As Christians prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, pastors are struggling to draft sermons that will make the 2,000-year-old Christmas story come alive for the faithful who pack the pews on Christmas day. They can expect a receptive audience: A recent Harris poll found that 72 percent of Americans believe that Jesus is God or the son of God and 60 percent believe that he was born of a virgin.

Such widespread Christian belief, though admittedly less robust than most pastors would like to see, is significant when considering its consequences. The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation at the heart of the Christmas story declares that God began his life on earth as a human embryo, one like us in all things but sin. The implications of that belief are profound: If God took on human flesh in its earliest stages, then human bodily life must deserve not only respect, but reverence.

Of course, more Americans profess belief in the biblical Christmas story than seriously ponder its consequences. How else to explain our facile acceptance of the idea that our minds are synonymous with our selves and our bodies are merely the matter that our minds inhabit, with no intrinsic meaning of their own?

We are, no doubt, obsessed with our bodies. We turn to cosmetics counters and diet plans to perfect our physical appearance. We chase after physical pleasures and bodily health with great vigor.

Yet we also disparage the significance of our bodies. We tend to identify our personhood with our ability to reason and will. And we believe that we can do whatever we wish with our bodies as long as we don't hurt anyone else — anyone, that is, who counts as a person with these same abilities to reason and will.

These assumptions reflect a mind-body ...

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