Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Not a Sword, Peace: The Heresy of Peace

I am doing a lot of work on the Book of Job right now, as I try to make lots of progress on a book that has been in stasis for far too long, that is, before economics force me to give up theology all together and become a construction worker. Give me money if you would rather I didn't. (I don't have the
luxury to be less direct than this anymore, btw)

Let me state my thesis plainly and then explain it further.

Protestants are primarily interested in attaining peace.

Yes, this is part of the 'Prosperity Gospel,' and all that, but there is an all that too: for lack of a better word, it is our contemporary therapeutic conception of spirituality. Religion is justified because it can bring peace to the heart.

This is plain idolatry. Idolatry of self, of feeling, of the world.

It does amaze me, though, the different 'place' suffering has in Protestant and Catholic (and Orthodox) theology. We looove suffering.

Not exactly, but we think that it has an important positive function. Protestants too often see it as a problem with their claim to 'election,' which was the very thing that Job was trying to argue against! Job was not suffering because his salvation was obviously in jeopardy. His suffering was working to assure his salvation.

One of the oddest discoveries of my ecumenical education was realizing Protestants have no sympathy for penance. This made no sense to me given the Biblical perspective: Jesus, John the Baptist, etc., all practiced asceticism: prayer and fasting. Sure, in the history of the saints it sometimes seems like asceticism is treated as an end in itself, but that is certainly not the value given to it by the Church's great teachers.

Catholicism is a religion for losers, for lack of a better words. Nietzsche recognized this well. The Romans did too. And it's something you hear with great frequency even today: there are no atheists in foxholes, it's said; I would add that there are few in hospitals, despite the best efforts of 'professionals.' (It's interesting to see the waxing and waning of secular governments' attacks on actually religious military chaplains.) Religion rears its head in jails too.
St. Peter Martyr

Christianity has a great deal to offer to people who don't "have it all together," i.e., everyone who is not living in denial. God builds on honest weakness. We believe human beings are not self-sufficient, the only beings who are incomplete, who cannot attain to their end, their happiness, which is knowledge of self, world, and their origin without God. Man is, so to speak, an existential joke, tragedy, farce without God.

Suffering is a reminder of this. Penance is what we should do to live in self-awareness when we might otherwise lose this.

The tendency to equate Christianity with attaining the pleasure of peace of mind, of course, comes out of deep unhappiness. But yearning for personal peace and directing all ones efforts in a self-centered drive to attain this can be self-defeating, insofar as such an effort might:

1) be based upon a false, individualistic notion of the human person. (Man is only complete when in relationship with God and neighbor.)

2) be directed toward a peace that is not real peace. (Not being challenged and confronted by pain and mortality is not attaining to real peace, but avoiding it.)

Pleasure and the avoidance of hard things does not lead one to spiritual strength, but usually away from it. There is no way to become interiorly strong without directly confronting and dealing with pain, physical and mental. Catholics have always defined holiness as a product of virtue (virtue is from the Latin for strong), and it is the product of 'exercise.'

To go back to the Protestants, they were originally very Augustinian in terms of their understanding of the role of grace in salvation, and yet, I think, that given the dis-junction they tend to set up between God and the world, salvation (and hence their understanding of what peace is) becomes unrelated to life in the world, an escape from it. But, I would argue, grace sets us up to live well the lives we are called to in it.

The first thing Protestants got rid of was monasticism. They talked about them as being leeches on society, but that doesn't really seem a sufficient explanation. Have you visited a Trappist farm? There isn't a more productive place. No, monasticism was offensive to the essential bourgeois character of Reformers; it was a scandal of the life of the cross. The Protestant Reformers also took the corpus off the cross, for the same reason. It was very uncomfortable and demanding to middle class money makers.

Peace of mind is a wonderful blessing, especially for those who have gone through tons of pain - the depressed, the anxiety-stricken, the mourning, etc. But it is not the goal of life. That is how Buddhism defines the goal of life, and it's not really all that worthwhile. Love is the goal of the Christian life. Love is the unifying force that brings us together in God's very own being. Love engages intellect, will and body into action in God: movement in God's own movement.

I love to spend a peaceful hour here and there in the presence of the Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament. But I am not there for peace most of all. I am there for love. People who are un-peaceful must pray for that gift, as people without food must pray for food, as people without courage must pray for it. At times when I am worried I pray for peace. But we should not dedicate our lives to attaining it most of all. If that is the goal of life then things like children, responsibilities, difficult ministries make no sense. If there is no value in suffering there can be no value in marriage and having children, friends. There is nothing good that is not hard. Thank God St. Francis, Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, all our mothers and fathers did not pursue peace most of all.

Christmas is the favorite time of the year to talk about peace on earth. But is that really biblical? Christ came to set the world on fire. The only peace He promised was through the blood of his cross.


  1. Dear Theological Dad: Thanks for sharing this very IMPORTANT information. I grew up in a 'Catholic' home ... but it was a violent place. My father beat my mother on a regular basis and, over the years, my mother became a bitter and angry alcoholic. I was the oldest of 8 children ... and there was 5 years between me and the second born; so, I often became a surrogate mother to my much younger siblings ... as well as their protector
    For too many decades I sincerely believed that God and the Catholic Church absolutely HATED women. At age 21 I left the Church. Thirty years later, God Himself brought me back. Oh, I still 'suffer' ... but NOW I understand, and I've learned to be 'at peace with God' IN my suffering . I've learned to 'offer it up' for those who are like I was ... constantly in anguish ... and constantly seeking peace, and stability, wealth and comfort. I LOVE my 'crucified' Christ. I can 'relate' to that image of Christ more than any other image ... except perhaps the image of the Good Shepherd, cradling a lamb. This second image is one I treasure for God Himself found me, picked me up and brought me "Home"! Praise and Glory to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    By the way, I've learned that God DOES NOT hate women! He made his own mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth!

  2. Thanks for sharing, Suzanne. It is really quite amazing that you have been able to love God despite all of that. I don't know if all of us (me?) could. Studies have shown that love of man and love of God are so interdependent. And in my years of having the privilege of people sharing their journeys with me I have seen some people make it through some pretty awful things and yet remain able to love God and neighbor. Amazing. For me, it is shameful how short a leash I keep God on: He better do what I expect or else! I'm not a very good Job, but I am learning. Our Blessed Mother is such a gift to all of us, to reassure us that God loves all people - both men and women!