Don't be a spiritual moron: get off your butt and start some spiritual discipline.
We all love being entertained, especially when we’re down. There’s nothing wrong with taking comfort in hot cocoa and an episode of Doctor Who on gloomy winter days, and even St. Thomas Aquinas recommended “good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine” to take the edge off now and then. The stress-relief we find in our favorite music, books, and movies is a way of self-medicating – it’s good for soothing pain, but if you keep indulging whether you’re in pain or not, you might develop an addiction.
Most of us can tell when such a habit starts to form. After I devour seven seasons of a show in just a couple weeks, my conscience feels a little dirty. Not so much “for what I have done” as “what I have failed to do.”
What we should be doing is giving our will-power a well deserved break, a rest after a hard day’s work. When we become accustomed to a self-indulgent habit, whatever habit it may be, what we’re doing is giving our will an indefinite vacation, an early retirement—“the good life” as understood by trust-fund frat boys and trophy wives. But frat boys become fat men; undisciplined as they are, they eventually show all the signs of hedonism, and it isn’t pretty. And trophy wives aren’t known for being much of a credit to their sex in the brain department. Living for pleasure, their neglected minds are rarely challenged, and they before long they fulfill the “bimbo” stereotype. Neglecting our will-power and sinking into self-indulgence doesn’t make us into monsters or demons. It simply makes us spiritual morons and moral bimbos.
Among Christians, I fear that Christ is seen more as a comfort than a Master. We live in a weak-willed culture. Schoolwork is less rigorous than ever, discipline is seen as cruel and unusual, and many Christian leaders speak much more of the plights of the lazy than of the hardworking. As if becoming spiritually shallow and morally limp weren’t bad enough, Christians have begun to treat their God the way they treat pop-entertainment. There may be interest in a God who will provide, but very little interest in the God who “taketh away.”
Even devoted Christians have been somewhat compromised by the discipline-allergic world around them. When a ”fitness-obsessed” mom stays in shape by working out with her military husband, many Christians join in the general outcry against her show of discipline, and shout her down for “fat-shaming.” When Bill Cosby preaches discipline as an antidote to many of the problems that blacks face today, he aimed this correction at the black Christian community: "I know a victim when I see one. And so did Christ. And so does God know victims. And so do we all recognize victims. But some victims you can look at and say, 'Get up.'"
Today perhaps we’re all victims of our own habits and addictions. Even among the Christians who worship every weekend, there often is a creeping self-service where there should be self-sacrifice. After all, who doesn’t want to be surrounded by a warm and welcoming community? But rather than offer an alternative addiction, Christian evangelism should offer an alternative to addiction—the Lord “whose service is perfect freedom.”
Stephen Herreid is currently a Fellow at the John Jay Institute (Philadelphia) and the arts editor for Humane Pursuits. He has been a Contributing Editor to The Intercollegiate Review Online and has contributed several chapters to the latest edition of ISI’s Choosing the Right College.