The Body Politick

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the Freedom States of Freedom ruled on a highly contentious case. Not contentious because of facts, but because of beliefs that have root in non-facts. You know, opinions. The court ruled 5-4 to allow businesses held closely (like the handful of family members that run Hobby Lobby) to deny certain healthcare coverage if it offends their religious sensibilities. Heaven forbid. No, really; HEAVEN FORBIDS IT.

What we are left with is a stunning new landscape where corporations can have religious identity and individual women are now beholden to those corporate beliefs to navigate their sexual and reproductive healthcare. Now, these are both massive issues that come together in a terrible chaotic mess in this one case. If you want some good summaries of the issue, in case you're not familiar with the ruling or its possible implications, I invite you to read this comprehensive New York Times piece that covers the issue as well as the majority and dissenting opinions. If you want to hear more about the economic and governmental impact of changing corporate/business law, I encourage you to ask a business professor or a tax lawyer. They could help you more than I. If you want to hear more about the social terror that is forcing women seeking gainful employment to adopt the specific and restrictive religious beliefs of their boss which directly impact their bodies, maybe ask a woman. Like, any woman. I'm no expert on these facets of the case, but what I can speak to is the idea of Christianity that's supposedly so important to companies like Hobby Lobby. Without these professions of belief, there wouldn't be a case. So let's briefly look at how that belief works, and just how Christian it is.

Well, the Bible Says…

Stop. No it doesn't. Whatever you were about to say, there's a betting chance it's wrong. Unless you were about to finish with "that we should treat most women as lesser than men by governing their bodies and micromanaging their place in the community" then you're not about to make the point you think you are. The Bible doesn't have anything to say about IUDs or the Plan B pill. And why should it, when the science of the day thought everything needed for a baby was in sperm? Remember, women didn't hold that kind of power for biblical authors.

"But, but, in Jeremiah…" Nope. Calling story, not a biology lesson. Stop it.

You know what it does say? "When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman's husband demands, as negotiated with the judges." [^1] That's in our sacred text, so we have to deal with it. This line of thinking doesn't attribute rights to the fetus or to the woman. It attributes rights to male decision as it regards property. So if we as a society are willing to say that viewing women as property is wrong, we can't ignore the second piece, which is that what's going on in a woman's body is now her business. Jesus doesn't say anything about it, which makes it even harder for a legitimate follower of Christ to stake his or her moral and social focus on this particular issue. Gotta find something to focus on that's not laying down all your possessions to follow Christ by helping the poor and caring for your enemies, though, amiright?!

What's going on so far doesn't have much to do with the Bible. Sorry. But because Christianity in America is an extra-biblical activity, maybe one could argue that Christian values as they've developed need religious protection, too. So, how much of what Hobby Lobby wants and what the court delivered are Christian, even in a looser sense of the word?


Christian belief has a lot to do with the body. A LOT. It's a religion of incarnation and bodily resurrection, and so when someone wants to argue about the body as it applies to Christian religious thinking, there's more than enough to talk about. The problem is, the religious protections set by the SCOTUS ruling have nothing to do with Christian doctrine.

There's some mind-boggling hypocrisy[^2] at work. For Hobby Lobby and other "pro-life" advocates, the whole point of being against birth control in all or specific forms is a focus on "personhood." Like, you could be killing a "person" with the Plan B pill (even though there's no respected evidence to prove anything of the sort; though a young gentleman did try to tell me on Facebook that the Plan B pill stopped fertilized embryos from attaching in fertilized lizards. Don't say things like that unless you want people to laugh at you. We do lots of things to lab mice, too, without basing medical and social law on them.) And yet the ruling dilutes the meaning of personhood by attributing personal protections to corporations. Biblically speaking, affording a non-human entity human religious identity is idolatrous. The whole reason we matter so much in the first place (in strictly religious terms, that is) is because we're made in the image of God. We are supposed to be infused with the light of the Divine. Right into our body place!

