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Living the clean life. Both clean from religion and clean from vice!
July 24, 2008 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I would like others to explain to me why some non-Christian people abstain from certain “sinful” activities…and how to interact with them.

For those who do not know my background, I grew up really sheltered and associated mostly with religious people. A little bit over a year ago, I started questioning my religion (Christianity), and started hanging around people who have different belief systems than mine. Some are atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, wiccan, and some are non-practicing Christians or Jews. It’s not just the people I hang around who have diverse beliefs, many of my classmates in grad school are non-Christians, and if they are they are mostly non-practicing.

I grew up around many people who abstained from sex, alcohol, drugs, using profane language, gambling, and violence. The first 15 years of my life, I went to a Pentecostal church, we were told flat out we would burn in hell if we engaged in the above. From age 16 on, I attended a non-denominational church, while it was more liberal than the first church, the message we received was “if you engage in sinful behavior, it will ruin your relationship with Jesus Christ, and you will become miserable”.

Well, since I became less religious, I’ve been enjoying many “worldly” activities. I no longer avoid alcohol, sexual related activities, cursing, playing poker, and watching violent movies or listening to violent music in fear of being bathed in fire and brimstone when I die. The biggest shock that came to me within the last year, is that some non-Christian people do not live the same lifestyle I do, and is more in line with the lifestyles of the people I grew up around.

An example…in one of my grad school classes we had a debate on whether there should be condom dispensers in resident halls on college campuses. There were some who students who said “no”, I was expecting most of them to be strict Christians (or Jewish or Muslims), but most of them weren’t religious of all. I’ve learned from other classroom discussion that some of those students were plain anti-sex.

Another example…I have a few friends who are pretty anti-alcohol and especially anti-drug…yet, again, non-Christian. They won’t drink even a sip, they stay far away from bars and nightclubs, and leave parties early where there’s a lot of drinking. They won’t date drinkers either. On occasion, they try to discourage US from drinking.

I’m confused about this behavior, if you don’t fear eternal punishment for drinking and fucking or whatever, then what motivates them to avoid activities that many people deem as pleasurable? I’ll be honest, the first thing I think is that they are just prudes, but I don’t want to be insensitive. I’d rather understand people before judging them, because I know that are many different things that drives behavior and some aren't obvious. And, to avoid conflict, because I seem to get into a lot of conflicts about this. I would like know some concrete reasons why some non-religious people avoid things that will bring them pleasure. Maybe if I can identify the real reasons, I will know how to handle them better in the future.
posted by sixcolors to Human Relations (58 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mostly because a lot that stuff brings very short term pleasure, but can bring a hell of a lot of long time pain.
posted by stormygrey at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are you suggesting that the only downside to drinking is hell?

Clearly there's plenty of other reasons not to drink. Maybe your family has a history of alcoholism. Maybe you're a control freak. Maybe you get really bad hangovers. Maybe you don't enjoy being drunk. Maybe you feel it's a sign of a week will.

As for sex, there's at least as many non-god-related reasons.

And there's also the notion that it's possible to think something is wrong, even if you don't believe in god. I am an atheist and I consider lying to be a bad thing to do. Not because I think you'll be punished for it, but, well, because that's what my values are.
posted by aubilenon at 4:27 PM on July 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


If you want to understand people before judging them, why don't you ask them directly? People have very individual reasons for the lifestyle choices they make, some imposed externally (religious/societal pressures) and some internally (temperament, family history, negative experience). It is actually possible for people to make decisions without any consideration whatsoever of reward/punishment.

I have never understood why people "get into a lot of conflicts" about other people's lifestyle choices. Live and let live, and if you want to know why your friends choose one behavior over another, ask them directly.
posted by headnsouth at 4:31 PM on July 24, 2008 [6 favorites]


And morality can exist outside religion, of course.
posted by box at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2008 [17 favorites]


You don't need to be religious to be moral. You can still believe murder is bad without believing it will send you to hell.

I think a rational and non-religious argument against alcohol would go something like this: I'm a human being capable of reason and logical thought, which makes me deserving of respect from others and from myself.
If I drink (or take drugs), I am failing to respect that capacity for reason within myself, as drinking negatively affects my ability to act rationally.
Therefore, I will not drink.

That's a very simple Kantian explanation. Look up Kantian ethics, or utilitarianism, for non-religious codes of morality (Kant was Christian, but that did not control his ethics).

As for sex, many people believe that it is something so special that it should only be shared with someone you are in love with, and not just wasted on good times with temporary partners.

There are countless other possibilities too- some people just don't like drinking or being drunk, some people were brought up to believe that you should never swear (not because it is a sin, but because it is rude to other people), some people don't like violent films because they simply don't like seeing violence.
posted by twirlypen at 4:32 PM on July 24, 2008


Are you suggesting that the only downside to drinking is hell?

I've seen firsthand what irresponsible drinking can do. But, most people I hangout with drink within moderation, and things rarely get out of control.

As for the first comment, I'm referring to doing all of those activities in moderation. And, I'm joking about shooting up, both ways.
posted by sixcolors at 4:34 PM on July 24, 2008


They are applying their own judgement to compare probable downside to probable upside and they are deciding that there is more downside. Trust me, they find it every bit as bizarre that you can't imagine why someone would do that without the threat of hellfire.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, not all of these behaviors bring pleasure for everyone. Drinking, for example -- some people hate the taste of it. Some people associate it with other people's bad behavior while drunk (one of my exes genuinely had no desire to try alcohol until his 30s because he got tired of helping carry drunk girls covered in vomit back to their dorm rooms his freshman year of college). Some people fear losing control while intoxicated.

