view of sins of the flesh would be nervous of any theology of the senses, finding in them an occasion for sin. John Chrysostom said that each sense must fast from its own particular evi1. Following his advice I shall look at each of the senses, and try to see what that particular evil might be, and on which side of the divide the scale would come down.


Once, in the 1960s, I was on an all-male pilgrimage which stopped at a tiny cider pub in a remote Norfolk hamlet. On the wall was a girlie calendar, extremely decorous by today’s standards, but nevertheless intended to be titillating. As we entered, our Roman Catholic chaplain, who went on to become archbishop of Birmingham, roared: ‘Gentlemen: Custody of eyes!’

Throughout the patristic and medieval period custody of eyes was a fundamental precept. Augustine condemned ocular desire which diverts our eyes from more spiritual concerns. Chrysostom warned that unchastened gazing is the greatest snare. Francis would never lift his eyes from the ground in the presence of a woman. Curiously, for all its hostility to Christian moralizing this is one area where contemporary secular thought has endorsed the Christian tradition. In a remark which could have come from any of these church Fathers, Norman Bryson says that ‘the life of vision is one of endless wanderlust, and in its carnal form the eye is nothing but desire’. All these writers are men. What do women think?

Much feminist thought attacks the objectifying, reifying power of the male gaze. `Women’s desire’, says Luce Irigaray, `does not speak the same language as man’s desire. In this logic the prevalence of the gaze . . . is particularly foreign to women’s eroticism. Women find pleasure more in touch than in sight.'” She would hardly agree with Bryson’s universaliz­ing account of vision. For her it is specifically the male gaze which is the problem, one of patriarchy’s instruments of power. ‘More than any other sense, the eye objectifies and it masters. It sets at a distance, and maintains a distance. In our culture the predominance of the look over smell, taste, touch and hearing has brought about an impoverishment of bodily relations.”

Irigaray’s point about the male gaze as opposed to the role of touch in women’s eroticism seems to be confirmed by the fact that the vast bulk of the purchasers and users of visual pornography, which is surely the paradigm of the objectifying gaze, appear to be men. It is claimed that an increasing number of women now use it — in the United States it is said that this is now up to 20% of the market, and there is a specialist women’s erotic video firm. Given that reality is socially constructed, we might expect equality feminism to have something like this result. I am focusing on visual pornography because, of course, much pornography is literary, and this long pre-dates the top-shelf magazine and the video. These are only possible in the high-tech consumer society.

In Christian and theological circles pornography is often condemned but rarely discussed. The reason is obvious: the condemnation of porneia in the letters of Paul, and Jesus’ remark about the adulterous gaze. If you want a command ethic, there it is. Nothing could be clearer. Nevertheless, there are at least two good reasons for discussing it. First, visual pornography is big business in our society. In the United States it grosses more than the music and movie industries combined; in Britain 2.5 million top-shelf magazines are sold monthly, and there is an estimated readership of 5 million, a huge percentage of the adult population.” Worldwide in 1999 its takings were estimated at $ r i billion. And as Laura Kipnis puts it, ‘pornography’s not going away anytime soon’. We cannot bury our heads in the sand about this phenomenon, but had better try to understand what is going on. Secondly, in its exploration of fantasy, pornography in many ways gets close to the heart of the human condition, something that both the desert Fathers and Augustine realized.

There is an ongoing debate about this industry, not least within feminism, and, at the risk of over-simplification I will try to distinguish three positions, largely within the feminist discussion.

First, there are those feminists, like Catherine Itzin and Andrea Dworkin, who argue that pornography is the theory This distinction between pornography and erotica is queried from both left and right. On the one hand what is called ‘erotica’ seems designed to titillate, and therefore fulfils the same function as pornography, whilst on the other hand Linda Williams argues that ‘The very notion of erotica as “good”, clean, non explicit representations of sexual pleasure in opposition to dirty, explicit pornographic ones is false. The erotic and the pornographic interact in hard core. The one emphasizes desire, the other satisfaction. Depending on who is looking, both can appear dirty, perverse, or too explicit.’ Relatedly, Linda Nead argues that art and pornography cannot be isolated, but must be recognized as elements ‘with­in a cultural continuum that distinguishes good and bad representations of the female body, allowable and forbidden forms of cultural consumption, and that which defines what can or cannot be seen’.

