Desires of the flesh

Most world views include an explanation for our lusts--our desires.  Many religions teach that these desires are evil and come from a devil.  These desires should be kept in check in order to keep oneself pure and void of evil.  I'll name some specific examples.  The lust of food, gluttony.  This is one of the deadly sins.  The lust of sex is another.  Many religions teach that these are enticings of an evil spirit trying to get us to do things we oughtn't do.  In fact, we even talk about a brownie looking "tempting", or call an attractive woman a "temptress".

I think that the naturalist world view is far more logical.  We have these desires not because there is an evil entity attempting to trick us and make us miserable, but because there are logical reasons for them.  In fact, when put in light of evolution these desires make perfect sense.  The desires that we experience--our impulses--arise from the desire to perpetuate the species (and the individuals of the species).  We desire to eat because we need the food in order to live.  We desire to have sex because we need to copulate to reproduce and create the next generation of the species.

Why should it make a difference which world view I adopt?  Well, it can make a world of difference, and here's how.  If you believe that sex is bad and that the devil tempts you to have sex, you may feel guilty when you have sex or when you have sexual thoughts.  You may try to hide or repress these feelings, and feel even more guilt when you commit a sexual act--even masturbation.  I was stuck in a cycle when I was a believer.  I would feel guilty for masturbating, then feel awful, and to make myself feel better, I would masturbate and feel even more guilty.  I've seen other people in this cycle and it is very damaging psychologically.

Contrast that with a person who understands that eir body has urges which are natural and are a result of eir biological and chemical processes.  Ey will masturbate and feel good about it, and then go about eir day as thought everything is fine--which it is.  Ey may have sex with a person who consents to the act and not feel any guilt because it is simply acting out one of the biological acts that we do as sexually reproducing creatures.

Consider the case of food.  Someone who has an eating disorder may pray to eir god for help.  Ey may feel that the devil has power over em, making em eat when they know ey should not or think ey should not.  Someone who understands how food and the desire to eat are related to eir brain chemistry is better equipped to face the problem.  The desire to eat is a survival mechanism.  The desire to overeat when food is abundant is also a survival mechanism.  The body's storage of excess food in the form of fat is a safeguard against times of famine or seasons when food is less plentiful.  The devil isn't tempting us to eat more food.  We simply want to eat more food because there is more available.  Consciously we know that food is always available and we don't need to plan for famines, but our subconscious does not know that and is always suspicious of potential famines because it's something our ancestors have dealt with all throughout our 3 billion years of history.

The naturalist world view is that these desires are not sinful, they are not evil.  They don't come from an evil being who wants to make us sad and do bad things to hurt ourselves and other people.  They come from nature, from natural selection.  They come from the desire to survive--the need to survive.  And since we are aware of these desires and understand them and how they fit into our own lives, we do not need to be subject to them.  We can control them.  And we should control them.  But not because they are evil.  Only because sometimes we know better than our instincts do.

A man may see a woman and desire to have sex with her.  This is a natural instinct, not a temptation.  It is not an evil desire.  It is lust.  It is what Christians would call "adultery in his heart".  But he has done no wrong.  The question of whether he should follow through with this instinct depends on more than just the fact that he had the instinct.  If people always followed their instincts, then this man would attempt to have sex with this woman regardless of whether she wanted him to.  If she is non-compliant, this is called rape.  She should not be forced to have sex against her will, so this would be bad.  However, if she is attracted to him and desires to have sex with him as well, then the act is not bad.

And so we can and should control our appetites and passions.  But don't feel guilty for having them.  I don't believe that they are evil desires.  I don't believe they are temptations.  I don't believe that there is anything wrong with feeling instincts, and even acknowledging and vocalizing those instincts.  Our desires and passions exist for a reason, and it is a good reason.  It is for our own good.  It is for the good of our species.  It is for the good of mankind.