By: Woodrow Odom Lucas
Last night, while surfing cable television for some entertainment, I happened upon the show “Spartacus – Vengeance” on Starz, one of the premium cable channels. The episode that I saw was a visual smorgasbord of gratuitous nudity, close to pornographic sex, and indulgent violence with a bit of plot mixed in to provide the illusion of coherence. The episode made me think of a Jane’s addiction song coined, “Ted Just Admit It,” which the group released as part of their 1987 album Nothing’s Shocking. Here is a brief excerpt from the song’s lyrics:
“Camera got them images, Camera got them all, Nothing’s shocking Showed me everybody Naked and disfigured Nothing’s shocking And then he came Now sister’s Not a virgin anymore Her sex is violent
The T.V.’s got them images T.V.’s got them all It’s not shocking Every half an hour Someone’s captured and The cop moves them along It’s just like the show before The news is Just another show With sex and violence
Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent
I am the killer of people You look like a meatball I’ll throw away your toothpick And ask for your giveness
Because of this thing Because of this thing Because of this thing
That’s in me Is it not in you? Is it not your problem? A baby to a mother
You talk too much To your scapegoat That’s what I say He tells you everyone is stupid That’s what he thinks
Snapshots Make a girl look cheap Like a tongue extended A baby’s to a mother
Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent Sex is violent.”
In my opinion this alternative rock song captures the cultural obsession with sex and violence better than any fundamentalist preacher who rails against pornography in media. The song by stating, “I am the killer of people…Because of this thing, Because of this thing, Because of this thing, that’s in me, Is it not in you? Is it not your problem?” cuts to the heart of this issue by attributing violence and profligate sex to a “thing” within us that stems from a darker nature.
I make the claim that “profligate” sex stems from a darker nature to distinguish it from the kind of beauty that occurs when two devoted adults engage in the process of “making love.” Many evangelical fundamentalists advocate for morality by publicly condemning homosexuality and attempting to encroach upon a women’s choice of how to use her body. In my opinion, a homosexual has just as much chance of being holy as a heterosexual to the extent that they stay within certain prescribed guidelines such as devoting themselves to a life partner. To be honest, distinguishing “holiness” from “debauchery” makes me feel uncomfortable as though I am some kind of judgmental Moses proclaiming parameters for living from a morally superior mountain top, but the bottom line is that some kind of “parameters” in reference to sexuality are necessary to separate us from the “state of nature” to which Perry Farrell and the rest of Jane’s Addiction so eloquently refer.
But what are the parameters that separate us from other more violent mammals as it concerns violence and sex? In the state of nature, the strongest and most apt in reference to violence become the “alpha males” of that society and consequently end up “studding” all of the available females. To some, this might be natural selection’s way of keeping each species strong and healthy, but to me this represents perhaps the heart of the matter concerning sex and violence. In the state of nature “power” is the essence of authority. The “strongest” lions rule the pride. The first epistle of John describes the state of nature as “the world.” 1 John 2:15-17 states, “15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
Some may make the claim that the “world” according to God is society writ large and that believing in God demands a kind of separation from society writ large, but I assert that ‘the world’ is a darkness that exists in all of us, the darkness that “wills to power” out of fear of annihilation. The state of nature is characterized by a constant struggle for supremacy which stems from the fear of death. So in the state of nature, sex is part of violence. In a sense, in the state of nature, sex is a reward for violence. All one needs to explore to see that sex is a reward for violence in our “baser” instincts is the mass rape of women that has often occurred throughout history after warring factions fought a battle. In fact the tendency to rape women as a “reward” for victory in war has only subsided in relatively recent history.
When one considers the “chauvinism” which characterizes our “baser instincts” the impotence of fundamentalist attempts to curb sinful dispositions like fornication and adultery is not surprising. Fundamentalists attempt to curb a “will to power” with a “will to power.” Fundamentalists seek to judge and shame the offender into stopping the offense. Fundamentalists may make the claim that it is the modern “rebellion” of women that is to blame for our society’s erosion of morality. But this perspective erroneously privileges some distant past wherein we as human beings were moral. Just when was this past? Has it ever really existed? The truth is that any rhetoric which attempts to privilege males over females, white over brown, or straight over gay is intricately connected to “the survival of the fittest” way in which the “state of nature” functions. Fundamentalists in a sense, attempt to impose their concept of order on others as a way to curb disorder. But forcefully imposing “order” on people is an act of violence in and of itself. Violence cannot curb violence in the long run and sexual chauvinism cannot curb sexual malfeasance in the long run either. For the will to subjugate is inherently connected to the way in which the “alpha male” sexually subjugates in the darker recesses of our imagination.
So if “judgment” and “shame” do not work as ways to curb our baser instincts toward violence and debauchery, what does work? In my limited experience, it has not been fear that has ultimately helped me in times of “temptation.” Rather, devotion is the only force which I have found to be effective in my attempts to forgo “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.” Webster’s dictionary defines devotion as love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause and Hinduism describes devotion to a deity as a legitimate path toward bliss. Devotion is not a force centered construct, but is rather a love centered construct. Only love can conquer lust. In times of fierce temptation it has been my sense of devotion or loving loyalty toward God or my wife or my kids that has given me the ability to reject the world as a corrosive delusion rather than an apt reality.
Some may say that only reflective thought separates us from living like wolves or dogs. But I claim that reflective love also separates us from our baser instincts. The ability to reflect on the questions of “what is love?” and “what does love look like?” are in my opinion the foundational building blocks of every advancement that human kind has made to date. So if sex in the most chauvinistic view of the word is violent then love is non-violent and love and debauchery cannot occupy the same space. So I suppose that my response to last night’s exploration of “Spartacus-Vengeance” is to continue to pray for my own love and the love of others to grow and expand and ultimately rule over every part of us, not through subjugation but rather the inspired revelation of what it is to be loving.