Monday, November 28, 2011

Integritas Seminar IV

Before Thanksgiving, the Integritas program held its last seminar of the semester. The seminar was led by Randy Smith, the Center's Myser Fellow this year, from the University of St. Thomas Houston. It was called 'Integration of Body and Soul' and was based on Wendell Barry's essay "The Body and the Earth". The seminar explored Christian anthropology in light of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, Christ revealed the face of God to humankind, but he also taught us the value of the whole created world and embodied existence. The seminar asked: what does it mean to take the Incarnation seriously, in terms of the world, ourselves, and the environment?

Wendell Berry starts from a point of humility, that we humans should treat both our bodies and the earth respectfully, by living within their limits and understanding our place in creation, because we are creatures ourselves and not the Creator. We are totally dependent on the land, no matter how far we try to remove ourselves from it through technology and industrialization.

The modern condition is sadly one of alienation, our souls from our bodies, ourselves from our communities, and our communities from the land that provides our very sustenance. This isolation and alienation leads to widespread depression. Happiness can only be found in a great integration of body with soul, individual with community, community with land. Our happiness lies in this because this is how reality is ordered: we are hylomorphic beings, and a super-spiritualized existence in which the mind plays tyrant leads to destruction as surely as does a decadent existence of sensuous indulgence.

If we want peace, health, wholeness, happiness, and integrity, then we must live within our limits and recognize our dependence on one another and on the earth. Unfortunately, modern universities do not encourage their students to make these connections, but rather fragment existence into disciplines and sub-disciplines, dividing body and soul, giving body over to the hard sciences as merely research into matter, and delivering the spirit to the humanities, to interrogate without reference to the material limits of its bodily existence. With the College of Science existing entirely independently from the College of Arts & Letters, opposing cultures are cultivated.

We were left with a warning from Wendell Berry about where all of this leads: "What this conflict has done, among other things, is to make it extremely difficult to set a proper value on the life of the body in this world--to believe that it is good, howbeit short and imperfect. Until we are able to say this and know what we mean by it, we will not be able to live our lives in the human estate of grief and joy, but repeatedly will be cast outside in violent swings between pride and despair. Desires that cannot be fulfilled in health will keep us hopelessly restless and unsatisfied."

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