Decadence and Innocence

Decadence and Innocence March 17, 2017


Today I sat between innocence and decadence. On my right, Hope and  I could hear children playing and enjoying sunshine, water, and creation. They were happy. On my left, we listened to two men who left their wives for each other and heard their complaints, their continued insatiable desires, and endless (loud) facile excuses for putting self before duty.

On one side of us was the future at play and on the other a decadent past complaining about too little pleasure spread over a lifetime. The particular sin was incidental, it could have been another combination of desire and vice, but the confidence was unmistakable. One man actually stated his moral ideal: “Always do what is right for you.”

This selfishness will make civilization impossible. Raising one child requires giving up at least some of “what is right for you” and strips away a great deal of selfishness.

Oddly, the pretend world of television pictures the selfishness as brave and the hard work of the couples raising the children as mundane. Live for self and you are declared authentic, live for others and for moral values outside of yourself and there will not be one popular media image to cheer you on.

And then I saw that this is fine. This is the way it is and there is a good side to it. The moral man, the good woman, does not do the right thing, the natural thing, even against their own inclinations, to get prizes, Oscars, or social acceptance. A person does the right thing, because it is right.

That is good enough.

Or is it? If we are good, honest, and true, then we cannot be sure we are right. We must hesitate, strive to understand, and love. We know that in ourselves there is much that is rotten, a thousand bad choices not taken, and a few we have taken. We should not judge anyone in particular, even those to our left. We lack moral over confidence, this is good, but we also lack moral confidence. There is a reason for this.

I flipped by one television show that showed a religious person making a bad choice and the character said something like: “A religious conservative is a hypocrite. Call the news.” We have gotten to the point where striving for high ideals, real romance, is mockable and failure is viewed as more authentic.

Ideals that are very great will almost surely be failed and our society has decided to mock every instance of failure. We should mock the liars who pretend to have achieved virtue that is beyond their capacity, but we should celebrate those who keep trying while being honest about failures.

There are no hypocrites in an amoral world, but such moral ambitions are too low. Surely we should shoot higher than we can achieve and trust in God to have mercy on our failures. If you strive for great romance, then you might not achieve it, but what glory will you have gained that otherwise would have been missed?

What if we lived by this maxim: “Always do what is right.”

I know this, if the people I heard today on my left simply repeated the words of pastors, priests, or rabbis, the intellectual level of the conversation would have soared. This was a desire justifying desire by desire. There is no civilization left when that is the entire argument, because civilization is built on prudence, restraint, and wisdom.

I am not a child and so cannot simply play, but I would not simply be led by desire, God help me. Instead, I would do my duty as God has revealed it, love those God has called me to love, and sacrifice time, talent, and treasure joyfully to see my family flourish.

I realized that every day, I can choose to be crucified on the right hand or the left hand of the Christ. I cannot choose not to die, but I can choose to see Him in paradise or spend the day railing against the Lord of Glory. May I choose virtue and not vice, selflessness and not selfishness.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

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