Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Away With This Epicurean Fluff!

We've all seen these fluff books about slowing down life and taking time to enjoy simplicity (Note: I said we've all seen these books; not read them; you guys are better than that [though evidently I am not]). Well, my wife seems to get dozens of these every time a holiday comes around. Earlier today, my daughter started picking through our books and chose one for me to read to her entitled 50 Things That Really Matter. Immediately I knew this would not really be about anything that actually matters. That's right; I could judge this book by it's cover. Look at this cover. Am I to believe that this image of a child running on the beach is to define life and it's meaning? Surely the sentimentalist authors want me to think so.

Anyway, I opened the book and read the 50 chapter headings in order to get an idea of the worldview of the editors. Sure enough, here were some of the chapter heads: Warm Spring Days, Bubble Baths, Puppies, Seashells (give me a break! They're stretching just to get to that 50), Candlelight, A Good Book (Depends on the book), Sad Movies (Oh goodness; how did the rest of humanity find meaning in life before the invention of celluloid?), Hugs, A Child's Art, Summer Nights, and so on and so forth.

The second rate philosophy student within me was, however, pleased to find that the introduction was entitled "Defining What Really Matters." Sure enough, even though the writing was drippy like sentimental syrup, I was able to discover exactly what I was looking for: a world view. Sort of. "What matters most are the simple pleasures so abundant that we all can enjoy them; the plain values that define us as good people; the emotional connections with friends and family that fill our soul with a sense of purpose... After all, happiness doesn't lie in the objects we gather around us. It lies within us." Reaction against hedonistic materialism. Self sufficiency. Autonomy. No vertical relationship between man and God; for the editors, values and faith are simply a tool to establish an identity for ourselves.

The statement that the thing which matters most is "the simple pleasures" is a mushy way of saying, "Epicureanism may have died out as a formal religion, but I'll be damned if we can't make this thing work!" After all, the editors of this book, like the Epicureans, are not hedonists. They are not blind in their pursuit of aesthetic pleasure. They are reasonable and controlled, preferring non-harmful pleasures such as sunsets, puppies, candlelight, etc. Because of this, they can fall in under the Christian radar as being "moral," "thoughtful," or as "valuing faith." In the meantime, the entirety of the book is teaching (I use the term "teaching" very lightly) people to value horizontal experience to the detriment of the truly defining relationship which establishes everything about who we are, why we act, and what we desire: our relationship to God as revealed in Christ Jesus. Either we are in a negative relationship to Him as an enemy, or we are in a positive relationship to Him as an adopted child, being brought into His favor through no worth of our own.

Now, before I get some letter from the editors (however unlikely that may be), I want to be clear that there is actually a chapter on "faith." It is literally a page and a half (large type, double spaced) and all it consists of is the story of the man who is about to fall and keeps asking God for help. In the story, God keeps sending boats and friends to help him, all the while the man is looking for a bona fide miracle. Anyway, the author of this particular chapter concludes that, "Each day, angels visit the doorsteps of the faithful, leaving gifts that quietly offer God's grace, comfort, and protection. All we have to do is recognize them and pick them up." It turns out, faith exists to help us, not because God deserves the credit.

The book ends with a suggestion that the reader say, "I love and approve of myself" over and over again, hundreds of times a day. You know what they say, if you repeat a lie enough times, people will start to believe it. Anyway, again you should notice that the emphasis is not on divine approval (the vertical relationship). It is, once again, on personal approval (the horizontal relationship); as if that is what matters most; as if that can actually heal our lives in any substantial way. Not to be too evangelistic (it's not my strong-suit), but if you don't have divine approval, then you have no basis upon which to approve of yourself, either. After all, how can you consider yourself a good worker if the boss can't help but kick you every single time you walk by?

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