Celebrating the Body: Sexuality over Spirituality*

Will we not be better off, if we bypass the priest and the therapist,and pray at the altar of the body and stop confusing it?

By Saeed Ur Rehman

All that gazes, seeks rapture in the other, dances, decorates itself to flaunt its untapped vitality, pulsates, throbs, runs in our veins, and yearns for eternity by multiplying itself is confused with one word: love. Love is an effect of biological vitality not its cause. We do not desire another human being because we feel love but rather we humans have assigned taming metaphors to what our flesh induces in us. By assigning abstract concepts to all that is life-giving, we, the metaphysical animals, have created an elaborate prison of metaphors for our healthy bodies.

It was not always like this. Before the arrival of the guilt-producing preacher on the horizon of human societies, the function of religion, as Nietzsche has argued, was to absolve humanity of guilt (see The Genealogy of Morals). It was possible for a human being to yield to his or her bodily urges and lay the blame on Eros. It was monotheism that introduced shame at such a large scale in human societies and produced, by using tricky concepts, the concept of “the original sin.” What were the preachers trying to achieve by labelling the process that keeps the species going and also brought them into existence? It was not their desire for some otherworldly bliss. It was a process of material control.

Many historians and political theorists, for example Friedrich Engels’ arguments in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, have posited that our desires are minutely configured by the political and economic system we inhabit. The institutions that promote celibacy seek to inherit the property undivided, those who promote monogamy want to keep the property within a predicable family system and those who go and seek “ideal life partners” for their offspring are choosing the best exchange value (price) for their material or biological assets. Those who seek control over surplus regulate desire as they regulate raw material and labour. From priests, merchants, demagogues, and politicians, all participate in the taming of the human body because all are afraid of its capacity for seeking unregulated ecstasy and disrupting political systems. Michel Foucault captured this condition of the human body succinctly in his book Discipline and Punish: “the soul is the prison of the body.”

This confusion between the body and its yearnings has produced an endless array of cultural artefacts but no peace. Lovers are in pain because their own imagined soul, or socially produced self, is not in absolute harmony with the constructed self of the other. Even when they are happy physically, they fight over concepts like two animals confused by the availability of language and its never-available yield called the truth. “What is truth but a mobile army of metaphors?” chided Nietzsche but still the body remains trapped in a pursuit of the bliss authorised as the ideal state by the preacher, or in modern times, the psychoanalyst. The result is obvious: human beings are the only species that has ever needed marriage counselling.

This leads us to the crucial question: will we not be better off, if we bypass the priest and the therapist, and pray at the altar of the body and stop confusing it? The moment someone says “yes” to this proposition, a counter argument always constructed like a slipper slope is put forward. What about the risks of uninhibited desire and the maladies of the flesh? Bertrand Russell answered the question in an essay by arguing wherever the preacher inhibits desire there the maladies of flesh because the discussions are not open.

But in essence, this argument is also not against desire per se but certain effects of desire. Even in this domain, philosophers before the rise of monotheisms, provide better guidance. The Epicureans, perhaps the least understood group of ancient philosophers, had figured it right. They argued in favour of enjoyment in such a way that one enjoys for the longest duration. Enjoying one kilogram of sugar in one day will make one sick but eating it in a month can yield decades of sweetness. In other words, outside the confusion caused by metaphors and systems of guilt, a healthy avowal of bodily pleasures is possible and there is no need for our desires to have a label. A house can be lived in whether it has a nameplate on its façade or not.

Some societies have already moved to a guilt-free and label-free acceptance of physical desires. For example, in Scandinavian countries, the confusion-free rituals have also evolved. Two independent adults often rely on the physical attraction and use the minimum number of metaphors. “Your place or mine?” is the usual first question, totally free from the confusion caused by convoluted expressions and misleading expectations. Life can be simple if we return to our original instincts before language confused and enfeebled us, imprisoning us within our own creations.

