Saturday, 29 December 2012

Raise a toast to indulgence!

In this time of austerity we’re encouraged to be thrifty, careful and to have a mind to our health and well-being. There is no place for indulgence, for hedonism. We must reject this outlook – life’s depressing enough at the best of times for many folk without taking away the little things that make it worthwhile – the small joys and pleasures in which we indulge.

I was rather struck by this from Damien Thompson:

...while the NHS isn’t actually a religion, it’s taken over from the churches as the repository of our deepest hopes and fears. To describe this as secularisation doesn’t tell the whole story: in a curious way we’re reverting to the shamanism of primitive societies, in which the holy man’s first duty was to cast out physical and mental sickness.

Now Damien limits his comments to the need for the NHS to be reformed – something I agree with him about. But, for me, his observation about reverting to paganism is more pertinent still. As our belief in the Christian god fades, we replace it with a sort of modern syncretism – bits of Christian ritual, spiritualism, symbols of times, places and event, and a host of angels, fairies and good spirits.

This new paganism – the world of the tooth fairy, Santa and Easter bunnies – contains at its heart mankind’s age old search for immortality. But whereas the old religion saw immortality in an afterlife, our new faith seeks that eternity on earth. Thus we have a cult of health that pervades everything – from politics to popular entertainment. We are urged to cast aside those things that would put at risk our health. Each day brings a new announcement from the priesthood – warning us of the dangers of some food or some activity. And this is matched by a litany of advice about “well-being”, “good health” and “healthy living”.

This new faith requires us to direct everything we do towards the purpose of that “healthy living” – indeed, those who indulge in undirected pleasure are terrible sinners and the suppliers of those pleasures are agents of the deepest evil.  Good men and women must reject such things and choose instead a modest, healthy life conducted in line with the strictures of the shaman. Above all children must be kept from the dark evils of purposeless pleasures – all their play, what they drink and the food they eat must serve the idea of “well-being”.

We have to learn again that life is but short and that we cannot sub-contract our responsibility to look out for our neighbour. Most of all we need to rediscover the joy of living, of pleasure for its own sake. To shake our heads free of that purposeful, directed life the acolytes of well-being would have us live.

“Lord for tomorrow I’ll not want” goes Therese’s prayer and that is how we should live. Celebrating each great day, enjoying great food, fine drink and good cheer wherever we can get it. The fearful cult of well-being is destroying pleasure and handing to the priests of public health the means to impose their bitter, depressing world of “healthy living”.

Pleasure is a thing to be sought, savoured and celebrated. We must reject the idea that such pleasure has to be directed to the cause of health. So charge your glass with wine or ale and raise a toast to indulgence – it’s what we’re here for, folks!


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