Maybe if I can identify the real reasons, I will know how to handle them better in the future.

The only "real" reason is that people are complex, and that there are always a multiplicity of preferences and perspectives. There isn't always just one reason (or even a narrow range of reasons) to do or not to do something. It doesn't require knowing "why" someone chooses not to drink to be respectful of that decision.
posted by scody at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2008


I no longer avoid alcohol, sexual related activities, cursing, playing poker, and watching violent movies or listening to violent music

Morality aside, plenty of people simply don't enjoy those activities. I, personally, don't enjoy violent movies. They aren't fun for me, so I don't see them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:38 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Reasons outside of religion choose not to drink:
1) Health
2) Recovering alcoholic/alcoholism in family
3) Lack of control
4) Increase in risky behavior
5) Had a bad experience
6) Allergic

Reasons outside of religion people choose not to have sex:
1) Maintain "specialness" or "meaningfulness" of sex
2) Health/Disease
3) Respect of others in society (unfortunately applies mostly to women, and stems from religion)
4) Had a bad experience/was raped

I'm sure there are plenty more. Here's a starter list.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2008


It might not be morality at all, either.

In my experience, people who seem 'irrationally' closed-minded about things like sex, alcohol, drugs or so on are often religious, sure (formal closed-mindedness)... but when they're not, these are people who have been burned, and have personally adopted closed-mindedness as a coping mechanism.

Someone who seems ridiculously biased against sex might be someone who was abused as a child, or who had an old boyfriend share a sex tape with her graduating class. Someone "strongly" anti-alcohol, in my experience, grew up in a household with one or two alcoholics, and the fights and trauma defined their personality early.

Of course I am generalizing. This has been my experience; it's not universal.
posted by rokusan at 4:41 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Religious belief != morals != law. And none of them preclude being a busy-body in other people's lives.

There is nothing wrong with someone saying "I don't believe in pre-marital sex for me because my mother had me very young and I don't want to bring a child into the same situation I grew up in." Or: "My father was a gambler and he ruined the life of my family, and that's why I don't gamble." As you've discovered, people don't need the threat of hellfire and damnation to choose not to do certain things.

In my case, for instance, I very rarely drink (perhaps imbibing twice a year) or smoke (again, a cigar maybe once every two years). The latter because of the obvious health risks, the former because, generally speaking, I don't like feeling out of control. I'm an atheist: my behaviour is a personal choice, for me alone.

Wishing to impose those choices (or lack of choices) on others is the provenance of anyone who thinks they know what's best for other people, a set which includes conservatives, liberals, religious adherents and atheists. The only belief they have in common is "I know what's best for you."
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:42 PM on July 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Maybe the people who didn't have your strict upbringing grew bored/learned about/came to sensible conclusions about these things because they were able to experience them earlier and more often than you were? I'd guess a lot of people try these things then get bored or see no value in them, and you might too after a while.
posted by fire&wings at 4:44 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Tried pot. Discovered I didn't like it. Stopped.
Tried speed. Discovered I didn't like it. Stopped.
Tried drinking to excess. Discovered I didn't like it. Stopped.
Tried gambling. Discovered it was incredibly stupid. Stopped.
Tried sex with random strangers…No, wait! I never got around to that!

Anyhow, my point is, the things you think are pleasurable aren't necessarily.

There are also two questions here: why some people don't do things that you imagine they might find pleasurable, and why some people frown on others doing those things, even without the eternal-damnation angle.

You will find that lots of people disapprove of some conduct or another just because; in fact, it's entirely possible that religious proscriptions against that conduct came about simply as a way to add some moral weight to the "because I said so" argument. And the fact is that a lot of the behaviors that you mention can lead to personal destruction when carried to extremes, so it's not surprising that some people decide it's best not to even start.
posted by adamrice at 4:45 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


As headnsouth said, if you're curious or need to know, just ask. I'm pretty sure no one will object to your questioning, and if it helps to better connect and understand people, then that's all the better.

That said, I'll give another reason for avoiding pleasurable things/activities. I had to field questions about why I don't drink or do drugs. My reason is that simply, I don't need them. It's not like I have to drink or do drugs. So maybe the abstainers have similar reasons. After all, there are other ways to have a great night out or to "drown" your sorrows, like talking to someone or doing your favorite hobby or whatever. It's not like alcohol is a necessity. Sure, you could argue that moderation will keep things under control, but I just think it's better not to get into it in the first place. There's that fear that once you start, you'll keep wanting more ("once you pop, you just can't stop!" Just kidding :)).
posted by curagea at 4:46 PM on July 24, 2008


Can you really not think of a downside to fornication and drinking and smoking other than eternal damnation?

I grew up in a Christian home, and though I've expanded my views in the last few years, I still believe in moderation and setting a good example for my family and friends.

There's a difference between atheism and hedonism, and you still seem to be under the belief that non-religiousness = sinfulness.

I don't sleep around because I want the connection of having a intimate partner. Not just for the sex, but for the support and encouragement. Not to mention the risks that come from having multiple partners.