It is high time we acknowledged the futility and the harm caused by confusing metaphors and the priestly suppression of desire and said amen to the body and took care of it. And if this seems to too much to ask, let individuals decide what is good for them instead of letting the parental authority, the police, the moralisers, and the union councils decide what is good for a human being. Our biological nature, when freed of the linguistic trappings, will look after its own needs and perpetuation in a more effective way. The effect of attraction will be recognised as a healthy sign. According to biologists, natural long-term bonding exists between human beings because of the biological necessity of the long time a newborn human takes in becoming independent. It is the longest period of nurturing required in nature. But that is a biological instinct to nurture one’s own gene pool. It has nothing to do with the culture of shame and denial we have around us but rather with the celebration of what we are.

While choosing between the metaphysical and the carnal, human beings have favoured metaphysics for last two millennia. The era of the carnal has never really been with us in its most life-affirming way. In the second half of the twentieth century, there was a greater affirmation of bodily urges but successive conservative American governments managed to curtail the revolution. After experiencing sensuality in one form, when repression came along, the culture of gourmet food became dominant. The body, after partial retreat in one area of sensuality, asserted itself in another domain. The body is here with us to stay — other things will come and go.

*First Published as “Love is only So Called” in The News.

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11 Comments

Filed under Pakistan, sex

11 responses to “Celebrating the Body: Sexuality over Spirituality*

  1. simply61

    Well the priests did not stop themselves from indulging in what they labelled as sins……they just ensured more exclusive rights for themselves and more control on the ordinary denizens…..a free run for them and shame and guilt for the lesser mortals!
    Those who built the temples at Khajurao were on to something really…….

  2. mazHur

    <<<<<<<<<<Enjoying one kilogram of sugar in one day will make one sick but eating it in a month can yield decades of sweetness.<<<<<<<<<<<<

    It appears that the philosophers of olden times were not aware of diabetes otherwise they would have judged sex, desire and effects of desire differently!

    <<<<<<<<<<<<It has nothing to do with the culture of shame and denial we have around us but rather with the celebration of what we are.<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

    seems fantastic!! sure animals have no shame but they have some maintain a discipline docket of sexual conviction!! Humans can only envy them in fits of orgies.

    <<<<<<<<<<<<< A house can be lived in whether it has a nameplate on its façade or not.<<<<<<<

    How about a house with no roof, windows or doors??
    Or, many doors to enter and exit? Or, many floors to go up and down??

  3. yasserlatifhamdani

    Saeed sb well said.

    It is refreshing to see Pakistanis questioning the established social constructs especially religion …

    A friend of mine says that there are only two impulses on which humanity operates- pardon the crude language- :

    1: resource gathering

    2. Hole filling

    It seems that language has created this nonsense of “truth” and “religion” etc …if seen in its proper context, everything we hold dear intellectually, all our efforts, attempts etc are on shaky foundation of language.

    Nietzche’s observation about morals sends shivers down one’s spine. It is time humanity moved beyond hypocrisy and embraced its basic instinct and urge.

  4. mazHur

    <<<<<<<<<Enjoying one kilogram of sugar in one day will make one sick but eating it in a month can yield decades of sweetness.<<<<<<<<<<<<

    It appears that the philosophers of olden times were not aware of diabetes otherwise they would have judged sex, desire and effects of desire differently!

    <<<<<<<<<<<<It has nothing to do with the culture of shame and denial we have around us but rather with the celebration of what we are.<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

    seems fantastic!! sure animals have no shame but they have some maintain a discipline docket of sexual conviction!! Humans can only envy them in fits of orgies.

    <<<<<<<<<<<<< A house can be lived in whether it has a nameplate on its façade or not.<<<<<<<

    How about a house with no roof, windows or doors??
    Or, many doors to enter and exit? Or, many floors to go up and down??

  5. Great blog and hope to have time soon to come back and read some more! xx

  6. Milind Kher

    I do not think that religion inhibits anybody’s sexuality.

    All that it asks is for the person to do things in an appropriate manner with the right person. There are enough and more regulations and scriptures on this.

