The Divine Comedy: Week 11, Reason Slave to Appetite

I want to linger on a line from last week when I quoted from Canto V of the Inferno. In Canto V the sin of the Lustful is described this way:
I learned that to this place of punishment
all those who sin in lust have been condemned,
those who make reason slave to appetite...
The line I want to ponder is this: "Those who make reason slave to appetite."

That description of sin is interesting because I spend a lot of time in Stranger God describing how our emotions tend to be our problem in extending hospitality to strangers. "Appetite" tends to trump "reason." Or, as I like to tell audiences, being like Jesus isn't an intellectual problem, it's an emotional problem.

Specifically, our brain has two information processing systems. One system is fast, automatic, unconscious and emotional. The second system is slow, deliberative, conscious, and rational. As I describe in Stranger God, we all have heard the mandate of Hebrews: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels unawares." The rational part of our brain knows this. And yet, the automatic, emotional part of our brain is triggered by strangeness, so we experience anxiety around people we don't know or who are different than us.

And we don't just see this at work with strangers, in all sorts of situations our emotions interfere with what we know to be true or with what we know we should do. For example, we might know, intellectually, that we've been forgiven by God yet still be haunted, emotionally, by feelings of guilt.

All that to say, I find the description of the Lustful to be descriptive not just of lust, but of a dynamic that describes a whole host of moral and spiritual struggles.

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