Lesson 4- Hedonism And The Flesh
As I finished my last program I was listing some of the characteristic that distinguish the arational, non-reflective animal mind from the rational, reflective human mind. Before proceeding with the rest of my analysis, let me review some key concepts that I have already established in previous talks.
First, the word "sin', as used in the New Testament of the Bible, comes from a Greek word, used by Greek archers, which means, "to miss the target or mark". This implies that behavior has a rational, logical end and that when we miss that target or end, we sin. Therefore, sin was defined in the Baltimore catechism as " an offense against the will of God" meaning that God, as a rational being, made things with a purpose in mind and that when we ignore or violate that purpose, we sin against His Will.
Second, Jesus, according to the teachings of the Church, is the Wisdom, mentioned in Proverbs 8 and other proverbs, who created the universe in accordance with the Will of His Father. As this Divine Wisdom, He is the source of all Natural Laws in the universe as well as the moral laws that govern human behavior. Because of this, His role is one of judgment since He must evaluate whether the universe in general and humans in particular are acting in accordance with these laws. Thus, in John 5:22 Jesus says "the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son." Later on, I will talk about the significance of this in light of modern psychological findings.
Third, the role of Jesus, or Wisdom, is to lead human beings out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Therefore, His role is one of salvation, not condemnation. In the Bible, light and darkness are used to refer to mental states associated with ignorance and understanding. Thus, the Kingdom of Darkness is ruled by the devil who is pictured in art as half man and half animal possessing horns, a tail, and cloven feet, and he is also called "the Father of All Lies" The Kingdom of Light, on the other hand, is ruled by Jesus, the Incarnate Wisdom of God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, which suggest that Truth is the Way out of Mental Darkness towards the "fullness of life."
Fourth, Jesus is also referred to in John I as the Word that was used to create the universe. This Gospel was originally written in Greek and in Greek, Word is spelled LOGOS or logos. From this word we get the word Logic and all of the sciences are based on it. Thus, we have bioLOGY, anthropoLOGY, socioLOGY, pharmacoLOGY, etc.... . This implies that there is an intimate connection between the LOGOS of God, who is Jesus, and all of our sciences.
Fifth, according to Proverbs I, sinners, who are "missing the target or mark" of wise behavior will "reap" the consequences of their stupidity because they would not listen to Wisdom attempt to instruct them. This implies that any punishment connected to sin is built into the consequences of the sin and not by any vindictive motive of God's. Stupid behavior leads to stupid results.
Sixth, this suggests that Jesus, or Wisdom, saves people from the punishment due to sin by enlightening them and releasing the necessary graces to empower them to "repent and reform." As long as people continue in doing their sins, the consequences or punishment connected to the sin will continue to result. That is why the Bible says, "You will reap what you sow."
Seventh, this being true, people who believe that they can continue sinning and then be saved by some magic formulae of faith without reform are deluding themselves. The only way to be saved from the punishment of sin is to stop doing it.
Eighth, the Church talks about the "reparation of sin" because it realizes that "sin" is a disorder in our world that interferes with its proper functioning. Therefore, even though a sin is forgiven, one still has an obligation to make reparation or "to repair", as far as possible, the harm and disorder caused by the sin. Alcoholic Anonymous is well aware of this because they required the recovering alcoholic to make all reasonable attempts to repair the damage that his or her drinking has caused to other people.
Ninth, the major influences that lead us into sin, according to the Bible, are "the world, the flesh, and the devil." The "world" refers to power structures in the world in which the strong abuse and dominate the weak. The "flesh" refers to our hedonistic nature that relates us to the animal kingdom that operates according to feelings. Do you remember the incident concerning my wife in which she read that feelings dont count.? Feelings are for animals, knowledge is for rational beings. However, knowledge carries its own danger.
The devil refers to an intellectual spirit, who was once an Angel of Light, who fell from grace when his own Pride caused him to place his will before God's will. In Matthew 4 it describes how Jesus was tempted by the devil with all three temptations.
