Hedonism. That word has a dark, seductive ring to it.
What is hedonism? Do you aspire to live a hedonistic lifestyle? Hedonism, in its simplest definition, is the pursuit of pleasure. I’ve known quite a few people who literally strived to live as a hedonist; they were (or still are) constantly chasing the latest and greatest thrill, traveling nonstop all over the world, eating (what seems to be) all they can eat, dating whomever they want to be seen with, so on and so forth. Living a life of complete luxury; must be a dream to live that way, right?
While I don’t think hedonism overall is bad, I want to focus more on the “when are the good things in life not good anymore” aspect of innocent indulgence. Are you a hedonist if you take pleasure in enjoying a cup of coffee every morning? Are you selfish for savoring what you would consider the simple pleasures in life, like cuddling with a puppy? When does delighting in the good things reach the point of no longer being healthy, but rather an unhealthy addiction? Does it even reach that point? Keep this in mind: hedonism and debauchery aren’t the same thing. You could venture to say that one defines the act, and one is the act. How about a step further? Hedonism and debauchery shouldn’t be the same thing!
If you identify as a hedonist, I would assume there are no holds barred when it comes to your lifestyle. You may find pleasure in something that I find repulsive, and vice versa, therefore pleasure is relative. My question, then, is at what point does hedonism not fall into the same category as (or just flat-out BECOME) debauchery? The definition of debauchery is as follows: excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. If you find something that gives you great pleasure (let’s use the example of sex, since it’s easy), why in the world would you want to put a restraint on it, unless perhaps it was due to religious convictions? If you found sex so gratifying, why wouldn’t it be done in excess? The principle of hedonism is that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. Once a person has found their hearts desire, who’s to say that (because it brings them much delight) they won’t do it in excess, therefore resulting in addiction? When does the line in the sand get drawn? Is there even a line? When is it time to wave the white flag before it's too late and "pleasure" has become "problem"?
With respect to following the underlying theme to this blog (spiritual undertones), hedonism is in direct opposition to the gospel. One promotes [ultimately] selfishness, while the other promotes selflessness and the laying down of one’s life. A person who is sold out for God and lives to fulfill the mission of Christ will struggle if they simultaneously want to succeed in the pursuit of pleasure…assuming it’s a self-indulgent quest. Jesus’ mission was to save that which was lost (Luke 4:18); the gospel was and is directed toward every area of need, poverty, and problem of humanity. Once a person comes to Christ, they eventually get to the place of having the same heart as Christ — the same value system, the same compassion for all mankind, the same love for all people, the same burden for the destitute, and ideally, the same forgiveness and grace. What does “gospel” mean? What is it, and why does it need to be spread?
Here's a sidebar (and it's free!): I grew up in a Christian household; my mother instilled Godly values in me and my two siblings, we went to church as a family on a consistent basis, and we were encouraged to pray and have faith in God. Many would (and have) accused me of not knowing a life of difficulty since I grew up with the silver spoon of religion in my mouth, but they are mistaken. Often times knowledge that takes root in our head, has to make its way to our heart and blossom there too — for me, it simply wasn't enough to just know about God, I had to know God directly. Personally. Intimately. For myself. I've always said that it's worse to know the things of God and willingly turn away from it, then to have not known anything at all about God and live accordingly; the guilt is greater with the former. When I was at the absolute lowest, darkest point in my life, I remembered something. This revelation replayed in my mind like a broken record, and in my heart I knew it was true: "I don't have to live this way anymore. There's freedom set aside for me, it's my portion". I heard a voice, and no it wasn't a schizophrenic experience. When I say voice, I don't necessarily mean an audible one, either. It's more like a wave of peace that speaks over you, a deeply interwoven "soul voice". It said: "there's life, there's light, there's provision, there's power, there's strength, there's victory, there's peace, there's joy, there's purpose…everything you've abandoned and consequently longed for but still haven't found…you will find in me". Without any doubt in my heart, I knew that that was the voice of God. When you experience it, you just know that it's God and not your own voice or a figment of your imagination. What God spoke to me is, in a nutshell, the good news you always hear Christians going on about. "Life doesn't have to be this way anymore". The whole point of Jesus' death and resurrection was not only to take on what we deserve (being crucified for our sins against God), but to conquer death so that we too can be freed from the consequences of those sins (which is death). Jesus came to set the captive free; does a certain addiction have you in its confines, feeling like a captive? Jesus came to set you free from that. Are you depressed? Discouraged? Hopeless? Empty? Jesus said "I came so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly".
Scripture tells us "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17). I can't speak for anyone else, but I know for me that is not just good news, but GREAT news! Now, while the change we desire may not happen overnight (as old habits die hard), one thing is certain: there is a change. As I mentioned earlier, there's a shift that takes place in the heart when a person receives the grace of God. Notice I said "receive"; the grace of God is a free gift that's offered to every person, but it's up to us to make the choice to receive or reject it. I can point back to certain attributes I used to possess that I no longer do, I can think back to habits that once controlled me that no longer have a hold on me; the things that once captivated my thoughts (and brought dullness into my heart and life) no longer appeal to me. Praise God for that! HE has changed me, I know that for a fact. I couldn't change myself. I couldn't save myself. I needed God, and I still need him today just as much as I did when I was in a deep and dark pit.
In closing, anyone can choose to live as a hedonist and not really have a strong desire to help the less fortunate. Anyone can go and travel the world and drink the best wine, eat the best food, have (in their minds) the “best sex”, and live (in their minds) their "best years". However, I would render my life as unlived if it did not, at the end of my days, point to the saving power, the healing power, of Christ. I’m only here by God’s grace anyway…realistically, what is there of me to point to, or take credit for? What would I have gained if my life was just an account of "me, myself, and I"? Hedonism generally (I'm sure not always) screams "ME ME ME". True Christianity doesn't even say anything, it does. It serves. It esteems others better than themselves, it's humble. If on my death bed I think I'm important because of my accomplishments and how many passport stamps I accumulated, as opposed to knowing my family members and friends are spending eternity with the one who so loved the world, then I missed the call of God. Pride can't allow many people to say this, but I'm not that amazing. God is. And by his grace, my life will be evidence of that.