I mentioned this when talking about anger, and drew a connection to sex. But Fillyjonk at Shapely Prose points out quite concisely that we make the same mistake in thinking about that other totally natural thing people do that we all freak out about so much, eating.
It’s funny, I used to wonder why people demonize sex so much but not eating, and I’m just realizing that the question is based on a wrong assumption. We do demonize eating. And overanalyze it, and declare certain kinds ok and certain kinds immoral. We make it hold all kinds of symbolism, we regulate it, we fret over it. We do it for various reasons but are told there’s only one Proper Reason to eat, and that the Proper Reason is determined by mere survival as understood in the most simplistic terms, and that eating for reasons besides the Proper Reason is wrong and bound to have terrible horrible effects. Just like with sex. Funny.
Fillyjonk made that comparison too, as well as tie-ins to other types of oppression; it’s a really fantastic post. She got right to the point of what makes us think in this zero-sum game kind of way: the idea that “enjoyment is sinful.” I saw this idea when I wrote a paper for a class on birth control in the Catholic Church. (Here’s the big papal encyclical on that, Humanae vitae, in case you want to check it out yourself.) The Church Fathers and the Popes seemed to think that doing something because it felt good just didn’t sound holy enough, so, ok, you can have sex, but it has to be for some reason that is separate from sexual pleasure. Highest on the list is procreation, because a miracle from God sounds plenty holy, plus kids are a burden (besides being a joy; they’re both), so it doesn’t look too selfish. After a while they conceded that you could have sex for marital bonding, too, because God wants you to have a loving marriage and not get divorced. But they decided that marital bonding has to go with procreation, you can’t have sex for just one now and just the other later. Hence the stance against birth control. But here’s the best part: you can use the rhythm method, or natural family planning. Yes, that would mean having sex without the intention of procreating. So why is it ok? They don’t say this in so many words, and the few Catholics who agree with the Church’s stance have some different explanations for it that I find lacking, but I think it’s considered ok because that method requires abstaining from sex quite a bit, while other methods of birth control do not. It’s the denial of pleasure that they’re after, not the procreation really. It’s not that the Pope is sadistic. These people, and it’s not just Catholics by any means, are just real deep in the idea that doing something for physical pleasure is selfish and wrong. It seems to be an idea that a lot of people get; there are ascetics in lots of religions. It’s not one I agree with though. A theologian commenter on FJ’s post says it’s not one that the Bible agrees with, either. I have no opinion to offer on that, but it’s worth thinking about if what the Bible says matters to you.
There is, of course, a feminist reading of the birth control stance as well, that doesn’t conflict with this one, just adds to it, but I don’t want to go off on that tangent right now.
I do see reasons for limiting pleasurable activities, but since my morality is based more on minimization of harm than on purity nowadays, my reasons are different, and so are my conclusions. Here’s the article I got those labels from – it’s pretty interesting, even if I am still trying to figure out what I think about Steven Pinker.
Anyway, I’m happy. I just made chocolate fudge.