I don't drink myself to sleep every night because I believe in taking responsibility for my actions, and that responsibility is much easier to take when I know I'm in control.

I don't punch people in the face when they piss me of (and yes, i get pissed off) because I don't think violence is the way to win a dispute.

I respect my parents because they supported me as a child, and continue to support me in everything I do.

I give my money and time to others because I know how hard it can be to have needs, and there's no god to do it, so it's up to me.
posted by sambosambo at 4:47 PM on July 24, 2008 [10 favorites]


You've just learned your first lesson about religion, which is: you don't have to be religious to have a moral compass.

See, this is why us godless atheist heathens get such a bad rap. People assume that because we don't believe in the supernatural powers of a guy who basically told other people to quit being such assholes to each other, that we're suddenly going to want to overrun society with dirty heroin needles, flag burning, and driving while talking on our cell phones.

As you can see, reality is a whole hell of a lot -- wait, as an atheist, can I say "hell"? -- different. People have a core set of beliefs that evolve over time, based on their life experience (which may or may not involve the religion of their parents choice). I don't get drunk anymore, because newsflash, alcohol makes you stupid and not in control of your actions, and I had enough of that while in college. Similarly, Hostel is just a dumb movie and is not worth my time.

By the way, didn't the man say "judge not lest ye be judged"? I mean, I may be a godless asshole, but that sounds like a pretty good idea, don't you think?
posted by mark242 at 4:48 PM on July 24, 2008 [13 favorites]


...But it does get out of control at times right? Drinking is the WORST drug I have ever done..and sadly I have done most of em....Drinking is bad...

Keep in mind, there are several NON religious lifestyles that promote no drugs, sex or alcohol like xXxStraight EdgexXx (which I was a "part" of for a few years....foolishly)

Anyway, I think your question is split in to several areas, but let me first say, that if you still own your bible, to dust it off and check out Romans 8:28-29....The life of a Christian is about conforming to the image of Christ, and if you have not that desire, from my stand point my friend, you were never truly walking with Christ.

I fell away and as I matured and saw the proof of the bible over and over again...it was irrefutable! And still is....but again....Romans 8:28-29...

But to take this to a broader level, in NO civilization EVER has it been ok to lie, or cheat or steal or kill for no reason....these acts have ALWAYS been considered wrong/evil.
Here is another example - have you ever heard of or do you know of a nation that when its army went into war, it was ok to tuck tail and run!? Absolutely not, its a trait of cowardice.
These are ingrained by the Creator, these are not just ethics that were handed down by frogs or Apes....but that's for another post...
I say that to say, belief in Christ or not, it is an exact science, and there are MANY good good people out there who do good things, just not godly things....even Abraham drank and got plastered, David broke most everyone of the 10 commandments, its not the actions themselves, its the purpose and the reason's that will convict you.
It breaks my heart to know of all the good people throughout my life who have just been good people but rejected the Lord and laughed in the face of repentance....but...just like coming in .0000007 seconds after a car race, that's pretty darn good time, but its not the time needed for first, too bad so sad about that trophy too....know what I mean Jean?

God bless you brother, keep safe.
posted by TeachTheDead at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2008


Would you kill people if it weren't illegal/a sin?

Hahahahahahah.

Completely poor analogy. Killing someone violates someone else's right to their own life. How does someone drinking on their own compare to killing someone else? I personally don't think there is a moral reason not to drink (while there is quite obviously a moral reason not to kill), but I have no problem with someone choosing not to for any reason whatsoever.
posted by rooftop secrets at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2008


People can make a decision not to have sex that is based entirely in logic and outside of any morality system. Sex (and, for that matter drinking) comes with responsibility. If you cannot afford birth control, are completely unprepared to face an unplanned pregnancy and the choices that brings, or simply do not want to run the risks of STDs that comes with being sexually active, than abstinence is a fine choice.

In terms of drugs or alcohol, well, there are a lot of reasons people don't drink. Some people recognise that they're moody or violent drunks, some people hate hang overs, some people don't like the taste, and some people know they have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and choose to avoid it.

Again, nothing to do with God, Jesus or even morality.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


I’m confused about this behavior, if you don’t fear eternal punishment for drinking and fucking or whatever...

Also, FYI, this isn't motivating any of your Jewish friends. There is no Jewish concept of hell.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:56 PM on July 24, 2008


Would you kill people if it weren't illegal/a sin?

Nope, unlike the vices I listed in my OP, killing people hurts people. The person killed just lost their one and only life, and their loved ones will be severely hurt. I don't put murder, robbery, destructive lying, and rape in the same category as drinking, gambling, violent music/movies, and having sex. When I practice the latter in moderation, it should not hurt myself or others.
posted by sixcolors at 5:03 PM on July 24, 2008


As headnsouth said, if you're curious or need to know, just ask. I'm pretty sure no one will object to your questioning, and if it helps to better connect and understand people, then that's all the better.

I would avoid asking people questions that boil down to

"Why don't you do X, given that nobody will punish you for doing so?"

