Thursday, February 17, 2011
Dem Bones (Part 4): Plato, Pop Culture, and You
Does it bother anyone else that Victoria’s Secret parades half-naked girls with angel wings down a runway on primetime television? There’s nothing wrong with lingerie, but these ads sell more than pretty things to wear in private. And, can’t we be our own models in the bedroom? Why do we need to see it on a 20-year-old waif first? Rephrase: Why does my husband need to see it on a 20-year-old waif first? And, don’t get me started about the angel thing. Angels are real, but I bet they don’t wear push-up bras. Say I’m overreacting, but I am finally using my head to think about things like this instead of just accepting everything that comes shooting out of my television screen. Hooray for Victoria’s Secret for blurring the lines between mainstream values, Christianity, and soft pornography.
How about the new commercial for theladders.com? It pokes fun at $100,000 wage-earners in an ad where nerdy execs pose in “provocative” positions. I use that term lightly. There is intentionally nothing really provocative about these folks. In the ad, theladders.com promises to make job-seekers “more attractive” to companies. I will give it to them: it IS pretty funny. My first reaction was a giggle. But, then I felt kind of icky inside. It took me a while to sort out why it rubs me the wrong way. I have a sense of humor, and I really appreciate creativity. This ad inspires both, but it still bugs me. Maybe it is because a company that says it exists to help professionals attain high-paying jobs has stooped to the same low-brow tactics as everyone else in America. This isn’t a moral judgment, but it is social commentary. As they say, sex sells. If marketers aren’t using sex to get your attention, then they are appealing to your desire for beauty, strength, and health. Everything today is guaranteed to satisfy your cravings, make you look younger, and help you live longer. Look around you. What is for sale now that doesn’t have anything to do with your physical body in some way? You won’t find much. There is no doubt about the message of the world: your body matters.
It is striking to me that the message of the world is also the message of the Bible…but with a twist. Make no mistake, your body matters to God, too. Remember? You are nephesh—spirit joined with body. God made you in His image and even chooses for His Holy Spirit to dwell within the bodies of those who believe in Jesus. But, all you have to do is open a magazine or turn on the TV to see that Satan has taken something God made and called “good” and perverted it.
The world says that your value lies primarily in the physical. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are often seduced by this message. We feel the pull to be prettier, sexier, younger looking. But deep down, as Christians, I think we know that the emphasis on the physical in our culture is unbalanced. And, as we should, we want to counter that emphasis. We often do that by championing the “spiritual”. After all, it is the inside that counts, right? Truth, indeed…but not the whole truth. I think our disdain for the all-out worship of things like beauty, health, and sex in our culture can cause us as Christians to proverbially “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. We figure we need to show the world that we operate on a “higher” plane. So, we go out of our way to prove that physical things are beneath us and are unimportant. But, are we really presented with such a black and white choice? Do we really have to choose between worship of the physical and the renunciation of it? I don’t think so. There is a healthy, biblical middle ground. But, we have trouble seeing it because of a Greek guy named Plato.
Over time, theological doctrine has been influenced by culture. We would do well to be on our guard and be aware of the ways in which our culture subtly and not-so-subtly shapes our understanding of Scripture. While the Bible and its truth are unchanging, the interpretation of them is not. The influence of the green movement on current-day theological thought proves my point. While stewardship of the earth is a biblical value, the secular green movement has begun to target churches in propagandizing its message. And, some of that message is decidedly unbiblical. The same thing is taking place with the concept of social justice and with the issue of abortion. Legitimate Christian denominations are currently divided over these topics. If we are not careful, we can twist biblical truth just a little bit in order to make it fit into the popular thinking of the day, and this can have a profound impact on generations that follow…
…Such is the case with the concept that the physical realm is inherently evil and the spiritual realm is inherently good. It is an old idea with insidious and long-standing influence in the church, even today. Consider these excerpts from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven:
“In Plato’s statement, ‘Soma sema’ (‘a body, a tomb’), he asserts that the spirit’s highest destiny is to be forever free from the body.” (p.476)
“Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that material things, including the human body and the earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism through the teachings of Philo (ca. 20 BC-AD 50) and Origen (AD 185-254), among others, came to embrace the “spiritual” view that human spirits are better off without bodies…” (p. 52)
Mr. Alcorn uses this information to explain why we have devised the unbiblical notion that Heaven is a non-physical place where we float around in a disembodied state and hop from cloud to cloud (you know, playing the harp and having one endless church service!). Whoever wants to go there, raise your hand… What?! No takers?! Can you believe that Plato is the one that inspired such nonsense? You may be thinking, “Come on! I know that isn’t how Heaven is!” But, do you have another notion of Heaven that is well-developed? You may not believe you will be hopping from cloud to cloud, but you may not be able to imagine what else it could be like either. We don’t know what to attribute it to, but for some reason we haven’t really been taught to think of Heaven as a physical place, much less an earthly one. But, that is exactly the way the Bible describes Heaven as it will be after Jesus comes back (on the New Earth). Mr. Alcorn would suggest that our inability to ascribe physical characteristics to Heaven and to our eternal bodies is because of the subconscious influence of Platonism.
When I first read about this, I was floored. It may not mean a hill of beans to you, but I was shocked that the church had been and continues to be so profoundly influenced by the secular teachings of a Greek philosopher. (Makes me wonder what else I am being duped about…) When I learned about Platonism, I immediately felt free to dump all of my old notions about eternal things in favor of a more accurate biblical viewpoint. And, let me tell you, the truth makes Heaven a LOT more appealing. No wonder we are all so unexcited about it!
Like last week, you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with taking care of my body?” Again, I assert: Everything! I think that the same philosophy that robs us of our joy of Heaven steals our ability to properly view our physical bodies as important in life on earth now. The idea that material things (including our bodies) are evil and that spiritual things are good makes us feel like we have to choose between two undesirable options: joining the world in the worship of the physical or renouncing the physical as inconsequential. Neither of these options reveals God’s heart toward his human creation.
Here is the bottom line: We don’t have to choose between Plato and pop culture. I choose door #3! My body matters to God. My value is not wrapped up in whether or not I am the most beautiful, sexiest, or youngest looking person alive. Beauty and sex are not inherently bad things. God made them! In their rightful place, they are (as God said) “good”. But, they are not to be the pursuit of my life. Above all else, I need to pursue Christ. And, in so doing, I will learn the discipline of being a good steward of my body. My body is inextricably tied to my spirit. And, the Bible encourages me to use it well as I engage in my life’s mission. Let’s look at how we do that next week.