Saturday, July 2, 2016
Worshiping Rhea: How Our Quest for Ease Will be Our Undoing
I grew up with the saying being said over and over again, "Nothing in life worth having comes easy." This didn't mean we were to work until we dropped, but that nothing was ever going to be gained by being a spectator in life. Ease and comfort could be a good bi-product of hard work, but were to never to be the goal in and of itself. The nanosecond hard work is frowned upon, a fixation with the trivial with arise in its place. In that fixation, we become ripe for destruction.
We can see this is society. Comfort and ease are gods. Manufacturers, for decades, have strove to make our lives easier and convenient. It is not a bad intent. However, to make things easier means that things are not made as well and are largely disposable. I think back to when I was boy: milk and soda came in reusable glass bottles. Clothes were line dried. Very few places had AC. We used the car when things were not in walking distance (anything over 3 or 4 miles), otherwise we walked or rode our bikes. Plastic bags were rare, paper bags , which could be used for a multitude of other things and were re-used for shopping again, were the norm. With all that, less garbage was generated, less energy used, and less chemicals consumed. Many had vegetable gardens and knew how to grow, can, and preserve their own food. We were in better shape. Obesity was rare. We knew our neighbors and neighborhoods. I'm not saying there were not problems. There were. But now out waste dumps teem with mountains of garbage, we are at the mercy of the food distribution apparatus in our country, we are isolated behind our front doors and our e-life. All because ease and convenience became the touchstone of American life.
Ease isn't enough. The more we worship ease the more it permeates into our lives. Notice how everything has to be free? We want everything free! We want our education, food, housing, clothing, healthcare, and every other single aspect of life for free. In our country, we have that apparatus in place, Politicians promise more and more every election cycle. Over the last several decades it has been like a slow drip IV of cancer introduced into the American psyche. It is never enough. The worship of ease will be our undoing as a country. As it did for the patrician classes and their empires in centuries past, so it will do for us as well: it will lead to our destruction.
Why? Because the whole enterprise of ease and comfort as an end comes from the deadly sins of pride, sloth, and later greed and gluttony. Pride, because the whole enterprise has a large degree of selfishness necessary to become so self-consumed that it is everyone else's job to sate me. The focus is personal comfort. In this, the person must first focus on the self. Sloth, because in our pride we believe that effort is not necessary, the natural child of sloth is entitlement. It is the warping of love: in the theological virtue of love we make the other the focus of our effort, in sloth we make ourselves the focus of other people'e effort. This toxic combination lead to the birth of an insatiable greed and gluttony. I am owed!!!! I didn't develop job skills worth anything. I didn't take education seriously. But, by the damned, I want to be paid for whatever measly labor I wish to give as if I did these things. It leads the presupposition that those who have, have because they stole it from me. Hence envy is brought into our lives. It becomes the monster that devastates not just society, but every institution within that society.
Look at what it has done to our families. It destroys marriage. If I come into a marriage believing that the job of my spouse is to make me happy, I have stabbed the heart of the marriage from the beginning. When both spouses believe this, it is the death knell of their union. In families, it seeps into a belief that the role of the children is to make mom and dad proud; to make it easy for them to provide. What happens in a marathon of activities in which the child is rushed from one thing to another. As children want to please parents they play along. It isn't to the good of the child though. The toxic stew fed them becomes the toxic stew they feed their children. The children, in turn, believe that mom and dad are little more than taxi driver and butlers whose job it is to cater to their every desire.
Nowhere, though, has the worship of comfort and ease been so devastating as to our faith and spirituality. Before I go much further, I wish to say that the answer is not going to be Pelangianism, a early heresy that taught we could essentially earn our way into heaven by a tough regimen of prayer, mortifications, and works. This was condemned very early on in Christianity. The heresy arose in the belief that God's grace was unnecessary. God's grace is very necessary, but to the person who worships comfort and ease, God's grace will be vilified or redefined so as to slip into the great modern heresy of universalism, a heresy by which everyone effortlessly makes it to heaven...a heaven which is defined by its perpetual self-indulgence...where God is little more than a supernatural butler who lives to please me. The more one worships ease and comfort, the more one will resent the very concept of God. It is no wonder that as our society grows in its worship of ease and comfort, the more it grows into a deep antipathy to God...especially the Judeo-Christian God. The more ease and comfort become gods, the faster our houses of worship will empty out.
