Canadian Artist and Catholic Novelist Michael O’Brien on Modesty in the Culture of Shamelessness

Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from Michael O’Brien’s full essay which is available on here:
  OTTAWA, October 8, 2008 ( - "Much of current fashion, especially for women, is an assault upon the ultimate good of those who wear such clothing. It is cunningly designed for attraction, enticement, and seduction, reinforcing the great lie which dominates modern consciousness. This lie tells us that the body is simply an object which we possess as our own, to do with as we like.
"Semi-nudity has become commonplace on magazine covers, advertisements, at swimming pools and beaches. Total nudity is becoming more frequent in media such as television and film, and is rampant in the vastly more popular "private" cultural consumption of the internet. Juxtapose with these near-universal phenomena the fact that more than sixty percent of marriages now end in divorce or separation, that self-denial and sacrifice have become widely discredited concepts, and that the pursuit of happiness through the avenues of sensual satisfaction have produced a profoundly disordered society. No people in history has been so richly rewarded with pleasures, and no people in history has ever been so unhappy.
"The great lie tells us, in essence, that we have no eternal value, that our value is to be found only within the limited span of our lives, and especially in the most vital years of youth when we are strongest, most attractive, and most productive. We are, supposedly, what others tell us we are. We are worth as much or as little as they decide we are worth. In a society that is increasingly focused on sensual pleasure, this means we will be as valuable only so far as we are considered sensually attractive. Attractiveness, of course, is a subjective thing, and thus most people will find themselves objects of interest to others at some point in their lives. Generally this means they will be objects of desire. And desire’s first "interface," if you will, is the body.
"I am convinced that the modern harping on the supposed repressiveness of the past is really no more than a symptom of our current obsession with sex. If we were to plunge back a century or two, I think we would find that while our ancestors’ manner of dress was indeed more formal, and at times even constricting, most people still wed and had children and made happy marriages with startling frequency - and with an enviable rate of success. Compare that to our own dismal, liberated era, in which the image of the cavorting human body is thrust at us a thousand times a day from the pages of the tabloids at the supermarket check-out counter, from chewing gum commercials on television, home computer screens, and from what is being worn on the beach and at church. Modesty has gone out of style."
  See the full essay online here:
  Visit Michael O’Brien’s website:

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