A man ill suited for Christianity

Well, another Holy Week has come and gone, and I’m reminded once again of how poorly suited I am for the Christian religion.  I’m not talking right now about Christian morals being too tough; I expect that humility and chastity don’t agree easily with too many of us.  I mean my temperment is all wrong.   I would have been a more natural fit for paganism, I believe, but I happen to believe that the Christian religion is true, so I’m stuck.  Here’s what I mean.  Maybe some of you can sympathize.

1) I’m supposed to love Jesus, but I don’t.  I know this is a great sin, the greatest even.  Nobody deserves my love more than my Creator and Redeamer, but I can’t seem to work up any of the warm feelings for him that I have for, say, my wife and daughter.  In my defense, I could say that it’s hard to work up an emotional attachment to someone one can only encounter through faith, but lots of other people seem to do it.  They’re always going on about their personal, loving relationship with Jesus.  The one feeling I do manage toward Christ is loyalty.  I do hope that, with his help, I would be willing to make significant sacrifices for him.  Then again, how dare I imagine that I would hold up better than Peter?

2) I’m not particularly interested in having my guilt lessened.  Modern Christianity seems to be pitched towards people who are suffering from guilt and low self-esteem.  The church tells people that God loves them and forgives them, so they love and forgive themselves.  Now, I know I’m a sinner–not a great sinner, but a petty sinner, and it does vex me that my petty sins more or less constitute my action in the world.  But I don’t think about it much; I simply find my soul to be a very boring topic.  Giving people peace and happiness seems to be the Christian idea of victory.  My idea of a victory for Christianity would be Fidel Castro’s head on a pike.

3)  The phrases “in our lives”, “opening our hearts to God”, or “joy” uttered by a priest during a homily induce in me a slight tingle of nausea.  The exegesis of television shows and children’s stories in homilies does not amuse me.

4) At least in our “enlightened” post-Vatican II Church, we are not supposed to really think about doctrine, and that annoys me.  They accuse us reactionaries of turning our minds off, but that’s really what they want from us.  Whenever a priest talks about a doctrine, he only talks about how that doctrine is supposed to make us feel, not what it actually means.  For example, suppose it’s the feast of the Ascension.  On this day, Christ ascended bodily into heaven.  So, when Jesus disappeared behind the clouds, where did he go?  Now, a modern priest will think that only a fundamentalist dolt would ask a question like this.  The point of Assension Thursday is that we Christians should not feel like Jesus’ presence in our lives (there’s that ubiquitous “in our lives”) is a ghostly thing; we should think of it as a solid “bodily” thing.  Or, we should not imagine that Christ’s return to his Father was incomplete, like there was some (bodily) portion of humanity Christ didn’t carry with him into the Father’s presence.  One gets the impression that, for our priests, doctrines have no meaning except the feelings they are supposed to invoke in us.  I cannot be satisfied this way.  The most natural explanation, that Christ subsists in an incorporeal way, is excluded by the doctrine of a bodily assension.  So “where is Jesus’ body?” is a valid question.  “I don’t know”, is an answer I could accept, but I don’t want to talk about my feelings.  To be fair, the pagans are even worse than contemporary Christians in this regard.

5) All the stuff I like about religion–dogma, ritual prayer and sacrifice, tradition, and hierarchy–are the things that get constantly denigrated in favor of a “purer” faith.  How I hate the prophets for spoiling the austere and unself-conscious religion of Moses.

Now, it’s true that some of this is a perversion of true Christianity and is quite alien to its historical norm.  On the other hand, a Christianity trimmed to suit my tastes would, I think, be at least as much of a perversion.

27 Responses

  1. Read Nicholas of Cusa.

    If that doesn’t work, read George Berkeley.

    If that doesn’t work, read Pico della Mirandola.

    On second thought, just skip ahead to Pico della Mirandola, notably the phrase: “There is no knowledge that convinces us more of the divinity of Christ than magic and the Kabbalah.”

