Bodies and temples

Hollywood actress, Paris Jackson, has been criticised for placing nude images of herself online. Now she has hit back at her critics with a public statement:”I’ll say it again for those questioning what I stand for and how I express myself.

59th GRAMMY Awards -  Arrivals

“Nudity started as a movement for ‘going back to nature’, ‘expressing freedom’, ‘being healthier’ and was even called a philosophy. Being naked is part of what makes us human. For me it helps me feel more connected to mama gaia. I’m usually naked when I garden. Not only is your body a temple and should be worshipped as such, but also part of feminism is being able to express yourself in your own way, whether it’s being conservative and wearing lots of clothes or showing yourself.”

I’m sure Ms. Jackson is a good person, but just as surely this statement shows that she has been touched by a sort of unapologetic narcissism which is all too common. It consists of a need to be noticed, to make your intmate self into public property, and to gain approval or at least notoriety thereby. Often this need is justified by specious philosophies; in this case the reference to mama gaia, a personification of the global ecosystem, which is trivial, as if her current ailments could be cured by rich young women taking their clothes off. Were this an effective remedy I would be as much in favour of it as the next man, but alas, it is not.

The narcissism is particularly evident in the passage about the body as a temple. The phrase, which was coined by St Paul, has become a modern cliche which is hard to use without irony. “I like to say that my body is a temple but my friend says it’s more like a bouncy castle.” Ms. Jackson, however,  wants people to take it seriously. Unfortunately, she interprtets the phrase in a mistaken way which reveals her underlying narcissism: she thinks a temple is TO BE WORSHIPPED. Yes, that’s what she’s saying, that the body as temple should be worshipped. She lives at such a distance from any genuine religion that she imagines people go to a temple to worship the building, rather than the God/ Godess whose name it bears. This gives her, she believes, the right, indeed the duty, to worship her own body, and to make it available for worship by others.IMG_0403

Does she in fact suspect that this kind of image worship is idolatry, and so deny it by her use of the temple image? In any case, we are faced with behaviour which is trivial in itself, but a a matter of concern for what it reveals about the consciousness of rich people in the rich world: that they are gods and goddesses to be worshipped by more ordinary people, as once the stars of Hollywood movies were worshipped by cinema- goers all over the world.

Now don’t get me wrong. As far as human nakedness is concerned, I’m with Mae West: “skin ain’t sin.” Even public nakedness may have a place, although with my body, I’m grateful for clothes. My concern is with the taken-for-granted privilege, the pervasive preening, and the ignorant pseudo- philosophy, of this particular form of popular culture.

Most decent people in the world, who have to work hard for their survival, also have a beauty that can be appreciated: the marks of their labour,  pain and longing are inscribed in their bodies, which are revealed, not as god-like presences, but as frail assemblies of dust, subject to time and chance, and as such, marvellous. These are the bodies of which Michelangelo knows nothing, but which are precious to Rembrandt, Goya, and Lucien Freud. In fact they are not bodies but people, whose bodies, like that of the risen Christ, tell the story of their struggle.

IMG_0404St. Paul wanted his Corinthians to know that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit. He taught that their bodies were mortal and therefore subject to decay, but open to an ultimate transformation into the splendour of spiritual bodies, through the power of God’s spirit. But even now, in the midst of their struggles, that Spirit would, if allowed, take up residence in their mortal bodies. “Therefore,” he urged, “honour God with your bodies.” A glimpse of ultimate splendour could be seen in the lives of ordinary people who were learning to love each other as children of God.

Peace to Paris Jackson, but I prefer St. Paul’s vision to hers.


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