June 04, 2007

On Sin

I don’t like to write about sin for the same reasons that I generally don’t write about phlogiston; but ideas about sin tend to come to people’s minds as they wander beneath the grey skies of Ithaca. Why is it harder to get your friends to visit you if you chose to attend an ivy league University out here in the country, than if you decide to attend, say, Columbia? Because people think that things are happening in New York City? Do your friends realize that this campus has waterfalls running thru the campus, & that the Moonshadow pub has two-for-one local beers during happy hour?

Many ancient reasons for moral restrictions relate directly to health & sanitation – and if you do something personally filthy, it can contaminate a small tribal community in a variety of ways. In Leviticus, for instance, there is a deep paranoia about cleanliness; & throughout the Old Testament, the divine punishment for deviation often takes the form of plagues. Many people get sick from eating shellfish; & lo, Leviticus bans the consumption of shellfish. It need not be described how in America today, there is an ingrained societal righteousness for rather extreme standards of personal & municipal hygiene.

In this beautiful Oxbridgean reading room in Cornell’s library (I think it’s named after some president named White), I was thinking about the changing morals related to condoms & cattle. I’m sure many “received” commandments about chastity, sexual fidelity, monogamy, & even relations during menstruation, come from ancient practical lessons taught to minimize infections, diseases which can spread chaotically if youthful impulses are satisfied unchecked. Condoms are a recent ingredient to this mix, and America has seen the secular sexual moral code change beyond every church’s jurisdiction. For most of our society, where there's information about condoms, sex before marriage is safe, with minimum threat of infection or premature parenthood. While modern civilization offers greater looming plagues – like AIDS & broken households & car-torn cities – condoms, designed by purely human ingenuity, and a clever tree, have changed everything, especially how people relate their feelings of guilt & sin to sex.

Clergy-types often see condoms as enables: because they are human inventions, and because lust & sensuality damage the immortal soul with deep subtle spiritual ramifications, they free up the fear of uncleanliness or disease & offer a safer exploration of material pleasures. (Of course, it’s often these guilty-complex’d, repress’d homophobic clergy-types who create for themselves these imaginative universes of sin, day-dreaming of it only as “material pleasure”, & end up with fabulous scandals all over the news, like our dear friend Rev. Haggard.)

Saint Augustine wrote that morality fluxuates thru historical circumstance, and the point I wanted to make wasn’t really about condoms, but the opposite. Sins associated with sex have changed because of human technology. I think we should really see things like cows & corn as human inventions as well. We’ve been breeding our agricultural plants & livestock for many thousands of years now, a drastic co-evolution serving our own purposes, they little resemble their natural ancestors, and we’ve entered a kind of new era of danger. In biblical times, pigs may have been dirty enough to warrant a “divine” commandment of warning; but in 19th century England, pork links were possibly safe enough to ignore a three thousand year old law. Now, if we eat bacon, we’re eating a creature which has spent its entire life in a small metal cage which it cannot turn around in, never seeing sunlight, jacked up on antibiotics just to stay alive, & excreting the foulest contaminated shit. I realize I’m getting preachy, but what nourishes us goes beyond the satisfaction of hunger, our food literally creates our bodies & brains; & like sex, the threat of infection is a kind of external indication of greater spiritual plagues. Just a quick sermon, I promise you, and I’ll tell some more jokes on this blog. I just think it’s a risky mistake in America today to think (as many many people do) of cattle as something God created in its present form so to give us burgers, and sex as a temptation God created to test us.


allen said...

what's phlogiston?

Clark Hunter said...

There's some good reasons to eat meat though. There's some important proteins that your body needs.

SuperCameron said...

Wow. This may be the finest blog entry I have read this week. I think you're on a great track here. May I suggest a short study of the psychology of disgust?

Ms. Buff said...