There’s Another Kind of Lust to Avoid, and It’s Not Sexual

When blood seizes our attention and affections, we become observers captive to “gory diversion”

There’s another version of lust that can be just as deadening to the senses and just as damaging to the soul, and it’s one that we often overlook, something we often justify for being “realistic.” I’m talking about gratuitous depictions of violence.

 

In Christian circles today, we talk frequently about the dangers of lust in a sexualized society. We have True Love Waits, purity rings, and accountability groups meant to keep us from pornography or other forms of explicit content.

But there’s another version of lust that can be just as deadening to the senses and just as damaging to the soul, and it’s one that we often overlook, something we often justify for being “realistic.” I’m talking about gratuitous depictions of violence. Bloodlust, a term that refers to someone whose rage leads to slaughter and killing, can be seen in a more mild form in the desire to watch bloodshed.

I was reminded of the power of bloodlust when listening to one of Mere Fidelity’s episodes on Augustine’s Confessions. Derek Rishmawy recalled Augustine’s friend Alypius, a character I hadn’t given much thought to until reading about him in Sarah Ruden’s new translation.

The Temptation of Augustine’s Friend, Alypius

As an adolescent, Alypius, a hometown friend of Augustine, got caught in “the vortex that was the Carthaginian scene, bubbling with time-wasting public entertainments” that “sucked him into the mania for the games put on in the circus.”

Augustine noticed his friend had a “self-destructive infatuation with the games.” Alypius would go to the stadium and watch others compete. What distressed Augustine was not the time-wasting aspect of this infatuation (who knows what he would say about the hours we spend playing games on our phones?) but the effect that witnessing violence had on his student’s soul. In class, Augustine derided people “held captive to a crazed obsession with this pastime,” and his words of derision woke up Alypius and engendered affection toward Augustine as a teacher.

Unfortunately, when Alypius arrived in Rome, “he was carried off by an incredible fascination with gladiatorial shows.” The violence in these shows was initially repulsive to Alypius, much as hardcore pornography first sickens a young man. Augustine recounts how his friend resisted those who would lure him to the stadium, yet eventually succumbed to “these sadistic and murderous sports.”

[Alypius] said, “Even if you haul my body to that place and sit me down there, you can’t aim my mind and my eyes at the show, can you? Though I’m there, I won’t be there, and that’s how I’ll be the victor over what’s going on, and over you, too.” When they heard this, they took him along just the same, now maybe with the added motivation of testing whether he could achieve what he’d said he would.

They arrived and took their places in the seats available, and everything was seething with the most barbaric kinds of entertainment. He closed the doors of his eyes and forbade his mind to go outside into such a terrible wickedness. If only he’d plugged his ears! One of the combatants fell, and a booming shout from the whole crowd struck him forcefully. Curiosity overcame him, and on the pretext that he was ready to condemn and overcome whatever he saw, he opened his eyes.

He was run through with a wound in his soul more lethal than the physical wounding he’d longed to look at, and he fell more pitifully than the one whose fall the shouting was about. The yells came in through his ears and unlocked his eyes, so there was access for assaulting and bringing down a mind that was daring but not yet strong, and was weaker in that it relied on itself when it should have relied on you. When he saw the blood, he guzzled the cruelty at the same time. He didn’t turn away but instead riveted his gaze there; he gulped down the demons of rage, though he didn’t know it. He was delighted at the criminal contest and got drunk on the gory diversion. He was no longer the person he’d been when he came, but now actually part of the mob he’d come to, and he was a true confederate of those who’d brought him along.

From that point on, Alypius was enthralled with the games, to the point he became an evangelist for this form of “entertainment.”

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