Confused Expressions #9: My Body is My Temple

When I was younger, a friend said to me—if memory serves, in response to my resolute disinclination to smoke cigarettes with him—”Your body is your temple, isn’t it?”

It was the first time I’d heard the expression, and although I’ve heard it many times since, it seems no less ridiculous (and something much worse) now than it did then.

The expression is ridiculous on several levels: first, if your body is your temple, what exactly are you worshiping in there? None of us are gods, so why should any of us expect to have a temple consecrated to us? Second, if your body is your temple, why should that stop you from polluting that temple to your heart’s content? It’s your temple, after all, and you should do with it as you wish. Third, the expression implies that we have a lot more control over our bodies than we actually do. Can we destroy and rebuild our bodies on a whim? Did any of us have any input on the original design of our bodies—our height? the shape of our face or feet? the colour of our hair or eyes?

But the expression is worse than simply ridiculous—it’s pernicious. Some people do treat their bodies as if it was a shrine to the god called “I”; and because that’s obviously not true (we are not gods, after all), the place of worship becomes the object worshiped; the temple becomes the god. Some people are so focused on their bodies that body-image is all-consuming. This obsession can take different forms with different levels of severity: from eating disorders like bulimia to depriving oneself of tasty food so that eating becomes mere drudgery; from a life-threatening endless series of plastic surgeries to an often looks-threatening (in my own aesthetic judgment) endless series of tattoos; from allowing our fears to goad us into spending large portions of our income in fueling a multi-billion-dollar cosmetics industry to spending so much time at the gym that one has no time or energy for anything or anyone else. When we turn our bodies into gods, they become demanding gods who want all of our attention—just like any other idol would.

But back to the original point: if one’s body is one’s temple, what argument can you use against someone who doesn’t mind a polluted temple? And perhaps even worse: what’s to stop someone from violating the body of another person? That’s their temple, and if they can’t protect it, what argument could keep an aggressor from knocking down the door and taking what they want, or even burning the whole temple to the ground if they so choose?

There is a slight variation to that expression, though, and one that is as profound as the other is ridiculous, and as helpful to our moral goodness as the other is detrimental to it. Our bodies are not our temples, but they were meant to be temples, living temples to the living God. A temple of God—now that’s something worth striving to keep holy and clean and strong. A temple of God—there’s a warning to give pause to anyone who wants to trespass on another human being’s body. As St. Paul put it when writing to correct the young and wayward church in Corinth:

“Don’t you know that you are a temple of God, and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is holy, which you are.”

Whatever your religious beliefs, I hope we can all agree that the expression “my body is my temple” is confused at best.

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Karl El-Koura was born in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and currently lives with his beautiful editor-wife in Canada’s capital city. More than sixty of his short stories and articles have been published in magazines since 1998, and in 2012 he independently published his debut novel Father John VS the Zombies.

Posted in Blog, Christianity, Confused Expressions
34 comments on “Confused Expressions #9: My Body is My Temple
  1. tolgak says:

    you haven’t understood what it means and are not likely to be able to understand either

  2. m says:

    first of all, the only “existing” gods are the ones we make up in order to organise our lifes and answer our human questions. we are good believers when we are looking for answers!

    second, why not call your body a temple if it makes you take well care of it? you are after all the most important person when it comes to your life. ok, you did not build it, but it was given to you by your creators (your parents). isn’t that worth something? now it’s up to you to take care of it, no one else does it as well as you.

    ok, i agree. forcing the body to be extremely skinny, removing or adding parts just for the visual effect, or decorate it by tattoos or diamonds.. the look of a temple does not determine the importance of what’s going on inside it. if you want to express yourself visually, why not, as long as your temple works for you. but don’t oversee the effects behind the surface. a well decorated temple is not a good temple if the structure is fragile.

    my body is my temple.

