I would like to analyze a most unique phenomenon: the house party. Specifically the house party as it is found amongst circles of reckless and wild college students who are still committed to Christian values. This is a most unique phenomenon indeed!
The house party makes a lot of sense in an amoral vacuum. People want to get sloshed and hook-up, and so they gather en masse during their free weekend nights at people’s houses to do so. And just in case anyone might be distracted by say, a conversation, they play really loud music to maintain focus on the task at hand.
House parties are so much a part of college culture, though, that even when drunkenness and licentiousness are theoretically taken out of the equation by commonly held moral standards, as can be found at certain Christian universities, there is still a powerful urge to have and attend house parties. I have been to many and let me just say they can be weird. Often what happens is large amounts of people cram (and I mean CRAM) into small rooms where they drink, listen to loud music, say hi to everyone but actually speak to no one, wiggle and squeeze around for 2-3 hours, and then leave. Maybe in one corner there will be a beer pong table with an hour-long wait, and maybe in another someone will find enough room to perform interpretive dance for a few minutes before the wreathing mob swallows them up again. If this is what we call fun, then I bet being a canned sardine is absolutely wild. At those parties the people I envied the most were definitely the chainsmokers on the front porch.
I think I should probably clear this up, I am not writing a systematic denunciation of house parties, because I have also been to some parties that were done very well where I had a fantastic time. I maintain passionately that there is absolutely a place in life for crazy house parties, but I think it is very important to consider the motivations and criteria for a good house party in a moral context. What should a house party look like when divorced from hook-up culture? Somehow this question gets incredibly overlooked. Probably because there is often a contentment in the spiritual life to merely be not doing something wrong. But rarely is the question asked what should I be doing instead of something bad? Once I remove my bad tendencies what should I replace them with?
A philosopher such as Dietrich Von Hildebrand would have an important insight into this situation. Throughout his corpus of writings he places emphasis, perhaps more than any other philosopher, on the positive obligations of the moral life. In his spiritual classic Transformation in Christ he devotes a chapter to discussing how the Christian may go about ordering all things in his life in relation to Christ.
“It is not sufficient to confront everything with Christ, and, having decided that a given thing does not contradict Christ, to abandon oneself to that thing without further qualification… Our primary devotion and self-consecration to Christ should manifest itself in every phase of our service to some genuine good or in dealing with some noble task, enriching the immanent logic of the theme with a new aspect” (3).
And this can only be accomplished through openness to the world of values.
“We must seize the offer of God contained in that gift-like descent upon us of a high value, and, yielding to its attraction, ascend to a new point of vantage, where we shall be past many things which have previously confined us within the zone of the petty... Above all, whenever a high human good exercises its releasing effect upon us, we must consciously evoke and experience its manifold relations to God” (5).
As Hildebrand says the point of avoiding superficial and meaningless activities, is to do things that are worthwhile and meaningful. I think a house party provides an excellent context in which we can see the vivid difference between simply avoiding doing something wrong, and actually trying to do something right. Because a house party where the former mindset is taken will probably result in the awful situation described above.
But if one approached a house party from the standpoint of appreciating that which is valuable in itself, a different situation would unfold. Instead of a lackluster imitation of a frat house, there might be a consciously determined objective, such as appreciating the presence and company of the rest of the people who are there. The setting might be designed so that you could actually hold a conversation over the music. It might be realized that if there are too many people then you actually can’t appreciate them at all because you can barely move. People might try to organize activities other than 4 person games of beer pong. Drinking might be seen as a way to enliven the atmosphere as opposed to the main objective for the evening.
I’m not saying that these things never happen, because they often do, and I think most people can attest that the best time at a party is when there isn’t blasting music, when you can actually move and hold conversations, when there are fun things to do, and above all, when it is possible to really enter into the presence of the people you are with and appreciate their value, and their company. In such an atmosphere there is a very real opportunity for the communal mirth to soar and become infectious, imaginative… even wild. I do not think it would even be a stretch of the imagination to say you could really appreciate and be grateful to God in these moments, and that that would make it all the better, all the more intense.
In conclusion, I have found that house parties can be approached with very different attitudes, having very different results. Reflecting upon this, I think people, especially Christian college students would do well to actively consider what their intentions are in having and attending house parties and put careful thought into executing those intentions as opposed to trying to achieve a broadly conceived notion of “a good time” that mainly stems from hedonistic practices. However, I think that the diverse experience of house parties also illustrates the very important point to man’s moral life, a point that Hildebrand was so keen on, that to yearn for and seek after the good has an immense priority over avoiding the bad. And this can only be done when one has an adequate perspective of that which is truly valuable, a reverence for value, and a desire to see all things insofar as they relate to Christ. Lastly, when this is done properly, life is more robust, is lived more fully, and is more vivacious than it could ever be otherwise.
Let the truly wild house parties commence.
(3) Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ, pg. 93
(5) Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ, pg. 103