Thirdly, there are those feminists like Linda Williams, Lynne Segal, Laura Kipnis and Angela Carter who are not pre­pared to be dismissive about pornography.

Linda Williams has made a study of so-called hard core pornography, and argues that it is not the enemy. ‘Neither are fantasies, which by definition are based on unruly desires rather than politically correct needs. The one speaks to us about bodies and organs; the other describes the often circuitous roles these bodies and organs play in satisfying our desires. Pornography speculates about both.’

For Lynne Segal polymorphous pornography deconstructs male power: The more discourses there are around sex, the more sexist oppositions between male and female, active and passive, subject and object, begin to break down. Oddly, this is most clear in pornographic sim.’

According to Angela Carter, ‘A moral pornographer might use pornography as a critique of current relations between the sexes.’ Carter argues that his purpose would be the demystification of the flesh and the making clear of the real relations between persons. Such a pornographer, she says, ‘would not be an enemy of women, . . . because he might begin to pene­trate to the heart of the contempt for women that distorts our culture’. ‘Sexual relations between men and women always render explicit the nature of social relations in the society in which they take place and, if described explicitly, will form a critique of those relations.’

As you see, at the heart of all three of these positions is not the flesh, as such, but power, and therefore relationship. This seems to be what much of the moral argument is really about. Can there be depictions of the naked body which do not raise the question of power in a problematic way? John Berger famously argued that in the European tradition there were `perhaps a hundred’ nudes in which the painter’s personal vision, his love for his subject, made reification impossible. This has been challenged by feminist art critics like Linda Nead, but to my mind there are some works of art, like Michelangelo’s David, or Rembrandt’s picture of Bathsheba in the Louvre, which simply cannot be regarded as porno­graphic. By that I mean that you cannot view these works con­centrating primarily on the genitals; nothing in the pose of either figure is about sexual display; their intrinsic dignity resolutely denies the possibility of their use for masturbatory fantasy. There used also to be, and perhaps still is, a magazine devoted to photographs from nudist camps, called Health and Education, whose photographs, far from being erotic, were slightly embarrassing, as if one had stumbled into a shower where someone had forgotten to lock the door. The difference of these photographs from pornography seems to be bound up with intention, the posing of the body as a form of sexual invitation; and perhaps this applies also to John Berger’s canon. But are images of the nude which do stimulate desire necessarily wrong? William Countryman, in his important essay on sex and property ethics, Dirt, Greed and Sex, argued that erotic literature and art form a widespread and diverse phenomenon which may at times be contrary to Christian ethics, particularly when they set up idolatrous ethical stan­dards which treat the self and its sexual gratification as the final goal of existence, or when they present as acceptable the degradation of adults or abuse of children, but ‘The pleasure attached to explicit sexual portrayals in words or pictures should be accepted as the powerful ally of any effort to teach the responsible use of so beautiful a thing.’ Is it the old suspicion of pleasure which leads to our condemnation of pornography, and, by contrast, is the widespread use of it not the inevitable correlate of a hedonist society?

As I noted, it is easy for the Christian to make a blanket condemnation of pornography on the grounds of the New Testament condemnation of porneia, but Laura Kipnis’s demonstration of the class bias of most pornography critique, and Linda Nead’s account of the continuum between art and pornography, at the very least problematizes that. Kipnis argues that psychoanalysis is the route through which we have to try and understand pornography and that it is a powerful aid in helping us to understand ‘that amalgam of complexes, repressions, and identifications we call “me” ‘. In this she is at one with the desert Fathers, if Peter Brown is to be believed.

