A vivid picture of sin has been given to us by St. Augustine: homo incurvatus in se, “man turned in upon himself.” The image that conjures up in my mind is rather like a dog chasing his tail . . . or myself, in some of my less glorious moments. The point is, we direct ourselves inward, away from God, away from other people, hoping to find within ourselves what can only come from beyond. The world in which we are living today is becoming more and more a world not so much turned in upon itself, because that would imply that we’re doing it together, but a world in which each and every one of us is turned in upon ourselves, eight billion dogs simultaneously chasing their own tails.
Such intense self-absorption is bad for us, of course, because we were made for love by the God Who is Love (1 John 4:8), and love is willing the good of another. And therein lies a problem, because one effect of sin turning us inside out is that it turns love inside out as well, so that we find ourselves actually willing evil for others.
A few years back I ran across a story that perfectly captures the essence of a world full of people curved in upon themselves. Below please find my exploration of the wonderful world of Vasectomy Showers:
An Age That Knows No Shame
The celebrated 17th century wit François de La Rochefoucauld once opined, “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue”. In other words, we lie about what we are doing because we’re wise enough, at least, to be ashamed of it. What can we say, however, about an age that knows no shame?
I’m thinking here of an article from Britain’s Daily Mail, whose headline blares:
Forget baby showers! Young couples are holding ‘vasectomy parties’ to celebrate the start of a childless family, and ask guests to name their CAR instead
While the Daily Mail further tells us that “The cost of having children is deterring a growing number of couples from expanding the family unit”, the comments of the seemingly happily self-sterilized couples in the article suggest motives other than penury:
Instead of the traditional baby shower, couples also invite friends to ‘car showers’ where guests help them name their new car.
They also play board games like The Price Is Right, where they talk about what they can buy now that they’ve saved money by not having kids.
Clearly, it’s not that they don’t have money, they simply would rather spend their cash on toys for themselves than on their own progeny.
Now, in order to equate one’s child with a car – or not really equate, actually to value one’s own child as less than a car – one must engage in a certain amount of dehumanization. We can’t simply say that “I prefer playthings to my own sons and daughters”, so we instead we say things like:
‘All a baby shower is a party to celebrate that you had sex,’ wrote another user [of the blog WereNotHavingABaby.com]. ‘That a sperm managed to hit a fertile egg. A vasectomy shower is a party to celebrate soon to be sex.’
Nobody, including almost certainly the person who first wrote it, really thinks that a baby shower is intended to celebrate “That a sperm managed to hit a fertile egg”. People have baby showers to celebrate the creation of new life, to welcome a new member of the family, and as a way of sharing that life with the wider community. A “vasectomy shower”, likewise, doesn’t celebrate “soon to be sex”, it “celebrates” the decision to render that sex barren and empty, a meaningless self-indulgence. It is an attempt to glorify, or maybe better yet justify, saying “no” to life.
Not all vasectomy party supporters put the matter quite so crassly, of course; some aim for a more reasonable-sounding tone. One woman, for instance posted the comment:
I had swallowed the motherhood mandate hook, line, and sinker and I had never given myself the space and time to question whether I really, really want children.
In some ways this last comment is sadder than the in-your-face defiance of the more outrageous self-sterilization promoters. She seems to have truly come to believe the current conventional wisdom that what she “really, really wants” should be the paramount prority in her life. There is no sense that she owes anything to any children she might otherwise bear, to her family, to her community, or to her God. Curvata est in se.
We all want what we want, of course: that’s the way of our fallen human nature. Our wishes and desires are among our strongest motivators. At the same time, healthy societies have always recognized that if they are to flourish, or even just survive, more is required. Individuals need to see their own fulfillment as tied in with and subordinate to that of their society. There have always been positive incentives (calls to heroism, public acclaim, etc.), and also negative consequences: our modern word “idiot” comes from the Greek ἰδιώτης (“idiotes”), from the adjective meaning “one’s own”. The idiot was one who rejected the community to make his own way and set his own standards.
