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The Twins of Wasted Time

The perils of indulgence and martyrdom.

by James Leroy Wilson
February 27, 2002

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The Twins of Wasted Time_James Leroy Wilson-The perils of indulgence and martyrdom. The promotional poster discovered at the Christian bookstore was for a new book called "What Would Jesus Eat?" It's an extension of the "What Would Jesus Do" fad in evangelical Christianity.

Now Jesus, of whom Christianity claims is all-knowing, wouldn't chow down an entire package of Oreos in one sitting. Jesus would know that too much of a good thing makes a person sick. If you lack the intuition to stop yourself from eating it all, you will subsequently learn the lesson. Having learned the lesson after getting sick, you could then "repent" of your error and not do it again. It's called life experience and common sense. If you kept doing it, Jesus would probably consider it a "sin." Not because he would normally care one way or the other what people eat, but because you're being deliberately foolish and at war against your own body. Just stop eating bags of Oreos in one sitting, and things are right with Jesus. Don't deliberately hurt yourself. You'd think we wouldn't need Jesus to help us where our own sense of life and interest in survival would already send us the clear messages.

Food is more than sustenance, it's pleasure. Just as everything else should be in life. Too much of anything - doing it even when the pleasure ceases, and it's a problem. Work should not be dreary, and leisure should not be boring. Wasted time comes in two varieties. The first is doing damage to my own body compulsively, because I've let it become a habit, and habits are hard to break. The second is acting only out of a sense of obligation with no purpose or end, doing something because I think I have to do it, even though doing it advances my interests in no discernible way. Acting out of a sense of guilt. Wasted time is needless harm to oneself under the guise of pleasure, and needless sacrifice to others under the guise of "virtue." Grasping at comfortable habits which themselves keep one miserable, is wasted time. So is proving to yourself and others that you will make sacrifices in the name of "compassion."

By guilt, I don't mean the discipline of necessity, of quitting the comfortable habits that keep one in misery in order to obtain better habits and happier conditions. The road from one to the other can be difficult indeed. Tom Landry called coaching "getting a person to do what he doesn't want to do in order to achieve what he wants to achieve." Submitting to the demands of discipline is not wasted time, it is making one's life better. Better as in happier - more enjoyable. More genuinely pleasurable.

The twin complexes of wasted time, indulgence and martyrdom, are reactions in response to oppressive social institutions, whether they be government, the church, or the family. Indulgence is rebellion against the pious demands others make on the individual. Rebellion, but not revolution. The basic premise that the world works the way "society" says it must work is not seriously questioned by the self-indulgent person. Whereas martyrdom is going overboard in one's agreement with the social structures. They say I must be kind, and I am kind. They say I must give to those less fortunate, and I do. They say I must be humble, and I am; actually, the only ones who know how good I really am are God and me.

I think it is Jean-Paul Satre who wrote that "hell is other people." He might be on to something. Inheriting the prejudices, unquestioned assumptions, and jealousies of others, and incorporating their condemnation or approval into one's own moral compass, is missing the point. An individual is personally responsible for attaining happiness; circumstances determined by other people, and relationships determined by one's self, can influence the condition of an individual. But when one awakes in the morning, and sees the light from the sun and inhales the air of the earth, the only rational conclusion is that the world works for good and that one's own happiness lies chiefly in not screwing it up for ourselves or others. We help each other not because we have to, but because we love each other. And we have fun not out of rebellion, but because we love ourselves. The good life is not submitting to, or rebelling against, the demands of others, but choosing for ourselves. And the more that one chooses to love, the happier that individual will be. The best things in life are not done under compulsion.

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