Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Consumerism and the Sexual Revolution

You can read the Bible for a lifetime and then all of a sudden someone can point out a symbol or a phrase that illumines its meaning in a whole new way. It isn't that it changes your interpretation of the Bible, it is just that the truth of the Scriptures comes to light from another angle. The Bible is unlike any other book because of its Divine author and its depth cannot be plumbed by human wisdom.

In a Touchstone editorial, Russell Moore points out something that is startling when you first hear it, but obviously true. Why didn't I see that before?

"It is no accident, after all, that our Ancient Foe first appears in Holy Scripture as a snake - imagery that follows the devil all throught the canon to the closing vision of the Revelation to St. John. As philosopher Leon Kass puts it, 'For the serpent is a mobile digestive tract that swallows its prey whole; in this sense the serpent stands for pure appetite.' Indeed he does - and the whole of Scripture and of the Christian tradition warns the Church against the way of the appetites, the way of consuming oneself to death." (Touchstone, March 2009, p. 3)

Among trendy lefties, it is customary these days to attack "Capitalism" as the source of all the evils in the world, but I find this to be an evasion. Capitalism is such an abstraction and so vague and ill-defined that it is hard to pin down. Blaming Capitalism pushes moral responsibility out there, away from me, onto "the rich" or institutions, which are like giant machines grinding along, or systems. But it is people who are sinners and it is people who collaborate with the giant machines - or not. The sin which is prior to both Marxism and Capitalism, with their materialistic metaphysics, is actually greed. That is why I prefer to speak of consumerism than capitalism as the root problem. The practices of capitalists that we rightly abhor are done because of greed and before a business or industry can become corrupt individuals within it (and/or its customers) must first become corrupt.

The real problem with the sexual revolution is not merely disobedience, but disordered desires and the unwillingness to control appetite. The best image for the sexual revolution is therefore the serpent - "a mobile digestive tract that swallows its prey whole." Its funny how left-wing Christians like to attack capitalism, but not sexual chaos, even though both are manifestations of the same vice and closely related.

I wonder if the reason is not that left-wingers have become modernists in a very specific sense. Is it possible that left-wing Christians are left-wing in the first place because they have bought into the lie of modernity that the basic and most fundamental problem with our economic system is that it needs rational analysis and correction? In other words, our economic problems can be solved by the application of scientific rationality. Technological expertise can solve the problem, defined as a problem of distribution, because we are fundamentally good but just suffering from ignorance.

This hypothesis would explain much. For instance, it would explain why an abstraction like "Capitalism" would be identified as the problem. And it would explain why those who would reform our economic lives believe that our sexual lives can be left in chaos while this economic reform is going on. If economic reform is a matter of the application of technological expertise, then we can solve our economic inequalities without virtue. We just need reason.

A chorus of voices insists that the Enlightenment is over; I'll believe it when I see it.

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