The revelation of Jesus Christ raises the issue to an even higher level. Christ tells us not merely to find our own fulfillment within the larger community, but that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) . . . and he backed it up with his own death “for the many”. For the better part of two millennia the central image of Christianity, God’s self-sacrifice out of love for all, has dominated not only the Church but, to a great degree, Western culture itself. We can see it in the visual arts, and in music, but also in certain cultural expectations. When we really, really wanted to follow our own desires in defiance of right order, we knew that we were were also defying the Will of God, and turning our backs on Christ’s willing acceptance of death for our sake. That didn’t always stop us, of course, but often it did. Even when it didn’t, the knowledge of the standard Christ set for us on the Cross fed and strengthened the voice of Conscience calling us back.
That history is important, because it means that our current state of shamelessness is of a different order than that of the age of Caligula and Nero. The Romans of two thousand years ago were rejecting the the human wisdom of their forbears, which was foolish and destructive: one consequence was that the old patrician nobility of Rome, including families that had been prominent for centuries, virtually died out by the end of the first century A.D. In our case, we are rejecting not mere human wisdom, but Divine teaching and the example of God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, his gift of Himself offered up for us on the Cross. We are following a different example, that of Satan, into whose mouth the poet John Milton puts the words, Non Serviam!, “I will not serve!”.
Giving The Devil His Due
We don’t see these exact words come from the Devil’s mouth in the Bible, but they had been associated with him long before Milton composed Paradise Lost because they so accurately sum up the nature of Satan’s rebellion. And they do in fact come from Sacred Scripture, in the book of Jeremiah, where we see the prophet chastising the wayward people of Judah:
Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord GOD of hosts. “For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve.’ Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot. Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:19-21)
Since Non Serviam (as it appears in the Latin Vulgate translation) so perfectly captures the attitude that led Lucifer to his fall, these words naturally came to be associated with the Devil. To take it a little further, if it was “evil and bitter” for God’s chosen people to abandon his ways, surely it is at least as wicked for us Christians, who also were planted “as a choice vine, wholly of pure seed.” The chastisement that inevitably flows from our collective refusal to answer Christ’s call to self-sacrifice is abundantly clear, if we’re willing to see it. It is evident in the disintegration of the institution of the family and all the needless misery that follows, we can see it in the dying populations of the formerly Christian countries of Europe and, soon, North America, and in many other social ills. Even worse, it is manifested in the decline of Faith, and the likelihood that many souls will therefore be lost forever.
Principalities and Powers
Jeremiah’s image of harlotry itself fits perfectly with our present situation. After all, isn’t our era’s great refusal of our Lord’s call to service precisely about indulging sexual desire without responsibility, or consequences, or any limits that we don’t choose for ourselves? Which brings us back to the vasectomy showers, a celebration of sexual pleasure without self-sacrifice, without true union, without real love. Non Serviam! And just as Satan looks to ensnare all of us along with him in his apostasy, the public glorification of sexual rebellion in vasectomy parties is intended to break down the walls of shame in order to make the repugnant seem acceptable . . . and, ultimately, good.
Oh, yes, and if you publicly oppose that newly enshrined “good”, or even refrain from endorsing it with sufficient enthusiasm, there’s hell to pay. That has been the strategy of the revolutionaries in every battle of the Sexual Revolution. That is why not so long ago the cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires (who has since been promoted to a position of some prominence in Rome) said that the push to “redefine” marriage was “a move by the devil, looking to confuse and deceive all children of God” (article here). The same judgment applies to other innovations, such as the public celebration of sterilization, that seek to undermine traditional sexual morality. The degradation of our moral norms and the dismantling of social institutions that embody them is, quite simply, diabolical.
Vasectomy parties and and the like may strike us as ridiculous, but they’re not funny. They might be only a small step on the proverbial Highway to Hell, but who wants to go that route? More than that, the fact that such a thing can be reported with, apparently, no shame attaching to its promoters is a sign of how far we’ve fallen. After all, despite the carnality of the battlefield, “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In that fight, whose battle standard do we want to follow, Christ’s . . . or Satan’s?