It makes you appear to be someone who only avoids doing things where there is some fear of punishment. I would not want to be near anyone like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:10 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


For me, it's about self-respect. I don't drink or do drugs because I don't like the idea that I'd be even slightly out of my own control. I don't sleep around or have sex before marriage because I don't want to submit myself to the drama of it all-- the "what if I'm pregnant/have an STD/he's cheating on me" that people around me seem to have a lot of. Personally, I'm all about simplicity and the daily pleasures of life. I don't need religion to tell me what is right for me.
posted by jschu at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2008


So, lots of people note the personal-experiences thing. That tends to be the reason for a lot of people.

But, one thing to keep in mind is the vestigial religious guilt that most people have to cope with. In the US (and much of the Western hemisphere), our societal ethics closely aligns with a sort of lowest-common-denominator Judeo-Christian morality. Not that anybody really intended for that to happen, but it does.

My dad's an atheist, right? So am I. But, his parents weren't. They took him to church; he eventually decided that was bullshit and split. And, his morals are different than they were when he was brainwashed, but not all of them. He certainly reevaluated his feelings about the wrong- or rightness of various things. But others just stuck. And much of that is passed on down to me, even though I never believed in gods.

An example: despite having no girlfriend, and plenty of cash, at certain points in my life, I've never hired a prostitute. I can't rationally tell you why it harms anybody, but I'm pretty sure that I'd feel a little weird afterward, and would have to spend some time processing it. Taboo. Society is a powerful force on a human.
posted by Netzapper at 5:18 PM on July 24, 2008


I've seen firsthand what irresponsible drinking can do. But, most people I hangout with drink within moderation, and things rarely get out of control.

As for the first comment, I'm referring to doing all of those activities in moderation.


Not everyone can do those things in moderation. Depending on the activity, maybe not even most of the people most of the time can. I don't see why it's so unfathomable that someone would feel that in general the potential for harm outweighs any potential benefit and conclude that said activity should generally be avoided (even if on an individual person basis it often won't be a problem in moderation). And if one feels this way strongly enough, it would follow that one would encourage others to do/think so as well, wouldn't it?
posted by juv3nal at 5:21 PM on July 24, 2008



ROU_Xenophobe: I would avoid asking people questions that boil down to

"Why don't you do X, given that nobody will punish you for doing so?"

It makes you appear to be someone who only avoids doing things where there is some fear of punishment. I would not want to be near anyone like that.


Given sixcolors' background I think it's definitely an appropriate question to ask his friends and acquaintances --- as long as he puts it out there as a genuine question ("these kinds of things were always framed by religion for me so I'm really curious about why you do x and not y," as opposed to "you seem like such a prude to me, prove me wrong by justifying yourself.")

Something else occurred to me reading this thread --- I'm not anti-sex, I'm not even anti-casual-sex if that's your thing, but I can see voting against installing a condom dispenser on my residence hall. Yucko to being woken up by the sound of a drunk roommate hooking up and having loud sloppy sex in the lower bunk.
posted by headnsouth at 5:25 PM on July 24, 2008


I'm not the multiple-comment type, but here's another one for this thread---

I don't see any mention of legal constraints. I love pot, absolutely love it. I know from experience that (for me) it reduces anxiety, shuts up my inner critic, improves my creativity (or at least makes it possible given the inner critic shutting up), makes me more pleasant to be around (for a good week afterward), helps me slow down and speak/act more mindfully (also for a good week afterward), etc.

But the legal risks aren't worth it. So I just say no. =(
posted by headnsouth at 5:33 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


People can think on their own without religion. And most people get it right, most of the time.

What motivates them to avoid activities that many people deem as pleasurable? -- They don't deem them pleasurable enough to engage in said activity. It's that simple.
posted by ruwan at 5:35 PM on July 24, 2008


To many athiests and agnostics, while sin might be ascribed to divine origins about purity of soul, it walks and talks like a social mechanism that serves to build and maintain a society by minimising behaviour that is potentially harmful to that society. Sin tends to float around a bit, or fall out of date behind the ages and out of step with changes in technology, and other things get caught in the dragnet, but by and large, it doesn't matter what the religion is, the successful ones all tend to proscribe a largely overlapping laundry list of things that (in the right technological context) should reduce various factors in social instability.

If this is so, then you would expect that people of other religions, or of no religion, who want structured lives or societies, to do things towards these ends, and you would predict that those things would be similar to the kind of behaviours encouraged by religions that have successfully built/maintained major societies.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:36 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


In all cases where people avoid something - whether sex, alcohol, or something else - the answer usually comes down to fear. In the case of religion, the fear is that of an angry [g]od[dess] or fear of an unpleasant afterlife.

In the case of the non-religious, and continuing the discussion regarding alcohol, there may be an alcoholic relative, a stomach ulcer, a fear of being "out of control", a fear of what people may do when they're intoxicated, a fear of being intoxicated (either because it's happened before and they didn't enjoy it or, alternately, because it's an unknown experience) and on and on..

Like ruwan said, above, they just don't deem the activities pleasurable enough to engage in them for whatever reason.

My feeling, not that you asked, is that we're all free to do whatever we wish to our bodies because they're the only things in this world that we own outright and forever. And the variety of beliefs, perceptions and experiences are all part of the joy of interacting with other human beings.. Just don't tell me what and what not to do!
posted by VioletU at 5:55 PM on July 24, 2008


I’m confused about this behavior, if you don’t fear eternal punishment for drinking and fucking or whatever, what motivates them to avoid activities that many people deem as pleasurable?

