This is the first day of the Season of Doing Without. The Christian Ramadan, as some have put it, perhaps confused a bit over which came first.
One of the thing the Late Modern mind has difficulty grasping is allowing an appetite to go unslaked. If it feels good, DO IT! What do we want? You name it. When do we want it? NOW!
The ancient hedonists never confused pleasure with the good. The indulgence of the senses results in a flabby mind and body; and modern neuroscience tells us that habituating such neural patterns interferes with the formation of neural patters originating in the neocortex. Or in the older formulation: "Sin makes you stupid."
But the Late Modern is as unfamiliar with the stern pagan virtues as he is with the laughing Christian ones. But "virtue" means "strength" and a season of Lent could be thought of as a month at a fat farm or in the gym. Exercising muscle groups is the flip side of exercising moral muscles. Of course, as the "obesity epidemic" demonstrates, we are as adverse to the one as to the other. As the Greeks, Romans, and Christians observed, the two tend to go together. Mens sana in corpore sano
So Lent is not only about giving up pleasures (if only to prove that we can
. Who is the master, after all?) It is also about building positive strengths. Toning down lust may help strengthen love. Fighting sloth may improve commitment. Give me ten reps on the Temperance machine. Half an hour on the moral elliptical.
Some years ago, my friend Raj, who is a Hindu, announced that he was giving up both beef and single malt whiskey. He wanted some favor from the gods and, as he explained it, if you want to get something, you must give up something. It struck me as curious that, as a Hindu, he was giving up beef. Wasn't he supposed to avoid beef to begin with? I am not a northerner, he said by way of explanation. Apparently, southern India is more laid back about such things. When we went to eat, he would explain to the waiter, "I am being vegetarian this month." The whole thing seemed oddly mechanical, as if his gods were cosmic vending machines. If you inserted the requisite sacrifice in the slot, the desired good would fall into the tray. But this is a blindness not at all restricted to him.
But when it comes to Giving Up Something for Lent, Benedict XVI has set the bar awfully high. I mean, look at what he is giving up...
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And of course the mainstream media can't get past the horserace mentality. The touting has begun. One really wishes the Spook would pull something out of his back pocket, just to irritate the punditry. Everything is power and politics, of course; and matters are judged accordingly as they agree with Caesar's view of things or not. Already, voices at the Times and the WaPo have wondered breathlessly whether this time
the Church will Get With It on the pelvic issues that so obsess modern secular culture, as if these thing were simply policy decisions made by an administration. Life is hell for people stuck inside their own paradigm.