Sin is the essence of play

The demons tell us that “Sin is the essence of play.” We don’t know what that means. Probably nothing. They’re both motivated by desire, but what isn’t? Sin is immorality. Play is immoral? Desire is immoral? Earthly desire is immoral! Pleasure is immoral!

We called up to the rafters to ask the demons roosting there, “What is sin?” and they called down “Sin is the essence of play.”

Since we didn’t know what that meant, we ignored it. We’ve since given it some thought.

Most of our demons say they are Protestant. They come from the old countries, same as Faust. It’s odd that demons should have religious faiths, but apparently each faith has its own. Or maybe demons belong to the one true faith, whatever that is, and they pose as the demons of false religions to capture souls. Whatever. Self-identifying-as-Protestant ones argue that pleasure is a sin, and consequently people have demons in their heads that torment them with guilt for it. In that, Protestant demons are no different from any others.

It’s reasonable to want to measure pleasure and repress excess. Pleasure is a commodity that begs to be controlled for productivity and order. Religion has done it well. It corrals people into a productive and orderly life, without explaining yet again, to over-taxed and abused and irritated peasants why they can’t… (…whatever). Explaining why pleasure is a bad thing is a hard sell at times, so simply calling it a sin against divine law gives one a good handle on it from a civil perspective.

“‘A guilt society is one in which the primary method of social control is the inculcation of feelings of guilt for behaviors that the society defines as undesirable. It involves an implicit judgment on the being (rather than just the behavior) of the individual: “You are an evil person if you would do such-and-so.” It also involves creating the expectation of punishment now (when the behavior fails to be kept secret) and/or in the hereafter.”

From Wikipedia:

Play is pleasure, and from a perfectly plausible and predictably paranoid Protestant perspective, pleasure is not productive, and worse: it is enjoyment of the Devil’s playthings and a lure into salvation/damnation. Yes, pleasure, beyond what is absolutely necessary (as in procreation), can be associated with the Devil, because the Earth is the Devil’s domain, and the pleasures of the Earth distract from what should be a person’s focus on salvation and the afterlife.

But we know that play has value, in part as simulation. Play is practice. Children play to act out roles. Play has value.

But even that has implications. Play’s value is representative of what might be: actual production, warfare or childcare. Play as simulation is falsehood. The simulation is not real (being a simulation). It produces nothing of use. Its value as a representation makes it useful, but it is a dangerous fantasy to think it is the same as the object it represents, and recalls divine laws against idolatry, against mistaking a representation of God for the divinity, and losing the divinity, ending up worshipping a rock.

It is like mistaking sport for war or tradition and ceremony for war and losing the ability to fight, or mistaking social networks for a real community, and being manipulated or otherwise losing the ability to function naturally in a natural community in a natural world (in a natural reality).

Fantasy is falsehood. Worse, it is magical thinking, and magic carries its own prohibitions and association with the devil. That’s extreme and superstitious to us perhaps, but it wouldn’t have been to Faust, and it remains an ominously relevant remnant warning to a post-Christian successor civilization against making that same mistake.

The Faust story itself is a story, rendered as a play, but intended to warn off good Christians from the lure of desire and fantasy and even idolatry.

Play is a distraction from worship. It ignores, and doesn’t want God.

But it’s ridiculous. God doesn’t want happy, healthy people? What about the children? A sin is breaking divine law. If idolatry is the sin, it requires a god-object, the idol, and what part of play involves an idol? This seems like an overreach. God isn’t served by banning play, surely.

But the danger is false gods, misdirected attention from God. If play is sinful then just about all of western civilization is sinful. Movies, books, art, money, and data are all symbols or representations of something else. The source of our pleasure and objects of desire. Matrix-like, that which is represented (reality (the world))1 is inevitably replaced by its representation (say, virtual reality) and the connection to the truth is lost and re-directed. The Gnostics suspected that over a thousand years ago, and were eliminated by Christians, in large part for just that.

The essence of play is sin. Yeesh.


  1. French philosopher Jean Baudrillard []