Young children, and people who have never tasted it before, may eat candy until they puke, but most grown-ups don't - they eat none at all, or only a small amount, enjoy it, then stop - even though no-one is forcing them to stop and the activity is pleasurable.

People seek happiness, and for most people, hedonism (seeking pleasure) doesn't make them happy. Usually the reverse.

I can spend all week in front of a TV, watching top-notch comedy, laughing and enjoying every moment of it, but at the end of that week, I will be less happy, not more, because those fleeting pleasures are fleeting - they leave me with nothing. So I just wasted the week, when I could have been doing great things instead.

Basically, if you've got your head screwed on right, you don't need mom to tell you to eat your veggies. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on July 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm a person just like you
But I've got better things to do
Than sit around and fuck my head
Hang out with the living dead
Snort white shit up my nose
Pass out at the shows
I don't even think about speed
That's something I just don't need

I've got the straight edge
Some are Buddhist, wiccan, some are punk rock, some are body builders obsessed with good health, some are inspired by deep green environmentalist philosophy to seek some kind of spiritual consciousness that some of the activities you think of as "sinful" might interfere with.

The various "sinful" things you mention don't seem to have a whole lot in common other than apparently being "bad" in the context of one religious group you're familiar with, and of course they're all fairly important to the functioning of society as a whole in many parts of the world, perhaps more so than most things people do. Attitudes about them are probably less correlated than you think. There are buddhists who won't touch alcohol, but are fine with having a sex life; there are catholics who generally approve of alcohol to the point of including it in their religious ceremony, but are relatively restrictive about sex.

Anyway, aside from religious motivations for these things, there are cultural, political, and philosophical ones; examples are abundant.
posted by sfenders at 5:57 PM on July 24, 2008


Yeah, look up Straight Edge. Some flavors of Buddhism hold that recreational drug use (including alcohol) interferes with Mindfulness, and that recreational sex outside of a relationship isn't right action. Within secular thought, there are some advocates of asceticism based on the idea that abstinence better enables one to focus on one's intellectual or artistic passion. Still another factor is some people are just asexual, others are recovering addicts.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:52 PM on July 24, 2008


Not everyone enjoys the same things you do. You might as well be asking "My friends don't eat pork, yet they're not Muslim or Jews. What's up with that?" In this case, maybe someone doesn't like pork. Maybe they're a vegetarian who believes that eating pork harms others or possibly themselves.

You can't say, "Just do x in moderation, then, and you won't hurt anyone" because it's not as if most people chose to be addicts or alcoholics or get STDs or have unwanted children. Some people don't want to deal with the potential risks in the name of bowing in to peer-pressure.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:53 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


There's also the political/economic aspects to take into account as well - someone might not want the cost of the free condoms and condom dispensing machines to be taken out of their tuition. (Of course, without those condom machines there's the distinct possibility of community costs for: morning after pills, abortions, pre- and post-natal care, and government aid for young mothers, but hey.)
posted by bettafish at 7:56 PM on July 24, 2008


You're in (or near) college now? You're interested in this? You should totally enroll in a philosophy and/or ethics class. These can be some of the most interesting and fun classes, and will give you new and possibly mind-blowing ways to think about this stuff.

Or find a "survey of ethics" book or web site and read that.

That said: much of the activities you describe may be short-term pleasurable, but not lead to longer-term happiness. Tobacco is just really, really addictive to just about everyone, makes you smell pretty bad, yellows your teeth, and just... yuck. It makes you much less attractive to those who don't indulge. Much less attractive. And it's expensive - you could spend that money on way better things.

The other "vices" also have downsides. Basically, a person could spend the same time (and money) doing things that aren't injurious at all, and that actually would make his life better in a larger, longer-term sense.

Fun is important, too, and if these activities are fun for you, or if you particularly enjoy the company of those who similarly indulge, then it may make sense, for you, to continue these activities.

But a lot of people (like me) just don't see the point, and get pleasure from other things.
posted by amtho at 8:24 PM on July 24, 2008


Regarding possible consequences, I personally find that the rush outweighs the risk. And, boy do I get a rush from doing from those "deviant" activities. Sometimes the feeling of relaxation or light euphoria lasts up to a day and a half...I'm not talking about drugs, I don't do them. As for alcohol I limit myself to 3 drinks. But, staying out until 3 or 4, playing grand theft auto, or spending the night at the casino gives me a rush unlike any other activity. The only "healthy" activities that may come somewhat close is sports and creating art. But, those things don't always hit the spot when I'm dying of boredom.

And when you're dying of boredom, whether something will pay off in long-term becomes irrelavent...a urgent sense of desperation to feel alive overcomes you, and you'll do almost anything to turn your gray world into a colorful one. I guess this can be one of things that separates folks like me from the more low-key ones.

Well, at least i'm not spending 8+ hours a day online anymore, like I did a few years ago.
posted by sixcolors at 9:07 PM on July 24, 2008


Assuming that religion is for people who won't abstain unless they are threatened with destruction, then it still doesn't follow that abstaining is therefore religious. Rather, they might have reasons to be in control of their lives. Furthermore, I would question that irreligious people are ever distinguished by partying. The road to disbelief often begins with someone seeing a particular religion as a fear mongering, or lowering people's expectations with forms of idolatry and superstition. They usually question the faith before they ever realized they were doing so critically. Rarely do people intellectually leave a religion to suddenly party their life away after puberty, because partying is usually a way to reinforce religious beliefs by its excess. Non-questioners usually end up crawling back to the faith with a reconversion story that wallows in their wild years. They expect brownie points for it too, and that's how we know they planned it.
posted by Brian B. at 9:18 PM on July 24, 2008


ROU_Xenophobe's answer is insightful. You are presupposing that these are all inherently pleasurable and so, external punishment is needed to discourage consumption. That isn't the case.

