Much is made over the fact the younger folks (20s and younger) do not have the same sense of right and wrong as absolutes. For example, younger folks are less likely to view negatively homosexuality or living together without marriage or children outside of marriage or recreational drug use or a host of other things, of all kinds... Some describe this as a disconnect between the morality of previous generations to this one...
I wonder... Is it really a difference in morality or a sense of right and wrong, or is it the trump card of pleasure that becomes the fulcrum that determines how things are viewed? It may not be that youth are less moral as much as they have been taught by us to weigh their moral choices against a different barometer than those before.
It is clear that pleasure is the quest above all quests for people of all ages. Yes, the older folks limit the choices more but it is a difference in nuance more than in substance. I am speaking now of some Christians but of our population as a whole. Pleasure is the goal we seek and pleasure is what we judge things in our lives by -- from jobs to marriage and everything in between.
I cannot tell you how many people come in to tell me that they are not happy at work. Now I understand this on one level but work is, well, work. It is not a hobby or the pursuit of desire. It is what puts food on the table and money in the account to pay the bills. It is great when work is rewarding, when it gives us a sense of accomplishment, and when we enjoy what we do, but that is an unrealistic expectation of work in general. Who among us gets a warm fuzzy from cleaning the toilet -- yet it is a job that must be done by someone.
Pastors have all heard couples come in with the complaint that marriage is work, that it is no longer fun to be married, and that they just don't want to put in the work required to keep it going. Now don't get me wrong, I love my wife and family, but really -- marriage and family are fun? No, I find great joy in my wife and family but it is a joy which is different from pleasure and it is the result of work -- something I am sure they would say of me and it does not diminish marriage, family or love.
Children are pursued by people who want to be loved and are looking for rewards. Children have become the right of all people (from gay to single to those past child bearing age). We want children the way we want other things in our lives -- we think they will bring fulfillment and pleasure to our lives. What children bring is work. I love my kids but every day with them has been work -- the work of a parent (by the way which gives me a hint of what my Heavenly Father goes through for me). Caring for our children and raising them is hard work -- not for the faint of heart -- and our children do not return to us what we give to them. It is a give and take relationship -- parents give and children take. This is not a terrible thing -- it is what parents do. To frame this as a hobby designed for our pleasure is to set both parents and children up for more than just disappointment.
And I could go on... "It's all good." said someone to me. No, it is not all good. That is the point of sin and its death. It is not all good and it is not all fun and it does not all provide pleasure to us. That may have been the way of the garden before the fall, but I was not there so I have no personal knowledge of it. What I know is that good things in this life are not free (except salvation from God's grace) and that the things I value in this life are the things I must work for in life.
My parents taught me this... I hope I have taught my children this... but this is not the message they get from the media. Rights and pleasure are the language of our current culture. And this vocabulary leads to a skewed view of life, work, marriage, children, sex, etc... When pleasure becomes the card that trumps all other values, we are left exactly where sin placed us -- in the worst bondage of all...
An excellent post, thank you!
The false god of hedonism has been around since the fall, but the hubris of "my rights" in our "modern" society continuously leads to a fall (see Tiger Woods, Congresscritters, et.al.)and clearly shows that we are as "modern" as Babylon, Rome, name your favorite "heighth of humanity"/where are they now era in history.
The urge to seek things that are pleasurable and avoid things that would be considered painful or unpleasant is a basic primal human response. Simply put, people like doing things that feel good, and want to avoid things that feel bad or are difficult to do. It's hardwired into our brains. I think that's something that both psychologists/neuroscientists and Christians can agree on.
Where we differ, however, is how we attribute that fact. While the secular response is to say that this pleasure-seeking behavior is evidence of evolution from lower life-forms and that it's an urge that should be accepted and embraced in our society. Seeking pleasure, after all, is good for our society. If buying something makes you feel better, go for it. It's good for the economy. If eating and drinking makes you feel better, go for it. It stimulates consumer spending. If using controlled substances makes you feel good, go for it. Why should society dictate what we can do with our bodies as long as it doesn't harm others or discriminate, right?
Whereas the Christian point-of-view puts these base urges where they belong--as clear evidence of our fallen nature. What's often called the "reptilian brain" isn't a primal reminant from our primate ancestors--it's what our "old Adam" really originates from, and what is drowned and buried with Baptism and the body and blood of Christ.
I studied Psychology and Cognitive Science a lot in college, and while it's clear that those fields are no friend to Christianity, it did show me a lot just about how our fallen natures and how our old Adams work and manifest in society and our own erroneous thinking.
It was C.S. Lewis who taught that a pleasure is not a wrong: Smoking a pipe, enjoying a sunset, etc. I know he wouldn't agree that sinful pleasures are wrong, of course. The "good things" (not forbidden in Scripture) in life, however are OK.
What really stuck with me most is that we can make even right pleasures into wrong ones. How? By repetition. We are given pleasures to enjoy by God. Lutherans know this better than anyone. We turn those pleasures into sin when we desire to repeat them by our own doing. We are so perverse we will repeat a pleasure interminably trying to recapture the feeling. This is what Lewis was talking about. A glass of good wine is a good pleasure. 10 glasses of wine trying to increase the pleasure is not.
We can turn anything into an idol, can't we? We can make good things sinful things. Shows us how deep the fall really is.
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