The dark ideology of self-help

Religious asceticism and self-punishment

Early morning wake-up, cold showers, fasting, abstention from alcohol, pornography and other dopamine triggering stimuli. This isn’t a religious rule book, it’s the latest self-help mantra from neuroscience gurus like Andrew Huberman and followed by celebrities like Joe Rogan. But the similarities between the two types of ascetic practice should worry us, writes Alexis Papazoglou.

If you haven’t tried out intermittent fasting, you probably know someone who has. The 16/8 approach (fast for 16 hours, eat for 8) has gained significant popularity as an approach to weight loss, burning fat, focus improvement, and all-round health hack. Even I’m giving it a shot at the moment, despite my reservations about the ideology animating it.

The origins of fasting practices can be found in religion. Most religions include some form of fasting, with Buddhism and Islam being ones that explicitly include intermittent fasting – the restriction of eat

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Keith Ngwa 12 September 2023

There's so many errors and fallacies in his article. First of all he assumes that most Religions think exactly like Christianity (or at least how Westerners practice Christianity) and that most are anti-physical and anti-pleasure which isn't true at all, even for most Religions that feature asceticism. He projects Modern Western Christian attitudes onto all World Religions ignorantly. Most religions around the world (including Judaism and Islam) are not anti-pleasure at all, nor do they necessarily demonize all things physical. Even Traditional Christianity itself doesn't actually teach that the physical world is essentially evil for if it was Jesus would have never choose to come in the flesh.

Second, there is no actual universal psychological motivation for ascetic practices other than health concerns. Most Religions that feature ascetic practices do not believe that the human body is inherently sinful, that the world is "fallen" nor anything of the sort at all, and most do not demonize human nature either. Most that practice it are simply aiming to improve their physical and mental health.

Third, there is no real evidence that ascetic practices causes anxiety, depression, misery, etc to begin with, so there is no actual "danger" with asceticism in this regard. And the author seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that anxiety, depression and unhappiness in general are largely genetic and not actually a product of life choices or environmental factors for the most part. Nature doesn't actually care if any organisms are happy or not since it is largely irrelevant to survival.

Fourth, The vast majority of cultures and religions throughout all of human history did not consider happiness to be the point of life because they all saw happiness for what it actually is: just another temporary emotion that comes and goes like all of the orders. Most cultures didn't see happiness as being all that important to life but rather as just another luxury of existence. There's no actual psychological evidence that being happy the primary drive behind all nor even most human behavior either. Even Nietzsche himself rejected the Pursuit of Happiness (as well as Hedonism in general, especially Utilitarianism) as decadent and a symptom of nihilism and directionlessness.

Most people pursue self-improvement not for any sort of ascetic reasons, but for the sake of their own self-interests