I've taken a good sized serving of vice. It isn't fear of judgment that has minimized my consumption. I think of intoxication in a broader, more figurative sense. Mindlessly indulging my passions takes me away from reality. It doesn't have to be clinical addiction requiring a 12 step program for this to be the case. Uncomfortable feelings prod me towards finding a situation where I can drown them out. I don't want that trend to intensify, so I keep an eye out for 'intoxicants'. And of course, that's a much broader category than the traditional vices. So that's what it is for me. Perhaps some of your fellow students have noticed this and they want to promote sober mindedness out of desire for others to discover the benefits, perhaps they're moralistic busybodies who are looking for an opportunity to sit in judgment, perhaps they're uptight about it because they're scared to smoke, drink, snort, wager, fuck, shoot up, whatever. Who knows?

By the way, the above isn't meant as a blanket condemnation. I haven't taken any vows and I'm not looking to sneer at someone else's good time. But again, you don't have to be an addict to notice, that getting fucked up is sometimes accompanied by depression, that getting laid with someone who isn't all that captivating/ed can increase loneliness, that being frivolous with your funds might build up feelings of futility. The negative undertones don't necessarily define a particular experience, they may be negligible some or most of the time, but these activities (appetites) are not categorically good. When that aspect is clear, you won't be surprised when some abstain.
posted by BigSky at 9:47 PM on July 24, 2008


I don't drink because I can't stand the taste, would be dangerous if drunk (just watch me on a sugar high), and it counteracts with my medication.

I don't do drugs because the smell makes me sick and I'm already on meds anyway, so why mess it up?

I abstained from sex for a long time because I didn't really have much interest, didn't have a partner until fairly recently and wasn't into casual partners, and didn't feel prepare for the consequences such as a baby or STD.

Just because I am not Christian does not mean I don't have values.
posted by divabat at 10:15 PM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


But, staying out until 3 or 4, playing grand theft auto, or spending the night at the casino gives me a rush unlike any other activity.

These things would give me boredom, headaches, and sleepiness. I think by the time I was 18 or 19 I had pretty much completely grown out of being able to have the ''ooh, I'm doing something 'bad,' it's so cool" frame of mind. Maybe because you were so sheltered growing up, you're going through this phase later (I assume since you said grad school you're older than a teenager)?
posted by frobozz at 11:02 PM on July 24, 2008


Regarding possible consequences, I personally find that the rush outweighs the risk.
Keep in mind that different people have different risks to weigh there, as well. For example, I have a chronic pain problem that's usually quite mild or even nonexistent, but if I stay up all night (or even till 3 or so) I can't really function well the next day.
In my experience, it's often the case that people abstain from things they don't enjoy in the first place, for some reason or another. It's not that these things seem intrinsically bad to them, just that the balance is weighed -- same as you -- and it ends up not worthwhile.
posted by mismatched at 11:22 PM on July 24, 2008


But, staying out until 3 or 4, playing grand theft auto, or spending the night at the casino gives me a rush unlike any other activity.

Well, coming from a religious background, you must understand the concept of forbidden fruit, right?

Of course you enjoy it more. More, probably, than people to whom it wasn't forbidden in the first place.
posted by rokusan at 12:23 AM on July 25, 2008


I have never been religious but I hold myself to certain standards because I care about myself. I don't want to get liver posioning or an STD. I do engage in these activities but I am careful about it. No one ever told me not to do these things, I just feel that if I did them too much they would stop being fun.

There are reasons why churches tell you not to do these things and its not just because it will make Jesus stop loving you. It's because back in the day, those rules kept you safe. In some ways, they still do.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:20 AM on July 25, 2008


Many of the ancient Greeks believed a happy, just life, could be achieved by living a life of moderation, and doing nothing in excess.

As you know, ancient Greek philosophers lived hundreds of years before the birth of Christ.

Many other ancient and godless modes of thought, like Taoism, uphold living of a life of simple pleasures, and enjoying everyday life as it is.

What I'm saying is that the idea of moderation and asceticism is much older than Christianity. Moderation and asceticism would exist whether or not Christianity was a predominant religion.

My concern with your post is that you seem like you have a propensity to judge people for not being like you, or doing as you do. Or maybe just judging, period. I suppose we all do.

I’d rather understand people before judging them

This is great and I wish we could all do this more. Because I have yet to see a good reason for judging people other than to make oneself feel temporarily more powerful.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 5:31 AM on July 25, 2008


It's baffling that you assume only religious people restrict themselves, as if it took religion to entice the behavior. I’m an atheist. I don’t smoke or do illegal drugs, I limit my alcohol, painkiller and caffeine intake, I really don’t feel compelled to gamble (why? such a waste of money!), and I keep carnal matters private and I’m big on monogamy. Some day I want to get married and be with one human for the rest of my or their life. People often assume I am very innocent and/or very Christian.