    • Hi m,

      Obviously you and I disagree on whether God exists, but, setting that issue aside for the moment, you haven’t answered the first question in the article. By definition, a temple is a place of worship, so if your body is your temple, what exactly are you worshipping in there? I hope your statement “you are after all the most important person when it comes to your life” isn’t a clue to the answer you’d give.

      As for your question—”why not call your body a temple if it makes you take good care of it?”—I think I answer that above. In short, it may make you take good care of your body or it may not; it’s your temple and you can do what you want with it. You are under no obligation to treat it or anyone else’s body well. Also, the way we use language can influence the way we think, and if you say “my body is my temple” enough times, you run the danger of actually starting to believe that it’s true and of treating yourself as God (or a god) and, therefore, as the most important person in your life.

      • Clay Stevens says:

        I love this topic. The passage isn’t to state that we are Gods. It states that as Christians god is within us. Most believe this means to watch what you eat or put into your body physically. I’ve always thought this meant that I can worship and pray anywhere at any time. Not just at church or an actual temple. I also believe it’s more about what you ingest mentally. It’s a reminder not to just be holy at church but act as you would there everywhere. Not that watching what you eat is a bad thing either. I don’t think anyone thinks they are a God from saying my body is my temple. If they do they are becoming a false idol.

  3. angeka says:

    thanks

  4. julie says:

    it seems that you are more confused than the saying, given the relevant quote you placed at the end of your entry. The spirit of God is what I am communing with when I go to my temple. For me that means knowing my body bones to skin, top of head to tip of toe through the vehicle of yoga and meditation. I feel you confuse deluded selfishness with sincere worship.

    • But if it’s the Spirit of God you’re communing with, julie, why do you call your body “your temple”? Isn’t it actually God’s temple, where you go to worship Him? The issue here is not whether our bodies are temples, but whose temple they are. Are they our temples, as the confused expression has it, to do with as we please, or are they God’s temples, holy and sacred, as St. Paul has it?

  5. Jae says:

    You are confused and ridiculous.

  6. shark says:

    i guess the concept of analogy miss u by a mile… so i guess ” my heart is racing” to must be a moronic as well as ridiculous as this statement

    • The question isn’t whether “my body is my temple” is an analogy—of course it is. The question is whether it’s a good or a confused one. “My body is a temple” is a fine analogy and a statement I completely agree with, but “my body is my temple” is confused, just like “my heart is racing” is good but “my heart is my foot” isn’t. See the difference?

  7. Theloneus Jones says:

    Your Body Is Your Temple Because It Is Where You Are Supposed To Be Educated, & Worship The Most High. You Do not Dessacrate Your Temple with Tattoos, Drugs Or Alcohol. Because Alcogol & Drugs Weaken Your Connection To The Most High, & Put You At Risk For Demonic Attack. “God’s Spirit Lives Within You ” Means That The Principles Of The Most High Are Naturally Within You. The Most High Is Supreme Energy. He Created You As Energy, & Your Body Of Flesh Houses That Energy. But Your Physical Body Was Not Created In The Image Of The Most High, Because He Has No Physical Image…Your Flesh Body Was Created In The Image Of Flesh & Blood Angels That Wanted To Be Gods Called Watcher Angels, Annunaki, Grigori, Igigi, Etc. So Even Though You Are Not Housed In The Flesh Of The Original Body That The Most High Created, & You Were Recreated in The Flesh By Angels, God Still Creates Your Soul Or Energy To Experience Life Within A Body Of Flesh…Something Multi-Dimensionals Will Never Experience. Which Is Another Reason Why Demons Hate You. I’d Only Confuse You. So The Best Advice I can Give Is Study ” ALL ” Religions ( but do not join ), Study Scripture That Pre-Dates Religion, As Well As World History, & Cross Reference Your Information. I”ve Been Doing This For 13 Years….

  8. Matthew says:

    From what I understand, and how I’ve heard the phrase used; your body being your ‘temple’ is not supposed to be a literal temple where you pray and worship.

