Overcoming the Masters of Suspicion
Freedom from slavery to our desires opens the path to authentic love
Friedrich Nietzsche once posited that the best way to defeat Christianity was to attack it, not based on its truth but on its practical impossibility. From its impracticality the world will draw its own conclusions regarding its veracity. There is a certain diabolic deftness to an attack on this front because it twists the foundational truth of Christianity. Absent transforming communion with Christ, the Christian life is unlivable. The genius in Nietzsche’s barrage is that Christianity will be deemed false because it is true. Nietzsche’s “will to power” becomes a smoke screen for indulging the lust to dominate. Joining him on the front are Freud, who advances the lust of the flesh, and Marx, who sees all history as greed. These three “Masters of Suspicion,” as St. John Paul II dubbed them, have convinced the modern world that every inclination, no matter how deviant it was previously thought, is “normal.” But in truth they are simply advancing the spirit of the world that St. John warns about in his first letter—the pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes (1 John 2:16).
What these Masters of Suspicion have successfully lobbied for is an embrace of our brokenness. The lust for power, material possessions, and sex are natural and should be indulged, they say. Repression is unhealthy. The Masters of Suspicion have nimbly substituted brokenness for wholeness.
When dominated by the “will to power” the technologically possible becomes the morally permissible. If we can do it, then we should do it. Actually “should” never enters into the discussion because power over nature is an end in itself. The average man now has more power at his disposal than most of the Roman Emperors combined. Modern man has become drunk on that power because the character to exercise such power has failed to keep pace. Power is progress—never mind what we are actually progressing towards.
The lust of the eyes has created a culture of consumption. Driven by envy, we are constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses. Advertisers exploit this and grow rich peddling products that, if we’re honest, we don’t really want. Everyone else has one and we have been groomed at such an early age to lust after the latest iPhones and sneakers that, despite all the technological power at our disposal, we lack the inner power to resist.
Freud reduced all desire to sexual desire so that even something as natural as a mother cuddling with her child was simply a mask for her desire to have sex with it. If every desire is a front for sexual desire, then no desire is unnatural or perverted. To finally shed the pretense is a “revolution” and liberation. Now every lustful indulgence should be embraced and even baptized, at least as long as there is consent. Subjects become objects and embrace it.
It is no literary accident that just after St. John warns us about the three lusts, he cautions on the Antichrists already in the world. Only the spirit of the true Christ can set us free—the same Christ who embraced our brokenness so that He could make us whole.
The will to power is replaced by humility. This humility enables us to view progress as being conformed to Christ. Technology is viewed as useful, not because it gives us power but because it helps us grow in virtue. In other words, it helps us to grow in freedom rather than enslaving us further. Lust of the eyes is replaced by gratitude. Thanksgiving stands on its own, no longer needing to be propped up by Black Friday. Lust causes us to grasp; gratitude enables us to receive. “Do not be deceived. Every good endowment and every perfect gift comes from above” (James 1:16-17). Likewise the lust of the flesh is overcome by the purity of heart that Christ promises in the Sermon on the Mount (c.f. Mt 5:27-28). He frees us from the true Freudian slip of becoming slaves to our desires and opens the path to authentic love. It is this same purity that empowers us to see the image of God in everyone we meet.