THREAT OF FUN

From its inception, Fellowship was "pro-pleasure." Both in its theology (my preaching) and in practice (its programs and activities), Fellowship took a positive stance in regard to fun--to "having a good time," to "feeling good," to "seeking pleasure." Traditional religious affirmation of martyrdom as a virtue, with the spin-offs of an anti-self and anti-bodily-pleasure stance, was not only unsupported, but openly contradicted. Prevalent associations between sin and pleasure ("This is so much fun, it must be sinful") were systematically avoided and directly confronted as erroneous whenever possible. I preached often about the goodness of pleasure and danger of popular associations between fun and evil.

Many of the planned activities of Fellowship were directly focused on "fun for fun's sake," that is, on doing things just because they were pleasurable. For example, canoe trips, camp outs, "Fun Night at Church," and a generally festive attitude even in the midst of our "more serious" occasions, such as, Sunday services, were common. Drama groups, craft clubs, poker parties, Ladies Nights Out, etc., were organized and sponsored "just for the fun of it." Children as well as adults were encouraged and supported in "having a good time at church" as well as away.

Annual spoofs about the church, its "weird" members and minister, were popular and indicative of the general "pro-pleasure" stance of Fellowship. None of the traditional religious gloominess, longfacedness, and "let's be serious about this" attitude ever prevailed for long. Laughter was common; jokes were accepted, and humor was familiar even in the midst of our "most serious" endeavors. I once preached a sermon on The Fun of Funerals, affirming the humorous aspects of even the most somber activities.

Traditional religious negativism about sex in all its diverse forms and manifestations was never a part of Fellowship. We were, from the beginning "fer it" rather than "ag'in it"--that is, affirming of this primal and essential aspect of humanity. Common churchly "moralistic attitudes" were never overtly present in Fellowship. Being sexual as well as emotional and reasonable were each affirmed as primary elements in humanity--which was identified as the basis of salvation. An early series of sermons on the theme, Salvation is Being Human, in which sexuality was affirmed as essential in becoming ourselves on the path to knowing God, was printed and used in classes in the church. Persons with differing sexual orientations were always accepted in Fellowship without judgments beyond our common prejudices.

The point is: an affirmation of fun--of pleasure in its many and diverse forms, quite in contrast with the traditional church stance which identifies religious with serious or anti-fun--was always a primary part of Fellowship Church. In the beginning this only seemed reasonable and logical; the older serious religious motif, the well-known anti-pleasure stance, was already seriously eroded in society beyond the church. It seemed, back then, that Fellowship was only accepting in a religious context what was already "common knowledge" outside the church. The established church seemed to be the only social agency which still identifies hedonism with evil; secular folk were openly "out to have a good time," traditional religion notwithstanding.

I thought, back then, that we were only getting on the bandwagon which had been rolling along for a long time in spite of the established church's efforts to throw it off track or paint it as "sinful." I now see more clearly a deeper and commonly unrecognized phenomenon which I have labeled elsewhere as fear of fun. Before amplifying, I note that I choose the word fun ("fear of fun") as representative of pleasure in all its aspects --from the simple fun of being tickled, to the profound ecstasy of being "beside oneself" --from the pleasure of seeing a sunset to that of having an orgasm.

I use "fear of fun" as a name for what may otherwise be seen as: fear of heaven, of ecstasy, of "letting go," of flying, of being "out of control," of relaxing (being "caught off guard," "with one's pants down or slip showing," or, of death, especially death of ego, which heaven always requires. I have written elsewhere about the FEAR OF FUN:

Fun is almost universally affirmed --consciously. Even parents who obviously elevate good behavior to virtue status are apt to tell their children, for instance, when they go out to play, "Have fun." And personally it seems that we all agree with what Freud called the Pleasure Principle--that is, a common human preference for pleasure rather than pain. We want to "have a good time." Almost nobody "wants to hurt." We work so we can go on vacation and "have fun." We save so we can retire and "do the things we always wanted to."

Or so it seems.

To broaden the issue, what we "really want," we say, is not simply to "have fun," but to "be happy." We, by common consent, "don't like feeling bad"; we "don't want to be depressed"; we "want to feel good." We want to have as much fun as we possibly can. A little fun is good; more is better. Joy would be wonderful.

We want to succeed; nobody wants to be a failure. We aspire, we think, to ecstasy, to "being beside ourselves" with pleasure. We even want to go to heaven--a place, we are told, of everlasting bliss.

Or so we say.

Certainly I have said so, and have been consciously diligent in quest of all types of fun--from small time pleasures like eating ice cream, to big time ecstasies like going to heaven. I have never consciously sought pain of even minor degrees. I literally hate shots, not to mention "feeling bad." Even when my religion seemed to frown on certain types of "worldly pleasures," and I went along through abstinence, still I was careful to separate the "wrong kinds of fun" from fun itself. Often I have preached on the virtues of pleasure. Lest I be misleading, I have never seriously used the familiar phrase, "This is so much fun, it must be sinful." I did not want to participate in the error of identifying fun with sin, even in jest.

Would that these conscious efforts were all that I have seen--or done! Alas, though, I now think that most of this massive elevation of pleasure--both the secular search for fun and the religious quest for bliss--the diligent search for happiness, wanting "to have a good time," plus the desire to "go to heaven" where happiness is supposedly forever, is but a cover-up for a dark, pervasive FEAR OF FUN.

We do, I think, both say and sincerely believe that we want to be happy, to "feel good," to "have fun," to succeed, and even to "go to heaven (sometime later!)"--if we are religiously oriented. Underneath, however, I have come to see a slightly veiled yet powerful suspicion of any pleasure past mild fun, and a deep fear of the explosive nature of all profound ecstasy in everyone, including myself, who has let me know them well. These suspicions and fears seem generally to be denied in awareness. I seldom recognize them in myself, wishing to think that my consciousness is all of me.