    It’s supposed to mean that your body is yours, and only yours. No one else has the right to desecrate your ‘temple’, which is your most holy of places and only you know what is the right thing to do with it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Matthew. I agree with you that our bodies are holy, and I agree that no one has the right to desecrate our “temple.”

      Now, from a Christian perspective, our bodies are holy because they’re God’s temple (see the quote above from St. Paul). I’m interested in hearing why you think, from a non-Christian perspective, our bodies are holy?

      As for your last point that only we know what is the right thing to do with our bodies, I can’t agree with that. To help you understand why, imagine if you had a close friend who decides one day that she wants to blind herself. She has her own reasons for wanting to be blind, she’s not crazy, and she’s willing to do it under medical supervision. What would you say to her?’

  9. Nobody says:

    I just came across this and thought I’d put in my two cents real quick. Though I realize its like a year late. I think the expression is confusing because it means something different to everyone. To me it has nothing to do with God, rather with the fact that its my body and I get to choose what I do with. That I’m not going to have sex with a bunch of random people and that I’m not going to do drugs because my body is sacred. It’s not that i worship my body or think of it as a God (whatever that means) but that I respect it. And since its mine I can do whatever I want to it like getting tattoos or piercings and its my choice not anyone else’s. I think its about believing in yourself and making the choices you feel right about with your body. Its not about God at all for me, its about whatever you make it to be. I think your problem is you don’t believe it means anything and your thinking of it to literally. But that’s just my opinion.

  10. Well, no, I believe it does mean something – and that something is either confused or much worse. See the post above.

  11. guti says:

    you worship life when you take care of your body as a temple. There are many religions and many different gods, but life is only one, a short one at that, and just like religion it was given to you. You can destroy it or take good care of it. Just like a temple, but normally temples that one would worship in, one would take care of it.

  12. Dana Carter says:

    Some people just don’t know how to have an argument without bashing another person. So for those people, I apologize to you Karl. I am actually glad you created this post because I’ve been wanting to tattoo “My Body is My Temple” on my body for a while now. I know the Corinthians verse states My Body, His Temple, so I felt it would be disrespectful to put my body is my temple because it goes against the word of the Bible, especially since “his” is referring to GOD. Im a personal trainer and I worship my way of life. I dont drink or smoke. I eat very healthily. I take yoga classes and am very open-minded and social in my way of life. I am very spiritual as well as religious, but I cant help but feel that I am taking care of my body and shaping my future the way I want it. Not worshiping my body, but my whole way of life. A Temple is a place of worship, but it’s not the only place of worship. Just like the Aura or spiritual essence surrounding a body can also surround a Temple. So when using these words instead of limiting my “Temple” to just my physical body I’m also factoring in the other things the body has to offer (Soul, Mind, Spirit, Heart). Tell me your thoughts my man. your insight will help me on deciding about getting my tattoo.

  13. Conor Manley says:

    PLEASE DON’T MAKE ANY HASTY OPINIONS. Alright I also just happened to come across this post and thought that you are misunderstood as well. In order to clarify (which everyone has tried and failed thus far), the phrase “my body is my temple” is a transformation from the religious verse through an agnostic standpoint, where the belief of God is not certain, and omitted from the importance of the phrase. The phrase uses the metaphor of a temple for the characteristics of being sacred. Merely a metaphor for that purpose, not that it is a place of worship (which is a part that you might be having trouble with). By correlating this trait to a person’s body, it gives significance to the treatment of it, as if it was their holy temple (NOT that they own the temple, but that they commit to it). In other words, they will treat it with the highest respect and put it above anything else. To admit, I am not very religious, which is why I can relate to this phrase. This is also why I am having trouble relating to your understanding of it. As for the idea of being a God, this is misunderstood as well. The phrase still imbues spirituality within the words (which is why I am saying agnostic rather than athiest or anything against religions). It’s included by the fact that they separate themselves from their body and treat it as an object, rather than themselves. For this, it is used a medium for the spirit, if you want to think of it that way. They are not a god, but they will treat it with such prudence that it will be untarnished in the end and that, while it is theirs, it was ultimately given to them by a higher power, i.e. God. Does this clarify?