For them sexual temptation was not the biggest issue, but nevertheless the pervasiveness and resilience of sexual fantasy `served as barium traces, by which the Desert Fathers mapped out the deepest and most private recesses of the will’.30 This raises the question of where the Christian, and especially the Augustinian, account of what it means to be human stands in relation to the light psychoanalysis has thrown on repression and fantasy. Freud and his successors have made clear that none of us exist without fantasy and that it is a fundamental part of the human condition. Fantasy, we should be clear, is relations are, or should be, one of the citadels of privacy, the nightplace where we must be allowed to gather the splintered, harried elements of our consciousness to some kind of inviolate order and repose.

It is in sexual experience that a human being alone, and two human beings in that attempt at total communication which is also communion, can discover the unique bent of their identity. That we can find for ourselves, through imperfect striving and repeated failure, the words, the gestures, the mental images which set the blood to racing. In that dark and wonder ever-renewed both the fumblings and the light must be our own. The new pornographers subvert this last, vital privacy; they do our imagining for us. They take away the words that were of the night and shout them over the roof tops, making them hollow. The images of our love making, the stammerings we resort to in inti­macy, come pre-packaged.

Kipnis could argue that Steiner is a typical high culture theorist, unwilling and perhaps unable to understand the popular culture to which pornography belongs. She could point out that all our cultural responses are learned, and to that extent come pre-packaged. We do not object, for example, to learning the grammar of romantic love from John Donne or Jane Austen. Why do we single out this other form of intimacy? Sympathetic as I am to Kipnis’s class analysis it seems to me that Steiner’s plea for privacy is on to something, particularly in the context of the World Wide Web, when peo­ple compete to put the whole of their private lives on display for the inspection of all in acts of consummate narcissism. Is not Steiner right, and is not part of the beauty of sexuality bound up with privacy? Remember Dussell’s caress — the delicate advance and retire of mutual exploration. The word `cynicism’ comes from the Greek philosophical sect the Cynics, who got their name, ‘dogs’, from their insistence on showing their contempt for moral codes by having sex in public. In a hedonist society it is arguable that what porno­graphy is principally about is pleasure — a demonstration, a celebration, perhaps even a sharing, of the pleasure of the body. As we have seen, huge sums of money are involved in this industry, and it is then part of the ‘cynically consumerist present’. But even when money is not the object, do not objections to ‘reification’ point to a falling apart of flesh and spirit, an ultimate loss of mystery about the body which is celebrated, and is this not what has to be defended?


I turn now to my second sense, hearing. The gaze can be, we know, active, aggressive, violating. Hearing, however, is usually passive, except when we are snooping, and listening in on what we ought not to hear. Here again privacy might be the issue at stake, but that cannot provide us with the paradigm sin associated with this sense. We must turn to what it is we hear, from hearing to speaking, to the sin of the word, to what it is we intend others to hear. We could instance the torrent of noise which assails us, not only in the North, but equally in the South, where crudely erected speakers frequently drown any possibility of conversation or reflection in Third World cities and slums. But in thinking of the sin associated with hearing we need to move from the passive sense to the words we hear, to speech. For, as George Steiner says, we live ‘in a culture which is, increasingly, a wind tunnel of gossip; gossip that reaches us from theology and politics to an unprecedented noising of private concerns . . . In how much of what is now pouring forth do words become word — and where is the silence needed if we are to hear that metamorphosis?’ We speak far too much, far too easily, making common what was private, arresting into cliches of false certitude that which was provisional, personal, and therefore alive on the shadow side of speech’.” Here, certainly, is a sin attached to hearing. In Scripture the focus is on false witness (the ninth command­ment), and on slander and malicious gossip. Given the roots of the tradition of the seven deadly sins in Scripture it is odd that these are absent from the list. ‘Six things the Lord hates,’ says the Book of Proverbs, ‘Seven things are detestable to him:’

A proud eye, a false tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that forges thoughts of mischief, And feet that run swiftly to do evil, A false witness telling a pack of lies, And one who stirs up quarrels between brothers. (Prov. 6.16-19)

