The Curse of the Black Bubblegum
In a terrifying, eerie and wonderful short story, ambiguously titled “The Affair at 7, Rue de M—” (1955), John Steinbeck relates the case of a bubblegum that began to chew a boy. The narrator is the boy’s father:
My child manfully tried to disengage the gum from his jaws. “It won’t let me go,” he sputtered.
“Open up,” I said and then inserting my fingers in his mouth I seized hold of the large lump of gum and after a struggle in which my fingers slipped again and again, managed to drag it forth and to deposit the ugly blob on my desk on top of a pile of white manuscript paper.
For a moment it seemed to shudder there on the paper and then with an easy slowness it began to undulate, to swell and recede with the exact motion of being chewed while my son and I regarded it with popping eyes.
As I spoke a change came over the gum. It ceased to chew itself and seemed to rest for awhile, and then with a flowing movement like those monocellular animals of the order Paramecium, the gum slid across the desk straight in the direction of my son. For a moment I was stricken with astonishment and for an even longer time I failed to discern its intent. It dropped to his knee, climbed horribly up his shirt front. Only then did I understand. It was trying to get back into his mouth. He looked down on it paralyzed with fright.
Think the “extraterrestrial symbiote” in the Spiderman spin-off, Venom (2018):
Numerous attempts to get rid of the gum, each more drastic than the last, all meet with failure. Fire doesn’t destroy “the cancerous thing,” it simply melts it. Finally, by imprisoning it in a hermetically sealed bell jar, the father is able to keep the pest away from the boy, depriving it of the life it needs.
But what does the story signify?
Steinbeck gives a hint at one point: “the tumorous lump” is alive and intelligent, but with an “evil calculating wiliness.” For: “Intelligence without the soul to balance it must of necessity be evil.”
Steinbeck’s extraordinary insight is that he ascribes agency to evil. It is not passive, waiting inertly and lifelessly at every step of the way. Rather, at a certain stage it becomes Active Evil, taking on a life and will of its own. And it begins to suck you in like a magnet attracting iron filings, until it engulfs you completely. Like quicksand.
The result: you turn into that yourself.
From a Sufic point of view, Steinbeck’s “intelligence without the soul to balance it” is not sufficiently clear, and needs to be emended. Intelligence, or the intellect, is not by itself evil. Rather, it becomes so when it is commandeered by the Base Self (nafs al-ammara) for the latter’s own purposes. This is “the self that always commands to evil” (12:53). It is our inner animal, our inner demon. Because there is something of it in everyone, it has led to the erroneous concept of original sin. But this self can be trained, it can be purified, and can lead to much more desirable outcomes.
Mind, Faith, Courtesy
A Sufi story related by Master Ahmet Kayhan explains how, in our human condition, intelligence alone is not enough, but must be supplemented by faith and courteous conduct:
God said to Gabriel, ‘Let’s give him something.’ He sent three presents: Mind, Faith, Courtesy. He said, ‘Whichever one he chooses, bring back the other two.’
Adam thought. He has no mind, no ideas, he’s a mudcake. Again this isn’t Adam’s work, it’s God’s. There’s a Giver. He said, ‘I’ll take Mind.’
Gabriel said, ‘You chose the best.’ He said to Faith and Courtesy: ‘Come on, let’s go.’ Faith said: ‘Without me, Mind can’t manage.’ He turned to Courtesy, ‘Let’s go.’ Courtesy said, ‘I’m the garment of these two. Without me, neither of them can manage by themselves. I stay, too.’ So they all remained with Adam.
Gabriel conferred with God. ‘What shall I do?’ God said, ‘Everything’s found its proper place, if he can use them. The trust has found its place. Come back.’ […]
Now, don’t we possess these three? We do. It’s the very same hour, the same moment. As with Adam and Eve, so with us all. This word is valid every hour.
(Henry Bayman, The Teachings of A Perfect Master (2012), p. 269.)
So in Sufic terms, Steinbeck’s “soul” would need to be replaced by faith and courtesy.
