What About Slavery to Sin?

“The pleasure of eating and sexual pleasure come from God.”

Pope Francis quoted in Carlo Petrini, TerraFutura (2020)

I wonder if the same can be said for the pleasure of murdering one’s enemy, or of pocketing the proceeds of a clever swindle.  These pleasures certainly arise from the nature of things, and so might be seen as two more delicacies in the rich banquet that God has laid out for the guests he has called to his table.

Francis garnishes his eulogy to the pleasures of table and bed by observing that the first augments the vital function of nutrition, whereas “sexual pleasure is there to make love more beautiful and guarantee the perpetuation of the species.”  He has, perhaps, failed to observe that societies obcessed with sexual pleasure do not perpetuate themselves, but rather dwindle, and that the gourmandizing masses of today are both overweight and malnourished.

I could argue that murderous vengeance not only affords pleasure to the murderer, but that it contributes to the noble cause of peace on earth.  There will be no need for me to fight when all of my enemies are dead, so the permanent removal of people who get on my nerves might be seen as a small step towards God’s kingdom of universal love and absolute felicity.  Some might say that the pleasure of pocketing swag is sanctified by the fact that it teaches the vanity of storing up treasure in this world.

I wonder if Francis has considered how a violent home invasion is an object lesson in the deep eschatological meaning of Matthew 24:43.  If there were no actual thieves in the night, could we really grasp the sudden shock and alarm with which, our Lord tells us, we will greet his Second Coming?  And so you see that the pleasure of terrifying people in their beds may also come from God, since it certainly adds to his glory.

* * * * *

But this is all nonsense because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the moral problem of human pleasure.

I daresay that the enjoyment of no pleasure is always and everywhere devoid of good consequences.  This was, incidentally, the essence of Mandeville’s argument in The Fable of the Bees (1714), the book that more or less ended Christian morality in the West.  The subtitle of Mandeville’s book is Private Vices, Publick Benefits, which we might translate as “there is no wind so ill that it blows no good.”

The moral problem of human pleasure is that our desire for pleasure is imperious and insatiable, and no better illustrations of this problem can be found that the pleasures of table and bed.  A man attached to the pleasures of the table will become a glutton, a gourmand, or a gourmet, and between the three types there is no moral difference.  There is no moral difference between a gourmet nibbling a fifty-dollar glass of wine and a glutton swilling a hundred ounces of Big Red, because both have made themselves slaves to their palates.  A man attached to the pleasures of the bed will likewise become  become a slave to sex, and very possibly a pervert, because the ultimate orgasm is a nimble white stag that leads its hunters on a chase that goes just as far as they are willing to follow.

This metaphor of slavery to sin is not, I should add, my invention.  It is prominent in a book with which Pope Francis is, I trust, familiar.

23 thoughts on “What About Slavery to Sin?

  1. Pingback: What About Slavery to Sin? | Reaction Times

  2. Pleasure is not in itself evil as such things are built in by God himself in regards to the fruitful union of sex and the nourishing meal of food.

    Francis is partially right as broken clocks are right twice a day.

    But in the original intent never excessive nor deficient. But kept within proper range.

    Rather sin has distorted what is created as good into evil. Lust is thereby a privation of what is otherwise good.

    In the same way even wrath was meant only for dealing with injustice. As God in his wrath destroys wickedness.

    But sin has distorted all this.

    • I think you are wrong to imply that sin has agency. Sin cannot do anything. Men and women do things, some of which are sinful, meaning otherwise than they should be. I may say that I missed the target because of “bad aim,” but “bad aim” describes something about my shot. “Bad aim” did not hold the gun.

      • @JMSmith

        Ever since the fall our passions haven’t been exactly in its right place(Galatians 5:17). Yet ever since we are born (Jeremiah 17:9) our heart has been corrupt. And our fleshly desires pull us towards sin.Man’s inclination towards evil from his youth is ingrained in his fallen state(Genesis 8:21).

