Feed, Fatten, Fornicate

UnknownWe are a culture that likes to keep our heads down. Focus on “the stream of experience”—the feast of video, food, sex, gaming, money, mindless entertainment . . .whatever . . . that is continuously carted before our noses, lest we take a breath and look up.

As Plato put it in the Republic, those who have no experience of reason or virtue are

never reaching beyond [the stream of experience] to what is truly higher up, never looking up at it or being brought up to it, and so they aren’t filled with that which really is and never taste any stable or pure pleasure. Instead, they always look down at the ground like cattle, and, with their heads bent over the dinner table, they feed, fatten, and fornicate. (586a)

 Feed, Fatten, Fornicate.

Plato (as often as not) describes our culture quite accurately.

And we are miserable.

We no longer (at least since the modern era and the revolution in ethics therein) are concerned with living a virtuous life for its own sake. Happiness is now viewed as a kind of personal fulfillment, a kind of sensual satisfaction, and it remains elusive. Yet we continue to run after more…we lust for more…and when we find it, it is spirited away, like water through a sieve.

And we cease to exercise that part of us that is most distinctively human: our rational faculties. Two implications of living a sustained feed-fatten-fornicate lifestyle are that, as a culture:

  • We become conceptually illiterate. We no longer have the patience, the courage, and the discipline to cultivate intellectual virtue. Thus, we become sloppy in our thinking, unable to reason rightly about things that matter most. We become guided more by feelings than right thinking.

 

  • We become morally confused. We reduce ethics to Mill’s pleasure principle—the good is that which brings pleasure, the bad that which brings pain. Virtue is out (for it is not sense perceptible); deontology (or subscription to rules) is out, since there is no authoritative and objective source for such rules—and anything goes. 

 

And those who try and push against the grain—those who like Socrates are a kind of “gadfly” within the culture (including the Church in her prophetic role) are often viewed as priggish, Old Fashion, Antiquated, Traditional (a pejorative word). And this is no accident:

As C.S. Lewis observes (picking up the Platonic thread) in The Screwtape Letters,

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground [the enemy being GOD]. He [the prospective Christian] can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I [senior devil] am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? . . . you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real.”

Sometimes I find it a struggle to keep my head up. I know there is more to life than the stream of experience, yet I continue to fix my eyes on it. Perhaps you struggle with this as well. Do you, as do I, long for the clean air and sweet reasonableness of a life of intellectual and moral virtue? This is where Plato can only get us so far. We can’t pull ourselves out of the mire by our own bootstraps. We need a power that is greater than ourselves to change us, to lift our heads, and to turn our souls in the right direction. What is this power? It is the person of Christ. Christ lived a life of intellectual and moral virtue. And he died for you and me—so that we too can find Real Life in Him. Jesus is the good in all good things, the beauty in all beautiful things, and the truth in which all reality points. In Him we truly do find Real Life (John 10:10).

For more on this topic, seem my related post: We are not brutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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