Brueghel’s depiction of lechery, or lust, understandably, is all about excess. At the heart of the woodcut, a naked Dame Lechery sits on the lap of some monster, the two of them doing some frisky groping. Just above them stands a rooster, the Flemish animal symbol of insatiable sexual appetite.
Atop the strange, antlered teepee is what appears to be a clam holding a pearl that somehow contains a pair of lovers. Your guess is as good as mine, but some experts believe the pearl is really a soap bubble, Brueghel suggesting that this couple's naked dalliance will burst momentarily.
Bizarre fleshiness litters the landscape. What on earth can be said about the monster whose face is his nether region? Very strange. A pair of dogs coupling over by the fence are about to get whacked by some other monster. In the bottom right hand corner, a male is about to unman himself with huge knife, offering the viewer the central truth of the whole presentation, according to some: lechery ultimately unmans us, makes us less than human, less than what we are or can be.
In a way, maybe, the whole thing is 16th century porn, our interests piqued by equal ly disturbing urges of repulsion and fascination--and a shot of high-road righteousness. We don’t want to look but we can’t help it.
I’m not sure why, but, of the seven deadlies, lechery or lust sometimes seems the most beloved, yet beguiling domain of American Protestants, like Hawthorne's Arthur Dimmesdale, a man whose preaching, oddly enough, improved post-liason with sweet Hester. In the last few years, how many high-and-mighty haven’t fallen? TV preachers and family-value politicos seem most readily victimized by their own wanderlust. But they're not alone.
Years ago, when my parents retired to winter in a trailer park in Florida, where most of whose residents were also Dutch Reformed, I couldn’t believe the ribald jokes they’d repeat, one after another, below-the-belt humor shockingly uncharacteristic of my parents, who wouldn’t have tolerated such earthiness a few decades before.
For me back then, a young father, sexuality wasn’t something to laugh much about. It was deadly serious business. Marriages explode for one of two reasons, I’m told—sex or money. At thirty, at least for males—and for me—bawdiness may well have been laughable, but real human sexuality wasn’t much of a joke.
Some feminist manifesto a decade ago was titled Our Bodies, Ourselves, or something like that, suggesting that one’s femaleness, one’s very identity, is a there in female body itself. In a vague, male way, I think I understand the notion. But today, at sixty+, I think all of us seniors have become female because our bodies have already begun define us--cholesterol levels, blood pressure, our latest EKGs.
Today I understand more fully how potty humor and flaccid appendages could so easily tickle out belly laughs from a silver-haired crowd of snow bird church goers in white, patent-leather shoes. Sex wasn’t exactly left behind, but those beastly urges—see Brueghel—are more comfortably behind us. At least, the pressure's off.
Enough. Sex is still hard to talk about for this Protestant. John Updike never had that problem apparently, Protestant though he was. Or maybe he did. Maybe his excesses in portraying open sexuality were manifestations of a libido that he thought he could control, ironically, only by letting it go.
Anyway, the Kansas State researchers compiled the number of sexually transmitted diseases — HIV, AIDS, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea — reported per capita in the country’s counties to determine sin--lechery--in these United States. I'm sure there are other ways.
What they found is almost comical: by their calculations, lechery is higher in the rural south than in San Francisco--and even Las Vegas. Once again, out here in the rural Midwest, things are lookin' pretty darn righteous. Oddly enough, it's the Bible belt that seems in no position to throw stones; but then no one should. According to Jesus, throwing stones isn't anyone's job.
Enough. I'm off to a cold shower. That's a joke.