Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sex, Alcohol, And The Evolution of Christian Thought

I listened to Matt Lalonde and Carl Lenore talk about Lalonde's conception of a healthy diet a while ago. They both suspect, as I do that alcohol isn't that great for the body, but Lalonde also pointed directly to alcohol's effects on testosterone. Apparently, one way of successfully screwing up your hormone profile is by drinking excessive alcohol.

Perhaps since evolutionarily inspired conceptions of reality seem to be making a lot more sense to me than other kinds, I suddenly saw a pattern- a pattern that likely stretches out over most of Christian history.

Teetotalling, as an option, has only recently become viable. Before the rise of sanitation, wine and beer were drunk because living until you were forty and dying of cirrhosis of the liver was preferable to dying even younger from some pathogen in the drinking water. Steve Johnson goes into this a bit in The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World .

Well, this gives us enough background to see what could go on. We tend to be very limited with self-discipline. I think this was covered by Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow. So, as people began to misidentify married life as somehow less good than the celibate life, folks began to find themselves in the following situation:

By actively fighting sexual temptation you lower your ability to discipline yourself in other areas. So, if you successfully avoid some girl who'd likely get you a prison sentence, chances are you'll go home and finish the bottle of tequila. Or, in our ancestors case, drink a good bit more beer or wine than normal. Meanwhile, in the body alcohol is waging war against libido. Alcohol, also wages war against inhibitions, so if the original sexual temptation is close to hand, our poor Christian may still sin. This is no doubt why the concept of 'near occasion of sin.' was invented. You simply must get far enough away.

Physically, at some point, libido crashes. Testosterone, among other things, makes us feel good about ourselves. If we don't feel good about ourselves we may find we want to change- repent, and the idea that we can all lead single, celibate lives seems to make perfect sense. Unfortunately the next thing our repentant Christian shall do is, well, repent, and stopping the over-drinking is part of that act. The cycle begins again as soon as one's hormonal profile returns to normal.

Now, there a people who are asexual, and, if folks live long enough, there is old age- though I am afraid this isn't as much as a salvation as one would think if you are eating what real humans should eat. There are a great many reasons why it is a good idea to have celibate bishops, especially in ancient times when the children of bishops would have very likely wanted to make the office hereditary. So there were certainly good reason for some celibate clergy. Indeed, it would appear the social demand was high enough to induce people to try to supply more than the population could actually bear.

So, what I am trying to say here, is that alcohol allowed many generations of people to try to do (and eventually succeed if they ate badly enough and got old enough) what people without any access to alcohol would have rejected out of hand.

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