Perfection

February 3, 2007 | 13 comments
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In Comparative World Religions (REL 151) my freshman year I was taught that the word “Holy” is derived, or related to the word “Whole.” The basic idea being that part of being a perfect Divine being is the state of being complete, whole, or finished. I’ve wondered in the past just what perfect really means for individual people. Especially as it relates to our ideas of resurrection, as outlined in Alma,The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame.

Reading this account of a woman’s efforts to get a leg amputation brought those same thoughts back to my mind. The woman has Body Identity Integrity Disorder (BIID), or an overwhelming urge to remove healthy limbs, or otherwise alter his/her bodily integrity. This woman, on the second attempt, managed to freeze her leg enough to damage the tissue and require amputation. Others who suffer from BIID will take similarly drastic and life-threatening measures to damage their limbs since no doctor would willingly remove a healthy limb. Little is known about BIID, it’s causes, or prevalence.

After her amputation the woman states:

I already feel more complete now that one leg is off. I have always been an outgoing kind of person, but my confidence is much higher now as my body is more like I want it to be. For the first time I feel able to move on and lead the life I have always wanted. In many ways I am starting again.

Part of me is reluctant to write this sort of thing off as just plain crazy. One major reason is this woman’s insistence that her life as an amputee is just as normal as she wants it to be; she still does everything she wants to do, with all the independence she needs, only now she looks the way she wants to. If we declare her life as an amputee to be abnormal and her happiness with her body to be a delusion, how would that reflect on our ability to think of unwilling amputees, or those born with birth defects as normal, happy, contributing members of society?

I’ve made no secret of my discomfort with the prevalent notion that modern beauty ideals equal health and perfection. How many of us just sort of assume that everyone will be svelte, young, and attractive after the resurrection? How many of us see our resurrected selves being just exactly how God made us instead of how we wish we looked? How many men see themselves as resurrected beings with beards? How many women see themselves with un-plucked eyebrows and facial hair? How is the desire of the person with BIID to be without limbs qualitatively different than my desire to be without a uni-brow, or love handles?

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13 Responses to Perfection

  1. Russell Arben Fox on February 3, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    “Part of me is reluctant to write this sort of thing off as just plain crazy.”

    I’m not. That is not to say that this woman might not be able to function perfectly well around other people, that she might not be a loving and reasonable human being, that she might not be able to accomplish any number of things in ordinary society. She may very well be all of those things, in which case her craziness doesn’t necessarily translate into a major social handicap. But she still has a disorder, a hang-up, a mental quirk that any good parent ought to hope to be able to save their children from, through therapy or whatever, if it were detected.

    “How is the desire of the person with BIID to be without limbs qualitatively different than my desire to be without a uni-brow, or love handles?”

    I’d say it’s because limbs are a natural morphological emergence of human cellular reproduction at the embryonic level. I’m not much into attributing a lot of moral authority to our supposed natural telos, but still–to make the basic matter of two arms and two legs a question of subjective perception? I don’t think so. Eyebrows, love handles, hair color (or baldness), stubby fingers, height and weight, split ends, dry skin, acne, a moustache that won’t grow in: all that and more I can see as very dubious things to be concerned about when discussing “wholeness” or “perfection.” But limbs? It reminds of me of those deaf parents who are so committed to the admittedly impressive culture that the unhearing have made for themselves that they actually become hostile towards new technologies that can return hearing to babies born deaf.

  2. Daylan on February 3, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    It appears that you assume we will have “natural” eyes (to behold the svelte, young, and attractive). We (and everything else on the earth) are merely bundles of energy. We (the natural man?) have taught our brains to interpret our senses, but what they are actually sensing is different arrangements of energy. I have a feeling we (as Gods) will be able to manipulate our energy in any way we need to, in order to do good.