In retrospect, however, I can see how I have systematically avoided fun, even while pretending to myself to be looking for it. Certainly I "want to succeed," but how regularly I have sabotaged my own efforts, usually blaming my failures on others. In all my shots aimed "out there," I have most often succeeded in shooting myself in the foot!

I do not know what it means, but I am convinced that this FEAR OF FUN is far more prevalent than we usually admit. I suspect that its roots may lie in the suppression of sexuality which has seemed so necessary for structuring stable societies. Two powerful forces meet when instinctive sexuality is confronted with social requirements. Both are immensely relevant; yet we have seldom melded them without one or the other suffering greatly.

At this present time the powers of society are shakily yet persistently dominating the older reproductive forces of nature. For all the "sexual enlightenment" of this age, the powerful and pervasive forces of human sexuality remain severely suppressed at best; most often, and often most disastrously, they are also deeply repressed--that is, totally denied access into consciousness.

The relevance of this observation here lies in the inherent pleasure which evolution has managed to ingrain in all that is essential to its continuation. The genius of genes is that they have somehow succeeded in adding fun to everything that works to their own best interests. Whatever is good for survival has also been coded to "feel good." All the way from sights to sounds and tastes, from eating to resting, that which keeps us alive also tends to look, sound, taste, and feel good.

And that which is most essential in genetic perpetuation has naturally evolved to be the most pleasurable. A good sight, such as colorful Fall leaves, is nice; a good sound is "music to our ears;" good water tastes good. A good meal is a delight, and a night's rest "is most relaxing." But when we attempt to measure pleasure, orgasm, pragmatic in genetic reproduction, tops the charts.

The problem emerges when these powerful pleasures, in all their diverse and graded forms, must be integrated into society -- which requires only a relatively minor degree of reproduction to maintain itself quite well, and which gets along best when sex is mostly kept under wraps. To cut a long story short, society--through parents, religion, education, legal structures, and its other institutions, has found suppression to be a most functional way to curtail the forces of individual sexuality where they threaten social stability.

And we, as members of just such a society, all seem to have learned quite well how to deny the powerful forces of our own sexuality. The problem is: even so, sex still "feels good." Our genes do not unlearn as easily as our minds. This easy, ever-present source of pleasure remains continually at hand.

Which leads me back to the issue of the FEAR OF FUN. I suspect that our common, reasonable, suppression of sexuality is at the heart of the generalized fear of pleasure of all sorts. By curtailing fun, we succeed in keeping the sleeping giant of sexuality at least partially it its cave.

Whatever its source, I think that this commonly denied FEAR OF FUN, cloaked in obsessive efforts to find pleasure "out there," even in heaven after death, is far more real than I ever thought. The great American assumption of the "right to happiness" and its perpetual pursuit is, I think, but one more cover for our deep resistance against pleasure itself, here called the FEAR OF FUN.

Though commonly unrecognized, I think it must be a universal fear in society--where we all live--because social acceptance, which is primally important for self-survival, thrives best and is most easily achieved by self-control, even denial and negation, in favor of "good behavior." Even though the desire for individual salvation, personal happiness, is also, I believe, an innate instinct, we all learn early the extreme importance of "what they think" (as a clue to our social acceptance), and few of us ever stray far from its power, even when caught in the throes of rebellion against it, especially along the road to heaven here--that is, toward "being ourselves" when or where there is any risk of rejection by those deemed critical to our social well-being (for instance, "loved ones").

This fear is especially evident to me in regard to our two most primal instincts, the most powerful and ingrained forces of our first 44 and last 2 chromosomes--namely, those for self-survival ("selfishness") and self-reproduction ("sexiness"). Our pervasive fear of being ourselves is revealed in the threat of compliments, self-affirmation, "attention" of all sorts, having our pictures taken without posing, and any other situations where we are "put on the spot" or revealed as being "outstanding" or "different" in any significant way.

Even when we consciously seek compliments, "attention" and public affirmation, few seem capable of tolerating such stimuli without "putting down on ourselves" at the same time, let alone of luxuriating or basking in the limelight of recognition by others. Our deeper unconscious fears of "selfishness," of standing out as "different," seem to speedily undercut any outward success in truly affirming our unique selves.

Fears in regard to the activation of the last 2 chromosomes, X and Y--those for sexuality, are even more evident in society. In spite of our apparent "preoccupation with sex" (as evidenced in its driving power as the most successful basis of advertising--sex will even sell soap), the threat of the pleasure of "being turned on" in public, of "being caught" with any overt personal interest in sex, let alone any degree of erectile tissue engorged while with other than lovers, is easily recognized. Fears related to orgasm, the most ego-transcending of all our animal capacities (appropriately called "climax" or "ecstasy"), are, I think, but one more manifestation of our shared fear of fun.

When Lady Chatterly cries in the arms of her lover at the fateful instant, "I die, I die...," she but voices, I think, our common fear of ego-death which is regularly required for orgasm. In less dramatic terms, I believe that this same fear, on even deeper levels, is evidenced in resistance to therapy and to any real prospect of entering heaven in the here and now.

In summary, the threat of fun--dimly perceived in its minor degrees (such as, delight in seeing colors), but more clearly recognized in sexual experience--may be seen as the fear of "letting go," of "losing control," of "relaxing for a second," of "flying," of "losing myself," and finally, of death itself.

Unwittingly, even naively, Fellowship, with its logo and emphasis on fullness of life in the here and now, evoked, I believe, these near universal, diverse though denied, fears of fun in its manifold manifestations. One of the unrecognized causes of Fellowship's failure was, I now think, the commonly unrecognized threat inherent in all pleasure.

(From: Why Fellowship Failed)

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