Why is Lust so important to the Catholic left? (with apologies to CS Lewis)

So why is it that liberals, (and by liberal I mean the “catholic left”) are so fixated on the repeal of the 6th commandment and all the sins surrounding sex? Granted, they kind of reject the idea of individual mortal sins in general, and define virtue and such as how closely one adheres to the typical left wing political agenda. So help for the poor entails not giving alms, but rather supporting government programs that favor high marginal tax rates and programs that redistribute that money by giving relatively small amounts of entitlement cash to the poor. Never mind that such programs have done little to actually move people from poverty to better economic circumstances, ( and there is some evidence that they do harm). Paradoxically the Catholic left does not rail at rich people that they are living too lavishly and should do more individually to help the poor. They do not warn people like Ben Affleck, who is reportedly worth 75 million and recently bought a 28 million dollar home that they are dangerously neglectful of the poor. We do not see anyone on the Catholic left, saying, you know…maybe buy a 14 million dollar home and give 14 million to the poor… right? (Not to pick on poor Ben, I have no idea how much he gives to charity,) They do rail at “corporations” and such. One might think that they hate capitalism and its symbols more than they love the poor, but anyway….let’s move on
It would appear in terms of calling some things we traditionally think of as sinful now “ok”. The Catholic left seems much more preoccupied with repealing the 6th amendment. It seems that the world would be a better place if only there was more divorce, premarital sex, and homosexual activity and more contraception (could there be more?), and 1 million plus abortions is not a big deal. Now to be sure abortion is not really a sexual sin, rather as a species of murder it’s a sin against justice, but for our purposes at the moment the left groups in it with “sexual sins” because most of the “unwanted” pregnancy”, abortion “remedies” is a consequence of illicit sex. (Yes I know in some cases the pregnancy is “unwanted” for other reasons. Sometimes because the unborn child has a “defect” or condition that renders it “substandard” and thus in the mind of the pro-abortion folks better off dead. This is why 85- 90% of unborn children with Down’s syndrome are dispensed with before birth. Am I being too harsh? Sorry but I find it hard to characterize this behavior in any other way. The champions of compassion regard the disabled as so worthless they kill them in utero. It’s just too much…) Anyway back to the majority of abortions, most of them are about illicit sex as we said. (The CDC reports that about 85% of abortions are among unmarried women see data at their web site . ) Aside from abortions related to rape ( a small percentage of the total, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology estimated the total number of abortions related to rape at about 16,000/ year, this would represent about 1.5% of all abortions, the article abstract is cited here. ) , by and large abortion is mostly about getting rid of children conceived out of wedlock because they are troublesome to deal with in one way or another. We concede that there are other circumstances surrounding abortion as noted above, and some we have not mentioned here, but in any case the left sees abortion as being about sex, and I am merely noting why they see it this way. In fact I am saying to some degree, I understand their point.
But our central discussion this post is not mostly about abortion, it’s why the Catholic left has an issue with the 6th commandment more than some of the others.
I am not sure of the answer to this, but can speculate. On some level there are probably prosaic sociocultural answers that are the immediate causes, but there may be spiritual issues that might be interesting as well. Not to get to mystical about it, but for the moment let’s take seriously St. Paul’s line in Ephesians 6: 11-12:

 

 

“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

 

 

So with apologies to CS Lewis, lets imagine how the devil might look at this. Now let’s say you were a completely corrupted angelic being. You hate man so much you want him utterly destroyed, which means you want him in hell because of your infinite spite and malevolence. For reasons God alone knows, although you are eternally damned yourself, and your ultimate purpose will be frustrated, until the end of the world God permits you to have some influence in the created order. God of course will ultimately use his infinite power so that even this influence serves somehow to work his will  and thus result in some ultimate good… but for now, you can continue to tempt. Now how would you go about doing it? Let’s see….. It would seem any of the seven deadly sins would do…. And this is true, but allowing for the fact that some people are better candidates to be ruined through say sloth versus envy, is there something that might wreck their whole society thoroughly and permanently?

 

Now… the devil has a dilemma here since everything that actually exists is in some sense good. Evil is really an absence of a good that should be there. Even the devil himself has things about him that are “good” like intelligence and will, although these have been perverted to evil because they are not directed to a proper end, by virtues which should be there but are not , like say humility and charity. So as it happen all of the deadly sins are aimed at things which are themselves goods, and in some sense the vices are corruptions of attitudes and properties which could be good, even heroic and saintly. Not to mention they are directed often at pleasures. The Devil does not want to direct the will to something that can be good and pleasurable, those things are God’s creations and the Devil hates them, so the idea is to direct the will inappropriately to some good in a way that other more important goods are neglected… and ideally so that minimal pleasures are had along the way. Remember the devil hates the pleasure and the intrinsic good in anything.
So how to do this?
Hmmm…. Let’s see….. What are the 7 deadly sins? What vices do we have to work with…..
Well there is Gluttony.