The Base Self and Sex
Human beings are designed to have faith, and if “the God-shaped hole in the human soul,” as Sartre put it, is not filled with that which is proper to it, it will still be filled, but this time with other idols, other gods. In ancient times, these could be quite coarse things, such as rocks or statues. These have disappeared in our age. But now, they are replaced by more abstract entities: wealth, power, sexuality. Their abstractness makes it more difficult to discern their role as idols. This means that there is no true atheist, except for nihilists. Sociologist-anthropologist Bruno Latour has pointed out that our so-called “modern world” is itself beset with “idols: money, law, reason, nature, machines, organization, or linguistic structures… efficacy is attributed to things that neither move nor speak” (The Pasteurization of France, p. 209).
And of these idols, sex is among the most notorious. It is (as Freud has elaborated) one of the most powerful drives, and a prime target for the Base Self to latch onto. This can easily lead to placing a member of the opposite sex on a pedestal: to idolizing a woman, and, via that channel, worshiping one’s own lust: sexolatry. (This also discloses the true meaning of nude (and other sexually suggestive) paintings.)
A Model of Human Sexuality
Consider a table that is exactly level. If you place a ball on it, it will remain stationary. If, however, the table is tilted, even a little bit, it will roll off. The horizontal position of the table provides the ball with an “island of stability.” Whichever way you tilt the table, the ball will roll off in that direction.
Human sexuality is like a ball on a table. Because the Prophet said: “Every child is born a Moslem,” that is, pure and undefiled, a child’s instincts are initially geared toward Clean Sex: that is, within matrimony and with a mature member of the opposite sex. However, various circumstances encountered in life can drive one off this island of stability. It is then that the sexual urge becomes warped and seeks different outlets for its satisfaction.
Extramarital Sex is one of the two great scourges of humanity, the other being Illicit Wealth. God says: “Do not (even) approach fornication/adultery” (17:32). Once you begin to kiss their neck, it’s over. The slippery slope takes you all the way.
Extramarital Sex is one of the two great scourges of humanity, the other being Illicit Wealth.
One’s initial encounter with sex can be definitive for the rest of one’s life. In psychology and ethology, this is known as “imprinting.” In the terms of quantum physics, one could say that out of an ensemble of probabilities, the state vector collapses to a single value.
Encyclopedia Brittanica defines imprinting as “a form of learning in which a very young animal fixes its attention on the first object with which it has visual, auditory, or tactile experience and thereafter follows that object. In nature the object is almost invariably a parent”. When the ethologist Konrad Lorenz hatched baby goslings in an incubator, making sure he was the first thing they saw, they fixated upon him and followed him around as if he was their mother.
This, however, was not just imprinting, it was “mal-imprinting” (or mis-imprinting). For no matter how you cut the dice, Lorenz was not their mother. And similarly for human beings, there is imprinting and then there is malimprinting.
In his introduction to The Human Zoo (1969, 1996), zoologist Desmond Morris explained his choice for the title of the book as follows:
Under normal conditions, in their natural habitats, wild animals do not mutilate themselves, masturbate, attack their offspring, develop stomach ulcers, become fetishists, suffer from obesity, form homosexual pair-bonds, or commit murder. Among human city-dwellers, needless to say, all of these things occur. … Other animals do behave in these ways under certain circumstances, namely when they are confined in the unnatural conditions of captivity. The zoo animal in a cage exhibits all these abnormalities that we know so well from [the Base-Self-driven actions of] our human companions. Clearly, then, the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.
Morris discusses various ways in which malimprinting can come about in the cases of fetishism and homosexuality (esp. pp. 168-176), and interested readers are referred to that source for further details (for a short summary, see this). Furthermore, malimprinting (as Morris notes) can also explain other forms of sexual deviation. The ball can roll off the table in different directions, not just one or two.
Morris has also clarified that a male or female animal mounting another of its kind, whether male or female, is not necessarily a sexual act, but an assertion of dominance and supremacy. Most observations of animal same-sex relationships have been made in captivity: in zoos or laboratories. Whatever the final verdict on animal homosexuality, we are human beings, and thus not condemned to emulate animal (mis)behavior. Just because an animal does something does not mean that behavior can serve as a role model for humans. Quite the contrary, we need to tame and purify the animal tendencies of the Base Self in order to reach the true spiritual potentials of a human being.
religions were instituted by God for the happiness of human beings.
Love and Lust
In recent times, love has come to be equated with sex. This is a dangerous conflation and a confusion of categories.
There are many forms of love. God Himself created the universe out of love (a Saying of God, a.k.a. a Sacred Tradition: “I loved to be known.”) There is parental love, grandparental love, love between siblings, between friends, the love of pets, of an inanimate object (for instance, a car), and so on.
