MonthApril 2012

What do Kraft Dinner and Bad Sex have in common?

Photo by Ronaldo de Oliveira on Unsplash

Kraft Dinner is an abomination.  If you don’t think so, it’s because you’ve fallen victim to a lie, one that demeans both you and cheese.

I used to eat KD.  When we first moved off campus, my college roommates and I ate it a lot.  The convenience of the stuff eclipsed all other considerations—taste for instance. We did eventually tire of it, so we attempted to gussy it up a little by adding a dollop of mustard or diced onions.   If it was a special meal, we’d add cut up hot dogs.  These attempts did not really redeem the meal because the core element didn’t change; it was still Kraft Dinner.

I haven’t eaten KD for over 30 years.  The reason is that I like cheese.  Why would I eat a powdered cheese when I can eat real cheese?

Kraft Dinner is evidence that human beings are willing to exchange great pleasure for a degraded experience in the worship of any number of false idols. #kraftdinner #premaritalsex #monogamy #marriage

Degraded Pleasures

Obviously, human beings can be manipulated to exchange great pleasure for degraded experiences.

As evidence, I give you

  • Hostess Twinkies–over 500 million degraded pastries sold each year,
  • M&Ms–over 400 million degraded chocolate candies produced each day,
  • Folger’s Coffee–degraded coffee sold for less than $7 for a two pound can,
  • Coor’s Lite–over 100 million cases of degraded beer,
  • and Kraft Dinner.

There are 7 million Kraft Dinners sold per week.  Canadians eat an average of 3.2 boxes each year.   What can explain these disturbing numbers?

Minions of hell, of course.

C. S. Lewis gives us an imaginative explanation as he explores the hellish view of pleasure in The Screwtape Letters.  An experienced tempter, Screwtape, offers advice to his nephew, a novice, on the uses of pleasure to ensnare a human soul.  Screwtape laments that despite their best efforts, Hell has not been able to produce a single pleasure, but pleasure can still be useful if properly degraded.  He tells his nephew,

You must always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure, to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable

for when dealing with any pleasure in its

healthy and normal and satisfying form we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.

Let’s use beer as an example of how the demonic is at work in degrading pleasures.

Beer is a pleasure–a good gift from God.  One of the best beers I ever had was in Rennes, France. The label said it was Picon Biere and it tasted like oranges.  I was sitting outdoors in the warm sun at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  I had nowhere to go and nothing to do.  The street was cobbled. Across the street was a row of 16th-century buildings. It was one of those incredible moments of joy.  I think this experience was close to what God had in mind when he invented hops and barley and yeast.

There is a lot of beer consumed in a way that offers nothing like the pleasure of a pint from your local microbrewery.  The mass-produced lagers are the beer of choice for those who want to want to express their freedom through the “fun” afforded by alcohol.  They don’t drink one or even two, but many of these cheap beers.    The taste of each individual beer is unremarkable, so they are not really enjoyed and the cumulative effect is far from the pleasurable, particularly the next day.

This is how the devils take a good gift from God and suck most of the pleasure out of it.  The same is done to the pleasures of sex.

Kraft Dinner and Sex

There’s KD sex, and there’s sex the way it was meant to be.  Many people reject the Christian ideal of sex within marriage because it is too restrictive.   All good things have limits.  Just as you can’t make a good tasting cup of coffee with Robusta beans, you can’t experience all the pleasures of sex outside of marriage.

All good things have limits. Just as you can't make a good cup of coffee with Robusta beans, you can't experience all the pleasures of sex outside of marriage. #kraftdinner #premaritalsex #monogamy #marriage

In his book, Orthodoxy, C. K. Chesterton is puzzled by “the common murmur . . . against monogamy.”  Baffled he asks why people would gripe over the restriction of “keeping to one woman” and overlook the privilege of being able to love even one.

I heard of a conversation in which some young people were having an honest discussion about marriage and sex with an older Christian.  One of the young people asked the adult, “How does it take . . . how long does it take to make love.” The wise answer was, “Years.”

Is Biblical morality really opposed to pleasure?
Is one Picon Biere really inferior to a dozen Coors Lights?
Is the long love to one marriage partner really inferior to many short-term relationships?

Is Biblical morality opposed to pleasure? Is one craft beer inferior to a dozen Coors Lights? Is the long love to one marriage partner inferior to multiple, short-term relationships? #kraftdinner #premaritalsex #monogamy…

Seafood Mac and Cheese

The ingredients for Seafood Macaroni and Cheese are:

  • olive oil
  • large shrimp
  • chopped onion
  • chopped peeled carrots
  • chopped celery
  • garlic cloves, peeled, flattened
  • Turkish bay leaf
  • tomato paste
  • Cognac or brandy
  • butter
  • flour
  • whipping cream
  • Fontina cheese
  • gemelli pasta
  • fresh crabmeat
  • chopped fresh chives

These, properly blended and prepared, have echoes of heaven.

