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Thoughts on religion, politics, life and death. And other banned topics.
The New York Times had an article today about fears today’s children have about eating ‘bad’ food. It seems that parents’ concerns about eating healthy are making their children food-obsessed and fearful. Kids are worrying about eating too much sodium and refined sugar, too many trans fats and carbohydrates. Nutritionists tell us that what kids (and most of the rest of us) need is variety and balance. Rather than avoiding particular nutrients—and let’s face it, sodium, sugar, fat, and carbs are all essential nutrients—we just need to eat a good, balanced variety. Our kids are learning that some foods are ‘good’ and some ‘bad,’ but the truth is that all food is good in appropriate amounts. The health risks from not eating or from eating obsessively are much greater than from just eating what you like.
Jesus declared all foods clean. So when it comes to the pleasures of eating, we have complete freedom. No one has to stick to a diet of carrots and fish sticks or liver and broccoli. Christians can eat pork, calamari, mushrooms, and McDonald’s cheeseburgers without fear of displeasing God—as long as they give him thanks. It seems odd that an area so full of freedom biblically should be so full of strictures and rules culturally.
It’s equally odd that in another area biblically restricted, there is so much cultural freedom. Of course, I mean sex. We worry endlessly about the health effects of what we eat but pretend that the health risks of sexual adventuring are worth taking. If everyone suddenly began to live with the kind of sexual purity recommended in the New Testament, sexually transmitted disease would disappear in two generations. The benefits of sexual purity are obvious and would be immediate. Yet hardly anyone touts them or tries to make a public health case for encouraging sexual purity. Instead, we focus on passing laws to ban trans fats in restaurants. Our efforts to protect against the well-known risks of sexual adventuring are relatively feeble. We encourage condom use and advise people to get regular check-ups. We spend millions to find cures for diseases whose root cause is well-known and preventable. All it takes is a little change in behavior. Yet for some reason it is easier to become a vegetarian than a celibate, and though we treat vegans with bewildered awe, we think there must be something wrong with someone who is voluntarily celibate.
My 11th-grade daughter will be reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende this year. I decided to read it for myself, in part because she told me there was a lot of sex in it. I wasn’t sure a book with “a lot of sex” was appropriate for 11th-grade girls. I’m still not sure.
Nevertheless, The House of the Spirits is a spectacular achievement, a book epic in its scope, full of tragic romance, love, and magic. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I highly recommend it. Sometimes it seems to be about the 1973 coup in Chile that led to the death of President Allende and government by a military junta. But it is really about the women of the Trueba family. Allende herself said of her fictional family that she needed no imagination to tell the story of the Truebas. Her own grandmother was clairvoyant; her grandfather was the model for Esteban Trueba. Indeed, the book feels too true to be merely fiction, which is the mark of the best fiction.
Now, I know my daughter will not suffer any harm from reading The House of the Spirits. She’s a sensible girl with a strong and independent sense of self. I don’t worry about her being influenced by it. But I don’t think she will like it much. I expect she will find the casual immorality, spiritism, and political oppression equally offensive. I’m not sure she will like the main characters much: Clara, Blanca, Alba. She’s a good student, so she will dutifully read it. Will it awaken in her a taste for great modern literature? I don’t honestly know. She has already read nearly all the Jane Austen novels and Jane Eyre, none of which have been required for class. She even read Gone With The Wind, even though she hated Scarlett O’Hara. I think she read it only because I bought it for her.