I do these things because: A) Severe substance abuse on the part of a grandparent contributed to great misery in my family; B) My mother is a strictly moral person, who taught me, not by fear and punishment, but by demonstrating distress, that some things are bad; C) A lot of these things are bad for you and my private morality seeks self improvement.
posted by Phalene at 5:55 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd advise the OP to read Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. Not only is it a book that kicks all kinds of ass, it features a protagonist who starts religious, loses religion and goes through a variety of interesting behaviours before settling on what I think to be an eminently reasonable way to lead on's life. Here's a quick passage from one of the stages that mirrors what you're going through:



When Philip ceased to believe in Christianity he felt that a great weight was taken from his shoulders; casting off the responsibility which weighed down every action, when every action was infinitely important for the welfare of his immortal soul, he experienced a vivid sense of liberty. But he knew now that this was an illusion. When he put away the religion in which he had been brought up, he had kept unimpaired the morality which was part and parcel of it. He made up his mind therefore to think things out for himself. He determined to be swayed by no prejudices. He swept away the virtues and the vices, the established laws of good and evil, with the idea of finding out the rules of life for himself. He did not know whether rules were necessary at all. That was one of the things he wanted to discover. Clearly much that seemed valid seemed so only because he had been taught it from his earliest youth. He had read a number of books, but they did not help him much, for they were based on the morality of Christianity; and even the writers who emphasised the fact that they did not believe in it were never satisfied till they had framed a system of ethics in accordance with that of the Sermon on the Mount. It seemed hardly worth while to read a long volume in order to learn that you ought to behave exactly like everybody else. Philip wanted to find out how he ought to behave, and he thought he could prevent himself from being influenced by the opinions that surrounded him. But meanwhile he had to go on living, and, until he formed a theory of conduct, he made himself a provisional rule.

"Follow your inclinations with due regard to the policeman round the corner."



Read it, everyone!
posted by Cantdosleepy at 6:01 AM on July 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


boy do I get a rush from doing from those "deviant" activities. Sometimes the feeling of relaxation or light euphoria lasts up to a day and a half...I'm not talking about drugs, I don't do them. As for alcohol I limit myself to 3 drinks. But, staying out until 3 or 4, playing grand theft auto, or spending the night at the casino gives me a rush unlike any other activity

People raised in a less restrictive way don´t get this sort of rush because these are not deviant activities that they are such naughty people for doing. Some of these people might get a different sort of rush from other things, anything from being out in nature to building strange things in their garage to having someone else spank them with a paddle. (well some of the people into being spanked with a paddle do get into being oh so naughty, but not usually in an ¨I´m going to hell¨ way) Different people enjoy different things.


when you're dying of boredom, whether something will pay off in long-term becomes irrelavent...a urgent sense of desperation to feel alive overcomes you, and you'll do almost anything to turn your gray world into a colorful one. I guess this can be one of things that separates folks like me from the more low-key ones.


I´m rarely bored, and don´t like to hang around people who complain about being bored since that is one of the most boring activities I can think of. I feel that I lead an interesting and complex life, and don´t feel that spending time at the casino or playing GTA is worthwhile as I have many other choices of activities that I find much more interesting. I have engaged in most of the activities on your ¨worldly¨ list at one time or another, but as part of an interesting life, never as an alternative to boredom -- and it´s not a moral choice, but because if I do feel bored it´s due to some other situation I can change. Having a few drinks does not inherently make life more interesting.

Thank you for asking this question. I find it interesting to understand the world views of others, and I don´t have a lot of friends who hold the same views you do. I also feel like I understand men who make the first line of their personal ads ¨I´m bored!¨ just a little bit better.
posted by yohko at 7:13 AM on July 25, 2008


I don't drink alcohol because it's boring, just makes me feel unsteady, need to piss and sends me to sleep. I also don't like socialising in loud environments where people invade my space, and it's boring being around drunk people so bars/pubs are my least favorite place to be.

Don't smoke because it's incredibly unpleasant, addictive and damaging to the body.

Don't do illegal drugs because I can't be bothered to pay the prices and seek out a reputable, safe dealer. I do have a nice stash of leftover prescribed codeine, which is pretty fun when it wants to be.

Don't gamble because it's a waste of money, and my father had a problem before I was born and landed the family in a lot of debt. It's one of those things that very easily turns into something that can ruin your life.

Don't sleep around because of STDs, because I'm engaged, because it takes a lot of time to click with someone and no one does that for me like my fiance.

Most of it in fact, is because I like what I have right now (healthy body, good relationship) and I don't particularly need to meddle with the balance.
posted by saturnine at 7:18 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


You never had a really good education on Sin while as a teenager, did you? Rather than focusing on the concept of sin, you were taught a legalistic form of christian morality where the individual acts of sin were given emphasis and the concept of Sin was pushed aside. You claim to be less religious now - I would say you were never religious in the first place. A moral legalistic view of theology leads to rituals and also leads to not being able to answer the question that you asked which is: I’m confused about this behavior, if you don’t fear eternal punishment for drinking and fucking or whatever, then what motivates them to avoid activities that many people deem as pleasurable?