The first temptation involved the "flesh" because after fasting for forty days, He was at the point of starvation and his "flesh" was obsessed with food and the Bible says:The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread." Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
In other words, man does not live by feeding his flesh bread but by feeding his spirit the Bread of Life, or Wisdom.
Then the devil tempted Him with Pride. The scriptures say: Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. Jesus answered him, "It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test. In other words, we are supposed to serve God's will not to require God to serve our will.
The third temptation was with the "world" The scriptures continues: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
When I ended my last program I was identifying the "basic difference between animals and human beings" by listing qualities that differed between them and us. The major difference, you might remember, was that animals had arational, non-reflective minds that were unable to dialogue with themselves and therefore they were inclined to follow their impulses.
Second, they operated according to the principle of hedonism that says whatever give me pleasure is good and whatever gives me pain is bad. Obviously, this is not true because drugs will give you pleasure in the short term and destroy you in the long term while a needle that inoculates you against smallpox will give you pain in the short term and protect you in the long term. Young children, who are closer to our animal nature than most adults, have to be given medication that is heavily sugared and they live in fear of needles that inoculate them Therefore, it seems that one of the deficiencies of animal logic is that it is based on "immediate gratification" and has trouble dealing with "delayed gratification." If you want a dog to jump through a hoop, you better reward him immediately if you want him to learn the connection between his action and the reward. The same is true of little children and that is why elementary school teacher used gold stars and other emblems to paste on the homework and tests of their students. The final goal of promotion has to be interspersed with a lot of intermediary goals, like finishing home works and passing tests, and each step has to be rewarded immediately or the child will not stay on task.
The third characteristic of the animal mind is that it was amoral in that, because it didn't even consider the moral goodness of an act was incapable of being held morally responsible. For example, a German shepherd can be trained to be either an "attack dog" or a "seeing eye dog" but in both cases his actions, according to the philosophers, has no moral significance. You can't blame him it he attack and maims a person, because that is what he was trained to do, and, for the same reason, you can't really give him personal credit for his humanitarian efforts as a "seeing eye dog." In both case, reward and punishment were used to teach him to do whatever he did and, in a sense, he was programmed and does not conscious reflect on the moral goodness or badness of what he does.
I know that there are animal lovers out there who are going to challenge this because they impute human feelings and thoughts to their pets and maybe its more complex than what I have described. However, I think that they will agree that animals can be trained by humans to act in ways that serve human ends. However, we have to be careful when we interpret animal behavior in human terms. There are many things that they do which seem to have a rational intent which may not. For example, the beaver has a great reputation as an engineer because he builds dams that seem to indicate rational intent. However, experiments have shown that beavers will pile up sticks even if you play a record of running water even though there is no water present. Later on, when I get into the recent discoveries concerning the human brain as contrasted with the brain of animals, I hope to present a fuller explanation of this.
Of course, human beings also respond to the principle of hedonism and can be trained to perform through the use of reward and punishment and this is, as I have already suggested, is the "flesh" part of us that the scriptures say "can not please God." In fact, according to the scriptures, if we follow the "flesh", it will lead us to damnation.
Two of my best friends, a married couple, used to pray every day after dinner and both were blessed with extraordinary spiritual gifts. The wife often received spiritual visions during these prayer times and, on one occasion, she saw the Lord standing at the beginning of a road. He turned to her and asked her to follow Him. They hadn't gone very far, she said, when the road divided into two roads: one went left and the other went right. He turned to her and said, "Follow me down the left road, May." She said they started down the road and it was glorious. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and it was like a Walt Disney fantasy. After a short while, they came to the end of the road, where there was a door: Jesus instructed her to open the door and when she did, a terrifying, bone-chilling darkness came through it and frightened her near to death. Then Jesus closed the door and took her back to where the road split. This time, they took the road to the right and it was as difficult as the other was easy. They traveled over rocks, up mountains, down into valleys, through thorn bushes, and it seemed to her that the road would never end. Finally, they came to the end of the road and, once again, there was a door. When she opened it, a brilliant, warm light embraced her and gave her a sense of peace and contentment. Then she and Jesus returned to where the road split and Jesus turned to her and said, "May, I give every human being the choice of these two roads and they are free to travel either one. However, once they reach the end of the road, they must go through the door. Do you get the message? One road was the road of hedonistic pleasure and it led to darkness. The other was the road of struggle and sacrifice and it led to the light. And, of course, our "flesh" does not understand this and is repulsed by it.
