My mother came to feel, in the last years of her life, that the world had “turned upside-down”: by which she meant that everything she had been taught to appreciate as right and good had come to be regarded as wrong and bad and vice-versa. She would certainly have had that reaction to the latest statement by Professor Simon Blackburn: that lust, far from being a vice, and one of the Seven Deadly Sins, is positively good for you. Professor Blackburn, described as one of Britain’s most eminent philosophers, is publishing his claims for the benefits of lust with the respected Oxford University Press.
Professor Blackburn, of Trinity College, Cambridge, spent some months thinking seriously about lust, which he defines as “the enthusiastic desire for sexual activity and its pleasures for its own sake”. And, having cogitated about it, he is now determined to rescue the former vice from its sin-bin reputation. He has set himself the task of lifting lust “from the category of sin to that of virtue”. He blames the “old men of the desert” patriarchs such as St Augustine and St Jerome — for lust’s poor image, along with the German philosopher Kant, and the Roman writer, Seneca, who also denounced pleasure for its own sake.
Blackburn’s thesis has generally had a warm welcome from the media, which has duly proclaimed that “lust is good”. It rather calls to mind the money-mad Michael Douglas character in the film Wall Street, who went around proclaiming “greed is good”. This was what my dear mother regarded as the world being turned upsidedown.
The early Fathers of the Church had good reason to regard lust as a vice, for they had witnessed, or heard evidence about, the excesses of the Roman Empire in its decline, when human appetites knew no limit. Sexual desire, and a healthy sexual response, can indeed be good, right and natural: and pleasure certainly should be seen as something lifeenhancing and positive. But the notion that human appetites have no limitations, or that the wrongful use of such appetites – as Simon Blackburn seems to imply carries no penalty is extraordinarily poor philosophy. It also contradicts common sense and human experience.
Because while sexual desire may be a good, the unfettered expression of lust can have terrible consequences. Do we not despair of the appalling pestilence of Aids which ravages our world? And the prime cause of this plague was sexual promiscuity. One single Canadian air steward is known to infected over 3,000 men with Aids. In Africa, there remains a dreadful superstition that the “cure” for Aids is to have sex with a young virgin; and so swathes of innocent people are repeatedly re-infected.
If you go to the railway station areas in any of the big European cities today you will find very young girls many from East Central Europe – working as prostitutes. These girls are often trafficked by Mafia gangs, and worked virtually as slaves when they come into the European Union. They are poor girls and their demeaning way of life is often accompanied by a drug habit, which helps to blot out the misery of their “sex work”. Such prostitution exists because there is a market driven by lust – for teenage girls selling sex. Is this a positive outcome of Professor Blackburn’s newly discovered “virtue”?
If lust breaks up marriages and deprives children of a parental home, is that a good outcome? If it prompts a 1,500 per cent increase in internet child pornography, is that a good outcome? If it causes the misery of abortion, is that a good outcome? Even abortion providers don’t describe it as something desir able – they sometimes reprimand women for repeat terminations. Does Professor Blackburn think all this is a positive outcome of his “virtue” of lust?
The Seven Deadly Sins outlined by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century are not about crushing human pleasure, but about warning that human appetites can be used wrongly, to the great distortion of the human spirit.
PMy theory about the strange fascination with Mars is that it is a form of scientific pseudo-religion. There is nothing on Mars. It is just a red dust bowl. It is pitiful to see grown men cry because of the loss of the Beagle spacecraft sent there. But oversecularised scientists must “believe” in something. So they transfer their Godshaped hole to the empty and meaningless Red Planet.
Pictures from Mars do have one function, though. They make us realise how surpassingly beautiful is our planet Earth.