Sins of the word occurs three times in this list. The Testament of Reuben, which comes from the Hellenistic period, identifies as its seven ‘spirits of deceit’ promiscuity, located in the senses, insatiability, located in the stomach, strife, trickery and flattery, arrogance, lying ‘which through destructiveness and rivalry handles his affairs smoothly and secretively even with his relatives and his household’ and the spirit of injustice `with which are thefts and crooked dealings’. Here the word is included in six of the sins. The Christian account of the seven deadly sins received its decisive form from Gregory the Great, who was himself a disciple of Benedict. Although Benedict wrote a rule for life together, he also laid great emphasis on solitude, and the seven deadly sins we are familiar with are particularly targeted to the monk in his cell. The Jewish lists look much more to community, which lying undermines. What is destructive about lying is that it cuts away that assumption of trustworthiness on which all societies rest. Why is it that, as Henry Chadwick used to put it, ‘truth telling has never stood very high on the scale of recti­tude’? Some of the reasons are obvious. There is the famous example of the need to lie to someone you encounter at a crossroads waving an axe. You have just seen a terrified figure rush down the right-hand road. ‘Which way did he go?’ yells the axe man. ‘That way,’ you say, pointing down the left fork. Or there is the need to lie about Aunt Mabel’s hat. ‘How do you like it?’ she asks. You think that you’ve never seen any­thing more frightful in your life, and that it makes her look like a scarecrow. ‘Lovely,’ you say. In his Ethics, Bonhoeffer comments on the cynicism of those people who feel that they must always tell the truth, no matter what, and who destroy human beings and human community by doing so. This is not to say that we condone lying in all circumstances, but there are clearly many so-called ‘white lies’ which ‘do the truth’, as John puts it.

Lies can destroy community, and slander can destroy an individual, but still more serious are the lies of the press, which Karl Barth spoke of as a ‘gigantic maw of lying’, of advertising, political rhetoric and corporate propaganda. A key contemporary example is the appropriation of the language of sustainable development by corporations whose agenda is in fact profit no matter what the price. Such language, Orwell said, is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” The point about such lying is that we must not identify it merely with tabloid journalism, or with monstrous political figures like Stalin, Hitler or Pinochet. As Karl Barth put it, ‘The true and succulent lie always has something of the scent of the truth. In some manifestations of falsehood it is heavy with truth in the form of truisms, so that if we think we know and should describe it as falsehood we are bound to look like iconoclasts and must anxiously ask ourselves whether it is not we who are liars, blaspheming holy things and people . . . The instructed Grand Inquisitor or Antichrist who can commend his evil cause . . . is a sympathetic and a seriously illuminating and convincing figure.’ The consum­mate liar ‘is not against the truth but with it and for it, appeal­ing to it with sincerity and profundity and enthusiasm’. This is the first criterion of the really dangerous lie, far more of a threat in liberal democracies than in totalitarian societies where the lie is crude and palpable. Real lies are ‘counterfeits which fully resemble the truth’, which pushes us right back to the question of what constitutes truth in the first place.4° We recall Van Gogh’s remark, in his letters, that he wanted his paintings to lie, but to tell lies which were more truthful than the literal truth. Similarly we can think of the ‘truth’ of Francis Bacon’s paintings, which has nothing to do with verisimili­tude.

+++A second mark of the really dangerous lie is the question of intention. To a critic Barth once wrote: ‘You say many correct things. But what is correct is not always true. Only what is kindly said is true. You do not speak a single kindly line.’ Behind the laborious mildness of the friends of Job, he wrote in another context, ‘there is already prepared an auto da fe to be celebrated ad maiorem Dei gloriam’. The purpose of the, really dangerous lie is destruction, which is clearly the reason false witness figures in the commandments. False witness is the means by which we destroy an innocent person for our own ends. The slander which is condemned equally in both the Wisdom literature and the New Testament has the same intent and effect.

A third feature of the truly dangerous lie is its abstraction. Abstraction is frequently defended, and doubtless rightly, as one of the greatest human achievements, but certainly in theology, and in the pronouncements of the church above all, it can lead us to lose sight of the real human being, and thus to turn a Thou into an ‘It’, and this is completely to miss the sub­stance of human truth. Think, for example, how the church has dealt, and in many instances continues to deal, with issues of divorce or homosexuality, and ask whether we do not here have examples of the pious lie.