    • So “my body is my temple” is an agnostic version of “my body is God’s temple” (because to an agnostic God’s existence is uncertain), and “my body is my temple” is an agnostic way to recognize that one’s body was “ultimately given to them by a higher power, i.e. God.” Sorry, no, that isn’t clear at all.

      • Conor Manley says:

        This subject is terribly fascinating to me so don’t take my debate as a an offensive rebuttal, I really do think this is a good topic. So this transformation is not a “because” God’s existence is uncertain, but a change from making it a higher power’s object to your own, and taking responsibility for it. I do see that I stretched a little too far with connecting the whole “ultimately given to them by a higher power” but I merely used it as a possible interpretation to counter the parallelism that you suggested. What else is unclear? I could be terribly wrong, but let’s delve into it.

        • You’re not being offensive in any way, Conor, so don’t worry about that.

          My issue with the “change from making it a higher power’s object to your own” is that you’re now setting yourself up as the higher power, aren’t you? You said above that the phrase “my temple” is a metaphor that conveys the sense of the body’s sacredness. But if there is no God, what makes your body sacred? The only answer I can think of (please correct me if there is another) is that there is something particularly holy and special about you as a person (i.e., you are a higher power whose very nature imbues your body with sacredness). There have been many people who thought that throughout history, but none have been particularly sane.

          If you say rather (as I think you may have been saying in your first comment here) that “my body is my temple” is a commitment to treating one’s body as if it were the temple of a higher power – whether or not there is such a higher power in existence – I think that’s a noble sentiment, but the expression itself still wouldn’t work. In that case, your body isn’t your temple, although it may be a temple (of an unknown/uncertain/perhaps unexisting higher power). For the record, “my body is a temple” is perfectly reasonable expression, though a bit too imprecise and agnostic for my tastes.

          Your thoughts?

          • Conor Manley says:

            So I understand what you mean, the wording between the two is tricky.

            For the first issue about literally replacing “God’s temple” with “my temple” in the phrase. You are looking at this as parallelism, where God can be substituted with oneself as if they are equal. While this makes logical sense, the type of ownership grammatically is different. The phrase from the bible has God physically owning your body, so it’s God’s temple. In the case of “my body is my temple” it seems that you also literally own it, right? But the ownership in this is from commitment, you commit to it; not that you own it. So for example, you commit to “your church” compared to a different temple. You put care and responsibility into your temple, in order to maintain it’s stature. You do not literally own it but you can still call it your own. So one does treat it as if it were the temple of a higher power, but they are not the higher power. I agree to an extent that “my body is a temple” is a reasonable expression, but it loses the devotion. It’s just that you recognize that your body is important, but you don’t take precautions to protect it. That is why “my body is my temple” holds more significance to the individual.

            How about that?

          • I think you may have lead yourself into a trap, Conor. The point of this post is to show that the expression “my body is my temple” is confused (in the hope that people will stop using it). Now you’re saying that the two “my” words in the short expression actually mean two very different things: the first “my” implies ownership, while the second one merely indicates a strong association or commitment (like saying “The Sens are my hockey team”). If that’s the case, it’s a lot of equivocation for such a short expression, and seems almost designed to confuse.

            It gets worse. “The Sens are my hockey team” is a short-hand way of saying something like “The Sens are my favourite hockey team”; it’s just that the word “favourite” is implied. Everyone understands that’s what you mean, and that you don’t actually own the team (unless you’re Melnyk). Where there’s any possibility of confusion, the implied word has to be expressed – for example, if I promised you a ride home and we were walking past a Ferrari, and I pointed at it and said “That’s my car,” I better pull out keys that fit the locks on its doors, or you may be rightly annoyed that I didn’t say instead “That’s my kind of car!”

