The Accommodation Of Hedonism


From what I read, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who passed away from cancer a few years ago, would not have shied away from the label hedonist. After all, Wikipedia notes that he referred to himself as an Epicurean.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hedonism as “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”

Not many people would quibble with the idea that it’s right and proper for a sane person to go about finding satisfaction of desires. I mean, are we supposed to look for unhappiness instead? Are we supposed to search out opportunities for slavery or deprivation?

Actually the fact that so few Americans would find fault with a life lived in pursuit of pleasure clarifies the guiding philosophy of our day. We are, quite frankly, hedonists.

I shudder at the thought because I remember studying hedonism in school in connection to ancient Rome where toga-wearing Caesars were fed grapes by scantily-clad slaves, where they would gorge themselves then throw up so they could continue “enjoying” the feast, where orgies were routine. Drunkenness and debauchery seem the most appropriate words to describe what I thought of in conjunction with hedonism.

And now, hedonism is us.

Little did I realize back in those school days that in my lifetime young girls would binge and purge, that drunkenness and debauchery would describe a lot of college life, that “threesomes” would become a TV joke, that “dating” would be replaced by one-night stands and marriage by “relationships.”

As if all this isn’t bad enough, I look at the Church, and I see many professing Christians accommodating hedonism. Some do so in an unapologetic, aggressive way, saying that God has promised His children good gifts so we ought to be holding Him to His word by naming and claiming what we want.

Others are more circumspect, involving themselves in political movements that would ensure a continuation of the privileges of living in a wealthy, capitalistic society.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not an advocate of socialism in any form, but neither do I believe the Church should take up the fight to preserve capitalism. The truth is, one system is built on laziness and the other on greed, so it’s a little like picking your poison.

Except, with our hedonistic beliefs these days, not so many people recognized the poison of greed—unless, of course, it’s corporate greed. Corporate, that great nameless monolith that we can blame for all the ills of society, because goodness knows, Man certainly can’t be to blame.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my beginning—that innocuous definition of hedonism in the dictionary, the one so few people would mind being associated with. It’s hard to call someone greedy when they are simply trying to satisfy their desires, the same as everyone else.

There’s an unspoken understanding that people should play fair in the process, and those who don’t such as Fanny Mae and Bernie Madoff, deserve our wrath. But those racking up millions by playing baseball or basketball in Southern California? Glad to have you here among us. And wouldn’t we like to be just like you!

The problem for the Christian in accommodating this attitude, even in our subtle ways, is that we no longer imagine satisfaction without the pleasures of life, as if somehow God isn’t enough to satisfy us—just He, Himself.

How ironic when Paul says that to live is Christ. In a short passage to the Colossians he refers to knowing Christ as wealth, riches, and treasure. I wonder what we the Church in America would name as our wealth, riches, and treasure.

Published in: on August 12, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (7)  
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The Accommodation Of Hedonism


From what I read, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned atheist who recently passed away from cancer, would not have shied away from the label hedonist. After all, Wikipedia notes that he referred to himself as an Epicurean.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hedonism as “the ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.”

Not many people would quibble with the idea that it’s right and proper for a sane person to go about finding satisfaction of desires. I mean, are we supposed to look for unhappiness instead? Are we supposed to search out opportunities for slavery or deprivation?

Actually the fact that so few Americans would find fault with a life lived in pursuit of pleasure clarifies the guiding philosophy of our day. We are, quite frankly, hedonists.

I shudder at the thought because I remember studying hedonism in school in connection to ancient Rome where toga-wearing Caesars were fed grapes by scantily-clad slaves, where they would gorge themselves then throw up so they could continue “enjoying” the feast, where orgies were routine. Drunkenness and debauchery seem the most appropriate words to describe what I thought of in conjunction with hedonism.

And now, hedonism is us.

Little did I realize back in those school days that in my lifetime young girls would binge and purge, that drunkenness and debauchery would describe a lot of college life, that “threesomes” would become a TV joke, that “dating” would be replaced by one-night stands and marriage by “relationships.”

As if all this isn’t bad enough, I look at the Church, and I see many professing Christians accommodating hedonism. Some do so in an unapologetic, aggressive way, saying that God has promised His children good gifts so we ought to be holding Him to His word by naming and claiming what we want.

Others are more circumspect, involving themselves in political movements that would ensure a continuation of the privileges of living in a wealthy, capitalistic society.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not an advocate of socialism in any form, but neither do I believe the Church should take up the fight to preserve capitalism. The truth is, one system is built on laziness and the other on greed, so it’s a little like picking your poison.