What this means is that, without a body, it's not Christian. Christ is Christ because he's God incarnate, in a body. And he's got a lot of groupies because his body defeated death, because it got up and left the tomb. It's about the body. That's why music isn't Christian, there's no such thing as a Christian novel, and there's sure as hell no such thing as a Christian business. Though if a business' entire goal was to make a billion dollars ethically only so it could cash out the stocks, empty the vaults, shutter the windows, and lock the doors before handing over that billion dollars to the poor, I'd at least have to think about it. Call me when that happens.

That being said, for the religious person all things are religious; your business practices, your artistic expressions, and your relationships are all tied to how you live your life through faith. But that doesn't make the practices or the fruits of those expressions intrinsically religious. They are born of belief and guided by our bodily actions. The point is, being a Christian means following Christ with your mind, body, and heart. A corporation, by definition, doesn't have those things. It's not a person, as much as previous SCOTUS rulings like Citizens United would have you believe. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, says this:

"As we will show, Congress provided protection for people like the Hahns and Greens by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA’s definition of “persons.” But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends. An established body of law specifies the rights and obligations of the people (including shareholders, officers, and employees) who are associated with a corporation in one way or another. When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people." [^3]

That's some high-class legal BS right there. In any case, as with Citizens United, corporations are viewed as persons, though their structure, identity, and very purpose is analogous to what it means to be a Christian. But if they're not Christian, what are they? As Logan said to me yesterday,

"'Corpus' means body. But a corporation has no body. Is beholden to no one. It exists for nothing but the accumulation of capital, which is itself formless. A corporation's only goal is to escape reality through accumulation of wealth (rather than knowledge/gnosis). And the Supreme Court right now calls that a person."

It's Gnosticism, and it flies in the face of incarnation. However hypocritical the basis, that doesn't mean it can't be afforded religious protections under the current Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the five justices interpreted it. As Eric Posner, a University of Chicago Law Professor puts it, "My initial reaction is that Alito’s legal argument is stronger, but that the law—as now interpreted—is pretty dumb."[^4]

I only partially agree. The law is dumb, and so is the ruling. Especially since the case is founded on a religious objection to an opinion about what certain birth control options do, even when they don't in fact, and this opinion is fueled by religious belief which calls itself Christian but isn't. So Hobby Lobby thinks they're being Christian, the SCOTUS protects their Gnostic identity, and all is right with the world because Jesus wins the sportsball game. Now every Christian business can tell their employees how to love Jesus best (while being productive money-makers, of course). It's a big win for the economic sector, which is Christian. Hmm? What did you say?

Dammit, There are Non-Christian Businesses?!

You're telling me that a closely-held business of any religion can now use this avenue to impose religious restrictions on their workers (i.e., probably just the women)? I had no idea!

While many defenders of the recent decision are quick to point out that Hobby Lobby still supports multiple types of contraception while only rejecting four that they believe are abortifacients, that doesn't mean that another business couldn't "believe" that all types are abortifacients and that their rejection of such methods should also be protected on the basis of religious freedom with the argument of unreasonable tax burden. As Justice Ginsberg noted in her dissent,

"Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?"[^5]

Ultimately, this is a decision that does nothing for healthy religious practice in our society and does a whole lot for corporate tax structure. It's a messy business, and it has nothing to do with Christianity. You know what does have something to do with Christianity? Grace. Grace for those who don't live lives like you. Grace for those who live life in the body as you do. Grace for those with decisions to make regarding their own health, identity, and beliefs. A truly Christian business, if such a thing could exist, would recognize that first and foremost. Grace lets us participate in incarnation, which means we, each person, must be the caretaker and decision-maker when it comes to bodily decisions. Grace gives us room to question and believe, which means we are not to be kept by another from seeking what is true and best for what we have been blessedly given. And most of all, grace leaves judgement up to the one from whom grace comes.

