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March 02, 2009

Morality extremes

Chris and I had a discussion on Saturday morning over breakfast about George Will's column in the paper about the morality of food and sex. He was writing in response to a Hoover Institution Policy Review by Mary Eberstadt called Is Food the New Sex? which I read yesterday with great interest.

Eberstadt talks about how the moral views on sex and food have reversed in the last 50 years or so - where once sex was taboo and food was just something one ate, now sex is just something people do and food is taboo.
One more critical link between the appetites for sex and food is this: Both, if pursued without regard to consequence, can prove ruinous not only to oneself, but also to other people, and even to society itself.
...just as technology has made sex and food more accessible for a great many people, important extra-technological influences on both pursuits — particularly longstanding religious strictures — have meanwhile diminished in a way that has made both appetites even easier to indulge. The opprobrium reserved for gluttony, for example, seems to have little immediate force now, even among believers.
I liked that part about gluttony - one of the seven deadly sins, but you never hear anyone accused of it. The article goes on to give examples of the lessening of religious ideals over sex, but I think that this article from Saturday's paper about churches preaching sexual challenges as ways to promote intimacy in marriage is an even more immediate example.

Another interesting point from Eberstadt's article is how morality about dietary ways of life seem to replace the morality of religion, and I would add, not only in how they follow their "faith" but how they judge non-believers and proselytize their beliefs. I find myself as guilty as the next person in this, as I think less of those who eat McDonald's on a regular basis and more favorable of people who are health-conscious - even though it borders on obsessiveness.

I think the primary point of the article, though, is this:
Manifestly, one reason that people today are so much more discriminating about food is that decades of recent research have taught us that diet has more potent effects ...and can be bad for you or good for you in ways not enumerated before...The question raised by this record is not why some people changed their habits and ideas when faced with compelling new facts about food and quality of life. It is rather why more people have not done the same about sex.

The article then goes on to talk about the large body of research that demonstrate the detrimental effects immoral sexual behavior has on families, children, relationships, and society as a whole.

Chris and I often talk about the degradation of our society's morality, especially with regards to sex, but also for many other things, such as the values of personal responsibility, honor, integrity, etc. It was interesting reading these three articles so close together and seeing how they complement one another. On one hand, I think it's important and good for churches to preach and promote intimacy in marriage - heaven knows marriages need all the help they can get these days - but are challenges to have sex every day for a month the best way to do this? Chris scoffed that wouldn't it be more useful and intimate for them to challenge couples to spend an hour each day just talking to one another. Of course, that wouldn't be as popular with the congregation.

From Eberstadt:

In the end, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the rules being drawn around food receive some force from the fact that people are uncomfortable with how far the sexual revolution has gone — and not knowing what to do about it, they turn for increasing consolation to mining morality out of what they eat.
I think this is a really thought-provoking point. I wonder how many people would consciously agree with this. I agree that we have definitely gone too far in the direction of amorality with regards to sex as a society. I also agree that perhaps the "holier-than-thou" attitudes of many with regards to food are as detrimental - though I can't help be feel conflicted about this. Wouldn't it contribute more to the overall good of society to promote healthier dietary habits, to make better food available to all? I suppose then one could get into a debate about which dietary strictures to preach, much like decided which religion to proselytize.

That's probably enough rambling, but this was clearly food for thought (hah), and I'm curious to hear what anyone else thinks.

3 comments:

  1. Yeah, I saw this news story on the late news.

    And it's interesting to me. Because food eating can be just as much a proseltyzing choice as sex is. And sometimes more. Like for example, the choice between vegetarian and non-vegetarian. And eating healthy vs. not as much. I've had a lot of different opinions on food with people and they have been as charged as religious discussions. And a personal choice I made was to never get more than 1 percent milk since I could no longer drink skim.

    I think the talking would be as helpful, if not more, to a marriage than sex.

    And where I have the problem is the church is doing the sex thing in marriage. But is it doing so for committed relationships, which also probably need revitalization as well?

    It's a complex issue, says the person who desperately needs to go to the grocery. I need cereal. I can only eat oatmeal for so many days.

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  2. This exact issue has been on my mind for some time. I'm constantly amazed that I can be reading in the exact same health section at some website about how abstinence-only education is so horrible (I personally don't think it works, either, and also don't think schools should be in the morality business, but the vitriol spewed at the suggestion that kids be taught abstinence, as if teenage sex is not only inevitable, but somehow desirable, is even more amazing to me) and then in the very same section, read suggestions for a healthy lifestyle that involve making food choices only a healthnut with an intense religious-like devotion to tofu could possibly eat.

    These days, if sex advice was given the way food advice is "Have willpower! Resist temptation! 10 ways to avoid having that fling over the holidays!" (as opposed to "10 ways to avoid those holiday treats!"), the givers would be mocked as out-of-touch traditionalists who actually contribute to the allure of inconsequential sex by making it forbidden. Maybe it's just because we don't have a "food condom", something similar to the birth control that minimizes the (physical) consequences of sex. But I don't think so. I think that it's right that sexual moralizing is passe, but we are natural moralizers and dictating what kind of food we put into our bodies is fulfilling that need (I'd actually argue, too, that the 'green' movement is the same thing and I'm constantly creeped out over its cultish overtones, too).

    I saw an article the other day with some kind of headline stating, "Surprising results: diets only work if tasty." Huh. Shocking. I don't know why we can't have moderation in either discussion. Sex ought to be treated as healthy, happy, and sacred: a great and important thing that elevates marriage to a unique relationship. At the same time, it's not the only thing that makes marriage unique and there's way more attention placed on sex than there is on basic conflict resolution, I think. You can have awesome sex and still not know how to have a reasonable conversation with your spouse about not leaving their clothes on the floor. And food needs to stop being treated like a necessary evil that must be resisted at all costs, unless it is made out of the most bland ingredients and doesn't have more than a couple hundred calories in it.

    Is it possible to find a balance? Then again, news story thrive on wild extremes. "Sex and food discussion nuanced and moderate" doesn't exactly make a good headline.

    (can't seem to make blogger recognize my account, so I'm posting as anonymous)--Mara

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  3. Mara, I totally agree with you about moderation. It's not like it's bad to care about one's health, or have fulfilling sex life, or to be aware of one's environmental impact, etc. But it's a really slippery slope before conscientiousness becomes obsession - and I really think our culture seems to reward obsession, and in many ways, punishes rational conversation. The whole abstinence-only vs. comprehensive sex ed debate is a great example.

    By the way, love the sex advice comparison, that made me LOL. Thanks for your great points!

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