An Open Notebook

Modifying Desires & The Image of God


Following Aristotle, one of the most important characteristics of a human being (compared to plants and animals) is our ability to modify our desires. We could say this was impressed upon us as part of the ‘image of God.’

While I’m unsure as to how this works in the divine economy (the Triune God surely doesn’t change, yet is not lifeless), one of the most important parts about us is this ability.

For example, although pigs can eat much of anything, and be content, I don’t see dogs radically changing their desires. They can be domesticated to some extent, but we’ve all seen the wildness in even our lapdog’s eyes from time-to-time.

People, however, can. While maybe I’ll never completely change my affinity for the music of my youth, I can develop a love for Japanese poetry, or Mongolian cuisine, or exotic art to some degree. My habits can be altered, tastes improved or diminished (the taste for coffee, of course, acquired). Boyfriends change for their girlfriends, husbands for their wives, friends for their friends, and so on and so forth.

To the contrary, worst extremes of addictions are seen as ‘abnormal’ and ‘un-good’ because they compromise to some extent our freedom and often jeopardize our health, our able to continue modifying our tastes and cultivating relationships even more.

The Stoics and many Buddhists, say it’s better to repress all desires. Minimize affinity to maximize pleasure. But, we should hesitate to say simply modifying all our desires in scale will create ‘peace.’ If we defined ‘peace’ like a sort of ‘inner-peace,’ it would make everybody quieter. But, if we mean hebraically shalom, or as anglicized, ‘harmony,’ I don’t think this kind of attitude towards modifying desires is best for all society.

For instance, if a husband and wife both minimize all there desires (become minimalists, ascetics), would that always promote a better society? Sex, money, space, loosen them all? There are certainly nuances to Stoicism and Buddhism which could be framed better than I have here; but, more of the point is the loose analogy that Christianity has a more flexible view of our ability to modify desires. And, naturally, it seems to account better for human nature.

Moreover, so far Buddhism does not seem to work (be chosen by) for the majority of people across time and ethnic boundaries. The secular West takes some aspects of it in piecemeal, but uses it for largely Epicurean ends.

The pragmatic test is important if we presume the Judeo-Christian position of the unity of humanity. If we’re using natural dispositions to test the purpose of man (like a purpose of ducks, to fly), Buddhism seems to attract a particular culture, compared to the most-massive cross-cultural, diversely-ethnic movement in history (Christianity).

Christianity sees the point of modifying desires for love — love of God and the love of people around you, to promote peace and human flourishing. Paul says he can maximize or minimize desires (Phil. 4:11), but does it for love.

We’re not all minimalists, and don’t need to be. What we need to be is willing to change for the love, peace, and prosperity of others

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Ryan By Ryan
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