In the south of Belgium, very near the town of Arlon, is the Abbey of Orval, which has been home to a community of Trappist Cistercian monks for several centuries. One of the rules the monks used to follow - I'm not sure if they follow it still - was that they did not eat meat. Of course, there's nothing remarkable in that, but I do find the reason behind their self-imposed vegetarianism quite interesting. Apologies to any theologians whom I may offend with my simplistic understanding and/or explanation of monastic life, but it seems the Orval monks believed that just because something is edible, that doesn't automatically mean it should be eaten. So, as a self-disciplinary measure, as a way of stating that it is not necessary to indulge in everything the material world has to offer, they decided they would not eat meat.

I suppose what struck me about this is that it seems to be a counterpoint to a mantra one hears fairly often: "I'll try everything at least once." The monks' rule is basically: "There are some things I will never try." Of course, this is hardly a radical theological or philosophical concept. As far as I know, abnegation of one form or another is praised in most religions. But it's not a practice which, in my experience, is widely lauded in what one might call - for the sake of this argument - secular spheres of society. I suppose we saw a bit of it not too long ago in the American campaign which encouraged youngsters to be proud of and advertise their virginity. Although one could question the value and purpose of loudly announcing one's subscription to such a campaign, at least it went against the cultural tide of 'DO, DO, DO!' I find myself drawn to a philosophy that says it is just as important to know when to 'DON'T, DON'T, DON'T', but that doesn't easily fit in with the tenets of the currently-popular cult of the individual, which encourages its 'members' to think: 'It's okay to do anything as long as I want to do it'. I think we tend not to admire people for things which they have refused to do or things which they have managed not to do in spite of great pressure, and I just wonder if sometimes we shouldn't show as much respect for the 'not-doers' as we do for the 'doers'.

Popular Posts