God’s Belly Button
(Questions children should not ask their Sunday school teachers)
Teacher – “The bible tells us we are made in God’s image.”
Child – “If I’m made in God’s image, does it mean that God has a belly button like me?”
Teacher – “Why yes, I think so.”
Child – “Why does God have a belly button?”
Teacher – “So you could be created in his image with a belly button.”
Child – “But, my daddy told me I had one because that’s where I was attached to my Mommy before I was born.”
Teacher – “Why yes…. That’s true.”
Child – “So, if God has a belly button, does it mean he was attached to his Mommy like me?”
Teacher – “Hmmm…. No, God has no mommy.”
Child – “But then, why does he have a belly button?”
Teacher – “Hmmm…. So you could be created in his image with a belly button.”
Child – “I don’t understand.”
Teacher – “Neither do I, but remember, you don’t have to understand something to believe it. Faith is a good substitute for understanding.”
Child – “I still don’t understand.”
My dissecting partner and I hunched over the remains of a cadaver stinking of formalin. We affectionately called him Slim because he was slim, had minimum adipose tissue and body grease, and therefore easily identifiable and dissectible anatomical structures. Our task was to identify all structures, every muscle, artery, vein, and nerve in the pelvic/abdominal area for an upcoming gross anatomy exam.
In spite of the overwhelming burning odor and the bits and pieces of Slim’s body strewn over our dissecting table, I munched on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sucked on a can of coke. The coke helped clear my nasal passages and throat of the stinking odor that permeated my clothes and body, and even my breath, since anatomy lab started several months ago.
Jack, one of the four dissecting partners assigned to Slim, was an intelligent guy, much smarter than I, but he was ten years younger and somewhat naïve concerning religious matters. I don’t know if that was because he did is pre-med at a religious college or not. He and I shared an apartment over a Greek restaurant near the University of Illinois Medical School campus in Chicago. We spent many hours studying together. Religious debates were always a welcome relief from studying. That particular afternoon in anatomy lab was eventful and is worth sharing with someone.
As Jack dissected the abdominal wall, I asked if he could explain the origin of the umbilicus, commonly referred to as the navel or belly button. He looked up and laughed at my question, mainly because it was a simple one and not likely to be on final written exam. He explained what I already knew, that the bellybutton, is the remnant of the umbilical cord’s attachment to a newborn’s abdominal wall. It carried arterial blood to the fetus and venous blood back to the placenta.
I asked, “Do all humans have navels?”
“Of course.” he replied without thinking.
Except for Siamese twins? I asked with a grin on my face.
“Hmmm, yeah, I guess.” He replied.
“Well how about God? Did he have a belly button?”
Jack shrugged his shoulders and ignored my question. He always did when his beliefs were threatened.
It’s a good question and a thoughtful one for Popes and Renaissance painters. The Popes really have no choice but demand their hired artists to cover the area with a garment thus avoiding the question altogether. Why God wears a garment I do not know, except that besides being a jealous God, he is modest God who rather not expose his body. That’s strange because his followers claim to already know what he looks like because they are made in his image.
I followed up asking Jack if he had ever seen a painting of a God who has a belly button. He thought for a while and shook his head. I never had either, but it’s an interesting question. Since that time in the anatomy lab so long ago, I’ve searched religious archives for a painting of an umbilicalized God with no luck.
Later that evening while we studied in our little apartment I brought up the topic again.
“Jack, I’ve been thinking. Do you believe we are born in God’s image?”
“Yes, of course.” He replied, “That’s what the bible tells us.”
“So, that means God must have a belly button if we do?”
Jack thought about that one for a moment and replied, “Yes, I think so.” And then with a touch of uncertainty in his voice, “God actually doesn’t need a bellybutton because God was not born; he always existed.”
“Come on Jack, you started out agreeing that we are born in God’s image but now you’re saying we are not. Which is it Jack?
Jack had a ready answer, “God the father does not have a belly button. God the son had a belly button. God the Holy Spirit does not have a belly button. That’s one out of three for belly buttons.”
“Jack, who are you to claim you know about such things. What does your church say about it?”
“Hmmm, You know, I really don’t have any idea.”
I thought not. “What about DNA? Was Jesus haploid or diploid. Did he have half the number of Chromosomes or the same number as other humans?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know, but I do know he probably had genes from his mother.”
“Wait a minute Jack. It says in the bible that Jesus was descended from the house of David, so he also must have had genes from David’s line. Right?”
Jack looked confused.
“So Jack, do you think that Jesus had genes from Mary and genes from David’s line?” Before he could reply I added. “If Jesus had genes from Mary and David she could not have been a virgin as claimed. What do you think?”
Jack replied he’d have to think about it. “I’ll ask my priest.”
I doubted Jack would because he didn’t attend mass nor did he make confessions. He never brought up the topic again.
I wish I had followed up with more questions but I never did. How would Jack have responded to other questions about God’s appearance: For example, does God have body hair? And if he does, why? Is hair a remnant from our evolutionary ancestors? And what about other vestigial structures? If we have vestigial canine teeth, does God have canine teeth? If we have an appendix, does God have an appendix? Does God have a recurrent pharyngeal nerve? If we do, then he has anatomical structures that are remnants of human evolutionary history.
How would Jack answer these questions and how would you answer them? Why does God have anatomical structures similar to ours? For example, our small vestigial canine teeth are the remnants of large primate canine teeth that were used in killing and tearing into prey. Canine teeth are leftovers from the past as is our appendix a leftover from ancestors that required an extra digestive sack for the digestion of carbohydrates. Sparse human body hair is the remnant of the total body hair of our primate ancestors. It was useful for temperature control, protection from ultra violet rays, and protection from insects. The lumbar curve enabled humans to stand upright and walk bipedally. All human physical features and structures have evolutionary origins. Therefore, it is illogical to claim humans were made in God’s image; it makes more sense to claim God was made in human image…by humans.
Anyway, It was something for anatomy students to think about.