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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mike Allen: Obsession With 'More' Destroying Us.

Obsession with 'more' destroying us
Mike Allen

What do high obesity rates, the prevalence of sexual brokenness, and our current financial crisis have in common?

They are all symptoms of our primary disease as Americans, a decades-old malady that is only now revealing its full toxicity.

The affliction is pornographization, a made-up word for a real condition that extends beyond the erotic to our overall societal ethos. Just as pornography provides a short cut to counterfeit pleasure, pornographization as defined here describes our broader tendency to promote and embrace instant gratification in all areas without paying the requisite price.

Consider three of our legitimate human needs — food, sex, and money — and imagine the impressions any amateur anthropologist would have about how we Americans satisfy these basic appetites.

Take food, for starters. Drive Richmond Road and count the chain restaurants within your field of vision, each offering a fast and cheap taste of pleasure. Or spend 30 minutes in a grocery, especially the aisles for chips, soft drinks, and cereal. Yet we still fund studies seeking the "root cause" of American obesity.

Let's face it — we're fat because we won't say no, because we like food and we can get it quick, cheap, and tasty, without having to plow a field, weed a garden or slaughter a steer. And unfortunately, sometimes it takes a heart cath or adult diabetes to show us that the meals we acquired had a delayed cost.

Then there's sex. Watch television, surf the Internet, listen to the radio or walk a checkout aisle and see lust normalized and sex presented as recreation. Yet we wonder why so many teenagers have a sexually transmitted disease, or why a million babies are aborted annually, or why sexual addiction abounds.

Let's face it — we're promiscuous because we won't say no, because we like sexual pleasure and we can get it quick, cheap, and easy, without having to get married, support children, or even have a conversation.

And unfortunately, sometimes it takes rampant sexual and familial brokenness to teach us that the pleasure we acquired had a delayed cost.

Now, let's talk money. Flip through your mailbox and see the credit-card solicitations with invitations to transfer balances from one card to another, thus freeing up more space to charge. See the ads urging us to buy now and pay in 2010, and the payday lenders offering instant loans with exorbitant interest.

For years, adjustable-rate mortgages enabled families to buy more house than they could afford, with today's average home 250 percent bigger than in 1950. Yet we ask why the typical family has thousands in high-interest debt or why millions of people are losing homes to foreclosure.

Let's face it — we're debt-ridden because we won't say no, because we like to buy stuff and we can get credit quick, cheap, and easy, without having to make do with less or wait until the money is earned.

And unfortunately, sometimes it takes a banking crisis or a Wall Street meltdown to teach us that the credit we acquired had a delayed cost.

Sadly, signs abound that we are slow to learn.

We still consume fattening food with abandon and eat the largest meal portions in the world. Researchers work for new food developments that will allow us to satisfy our cravings without consequence.

We mock sexual abstinence before marriage, which is — along with marital fidelity — the only certain path to sexual health. I suppose we think pre-marital sex is the one destructive behavior teenagers can't control.

Imagine any adolescent health expert saying, "Kids will smoke anyway, so let's inform them about filtered cigarettes so they'll at least smoke more safely."

And despite our over-consumption and credit addiction, we act righteously indignant at the institutions seeking bailouts, even though we helped build this house-of-cards economy.

If you're like me, for example, you gladly received your stimulus check earlier this year while turning a blind eye to our debt-ridden government.

So while we seek accountability for the pilots of this financial wreckage, we must not ignore our complicity in knowingly getting on board.

And until we learn the collective virtue of self-control and reject the short-cut pornographization culture, we'll be facing more long-term bills in the future.

Mike Allen of Lexington is director of family life ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington. E-mail him at



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