This is a tacit awareness though of truth. Truth is that concupiscence (the desire to sin) makes life difficult. It is concupiscence that drives us to seek ease and comfort as an end. Concupiscence leads us to cultivate vice. Vice is all about ease and comfort. Why learn to love when one can more easily lust? Why learn generosity when it is much easier to be greedy? The list goes on. Our Christian faith is not easy because it means answering God's grace and using it to cultivate virtue. Virtue looks to put concupiscence in its place and so order the goods of sexuality, nourishment, ease in their proper perspective. Virtue, though, is about restraining the passions. That is not easy. Christianity demands we look beyond ourselves and learn to love others. In this we seek not to be the object of comfort, but be the means of comfort to others. We do not seek for others to make my life easier, but for me to make other people's lives easier. Relationships no longer become what can you do for me, but what can I do for you.
This includes the relationship with God Himself. Modern faith has been largely defined by a wish for a convenient God. We want God to be the bellhop who shows up when summoned. We want the God that we can find anywhere convenient to our lifestyles. Prefer fishing and hunting to church? No problem! We'll just say we find God in nature and then make a snarky comment about Church to assuage our guilt about being spiritually slothful. Prefer partying and living it up to Church? No problem! We'll just say God (if there is God) loves me just as I am and then making a snarky comment about church goers to mask any twinge of guilt I feel about knowingly rejecting God. This by no means is to reduce the entirety of faith to going to Church; in fact we do what we do in Church (especially as Catholics) is necessary because of how we are to act for the rest of the week. The relationship with God cannot be reduced to an hour a week...however that hour a week is as necessary to the development of the relationship with God as eating is to the development of our bodies. We cannot cultivate the Godly by ignoring the God who is its source. If Mass is such an imposition to the person, then ease and comfort have completed their stranglehold on the person's soul!
Our faith is an answer to God. Our lack of faith is an answer to God. The answer we make to God determines our eternal fate. Those who presume heaven to be a right will most certainly find hell their fate. Those who worship ease and comfort will be denied it for eternity. Those who were willing to allow the grace of God and their actions to cultivate virtue and relationship with God will find the eternal comfort of heaven. Ironic isn't it?
In the physical realm, if we want good health and strength, it will come through discipline. We will have to exercise and eat correctly. If we fail to do so, believing that sitting on our rear ends and playing video games, watching TV, and eat bad food and believing we will be physically fine will not shield us from bad health. In the mental realm, if we want to be smarter, that means study and the consumption of intellectual stimuli that will stretch our intelligence. Again, it is a discipline. If we believe merely watching TV and reading junk fiction (like books about glittering vampires as an example) we will grow wiser, then we will find it unable to stem our ignorance on the things that matter. Remember, tyranny counts on ignorance. So to in the spiritual realm. Discipline is necessary. If we truly want heaven, then what we cultivate here and now, vice or virtue, will determine that fate. God tells us what He wants; for us to love, have faith, build relationship, be holy. He gave us the Scriptures and the Church so we could know. It is not as if we have to wonder. Of course if we cut ourselves off from the Church or reduce the learning of our faith to a relative few years when we are young (unless something more important came up...like leisure activities), then we will not only have to wonder, but will be ripe to be destroyed. Submission of our wills to God's is hard work, but He gives us His grace to do it. God will neither do everything for us as we sit back nor will He demand we do it on our own.
If we are to ever recapture greatness, it will be by cultivating virtue. Vice cultivates isolation. Virtue cultivates relationship. Vice turns inward. Virtue turns outward. Ease and comfort can not be ends in and of themselves. No, they are the natural byproduct of virtue, as is self-esteem. So, to my reader, get off your rear end and do the hard work of cultivating virtue, in the mental, physical, and spiritual realms. The camp I run is all about cultivating virtue. Pope Benedict XVI once said, "The world offers you comfort. You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!" Greatness is never achieved by those who worship ease and comfort.