25 August, 2007

Mother Teresa, the atheist? part 1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
You are far from my plea and the cry of my distress.
O my God, I call by day and you give no reply;
I call by night and I find no peace.
Everyone else is talking about it in fair detail (Bede, Brandon, Elliot, and Eric anyway), so I'll try to say something I haven't read yet. This remark of Bede's particularly draws my attention:
The reaction of atheists to the news has been confused, largely because it destroys one of the central planks of their belief system. They constantly tell us that faith is something that allows no room for doubt while their worthy scepticism makes a virtue of it. So, to find that one of their hate-figures felt bereft that the mystical and life-changing experience of her youth never returned later in life, was a bit of a shock. Some are claiming that Mother Teresa was really an atheist herself, others that her doubts mean that she was a hypocrite.
(Emphasis added.)

I'll go ahead and get myself into trouble here; I want to make two observations. One is a quibble, the other, in a follow-up post, is a memory.

The quibble. Atheists are not wrong in characterizing Christians as using Christianity as a crutch for feeling good or for avoiding hard thinking. A large sector of Christianity does precisely that, and the rest of us either aren't trying very hard to correct it, or aren't succeeding at it. After all, Psalm 23 sells more easily than Psalm 22 or, for that matter, Psalm 69.

I've usually seen the "everything is happier" aspect of Christianity used as a primary selling point. Bumper-sticker Christianity comes to mind here: "Know Christ, know peace; no Christ, no peace." Here in the States, one need only turn to the proper television channel or visit a Christian bookstore to read & hear arguments from the "loud" Christians that a true Christian has such an intimate, personal relationship with Christ that he has no doubt. A few months ago, a few of them even visited my house to convince me otherwise.
Did you know that the Bible promises you that reassurance?
She couldn't have been more than twelve. She was a little overweight, unlike her backup, who was also a young girl. They were well-dressed and invariably polite. Off in the distance, I could see the van that brought them and a number of others; a man in a suit stood by it. I didn't want to answer her, but closing the door in her face didn't seem... well, very Christian.
No, it doesn't. St. Paul writes of his terror that, after having preached to so many, he fears that he himself should fall. If so great a Christian as St. Paul should lack that reassurance, why shouldn't I?
I felt a little guilty for it. That's okay; I'm sure that she recognized me as someone who had never really been "saved". If she didn't, that's likely what the gentleman would have told her after she returned to "home base".

I assure you that, as news of this makes its way around a certain sector of American Christianity, preachers will point to this as definitive proof that Mother Teresa is not a real Christian. That won't happen here in the States only; I have known Italian Catholics who portray the Christian life as one that should be all sweetness and joy. Russian Christianity abounds in preachers of the "Christian life is great!" variety. It's amazing how one can study the lives of the saints and the readings of the Bible and still think that the difficulties promised there will not apply to me. The father of lies is an expert at seductive whispers, and by now we are experts at listening.

You can walk into many churches and hear it; you can study in quite a few seminaries and be taught it; I submit that a significant amount of theological discourse and religious apologetic lacks any question of self-confidence. I'll bet I could find it in this weblog, if I looked hard enough, and in fact I think I have found it.

1 comment:

Clemens said...


Or, No Doubt, No Faith, no doubt.

And didn't Jesus say something about NOT bringing peace, but rather conflict? Not many preachers dwell on that one.