Commode Culture

*Posted by Kirk Spencer

I’m a country boy.  Growing up, I thought every family killed a large portion of what they ate.  In school, I could not believe my classmate had never eaten squirrel and dumplings. So now, each summer, I try to leave behind the alien city life and go live with the cowboys for a while—out where you can see, not only the stars, but the Milkway too.  For me that’s Winnsboro Texas.  Winnsborro is just past Quitman, which is just past the big town of Mineola.  They have a Walmart!  Well recently I stopped in Mineola, at a little “Madre & Padre” Mexican Food restaurant.  I overheard one of the patrons say, “I saw that Cowboys and Aliens and that was one weird movie!”

That got me thinking: My grandparents were born into a two-horse family, as was the case back to the very first horse-cultures.  And now, two generations from our grandparents day, here we are riding around in our SUVs, listening to our MP3s and talking through our Blue Tooth to someone on the other side of the world; and all this in real-time in an actual reality TV world.  So why is there so little time between cowboys and aliens?  One century we’re on horseback, the next were on the moon.  As progressives, it is natural to just assume the industrial explosion could not occur until human knowledge reached some critical mass.  However, if we accept the old adage that “Necessity is the mother of Invention,” then the cascade of invention must have had a necessity as mother.  If so, then the question becomes, “What was this new fertile maternal Necessity.”

One particular invention may hold a clue—the indoor toilet.  The word “Commode,” comes from the Latin adjective commodus  meaning “convenient.” Here is what I’m thinking—In the 20th century, we are experiencing for the first time a Commode Culture.  For the first time in history, human convenience has eclipsed all else as a felt necessity, not only by the individual ego, but by the culture at large.  Certainly the quest for convenience has been a perennial companion, especially among the noble class, however, a real belief in God or gods, or spirits turned humankind’s attentions to a greater convenience than that of material comforts.  There are many influences the belief in God or gods inflicts upon human activity.  One of the more obvious would be the religious work ethic.  Simply put, we work to please God, or the gods, or spirits—not ourselves.   So once the culture began to accept what Nietzsche called the “Death of God,” or at least the idea of gods, in the 18th and 19th century, a door was opened to that maternal “necessity” of human convenience.  We were no longer working for the divine, but from the divan.  The mindless leisure of the Greek gods was coveted by man.  As Zeus sat upon Olympus with humanity as entertainment, so must we become in our life of leisure.  Friedrich Nietzsche had his Madman say this in the first published declaration of “God’s Death:”

“Must we ourselves, not become gods simply to appear worthy of it”…

What is the “it?”—Stabbing God to death or at least the idea of God and anything other absolute that might stand in our way.  In short, if we are gods, we don’t work.  We get someone else (or a machine) to do it for us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Luddite.  Technology is made of the parts of nature and fulfills in some ways the first great commission to subdue the earth.  My machine (laptop) is working for me right now.  But we can get lost in the machine and isolate ourselves from the inconvenient, but beautiful, world God has made for us.  As such we find ourselves as idols in a temple made with human hands, cut-off from each other and cut-off from the life of God—God’s real reality.  In such a false reality we can quickly forget that the prosperity and convenience we enjoy is not real.  It is a borrowed reality.  And the reality-check is in the mail.  Not sure what that means, but it sounds true doesn’t it?

Forgotten Fence

Nature always heals itself
If left alone
All our works
And all we’ve done
With green
Are overgrown
There substance
Offered to Terminus
Then buried in its own decay
Returned to the wild
Rusted and rotten
In a warm meadow clearing
Within the cool wood
Grown gray with moss
In silence and mosquito’s buzz
Where the last leaves tremble in the oaks
Where the old fence scars
Leaves wounds and wires
In the fence-row trees
Grown from seeds
Dropped by birds
That perched once long ago
Along this forgotten fence row
But Times left nothing left
To keep us from home

Oddly the same science used by skeptics to take God out of the world, when correctly understood, can show us our place in it—or more correctly put us in our place.   If we leave the aliens and spend some time with the cowboys, look up at the “big screen” of the night sky, find the Milkyway, be still and know we are not gods.  But rather only one infinitesimal speck on a tiny dot of rock falling around a pinpoint of light in a sea of light that stretches across the Winnsboro night sky.  And if science is to be believed, this sea of light is only one of hundreds of billions of other seas.  No wonder we try to drown it out with our man-made light.

“Heavenly Father—Help me to look up.  Make my eyes to see your beauty and look into your heavens and listen for the sermon.  Give me wisdom and understanding to use all the tools you place in my hand for Your glory.  Keep me from becoming their captive…  but rather your captive forever.”

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One Response to Commode Culture

  1. This was very encouraging and lifted my spirits. Love and appreciate you Professor Spencer. Thank you for always being an incredible teacher to me.

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