  3. cmac on February 3, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    This made me think of the plastic surgery hype going on right now. I have no doubt this woman became obsessed with losing a limb or changing her appearance. Plastic surgery really is addictive and those who have it think they will look better, feel more like them”selves” once they have this surgery (and that one, and that one, and that one . . .) I’m not anti-plastic surgery: I had plastic surgery when I was 19. I often wonder if I will be resurrected to have my pre-surgery body, but I don’t think it will matter, because I won’t have the physical problems I used to have.
    God gave us our bodies, and as cliche as this may sound, it is a temple– something to be respected, which is why the church says no tattoos, one set of earrings, etc. Doesn’t plastic surgery fall in to this category too? Something that we should assume is the same, but since it isn’t explicitly stated, most don’t think twice about it? Like I said, I’m not completely anti-plastic surgery. I think there are times when it is okay. For example, when something is causing physical problems, but then it’s more reconstructive than “plastic”. But also when there is an emotional health aspect to it I think it can warrant surgery.
    Sorry to get off topic . . .
    So for this woman, she feels like losing a limb would make her whole, make her feel more like her true self. I think God wants us to find the things that will make us whole in this life, but I don’t know if he thinks we should damage our body on purpose or change it so it looks how we want it to. Long post short: I don’t know what I think about that. It’s hard for me to not think that is just crazy.

  4. Chino Blanco on February 3, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Russell,

    I found your analogy particularly apt, and employed it for other purposes. This is totally OT, but don’t know where to post, other than here, to show proper respect …

    My Sis

  5. Jim F. on February 4, 2007 at 1:48 am

    It is interesting to me that we picture Heavenly Father as an older man with white hair and, at the same time, picture resurrected beings as no more than thirty, or even younger.

    As for the difference between the desire to remove a uni-brow versus a desire to have one’s leg amputated, I think Russell answered perfectly.

  6. Clark on February 4, 2007 at 2:24 am

    Jim, this is proof that God is akin to ZZ Top…

    (Hiding from lightening)

  7. Christopher Johnson on February 4, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    >>How is the desire of the person with BIID to be without limbs qualitatively different than my desire to be without a uni-brow, or love handles?
    >>
    It all comes down to the game of hang-man. I don’t draw uni-brows or love handles on a the executionee in the game “hang-man.” If I removed legs or arms, it would be cheating. Them’s the rules.

    What if someone decided they didn’t like their high IQ, and then they gave themselves brain damage? Why would we throw away the tools God gave us to serve others? Tools.

  8. jose on February 4, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    “How many men see themselves as resurrected beings with beards?” Beard or no beard, I don’t imagine myself having to shave anymore.

  9. Christopher Johnson on February 4, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    When I play hang-man, I don’t draw love handles or uni-brows on the executionee. If I were to try to remove legs or arms, then I would be cheating.
    That proves that removing arms or legs is bad, whereas removing uni-brows and love handles is a relative non-issue.

    What if I was sick of using my god-given tools (hands, arms, intelligence) for serving others? What if I gave myself brain damage because I was more at peace as a mentally handi-capped individual?

  10. Christopher Johnson on February 4, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    When I play hang-man, I don\’t draw love handles or uni-brows on the executionee. If I were to try to remove legs or arms, then I would be cheating.
    That proves that removing arms or legs is bad, whereas removing uni-brows and love handles is a relative non-issue.

    What if I was sick of using my god-given tools (hands, arms, intelligence) for serving others? What if I gave myself brain damage because I was more at peace as a mentally handi-capped individual?

  11. Sterling on February 4, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Can’t we flip the question around and ask how much our resurrected selves will look like our premoral selves?

  12. Ben on February 5, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    “I was taught that the word “Holy” is derived, or related to the word “Whole.””

    Not to be argumentative, but I believe this is a false etymology. I’ll try to find my reference…

  13. Starfoxy on February 5, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Ben- it wouldn’t surpise me at all if it is a false etymology. In fact, you may have noticed that I phrased that sentence carefully because I halfway suspected that it wasn’t entirely true.

    Russel- I’m reluctant to just write her off as crazy, but not unwilling. I would think that therapy called for with anyone who has this disorder. At the very least therapy is probably cheaper than the hospital stays and amputations. If I understand your larger point correctly- you’re saying that unless there is some sort of accident (anything from a car wreck to defective DNA) everyone should expect to have 2 arms and 2 legs. That is a very good reason that arms and legs are qualitatively different than love handles.

    However, Christ, after his resurrection still had his scars, (presumably for identification purposes), which indicates that a resurrected person can be perfect even with a body that has retained some flaws (the wound in his side would probably even be enough to kill a mortal being). If part of Christ’s crucifixion had involved chopping off one his hands, would that hand continue to be missing?