In all these ways, as Barth reminds us, judgement begi with the house of God when it comes to lying. ‘The worst () t weekday lies has its roots in the even worse Sunday lie, the profane in the Christian.’ Here above all we can use the truth to silence the truth, or the true Witness, ‘by finding for him a place, by championing him, by making him its hero, example and symbol, yet all the time patronising, interpreting, domesticating, acclimatising, accommodating, and gently but very definitely and significantly correcting him’. This is a devastating possibility made all the more problematic by the fact that there are always large crowds more than ready to throw the first stone with this accusation.

Slander, false witness, the succulent lie. Are these sins of the flesh? Scarcely. In all these instances we see, as Jesus reminds us, that ‘It is what comes out of a person which defiles’ (Mark 7.20), drawing attention, once again, to intention. It is not so much the flesh lusting against the spirit, as the spirit corrupt­ing the flesh.


The blessing of touch is the caress. Its curse is the blow. The earth, say the authors of Genesis, is corrupt and full of violence (Gen. 6.1 ). Of course, violence is not merely physical. Violence covers verbal and physical harassment, undue moral pressure, bullying, the threat of attack on the street, rape, police action, torture, terrorism, war, genocide, the Holocaust, the effects of poverty, the nuclear threat, destruction of the environment. In reflecting on the senses, however, I will concentrate on the deliberate use of touch to injure rather than to express love, and above all in torture.

Writing in 1866, Henry Lea, an American historian of torture, believed that

In the general enlightenment which caused and accom­panied the Reformation, there passed away gradually the passions which created the rigid institutions of the Middle Ages . . . In the slow evolution of the centuries it is only by comparing distant periods that we can mark our progress; but progress nevertheless exists, and future generations, perhaps, may be able to emancipate themselves wholly from the cruel and arbitary domination of superstition and force.'”

Alas, the twentieth century, especially in its last four decades, witnessed unprecedented levels of torture. The rationale of torture is usually interrogation, which is why it is known as la Question in French. In fact, this has little to do with its reality, for it is, as Elaine Scarry has argued, about unmaking the world. In torture, she says, ‘Each source of strength and delight, each means of moving out into the world in to oneself, becomes a means of turning the body back in on itself, forcing the body to feed on the body.’ What this process does ‘is to split the human being into two, to make emphatic the ever present but, except in the extremity of sickness and death, only latent distinction between self and body, between a “me” and “my body’

Earlier I remarked that the Jewish and Christian view of the human opposed any dualism of body and soul, spirit and flesh. Those philosophies which have upheld such a dualism cannot, however, be accused simply of privileging the rational and intellectual. On the contrary, they can appeal to moments of of his torturers reporting the tortures their own comrades had undergone at the hands of Israeli forces, Brian Keenan said, `The relish with which they spoke about torture made me think how much they secretly enjoyed reflecting on atrocities. Even as they spoke a part of them became the torturer. Without acknowledging it they were awed by the barbarity and intoxicated by its power. There is an extensive litera­ture on what Fromm calls ‘the anatomy of human destructive­ness’. Distinct families of explanations trace violence to bad parenting (Alice Miller), the fractured relationships which characterize patriarchal society (Gilligan), the evolutionary need for aggression (Lorenz, Colin Morris), mimesis and scapegoating (Girard), the need to defend property (Ellacuria) and the state (Max Weber). Doubtless all of these factors have a role to play, but they say little about the ease with which states and revolutionary movements recruit torturers. Keenan’s talk of intoxication is clearly part of the story. He says of Abed, the man who administered his worst beating, `his excitement was beyond control’. This kind of violence is what characterized the Viking beserkers and it seems to be what happens in some multiple killings. Once again we find ourselves at that ‘cusp between nature and culture’ where learned responses of restraint, ‘biting the tongue’, ‘taking a deep breath’ — all the disciplines of culture — are abandoned in favour of an orgy of violence. The excitement draws on the relation of power and helplessness, an absolute inversion of the care we give to infants. To have someone completely in our power can for some, and in some circumstances, invite literally devilish behaviour. Eric Fromm argues that sadistic violence is rooted in the attempt to turn impotence into omnipotence, to exercise total control. Sadism, he says, is the religion of psychical cripples. On similar lines William Cavanaugh speaks of torture as a ‘liturgy of omnipotence’. We admire the courage of people like Keenan, but the crucial