We believe that Jesus had come to show us the way to eternal life. And what He showed us, our "flesh" didn't want to see or understand. First He asked, "Do you want life and want it fully?" To which the obvious answer is "Yes!" Then He said, "Then pick up your cross and follow Me." And, in case we didn't understand what He meant, he showed us the way in His passion and death; which raises an interesting question. We are fond of saying that Jesus died for our sins, and no doubt this is true. However, was it just His death that mattered or was it the manner of his death. Suppose he had been hung, or poisoned, or decapitated, or strangled, or bludgeoned to death. Would His death have had the same significance? Or was the manner of his death just as important as the fact of His death?
The "cross" in Western culture has become a symbol for all the difficulties of life and we have been taught that there is something redemptive in these difficulties. Crosses, we are told, are to be embraced rather than rejected because after the crucifixion comes the resurrection. The truth, of course, is that whether you want them or not, crosses will come so the only issue is what will you do when they arrive? Will you sit and curse your fate or use them in some productive way to deepen yourself?
I know that, as the child of two alcoholic parents that I never would have chosen it and, as a youngster, I often questioned God as to why this should happen to me. For many years, I suffered from mental torment because of what was happening in my life. However, now that I look back from my present vantage point, I wouldn't give any of those difficulties back because they made me who I am today. I wonder if I am the only person who feels this way. I doubt it because I have heard many people say the same thing and I have witness the same effects in other people's lives.
My neighbor was in a very bad automobile accident that left her with physical problems that will reoccur throughout her life. She has suffered greatly because of this yet, one day she said to me, "You know. That accident and the difficulties that I have had because of it have deepened my life in many ways."
Our "flesh" has given God a bad rap throughout human history because we have blamed Him for creating a world filled with difficulties and problems. John Paul Sartre, an existentialist philosopher, declared himself to be atheist because he couldn't accept that there was an all-powerful God who would allow the Holocaust to happen. Helen Keller, on the other hand, who was blind and deaf, rightly observed that only people who were willing to surrender their freedom to a dictatorial God would accept a world in which human free will would be eliminated. The price of freedom is sin because without freedom we couldnt sin. Eliminate free will and not only does sin disappear but also the capacity to love and choose. God must think that freedom is worth the risk, even if we dont always like the results.
Victor Frankl, a German, Jewish psychiatrist who was in a concentration camp himself said that the experience transformed the lives of many of the victims. Just prior to the rise of Hitler, German culture during the 1920's was going through its own version of the "The Roaring Twenties." There was widespread decadence and the Jews were as much a part of it as anyone else. This period was portrayed in the movie "Cabaret."
Now, from the point of view of our "flesh" it was a wonderful time of fun and pleasure But, if the Jews are correct about their being two dimensions to every human being, the outside or flesh, which lived by bread alone, and the inside or spirit, that fed off of Wisdom, then from God's point of view, who was looking at the spirit, it was a terrible time because the people were laughing on the outside and dying on the inside.
One might wonder if the same observation could not be made about our own culture at the turn of the century when so many of us were forging ahead with the rising wealth and record breaking stock market, only to be shocked back to reality by corporate scandals and a record declining stock market. When, Bill Clinton ran for a second term, the Catholic bishops warned us that it would be morally reprehensible for any Catholic to vote for any candidate or party that supported abortion or block any efforts to ban partial-birth abortion. Catholics, it appears, in large numbers ignored their bishops and voted for Clinton. It appears that they were more persuaded that the major issue was the economy and their reply to the bishops was "its the economy, stupid!" Later, we learned it was the economy and the stock market that were stupid, not the Catholic bishops.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who visited our country during the period of rising wealth and soaring economy, saw it differently too. She declared that she never experienced in India and Third World countries the level of poverty that she found in the United States. And she wasn't talking about our ghettos. She was talking about the spiritual poverty among our affluent members and saw that, in large part, we were spiritually bankrupt. We had traded off people and relationships for "things". It appears, that Germany, during the 1920's, had done the same thing and eventually their "bubble burst" and the moral decadence and bankruptcy became personified in the person of Adolph Hitler, who rescued the economy and built the autobonn with one hand, as he imprisoned and eliminated the innocent with the other.
