Senses and sensibility
M. brought back some desserts from this place the other day. As endorphins started sloshing around in my veins in response to the sumptuousness of the chocolates, I started wondering why richness and gratification of the senses is so often associated with decadence and sin. I suppose it has its roots in Christianity’s condemnation of the body and the preoccupation with its appetites. The connection is even embedded in our language, with carnal pertaining to the flesh as well as that which is “not spiritual; merely human; temporal; worldly”. Likewise, sensual is derived from the word senses, and is used to describe something that is “worldly; materialistic; irreligious”. It is borne of, and in turn portrays and perpetuates, the belief in a dual world in which the spirit or soul must be divorced from the immoral functions and desires of the body in order to achieve moral purity. In this world, the soul must reject the senses—the medium of the base, evil world—in order to foster spiritual, otherworldly good. If memory serves from my comparative religion courses, Christianity was injected with this doctrine by Saint Augustine, who in his conversion to Christianity brought with him the Manichaean cosmological struggle between good and evil.
At any rate, the rejection of my Catholic upbringing involves doing away with this mortification of the body. (More complicated still is the on-going attempt to liberate myself of its secular counterpart, Cartesian dualism, but that’s a topic for another day.) I like the idea of good as in delicious translating into good as in positive. It’s important to inhabit one’s body attentively in order to live healthily. Nature is wise, and thus what is gratifying is for our own nourishment and is ultimately positive. In the world we live in today this statement must be qualified, but not to the extent that the fundamental idea is subverted. Moreover, embracement of the senses can be positive if it doesn’t translate into the other extreme—an impulse borne of the dichotomy it repudiates—of extravagant indulgence. Sex must be safe and sensible. Food must be balanced, nourishing, and serve the purpose of fueling the body, which the body must in turn honour and fulfill with movement, with creative labour. Like a plant coexists in its ecosystem giving and taking, so must we act sustainably in relation to our own bodies. (And with our own ecosystem, too, but that is also a subject to be tackled some other day.)