’Addict’, ‘Obsession’, ‘Poison’, ‘Opium’?
They’re all perfumes marketed as lifestyle choices. But is addiction and self-destruction really so glamorous? And when we know it’s not, why are we still seduced?
In her book, ‘Illness as Metaphor’, Susan Sontag talks about the messages we absorb from our culture. She argues that our economic system is based on the idea that appetite is supposed to be immoderate – and depends upon encouraging us to defy limits. At the same time however, we’re taught to value self-discipline and restraint.
It seems we’re constantly torn in two – caught between the extremes of denial and excess.
Eating disorders are a case in point – stuffing versus starving. All – and nothing. But it extends beyond the realm of food. Saving pennies on loo roll – then going crazy on new shoes or a car. Practising abstinence all week – then getting trolleyed on a Friday.
Such impulses may be exacerbated by our culture – but are they really new?
Scripture talks about this cycle in Colossians 2:20-3:
20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Regulations a-plenty. But sensual indulgence too.
So why do we have such excessive desires? Is it the educators, promoting self-discipline? The media, telling us we can have it all? Or something inherent in us? Something that wants to break all bonds and simulataneously prove the strength of our will?
Paul goes on to tell us how to win the battle:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
As ever, the battleground is not primarily in our culture, but in our hearts.