May 8, 2003

Food, Sex and Religion

Bigamy, n. A mistake in taste for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called trigamy.

Ambrose Bierce, 1911

There is an old story about a Catholic priest and a rabbi who were traveling together by train. At dinner time they went to the dining car. The priest asked the waiter what he recommended. The waiter said, "The baked ham is very good." The priest said that that was what he would have. The rabbi ordered the roast beef. When the waiter had left, the priest said, "You know, rabbi, that there are no longer any hazards to eating pork. You really ought to try it." The rabbi replied, "Father, when was the last time that you had a woman?" The priest replied, "Now, you know that it is against my religion." The rabbi smiled, "It's better than ham."

If I had to pick the most important things in people's lives, at the top of the list would be food and sex. Food comes first because, while you can do without sex, you can't do without food. All of the religions that I am aware of have some doctrine that regulates food and sex. Jews and Moslems are forbidden to eat pork. They also have periods when fasting is mandated. Feasts are common in all religions. Jews, Catholics and Moslems have fast days and special foods for certain days. How food doctrines are observed depends on the degree of orthodoxy of the person. The occasional disobeying of food laws is often treated as a minor infraction. Not so with regard to sex.

Old Testament kings had many wives, as did Moslem potentates. For Moslems, this is still true. Concubines were also common among the rich. However, among the Jews and most Christian sects, only one wife at a time is permitted. Polygamy is common in the Orient, but only among the rich. Most of the rest, the unrich, are supposed to be content with only one wife. Polygamy was outlawed in the main Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), but is still practiced in an offshoot Mormon sect. The modern American equivalent of polygamy is practiced by Hugh Heffner, the publisher of Playboy magazine. He has 6 attractive young women who live with him. I suppose the correct designation for his women is "concubines."

It has been said that sexual exclusivity (fidelity) is a middle class custom because the poor don't know better and the rich don't care.

Prostitution is almost universally condemned and is universally practiced. Its practitioners range from what used to be called the "two-bit whore," to the high priced "courtesan." Nowadays you can't buy or rent anything for two bits.

Homosexuality is common in all parts of the world, despite it being condemned by most religions. It is against the law in Texas and a few other states. In some cultures, the punishment for being caught at it is death. In the industrial world, homosexuality in its monogamous form is gaining legal acceptance. However, promiscuous homosexuality is frowned upon, but still practiced. Both promiscuous homosexuality and heterosexuality are very dangerous practices, particularly since the advent of AIDS.

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