About that food analogy

Pope with beer

                           To objective disorder!

Dear Catholic Right:

The only argument you use more frequently than incest is your food/sex analogy.  You know the one I’m talking about, Catholic Right.  1600 years ago, Augustine of Hippo wrote of the “sweet necessity” of eating using the same logic and language that he used to write about sex.  You’ve been fleshing out the metaphor ever since.  The idea is this: eating and sex both give us pleasure, but both have a vital purpose—nourishment, in the case of eating, and reproduction, in the case of sex.  You argue that when we have deliberately non-procreative sex (sodomy, masturbation, contraceptive sex) we’re separating the pleasure of sex from its vital purpose.  And this is as unnatural as separating the pleasure of eating from its nourishment—which, you say, would be like eating a great meal only to intentionally throw it up.

Your analogies are always more apt than you know.  The human relationship to food and drink is a great metaphor for our relationship to sex—it just doesn’t lead where you think it will.

Because here’s the thing: we separate the pleasure of flavor from the nourishing purpose of food and drink all the time. We do it when we chew gum.  We do it when we drink Coke Zero.  We do it when we take that extra piece of pie at Thanksgiving, or cake at our cousin’s wedding.  We do it when we toast a bride and groom with champagne, or when we grab a couple of beers with our friends after work.   

Looking over that list, I can already see your objections, Catholic Right.  You’ll say that Coke Zero is unnatural (okay, I agree with you there).  And, ever the legalists, you’ll point out that wedding cake, pecan pie, champagne and beer may not be healthy, but we do take calories from them, so technically they nourish us.  Even chewing gum provides a calorie or two.

Fine.  Let’s focus on the beer and champagne.  Because as surely as we need food to nourish us, we need liquids to keep us hydrated, or we die.  That’s our bodies’ purpose for drinking, whatever pleasure we may take from the act.

Alcohol is a diuretic—it dehydrates us.  Using our bodies’ hydration system to dehydrate is, by your logic, unnatural.

Which brings me to everybody’s favorite Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a marvelous essay in defense of beer.  Here’s one of its truest lines:

Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.”

Chesterton’s walking man may want a beer; he needs a glass of water.  Especially if he’s already parched.  And he’ll know it in the morning, too, unless he breaks even by drinking water before he goes to bed.  While the man’s desire for a beer is understandable, in the strict logic of natural law it is also objectively disordered.   

Chesterton understands this.  “Doubtless,” he writes, “it is unnatural to be drunk.  But then in a real sense it is unnatural to be human.”

To be clear, Catholic Right, I’m not suggesting you change your stance on drinking.  In fact I think you’re at your best when you write about beer, or wine, or bourbon.  You accept ambiguity and you reject black-and-white thinking; you recognize the dangers of drinking, but you celebrate the risks; you’re generous, nuanced, intelligent—in a word, human.

Let’s have more of that, please.


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