Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex! Ep. 3: Attack of the Consumerists

It's been a while.  Many things have happened in the last few weeks, such as vacations and retreats and meeting country music stars.  You know, the usual.

(I could subtitle this post “How Consumerism Devolves into Self-Cannibalism” but I opted against it.  Too wordy.)

True story
 Anyways, if you’ve listened to a rant against our culture by 96% of Christians, you’ve heard the word “consumerism” or “materialism” being tossed around.  We use this word recklessly without every actually examining what it means, so on the behalf of Christians, mea culpa.  Consumerism, as most people use it, looks a lot like many modern women’s shopping habits, i.e., overbearingly excessive.  However, that’s not quite the case, consumerism happens to be a bigger beast than credit cards and clearance sales.  Consumerism is the desire to ingest.  Putting it bluntly, it’s trying to eat the world.  Allow me to explain: while being a shopaholic is a result of consumerism, it’s not the only result.  Consumerist-minded people are obsessed with everything but being.  They’re all about doing, about having, about getting, about experiencing, about ingesting, but never about being.  And there lies our problem.  There’s nothing wrong with doing things, or having things, or getting things, or experiencing things, or ingesting things.  I do work, I have money, I get gifts and whatnot, I experience cool things like hiking next to a moose or Mass with the Missionaries of Charity, I ingest food, air, beauty, comfort, etc.  These things are all good, however, they can become all sorts of wrong when they replace one crucial aspect of life:  being.  Who am I?  The great tragedy of consumerism is the loss of identity, or rather, the replacement of it.  Our identity is no longer a matter of the soul, but of our decisions.  We identify ourselves by our achievements, by our possessions, by the various things of even more various sorts that we have, in some way or another, consumed.  Antoine de St. Exupery, in his excellent novella "The Little Prince", puts it elegantly,

A better book there seldom was...
"Grown ups love figures.  When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters.  The never say to you, "What does his voice sound like?  What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?"  Instead, they demand "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh?  How much money does his father make?"  Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."   (BTW, if you've never read  "The Little Prince" take 4 hours out of your life and read it now.  You'll thank me later.)

Our lives are far to important to be reduced to numbers, figures, histories, and decisions.  These things are important, yes, some to an eternal extent, but they do not constitute identity.  Our choices may change us, they may shape us, the may save us or they may damn us, but ultimately, they are not us.  You and I are human beings, and before we do, we are.  Before we can choose, we exist.

Did you survive that bit of philosophy?  Good.  So where does our sexuality come in?  Well, just as we treat everything as something to be consumed, we treat our sexuality as something to be consumed, and by doing so, we miss the point entirely.  You see, while there is a physical aspect to sex (which is important, of course), there is also a spiritual aspect of sex, an immaterial reality surrounding the beautiful collision of two people.  It is this spiritual reality that makes sex something so much more serious than any other sort of physical action (like a sporting game of tennis, a romantic walk, or partner's cooking classes), and it is the spiritual reality of sex that we've been denying, via our consumeristic attitude towards sex.

Sex, as so many cultural icons have noticed, has something to do with love, hence why we call it "making love".  We have sex because we love, or, at least, because we claim to love... and there lies the crux of the matter.  In our eagerness to consume, we've redefined what it means to love, and honestly, it only seems natural that we'd do so.  Love is the defining signature of mankind, it is the primary expression of ourselves, (there's a great tie in our relationship to God (who is love) here, but I'll set it aside for later writings.) and in a society that only knows how to consume, we've defined love as nothing more than an intense favor, or a passionate desire to consume.  We use the word "love" to describe Romeo and Juliet's star-crossed romance and our opinion of Taco Bell, although a mere glance would show that the two are far different.  True love, love in the sense that is tied to romance and sexuality, is no mere preference, not even a loyal preference.  Love is a deference, a neglect of the self for the sake of another.  Love is the emptying of the self, the sacrificial emptying of self.  Love requires then, substantial commitment.  If we intend to sacrifice ourselves, we must commit ourselves.  Love has to be committed, surpassing mere affections and placed in the hands of determined, committed, willful surrender.

Love is not a matter of what we like, even if we like it a lot.  Love is a reversal of consumerism, it requires you give all and take none, that you destroy nothing and create everything anew.  Love crafts worlds, and even more beautifully, it creates lives.  Truly, nothing expresses the meaning of love (or at least on this side of eternity) quite like the beauty of the family, the trinity of husband, wife, and progeny.  Love must have fruits, it must have children.  Love creates in the world, it bonds and blooms.

We've lied to ourselves for a long time.  We've told ourselves that love is about finding someone for mutual satisfaction, and that's a lie.  Perhaps a practical lie, but a lie, and one that ultimately leaves us deprived.  Love is greater, even greater than two matched souls.  Love is real, more real than anything, and our society, by consuming itself into death, has violated that.  By reducing the power of love, by consuming our world and never letting ourselves be consumed by the love in it, we've begun to discover that there's nothing left to consume but ourselves.

So reclaim sex!  Reclaim love!  Reclaim yourself, so that you can give yourself away in love!  Go!

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