            So what does one mean when they say “my temple”? Do they mean something similar to “my church” (i.e., the church to which I belong), “my car” (i.e., the car that belongs to me), “my hockey team” (i.e., the team I most strongly associate with or root for)? Since it can mean any of those things (and probably others I’m not thinking of right now), politeness and kindness to your interlocutor requires that you make your meaning clear, since you don’t mean the expression the way it can be understood at the most literal level.

            It seems that by making that argument, you are you granting that “my body is my temple” is a confused (and confusing) expression.

            But to continue the discussion, let’s assume that every reasonable person should know that by saying “my body is my temple” one means something like “I will treat my body as if it were the temple of a higher power” (I think that’s how you understand the expression, please correct me if I’m wrong). That one (“I will treat my body as if it were the temple of a higher power”) is a perfectly reasonable and clear expression, and a noble sentiment as I said above, but it is incomplete, isn’t it? Why will you so treat your body? The answer may be just because you feel like it, or it makes you happy, or you believe that it will help keep you on a certain healthy path for your life – fine, but I hope you’ll agree that the foundations there are pretty shaky (you may wake up tomorrow morning and decide that you will now treat your body as if it were the town dump, or as if it were a scientific experiment, or as if it were a million other things).

            Even granting your assertion that “my body is my temple” holds more significance to a particular individual, is that significance real or imagined? Is it based on anything?

  14. Wout says:

    God is not only from the bible, God is everything, you, the air you breath, the earth, the moon, the universe, the mathmatique code, the blueprint,

    Our body is e little fragment from that blueprint, So you are a part of god, You’re mind is a part of the global mind, you’re toughs are a part of everyone’s thoughs on this planet.. you’re a drop of water in de rivier that flows always.. So you’re body is you’re temple. That care of it, i’f you LOVE life,

    • Wout says:

      People who beleave god is a person in de sky watching over us or a spiritual goeroe type of person , that’s BS

  15. Alex says:

    good lord you’re dumb. lol. it refers to the fact that your soul is a holy sacred fire, a piece of the original divine body of the supreme godhood. and your body houses this fire, the fire being your nervous system/your conscious/soul. so your body is your temple. the saying is meant to say that your body is a sacred vessel for a piece of truly divine substance, something with power and beauty beyond measure in the universe. it is meant to encourage one to worship their body as sacred, to be healthy and active, put healthy food in, be loving and gentle with yourself, enjoy pleasure, enjoy sex, live happily and in balance. it is meant to guide you towards the best way of life for you. i guess the worthy students really do see the truth where others see nothing.

  16. D P Gumby says:

    I’ve got my head stuck in a cupboard! I can’t see anything!

  17. Sandyhair says:

    I know Im very late to the discussion but i am very curious. Why are you all trying to give an agnostic interpretation to a Christian bible verse? This is why your confused. If your not Christian, stop using the phrase. You cant just change it and expect it to make sense.

  18. Michael Troy says:

    The saying makes perfect sense if you go back to ancient Greece, but it has a dire warning.

    Temples then where not for people to worship in, but for gods to live in while on earth. There were many gods all related to the elements but legend was the gods only existed if humans acknowledged their presence and respected the elements. The gods were immortal though and should be still around but we are not sure as to their form.

    Fast forward to a few years ago and the emergence of what scientists call our core microbiome or second brain. Trillions of bacteria have been found living in our gut whose cells outnumber human cells ten to one. In other words we are a host organism or you could say a temple for something else we know very little about.

    Given the present dire state of earth, we must assume something has gone seriously wrong in this vital symbiotic relationship.

    Scientists know our microbial colony often comes under attack and that bad microbes infecting us have the means, motive and opportunity to alter human behaviour over thousands of years. All you have to do is change diet to wipe out beneficial microbes.

    It would explain about the human condition and that there is an attempt to burn down our temple because the gods are hiding weak and scared inside all of us,

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