I Kissed Dating Goodbye as I am no Longer Human: Curing This Sickness Unto Death

Total freedom and the possibility of total destruction are not simply global phenomena (the “free” possibility of ending organized civilization through nuclear warfare or global warming) but are conjoined in a “despairing” Subject. Progress toward attaining the self, whether it brings down the world or simply destroys what is, marks the present world order but also the despairing, fear bound Subjects emerging at the end of late modernity. This despair, in Søren Kierkegaard’s depiction of it, might be despair at not being conscious of having a self, or despair at not willing to be oneself, or despair at willing to be oneself, but all three reduce to the same predicament.[1] There is a disease of the spirit (the spirit of the age or the individual human spirit) a dividedness and fear in which unity is sought (becoming or attaining the self) in negation of the self. Kierkegaard calls it “the sickness unto death.”

Perhaps the most harmless but most poignant picture of this sickness (a Subject who would attain himself through becoming another) is found in the subculture of those who would pierce, tattoo, and modify themselves so as to attain their true identity.  Erik Sprague, in his attempt to escape the confines of ordinary humanness has become lizard-like through a series of body modifications: sharpened teeth, a full-body tattoo of green scales, bifurcated tongue, subdermal implants and recently, green-inked lips. Rumors that he hoped to get a tail transplant have been debunked by Erik himself, who states that it would be impossible. (His rock band, Lizard Skynyrd, released an album in late 2010.) Stalking Cat (born Dennis Avner), had 14 surgical procedures towards becoming cat-like and, before his death alone in a garage, held the world record for the most permanent transformations to look like an animal. Lizard Man and Cat Man are part of a subculture of body modifiers, a painful portrayal of those who would, as some have testified, “heal wounds,” “reclaim my body,” or “proclaim ownership of my body.” Despair, as Kierkegaard defines it, is a disjunction in identity in which the Subject “does not possess himself,” is “not himself,” and in attempting to become himself will only “have got rid of himself.”[2]

This transaction works itself out in a distancing from the biological body, such that the body becomes a medium for the “soul” – the “true essence of the self.” One does not identify immediately with the physical body but it is a screen (as body modifiers portray it) or orthopedic for the soul. This gives rise to two bodies, as the biological dimension is refused and yet the symptoms of embodiment begin to speak and intrude, such that the soul cannot recognize itself. Paul calls this second body the flesh (sarx), as it is not the actual physical body (soma) but it is a principle or orientation which has taken on a force and significance that is out of control.

It is this second body, and not the physical or biological body per se, which the Subject struggles against and which makes up unconscious experience constituting desire.  The biological body with its biological interests (well-being, survival, reproduction) is not at the center of the human Subject but the true ‘interior’ is this second body. (Paul, of course, is specifically exposing the delusion surrounding this second body.)

Why The Feminine is so Frightening

Philo depicts these two bodies as two principles, male and female, with femaleness representative of the passions: fear, sorrow, pleasure and desire. As this femaleness is subjugated by maleness (or by the soul or by reason) or “as there ceased to be the ways of women” this corresponds “to minds full of Law, which resemble the male sex and overcome passions and rises above all sense, pleasure and desire.”[3] The truly masculine resides with the logos, law, and reason, ridding itself of all dealings with the feminine. God, the Father, is apophatic (free of pathos) and so we too must strive toward the divine masculine. Pleasure or passion “deserves cursing,” as it shifts the standards of the soul and renders it a lover of passion instead of a lover of virtue. Pleasure must be seen as a threat to the male, or as the enemy of the mind (the rational and masculine part of a person). Pleasure associates herself with the senses which are female in an attempt to topple reason, the mind, and the masculine. One is enslaved by the primary passions of pleasure, desire, grief, and fear, so true freedom – virtue – is a complete abandonment of female pathos.

Philo might find contemporary genital piercing, branding, and cutting a tad too literal but the concept of exercising sovereignty (the strength of a king over a country) over the body, the senses and passions, he would agree, is the means to freedom. The symbolic, the law, must be so inscribed on the body that it is organized according to the soul or the mind. The body is the feminine, passive, receptor, of the active masculine law. “For progress is indeed nothing else than the giving up of the female gender by changing into the male, since the female gender is material, passive, corporeal and sense-perceptible, while the male is active, rational, incorporeal and more akin to mind and thought.”[4] Freedom is, in short, the obliteration of the female or the sensuous body.

Exposing the Lie of the Flesh

The way Paul might describe the idea that one can shed the body (despair) is that one unwittingly assumes death in the form of the law – the letter or symbolic (my epitaph already inscribed, not on stone, but in flesh) in order to avoid it.[5] The dead are immortal in that they are no longer subject to dying, so identity through the dead letter achieves an enduring (immortal) identity. From Paul’s perspective, this fearful sacrifice of the body is an outworking of the deceived orientation to the law.

In Christ, the law of the body of sin is suspended along with its punishing effects. It is not that one can sacrifice the body, as if they are not their body, nor is it the case that one can pretend to float free of the body in extreme asceticism or indulgence. Paul acknowledges the body (the soma, the biological or physical body) but does not presume to treat it as he would the flesh. The flesh, the second body inscribed by the law with its excessive enjoyments and traumas, is silenced. This flesh is done away with and now we have access to the reality of the physical body. In accounting for the body (in I Co 7), Paul by-passes the principle of the flesh as we see it dominating philosophy, religion, and culture (in his day and ours).

Paul’s practical application of his suspension of the law and the body of death is an emphasis on mutual submission, reciprocity, and union “for” the other (rather than simply “for” the husband’s pleasure). There is neither hierarchy nor the notion of the body as autonomous units.[7] “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (I Co 7:4, NASB). Paul acknowledges the body but notes that our individual bodies are tied together both in marriage and in the corporate body of Christ. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Co 6:15). He does not by-pass the physical body but accords it a role  which is neither fearful nor repressive.

Joshua Harris acknowledges, fear was a primary impetus in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. His evangelical upbringing, much as with Philo and the Corinthians’ Gnostic Christianity, caused him to pass on fear and suspicion of the opposite sex.[6]  Early on in Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard notes the “relation which relates itself to its own self is constituted by another.” This other may be posited as purely negative (the law) and thus give rise to despair. That is, the relation can be constituted in a fearful negative unity (the body of sin or the body of death) or in the One “which constituted the whole relation.” “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Co 6:19–20).


[1] Kierkegaard, Soren (2013-01-28). Sickness Unto Death (Kindle Locations 94-96). Start Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, 208-211.

[3] Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis, 4.15.

[4] Questions and Answers on Exodus 1.7.

[5] Slavoj Žižek , Tarrying with the Negative, 76.

[6] Ruth Graham, “Hello Goodby,” Slate, Aug. 23, 2016 accessed at https://slate.com/human-interest/2016/08/i-kissed-dating-goodbye-author-is-maybe-kind-of-sorry.htm “What I was writing about was ‘Avoid this pain, avoid these mistakes, don’t do these things.’ Is that really how we grow as human beings?”

[7] See the commentaries by Anthony Thiselton and Richard Hays on I Cor. 7.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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