corresponds to a sin of the flesh, gluttony, though gluttony, as a disposition, is more a vice than a sin. That gluttony is not exactly an outdated vice is shown by the statistics for obesity in Western countries, but in general it is not a vice we take seriously. Our obsession with dieting and slimming is not con­cerned with self-control but much more related to body image. In the classical tradition gluttony was condemned partly because all forms of pleasure were suspect, partly because it argued a weak will and partly because it actually meant a sin against the body, in making it ill.

Augustine instantiates the suspicion of pleasure. Food should be taken like medicines, he says. But while I pass from the discomfort of need to the tranquillity of satisfaction, the very transition contains for me an insidious trap of uncon­trolled desire . . . Although health is the reason for eating and drinking, a dangerous pleasantness joins itself to the process like a companion. Many a time it tries to take first place . . . ‘ As I argued in the first chapter, such suspicion of pleasure is something we are right to put behind us, but once again we are brought back to the dialectic of nature and culture. In relation to pornography I argued that it is vital to own the complexity of human motivation, but this does not mean we can disown the notion of will. The will is about preparedness to take responsibility for what we do and who we are. Many forms of addiction therapy are actually about either strengthening or recreating the will. This is a serious issue in a society where we are urged as a public duty to give in to every impulse.

There is another more structural issue as well. In his depiction of Gluttony in The Faerie Queen, Spenser drew a deformed figure riding a pig:

And like a Crane his neck was long and fyne With which he swallowed up excessive feast, for want whereof poor people often did pyne.

And then again, just as part of the grace of the senses is in their evocation of memory, so this can work in the opposite direction. Here is the survivor of Auschwitz, Barbara Hyett:

The ovens,

the stench,

I couldn’t repeat the stench. You

have to breathe.

You can wipe out

what you don’t want to see. Close your

eyes. You don’t want

to hear, don’t want

to taste. You can

block out all the senses

except smell.”

We have now run through our five senses, and I think that if we return to our opening question we will want to say that there are no specific sins of the flesh, or at least, there is no common denominator between sins particular to the various senses. I would like, however, to suggest two widely shared features. The first is that falling apart of nature and culture which we have repeatedly seen in these forms of sin. Barth speaks of this as ‘dissipation’, by which he means an imbalance between the ruling soul and the serving body. This is a common theme of the Christian tradition, and we find it, for example, in Jeremy Taylor, who argued that it was natural for materialists to be gluttons, ‘But . . . why should we do the same things, who are led by other principles . . . who know what shall happen to a soul hereafter, and know that this time is but a passage to eternity, this body but a servant to the soul, this soul a minister to the Spirit, and the whole man in order to God and to felicity.’ Barth goes further arguing that a split in either direction, privileging either the body at the expense of the soul or the soul at the expense of the body, leads to a ruinous dissipation.

As we become and are men of disorder, God necessarily becomes a stranger and enemy. For he is a God of order and peace. He is the Creator and Guarantor of the peace designed for man in his own nature as the soul of his body . . . if we choose the flesh, ie one or other form of that dualism, we reject God. We are blind to his work and deaf to his voice. We are no longer able to pray in any true sense. We cannot do so even if our libertinism takes a more spiritual form: perhaps a very pronounced idealism or a bold inner enthusiasm, or even an intensive religiosity, a very zealous concern for God and his cause. Born of the flesh this will always be flesh. Far from binding us to God, it will separate us from him . . . whatever form our debauchery takes, whether it is upward or downward, whether it is the libertinage of thoughts and feelings or that of the appetites, God is not there for the vagabond in us . . . The habit of self forgiveness spoils his taste for a life by free grace. Evil desire extinguishes the love of God, and therefore faith and hope in God, first in his heart, then in his thinking and action, and finally in the whole of his life. It may combine itself with the more crude or refined pretence of Christianity, but it can never go hand in hand with a true Christianity, which keeps itself in temptation and is power­ful in its witness to the world.

