It's the Beauty, Stupid!

It's the Beauty, Stupid!
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"It's the beauty, stupid!" That's what I wanted to shout to the family therapist who was speaking at our church. "Once, just say it once please," I quietly prayed, then waited.

"A ton of factors go into sexual addiction," the man said, and listed the usual suspects: depression, anxiety, personality disorders, dopamine release, and a host of other clinical terms. But not once in the hour-long presentation did the word beauty come from his lips.

My fellow parishioners winced in agreement -- the women vented with large eyes and wrinkled foreheads; the men froze in place, swallowing as quietly as possible. Couples who hadn't held hands in public for years were now squeezing them blue. I alone rebelled. If paraphrasing Hamlet in church was kosher I would have spoken up: "There are more things in longing and lust, sir clinician, than are dreamt of in your psychiatry."

They were seeing chemistry; I was seeing cosmos.

But look around, anywhere, and the body is on continual parade. Photos of nude celebrities are leaked to the public. Musical starlets stomp around stages with teddy bears and snakes, wagging their tongues and bumping their behinds. New words like "twerk" and "sext" become commonplace and wardrobe malfunctions now seem merely funny. Online porn addiction begins younger and younger. These compulsions spiral to ridiculous brinks as an army of male promoters ratchet mass tastes ever downward.

A strange thing is happening here: the body loses its power the more that power is exhibited, reduced and consumed. It's as if people are chasing a ghost, with nothing to bite into when they catch it. The ancient Greeks knew a lot about beauty. For them it was a force that moved the gods, launched a thousand ships and inspired epics. For moderns, it's pixels on a cell phone, or a drug in the brain. We act as if beauty has no consequences, no stakes.

The Greeks used the word aidos to describe awe, the feeling of reverence and respect before the mysterious forces of nature, including human sexuality. It is significant that the derivative aidoia is the word for sexual organs, which literally mean "awesome things." Our attractions are meant to tremble at what lies behind the invisible veil of life.

Prometheus stole fire from the gods. We've stolen beauty from the body, and don't know what to do with the husk.

The problem is that beauty is not just beautiful; it can also be scary, confusing and threatening. Fyodor Dostoyevsky lived the intense spiritual passions of the Russian spirit. He spoke of two abysses -- "the abyss of the loftiest ideals" and "the abyss of the very lowest, stinking degradation." Here's the part that's hard to swallow: beauty is mixed up in both high and low. We can only tame it by learning to love the noble more than the base.

But the work of defining beauty is ultimately up to each of us. And don't expect compatible results. Because "God has set nothing but riddles," says one of Dostoyevsky's characters, the world will fight over what beauty means. "The horror of it is that beauty is not only a terrifying thing -- it is also a mysterious one. In it the Devil struggles with God, and the field of battle is the hearts of men." But the man was not content with such eternal struggle. He had a winner in mind. "Beauty will save the world" is perhaps Dostoyevsky's most resonant phrase, and it's almost impossible to have Miley Cyrus in mind when hearing it.

Somehow I can't imagine him with an office, a couch and a 12-step program, but I bet Brother Dostoyevsky could grab the attention of any sex addict sitting in the pews.

Nathan Nielson is a graduate of St. John’s College and lives near Salt Lake City, Utah.

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