        From childhood even when he hasn’t entered the age of accountability(Psalm 51:5).

        This same pull towards sin didn’t exist in paradise. Nor was there any lust as in disordered passions. As everything was right prior to the corruption of the fall.

        None of the pleasures of the Garden of Eden. Even that of Marital Union had any danger of Sin.

        But once the fall occurred with the rebellious action of eating of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Humanity has become corrupted to their very core.

        So I probably didn’t exactly make what I mean too clear due to my inadequate choice of words.

      • Yes. The Genesis story explains this change as a consequence of eating the forbidden fruit and thereby gaining knowledge of good and evil. In other words, of rising above instinct into freedom. I take knowledge of good and evil to mean knowledge of good and evil actions as real possibilities, as two roads that might be taken.

  3. On the other hand a pleasureless world would not only make Eden a complete and utter evil. But also the joys of marital union as per Song of Songs. As well as Proverbs (5:18-19)

    In condemning one extreme of evil rightfully. To then call Good evil also earns condemnation(Isaiah 5:20).

    If pleasure is evil. Then heaven/Eden and the enjoyment of such is also evil.

    • I haven’t said that pleasure is evil. And neither did traditional Christianity. We both say it is dangerous. Temperance is hard, and it is made harder by religious leaders soft pedal its importance.

      • The late Roman Empire seems to have become sex-crazed, so Augustine’s condemnation should be understood in the context of the society he lived in. The American Empire seems to be entering its late stage more quickly, and we are also sex crazed in a different way. Virginity will always have a special place in Christianity because Jesus and Mary were virgins, and because the Faith first took root in the sex-crazed Roman empire.

      • @JMSmith

        I agree. But in doing so. He went into the error of condemning good as evil. Going from one extreme to another isn’t righteousness. Hence my quotation (Isaiah 5:20). To go to either extreme is to encourage the opposite extreme of evil.

        Neither is Righteousness to be conflated with strictness in the same way the Pharisees lay burdens on their followers. For in keeping himself in the Golden Mean our King was accused of being a glutton and a winebibber.

        Jesus neither was the extreme Ascetic nor in any way excessive in his enjoyment of pleasure.

        But keeps himself within proper limits and perfect balance.

      • I don’t disagree in principle, but think we must always make adjustments for our position in the pendulum swing. We live in a libertine culture, and the least libertine among us are very easygoing by historical standards. We are in absolutely no danger of “puritanism,” and probably have a very distorted view of what puritans actually were. “Balance” and “moderation” are very good principles, but we cannot know what “moderation” is until we establish our “reference group.” When I was a drinker, my drinking was “moderate” compared to some people, “heavy” compared to some others. There were even some people with whom it was very “light.” Most humans from the past would see our culture as gripped by an extremely vulgar sex mania, and would counsel us not to define moderation within that reference group.

      • @JMSmith
        “I don’t disagree in principle, but think we must always make adjustments for our position in the pendulum swing. We live in a libertine culture, and the least libertine among us are very easygoing by historical standards. We are in absolutely no danger of “puritanism,” and probably have a very distorted view of what puritans actually were. ”

        I disagree. The Madonna/Whore Dichotomy doesn’t come from nowhere. Where the Madonna which would be a wife would be perpetually the sexless virgin while the whore is wanton.

        There are many anecdotes that involve a woman who is wanton outside of marriage to that man become a complete prude once married.

        A strange inversion of what is meant to take place. And I think the cultural influence of the Madonna/Whore division ingrained habits that would result in this taking place in many marriages.

        Tell my where this attitude came from:

      • I can’t say I have seen the M/W dichotomy as a common cultural stereotype. Most people seem to believe (correctly in my opinion) that female libido follows a normal distribution, with M’s & W’s at the tails of the curve, and most females near the center of the distribution. Culture and religion cannot change the shape of the bell curve, but they can nudge a female into being somewhat more or less slutty than she is by nature. I’m no expert in sexology, but would venture to explain sudden frigidity syndrome this way. The promiscuous woman is, by nature and conditioning, sexually aroused by novelty and adventure, and so cannot adapt to relative monotony of marital sex. If party girls go frigid after marriage, that would seem to be an argument for suppression of the party-girl lifestyle.

