Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sex and Food

I must confess that I enjoy reading George Will's columns, which labels me a right-leaning archaism for some, I'm sure. Of course, he sends me to a dictionary on a regular basis, but I always come away feeling like I've learned something. He probably represents a dying breed of conservative, a kind of old-school intellectual who isn't phased much by the turning of the tides. That makes him a contrary voice in the midst of an increasingly superficial world of commentary (that goes for the left AND the right, IMHO). Personally, I can't say for sure whether his Jeffersonian ideals will really work in a global, urban, online society, but it's food for thought, anyway.

Speaking of food, in his most recent article, he cites an essay by Mary Eberstadt which describes popular American culture as "puritanical about food, and licentious about sex." She chronicles the shift in moral standards from the 50's to now, comparing our attitudes towards food and sex. As she points out, the typical American housewife of the 1950's had no problem serving red meat, with starchy, high carb sides (cooked with lots of butter and refined sugar), and relatively few fresh or organic items to her family. But she believed a man and woman should be married in order to have sex, and that outside of that context sex was wrong.

Compare that to today. The average young woman today has considerably stronger views about what kinds of foods she should and shouldn't keep in her house, while her views on sexuality and marriage have probably become remarkably more permissive and open-ended. This gives us a fascinating window into what these two different cultures, separated by five decades, consider to be important in life.

I attribute this shift to our loss of a transcendental reference. In a world that is philosophically materialistic, this life is all you've got. Therefore your body's needs become king. Today we will expend TONS of energy working on our bodies, watching what we eat, hitting the gym, going under the knife, trying to turn back the hands of the clock anyway we can. Repressing sexual urges, on the other hand, is seen as unnatural, and therefore prudish. Traditional family structures seem irrelevant in a world where there is no authoritative tradition, and authoritative tradition presupposes that Someone (other than you) has the right to be in charge.

George Will describes himself as an agnostic, so I don't imagine he would see our problems the same way. But I believe we agree that the breakdown of the family structure has brought on such a smorgasbord of ailments (which our schools, prisons, and legislatures are supposed to somehow fix) that without a reversal in that trend we will not see our society get any better. We can learn to eat whole foods. But when will we learn to practice whole sex? Sex involves the whole person (well, human sex does anyway) and expresses an intimacy and trust that matches the commitment of a lifelong marital bond. Maybe after enough time has passed, or maybe enough research has been done, even the "materialists" will agree with us that some kinds of physical intimacy are better than others, just like with food. Maybe not.

2 Comments:

Blogger Carrie Bevell Partridge said...

Wow. That is really interesting. I think there is definitely truth to this.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I never really thought about it but I think you are right! The thing that bothers me is that BOTH are harmful in excess and outside of God's design. Isn't overeating just as much of a sin as sex outside of marriage? That being said I do find what you are saying intriguing and very true!

2:23 PM  

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