In an overly sexualized world, anything to do with pleasure is now automatically linked with sex, and so hedonism, with its emphasis on personal pleasure, has become distorted. Let me clear something up. Hedonism is a philosophy that argues that pleasure and/or happiness is the highest good. Personally, though I may have oversimplified it, I think that sounds like a damn fine philosophy. In fact, how is the pursuit of happiness such a bad or sultry thing anyway? Has Christianity warped our minds so badly that we can’t accept pleasure for its own sake? Would we rather have asceticism, the charlatanical joke of a philosophy that argues, nay, demands extreme self-denial?
That aside, the common misconception about hedonism is that it’s always in excess, or is simply there to rationalize excess. That is false. It is also a misconception that it is solely a selfish philosophy. Hedonism is simply the philosophy of pursuing pleasure and happiness. Therefore, hedonism is perfectly compatible with the idea of making others happy, for everything we do is done ultimately for our own benefit.
The big misconception about hedonism is that it is only concerned with sex. Of course, due to the Hollywood image of Ancient Roman orgies, that perception tends to stay with a lot of people when they talk about hedonism. The reality is that hedonism is in favour of all pleasures, and virtually anything can be a pleasure worth pursuing. You could be a hedonist who takes a particular fancy to chocolate, or bull riding, or observing the colour patterns of various butterflies. Hedonism is more than sex. If it weren’t, there’d be no such thing as Christian hedonism, a doctrine where the primary goal is to “glorify God and enjoy him” (which misses the point of actual hedonism entirely, so the name “Christian hedonism” is a joke).
I think that the common image of hedonism comes from centuries of Christian brainwashing. According to them, our natural drives are sinful, sex is evil, and the body is something to be ashamed of. Hedonism sounds threatening to the church because hedonists are content with themselves through their pursuit of earthly happiness, as opposed to the lie of a blissful afterlife. Naturally, the Christian church does whatever it can to make sure people avoid the path of self-contentment, using the same old brainwashing tactics as they always have. As long as that social programming stays, people will continue to misinterpret hedonism as a philosophy focused only on sex, and the “sin” of lust.
For me, this mentality is just another part of the continued demonization of sex and the body. We are never going to progress from the Dark Ages if we continue to see sex as evil and the body as a source of shame. Besides, if we continue to press the notion that sex is evil, all we’re doing is making ourselves lust after it in more depraved ways until we cannot control our excesses. We’re doing far more harm to ourselves than a hedonist even dream of doing to others. I think that people would like hedonism far more if they knew what it actually was, and when that happens, perhaps they will see exactly what the false idol that is society has denied them.