Christian Kitsch and Basement Desires

“The price one pays for being loyal to certain kinds of anomalies is typically melancholy or acedia. Barthelme’s fiction asserts that one of the first loyalties serious people give up in the theater of adulthood is a claim upon what they actually want. Of course, other desires are available, and can be acquired, but they are curious grafts, what other people want you to want—-not desires so much as temptations, desires-of-convenience. Barthelme’s stories are obviously and constantly about such temptations, which might itself be called the temptation to become unconscious and let others program your yearnings.” -Charles Baxter

If Augustine is right, then underneath all our desire for wealth and reputation and fornication is actually a desire for God. We just haven’t dug deeply enough into ourselves yet to find it.

One tendency of the Christianized life is that, instead of digging beneath our lusty desires–which often involves handling these desires, touching them, and looking them over–we just try to slap on desire for God over these things as a kind of covering, hoping that if we lay down enough God-tiles on the floor of our house, we’ll eventually stop hearing the noises coming from the basement. We don’t understand the living things in the deep dark hidden parts of ourselves, and we fear our inability to control them. So we lock them up and then cover them over, telling our house-guests that they’re just hearing noisy pipes and insisting that, no, our house doesn’t have a basement.

Aside from tile-floor Christianism, a problem for modern man generally is that he’ll just plug into his headphones so that he’ll never hear the noises downstairs at all. He’ll fill up the first floor of the house with so much stuff (video games, books, liquor, travel) to distract him from the basement. Both of these are fundamentally flawed in their image of the human person, and also in how to find happiness.

I don’t know which is worse, the headphoned man, or the tiled-over Christianist. Perhaps the latter. The Christianist covers over his desires with kitsch wallpaper, and it’s horrifying. It’s inhumane. It’s manufactured, mass-produced, and generic. But it’s also the only acceptable state for a kitschified Christianist because it’s manufactured, because they want share the same cherubic paper they find in other Christianists’ houses, because they feel safe in the Hallmark store, because its familiar, contained, and easily explainable. Meanwhile, the drywall is rotting underneath from lack of attention.

At least the pagan’s house will fall apart eventually from all the partying, and he will be forced to confront his shallowness. But the Christianist will continue propping up the walls with plywood covered over by wallpaper. And he’ll be convinced that he has a real, stable home, while only the converted pagans will see otherwise, and perhaps one day build something really worth living in.

“The self cannot be escaped, but it can be, with ingenuity and hard work, distracted. There are always openings, if you can find them, there is always something to do.” -Barthelme

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