  2. I’m an atheist, but having just finished reading the Bible, I can relate. The Old Testament is what suits me as a reactionary, and, bonald, I think it would suit you. It also seems to have suited Jesus and Muhammad which isn’t bad company. The New Testament was written by apostles after Jesus died. Who really knows how accurately what they wrote reflected what Jesus taught? One thing I did notice is that Jesus in the first 3 Gospels stuck quite close to the principles of the Old Testament but that the rest of New Testament wondered off, especially the writings of Paul and John.

    By advocating the Old Testament, I am not saying that you should become a modern Jew. Modern Judaism has stuck the Talmud over the Old Testament which is just as much a deviation as the New Testament is. My ideal religion would just focus on the core teachings of the Old Testament. And I don’t see the question of whether or not Jesus was the Messiah as critical because either way, the ideal would still be to follow the teachings of the Old Testament that Jesus supported. Jesus argued with the Pharisees exactly about the fact that they made up their own teachings to supersede the intent of the Old Testament. Even as an atheist, I must confess that the Old Testament is the most perfect book that I have read, with God’s advice being the most perfect moral advice. I only remain an atheist because I don’t believe in the supernatural, or alternatively I could just call God the combination of the voice of wisdom and morality plus the natural repercussions of failing to listen to that voice.

    Anyway, I recommend watching the video The Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus for an interesting insight into these issues by an Old Testament true believer.

  3. Everyone, Bonald, is ill-suited for Christianity. That’s what original sin is about.

    I also feel, as it were, emotionally inadequate to grasp the events of Easter. I tried reading the chapter on the Passion in Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, which helped. Some. Whatever works.

  4. Ha, you are just ill-suiting for being a (modern) Catholic.

    I think if you attended an old-time Southern Baptist congregation, you would have no issues with 1-4 above. You would not get #5 though, at all (at least modern Catholicism makes a nod to those things).

    Have you ever given a visit to a “Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God” church?

  5. hmmm, the O.T. suited Jesus? Reading the Sermon on the Mount…. he pretty much throws out the old law… along with a number of parables…

    But then, you say he sticks to the “principles” of the O.T. I’m curious, how so? “The teachings of the O.T. that Jesus supported”… Which are those? Not picking a fight here, I’m just really not sure what you are talking about.

  6. I have the same tendencies, only I’m not Catholic, but some kind of “non-denominational” near-fundamentalist not-Evangelical Christian. I love Psalm 139, especially the part where David says, “I hate those who hate you.” Some good clean hate! Maybe Christianity today has lost the ability to hate, and therefore really to love. What we are having pushed on us is schmaltzy sentimentality.

  7. I appreciated reading your thoughts here. I understand the sentiment in item #1, but don’t understand the logic behind it. I would have thought that your loyalty to Christ, which you recognize in yourself, is how you love Him, not your warm feelings, which may or may not lead you to do anything. Yet you claim not to love Jesus.

    It seems to me that you are describing your lack of mystical encounters. Many of the Saints were mystics, but I think also many of them were not. Yet they are all known to us today as Saints because they all had great love for our Lord, whether they had mystical experiences or not.

    Many of the great spiritual writers (a Kempis comes to mind) talk about the proof of love being shown by loyalty even in the absence of warm fuzzies.

  8. In Matthew 17 (which is part of the Sermon on the Mount) Jesus explicitly says that he isn’t throwing out any laws from the Old Testament. Then he extends the laws somewhat, but as the video I linked to shows, at least one of these changes is just a mistranslation from Hebrew to Greek and in fact the original Hebrew shows Jesus affirming the Old Testament rather than contradicting it. So I would ask you to give me one single law from the Old Testament that Jesus throws out.

  9. I’m supposed to love Jesus, but I don’t. I know this is a great sin, the greatest even. Nobody deserves my love more than my Creator and Redeamer, but I can’t seem to work up any of the warm feelings for [H]im

    Warm feelings? Are you joking? Having thought about it, I guess the answer is yes. Once upon a time, when men wanted to brag about their prowess, they wrote a “Confession.” So, I guess you are using this device here: bragging that you understand what love is by confessing that you don’t have “love.” Since I’m not unusually thick, I’m a little worried that you will be misunderstood.

    Anyway, you sound like an evangelical or charismatic protestant. I’m not trying to be insulting: this idea that love, as that word is applied to Jesus, is the same as love, as applied to children or wife, is a belief particular to a certain weird subset of protestants. It’s worse: many of them seem to think that their salvation is determined by what type of emotional feelings they have with respect to Jesus. It’s a brutal, cruel, bizarre religion they believe in.

    Loving God is not a feeling. Loving God is not an emotion. Love is a choice of the will to self-sacrifice in obedience to God’s will. John 14:23, for example.

    It might or might not be nice to have the warm fuzzies for Jesus, but it is not intimately related to loving Him. Some saints had the warm fuzzies for Jesus. Some did not.

    I remember watching “Marriage Works in Christ” on EWTN. It was a married couple sitting in chairs talking to a priest. They are the three creepiest people ever. At one point in one episode, the husband is going on about how when he is engaged in the marital act with his wife, he is thinking about how he is really engaged in the marital act with Jesus. His wife is looking on, and Father Freakazoid is nodding and smiling. I thought, whatever religion you are, dude, I am not.

  10. I think we are all ill-suited for Christianity in different ways, just some people are more aware of their inherent inadequacies than others.

    Those with a warm/fuzzy faith often struggle to understand dogma, while those who understand dogma may struggle with the warm/fuzzy stuff.

  11. Hi fschmidt,

    I agree with you that Christ intended to fulfill the Law, rather than overthrow it. Nothing in the Old Covenant was dismissed as wrong, although some things are interpreted as signs whose reality is now present. On the other hand, to me it’s the later (non-synoptic) books of the New Testament that make some of the deepest connections with the Torah. Consider the Epistle to the Hebrews.

    I have a great like for Saint John (who wrote my favorite gospel) and Saint Paul. It’s the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah with their “my faith is so much purer than those dumb peasants who obey the Mosaic sacrificial injunctions” attitude that annoy me. I’m obliged to believe that they were inspired by God, but they sometimes seem too close to the obnoxious personalities of today.

  12. Why worry about your emotions?

  13. Say the rosary frequently.

    You might benefit from a good spiritual director or confessor. One with depth and wisdom (maybe from a religious order), not the insipid type. It may be worth doing some searching for one.

    I do sympathise with you. I spend much of my time attacking the rigidity and dogmatism of pre-V2 Catholicism, but the solution is not the more vacuous brand of liberalism and homilies about The Simpsons.

  14. I meant Matthew 5:17, but this silly blog commenting software won’t let me edit my comment.

  15. Hello my friend Bonald. I want to tell you a few things.

    You say you don’t love Jesus. But the primary relationship Christians are supposed to have toward Jesus is faith, not love. It is good to love the Savior, but this love must be based on faith. And know that “faith” means knowledge about Jesus and all that His Word (the Bible) teaches, agreement with that knowledge, and trust in Jesus as God and Savior. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 10:17

    So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ [i.e., the Bible.]

    If you read the Bible and begin to understand what it teaches, especially how God saves men who don’t deserve it, you begin to have the saving faith that is essential.

    About having your guilt lessened: Even men who don’t feel guilty are guilty in God’s sight. That’s what Protestants call the first use of God’s Law: It makes us aware that we really are sinners in need of salvation. There is no need to dwell morbidly on our guilt once we are forgiven in Christ, but it’s a fact. The modern world denies even the possibility of any knowledge of the important things, so modern man is naturally insecure and emotional. That being so, spiritual hucksters naturally tailor their message to appeal to the masses. But their gaucherie does not change the facts of the matter: Man needs a Savior.

    About doctrine: “doctrine” is another name for the Apostles’ teaching, i.e., the truth that saves men. It is therefore perfectly understandable that moderns hate doctrine. If your teachers are not teaching you what Christ taught the Apostles, i.e., the Bible and what it means, then you need to seek out other teachers who can supply what you lack. Good teachers (and a horde of bad ones) are readily available on the net and in books. The main point is for you to avoid people who are just winging it. If a teacher constantly backs up his teaching from Scripture, good. If he does not, avoid him.

