Desire Is the Very Least of Our Problems

This is something I've been thinking about for a while, and today is the perfect day to write on it because Tiger Woods just gave a lengthy statement apologizing for his marital infidelities.

In that statement he acknowledges that he has practiced Buddhism throughout his life, and that his recent woes stem from his abandoning Buddhism's essential principle: that desire is our ultimate enemy.  If we could all just stop lusting, stop coveting, stop wanting and detach ourselves from the temptations that stem from desire we could enjoy happy and healthy lives.  That is, in fact, the gospel according to Buddha.  The ultimate source of our unhappiness is caused by desire, and the true spiritual practitioner will learn to detach himself from it.

This is not unique to Buddhism.  It is part and parcel with scores of world religions.  The ancient Gnostics described the "god" who created this miserable world as the "fruit of desire."  What happened was that in the divine "fullness" or "pleroma" there was a defection by a spirit-being called "desire," and when she "fell" she bore a son, who, not knowing any better, created the material world, a world of lust and desire.  In order to "get back" to our divine home, we must transcend and overcome this material world.

That is a mystical version of which we find a secularized counterpart in Marxism.  According to Marx, all the unhappiness in the world is caused by economic inequity.  That is, some people have things that others don't.  If we would to improve the world, we must attack this basic enemy: again, desire.  If everybody has what they need, no more, no less, and nobody has more than any other, we will have vanquished the root of all evil, material (that word again!) wealth.  Thus, the socialist program of eradicating inequities that cause desire.

This stems all the way back to the Garden.  When Eve saw the fruit she was not to eat, she saw that it "was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom."  She took it and ate it.  So does that mean the Marxist, Gnostics and Buddhists have it right?  Is desire and lust our deepest problem?

No.  In fact, it is the very least of our problems.  It should be noted, and deeply meditated upon, that in the Ten Commandments the one designed to address our "desire" problem is not the first.  It is the last.  "You shall not covet," according to God, is the last thing we need to hear, not the first.  What is the first?  "You shall have no other gods before me."  Our fundamental, deepest problem is a worship problem, not a desire problem.  This is the exact opposite of what the world's religions would have us believe.

Paul expands on this in Romans 1, where the failure to "worship" and "serve" the Creator rather than the creature leads directly to "being enflamed" with ungodly desires (v.24).  It is not the other way around.  It is not that we desire and lust, and therefore stop worshiping God; it is that we stop worshiping God and therefore desire and lust.

Tiger Woods has it wrong.  Brit Hume hit the nail on the head when he said that "I think Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something I think Tiger Woods desperately needs."  Tiger's problem does not stem from his inability to detach himself from desire.  It stems from having other gods before the God who made him, gifted him and sustains him.  Besides, contrary to Buddhism, Gnosticism & Marxism, there is nothing wrong with desire in itself.  There is something wrong with desiring "your neighbor's X, Y, and Z."  To detach from desire is to dehumanize oneself.

Desire in itself is the very least of our problems.  It is subordinate to our worship problem.  The way to resolve both is to make our Tenth Commandment problem submit to the First Commandment.  Tiger Woods needs, as do we, to sing this song of David:

"One thing have I desired of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.  For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock." - Psalm 27:4-5.

Brian Mattson