Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of August 30, 2004
Society panders to image, illusion
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
We elect people to political offices more on the basis of their persona than anything else.
But we shouldn't be too hard on the triumph of appearance over substance in public life because this simply mirrors what's happening in our private lives: More and more, appearance is the first thing, the whole thing, and the only thing. It's not important to be good, only to look good.
Cosmetics is becoming the biggest industry in the world and concern for how we look, for the perfect body, is now a crucifying anxiety that's leaving more of us, especially young people, dissatisfied with our own bodies and sadly restless within our own lives.
Everything is about how we look and so we exercise more, diet more strictly, and spend yet more money on fashionable clothing in an attempt to look right, even as we remain chronically disenchanted with how we look. Worse still, we tend now to make value judgments based on physical appearance alone. Our worth lies in looking good.
Not that all of this is bad. Concern for physical appearance is a good thing in itself, as are concerns for exercise and diet. We are meant to look good and to feel good. Neither bodily health nor healthy aesthetics about our appearance should ever be denigrated in the name of morality, depth, or religion. Indeed lack of concern for one's physical appearance is a tell-tale sign of depression or even some deeper illness of soul. Our concern for appearance is a good thing, but, today, it's a good thing taken too far.
Concern for appearance should never replace a concern for substance, depth, and integrity of soul, just as, conversely, concern for substance and depth may never be an excuse for shoddiness and sloppy appearance.
Still, today, we've lost the proper balance and it's hurting us in more ways than we imagine.
Faith is built on the blood of martyrs and the institutions that bind a society together (marriage, family, Church, politics) are sustained largely on the basis of self-sacrifice. But 99 per cent of that martyrdom and self-sacrifice remains hidden, silent, anonymous, unnoticed, unglamorous, blood shed in secret, love given for reasons beyond appearance.
If this is true, and it is, then the prognosis for the future leaves me uneasy. When appearance is everything, we soon stop focusing on deeper things and then slowly, imperceptibly, appearance begins to look like character, celebrity begins to replace nobility of soul, and looking good becomes more important than being good.
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