    All religious people have been accomplished in this department.

  7. mazHur

    Islam allows men to marry upto 4 wives at a time….
    Ever thought there is some good practical reason for NOT allowing a woman to do so?

    Milind, you are right….there is a way to do everything-sex included.

  8. Aisha Sarwari

    Women are viewed as dirty and sinful in all religions.

    Conditional training is set in right from the time of puberty. Control over the body comes through mostly cleansing rituals that involve removing contact from women, and hence building a wall between man and women. Man can cross over and be with a woman but to be with God he needs to cross back officially.

    We wonder why women are so soft in the head. They have trouble accepting and being part of their bodies. The best way forward is to be more desirable by being more spiritual and maybe then they can cross over to the man and God side.

    Its not subluminal advertizing is it blatent messaging.Islamic feminists such as Fatima Mernissi and Amina Wadud have alternate interpretations of scripture. But still.

  9. mazHur

    Here is a poem I wrote sometime ago and which further reflects on the topic!

    A Tale Of A Prostitute
    by mazHur

    Pointing towards a whore trembling with fear,
    I was provoked to ask her pimp a question:
    ” Fancy man, you deal in such delicate effeminate things
    yet you are so cruel to them, why?”
    The pimp raising his brows remarked:
    “” Mr. are you here for business or wasting my time?
    You take the ***** and screw her .
    That’s what you are here for, understood?”
    Hmmm,,,,said I and smeared some grease on his palm
    to cool the devil down and answer me;
    The trick worked and money made the mare go !
    ”Well, mister, we arn’t cruel to women, we love them
    because they are the working elements
    of our bread-earning industry;
    But just as you have to keep your women
    within you, we too have to take care of them alike,
    but not through the hoax of fidelity but by killing the snakes in them.””
    Wow, I murmured in my heart, understanding not what he meant
    by ‘killing the snakes in his women’, and inquired:
    ”Let me explain, ” continued the fancy man,
    Women, yes all women, are an organelle in an organ,
    which swallows its prey ,whole and alive.
    like a snake;
    wonder if you ever saw one eating;
    It’s mouth is like a lotus in bloom,signifying
    a revolving or circular motion, a talismanic vortex,
    a force concentrated in a fiery essence;
    Call it the argha, the yoni, the thet, the mandorla,
    the vesica pisces or the Ka–t of Cynthus;
    It devours its impudent, dying prey
    until it is eventually swallowed and sucked deep within!
    Wow, what amazing constrictor and levator muscles it’s endowed with!
    Mister, it’s a destructive orifice, a grove that sucks in its prey
    like the beth shenayim, the vagina dentata,
    a devouring , castrating bit of a whore
    a devirilizing element for men, the one-eyed !
    Mister, we trade in these organelles
    of effeminate serpents to feed them and us
    and serve to quench the eternal libido of men.
    By your presence here, I can bet
    you are not a practicer of oli , occlusion
    nor you are a misogynist,am I right, sir??
    If I closed my shop where would you then tie your horse
    in times of need?

  10. Milind Kher

    Ghusl that is required after sex and before prayer is not because a woman is unclean.

    It is because in the act of union, man gives every iota of his being. God does not like anybody to be sharik in his adoration hence this connection has to be “washed off”.

    Nothing to feel inferior about. None of us is as great as God.

  11. mazHur

    <<<<<<<<<Women are viewed as dirty and sinful in all religions.<<<<<<<<<<

    Oh.No!! this is too much of an allegation on women!
    A woman is the most beautiful and ‘pure’ thing in the world!!
    They are clean and unclean almost like men…but a little more on some ‘occasions’ due to their natural physiological difference and mental condition which Freud called Electra complex!! lol

    Milind, again I have to agree with your comments,,,great!

    It is said that elephants indulge in sex ‘privately’ and would straightaway go for a ‘shower’ after getting together! I think I read it in Kama Sutra or perhaps in an old book titled, Body Language.