Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Who Owns Your Body? A Mormon View

While debating abortion someone pointed me to “Defusing the Violinist Analogy” by Matthew Lu. I plan to write a substantial response to the article, but there is a point Lu raises that gives me a chance to explore Mormon theology. Since that allows me to set aside the abortion debate for a little while, I'm going to take the opportunity presented.

Lu, oddly, takes the position that “the right to decide what happens in and to my body does not by itself entail I own my body. Counter-examples are readily available: If I am renting a piece of property I have certain exclusive rights of use, but that obviously does not mean I own it. The right of use does not, as such, directly entail ownership” (italics his). I say “oddly” because at this point, Lu drops the subject. However, in the context of the abortion debate, saying that you only have “right of use” as opposed to “ownership” of your body carries with it the implication that someone owns your body—someone who can demand you use it to gestate. And that raises the question of who that someone is. Lu doesn't tackle that question. I suspect that is because his answer would involve “retrench[ing] into a religiously grounded position,” something he otherwise wants to avoid.

However, in this post, exploring a religiously grounded position is exactly what I mean to do. Specifically, I am going to apply the mythology of my tradition, Mormonism, to the question, “Who owns your body?”1

A standard response in traditional Christianity to that question would be “God owns your body.” This makes sense because in traditional Christianity, God is the creator of your body, and therefore can be said to own it. You possess it rent-free, as it were, but God can tell you what you may or may not do with it.2

There is, however, a startling contrast in Mormonism. In Mormonism, God created neither the matter nor the spirit which comprises your being (D&C 93:29, 33). Your spirit is eternal. In some form or another, you have always existed and you always will. In Mormonism, God cannot in any sense claim ownership over you.

It may be said that God is the creator of your body in the ultimate sense if nothing else. Nevertheless, according to Mormon mythology, the reason you have a body at all is because you passed your “first estate” (Abr. 3:26). God may have created your body and given it to you, but you are in no sense merely a renter. Your body was earned—bought and paid for if you will—by fulfilling the conditions God set for you.

This means that, from a Mormon viewpoint, you in fact the own your body. Just as an employer may not stipulate how you spend your wages, God cannot make demands on how you use your body. In Mormonism, everyone is a free agent—both in body and in spirit.

What, then, of the commandments? Don't they make demands that you do certain things with your body, or conversely, refrain from doing certain things to your body? Yes, but the reason is to get you to the next stage of your progression. That has nothing to do with the ownership of your body. This is perhaps why the Prophet Joseph Smith denied that God gives temporal commandments (D&C 29:34). If you want to progress to the next stage of your development, you will use your body accordingly. But if not, your body is still your own.

1In what follows, I will use the abbreviations for the LDS Standard Works as found here.
2The same argument also applies to your spirit in traditional Christian thought.