Thursday, July 3, 2014

Money, Drugs, Sex and Religion

Well, that title got your attention.  Today's blog is a favorite topic of mine and inspired by the latest rash of anti-religion postings/pastings in the wake of the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision.

Thesis:  religion per se does not make a person weird, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-sex, or a hundred other anti things.  It's just all too easy for small minds and lazy thinkers to find something on which to blame problems.  See, if we can blame our problems on a thing, then we have an enemy, something we can hate and loathe.  Just as the KKK does with race/skin color.  Got it?

Of course, if everyone got it, there would be no reason for me to write another word. However….

So, let's begin with money. We all need it to survive.  Most of us are not self-sufficient.  We don't grow our own food, make our own clothes, generate our own power, etc. We need money to purchase goods and services. No big revelation, there.  But in larger amounts, money has the potential to do weird things to your brain.  Studies have shown people become less empathetic.   And, unless one just hoards their wealth and/or chooses to live like a hobo, the joy of wealth is in spending it, and that's where things can begin to get weird.  

There are conflicting reports of Michael Jackson's net worth, but I've seen the figure $600 million frequently. Hey, I can't imagine having $ONE million, let alone six. So, this pop star bought a mansion, built an amusement park in the yard, bought the remains of the Elephant Man, and - the part I find most intriguing - decided to undergo multiple procedures to change himself from a black man into a Caucasian. You can argue that this last decision isn't particularly weird. I mean, you could argue that George Hamilton  was trying to be black.  But the point is, it takes large amounts of cash to do these kinds of things. 

And of course, one need look no further than the Koch brothers regarding what money can do to your head.  They want to buy an entire democratic system.

Bernie Madoff's net worth was estimated at $17 billion.  He had multiple mansions, multiple yachts and a larger shoe collection than Imelda Marcos. So obviously, large amounts of cash can contribute to an inflated sense of power or a fascination with things.

Drugs.  Another interesting topic. Let's start with prescription drugs.  The rate of antidepressant use in the U.S. increased nearly 400% over the last two decades.  23% of women age 40-59 take antidepressants. One in every 10 Americans is taking them.  Drugs can be good, but they can easily be abused. 

And then, there are recreational drugs, both prescription and non.  The top three manufacturers of ED drugs all post annual sales in the billions.  And the drugs themselves are horribly overpriced, but we're willing to pay the price for what they do for us.  Not surprising.  One of the latest reports on alcohol sales in the U.S was from 2011 - $162 billion.  Legal cannabis (pot) sales in the U.S. are estimated as high as $2.57 billion.

Again, no surprise.  People enjoy altering their consciousness, whether that means having a cocktail, a joint, or an erection.  And most of us don't have a real problem with any of it - it's called moderation.  We like a little buzz, but we also recognize the importance of obligations - to our partners, our children, our employers, our friends.

But like the prescription drugs mentioned above, addiction can be a problem for many people.  Then again, we have other forms of addiction.  Food (sugar, fats) for example.  If something feels good or tastes good, we want more of it.  And the only things standing between you and drug addiction or obesity are self-control and money.  I can't afford to eat prime rib regularly, or buy the best kind bud.  But, when money's no object and/or the drugs are virtually free the potential for uncontrolled indulgence is much greater.

Sex?  That doesn't cost anything.  Well, no, other than accessories;  the prices of lingerie, videos and toys are all inflated.  And people will pay that price because they like sex….or shall I say accessorized sex.  In any case, sex sells. Again, no big revelation.  Sex sells cars, perfume, fashion, toiletries, music, in addition to erotica. And again, the majority of people who enjoy sex - solo, married or unmarried - aren't in danger of become addicts; they don't lose their jobs or molest children.  Perspective.  Moderation.  Self-control.  And sex is actually a good thing; our bodies release dopamine, prolactin, and oxytocin, which make us feel better.  Endorphins reduce stress and blood pressure. Our immune systems are  enhanced.  It helps us sleep. Nothing wrong with any of that.  Actually, I say that sex should be part of everyone's total wellness program.  Point is, it doesn't make us crazy or violent.

One of my all-time favorite quotes about sex is by author David Shaw in "The Pleasure Police" .  He writes,"Maybe it's precisely because sex is so overpowering, so all-consuming, so capable of not only overwhelming but obliterating all else, that the extreme religionists among us are so opposed to it, and so appalled by it.  Most very religious people seem to think that the only 'other' to whom one should ever abandon oneself is God."

Now, face it.  There are people in the world that are just damaged goods.  They're broken.  Something in their brain just isn't working correctly, like the rest of us.  They find pleasure in the pain of others.  They lack that certain something that allows them to feel empathy.  They seem to act with no concept of consequence. They have delusions of grandeur. They become cult leaders, and cults are not restricted to religious groups.  Guns can be part of a cult.  I don't think there's any argument there - amongst sane people.  Wayne LaPierre is as much a cult leader as Jim Jones.  The gun becomes a fetish object; something to be revered and worshipped.  The person obsessed with open carry is no different than some Chester Molester exposing himself. But the active ingredient behind all this activity/sales is not the gun itself, but fear.  Fear can make anyone do some weird shit.  It certainly sells guns.

Religion. The subject of a billion discussions and arguments. 16% of Americans claim they have no link to any established faith.  3-5% of Americans claim they are atheists. In my lifetime, we've seen several religious nutcakes like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Fred Phelps and Pat Robertson, just to name a few.  But it's not religion per se that made these men crazy, but a combination of things, including (but not limited to) being obsessed with the concept of sin, shame, control, and like any other broken mind, at some point, something just snapped in their head, and they became obsessed with their idea that God was speaking directly to them, telling them specifically what to do, telling them it was ok for them to hate specific people in his name, and that dying in the name of religion was somehow not a bad thing.

Simply entertaining thoughts about the origin of the universe or the possibility of some other realm of existence after death, or just having a sense of wonder about Life, or simply being kind to other human beings because Jesus suggested it….this is not a gateway to insanity, or hating women, or gays, or anything else. But there are people who would have you believe otherwise.  And they are wrong.  But that doesn't mean they're going to stop spreading their particular brand of bullshit.

A moderate amount of spirituality never hurt anyone, any more than alcohol, pot, sex, or money.

Anything that has the potential to alter our consciousness has the potential to lure us away from reality.  Money, drugs, sex and religion all have the potential to seduce us. But that doesn't make any of them evil.  Contrary to arrogant men like Richard Dawkins, merely having religious thoughts doesn't make anyone crazy.  But then remember, Dawkins is also like any other celebrity, including people like Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, or Rush Limbaugh who say outrageous things not just to keep the cash flow going, but because they enjoy the feeling of publicity.  It's the illusion of power that is altering their consciousness.

So, enjoy life.  Spend some money if you have it.  Buy something frivolous.  Have a drink.  Catch a buzz.  Have an orgasm.  Believe in God, or not, as you choose.  But stop blaming problems on things and realize that we're all subject to seduction of one form or another.  But for some people - as the phrase goes - one drink is too many and a hundred is not enough. And that applies to much more than just alcohol...

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