Once people no longer draw the meaning of their lives from religion, society’s highest value is now related to bodily existence.
The latter part is what really struck me–articulating the high value placed on bodily existence. It ties into things I’ve been thinking about, although I’m not sure the connection will be clear. Perhaps the best way to say it is that tonight I’m thinking back over some of the topics that have been wandering through my mind. But tonight I’m thinking about it through the grid of “bodily existence as supreme value”.
I’ve been thinking about REGRETS. I’m constructing another post on this topic. But the part that ties in here for me is that we have so many options for bettering our lives. More options than ever, really. But with those options comes the increased possibility/hope of “getting it right”, finding the perfect solution or the miracle fix. And when the end result isn’t what we hoped for, we look back and see so many options we could have taken, and we are left with regrets and endless second guessing. Should I have tried this? Should I have chosen the other route to perfect health? Introspection till we can hardly see straight over what we could have or should have done to better our lives. Those thoughts, in their place, might be okay. But when we place supreme value on bodily existence, we also take on ourselves impossibilities responsibilities for preservation and survival, which leaves us with regret upon regret as we find ourselves not having done enough or not having done the right thing (because the “right thing” can only be measured by success in preserving and maintaining optimal bodily existence.)
And I’ve been thinking about FEARS. The seem to multiply and grow like snowballs rolling down a hill. Too Much Information doesn’t come with the ability to manage that information well and keep it in context. All that information about all the things that can go wrong and are going wrong around the world make us more aware of our frailty and maybe more determined to fight with all we’ve got to survive and to make life better. But the more we fight to survive and the more we focus on that, it seems like we feel more acutely how much more there is to be fearful of, how much there is that could do us in. And if I care more about preserving myself than I care about anything else, not only will I be obsessed with that preservation, but I will also be obsessed with and acutely aware of all the things that threaten the survival or well being of that bodily existence. Fear piled upon fear with no end in sight.
And I’ve been thinking about SUFFERING. How the more solutions we find to alleviate suffering, the more afraid we become of suffering and the less we seem able to bear, endure or thrive in the middle of suffering. In some ways we seem to have less suffering. But, like with fears, the more types of suffering we alleviate or at least relieve, the more we become acutely aware of. For every symptom, Google happily and quickly provides us with endless worse case scenarios about diseases, however rare, that still do people in, in spite of all the medical advances we’ve made. In addition, as a society, I think we’ve become worse at suffering well. We don’t deal with pain well when our focus is on keeping our bodies from having pain. Paul Brand’s book The Gift of Pain has been very influential in shaping my thinking in this area. He devoted his life to helping people’s bodies and making their lives better through medical treatment and procedures, many of which he pioneered in a remote hospital in India. He cared deeply about the body, and yet somehow as I think about his writings, bodily existence was not the supreme value to him.
And I’ve been thinking about HEALTH. I care a lot about my health. And I read and study a lot and am open to trying new things that might help certain health issues I face. But I get frustrated sometimes even listening to the options available for getting/keeping me healthy or the various philosophies that have figured out the root of all of America’s health problems. Talking to my mom tonight, I realized that for some people being healthy has become so important that it has turned into a demand. On themselves. And on society. I’m not arguing against caring about health (or health care). I do think health as a supreme value which requires that healthiness be a demand, however, is heading down the wrong track.
The people that I’ve met who seem to care the most and are most insistent on “being healthy” make it such a demand and are so consumed by it that THAT becomes their life. Sometimes it appears that they are so anxious to create a long and healthy life that they can’t do anything with their life now that doesn’t revolve around their particular way of focusing on being healthy. There life is all about being and living healthy and there is not much space left for living in any other realm. Every conversation comes back to their “health mission” or philosophy. Every struggle that a friend is facing is heard only as a platform for “the solution to all health problems” that they have discovered, whether drinking hydrogen peroxide, avoiding vaccines or trying out the latest combination of drugs to finetune my emotional state, my brain’s ability to focus or whatever. I’m not knocking treatments–either pharmaceutical prescribed by a doctor or homeopathic/natural. I’ve taken advantage of both. But I still find myself weary with the obsession with and promises from advocates of whatever treatment or approach.
I’m not recommending a lack of care about our lives.
Regrets have a place (although I doubt a very big one. I’m more prone to think that godly sorrow over mistakes is wildly different from introspective ongoing focus on regrets).
There is a place for fear. TV journalists who try to outdo each other reporting live as the hurricane increases in speed and roofs fly off around them could use a healthy dose of fear. There is a fear that leads to wisdom. And there is a fear that keeps me from being suicidal.
And pain relief and healthcare are good things, in their place. But the consequence of allowing them to become personal demands and rights at any cost are greater, I think, than we usually take into account.
As I’ve considered these things in recent months, I think I’ve mainly been focusing on the outward results–what ends up wrong by obsessing over healthcare and pain relief. How fears and regrets multiply the more we do to try to construct our lives in ways that eliminate regrets or fears. But I hadn’t really been able to think about what was driving some of these obsessions. While I don’t know if it is the only thing or even the most important, I do think the excessively high value on “bodily existence” is a contributor to all of these areas–some directly and obviously, and others, perhaps less directly.
I care about my life. I value the gift that it is. But when I focus primarily on self-preservation (which, again, don’t read too much into this–I’m not saying wise concern about the care and preservation of our lives is bad. It’s not–it’s the obsessive focus on it that I think is misguided), I think it becomes hard to: trust God, to rest, to make space for peace or joy (how can I have peace when there is so much out there that threatens my health and existence). And it becomes easy to need to control our circumstances, the things we are exposed to and the people around us.
When I write things like this, I’m never sure if (1) the connections I think I see are actually there and (2) if I’m making any sense as I try to communicate what it is I’m feeling as I think about them.