Monday, November 24, 2014

An Envy of Vice?!

I often find myself torn between two opposite types of envy.  The first type is obvious:  I envy saints, those whose holiness seems to radiate and pour forth into the lives of all whom they touch, especially those whose faith is so strong that Christ grants miracles through their prayers.  What a powerful witness!  But then there's the second type:  I envy the sinful, those whose lives have been weathered through the harsh effects of misdeed, those who have more "worldly" experiences than I do.

The first type of envy is bad because, well, it's envy.  But at least it makes sense.  As a Christian, I am supposed to desire the greatest of gifts, and the saints often exemplify those.  The second type, however, is just bizarre.  To be clear, though, I don't think I tend so much to envy unrepentant sinners, but those who have either changed or who are trying to live right.  For example, I wouldn't envy the common Hollywood celebrity, who proudly sins without admitting that it's even wrong.  But if I had come to personally know my patron saint, St. Augustine, during his lifetime, I might have somehow envied some of his past vices that I haven't shared, such as his past transgressions with women.

I suspect that, in some sense, it's because of my unhealthy fascination with being experienced and world-wise, especially as a man.  In fact, this would explain why I'm not typically envious of religious believers with pasts that are not so much affirmed by the majority of the world.  I would not envy a man who told me he had once been a transsexual--even though that's culturally acceptable, it's not popular enough, not something that the common man in our culture struggles with.  The same would go for sinful tendencies that are still illegal and/or taboo among the typical  man in our culture.  I'm not as fascinated by those.  In some sense, my own dissatisfaction with my own cross, same-sex attraction, is partly for the shallow reason that it's something only a small percentage of men could relate to directly, so I don't feel like it makes me "one of the guys."  If I confided my failures in this arena to the average guy, I don't think he could sympathetically say "I've been there too, man."

But, going back to St. Augustine as an example, to have had trouble with chastity when it comes to women is an experience to which many men will relate, if not a great majority, religious and non-religious alike.  In some sense, then, this one area where I have been largely pristine (my wife is indeed the one and only woman with whom I've had physical sexual contact) can oddly make me feel isolated from the world of my fellow men.

I want to make it clear that I am very, very glad of my victories in chastity regarding women. Sometimes--and this isn't a good thing--I'm inordinately proud of it, want to shout it from the rooftops and brag about it, to say:  "Look, as much as I've messed up, sexually, here's one thing that at least I've done right!"  And I have no interest in ever physically being with any other woman besides my wife, to the point that I'm not even sure I would want to remarry if, Heaven forbid, I were widowed, let alone have any illicit relationship with a woman!  And this whole "sexual immorality with women" thing is just one example of what I'm talking about.

My point is that when it comes to experiences, in general, where the majority of my fellow men have transgressed and I have not, it may make me feel special, but it also makes me feel isolated somehow.  If most men have gotten drunk, then even though I have no personal interest in getting drunk at all, I will feel a pang of regret that I can't relate to them when they confide or admit their regrets to me.  I've never been there.  And perhaps, if getting drunk at least once is that common, I would feel like those men are somehow better equipped to relate to our culture than I.  Another one in our culture, even among religious types, is temporary rebellion against the more traditional values of one's parents, whether openly or quietly.  Most people have gone through that kind of phase, most especially during the teenage years.  I never really did.  I've messed up a lot, but never in a manner that seemed overly defiant, nor covertly dismissive of my parents' values.

So I fret that, in some sense, I'm "missing" something that others have.  At heart, I think that's what it's all about.  I'm always afraid of "missing out" on something, of being unable to relate to others.  My drive to know what it's like to be my fellow man can often leave me insecure about any differences between him and me, even differences where ostensibly I'm at an advantage.  This has led, in the past, to an incredibly uncomfortable tension, where I want to maintain the moral high ground but at the same time don't want to feel so "cut off" from relating to the vices common to my fellow men, and so I've been reduced to tears as, honestly, I didn't know what I wanted.

The solution?  Well, I can't prescribe my own solution, but I think it's obvious.  I must put my eyes on Christ.  He, by Himself, is a majority when set against others.  I must wish to rise above my own faults and failures, by His Grace, let alone those faults and failures I've been blessed to evade, so that I can be more like Him.  He should be the One to Whom I am obsessed with resemblance, to Whose experiences I wish desperately to relate.  The saints eventually reached a place in life where they wanted to share in Jesus' life, wanted to know what it was like to live in His shoes, rather than in the shoes of my fellow mortals.

We all have vices we must rise above.  It wouldn't be good for anyone to envy me of my vices, no matter how they simply wanted to know what it was like to be me, even if my vices were more "in vogue."  So it's also not good for me to envy the vices of others, no matter how much it may mean they have something "in common" with the majority of my cultural peers when I don't.  I should never look down on anyone else for their vices, because I have vices of my own that are not the least bit better.  But nor should I ever feel like I'm "missing out" on anything because of the absence of their vices in my own life.

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