The Jews and others were sacrificed on the altar as a Holocaust to personal ease and security. They say that those who dont learn from history are destined to repeat it. We certainly have learned that you dont sacrifice innocent human beings to protect and assure your material comfort. Or have we? The slaughter of innocent children versus the economy? Its the economy, stupid.
Now, we would be wrong to think that God created the Holocaust or the economic woes of the Great Depression or any recent economic decline as a punishment for our sins. When we feed our animals natures, we have no one to blame but ourselves if inhuman, stupid or chaotic conditions result. We have simply "reaped what we have sown. As I often say to my students, "If don't want to live in a zoo, then don't feed the animal within you. If anything, according to the Bible, God's involvement in our difficulties is that He can create good even from great evil because when things begin to fall apart, then we are most open to repentance and reform.
According to Dr. Frankl, the Holocaust brought out the best and the worst in people. Those who accepted the challenge, changed from frivolous, hedonistic, surface livers to serious, compassionate, saintly people who discovered inner resources deep that they didn't know existed. Others, who were defeated by the challenge, deteriorated into brutish animals that were willing to survive at any cost to their humanity. There is a record from the Nuremberg Trials of a Jewish man who survived by assisting the Nazis in the extermination of other inmates by holding them down while a death producing hypodermic needle was injected into their hearts. One of victims whom he held down was his own father.
Fulton Ousler wrote a book called Modern Parables in which he collected true stories that, like Jesus parables, conveyed important lessons about life. According to the story, when the Allied forces entered Germany in 1945 and began to free the inmates of the concentration camps they were surprised when many of the inmates, who were living skeletons, instead of cheering when they saw our soldiers, seemed to be in a listless stupor, seemingly unaware of what was happening. However, in one camp, there were impressed by one inmate who, although he was as physically deteriorated as the other inmates, was psychologically alert and responsive to what was happening. Curious about his mental alertness compared to the other listless inmates, they asked him how he managed to maintain his psychological composure. He said that when he first arrived in camp, he and the other inmates were being treated like animals by the guards who beat and humiliated them. Throughout the day, they were worked to near exhaustion and were fed starvation rations of thin soup broth and a piece of bread. At night they nearly froze to death as two of them slept on a plank barely wide enough for them. They slept with their feet in each others face with a thin blanket barely large enough to cover them. As time passed, he and the others, faced with the meager rations and inadequate facilities, began to sink to an animalistic level in their desire to save their lives. They stole food from the weaker members; at night they fought with their bedmate for a larger share of the meager blanket in order to stay warm. When one of them died, they pounced on him like vultures and stripped him naked of everything he had. And they groveled before the guards for little favors. He said that he became depressed because of what was happening to him psychologically and he got on his knees one night and prayed to God to save him from the deterioration of his humanity. Suddenly and idea occurred to him as to what he should do. From that point on, he gave half of his food away to other inmates and shared with them whatever he had. He said, What the Nazis forced me to do made me feel like an animal; what I forced myself to do made me feel like a man.
It reminds me of two scriptures. The first one says "Man does not live by bread alone". And the second one says, Whoever tries to save his life will lose it and whoever loses it for My sake, will save it.
There were saints and sinners among both the inmates and the guards. What one became depended on how one reacted to the situation?
We Christians have tried to get God off the hook by blaming all problems and difficulties on the devil because we too have trouble understanding why, if God is all powerful and good, didn't He make a world without any crosses. It does not occur to us that "crosses"- meaning problems and difficulties- might be an important and integral part of God's plan for creation. Is it possible that what we perceive as a punishment is really a gift? Is it possible that what we perceive as a curse is really a blessing? If not, why did Jesus say, "If you want life and want it fully, pick up your cross and follow Me?"
