Years ago, Saturday Night Live produced a sharp parody of a prescription drug commercial aimed at women—touting a solution for some female-specific health problem. I don’t remember what problem or product the parody was spoofing, but I remember the commercial’s best punchline: When it was time to offer disclaimers and warnings about scary-sounding side effects (which sometimes make the remedy seem worse than the disease), the very sympathetic female announcer said, “Latrevia [or whatever it was called] won’t cure all your problems; after all, you’ll still be a woman.”
The reason that punchline worked is because it correctly discerned a subtle message underneath many of these appeals to women: “Because you’re a woman, there’s something wrong with you and your body.”
For some reason, I thought of this parody when I heard about Angelina Jolie’s announcement a couple of weeks ago to have a preemptive double-mastectomy. I say “preemptive,” of course, because she doesn’t yet have breast cancer. Based on state-of-the-art genetic testing, however, her doctors believed she had an 87 percent chance of developing it.
I promise I’m not passing judgment on the rightness or wrongness of Jolie’s decision. And who am I, anyway—with my Y-chromosome—to even offer an opinion. I know I’m treading on thin ice, believe me.
But was her decision “brave,” absent any sign of cancer, as magazines as diverse as People and Christianity Today agree that it was? How do they know what was right?
And why isn’t the answer as clear to me?
One thing’s for sure: I don’t like this “Her•meneutics” column in Christianity Today. Guest-columnist Sarah Thebarge, a breast-cancer survivor, asks:
What if all of us women had the courage to shed the external things we’ve used to define ourselves and accept ourselves and each other for who we are instead of what we look like?
I can’t reconcile these words with our Christian hope for bodily resurrection, which I just preached about on Sunday. Contrary to Thebarge’s suggestion, “who we are” is not some intangible, spiritual part of ourselves—a soul—separate from our bodies. We are instead bodies and souls together. On the other side of death and resurrection, God will put us back together again.
And why will God do this? Because God happens to love the “external things” (Thebarge’s words) that make up our bodies. He isn’t willing for us to be “shed” of them—not eternally, at least. Jesus came not to save “souls but ‘wholes,'” as N.T. Wright said. As with all of us, Angelina Jolie doesn’t accidentally have the body she has. God gave it to her for a reason. What we do with our bodies, therefore, matters greatly to God.
And for all I know, God called her to sacrifice part of her body for now—so that she’ll avoid an early death and continue to love and support her many children. But that doesn’t change the fact that what she loses matters to God—even if, in Christ, the loss is temporary.