“Those who are in the ego cannot please God”

I have always been uncomfortable with Paul’s reference to “the flesh” in contrast to “the Spirit,” as found in the Second Reading this week, Romans 8.8-11. Such dualistic thinking has been used to justify a rift between the body and the soul for centuries. Yet, such thinking cannot be right for Christians: the incarnation of Jesus Christ tells us quite clearly, that flesh – the body – is good, so good in fact, that God dwells in it.

Perhaps it is, as many thinkers have suggested, that the Christian Church is far more influenced by Plato than by Jesus. Think of it: this great Greek philosopher Plato is the one who made the body the enemy of the soul. The soul, or in Christian terms the Spirit, was superior.

The consequences of such thinking have been countless and terrible, especially for women who have been associated more with “the body.” It was concluded [by men], that they would therefore have to be ruled by men, who were associated more with “the mind,” or soul. Sex, the corporeal union of a loving couple was reduced to a mere necessary evil – to keep the Christian population going.

Many ecofeminist thinkers in the past 60 years have demonstrated for us the connection between women – being considered as inferior – and Earth as inferior: both were physical, unwieldy objects that had to be controlled by superior rational [human male] thinking.

Why today do we have a situation where 18% of households in the US are headed by women, and these households account for over 30% of the children living in poverty? Why does physical abuse shadow women all over the world from before birth, with sex-selected abortions, malnutrition, and abuse of female children? Why does incest, denial of medical care and education, early marriage, forced prostitution and forced labour hang over women’s heads worldwide?

Why are we destroying the natural world at the rate of 1 football field/second, or each year causing about 75 billion tons of soil to erode from the land – a rate that is about 13-40 times as fast as the natural rate of erosion – and yet think little of it?

There is another way to read Paul’s directive to be in the Spirit and not the flesh, one not so tainted by Greek thinking. It comes from Franciscan writer Richard Rohr: what if Paul’s “flesh” were understood as “ego”?  This, a better translation of Paul’s sentiment, would make more sense (remember the idea of ‘ego’ was not known at that time). This way, Paul’s directive is for us to stop being so addicted to our own way of thinking, to stop our knee-jerk judgment of others, and to be open to not being personally correct.

I would argue that this way of thinking is in keeping with Greg Kennedy SJ’s reflection last week, where he suggests sin is the unreflective interpretation of reality. My emphasis is on the unreflective examination of our own way of thinking.

Oh what a different world – Catholic world for sure – we’d have! The real sins would be less about who was drunk, who had sex, who did not tithe (not that these should be ignored), and more about who refused to remain in love, choosing instead to play the victim, to act out of fear, defensiveness, negativity, and anger.

Simon Appolloni, Associate Publishing Director

One comment

  1. This is interesting reading! I’d sure like to read more especially about dualistic thinking and many ideas re paulista ideas. He wrote so much– Christ didn’t. We certainly read the gospels and hear about them in our Catholic Church– I was a Protestant sixty years ago-they often talk of the paulista writings.
    So this makes this post very special to me.
    Write more!

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