The Ugly Celibate

In “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Jean-Paul Sartre tells a story of a young man who became a Jesuit priest.  As a young man, the fellow had had a number of bad breaks:  he grew up in poverty; his father died at an early age; he felt like a charity case; and he botched every romantic relationship he ever had.  For all intents and purposes, he was a loser’s loser, a cautionary tale for the rest of us.  Strangely, though, instead of being bitter or depressed, he looked upon all these events as signs that he was meant to live a sacred life, not a secular one – no doubt “for the greater glory of God.”

Sartre asks, why interpret the signs this way?  Other interpretations were possible:  he might dedicate himself to carpentry, or become a revolutionary.  In all of this, it’s clear that the events or signs had no “content” in and of themselves; it was the young man who gave those signs their meaning.

There’s a conundrum tied into this story, something I like to call “the problem of the ugly celibate.”  Imagine that this young Jesuit was born horribly disfigured, without hope of changing his appearance.  Suppose further that it never really dawns on the young man that this horrible disfigurement may be at the root of all his subsequent bad breaks – too ugly for human connection.  And still, with all of this, the young man says yes, I take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, all for God’s greater glory.

Here’s the problem:  can you say you are living a chaste life if, in fact, there was never any chance that you would ever get laid?  It’s the good-looking celibate (male or female) whose vow of celibacy embraces a real sacrifice – or “such a waste,” as I remember those from either gender comment upon the news that a classmate wanted to enter the religious life.

In conjunction with Sartre’s take on humanity as the source of all meaning, it comes to this:  Is the ugly celibate only deceiving himself?  Or does he in fact affirm humanity’s ability to give meaning, no matter how seemingly illusory, to ordinary, everyday existence?  An aphorism from Nietzsche helps:  “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”  If an individual is aware of the conditions in which she lives, and still says “yes,” that’s not self-deception – that’s affirmation, of both self and world.

Aphorisms and Other Curiosities

Is the universe indifferent?  Who the hell knows?  Don’t use it as an excuse to hide from living.

Women’s roller derby team + religion:  church of the most holy rollers.

Intersection of solemn and playful:  serious.  See Nietzsche.

What makes for good comedy?  “It’s finding that fine line between smart and silly.”     — CBS Sunday Morning, 3/30/2014

From some TED talk somewhere:  How to make choosing easier:

Cut — less is more
Concretize — make it vivid
Categorize — more categories, fewer choices
Condition — move from less complex to more complex

We live in a world of paradoxes:  you’re special, and you’re no different from anyone else.  She likes you, but she doesn’t LIKE like you.

Check your judgments at the gates of hell — you can pick ’em up when you come back to stay.

Reverie, rumination — a blessing and a curse.

Life is neither black nor white / It’s full of joy and sorrow
Whatever fears we have today / Might all be gone tomorrow

A calm came over me.   Then something said, “We just wanted to know whether YOU knew we were here.”  That was the first time I really listened to my feelings in a long, long time.

“How do you make people feel good?
You have sex with them, or you make them laugh.
If it’s both, you marry that person.
People shun people they have sex with.
They never leave the people who make them laugh.”

— Chris Rock (paraphrase),
CBS Sunday Morning, 11/30/2014