If our "flesh" had it way, it would have created a world of ease and comfort, based on what we try to do with our own children. We protect them from every difficulty and give them everything to make their lives easy and then we can't understand why they don't have any character. I wonder if God knows something that our "flesh" doesn't know. He said my ways are not your ways and your thoughts are not my thoughts." In other words, there is some paradoxical difference about God's way of thinking and our way of thinking. For example, He says "the first shall be last and the last shall be first"; "He who tries to save his life will lose it and He who loses it for My sake will save it"; and "it is in giving that your receive and it is in dying that you gain eternal life."
Statements like these contradict our perception of reality and challenge us to look at reality from a different point of view. And probably the most difficult point of view for our flesh to consider is that there might be value and redemptive power in pain and suffering. It contradicts the hedonistic principle upon which our flesh operates. Even as I say this to you, I can feel my own flesh being repulsed and rebelling against the thought and an unconscious prayer springs spontaneously from my flesh pleading that the truth of my statement might not be applied to me or to those I love.
There is a song whose title is "Sing to the Lord a New Song" and whenever we sung it I used to wonder what the old song was. Now I think I know. The old song went something like this:"Please Lord, make my life easy. Take away all the difficulties. Optimize my pleasure and minimize my pain. Save me from all difficulties and suffering and give me a life filled with amusement and fun. And I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen."
Now we have to understand that when we ask anything in Jesus' name that what we really are saying is "I ask this in the name of Wisdom" which means, "don't give me what my stupid flesh and limited knowledge wants but rather give me what Your Wisdom knows that I, or those that I pray for, need."
The reason we have to end all our prayers this way because the flesh is always seeking the easy way and God's Wisdom knows that strength and character are built in the stress and storm of challenges. It has been said that "anything that doesn't kill me, strengthens me" and there is certainly a lot of evidence to support that.
There is a prayer entitled "The Prayer of the Confederate Soldier" which demonstrates the large gap between the way we think and the way God thinks. It goes like this:
I asked God for strength that I might achieve
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was give poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men richly blessed.
So, if the old song was about giving me pleasure and comfort, what is the new song about? John Garner, former head of HEW had this to say:
"Despite almost universal belief to the contrary, self gratification, ease, comfort, diversion and a state of having achieved all one's goals do not constitute happiness for man. We are coming to a conception of happiness that differs fundamentally from the storybook version... The storybook conception tells of desires fulfilled; the truer version involves striving towards meaningful goals... goals that relate the individual to a larger context of purposes. Storybook happiness involves a bland idleness; the truer conception involves seeking and purposeful effort. Storybook happiness involves every form of pleasant thumb twiddling; true happiness involves the use of one's powers and talents. Both conceptions of happiness involve love, but the storybook version puts greater emphasis on being loved, the truer version more emphasis on the capacity to give love."
Put into Gospel terms, the new song probably goes something like this: The Prayer of St. Francis...
Make me a channel of you peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring Your love
Where there is injury, Your pardon, Lord.
And where there's doubt, true faith in You.
Make me a channel of Your peace
Where there's despair in life,
Let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, only light.
And where there's sadness, ever joy.
Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand.
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of Your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
In giving to all men that we receive.
And in dying that we're born to eternal life.
Of course, this is the prayer of St. Francis and it illustrates that the animal heart has been replaced with a servants heart. Why, he didnt even ask for anything for himself.
If there is any doubt remaining that there is a war going on between our flesh and spirit consider this. We reenact this conflict between the flesh and the spirit every year when, just before Lent, our animal nature demands one last fling. The Germans call it Fat Tuesday, because their idea of a wild time is eating donuts. The people of New Orleans call it the Mardi Gras and the people of South America call it Carnival. No matter what you call it, it is our hedonistic animal nature resisting the attempts of our spirit to bring it under control through self-denial.
Well, I see that my time is up. Remember, "Sing a new song unto the Lord!" Heres Dom