Freud & Faith: Part 2, Pants

Imagine yourself as an alien visitor doing an inventory of the creatures of earth. I line up three beings--a dog, a duck and a human--for your inspection. What, do you expect, would be the first thing that would jump out and grab the attention of an alien comparing these three animals?

Answer: One of them is wearing pants.

Clothing is so ubiquitous we often fail to notice how odd this behavior is, ethologically speaking. True, clothing norms have varied widely across space and time. Many tribes and cultures have gone virtually naked. But even so, most of these tribes haven't gone totally naked. Generally speaking, humans like to wear pants.

Why? Well, the Bible tells us. Clothing is, interestingly, the very first behavioral symptom of the Fall of Humankind. It's not murder. That comes later. No, the first symptom of the Fall is putting on some pants:

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Let's note three interesting things about the Dawn of Pants. Specifically, these three events are intimately connected:

1. The Knowledge of Good and Evil
2. The Onset of Shame
3. The Dawn of Pants

What is the meaning of these connections? Well, as noted above, let's take the onset of clothing as the beginning of the separation between Man and Animal. Clothing is the beginning of civilization. To this day we consider nakedness to be a regression to an animal-like existence.

If so, then the rise of civilization was intimately related to the onset of our moral sense, the "knowledge of good and evil." And morality creates shame. And shame leads to pants.

What does all this have to do with Freud?

Well, if Freud was anything he was the great expositor of the neurosis of modern man. Specifically, Freud's claim was that Man is, at root, a neurotic animal. And he didn't mean this in a bad way. Neurosis is the salvation of Man. Neurosis is what makes us human. Neurosis is what creates society and community. Neurosis is what creates civilization. Neurosis creates Man.

Animals don't wear pants (this blog is genius, isn't it?). Why? Animals are not neurotic. I've never seen my dog worry about having a bad hair day, pooping in public, or worrying about if God forgives him. In the language of the Bible, dogs don't feel shame. At least not neurotic shame.

This is simply another way of saying that dogs lack morality. The difference between animals and humans is that humans have internalized a "knowledge of good and evil," the imperatives of oughts, should's, and have-to's. The world of Ten Commandments, expectations, norms, values and mores. The notions of heaven and hell, the saved and the damned.

It is true that this internalized moral code can be a burden. Freud knew this. But it is a burden that must be carried. We can't live without shame and guilt. To lose our neurotic anxiety--"What will people think of me?"--is to let go of being human. To revert back to an amoral animal existence. To stop wearing pants.

I know we might envy our pets and their moral oblivion. Dogs don't commit suicide or worry about hell. But we couldn't live as they do. We don't want people having sex in public or urinating in the streets. We want and need some things to take place behind closed doors. We need to say to each other: "For the love of God, put some pants on!"

But, again, it is a double-edged sword. Shame, guilt, feeling a failure. Feeling damned. Those are feelings that poison the mind.

So human existence is about walking this razor edge. Between being too moral or not moral enough. Between guilt and sociopathy.

The best way forward seems to be the advice of Qoheleh, the writer of Ecclesiastes
Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise; why should you destroy yourself? Do not be too wicked, and do not be a fool; why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of the one, without letting go of the other.
Do not be too righteous. Do not be too wicked. Walk the neurotic edge.

And for the love of God, put some pants on.

Next Post: Id

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8 thoughts on “Freud & Faith: Part 2, Pants”

  1. Richard and the group

    Sometimes it hurts when you laugh too much
    But who’s for putting pants on that fabulous pooch

  2. No neurotic animals? Yeah, well, Freud never experienced my late mother-in-law's teacup poodle, Babette, which--sigh--we inherited.

    Ooooweeee! Neu---ro---tic!!! Just like those Frenchies.

    And she wears, not pants, but dresses and, uhh, POODLE skirts. My wife provides a variety of stylish dresses for poochie. The poodle even has a tank top. My wife (who does not have big hair and drive a Cadillac convertible) is ordinarily very sensible and on high alert for manipulation even weatherizes the dog with either a peacoat, parka or a (such a cute yellow) raincoat with hat. Even a Ms. Santa outfit and an Eastern bonnet. If not dressed, Babette becomes depressed. Her eyes are so sad. She won't eat out of her bowl. She also whines for bananas and is apparently anti-semitic--pooping only in my Jewish neighbor's yard. Oy weh!

    In our little Garden of Eden, Babette is the modern-day version of the talking snake all dressed up.


  3. "Why? Well, the Bible tells us. Clothing is, interestingly, the very first behavioral symptom of the Fall of Humankind. It's not murder. That comes later. No, the first symptom of the Fall is putting on some pants:"

    1. Hypothetically, if Adam and Eve
    never ate of that tree (hence
    "never sinned") they would
    have continued a blissful
    existence in nakedness.

    2. Then apparently in God's
    original design, nakedness
    was not an issue (if it
    wasn't His intended
    optimal design in the first

    3. Somehow it's the "awareness"
    of nakedness after attaining
    the "knowledge of good and
    evil" that invoked this
    self-conscious need for pants.
    In other words, is it possible
    that the hangup of
    nakedness is strictly our
    problem and not God's?

    4. As an American Judeo/Christian
    based society, we seem to
    maintain a disproportionate
    aversive reaction to
    nakedness vs. violence /
    homicide. The criminal/legal
    justice system and movie /
    entertainment rating systems
    illustrate that.

    5. I ask myself rhetorically
    how I would prioritize
    censorship between
    cussing, violence, and
    nudity (if such things
    can be ranked) concerning my

    Is a scene of a nude beach
    just as repulsive as a scene
    in the Texas Chainsaw
    Massacre or a Richard Pryor

    Thanks for yet another interesting

    Gary Y.

  4. I think you're mistaken about an "internalized" sense of right and wrong. I think this is solely a product of indoctrination. It's a childhood filled with watching and emulating your parents, and being grabbed and swatted on the butt while reaching for a hot stove. Right and wrong are just ciphers for "I think this is tasty/safe/sexy/beneficial for me" vs. the opposite.

    Here's a funny juxtaposition.

    From the Gospel of Thomas -

    (37) His disciples said, "When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?"
    Jesus said, "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid"

  5. A couple of things...

    ~I love how you capitalized Fall of Humankind. Any reason why?
    ~Gotta love Qoheleth! He is chalk full of wise-guy stuff to say.
    ~I noticed you used a lot of patriarchal language...was that intentional or subconscious?
    ~Ok a real question: Moral neurosis has to come from somewhere. Not all peoples of the earth have the same moral neurosis. In fact, a lot of cultures that haven't interacted with western civiliation (read: Christianity) don't have a great many of the moral hangups that we do. Does Freud address that? What do you think?

    p.s. great ending.

  6. You seem to use the words shame and guilt almost as synonyms. In fact, some sociologists distinguish between shame cultures and guilt cultures. There was an excellent examination of this a few months ago on BBC Radio 4's programme "In Our Time". It's quite likely still available to listen to on the programme's website.


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