Moltmann is quite right to point out that Barth’s model of `ruling soul and serving body’ is based on an idea of divine sovereignty which is insufficiently Trinitarian, and that we need to think rather of the whole human organism, the `historical Gestalt which people, body and soul, develop in their environment’. In this passage, however, Barth explicitly protests against any dualism, any splitting of nature and culture. He affirms, in fact, the need for an ongoing mutual education, within the context of the Christian tradi­tion, which Aristotle and St Thomas spoke of as learning the virtues, and Jesus as discipleship. In this education the senses both school us and are schooled in the purposes of the kingdom.

Secondly, we saw that in many of the paradigm sins of the senses power is at the centre: in some forms of pornography, certainly, in torture, in some forms of the lie, even in gluttony. At the end of his history of Germany from 1866 to 1945, Gordon Craig remarks that ‘the emphasis on power at the expense of the spirit had corrupted the values and stunted the political growth of the German people’.” Foucault has taught us that everyone has some power, but the problem is that some have much more than others, and in any case the question is, what we do with it. As Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan puts it, ‘What’s the use of two strong arms if you only push and shove?’ Power at the expense of spirit is sin, which is to say ungracious behaviour, behaviour which does not recognize our corporate rootedness in gift and therefore our common dependence. It is precisely this which Velazquez depicts in his portrait of Innocent X. This kind of power, as we see most clearly in torture, is about the unmaking of the sensed world, taking the gifts of grace and turning them into instruments of destruction. And if there is a sin against the Holy Spirit surely that is it.

If there are no sins of the flesh, what, then, is meant by bodily integrity, that situation where body and soul work together as God intended them to? At the risk of sentimental or individualist misunderstanding we might say that what bodily integrity involves is learning to love. Of course it involves ‘the flesh’, i.e. sex, but we need to recall Eric Fromm’s insistence that love is an art and a discipline which we have to learn. It involves the intensive use of our senses, but not simply in what we call ‘making love’. Much more profoundly, `Not to be bored or boring is one of the main conditions of loving. To be active in thought, feeling, with one’s eyes and ears, throughout the day, to avoid inner laziness . . . The capacity to love demands a state of intensity, awakeness, enhanced vitality, which can only be the result of a productive and active orientation in many other spheres of life.'” This productive and active orientation is what we can call a project. As Rowan Williams puts it, ‘Decisions about our sexual lives are decisions about what we want our bodily life to say, how bodies are to be brought into the whole project of “making human sense” for ourselves and the other.’

What Williams speaks of here as the project of making human sense is what Jesus speaks of as the kingdom, which takes us beyond a purely individual horizon. Love in its purely personal and physical dimensions is crucial, but it is not the kingdom. The kingdom includes justice and peace. It includes tackling the hard issues of criminal justice, of land reform, of economics, of the environment. Some years ago there was a popular film called When Harry Met Sally. The subtitle was: `Can men and women just be friends or does sex always get in the way?’ Predictably, the answer was that sex always got in the way, but aside from that what really irritated me about the film is that it never suggested, at any point, that there was a world out there in which people were starving and power politics being exercised. Harry and Sally went their sweet introverted ways without any knowledge of such things. To be embodied means to live somewhere, in this hut, tenement, or grand mansion; to eat this or that, bits of paper if you are poor in Rio de Janeiro, or the fruits of the whole earth if you are the fellow of an Oxford college or a North American businessman; to be unemployed and therefore unable to keep body and soul together, as we say, or to be grossing more than the poorest 17 million of your fellow citizens, as it is with the richest Mexican. Bodies are given us to challenge and change this world. To live graciously is to seek the kingdom and pursue it, and that, finally, is what we are called to use the senses for and it is failure to do so which is what we mean by that much misunderstood term ‘sin’, which never, I hope I have shown, refers primarily or above all to ‘the flesh’.

Return to the home page


From → Spirituality

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: