Thursday, February 16, 2017

You Are Not a Good Person!


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Today wasn't the first time I was told this, nor, I imagine, will it be the last.

The fact that someone thinks enough about me to care to say this about me means - which I already knew, in fact - that I often make an impact when I pass by. One might consider that a grounds to boast, but I do not. I am not happy with the impacts I have made.

I wanted to say to this person, but was for a technical reason unable to,

Demon, I do not think I am a good person, and I do not think that I am trying to make that impression on people. To assert as much about me reveals that you know nothing about that upon which you wish to claim some insight. I am crushingly aware that I am not a good person. I wonder at myself that I had ever believed myself to be good. But that time has long passed by. I am a smart enough person now not to believe that the facts that I neither hurt puppies nor endorse Nazism entitle me to be called a good person. Nor - and this fact will likely bother you more than the previous two - do I yet believe that the wrongs I have done in the past disqualify me from the title. I am disqualified by the present. I don't know whether I shall always be disqualified, but in making this switch I pass outside of autobiography to theology, namely the theology of grace, with its axiom that the future is in God's hands and that He is ever able to turn Sauls into Pauls, and to even make stones cry out praise. 

But enough about me for the moment. Your problem, demon, lies in your interest in my unhappiness, in my deflation. Of course, you miscalculated when you concluded that I am anywhere close to happy, anywhere close to good, and that the little happiness I do have I draw out of a belief in my own goodness. No, I am far from either good or happy. You made a mistake when you reasoned from appearances - and that, says Thomas Aquinas, is how demons determine what they know about us - that I am happy, and if happy, I am happy because I believe I am good. No, I am not happy, but I try to be happy. I have a responsibility not to depress others nor to indulge my own dark humour. I cannot say I was born with a lot going for me. I have intelligence, but so very few of the chemicals that make happy men happy, naive men innocent, the self-content able to take pleasure in things near-at-hand, the prosaic uninterested in large questions. I quote Chesterton here since I have recently comes across it and it evokes something of what I am after, "Men of science offer us health, an obvious benefit; it is only afterwards that we discover that by health, they mean bodily slavery and spiritual tedium." In other words, knowledge does not make a man happy; it cannot stand as a substitute for other things, the most significant of which the right kind of brain. I can control my health to some extent. And I do. I am largely healthy. But I will not fall into the sort of slavery and tedium it demands of me. Nothing so far has made me give up my freedom to be miserable, and I am free to be miserable because I refuse tedium and slavery. 

It would be low psychoanalysis to say that your interest in my happiness is a sign of your own misery. I am too smart to be interested in the easy. That's easy. But I am sorry for you. But I'm only sorry, nothing more. I haven't the spiritual energy for my own happiness, so looking to me is like looking to a stone for refreshment. As I have said, there are people who have bothered to hate me. You hate me because I represent something to you: I think it is self-confidence, which you have mistaken for happiness. But make no mistake, my confidence is in my reason and store of knowledge, not in anything else. It makes me confident in my dealings with most other people, but it doesn't make me happy and has come no where near to convincing me that I am a good person. And even when I don't know something - like I know so very close to next to nothing about accounting, mathematics, electronics, chemistry, etc. - my certainty about  the exact parameters of my ignorance also gives me confidence. Ah, you can't win with me. No one can.

Demon, you make me think about something that I periodically muse over: what would I do were I confronted with a demon? I know demons like to throw sin in people's faces. They love to shame people. That much is clear from the records. But is that all? There are things in my life I would not want others to know about. That doesn't make me special. It makes me rather ordinary. I would hate to be caught naked and be plastered all over the internet in that form. But I am yet under no illusion that I have the worst body ever nor the most shameful record of sins. I think were either to occur - my secrets get out or my nakedness made public - that I would eventually get over it. Ultimately, this would likely be freeing, like the serial killer who is finally caught. 

So, demon, you have to do better than that, better than telling me what I already know - that I am a bad person - in order to bring me from sadness to greater sadness. But alas, you know, I suspect, that making me worse cannot make you better. You wanted to do battle with a man, but instead you have found a pacifist, to joust with a man of honour, but you have instead stumbled across but a miserable pick-pocket.

Chesterton also said that Christianity takes sin more seriously and yet grants mercy more easily. What a wonderful picture of human life! You should find some Christians. They sound nice.

Ever in Christ I wish to be,

Colin Kerr, as yet totally unreformed.

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