Grace and Christian life lived and practiced bodily, daily, looks like loving people even when you don't want to. Tough. Grace isn't easy, but it's not about you. If you're going to call yourself a Christian, remember this: the love of Christ, freely given to you, is to be freely given to others in the name of Christ. Controlling a woman and what she does with her body, especially in the name of her own health, doesn't look like that. Hating others and fighting to control them because they believe what I just said isn't that either. Christianity may be about life, Hobby Lobby, but not the kind you fought for.

Grace and peace to us all.

In Memoriam

It’s Memorial Day, and I’m one of those Americans who has the day off to relax and BBQ and cram a few extra chores in. This is the reality of what we do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Though it’s important to remember why we have the day off—because people died when they didn’t want to, doing something they’d rather not have been doing, but did anyway for a host of reasons ranging from noble and heroic to mundane and tragic. Nobody wants to fight and die, but a lot of people harnessed that fear and tried to do something with it, something they felt was important and worth doing no matter the personal cost. That’s worth remembering. Courage and camaraderie usually are.

For me, it’s been a day of thinking about the dead. Memorial Day is the obvious, and the most recent mass killing in California lurks, too. When I first heard there’d been another shooting spree, I deliberately avoided the news about it. I stayed off major news sites and barely touched social media. I sure as hell didn’t click any links. I didn’t avoid the story because it wasn’t important, but because I knew that what I read wouldn’t give credit to how important it really was. The fact that we’re talking about “another” shooting is abhorrent, but the pre-written scripts people now pull for these events are tragic in their own way.

I knew that as soon as I opened up an article, I’d find the buzzwords “gun control,” “mental illness,” “legally registered firearm,” and several synonyms for “unexpected.” Eventually, I did read up on the story because it’s my mental way of clipping another article from the paper and putting it in the “Is There Any Hope?” scrapbook. Sure enough, the first story I found from CNN contained all the right lingo, the total lack of nuance, and even some surprises. Rodger’s motive (at least as he expressed it) of retribution, based upon his perceived rejection and slights against him by all women, was an unusual component to what has become a common story in this country. The hashtag #YesAllWomen, which sprang up as a way to express how prevalent violence against women still is in our society, only added more to the conversation. Not all of the murdered in Isla Vista were women, but the rage and well of hate fed by Rodger’s narcissistic and misogynistic worldview can’t be ignored.

This is exactly the point, though. There’s nothing about this story that’s cut and dry. The nuance abounds. And despite how news sources and pundits who bring us the stories of mass killings time and again reduce the events to soundbites and singular issues (generally speaking, gun control for the left and mental illness for the right as a way to deflect from gun control), they just aren’t that simple. This one story, this one incident, is about a lot. It’s about hatred of and violence toward women. It’s about mental illness. It’s about how yet another person bought a legal device made to kill people easily and used it to kill people easily. It’s about how all of these things sit on a foundation of willful cultural ignorance about what plagues us. We are a society which breeds violence like a fighting dog, feeds it and gives it all the images and vitriol it needs to grow, then acts surprised when we are bitten. We let people get away with saying “If only a good guy with a gun was there” and “Why should therapy and meds be paid for on my tax dime?” and “Well what was she wearing?” This one story is about all these issues making up a cultural pathology, and when we don’t acknowledge all the pieces of the puzzle exist, we can’t fix a damn thing.

So where does that leave us? By ignoring the nuance and by not following the strands back to their rotten core, we’re left with a pretty simple reality on the surface: just as soldiers live with the reality of violent death on the battlefield, we civilians will only grow more accustomed to violent death in our neighborhoods. On this Memorial Day, it might be worth admitting that so many of those soldiers who died in throws of war and violence did so with the hope that the heinous scenes of the battlefield would never plague their home soil. Perhaps we can truly honor our fallen dead with a pledge not to let violence and death be our norm, not to let the deaths of those who fought in wars abroad mean less because we cannot squelch war at home, and to be the blessed peacemakers who make it a point to ensure fewer and fewer soldiers and civilians die before their time. I don’t pray much anymore, but this is my prayer. Amen.