 

Objectification of the Onion

Nietjuh / Pixabay

The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon is the most remarkable cookbooks that I’ve ever read. For one thing, it has hardly any recipes in it. Most of the book is a reflection on food, life, the world and everything, while patiently describing the preparation of a lamb stew. Chapter 2 is dedicated to considering the onion. Capon suggests you ought to set aside an hour for this one ingredient.

The Onion

When you take the onion into your hand you note that it is a thing, as are you. He calls this a mutual confrontation, for the onion also confronts you. With his poetic prose, Capon leads us on an exploration of all aspects of this amazing ingredient, from the dry onion paper, both sides, to the wonder of the layers within. To look at an onion in this way, one encounters

  • gravity and mortality,
  • the nature of dryness
  • and the miracle of water,
  • the glory of discovering something never before seen,
  • life inside death,
  • and pressure.

Because of this careful exploration, he hopes that we will

never again argue that the solidities of the world are mere matters of accident . . . [and] meaningless shapes out of nothing.” He wants us to encounter it first for what it is and not only for how it can be used. He believes man’s “real work is to look at the things of the world and love them for what they are.

The History of Objects

Objectification is bad, right? At least in the sense that to objectify a person is bad. It suggests that they’ve been downgraded to a lower level—the level of the object. This idea, that objects are inferior to people, is a given.

It makes sense, I suppose. We’ve inherited this idea from our past. In the Middle Ages, for instance, we understood reality in terms of the Great Chain of Being. In this view of reality, everything was placed hierarchically as if on a cosmic chain. At the top of the chain were all the things that were completely spiritual, then the human world which was part spiritual and part physical, then the animals and the plants, and at the very bottom were the things that were completely physical and therefore inferior to everything above it. In this scheme almost everything was thought inferior to human beings.

But objects weren’t then as we think of them now. Objects today are completely empty of anything but their physical properties. To know something we just need to study, measure, graph and diagram it.

In the Medieval world, objects were more than just their physical properties. Garlic wasn’t just a flavour for stew, but also a repellent for evil. You had to be aware of your relationships to things like black cats and ladders because they weren’t just cats and ladders. The flowers a bride carried not only covered up her body odour, but aided in her fertility on the wedding night.

These things weren’t hard to believe for the medieval mind.  Because the meaning of things was in the thing.  Meaning was objective.

The Modern Object

Meaning has moved–it no longer lives in the object, but in the mind of the human looking at it (or smelling, measuring, or graphing it).

So, while objects have been held as inferior to humans for a long time, the modern world has taken the inferiority of the object to a whole new level–a much lower one. It has completely emptied things of their meaning. Meaning is no longer to be found in the object, only in the subject, or, more accurately, in the mind of the subject. Objects have no inherent meaning, only that which I attribute to it. The modern person takes this as a given; it is part of our worldview.

But Capon warns that much is lost when we view the world of things as empty of meaning. He says that every time we look at what a thing “can be made to mean,” rather than what a thing is, reality slips away and we are left with nothing. He concludes the chapter on the onions saying, “One real thing is closer to God than all the diagrams in the world.”

To objectify something is to look at it only as something to be used. It is completely inappropriate for one to look at a human being in this way—we call it objectification. But built into the word itself is the assumption that it’s just fine to look at an object in this way.  Capon contests this view of the created world.

If it seems strange to see objects as Capon sees them, it is because we are modern.  Most people who have lived would think secular modernism pretty strange.

Is that cross around your neck, just pious cliché?

Flannery O’Connor says that the separation of grace and nature does a disservice to both (Mystery and Manners).  Emptied of the spiritual, nature becomes either sentimental or obscene.  This was the topic of my last post: How are Precious Moments like pornography.  This post is about how the spiritual, emptied of nature becomes nothing more than pious cliché.

It didn’t take long to think of a great example for this one.  What “spiritual” thing has been emptied of almost everything physical?

The Cross. The central symbol of the Christian faith.

I’m thinking of cross earrings and cross necklaces so many of the faithful sport.  Have we gotten to the point where the jewelry and tattoos only suggest devotion?

I saw a young man in full “gangsta” attire sporting a bejeweled rosary.  I suppose it’s possible he was a Catholic, but it’s just as likely that the cross he wears today will mean the same thing as the adorned dog tags he will wear tomorrow.  I will also wonder if he’s really a veteran.

When purchasing a cross to wear as a pendant, charm or earring, do people actually care about the particular origin of the design, or do they just buy the one that strikes their fancy?  There are many varieties of crosses: Cathedral, Orthodox, Celtic, Greek, Russian, Byzantine, Latin, Maltese, Jerusalem, Huguenot and many more.  I have an ancestor that was a Huguenot so I could wear that one with some legitimacy.  Is it good enough to be a Christian to legitimately wear any cross?