And then there is sexual love. Love and sex should be associated only in the case of Clean Sex. Otherwise, it pays to keep them separate.
Lust, on the other hand, need not be accompanied by love. Relations with a stranger seldom occur on the basis of love (“What has love got to do with it?”). Lust can become fixated on anything. And for these reasons, it can easily fall into the zone of Unclean Sex. If one cannot find fulfillment through normal channels, one will seek satisfaction in other ways. As psychiatrist Anthony Storr concluded: “The study of sexual deviation is the study of sex without love.” (Storr, Sexual Deviation, p.129.)
In our day, people are slowly beginning to wake up to the fact that extramarital sex is injurious to the spirit. They complain that frequent changes of partners result in the inability to love and to commit oneself. In the face of this lovelessness, sex becomes a mechanical act that does not satisfy, and one is driven to seek satisfaction in ways that push beyond the boundaries of the normal—but which, of course, are still no substitute for love.
Lust is a very powerful and dangerous drive. Like nitroglycerin, it is unstable and liable to explode if not handled with the utmost care. A few years back, the case was reported of a man in a European country who imprisoned his family for years in order to have sex with his own children. Think of the trauma, both personal and social, caused by this depravity. (Unchecked, the Base Self will make you do anything.)
And this is precisely the point: sex between two persons is not just the sole concern of consenting adults, it is an interaction between two members of society. Furthermore, its original purpose is to refresh and replenish society. And even two people already form the nucleus of a society. Like a stone thrown into a still pond, the sexual act cannot fail to have ripples and consequences that spread out, now that we live unawares in a global village, across the whole world.
Intelligence without faith and courtesy to balance it must of necessity fall into the clutches of evil.
Since this is a sensitive subject, I want to make it perfectly clear at the outset that I write the following without any malice, ill-will, fear, loathing, or hatred. Further, what is important is not my own or anyone else’s personal preferences, but God’s. Nor do I take pleasure in writing this: I do it because someone has to.
Not a week goes by without one or more TV shows promoting homosexual love and gay marriage. A new term, “diversity,” has been invented, a euphemism for perversity, to cover the alphabet soup of LGBTQ+. Bright rainbow colors are used to prettify the concept. Ostensibly aimed at a domestic (American) audience, those TV shows, in the age of the internet, have disruptive effects on minds and cultures on the other side of the globe.
The Base Self in the act of revealing its true nature.
Ethics, morality, can only be relative as long as it is not based on an absolute. My ethical values may differ from yours, and there is no particular reason why anyone should prefer mine. That Absolute can only be God, the ground of all being and of all ethics, the Maker of you, me, all human beings, and the entire universe.
So what does God say?
Let us not forget that religions, however much they have been abused and their precepts violated, were instituted by God for the happiness of human beings, and that without them, humanity would have wiped itself out long ago.
Let us also recall that not everything which may seem good and pleasurable in this world is good for the next world, but everything that is good for the after-death state is also good for this world. (That’s right, once you die you’re immortal. You have to factor that into your calculations.)
Homosexuality is prohibited in Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike, as well as in some forms of Buddhism. (The Dalai Lama, based on Tibetan Buddhist scriptures, has considered it “sexual misconduct.” Apparently, there were no homosexuals in the Buddha’s environment, so he didn’t pronounce on the matter.) In all three monotheistic religions, homosexuality is “off the table.”
What is more, “gay marriage” is an oxymoron, of the same order as “fried snowballs.” You can have either one or the other, but not both. Declaring it legitimate according to the laws of a certain society does not legitimize it in the sight of God. Otherwise, the societies of Sodom and Gomorrah would not have run into any problems.
Stretching the meaning of “marriage” to include same-sex relationships empties the word of its meaning. It becomes hollowed out. This also places us on a slippery slope with no end in sight. Once the meaning of marriage is nullified in this way, what comes next? Take your pick: marriages between sadists and masochists, marriages between pedophiles and children, between animals and humans, between robots and humans… In other words, we are on the threshold of legitimizing everything known as sexual misconduct, otherwise known as deeds abhorrent to God.
The solution: self-restraint. Against the assaults of Active Evil and the Base Self, you have to prevent yourself—even more actively—from falling off the table.