Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Life without Sacrifice

There is no such thing.

We’d like to think there is. Many live their lives simply trying to please themselves, and think they are thus avoiding sacrifice. Many avoid God, religion, or following all the dictates of their professed religion, because they don’t like the idea of sacrifice. In their minds, either God is mean and wrong to ask for sacrifice, or He is too nice to do so.
      But there’s no escaping it, even if we are blind to its presence, or even if we reject God. Some may think they serve no one and certainly no god, but that’s impossible. Whether we admit it or not, the temple in our heart can’t be empty. If we refuse to allow God in there, some other idol(s) will slip in, in His place. And that idol will always demand sacrifice.
     This sounds crazy, I know, but think about it. Let’s say I decide I will be happiest if I have a lot of money. I’m so dedicated to riches that I decide to let nothing stop me. So I put making money above following the law (provided I won't get caught). I put making money above exercise and rest, since I’ve got to put in a lot of hours to advance at work. I put it above being fair to my co-workers, because getting that promotion is integral to achieving my goal. So I’ll backstab or even lie about my co-workers. I may not admit it, but money is my idol, and the sacrifices I make to it are my conscience, my health, and good relationships with my colleagues.
Or let’s say what I care most about is pleasure. I don’t want to slave away at my job; I only work so I can pay for my pleasures. So I do just enough to keep my job; I don’t care about the company I work for, its well-being, or about pleasing my boss. I like people who are fun and with whom I have a good time. If they stop being fun or have problems, I avoid them if possible. I engage in activities that are pleasurable, even if they’re bad for me or risky. I may not admit that I’m worshipping pleasure or sacrificing my integrity, my long-term welfare, real friendship, my health, and possibly my life to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am.
Of course in both those cases, all I’ve listed are the temporal sacrifices, which any open-minded person can perceive. But believers also notice the spiritual price to be paid: worshipping money, pleasure, or anything instead of God ultimately means the sacrifice of my character, of my virtues, of my eternal soul.

Most people aren’t as extreme as these examples though. They want money and pleasure and friends, so they give something to each. But they still fudge giving much of anything to God. 
But many do allow God in the temple of their hearts. Nevertheless, all of us—being sinners—have at least at times let down our guard and also allowed some minor gods to creep in there too. We don’t admit that they’re idols, so we think God won’t mind sharing some space with them. We think we can please Him and them too, and get the benefits of pouring a few surreptitious libations in their direction.

      Much as we would like to, we can’t keep our pretty cake intact and eat it too. Everything comes with a price. Often the price is worth it. Working hard at one’s job is worth the cost involved to provide for one’s family. But not if means having only crumbs of time left for one’s family.
Growing in virtue and going to heaven have a price too—I have to follow God’s commands, even though it means denying myself or doing something difficult—but that price is well worth it. Any sacrifice I need to make—my pride, my grudges, indulging in excessive pleasure, my pet sins, getting my way—any and every one of these sacrifices is well worth heaven and union with God, who alone can satisfy my soul.

The Mandate: A Case in Point
Contraception is evidently one of our national idols. It’s a sister goddess to sex; we don’t like the former as much as the latter, but we put up with the one to enjoy the other. It doesn’t matter that contraception comes with a price; we prefer the costs of contraception to the costs of sex alone—babies and sexually transmitted disease. It doesn’t matter what contraception demands of us, we’re willing to pay it.
It doesn’t matter that she interferes with the total gift of self that sex is meant to be; that in her chemical form she has unpleasant and sometimes serious side effects—from moodiness to sterility to cancer to possibly even death; that she doesn’t always come through on her promises, but lets babies and disease come to us even after we’ve sacrificed to her. She can always open her mantle and show us her twin, abortion, who’s often been secretly at work there anyway.
We would rather pay all these costs than even consider the alternative. We could avoid disease much more effectively simply by saving sex until marriage and being faithful within marriage. We could space our babies simply by paying attention to the signs of the wife’s fertility and abstaining while she’s fertile. Many, many people evidently consider this way too high a price to pay. We’d rather have sex available at all times. (Plus most people don't know that conscientious natural family planning is as effective, if not more so, than the Pill, so even those who do save sex for marriage usually won't consider natural family planning.)
So we’ll make any sacrifice that contraception demands. Even sacrificing the conscience of others. Better tread on someone else’s first amendment rights and weaken the future protection of our own than diminish the worship of our beloved goddesses.