  16. Whoa, that EWTN show sounds creepy.

    I certainly didn’t mean to be congratulating myself of a “true” love of Christ. Love is a value response to the beloved; it has volitional and affective aspects. I hope that I have the act of will, but until I’m actually called to martyrdom and see how I respond, that’s all hypothetical and maybe imaginary. Of course, we’re not entirely responsible for our feelings, but we are responsible for how we cultivate them. I haven’t tried to develop an affective tie to Jesus, e.g. through meditation on his life, and I am responsible for that.

  17. fschmidt:

    As for fulfilling the Old Law, Jesus is hardly the legalist that Matt 5:17 quote makes him seem. Certainly, has you pointed out, he was condemning the beginnings of the “oral torah” junk that would lead to the Talmud as a fetish object under rabbinical Judaism.

    As for fullfilling the Torah, he directly addresses this issue in Matt 22:37-40:

    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    Just skimming through Matthew’s gospel, even outside the Sermon on the Mount, where he modifies many Mosaic laws, here are some further examples of direct changes to Mosaic law he institutes:

    invalidated sabbath rules (Matt 12)
    washing before meals (Matt 15)
    changed divorce laws (Matt 19)
    removal of authority from priests (Matt 21)
    invalidation of the rabbis (Matt 22-23)

  18. Hello T.N.

    Interesting you should mention that. While I don’t respond well to the “personal relationship with Jesus” stuff, I do seem to have an intuitive sense of God’s holiness, and I can get easily and genuinely outraged by blasphemy. I wonder if a lot of men are like this, and it would be a better way to reach us.

  19. Justin, let’s go through your examples:

    invalidated sabbath rules (Matt 12) – The Old Testament only says not to work on the sabbath. It was the Pharisees who misinterpreted this to mean not doing other things like healing people. Jesus was restoring the original intent of the Old Testament here.

    washing before meals (Matt 15) – Nowhere in the Old Testament does it talk about washing before meals. This was invented by the Pharisees. (Though I must admit that the Pharisees had a good idea here, given what we know today about hygiene.)

    changed divorce laws (Matt 19) – Jesus extended to Old Testament here. There is some contradiction here and I would love to read how this was expressed in the original Hebrew.

    removal of authority from priests (Matt 21) – The Old Testament never gave such authority to the Pharisees, so Jesus was on the side of the Old Testament here.

    invalidation of the rabbis (Matt 22-23) – same as previous

    Matt 22:37-40 – Jesus was trying to summarize the intent of the law of the Old Testament. He was applying good common sense that the Pharisees lacked.

  20. I’m with Bill here. I’ve read your post a few times, and have enjoyed reading it each time, but–at the risk of insulting you, which I certainly don’t intend–it is striking me as something of a satire, especially your first point. Can you confirm whether you meant it that way or not?

    Not that St. Augustine was writing satire or anything.

  21. They’re always going on about their personal, loving relationship with Jesus. The one feeling I do manage toward Christ is loyalty.

    As a woman, I can assure you that dogged loyalty and even a bit of intimidation is the purest form of love to one’s superior. Warm fuzzies are what men are supposed to feel toward pretty women, cute babies, and warm puppies. Remember that the Catholic bible uses “feared God” and “loved God” interchangeably.

  22. Thanks for the advice. I’m sure I would benefit from more frequent prayer.

  23. Hi Alan,

    Thanks for reminding me of the Pauline relationship between Law and the sense of guilt. I think this is a key to the difference between past ages and now. In Paul’s case, the Law awakened a sense that he had gotten in wrong with God and wanted to be reconciled/atoned, and so the fact that he could have this through faith in Jesus Christ was good news indeed. Modern people aren’t interested in being objectively right with God; they just want to not feel guilty. They want an anesthetic, not a cure.

  24. Hi buckyinky,

    An interesting question, worthy of a response. See my follow-up post.

  25. Actually, yes, the rosary is more likely to provide immediate results than Pico della Mirandola.

  26. Cardinal Newman has a fantastic homily that I have found very helpful in stiring up some pious sentiments of love towards Our Blessed Lord, it is only short. I know we are in Easter but it is Friday tomorrow so you can still read it 😉

    http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume7/sermon10.html

  27. Thanks,

    I think the advice to go to church more often applies particularly to my case.

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