Flesh As Sin

The presentations today prompted a continuation of thought regarding one of the things Baldwin takes issue with within the institution of the church: the sin of flesh. Baldwin has learned from the church to hate his body, which might commit actions of his sinful sexuality. Baldwin is taught by American society to hate his skin, which threatens the legitimacy of whiteness. Baldwin, in grappling against this self-loathing, reveals what he has struggled to love most about himself: his body.  

I believe this might relate to our discussion of the afterlife, which is said to be existence without flesh and body. Perhaps the Christian church orients itself away from the sin of our human bodies knowing that the afterlife means a dismissal and a departure from the profane. Yet this is a notion that Baldwin confronts, as he believes that the shame we are taught to approach our bodies with is harmful. Salvation need not be divorced from bodily existence. 

To believe sin is inherent in your body and written on your skin is to never believe in personal salvation. Baldwin believes in his own salvation and prophethood, regardless of his physicality. He refuses to be ashamed of his flesh, knowing that it instead is the content of his deliverance. Baldwin vehemently rejects flesh as sin as taught in religion and society, instead rewriting flesh to exist as sanctification. He suggests that “love can only be attained through a holistic acceptance of the body as well as the spirit,” which is perhaps why Baldwin also demands sanctity of nudity as an exposed body (Field 451). 

David, the protagonist of Giovanni’s Room, has salvation “hidden in his flesh,” as the body holds redemption in its very existence. Most of Baldwin’s protagonists make no distinction between the body and the spirit, as he contends that the two share in significance and value. He uplifts the body as a sight of salvation, “insisting on [its] sanctity and acceptance” (Field 451). I’m curious to track this train of thought as we continue to trace patterns in our second Baldwin novel. Questions I might ask going forward: Is transcendence reached when the body and soul meet each other? How are sexuality and religion continually entangled in Baldwin’s text? Does human flesh force a confrontation between sexuality and religion?