The Social Experience of Coveting
Thinking about politics and wars and the big systemic problems always leads me back to thinking about human behavior, and social behavior. Maybe it is the psychotherapist in me — always analyzing the world around me from a psychological and behavioral stance. So, thinking about leadership and the things we bow down to lead me to think about the human psychology of want, envy, fear, and power and the spiritual and psychological question that comes when we pause to get a distance view of Western culture. Which I think, also, ends up being a spiritual issue of Western culture.
What do we want? What do we bow down to? What do we covet?
Even biblically the answers to these questions come up on passage after passage of scripture and in the parables of religious history, as well as social history, bowing down to things of power and decadence with little genuine authority always gets us into trouble.
The Temple of Want
A friend told me the other day that she had a professor in graduate school who called the nature of American coveting, “kneeling before the Temple of Want.” I love it — well I don’t love it, but you know what I mean. What a perfect way of paralleling how we live in this world aching for kingdoms, and in the process bowing down before many false “Kings.” The temples of our psyches are full of wants and haves which brings momentary ecstasy but no real satisfaction.
I once heard that when we get the “thing” we want (the bright and shiny new bauble) our moment of bliss lasts approximately 5 seconds. Our temple is made of paper-thin walls and the foundation is crumbling down; our “Temple of Want” tricks us by supplying us with an unquenchable thirst, an unending hunger for something never found within its walls. “The Temple of Want” is our cultural addiction — like heroin, the high is immediate but the life-span short, and the more we feed it, the more we want, and the harder it is to get sober.
Great cars, a new gadget, another vacation, some new clothes or shoes or hair cut, and even a better and bigger job, a bigger house. These are the things in our “temple of want” and these are the things we bow down to and spend our life working to attain (not always, but for a good portion of people a good portion of the time). But each time we bow down to this false idol our addiction grows, but our genuine joy diminishes. We find it impossible to enjoy a quiet day in a park, at the beach, playing in the yard with our dog, without the addiction scratching at our brain, keeping out of the bliss of what is and into the jonesing for the next big thing.
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