#YOLO: A Christian Outlook?
Do you know what #YOLO means?
Recently, students in my class have begun making comments in Twitter slang. You might think this would be annoying – what, with all the mentions of hashtags – but it’s actually fairly humorous and, truth be told, pretty effective at making them condense their thoughts into a small space. Not a bad opportunity for a new approach to gauging their understanding of a topic.
Then #YOLO entered the conversation.
Beginning to show my age and out-of-the-loop-edness, I had to ask what it meant. Suddenly, the sound of 40 eyes rolling in their sockets filled my classroom. Without skipping a beat, the entire class resounded in one voice: “You Only Live Once!”
Okay, that’s not so bad. There are plenty of things people do under the banner of “you only live once.” Shortly after moving to the Swamp State, I initially felt the same way about ripping the rear-parts off mudbugs – what crawfish are sometimes called in Louisiana – and eating their innards. Then the YOLO philosophy kicked in and I went ahead and tried it. Delicious.
A few days ago, I began noticing the YOLO phrase everywhere. Apparently it’s all the rage. Who knew? Certainly not I. I haven’t been in-the-know on pop culture since my mom forced us to learn the Macarena. Something struck me about the meaning of YOLO. What kinds of things would this life philosophy encourage? What kinds of choices are made by those who really do plan on living only once?
Micah, what do you mean? You plan on living more than once? Are you a Buddhist or something?
No, of course not, but I do plan (or hope) to live again after I die, savvy? Yet I suppose those who plan to live many times are not all that different from those who plan to live only once. Like a fool with a credit card, the reincarnation-believer might be tempted to the ultimate form of procrastination – put unnecessary, wasteful things on the bill in this life, pay in a future life. Those who expect to live only once, in contrast with those who believe in the Resurrection, may similarly be tempted to spend their lives on wasteful things. Why?
“[Gentiles] who despairing have given themselves up to lasciviousness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness.” -Ephesians 4:19
Behold the fruits of YOLO! Heaven and resurrection are the aim of the Christian virtue of hope. Those who have no hope of heaven find themselves in the grip of despair, its opposite, and spend their days trying to fill the void. If I’m nothing more than worm food when I die, I’d better live it up a little today! When life becomes something without purpose, man becomes restless and tries to find meaning in meaningless things. Driven further into despair, he may even wish to drag others down with him. A man who doesn’t believe that he has anything to look forward to or that he’ll ever have to pay his debts – either because he doesn’t believe in an afterlife or because he isn’t mindful of it – is a fool at best and a danger to himself and others at worst.
St. Augustine, who before coming to Christ lived the type of life I’ve described, gives us a sharp contrast between the dissolute life of the YOLO philosophy and the life of a Christian:
Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace. – St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 27
Yet this doesn’t have to be our only way of looking at YOLO. It doesn’t have to be an expression of nihilistic angst. As Christians, our belief in the Resurrection forbids us to live as if this were the only life to consider. Frater, memento mori – brother, remember your death. Nevertheless, is it still possible to use YOLO to describe a Christian attitude?
I think so. Obviously, it could refer to good or at least morally neutral things we do because life is short. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a bucket list.
More than that, I think St. Francis of Assisi and other great teachers of detachment would probably take YOLO as support for total abandonment. Life is such a little thing, after all, that giving away one life to God is as nothing compared to an eternity with Him. In the presence of God, mindful of our hope for what He has in store for His holy ones, we can only realize with St. Francis the ease we should have in living our whole lives for God: ”Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.”
You only live once – live for God.
Maybe we Catholics can get in on this #YOLO trend. What do you say every time we use #YOLO, we can add, inspired by the Nicene Creed, #ILFTTROTD – I Look Forward To The Resurrection Of The Dead … or maybe just #MementoMori? Let’s be trendsetters!
Can you think of a better hashtag? Let me know in the comments!