Monday, 9 July 2012

Celibacy and asceticism - the single life

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The traditional Christian idea was (perhaps) that celibates (the unmarried, the single) ought to be ascetic - disciplined, regulated, self-denying of pleasure - and that such a life was (for most people) best done by living in community, under discipline.

The modern idea is pretty much the opposite: that singles in a sense ought to live lives of self-indulgence, pleasure maximization, willfulness - and that the single ought ideally to be autonomous, live alone, without discipline or constraint.

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So, the 'college' for the residential education of young people has gone from being an ascetic 'monastic' institution to an hedonic institution - a complete reversal.

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Asceticism used to be the highest ideal of holiness; yet it makes no sense to most people nowadays - it seems almost perverse.

Christianity is about theosis, sanctity, holiness - conformity to an external standard - and humans are seen as intrinsically prone to sin; hence the necessity of groupishness to save people from themselves.

Modernity is about self-development: asceticism gets in the way of this, the ideal is freedom of the individual will. Even when the individual will leads to misery, depravity and destruction - this outcome is accepted (even celebrated) since no higher goal than untrammelled self-expression can be imagined.

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Moderns can hardly stand the idea of life without the distraction and anaesthesia of unconstrained and open-ended self-indulgence.

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And modernity in its characteristic form of bureaucracy has made the collegial idea almost impossible, since authority is now a committee.

Spiritually, obedience to a committee is qualitatively different from obedience to a person: obedience to a committee is necessarily merely yielding one's will to superior force, while obedience to a person can be an act of love.

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If there is to be a repentance - the revival of the broadly 'monastic' ideal of ascetic, disciplined and communal living for the unmarried will surely be a part of it.

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