Did Corinthians write back?
A group of us had gathered in the instructors’ lounge at Gold Peak and were discussing the world’s great religions, their basic tenets, differences and similarities. In the middle of the discussion, one of the more erudite among us asked, “Did the Corinthians ever write back?”
For its day, Corinth was the most American-like city of the New Testament. It was a resort city and the capital of pleasure for the Roman Empire. Corinth was located on the Peloponnesian Peninsula, along with two other great Greek cities, Athens and Sparta. Through our history lessons, most of us equate Athens with culture and Sparta with its armies. But Corinth was different; Corinth was kind of a cross between Rio during Carnival, and Las Vegas during a Tail-Hook convention.
The similarity between Americans and Corinthians is striking. Corinth was a beautiful city of palm trees and striking architecture that was devoted to only one thing, the pursuit of pleasure!
Pleasure – usually in the form of sex, power or image and a strong desire for all things sensual, i.e. food, drink, and entertainment – were the underpinnings of its culture.
The citizens worshiped the goddess of sex, and as part of their worship rituals there were a number of ceremonies that involved sexual activity. Some 10,000 of the great temple’s priestesses where actually prostitutes. Licentiousness was regarded as a normal part of life, and few thought twice about it.
By the way, the aforementioned “vices” represent two of the seven deadly sins, lust and gluttony, and not coincidentally, the only two of the seven that tend to be pleasurable experiences.
However, all was not debauchery in Corinth. Intellectualism was also a pursuit in this city. People were continually exposed to the doctrines, dogmas and ideas of the great thinkers of the Golden Age of Greece – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all had their followers within the city. Its citizens loved to gather in the public plazas and debate issues endlessly. They were people given over to the love and pursuit of wisdom, as well as the pursuit of physical pleasures.
However, is the pursuit of pleasure evil? Does pursuing pleasure and other legitimate activities necessarily have to be deleterious to other people? Why do our “vices” disturb other nations and other peoples to the point where they want to destroy our way of life?
Two thousand years ago, St Paul proselytized the Corinthians to change their ways, but today our enemies murder and butcher in order for us to change ours. The human capacity for self-delusion is nearly limitless, and those we are fighting claim great spirituality but do evil things and then rationalize them.
Without condoning or rationalizing our behavior, Americans are much like the Corinthians. We are an imperfect people, but we are not an evil people regardless of what some would have us believe. Many feel that we live in an immoral society, but I prefer to look at the positive aspects of America.
It seems to me that the other deadly sins are far worse than lust or gluttony. Pride, for example, when left unchecked pride, ego, and vanity are inherently competitive and cause resentment. However, as a nation, Americans are not resentful of the success of other nations, but that is not the case with much of the rest of the world. In many cases, it is our enemies’ excessive pride that makes them unable to accept our pride in our accomplishments.
Nor is America a greedy nation. Greed implies covetousness to the detriment of others. The opposite of greed is generosity, and for almost a century the United States has been the most generous and benevolent nation on earth. No one can argue that a significant portion of the world would look very different today if not for U.S. aid.
The next deadly sin is envy, and envy isn’t an American trait. Unfortunately it is how much of the rest of the world feels toward us.
The United States is not quick to anger. In the days immediately after 9/11, the administration could have lashed out furiously and turned large stretches of the Middle East into a parking lots. But we didn’t. We practiced great restraint, and hopefully the world got a glimpse of our character.
The last of the deadly sins is sloth, and if America is anything it is not slothful. Americans are among the most energetic and enthusiastic people on earth. It’s many of our enemies who have allowed their cultures to drift into complacency, ennui and despair.
Americans are a good and decent people, who as a nation have far more good about us than otherwise.
Sometimes it’s important to be reminded of those facts.
Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org