A Festival of Ideas event at CRASSH.
Ruth Jackson discusses the individual right to act, move and work as one pleases from a theological perspective.
‘It’s my body’. Today, this defiant phrase – or ones like it – seems to be a commonplace, as individuals assert their rights to act, to move, and work as they please, unhindered by external forces, attitudes, and controls. And by extension to others — “you own your body” — this idea of personal ownership is often used to defend vulnerable and minority voices. No person should have to suffer the abhorrence of assault, injury, enslavement, or oppression. We should all be entitled to use and move our bodies how we see fit. But while this language of self ownership is very familiar and often powerful in today’s world, it is language that great and influential Christian theologians across the ages — like St Paul, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas and Søren Kierkegaard — would have disputed and critiqued. In this lecture, I will explore why this is the case, and in doing so will interrogate its fruitfulness and validity. I will argue that for all of these theological thinkers, such language falls short of communicating the true value of human bodies, or reflecting the dignity of the human condition. Indeed, I contend that from a theological perspective, this rhetoric of personal ownership is not capable of subverting modes of speaking that objectify and instrumentalise the human body. Instead, it is also in danger of rendering the body as little more than a movable vessel or a useful tool.