You are still caught up with the game of legalistic morality and it's heavily influencing your actions now to the point where you're missing the forest for the trees. Rather than look at individuals and question their motives as if they were different, look at your motives and question how you are like them. You made choices to do what you find pleasurable and to do what others do. You've made the choice to behave differently from how you were taught. You have figured out how to justify your individual choices. Now why wouldn't other individuals have that same opportunity? And why wouldn't they come to a different conclusion than you and have different experiences with what is pleasurable and what isn't? Why does YOUR experience and YOUR viewpoint explain how everyone ELSE should act? If you honestly believed that, you'd still be part of your legalistic form of Christianity. You're still trapped in a purely dualistic and selfish form of reality; once you lose that, you'll be able to understand other individuals of all backgrounds, faiths, opinions, cultures, etc...better.
posted by Stynxno at 7:21 AM on July 25, 2008 [5 favorites]


I did enough of each of those activities that they seem boring or shallow to me now, as do some of the people who (over-)indulge in them. Or in other words, I got older. But as to why your friends avoid this, better ask them. But dude, computer games give you a rush? You've got to get out more. Seriously.
posted by b33j at 7:38 AM on July 25, 2008


Speaking as someone who doesn't drink or use recreational drugs, ever.... I can tell you that it's no bug deal. I don't care for the taste of alcohol, and I don't like the feeling of being intoxicated. I also don't like how people get when they overindulge, but I'm not going to deny anyone their well-earned cold beer at the end of a day. I also don't sleep around, because the real negatives far outweigh the positives for me.

To me, it's not about motivation by fear or religious doctrine. It's pragmatic, and I get the added bonus about feeling good about what I'm doing (or not doing) because it's usually "the right thing".

I also think that quote from Aristotle works here. "I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law."
posted by Citrus at 8:07 AM on July 25, 2008


boy do I get a rush from doing from those "deviant" activities.

Freshman fall in college, the folks who partied longest and hardest were guys who had come from strict all-male boarding schools. They were used to have their activities restricted and monitored, and used to having to sneak around to do anything "fun" and having to do to it fast (e.g. chug a bottle of vodka) before getting caught, and arriving at college where there was no curfew or dorm monitors or anything like that - well, they went kind of nuts.

Those of us who were raised in less restrictive ways tended to not go overboard like that, because the dubious thrill had either worn off or not been present in the first place.
posted by rtha at 8:28 AM on July 25, 2008


Have you heard of Kohlberg's stages of moral development? One of the most significant problems with many religious denominations, in my view, is that they stunt people at the first stage: actions are judged to be right or wrong based on whether one will be punished for them. The reasons for these judgments are deemed irrelevant (or self-evident - "God says so"), and the individual is discouraged or even forbidden from thinking critically about them. So unsurprisingly, when people realize there actually won't be any punishment, they go straight for the "sinful" activities because they've been given no opportunity to determine other reasons to avoid them. They base their decisions on immediate self-interest - which is Kohlberg's second stage.

Sixcolors, there are many, many reasons why people avoid the things you mention, but I think you're perplexed because they're based on self-examination and critical thinking - personal morality, which you've been given no opportunity to develop. Now that you've no longer got the threat of hell looming over you, you're faced with the scary prospect of thinking for yourself.

Right now you're basically asking "why doesn't everyone make decisions based on what feels good?", but the concept of sacrificing immediate pleasure for long-term goals isn't particular to religion. It's just that without religion, people get to come up with those goals themselves. I second the suggestion to take a survey of philosophy course - your question is something many philosophers have tried to address. Good luck, take care, use protection, etc.
posted by granted at 12:47 PM on July 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


Have you heard of Kohlberg's stages of moral development? One of the most significant problems with many religious denominations, in my view, is that they stunt people at the first stage: actions are judged to be right or wrong based on whether one will be punished for them. The reasons for these judgments are deemed irrelevant (or self-evident - "God says so"), and the individual is discouraged or even forbidden from thinking critically about them.

Awww yes, I learned about this model in grad school also, interesting stuff. I totally agree that many religious mentalities operate at the bottom rung of moral development. I immediately thought of the practice of pentecostal Christianity when I read about stage 1.

As for myself, I think I am capable of performing up to stage 5, especially in an intellectual sense. But, I guess I usually hang around stages 2 and 3, depending on my mood and the issue.

I think this is why I preach moderation...if you drink, have sex, gamble, and even use violence (defending yourself or others) responsibly...you probably will not violate principles at those higher stages.
posted by sixcolors at 1:16 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think that by framing it as a moral issue you're kind of missing the boat. I don't know how old you are, but if I recall you're past college age and living at home and don't have a job, right? Most people get their fill of staying up late, partying, etc. out of their systems when they're younger... and then most people do those things less frequently, or not at all, because other responsibilities come into play, and because it gets old. I logged my time thinking that it was super fun to stay up all night talking and playing video games - I wouldn't dream of doing that now, but it's got nothing to do with morality - it just seems like a boring way to pass an evening, and it'd wreck the next day.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:28 PM on July 25, 2008


I'm an atheist. I don't drink because (1) it tastes like vinegar, (2) there's a drug interaction with my anti-depressant that intensifies the intoxication, and (3) bad nights sleep/dehydration.

I also have a pretty good life with my family, and I don't think alcohol contributes to my happiness. And I want to set a good example for my little boy.
posted by mynameismandab at 11:41 PM on July 25, 2008


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