Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Blatant re-posting from the Experimental Theology blog...

With apologies to Richard Beck, I just had to re-post this segment from his recent post, Freud & Faith: Part Four, The Potty... because it's brilliant and provocative... and talks about poop. ha!

"Why did Freud spend so much time thinking about the psychological effects of toilet training? Well, for one simple reason. Toilet training is the first time a child confronts the fact that society has claims on how we use our bodies. Prior to toilet training, the child, as we've discussed, is raw Id, a conscienceless gratification machine. Children, we've noted, are like animals. This is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than the fact that children are not expected to control their bowel movements or urination. They can pretty much poop and pee wherever they are. Much to the inconvenience of parents.

So it probably comes as quite a shock to the child when, apparently out of the blue, the parents start asking the child to control her bladder. The child must be thinking, "Seriously? You want me to hold it in!?"

Yes, yes we do. We want you to hold it in. And, yes, it's uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable at times. But your job is to hold it in and endure the discomfort until you can get to the bathroom. It's time to grow up. It's time to step away from the animal world and join the housebroken humans.

Society has claims upon my body. I can't do whatever I want with it. I can't hit you with it or expose it to you. I have to manage my body and endure physical discomfort at times. My body is not my own.

Interestingly, this is a very biblical idea. Take, for instance, Paul's comments regarding marriage in 1 Corinthians:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.
Beyond marriage, I think you can also claim that, as Paul sees it, the bodies of the entire Christian community belong to each other. For Paul, the notion of the body is a communal notion. My body is not my own to do with as I please. As a Christian my physical body is community property. Which is a radical notion to Western ears. But it shouldn't be. Think of potty training.

In short, the realization that society has claims on our bodies is the beginning of our moral sense. That is, toilet training, learning to be a "good" boy or girl, is our first systematic moral education. The first lessons on how bodies and their impulses are to be mastered in light of social demands.

Consequently, the language of goodness and sinfulness is intimately tied up with the experience of potty training. To be good is to be "clean." Cleanliness is next to godliness. The color white is the color of holiness. Conversely, to be bad is to be "dirty," "filthy," or "unclean." The prodigal son finds himself with the pigs. We can make a "mess" of our lives, morally speaking. And the central ritual of Christian salvation is a bath.

In short, our most primitive metaphors concerning morality reach back to the very first experience we had when society first made claims upon our bodies. So it was then. So it is now."


BenMc said...

Thanks for reposting this, it made my day (intellectually). I think we sever body and mind WAY too easily, the two go together. This must have something to do with "bearing each other's burdens."

Reminds me of the purification baths at Qumran, how they had gotten stagnant and parasite-filled, the thing that was supposed to be cleaning them was actually killing them.

Anonymous said...

Very good article, well written and very thought out.