Addiction and the Soul
On Mark Schloneger’s “Let Me Stand,” Summer 2018: Thank you for writing with such insight and feeling about your sister Trisha, who died of an opioid overdose. I love my “Trisha” and see her in every word of this story. She is walking this path and is in jail right now. She is loving, giving, and caring, and her vulnerability is both her strength and her weakness. I pray the author will receive forgiveness and healing from God. Then he will be able to help others heal from their shame and their addiction.
Let None of Us Be Erased
On Sarah C. Williams’s “Perfectly Human: What My Daughter Taught Me,” Summer 2018: I have been physically disabled since infancy because of a genetic disease, and find this article terribly beautiful and true. I am virtually a quadriplegic and have difficulty breathing because of my severe weakness and skeletal deformities. Is my life a “suboptimal life”?
When my doctor uses the term “quality of life” I always feel a little nervous, as though my life may someday be judged useless and expendable. If physician-assisted suicide continues to be legalized, then someday I may very well be given the choice. Yes, the choice: “Do you want to end your suffering?” I may be asked. By “suffering,” the well-meaning professional would mean my life. Even if it is considered severely suboptimal, I would not wish to end my life. But, if I were forced to make such a decision, would I feel selfish and guilty if I chose to continue to live with other people taking care of me?
The little life of Cerian is not to be dismissed. We are all little. Let none of us be erased. Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your story!
Transgenderism and the Theology of the Body
On Angela Franks’s “What’s a Body For?,” Summer 2018: Thank you for this helpful summary of the theology of the body. I think it is worth pointing out, however, that until we understand genetic influences on personality inclinations we need to be careful of how we speak about transgenderism.
Romans 1 describes how people began rejecting what could be known of God naturally. Verse 18 describes how they stubbornly rejected the sense of morality which had been given to them and God judged them by just letting the natural consequences happen. Here we gain a theological insight into our genetic inheritance and negative family, tribal, and territorial character traits. We do not control who we are: we are the product of our heredity, our environment, and the choices we make. These choices have effects on our descendants.
To claim that transgenderism “requires that there be no intrinsic link between the body and the person” is not the perspective of every individual involved. It would be more accurate to say that “for many trans persons the body needs to be modified to enable them to express who he or she really is.” Why not accept that if this perspective can be recognized, as Franks does for other redesign surgeries, that trans surgery in these cases could help enhance the body’s ability to express a person’s self-gift?
Franks believes that objectification of the body is a pivotal issue for medical ethics: “If the body is simply clay in our hands, why not make it differently gendered? Or make our children as smart and blond as possible through genetic engineering? Or upload our minds to computer databases and discard the body altogether? All of these approaches make the body a problem to be fixed or eliminated.”
She points to a significant basic issue for medical ethics and she has raised valid questions. But she seems to think that those questions can be answered in only one way when, actually, there are nuanced affirmative answers to at least some of the questions she raises: for example, my suggested answer to the question regarding transgenderism above. Genetic engineering that would prevent disabling genetic conditions from occurring in newborns, along with gene therapy for diseases in adults, also seems to have the possibility of “enhancing the body’s ability to express a person’s self-gift,” which seems to be Franks’s primary criteria for judging when technological manipulation of the body may be justified. Each individual’s situation should be evaluated on its own merits, and I hope that Christian counselors who assist those with questions will take this approach.
Angela Franks responds: I would like to thank James R. Johnson for his response. His key contention is that “trans surgery could help enhance the body’s ability to express a person’s self-gift” by modifying the body to match the person’s perceived reality.
By comparing gender-reassignment surgery to the other kinds of surgery I mentioned (a C-section and a pacemaker implant), he assumes that our sex can be defective in the way that an irregular heartbeat is. But that is the point that I contest: sexual differentiation is an intrinsic part of God’s design for our bodies. Maleness or femaleness is not an error or deficiency.
If a person views her sex as such – as an obstacle to self-expression and self-gift – then she is using her body as a screen upon which to project her anxieties. Those anxieties may be very real in someone with gender dysphoria. For healing to occur, however, the locus of the disease must be properly diagnosed: not in the body but in the psyche.
Ultimately, our alienation from our bodies is not a technological problem requiring a surgical solution. This alienation derives from original sin, which instituted a deep fracture within our persons, but this too Christ came to heal.