taking the words of Jesus seriously

Without drastic action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, we appear committed to 4°C of warming before the end of the century. This will mean dramatic impacts on human civilisation and natural ecosystems. At the same time, we have surged past 7 billion people with the expectation that we will reach over 9 billion by 2050.

What we need is a thoughtful theology response, and yet as Rodney Clapp in Tortured Wonders suggests, Christianity is often too dualistic and ‘spiritual’ to help. What is needed is a theology of farts and orgasms that takes seriously the fact that we bear the image of God in the body. This is a body that eats, farts, burps and orgasms. This is the humanity that connects us to the natural world, and is the humanity that Jesus shared and redeemed.

French philosopher Michel de Montaigne in his Essays writes about our bodies to keep us humble and satisfied with our physicality. He documents his own bowel movements and reminds us that kings, philosophers and ladies all shit, and that ‘even on the highest throne, we are seated still upon our arses.’ Our bowels are part of our image bearing humanity, and they link us to the rest of creation. As well as being humans from the hummus (Genesis 1), we add ‘night soil’ to the earth. Farmers, past and present have used human manure as fertiliser.

However, not all additions are beneficial.  The UN report that every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water courses. Approximately 773 million people still live without access to safe drinking water, with around 3, 000 children dying every day from water, sanitation and hygiene related causes (Micah Challenge, Give Poverty the Flush). The Old Testament contains regulations for excrement. It was considered unclean, and was buried outside of the camp (Dt 23:12-13). It is not that the body or its functions are rejected, just properly regulated. Christians continue to be involved in Millennium Development Goals like access to clean water and sanitation facilities.

Our excreting is linked to our eating, which impacts the biosphere. We eat too much meat for our own health and that of the planet. Books like Fast Food Nation demonstrate that an insatiable appetite for cheap fast food has led to cruelty on a massive scale, unsafe slaughtering practices and public health risks. Land clearing for agriculture to feed livestock, and methane production by cattle and sheep (a theology of farts again) are significant in warming the planet. In turn, climate change threatens food stocks. Loss of coral reefs due to warming oceans and acidification means the imminent collapse of ecosystems that provide protein for Pacific island nations. Key staples such as wheat, rice and maize are already showing declines in yields. St Augustine wondered if eating will be an option in the resurrection. Until then, we are called to eat (and therefore fart) responsibly. Perhaps we might start with preaching about climate change, but also gluttony.

However, Jesus knew how to feast, to eat with thankfulness, so much so he was labelled a glutton and drunkard. Can we feast and be thankful without excess? In The Pleasures of Eating, Wendell Berry calls us to rediscover eating as an agricultural act, rather than the industrial act it has become, where we are consumers not eaters. We have lost connection between the toilet, the table and the farm. It is time to connect them all again as the world’s population increases and we seek to eat more wisely and justly. Let’s join Luther who said ‘I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away.’

In the Terry Gilliam film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Robin Williams plays the king of the moon, with a detachable head. While the head is free floating he is refined, philosophical and laments the faces his body makes him make during sex. When head and body are joined, he is a glutton, boozer, and very horny! Many Christians have had the king of the moon’s attitude. Orgasm has been viewed as a moment of madness, a lack of self control, even a little death. Clement wrote that ‘Pleasure sought for its own sake, even within the marriage bonds, is a sin’. Calvin insisted that a man who wanted his wife for pleasure was an adulterer towards her.

Yet a biblical view of sex is far more positive, if lacking in romance. Paul’s response in 1 Corinthians 7 to the question of abstinence in marriage is that to avoid immorality, both partners should ‘have’ their spouse, not depriving the other. Paul’s recognition of women’s sexual needs was profoundly counter cultural – centuries before women’s magazines obsession with g-spots and multiple orgasms. Sex is fun, connected, intimate and very earthy. This is where porn goes wrong. Apart from dehumanising and depersonalising the actors, it depersonalises the user. Left alone with a computer screen, the (usually) male is disconnected from relationship and from the enfleshed nature of sex, where we bear God’s image in becoming one.

One natural consequence of orgasm is children. Irish comedian Dave Allen once joked that the Catholic Church offered women the choice of perpetual pregnancy or perpetual virginity. This may be unfair, but it highlights the two extremes in Christian thought. Jesus makes it clear that there is a connection between reproduction and sex, and that in the eschaton there will be no marriage. Until then, he presents us with both childlessness and child rearing as options.

Related: Creation Care Literally Stinks

Although population continues to soar in the developing world, it is the developed world, where population is in slow decline that is still making the largest contribution to climate change. This means lifestyle is as important, if not more so that population. Yet this cannot be a justification for western Christians to continue to have large families: we have been fruitful, multiplied, and the Earth is now full! While for some Christians, birth control is a sin, the bible is silent on the topic. As Australian theologian Ward Powers notes, the biblical writers lived in a world where contraceptive practices were common, yet they never censured them. In an increasingly overcrowded world that lack of contraception is the greater sin.

A theology of farts and orgasms reminds us we are spiritual animals, not bound for heaven but a renewed heavens and earth, united at the return of Jesus. Until then we are to bear his image in these bodies that fart and have orgasms, with joy and thankfulness. Neither of these things is a sin. They remind us of our finitude, of our earthiness and our connection to the earth and our responsibilities toward it. And behold, it is very good.


About The Author

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Dr Mick Pope is a lecturer in meteorology, with a PhD from Monash University. He also has degrees in maths, physics and theology. Mick is an ecotheologian with Ethos: EA Centre for Christianity and Society and has written a number of book chapters and papers on ecotheology, ecomission and the intersection of science and the Christian faith. He recently wrote A Climate of Hope: Church and Mission in a Warming World with Claire Dawson.

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