The Touch/Pleasure/Religion Connection
Published in Kindred issue 28 as part of a larger feature, Raising Drug Free Kids. See also From Harry Potter to Pot, Know Your Drugs, Raising Drug Free Kids, a book review
Questions must be raised about why there is such a large consumer market for alcohol and drugs. What basic needs are being met by the use of these substances, and how can we meet those needs as a society, in order to change the trends?
Readers of Kindred are well aware of the important neurobiological needs of infants and children—to be carried, touched, breastfed, slept-with, and emotionally nurtured in order to establish strong bonds that enable them to feel loved, content, and safe. In short, developing brains are positively altered through movement, pleasurable touch, familiar scents, and continual contact. Such practices translate into important developmental advantages: improved relationships and social skills, keen self-management skills and healthy interdependence—a well-functioning nervous system and overall psychological strength and wellbeing.
Without this foundation of bonding, mostly absent in modern life and ‘parenting in the fast lane’, children grow up exhibiting a plethora of stress signals that indicate such connections have not been made: depression, attentional issues, aggression, suicide, failure to participate in relationships, and substance abuse.
The dissolution of family life and community, and the resultant ‘outsourcing’ of parenting, interferes with this fragile and critical process of connection, which occurs in the small developmental window of the first three years of life.
Ironically, a similar developmental window opens during adolescence. The amygdala—the emotional regulator—is very much influenced during this period. However, the adolescent brain is still conditioned by the sense of connection/bonding that was (or was not) hardwired into it during the baby and toddler years. In the absence of that sense of connection, we will seek a substitute. One very powerful substitute is found in drugs, which mimic the ‘feel good’ hormones in the brain, and alcohol, which suppresses pain.
As before, in the early years, when this adolescent developmental window opens, so does the need for nurturing touch. This time, the touch need not come from parents or caregivers, but from contemporaries. However, culture again interferes with this biological imperative for neuro-connecting touch by either forbidding it at all, or by distorting it into superficial and violent sexual imagery.
Unfortunately our society and culture are based on non-life-affirming religious and philosophical worldviews and values. Our moral philosophy says that pleasure and the body are evil and the spirit or soul is good. Religion often pits people against their own bodies and natural sexual and affectional inclinations. The body, women, and pleasure have been equated with evil and wickedness starting with Plato and Pythagoras, as well as the Old Testament and, most, if not all, monotheistic religious traditions.
‘When the experience of physical pleasure is [considered] morally sinful, this impacts on the ability of adults to rear their children in environments of pleasure and affection, as opposed to pain and suffering,’ says James Prescott, PhD. ‘The repression of pleasure sets up the reservoir of rage; and the belief system or values create the target. Both work together, and it is this bi-directional system, which has to be changed.’
The abuse of drugs by adolescents in a society is likely inversely proportional to the degree of healthy touch-inhibition imposed on them by their society.
A way forward: build communities to support parents
According to Prescott, the four primary life changes that are required to transform the individual and culture from one of authoritarianism, violence, and addiction, to one of egalitarian and peaceful relationships are:
- Society must support mothers to be nurturing, which includes breastfeeding for two years or longer.
- Society must support mothers (and fathers) in being nurturing parents by supporting the continuous carrying of the infant on their bodies throughout the day during the first year.
- All forms of intentional infliction of physical or emotional pain and punishment must be eliminated; for many infants, this begins with circumcision.
- Society must support the emerging sexuality of children and youth, and support them in the natural expression of their inherent sexuality that is free from exploitation and punishment.
Centre for Attachment, www.centreforattachment.com, ‘Why Attachment?’
Porter, Lauren Lindsey, The Science of Attachment: The Biological Roots of Love, Mothering magazine, Issue 119, July/August 2003
Prescott, James W., The Origins of Love & Violence: An Overview, www.touchthefuture.org 28 March 2002
Prescott, James W., Failure of Pleasure as a Cause of Drug/Alcohol Abuse & Addictions, The Truth Seeker, September/October 1989
Published in Kindred, Issue 27
St.Paul said: “circumcision does not matter in Christ” – the invitation for all Jews to become Christians because to be a Christian does not require circumcision, hurray!
The Virgin Mary – I cannot think of a more potent symbol of mother-child bond. And look how “physical” it is: in 99.9% of Russian icons (and Russians were always very keen on depicting the Virgin Mary, the number of icons with her is formidable) the Virgin Mary is depicted with the Child Jesus.
I totally disagree with the point that Christianity is against the body. It is not against the body (the evidence is numerous: the bodily Resurrection, the Eucharist, the Holy Tradition…). The Greeks (Plato) were against the body but Christianity is not.