Heavenly Bodies: Incarnation, the Gaze, and Embodiment in Christian Theology

Heavenly Bodies: Incarnation, the Gaze, and Embodiment in Christian Theology

Heavenly Bodies: Incarnation, the Gaze, and Embodiment in Christian Theology

Heavenly Bodies: Incarnation, the Gaze, and Embodiment in Christian Theology

Synopsis

Does Christianity scorn our bodies? Friedrich Nietzsche thought so -- and many others since him have thought the same. But, says Ola Sigurdson, Christianity understood properly in fact affirms human embodiment.Presenting his constructive contributions to theology in relation to both historical and contemporary conceptions of the body, Sigurdson begins by investigating the anthropological implications of the doctrine of the incarnation. He then delves into the concept of the gaze and discusses a specifically Christian "gaze of faith" that focuses on God embodied in Jesus. Finally, he brings everything together to present a contemporary Christian theology of embodiment.This profound engagement with the whole history of Christian life and thought not only elucidates the spectrum of Christian perspectives on the body but also models a way of thinking historically and systematically that other theologians will find stimulating and challenging.

Excerpt

In his posthumously published work The Anti- Christ, Friedrich Nietzsche argues that Christianity is nihilistic. Its nihilism consists in its denial of this world in favor of another and better world. With this, things such as desire, embodiment, even life itself come to be denied, become nothing in the eyes of the Christian church. We often hear echoes of Nietzsche’s critique in our time as well, if in a less sophisticated form. the Christian church is, at times, hostile to the body. This hostility is often linked to alleged “Platonic” influences. Paul has, as it were, entered into an alliance with Plato in the struggle against the body. in this context “Christianity,” “Platonism,” and “Gnosticism” are more often than not lumped together without accounting for the rather different conceptions of the body that characterize these different traditions. They are then dismissed without any real argument.

If one looks a bit more closely at the matter, there is something odd in both Nietzsche’s criticism and its more superficial and popularized variants. To begin with, one may wonder (especially in the latter case) what lies behind the criticism of the Christian church’s contempt for the body when it is presented in an age that so clearly sees itself as body-affirming. Could this “the best defense is a good offense” strategy stem from a suspicion of the hollowness of our era’s own affirmation of the body? Perhaps it is only

1. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti- Christ, in The Anti- Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, trans. Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Cf. also Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Oxford World’s Classics, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). I am thereby not, however, claiming that this is all that Nietzsche has to say about either Christianity or nihilism. For a summary of the most recent research on Nietzsche and Christianity, see Jayne Svenungsson, Guds återkomst: En studie av gudsbegreppet inom postmodern filosofi, Logos/ Pathos 3 (Göteborg: Glänta, 2004), pp. 53–71.

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