The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Faith & Pleasure

April 8th, 2004 · No Comments · christianity, culture, history

I’ve let a number of unconnected threads of news and history mingle about in my brain for a few weeks now, and have recently come to the realization that a number of social issues of note these days can be traced back to an attitude taken by a multitude of self-described “religious” people. Let’s narrow down my target group a bit: I’m specifically referring to fundamentalists, evangelicals, and “conservative” Christians. While they hold no monopoly on internally inconsistent dogma or self-aggrandizing attitudes about others, because of their numbers in this state and this country, they appear, to some, to hold some sort of majority… a “moral” majority, if you like. Now that we know to whom I refer, here’s the dish: They don’t like pleasure. Pleasure is a distraction from the “straight and narrow”: it diverts the true believer away from the daily struggle and pain of serving God and is thus a tool of Satan.

Although I personally find such naive and simplistic dualism an almost quaint anachronism, this basic principle explains a lot about what drives the “religious right”. It’s not so much that they care about who does what, but when there’s someone obviously having too good a time, it tends to run down the morale of the flock unless the peril to their immortal souls is immediately and forcefully demonstrated by the hand of God smiting the evil hedonist.

Let’s start with the issue of reproductive rights. To the left, we have a variety of prophylactics, both external and internal, explicit videos, suggestive clothing, a wide variety of tools useful in creating and maintaining an intimate encounter, and the choice of abortion should things get out of hand. To the right, we have abstinence counseling, ugly clothes, cold showers, and lots of guilt. The point should be clear: the left see sex as a source of pleasure, the right see sex as a source of sin. Pleasure is sin, unless it’s the pleasure of self-denial. The conservative Christian opposes sexual instruction, masturbation, birth control, and abortion because in their view, the only legitimate purpose of sex is to create progeny. Deliberately seeking out orgasm while consciously avoiding pregnancy, that is, seeking out pleasure while avoiding the responsibility of parenthood, is evil, immoral, and wrong. It’s not that they really give a shit about “the unborn” any more than they care about people after they’re born. It’s about control: controlling the behavior of others, because failure to do so would cast doubt on the legitimacy of their own beliefs.

This makes a nice line to the treatment of homosexuality by the conservative Christians. There’s no chance a single-gender dalliance would produce progeny (without significant medical assistance), so by definition, all such activities fall within the purview of the Dark Lord. The religious right couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the “sanctity of marriage” or they wouldn’t allow for divorce. In fact, even the State wouldn’t have anything to do with marriages except that they can levy a tax on it and periodically decree who can and who cannot marry. While the right tries to induce the state to perform this latter duty in light of queer marriage, what the conservative Christians really fear is further societal legitimacy of gays. One of the more enlightening arguments from the right is that if gay marriage was condoned then group sex, bestiality and child sex would all be next. While this debater intended to squick out his audience, what he did was to put into sharp focus the main issue — he didn’t want to see sex-for-pleasure sanctioned by the government.

Let’s deviate a bit and peer down the blind alley called ‘Satanism’. Some form of ‘Satanism’ has probably existed ever since Christianity became the state religion of Rome, and it has its roots in ancient pagan traditions. Today, there are several major organizations devoted to the worship of Satan, but once you look past the shocking gothic outer layer, they’re all simply hedonistic ego cults. Me, personally, I have no quarrel with hedonism or a healthy ego, although I find the trappings somewhat goofy and the confines of Judeo-Christian mythology rather stifling. The point for most Satanic worship is simply to give its participants a kind of moral authority to pursue pleasure. Again, the use of recreational drugs in this pursuit is especially opposed by the conservative Christian because the result is pleasure.

Mind you, there are plenty of secular clubs and organizations that exist solely for the pleasure of their members, and then there is the “oldest” profession that exists solely to pleasure others’ members. One doesn’t need the social stigma or flamboyant presence of Satanism to seek out pleasure, but it’s one way that some people have chosen to go. It’s also worth noting that, as a religion that exists as the mirror image of Christianity, for it to so enshrine pleasure validates my premise of an equal and opposite attitude about pleasure within the dogma and of Christianity.

The social control of others through the delineation of acceptable sexual behavior is an ancient mechanism. The rules in the Mosaic books of the Old Testament are terrific examples of such. Interestingly, the Mosaic books also openly detail how such policies were unpopular and rarely followed even in the day. It’s part of how the human animal is built that orgasms result in the sensation of pleasure, and it’s part of our design that we would seek this sensation out in all that we do. While some may condemn most sexual behavior as ‘unnatural’, what’s unnatural is denying ones own nature and pretending that we’re something we’re not. For folks who are so singularly focused on accepting “God’s plan”, they sure have a hard time accepting humans the way God designed them.

Note bene: I’d like to point out that there are many Christians and Christian communities that openly accept that humans seek pleasure and have chosen to focus their respective ministries on love and joy. These remarks in no way apply to all Christians, and probably not even to a majority of them. It should also be recognized that many religious cultures in history and today have had issues with the spiritual utopianism we refer to today as “fundamentalism”, so this is less an ingredient of a particular religion than it is a reflection of human nature. These are my opinions, your mileage may vary. Allow the batteries to fully discharge once every six months. Insert tab B into slot C after folding flap A down. Don’t cut the blue wire. Haste makes waste. Accentuate the positives, burn the negatives.

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