Man Turned in on Himself, excerpt 6

Promiscuity, consumerism, obesity, narcissism, apathy, greed—these are just a few of the obvious displays of homo incurvatus in se in 21st-century America. These behaviors—or the consequences of them—are visible and often public. Even apathy is on display by the very lack of people showing up to meet a given need. But from a pastoral or evangelistic perspective, attempting to point to any one of these behaviors as “sin,” quickly becomes a case of “Do not judge someone because they sin differently than you.” One man’s Armani suit is another’s pound of fudge. And besides, the accused will snap, “who is it hurting?” This common deflection reveals what C.S. Lewis began noting as early as 1940: modern man has lost all sense that his sinful behavior is worthy of God’s wrath. That internalized check-and-balance between one’s behavior and the Creator’s response has been phased out by one hundred years where “we have so concentrated on one of the virtues—kindness or mercy—that most of us do not feel anything except kindness to be really good or anything but cruelty to be really bad. . . . The real trouble is that ‘kindness’ is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that ‘his heart is in the right place’ and ‘he wouldn’t hurt a fly’, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.” (From The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis)

As a result of our obliviousness to sin, “Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis—in itself very bad news—before it can win a hearing for the cure.” The diagnosis might be helped along by looking more closely at three of the shockingly common individual— and often hidden— sufferings that plague the modern American in the 21st century: anxiety, depression, and a disordered relationship to technology. Whether alone or in combination, these conditions are often at the heart of—or, in the case of technology, undergirding—the more overt expressions of homo incurvatus in se such as promiscuity, addiction, gluttony, consumerism, and greed.

In the sub-sections to follow, consideration will be given to each of these three conditions and how they relate to homo incurvatus in se in the following ways: 1) Man turns away from God and toward his own desires because he wants to be his own God. Now, if he were the only soul on earth—as his (and our) narcissism often deludes him into thinking— this problem would be manageable. But a world filled with creatures each trying to be his own God quickly leads to chaos: if everyone is in charge, no one is in charge. This ever-mutating, self-created chaos “bounces back” to the modern man in the form of increasing anxiety and depression. 2) Our self-centeredness turns our fellow man into our competition. “If, being cowardly, conceited and slothful, you have never yet done a fellow creature great mischief, that is only because your neighbor’s welfare has not yet happened to conflict with your safety, self-approval, or ease. Every vice leads to cruelty.” (Lewis) This “zero-sum” mentality leads to greater distrust, which, in turn, “justifies” our curving ever more inward. 3) We are social creatures in a world that now feels chaotic and untrustworthy. We therefore create “safe” and undemanding simulations of community for ourselves through technology. Online we can all be our own Gods (we can even imagine we’ve recreated the “bonds of kinship”) as the virtual/digital life pulls us deeper into the “journey homeward to habitual self.” With that, we now look more closely at anxiety, depression, and our disordered relationship to technology.

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