Do you think of your cross jewelry a Roman torture and execution device, or is it a way to suggest devotion, while also adorning your neck? #piouscliche

Bring the natural back into the spiritual

How do we rectify this?  If O’Connor is right, the spiritual must, once again, be filled with the physical.  We need to be reintroduced to the physical dimensions of the crucifixion.  A lot of people have written on this and many Good Friday sermons have been preached on it.  If you have not ever heard of the tortures of crucifixion read A Physician’s View of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The Cross, emptied of its physicality becomes a pious cliché.  I suppose it’s fine to put a cross around your neck, but it ought to be scandalous. Isn’t it scandalous for the Son of the Most High God to be shamed, tortured and executed on this device?

The heart of the Gospel is in the answer to the question, “Why would those who love him wear a symbol of this obscenity?”

 

How are Precious Moments like pornography?

Realistic Moments by Rachel Held EvansI love these Realistic Moments by Rachel Held Evans.

These cartoons function a lot like the short stories of Flannery O’Connor—they too are a little disturbing, and funny.  And. like many of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, these cartoons expose a tendency for Christians to fall into sentimentality.  We like to prune Bible stories back a little so that they can provoke the right emotion.

The drowning of the entire human population of the world, save six, is often reduced to pairs of cute animals walking side-by-side into the arc.   The excruciating story of Joseph becomes a story of victorious faith.  Ehud’s assassination of Eglon is rarely told because there is not an acceptable emotion to which reduce it.

In the book Mystery and Manners, O’Connor suggests the reason for this sort of sentimentality is that Christians conceptually separate nature and grace—or to use different terms, we separate the physical from the spiritual.  This is the central tenet of Modern secularism, by which  Western Christianity has been so influenced.  When we separate the two, O’Connor says that Grace is degraded to pious cliche and Nature becomes either sentimental or obscene.

Sentimentalism is the result of separating Nature and Grace. When we separate the two, Grace is degraded to pious cliche and Nature becomes either sentimental or obscene. Christians prefer sentimentality over obscenity.
Not So Precious Moments

Precious Moments paraphernalia as an example of sentimentality.  These figurines occupy the shelves and mantels in many Christian homes.  As such, they are examples of degraded Grace.  And even if we don’t display it in our homes, the sentimentality that they signify is part of our mental adornment.

Precious Moments figurines are nothing if not a sentimental celebration of innocence.  I saw an ad for the Precious Moments Nativity Scene in a magazine.  It comes with the figures of all the traditional observers of the Incarnation—including a shepherd and two sheep.

I have raised sheep and the cute little ceramic balls of white, ceramic fluff bear as little resemblance to my lambs as I do to the figurine shepherd.  Don’t get me wrong, a natural lamb is quite adorable, but you don’t just get the adorable.  If you touch a sheep, you will smell like lanolin, a smelly oil that permeates the wool.  The stink sticks to you and it won’t come off with soap and water.  Although I am sure lanolin is very handy for the sheep, it’s not a scent that works very well in civil society.  Further, life on the farm is not conducive to a white animal, nor is the natural consequences of all the grass and feed they consume–they are dirty.  Now don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed being a shepherd, even with the selenium shots, hoof-trimming, shearing, prolapses, and bottle feeding.  The point is, there was more to a lamb than cuteness and cuddliness.

The Precious Moment sheep are a sentimental distortion of actual sheep where everything is stripped away except innocence. In all sorts of human representations, Precious Moments give us pictures of ourselves as innocent as well.

In my own Precious Moments collection, I have David and Jonathan figurines.  They present innocent friendship, and nothing else.  A far cry from the real characters of David and Jonathan.  These two are as innocent as we are.

O’Connor correctly points out, we lost our innocence in the Fall, and “our return to it is through the Redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it.”  The Precious Moment figurines offer simple innocence, or simply offers innocence–but this denies it’s cost, and innocence comes at a great cost–the death of the Son of God.

Precious Moments and Pornography

According to O’Connor, pornography, too, is essentially sentimental–it reduces sexuality to the erotic.  Just as the Precious Moments isolates innocence, pornography separates the erotic from sex “and its hard purpose,” by which I think she means, conception and birth and childrearing, likely followed by a life full of the joys and hardships of parenting.

Oscar Wilde said that a sentimentalist “is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.” Precious Moments are like pornography in that they have the same source–the radical separation between the natural and the supernatural.  They are both sentimental expressions–attempts to achieve the emotion without the cost.

Just to be clear, O’Connor would not have claimed the two or morally equivalent.

Precious Moments are like pornography in that they have the same source in that they are both sentimental--attempts to achieve the emotion without the cost.

How do we avoid the loss of meaning that results from this sentimentalizing?  We need to live out of the understanding that all objects and actions are spiritual.  O’Connor was insistent that our sense of the supernatural ought to be grounded in concrete observable reality.  Those of us who believe that there is a spiritual reality need to take the next step and see the physical world as infused with the transcendent.  Without the separation, the erotic is not obscene but a gift from our creator.  Without this separation, the lamb is both one of the cutest things that have walked on the planet, and also one of the smelliest.  And as they get a little older, one of the stupidest.

There’s a reason why the Bible refers to God’s people as sheep–somehow we are both adorable and smelly and stupid.

My next post is about the reverse problem.  Read Is that cross around your neck just pious cliche?

 

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