22 September 2016
The last in a six part series by Alice Bond
While I was making millionaire’s shortbread, I ate too much of the top layer of dark chocolate. It felt simply too hard to resist tasting just a little of that barely sweetened, rich, espresso-like, melted, dark, velvety flow, and a little more and a little more and a little more until I had eaten too much. I knew the moment that I had. I felt sick and I didn’t want anyone to see me.
Apparently we share 7 per cent of our DNA with a banana and 93 percent with apes. Like most of the world I FLIPPING LOVE SCIENCE. I don’t really like the word FLIPPING. It doesn’t really express the mind-blown passion and gratitude I feel towards those myriad of people (mainly unseen and unheard of) who century after century have given their lives to observing, investigating, experimenting and conquering area after area of how materiality works from how our bodies are constructed (and, through medicine, how we can help reconstruction) to where the universe keeps on going. But however on trend it is to use the other ‘F’ word, I simply can’t bring myself to. Its linguistic roots are in the Anglo-Saxon expression of extreme sexual violence. FLIPPING it will have to be until someone else comes up with an ‘F’ word which is not only powerful, but also creative.
As ignorant as I am in the ways of science, it probably isn’t the case that we share 100 percent of our DNA with an ape eating a banana. So, in the case of us and apes, what constitutes that 7 percent gap? Obviously, I have no idea.
However, I have been thinking for many years now about what I call ‘the problem of pleasure’. CS Lewis wrote famously on ‘the problem of pain’ in response to his wife dying of cancer, after a brief remission. And it cannot be treated in any way lightly the agonising ‘dark night of the soul’ of incomprehensible personal suffering and tragedy that makes a level playing field for an otherwise unlevel experience of life. Why do bad things happen to good people is an extremely difficult question to answer properly. Not just conceptually. I mean properly. Human pain, extreme suffering and tragedy, is a problem. And I would never want to undermine that, or push it aside in a conceptual bid for a greater problem.
There is, though, most definitely, the problem of pleasure too. I am sure animals feel pleasure but there seems to be a distinction between the pleasure that animals feel, that is driven by animal instinct , having been born, to survive, eat, excrete, self-protect, bond, reproduce and die, and the pleasure that humans can experience which can both enhance and destroy their lives. The pleasure that is tied up with ideas of temptation, guilt, innocence, shame, secrecy, fear, joy, longing and regret seem to play no part in the psyche of an ape, let alone an ant. Pain is problematic at a self-explanatory level: it seems somehow so unjust that suffering should be a common part of our human experience, particularly the suffering of innocents at the hands of evil perpetrators, or the ‘whims’ of nature, or even simply freak accidents. Pain is painful. That is why it is a problem.
Pleasure is more complex. At one level, it seems so counterintuitive that experiences which feel so good in the moment, turn out, in fact, to be wholly destructive in the long run. Drug use being a prime example. But many pleasures are, in the long term, beneficial, so we cannot, as in many extremely religious cases, throw out the baby of pleasure with the bathwater of addiction. All pain is painful. Pleasure is more difficult to pin down.
This blog series has been primarily about what God does and what we do. He makes, and we are designed to steward what He has made. When we look after well what and who he has made, we live a life, which may have plenty of pleasure, but will have no regret. But when, in our moments of disconnection and broken heartedness, we use the things and people that he has made to try and make ourselves feel better. We violate our primary design which is to steward, and we become self-serving, we find ourselves pursuing pleasures which in the long term become destructive. This blog has been exploring the mystery of the divine human partnership; but with the confidence that God has given us everything we need to live life well. To be able both to make the millionaires shortbread, and enjoy eating it with friends. To have our cake and eat it.
‘We experience a good sadness which leads to a change of mindset about God, who heals our broken hearts, and, produces in us a full and happy way of life which leaves no regrets.’ Paul 55 AD