Fear is what propels most Americans through their daily lives, as it does all people who live in the world of the "flesh", or the world of appearances (as the Greeks called it.) Fear of cancer, fear that their child will be abducted, fear of growing old and ugly,fear of poverty and homelessness, and of course the big one, fear of death. And if you live in the world of appearances, you look to that world for consolation and guidance. When I first started out having babies, it was fear of cancer and fear that our children would be abducted by unseen, unknown and unspeakably evil and clever foes. We traded anecdotes about abduction, urban legends about letting go of a child's hand in a department store for thirty seconds and losing him forever. This kind of thing did happen often enough to feed the panic, and every time a stranger abducted, raped and murdered a small child our fears were reinforced. the cancer fear was the more insidious, based as it was on something unknown to us, yet pervasive. I was afraid to use commercial spray cleaners in the bathroom, and everyone was afraid of bacon. It seems funny now, but we were. It was the nitrates in bacon. Cancer was always around the corner.
Now if you watch television--and I watch it constantly because I live alone--you can see how entrenched our obsessive compulsive defenses against the unseen enemies have become established practiced, with one difference. The practice of not smoking, for example, has taken on a religious (more than moral) significance. Caffeine and chocolate and sugar are invoked as sinful and dangerous substances which are indulged in only defiantly. It is, in short, a Calvinist society. Other countries do not view eating or drinking with such moral disapprobation, unless certain substances are forbidden according to one's creed--Hindus are vegetarians, and Muslims do not drink alcohol or eat pork. These practices are understood to be commandments from God, and followed without question. Whereas in a Calvinist culture like our own, compulsive abstinence is countered by orgiastic excess, whether in food, or drink. Sometimes the bonds of puritanism bind so tightly that only blasphemy can break them. With Hindus, Muslisms and Jews, dietary laws are an act of obedience to a higher reality. In our Protestant culture, avoidance of foods which are the very ones which give us pleasure--like alcohol, sugar, chocolate, and caffeine--is a neurotic attempt to ward of obsessive guilt, the guilt for being human.
I am not speaking critically of the piety or goodness of people who practice the Protestant religions, merely of the unavoidable cultural effects of a theology which is forced to condemn the body as evil, and the suffering as damned. Protestants do not always act out the dictates of Calvin. But Calvin is with us nontheless. But because the name Jesus is forbidden to be mentioned, and because worshippers of the false gods are always around to try to knock down the real one, the idea of Health has taken over among the idolators as the new invincible religion. It fits very well into the philosophy of scientism, (which is not the same thing at all as real genuine science) which exerts a terrible tyranny over the people. Fueled by a fear of death and the desire for biological immortality, it has all of the natural world to play with for purposes of seduction and persuasion. And when people do not believe in God or the soul, when they have children, the terror and vulnerability they experience at the sudden realization of their own finitude is always overwhelming. They will reach out to the most powerful figures in their societies for protection.
In our culture, those figures are teachers, beaureaucrats, and social scientists, who epitomize the expertise of science as we imagine it to be--the science of Star Trek combined with the Romanticism of Star Wars. And they rule by means of the most insidious fear which can be instilled in the human breast--fear for one's child. They can remove children from homes if a mother smokes or has depression--they can instruct children in the use of prophylactic devices despite the protests of parents, and they can instill skepticism effortlessly. I learned this when my youngest son countered an argument I made about religion, or moral principles, with the statement, "But that's a generalization." That, apparently, was enough of a refutation. He had been taught nihilism in middle school.
So beware what requests are made to you in the name of Health. It is the new deity, the antichrist, the false idol. A religion, even a false one, can convince an adherent to any extreme of behavior imaginable,simply because it is a religion and because it is according to the unchallengeable will of God. That is how suicide bombers got their start. But this religion can influence you without your even knowing it--we breathe it and drink it and sleep it. And your kids may not be taking classes in Satan, but I guarantee that all kinds of strange notions will enter their minds very early on, in the name of Health. It is how birth control, which had been illegal, became commonplace, and how abortion became a right, and it is the fear of pollution and death which propelled the Nazis to first kill the defective and mentally ill children, and then the Jews.