Rational Religion

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The Rehabilitation of Instinct


We are profoundly instinctive creatures.    We try to deny it because our instincts are so at odds with our culture.  Our urges - honed by millions of years of competitive, sexually reproductive evolution - impel us in all sorts of anti-social directions. 


Take only sex as the most demonstrable example.  Social harmony, economics, hygiene and the delicate responsibilities of parenting suggest that optimally we pair off (or clump, if our society is not strictly monogamous) into manageably sized families.    It's provably healthier, both physically and mentally, if we channel our long-term sexual imperatives as narrowly as possible and try to combine them with such reinforcing elements as loyalty, affection and familial duty.  It is also apparent that, at least in contemporary American society, it is wise not to involve small children in serious sexual activity before their own individual hormonal development demands it.


Now all of us "know" these things.  A lot of us have even been diligently indoctrinated into systems of belief which regard these things as "holy."  But the American divorce rate approaches 50 percent; the exclusively monogamous marriage (of any duration) is rare enough to be remarkable, and the number of sexually active adults who have had only one partner in their lifetime is minuscule.


Oh, yes.  And a constant about 40 percent of American women -- of any and all socio-economic strata -- report having been at least casually molested as children.   I don't know if the comparable studies have been done on men, but from personal experience...and depending how you define molestation...I would venture that the percentage there is a tad higher.


It's a fairly safe bet that most of the molestation...on female and male children...is done by males, simply by dint of the male sexual imperative, which is generally more aggressive -- and mindless -- than the female. 


Regardless, however, it's a truism for nearly all human ages.  As specified, above, sex makes you do stupid stuff.


What's worse, you KNOW it's stupid, and you do it, anyway.


And that's just one of the instincts we have to try to outwit.  The ones having to do with economic power and physical domination are even uglier.


Do you now understand why it's a bad idea to give everybody cultural permission to be as selfish and exploitive as they want to be?  We all do a lot of stuff we ought to feel guilty about.


But this brings me back to the narrow conventionally religious definitions of "sin..." so catechized, categorized and ritualized as to become meaningless.  If one can indulge oneself in feeling guilty about a lot of stuff that doesn't mean spit in the big picture, one can successfully ignore one's really horrendous sins. 


Your typical Mafia don is such a good Catholic and family man that it's a cliché.   After all, nobody was ever excommunicated for being a multiple-murdering racketeer.  For openly having an abortion, much more likely.  For openly questioning the authority of the Church; probably.  And if your parents forgot to have you baptized you never qualified for Heaven in the first place.


And if you're a Sunni Muslim or an agnostic the whole thing is an irrelevant intellectual exercise, anyway.