      • @JMSmith

        As for moderation specifically you think Scripture provides a good guide? Alongside the avoidance of interference with normal daily function or causing disease or injury.

      • I do not think that scripture is an all-purpose handbook to the good life, and do not think it is particularly useful as a guide to things like sex and marriage. It represents sensuality as a snare but affirms that creation is good, but does not say where proper enjoyment of the good things in creation gives way to gross sensuality. It does, however, offer a hint in its condemnation of idolatry, which can be abstractly defined as valuing a thing above its true worth. In my view this takes us to the universal law of justice, which is that all things should be treated precisely as they deserve to be treated, and not better or worse.

      • The video I linked is about an Irish Catholic village that embodied the Augustinian ideal. Where sex is a necessary evil that is to be over and done with. Often just covering up the other spouse completely other than that which is necessary for copulation.

        Only for reproduction and to be done without any passion. A mere mechanical motion.

        This I believe however rare it may seem is the long delayed impact of his sexual theology.

        So yes the danger of said negative impact has come to pass. So this time to react to the promiscuous culture this time around there needs to be a better approach.

      • In the interview with the Pope that my epigram comes from, he discusses the movie Babette’s Feast. In this movie a poor and puritanical Danish village has its eyes opened to the delights of food. I enjoyed the movie when I saw it many years ago, but was also irritated by its stereotypical treatment of repression. I can’t help but to speculate about the sex lives of the Irish ex-Catholics who made your video. Is it, in fact, full of passion? Or is if full of pornographic fantasies and devoid of children?

      • Why are the scripture passages I cited not a good rule for thumb at the very least?

        It’s quite reasonable for moderation otherwise to be defined as avoidance of potential disease or injury even in principle and to avoid interference with the normal functioning of life as far as I can tell.

        If the Law is the means by which we know what is sin or not. How else outside of such things aside from what you suggest. That is a sample group?

      • If the scripture passages work for you, by all means use them. I find them vague. Personally, I would look to the world for my reference group. And I would remember that my own time and place is not a representative sample, but is probably skewed one way or the other. So I would look to history. But not history written in my own time and place, since that will likely assume that the mores of my own time and place are normal and moderate.

      • The only other thing I can think of is being saved and being guided into moderation by the holy spirit. But said spirit uses the scriptures to guide us.

  4. I think that it was St. John Paul II who noted that Hugh Heffner did not spawn from the overemphasis of good of sexual pleasure, but rather its demonization. The Puritan no less than the pervert undermines the goodness of sexuality, and both, according to JPII’s insight, treat the other as an object of sexual pleasure. One to be indulged and the other to be avoided.

    Yet, I agree with you that pleasure is dangerous and needs to be tempered but the opposite vice is dangerous too and needs to be brought around to the virtue. As we know from history there is a sort of merry-go-round of between the extremes of vice where one breeds the other.

    • I don’t think the Puritans (or Victorians) were as opposed to sexual pleasure as the Romantics (and Freudians) say they were. The name Puritan was given them by their enemies, and it referred to their zeal to purify the church by removing all traces of Catholicism, and by denying communion to all but the regenerate. They were not easygoing about sexual immorality, but their fertility rate indicates that there was plenty of action in the Puritan marriage bed.

      Society does seem to alternate between licentious and prudish periods, and there are certainly individuals with an inordinate fear of sexual intimacy. But, generally speaking, pleasure does not need an advocate because humans pursue it naturally. When someone encourages you to eat more, for instance, they are almost always encouraging you to overeat. I think this analogy should be born in mind when someone tells you that you are sexually repressed.

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