Not Exactly as Advertised

It is, I suppose, because I’m the type that doesn’t get out much that I had never heard of Hunter S. Thompson before now. As the better-informed may recall, Thompson was the father of so-called “Gonzo Journalism”. His break-through book in 1967 was Hell’s Angels, which he wrote after spending a year with that motorcycle club. He is best known (Google informs me) for his 1971 book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He became famous for his  irreverent, hard-living, and exuberant lifestyle.

Google also reports that, “He was also known for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal narcotics, his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. He often remarked: ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.’” His number one famous quote, summing up his personal philosophy, said, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’” For many (even for those who like myself had never heard of him), this would seem to represent the path of wisdom. We despise tradition, reject authority (deriding all respect for it as “authoritarianism”), and strike out on our own, creating our own reality and living by our own rules. We even create cheesy acronyms for such personal iconoclasm: YOLO. You Only Live Once. Wow, what a ride.

This philosophy, lived in varying degrees by so many in our secular West, promises fulfillment. If we despise tradition and show contempt for authority, making and living by no one’s rules but our own, we will end our lives happily, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming how wonderful was the path we had chosen. This is the promise of secularism: fulfillment, happiness, joy. Choosing to live by the wisdom of others (even the wisdom of Christ) is a waste. It is far too tame; we would only end up arriving at the end of our lives in a pretty and well-preserved body, having blown our one chance for joy.

As they sometimes say, this secular product with its promise of joy is “not exactly as advertised”. This is clear enough from Thompson’s own life. With all his predilection for “drugs, alcohol, violence, and insanity”, he did not in fact skid to this final end in a cloud of smoke loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!” In fact, at 5.42 p.m. on February 20, 2005, he took a revolver, phoned his wife, put the phone down, put the revolver to his temple, and blew his brains out. His son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were in the next room.

He had been depressed, apparently, for some time. A suicide note to his wife was later found. It read: “No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax — This won’t hurt.” It turns out that living out his philosophy did not bring joy. For the last 17 years of his life, by his own account, he was bored and bitchy, and there was “No Fun—for anybody”.

The point of this sad story is not about the choices of Hunter S. Thompson. He was only one child of many who bought the age-old promise that if we go our own way and live by our own rules we can become as gods. Secularism promises fulfillment and joy and a great and thrilling lifelong ride to those who reject traditional wisdom and live iconoclastically. But the promise is a lie and the product not exactly as advertised. That is what the Bible means when it calls sin “deceitful”.

But this much is true: you do only live once. All the more reason to choose wisely how we will live. Hunter S. Thompson choose poorly. Let all those who might be tempted by his exuberant and witty rhetoric consider his end, and choose well.








  1. Incredibly timely post! While tales of other peoples’ excess always stimulate our imaginations, living life according to the whims championed by the secular world always leads to the same sad dead ends.

  2. “Choosing to live by the wisdom of others (even the wisdom of Christ) is a waste. It is far too tame…”

    I would say the book “Everyday Saints” suggests otherwise!!

  3. This reminds me cartoon Zootopia.
    It has a song by Shakira “Try Everything”.
    Although the idea of the song is good – do not give up.
    “I won’t give up, no, I won’t give in
    ‘Til I reach the end
    And then I’ll start again
    No, I won’t leave”

    The solution to this goal is wrong:
    I wanna try everything
    I wanna try even though I could fail

    As with Hunter S. Thompson it just does not work.

  4. Hedonism is not new. The Cyrenaics or Kyrenaics (Ancient Greek: Κυρηναϊκοί; Kyrēnaïkoí) were a sensual hedonist Greek school of philosophy founded in the 4th century BCE (so google tells me). This philosophy gives rise to the popular belief that Hunter S Thompson espoused. He died tired of living…yet he was not afraid of dying.

    We have only one life so we should live it joyfully…knowing that this LIFE is EVERLASTING. In this age of Cell Phones that die and are replaced easily we should need no proof. Like a cell phone, our data, our soul is backed up in the cloud ready to return when God calls us. The Psalmist believed that people’s souls could return. He sang…”You return man to dust, saying, “Return, O sons of mortals.” (Psalm 90:3) Paul too reminded mortals… writing in 1 Corinthians 15:16 “For if the dead are not raised, then not even Christ has been raised.”

  5. I love this post, Father. I was exposed to Thompson at an early age, as my father was incredibly liberal; he had some of Thompson’s book, and there was always a copy of Rolling Stone magazine on the coffee table. After I got into drugs and alcohol, I became obsessed with “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” reading and watching it countless times. But then one day, when I was thirty, the woman I love told me that she could no longer watch me hurt myself with my crazy lifestyle. The ultimatum came, and I realized I loved her more than any high. I just celebrated fifteen years of sobriety, and that woman I love just asked me how she could learn about Orthodoxy to come in to the Church. When I think of Thompson now, it is only with sadness. Praise be to God, He showed me a way out, to a life of peace and joy that cannot be described. To quote Thompson, “There was no point in looking back… F- no, not today, thank you kindly. My heart was filled with joy.” When I say it, I actually mean it, though.

  6. The equal and opposite reaction to such excess has been the urge to have government control everything “for the greater good”. Both impulses are fueled by philosophical naturalism and nihilism that began roughly in the 17th century when the evil twin beliefs of self-determination and the myth of progress began.

  7. From St. Athanasius “On the Incarnation”;
    “You may be wondering why we are discussing the origin of men when we set out to talk about the Word’s becoming Man. The former subject is relevant t the latter for this reason: it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body. For God had made man thus (that is, as an embodied spirit) and had willed that he should remain in incorruption. But men, having turned from the contemplation of God to evil of their own devising, had come inevitably under the law of death. Instead of remaining in the state in which God had created them, they were in process of becoming corrupted entirely, and death had them completely under its dominion. For the transgression of the commandment was making them urn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being our of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again.”

    The more I repent and submit to His mercy, the less I am ruled by death and the concomitant fear.

    “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk.
    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to they servant.
    Yea O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for thou art blessed unto ages of ages, Amen”

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