Sunday, August 21, 2011

a focus of longing and the image of fulfillment

In search of some information on the National Endowment of the Arts, I ran across this quote:

"The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment." -Malcolm Muggeridge

Clearly, this quote had no relevance to my search, but it caught my eye non the less. I know very little about Malcolm Muggeridge, other than knowing his profession as a journalist and writer in the 20th century, and his late conversion to Catholicism. I also acquired the book "Instrument to Thy Peace" by Alan Paton to which Muggeridge wrote a forward to, however, back to the quote:

"The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment."

Is it just me or does reading that make force you to do a mental check of where orgasms fall into your list of longings and fulfillment. Ok, maybe not orgasms per say, but replace that word with any particular misplaced focus sitting between you and God, and you've got yourself a potential idol. The funny thing with idols, that I'm discovering, is the stuff they are made of is generally not inherently evil. Often they take form in something seemingly good and healthy, like sex, or marriage, or pleasing people, or getting good grades. I've also noticed that idols do not emerge fully formed, rather they grow slowly and sometimes unintentionally encouraged by good people. The hardest part with idols made of seemingly good things, is figuring out how to extract idol from the goodness... but I think I'll leave that topic for a different day, and get back to discussing the idol of the aforementioned quote.

I've spent some time in correspondence with a peer that is considering the priesthood. All theological differences aside, I am impressed by his choice to pursue such a specific calling that requires a significant amount of self sacrifice. Unlike his protestant counterparts, he will be taking a vow of celibacy as part of his commitment to his chosen vocation.

To most 20 somethings, I'm sure, the idea of celibacy is not a "calling" most of us seek. In fact, it has been my experience, and observation that the Protestant Church as a whole, tends to veer away from the idea of life long celibacy as a potential life choice, and keep with the abstinence party line. Just wait until marriage to have sex (which the Catholic Church is equally agreeable with... unless you've taken vows of celibacy). Unfortunately, I've seen that party line, "Just wait until marriage," backfire into something akin to Muggeridge's quote. Instead of the all mighty orgasm, the focus of longing and image of fulfillment, in many christian circles, has become the shrine of marriage... Marriage, " has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment." Marriage is what many (but not all) young Christian women are taught to revere and strive for. Young Christian men are socialized similarly. By college age, it appears that those who haven't given into the social norms around them, have internalized marriage as a step in life that must happen and if it doesn't they will never be complete. They will never feel fulfilled.

Please don't misread me though, by no means am I making a blanket statement that all who desire to be married one day (and hopefully enjoy a vibrant sex life too) are making these things an idol. I'm just struck by the amount of my peers seeking to be married more out of fear of not leading a vibrant fulfilling life outside of marriage or having sex. Like most things good - sex (and orgasms), marriage, intimacy, etc... - there is the danger of it replacing our primary focus of longing and image of fulfillment. Perhaps it is in the end of St. Francis of Assisi's Prayer of Peace that we can find direction in how to rightly order our longings and recognize the idols that have replaced the cross.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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