Thomas Aquinas and the Back-to-the-Body Perspective

Cain_and_Abel_ChildrenA fundamental tenet of the Back-to-the-Body Perspective is that “the truth is within you”—that is, in your body. This means that, for the great questions of life, we should look at the body for answers. For example, one of the great questions of life is the question of struggle, or war. The paradigmatic imagery about struggle, or war, is the narrative of the struggle between Cain and Abel in Genesis and the killing of Abel by Cain. How would the Back-to-the-Body approach the theme of Cain and Abel? How different would that approach be from that of traditional theology? In this article I will consider what the difference would be if we were to look at this question from the Back-to-the-Body Perspective as compared to the way a theologian–for example, Thomas Aquinas–would look at this question.

Moses_mosaicThe narrative of Cain and Abel was not written by Hans Christian Andersen or by the Brothers Grimm or by Aesop. Instead, it was written by Moses in the Book of Genesis. As such, it is considered “religious text,” “holy writ,” part of a “holy book.” And here I would like to anticipate a series of questions that I have often heard in Brazil, in Germany, and in the USA, whenever I apply the Back-to-the-Body Perspective to interpret narratives contained in the Bible: “Who did you hear this from?” “What are your qualifications?” “What is your authority?”

I have argued in another article that these are wrong questions to ask. Even from the point of view of the Bible, these are wrong questions to ask. I do not claim to be a prophet or to have received a revelation from God, or to have been anointed or ordained in some religious organization. But even if I did, this kind of claim would say nothing about the truth or reliability of a certain statement.

Also, I do not claim to have created the Back-to-the-Body Perspective ex nihilo, because insights about “the truth within” abound. Moreover, I have heard numerous lectures on numerous topics. I have studied Catholic theology in Rome; I have received a graduate diploma in religious education from the Unification Theological Seminary, founded by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon; I have studied theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California; I have taken part in discussions with members of the Latter-Day Saints. For a brief time, I attended Buddhist lectures while serving in the US military; and now I am a member of the choir at Siena Heights University, a Catholic institution in Adrian, Michigan. When I visit Brazil, my nieces make sure I go to mass. I have also attended protestant worship services. I recall hearing many times: “The truth is within you.”

View_of_RomeWhile in Rome, for example, I remember going to public lectures by some of the brilliant minds of the world. A casual remark by these lecturers can give us insights that last a lifetime. Besides, I am an avid reader of Nietzsche, who is filled with all kinds of insights. And though I love Pope Francis, it is to the brilliant writings of Pope Benedict the XVI that I go in order to find insights about topics of spirituality as relating to Christian teachings.

And over the past year or so–inspired by my friend Daniel Randau–I have been reading Hölderlin’s Hyperion, a poetical work filled with deep insights. Besides, I was one of the organizers of the Unification Church of Brazil, which did so much to guide young people in Brazil away from the three scourges of the 1970s and 1980s: violent extremism, AIDS, and drug abuse.

Fig_Tree_with_figsSo, the source of the Back-to-the-Body Perspective should be attributed to so many insights that I have received from so many people over the years. Still, it is good to repeat that, in matters of insights about spirituality, it is the wrong strategy to pass judgment on the basis of the proponent’s qualifications. Instead of looking at who the messenger is, it is best to inquire as to what kind of fruits you could obtain by putting into practice a particular insight. So, don’t look at the tree, but rather look at the fruits. By the fruits, you can know the tree (Matt 7:15-20).

There is a difference, however, between the approach proposed in the Back-to-the-Body Perspective and the approach practiced by traditional theologians–for example, Thomas Aquinas. This difference can help us move forward in the impasse that the world finds itself today, with regard to religion-based conflicts.

The Aquinas Way

Thomas_AquinasThomas Aquinas (1225-1274) wrote incessantly throughout his life. Without a computer, wikipedia or iBooks, he produced a monumental work on theology. He is one of the people that I draw inspiration from–because there he was, without email, online books, online libraries—and he produced so much—in impeccable Latin.

But Aquinas was a theologian–which means, he justified his insights on the basis of the words in the Scriptures. His goal was to justify Catholic teaching.

Fast-forward to our modern times. We live in a world in which the holy words are being used as weapons to destroy people in most horrendous ways. Humans say their prayers and then guide airplanes into buildings, believing that they are following the dictates of their holy books. Or they blow themselves up in crowded spaces, declaring the glory of God. If there was ever a time in which religion has become the problem rather than the solution, it is today. Throughout history, the three theocentric religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) have been both the victims and the perpetrators of horrible deeds. Thus, I have been offering the Back-to-the-Body Perspective, which follow a different way.

The Back-to-the-Body Way

Ballet of the Foothills "On The Blue Danube"The Back-to-the-Body Way is not dogmatic. It does not draw its authority from revelation or from Holy books. In another article, I have written how the Back-to-the-Body Perspective is not dogmatic but is based on results. The Back-to-the-Body Way is to look at the body as the foundation of truth (the truth is within you). We don’t look at books—because the books have let us down and have produced a conflagration in the world. We don’t look at authorities, because authorities are baffled and confused as to what to do. We don’t seek for solutions in religions, because religions have become the problem rather than the solution.

Instead, we look at our human body, which is our faithful standard. The body is our wonderful “tree of life” (Genesis). Truth is ascertained by observing the human body–and then it may be confirmed by holy texts. And here is the difference between Thomas Aquinas and the Back-to-the-Body Perspective. Aquinas would look at the holy texts in order to declare what is true. In contrast, we look at the body and ascertain what is true on the basis of what we observe in the body. Then we apply this to reality in search for confirmation: by the fruits we can know the tree.

I conclude with a quote:

When, as we celebrate the bliss of morning, the earth’s bustling life ignites before our eyes like a burnt offering, and we go to it, to cast our day’s work, to cast our part too, into the rising flame, will you not say then: We are happy, we are again like the ancient priests of nature, the holy and joyful ones, who were already pious before a temple stood.”
— Excerpt From: Friedrich Hölderlin. Hyperion. iBooks.

Paulo-Juarez Pereira
Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA
September 29, 2014

Photo Credits:

Photo: Moses
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Photo: Thomas Aquinas
Author: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
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Photo: Cain and Abel as Children
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Photo: View of Rome
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