24 - Gluttony
But that won’t work very well. First of all if really indulged it, the pleasure soon goes away and God (“The Enemy” from the Devils point of view, again to borrow the CS Lewis terminology) has so constructed the humans that they actually get physically ill from overeating and drinking, including abuse of alcohol. Indeed since much of their eating and drinking is done in the setting of social activities, when overdone to the extent it is a sin, the humans police each other for reasons of social propriety if nothing else… Plus when they overindulge they tend to get fat, and in the case of alcohol abuse, they get obnoxious as well making them unattractive, and thus making lust much harder to actually use…. No this sin is useful here and there for sure…. But to lay waste to their society in a big way? Not much chance.
Ok let’s try something else…
Envy perhaps….?

Envy
Yes now there is a good one… In fact it links up nicely with the others… you can envy all kinds of things, a man’s car and wife (So we get some greed and lust going too…. How convenient! ) Might even lead to some hatred…. One would think envy is perfect…. And in fact a lot of envy has been used to do tremendous harm. One could argue that Communism was heavily belt on theory relying on envy…. But there is a problem… it’s not very sustainable. At least it is not sustainable among whole societies . Paraphrasing Margret Thatcher, societies based on envy eventually run out of other people’ s money .
After a while if you are focused on how much you want some sort of “good” like a money or a beautiful woman or accolades for some sort of accomplishment you might start to not just to hate your neighbor for having them… but you might actually start pursuing them yourself. Recall the things themselves are not “bad” They are good, so if pursued in the right way might actually lead to an increase in virtue, for example you might start to become thrifty to save for a car, or extra kind to the pretty coed in your calculus class…. You might start to work very hard on that new computer program to gain some recognition at work…. Pretty soon you might forget to hate your neighbor and start to focus on the good things themselves… Now maybe one can keep the humans excessively focused on these temporal and limited goods, but this is risky. Once they start thinking about deferred gratification and long term goals, then who knows where that might lead! The next thing you know they are thinking about long term spiritual goals…. No… envy is handy, very useful to damn some, maybe even a lot of humans, but as a program for the whole society… I can do better…

 

Well how about Greed…

Is-greed-still-good1

Yes that’s a good one, the humans will fight wars for greed, they will steal, and murder for money, sell drugs to teenagers, sell pornography and what not, This is a lot like envy… only maybe worse, envy with more of an edge. Can even get them peddling stuff to engage the other vices, pornography and lust go nicely together… Not to mention murder for money by organized crime…. If we get really luck, wars for plunder and conquest… Ah yes… lots of potential here… But trouble is similar downside to envy. It seems “The Enemy” has allowed the humans to devise an economic system, i.e. the free market, where “greed” can start to do some useful things. As the humans pursue monetary gain they actually start to make stuff other humans need, they begin to trade with each other and sooner or later they begin to actually focus on each others needs. Whole countries might have otherwise wiped each other out in war if they did not happen to find that their rival was also their largest trading partner, just look at Communist China and the West !  In the case of individuals they might not just seek more and more money but actually want to be productive for the sake of being productive, for the thrill of creating new jobs or developing new products. Some of these things are truly useful and even do what “The Enemy” would consider good. They make computers, new medicines and that sort of thing, even more food. Their overall standard of living rises. We cannot have the humans less hungry, better educated, and healthier. This is a pretty unpleasant spectacle in and of itself, unless a lot more of them were going to hell… Now to be sure some of the rich do forget the poor and the less fortunate, and thereby end up in hell, but for the most part as the humans standard of living increases they actually might tend to get more charitable as a society. Do we have more public charities, and hospitals now or in the year 1700?

 

Now don’t get me wrong, on an individual basis greed is useful in many cases…. But at the end of the day in the modern industrialized world pursuing wealth is typically associated with education, deferred gratification and hard work, all virtues to be sure. It is very difficult to have most individuals pursuing this sort of thing while perverting it in a sustained way solely for evil. Worked better in the past with agrarian societies. Back then being wealthy meant owning land and there was only so much wealth to go around, because there was only so much land… In those days you could get men to hoard it for themselves. One mans wealth was another mans poverty… Ah… for the good old days!  This modern society in which the humans must work together to actually create wealth makes it harder to have a society where sustained pursuit of material gain can be solely directed to evil and selfish ends… Greed is useful in many individual cases but may not be the jack pot…. We need a sin with minimal pleasure that minimizes pursuit of any virtues and does the most sustained damage….

To be continued…..

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