Since the Enlightenment, even the Catholic Church has come, more and more, to reject the above-described ascetic forms—at a distance from an approximately eighteen-hundred-year tradition—as aberrations and "exaggerations." In the early twenty-first century, Catholic theologians of this denomination define asceticism as balanced, consisting of harmless penances like moderation in alcohol and nicotine intake or separation from the entertainment industry, as components of a lifetime of striving for perfection. In twenty-first-century monastic life, ascetic achievements are limited to a daily practice regulated by prayer times and reduced to a mild fast before the holy days. Often asceticism is just a synonym for morality—practices that manifest a striving toward God (avoidance of sin, practice of the virtues, or concentration on God). Even Pope Pius XII's teaching that a Christian should wish to seek physical pain in order to take part in the sufferings of Christ, should reject sensual satisfaction and debase his flesh, has not altered the general watering down of the ascetic ideal. That ideal has more in common now with the (Protestant) philosophy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which reached back to the original meaning of the word: Immanuel Kant saw in asceticism a cheerful fulfillment of duty, Friedrich Nietzsche an exercise of the will. In the modern age, asceticism, thus secularized, is practiced for purely personal purposes: in sports (painful training and sexual abstinence in order to attain ultimate achievement), for the realization of aesthetic norms (fasting to attain an ideal figure, sometimes to the extent of a striving for gauntness), or for the attainment of social and lucrative ends. In 2004, for example, the English television station Channel 4 aired a reality show in which the contestants competed to see who could go without sleep the longest—a week of sleep deprivation brought the winner 140,000 euros.
Another ascetic form, grounded in subjective ethics—not religious as a rule—is fasting for the implementation of an ideological stance (as in ancient Ireland). In modern times it has become a common method (hunger strike) to appeal through the media for the sympathy of the public.
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