Sexual misconduct occurs when women are commoditized. It’s sin, but since few know what commoditization means, few can address our current scandal.
The last two months we’ve witnessed the “Weinstein effect,” what’s being called a “national reckoning” after the public learned of sexual abuse charges against Harvey Weinstein. Now, hardly a day passes without another public figure (male) being accused.
The reckoning won’t be complete if we don’t address the root of this scandal. It’s commoditization, a market term where everything—goods, ideas, services, people, education, amateur and professional sports, technology—becomes objects of trade based on what the market will bear. Nothing, however, ought to be reduced to market value because everything has mystical value transcending the market.
Including a woman’s body. The female breast, for instance, takes the form and shape that it does to attract men in mystical ways. They incarnate (make flesh) a mystery—the gospel of love told in our physical body. They are not merely mammary glands. Breasts signify the church—Christ’s bride—transforming God’s word into milk for newborns (I Pet. 2:2). That’s their mystical allure—even if people don’t know it.
This is what the church historically meant when it said that our bodies are to be a catechism, from the Greek to resound or echo. Our bodies, our sexuality, echo the mystery of the gospel. We hear echoes in attraction, arousal, intercourse, and climax.
Modern Christians rarely hear these echoes. We’re Enlightenment people. Peter Kreeft says Descartes initiated “angelism” with his adage: “My whole essence is in thought alone.” That’s true of angels—spirits without physical bodies. We’re not angels. We’re spiritual beings with physical bodies. Angelism is a disembodied view of human beings.
Descartes furthered the divide by contending that matter and spirit are “two clear and distinct ideas.” “Matter” means something not conscious, and “spirit” means something conscious. Enlightenment Christians are conscious of the spiritual (immaterial) world but rarely conscious of the significance of the physical world, like a woman’s body.
The divide is difficult to recognize because we have inherited the matter/spirit categories. They’re “like nonremovable contact lenses, from Descartes,” writes Kreeft, “and it is impossible for us to understand pre-Cartesian thinkers while we wear them.”
So take them off. We’ll see pre-Cartesian Christianity. Our bodies tell the gospel of Jesus freely giving his physical body to marry us. Hence, spouses freely give their bodies to one another (I Cor. 7:4). A husband doesn’t greedily grab his wife’s breasts because union with God is not something we grab (Phil 2:6). Nor does he grab any woman’s breasts for taking is receiving only what God gives.
This is supposed to be manifest in the Eucharist, take and eat. As Jesus’ bride, we open our hands to receive his body. Historically, it was seminary-trained clergy who break the bread and give it to us, just as Jesus broke bread and gave it to his disciples. Clergy embody Jesus our groom (seminary comes from the root word semen). We, the bride of Christ, don’t grab a hunk of bread, for take is not tear off a piece. We receive.
This isn’t some quaint distinction. I’m thrilled that younger evangelicals are returning to thick liturgical practices. But I fear they’ll fall into Descartes’ divide, commodifying the bread and wine as nothing more than material objects. In truth, they are the mystical, transfigured body and blood of Jesus. If they’re not, what do we do with Jesus’ caution that “unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part of me” (Jn. 6:53)?
Descartes and the Enlightenment started this problem. My hope is younger evangelicals will return to Pre-Enlightenment Christianity. This tradition affirms erotic desire as physical, mystical, virtuous, erotic, and sacramental. It recognizes how, in a fallen world, the magnetism of the female breast remains but the meaning fades. Men no longer receive the woman God gives (in my case, my wife Kathy’s body) but commodify women’s bodies, feeling free to grab what they can.
And don’t think we skirt commodification via the internet, secretly leering at women’s breasts. In a 2011 Playboy magazine interview, John Mayer admits to viewing as many as 300 naked women before getting out of bed in the morning. But in commodifying women and sex, making them merely objects of lust, Mayer admits to getting little joy out of meeting actual women.
All this after recording “Your body is a wonderland” in 2001. Your body is a wonderland/ Your body is a wonder (I’ll use my hands)/ Your body Is a wonderland. Mayer’s right. A woman’s body is a wonderland. If he, and Christians in general, discovered why, they could contribute to solving our tragic sexual misconduct scandal.
 Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Imagination (Berkley: University of California Press, 2000), p. 65.
 Descartes, Meditations, II; Discourse on Methods, IV.
 Descartes, Discourse on Methods, IV, par. 3.
 Peter Kreeft, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Heaven: But Never Dreamed of Asking (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), p. 87.