Except, with our hedonistic beliefs these days, not so many people recognized the poison of greed — unless, of course, it’s corporate greed. Corporate, that great nameless monolith that we can blame for all the ills of society, because goodness knows, Man certainly can’t be to blame.

In a round about way, this brings me back to my beginning — that innocuous definition of hedonism in the dictionary, the one so few people would mind being associated with. It’s hard to call someone greedy when they are simply trying to satisfy their desires, the same as everyone else.

There’s an unspoken understanding that people should play fair in the process, and those who don’t such as Fanny Mae and Bernie Madoff, deserve our wrath. But those racking up millions by playing baseball or basketball in Southern California? Glad to have you here among us. And wouldn’t we like to be just like you!

The problem for the Christian in accommodating this attitude, even in our subtle ways, is that we no longer imagine satisfaction without the pleasures of life, as if somehow God isn’t enough to satisfy us — just He, Himself.

How ironic when Paul says that to live is Christ. In a short passage to the Colossians he refers to knowing Christ as wealth, riches, and treasure. I wonder what we the Church in America would name as our wealth, riches, and treasure.

Published in: on January 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm  Comments (9)  
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Where Are We Going?


For a long time “edgy” was a buzz word in Christian fiction. I frequently scoffed (or railed or ranted — take your pick 😉 ) at the term because those using it seemed oblivious to what the world considers edgy.

For example, a few months back, in doing some agent research, I ran across an interview with a fantasy writer. Besides comments about her agent, she discussed her latest work. At one point the interviewer asked about one part of the story. The writer admitted she thought she’d get dinged by reviewers because of the edgy content, but surprisingly, no. The scene in question? A human character having sex with his dragon. Her conclusion? With sex, anything goes these days.

I find that content and that conclusion disgusting, but not surprising. This is the “edgy” the world knows — the boundary-pushing against society’s acceptable. Or not. As this author noted, including bestiality in her novel didn’t raise anyone’s ire. Apparently the edge has moved beyond kinky sex. What’s next?

What drives this mad dash to the edge seems to be the pursuit of the new and different. “Fresh” is another term bandied about. Our entertainment-driven (read hedonistic) culture must have the Something that feels like it’s never been done before. We crave that thing that will pique our curiosity, give us a jolt of excitement, cause us to wonder, take us out of our mundane state and transport us Elsewhere. We want to live in a constant state of orgasm.

Once these desires were the signs of mid-life crisis. Now the entire society seems to suffer from perennial adolescent angst, a chasing after Anything, as long as it isn’t boring or ordinary.

In literature we no longer want to be hooked by the end of the first chapter or by the first page, first paragraph, or first line. We must now be hooked by the cover. If it’s not eye-catching, or somehow “sexy,” then it simply is not a good book. Yes, covers are now to be judged because we need to excite buyers before they ever put their hands on the product.

The question is, should we Christians play along? In his most recent blog post “Pushing Your Imagination Envelop” author and friend Mike Duran said

Maybe more than anything else, our culture’s “unacknowledged legislators” [storytellers] are looking for big ideas, new twists, and innovative slants. Yes, it’s evidence that our culture is growing increasingly jaded. But for those of us who traffic in imagination, it’s also evidence that the bar has been raised.

So if you think you’ve nailed your story premise, before you do anything else, find the limits of your credulity, the edges of your imagination envelope and… push it [boldface emphasis added].

I can’t help but wonder if the bar hasn’t been lowered, not raised. Once, writers like George Herbert, John Donne, John Bunyan, Edmund Spencer, and Alexander Pope wrote with “great depth” as a result of their “immersion in Christian and Biblical culture” (see Wikipedia articles on these authors). Now, it seems “great depth” comes from our great imagination.

True, an imaginative work like The Shack by Paul Young caught the fancy of those looking for something startling, even shocking. But depth? There was plenty of imagination, certainly, but little truth. Lots of “edgy” theology slamming against the Bible’s authority.

As I see it, truth puts parameters around our imagination. Our sinful, deluded hearts can conceive of all sorts of evil, and the world seems eager to trundle after the most repugnant fare being offered.

Christians, however, aren’t wandering aimlessly about. We aren’t in search of a quick fix, don’t need to live for the next thrill ride, the next mind-numbing gimmick. We don’t need to medicate our sorrows or drown our pain. Or we ought not.

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).

Now there’s an edgy premise.

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