Tag Archives: guilt

Trump and Assad

“For the son of God became like us so that we could become like him.” Athanasius

On Palm Sunday, Dr. Cherith Nording, a seminary professor, gave a powerful sermon in which she proposed that Christ could live in connection with the spirit of God because he declined to be influenced by the narratives of the world. Likewise, she observed, for us to live in connection with the spirit of God, we need to decline to be the guided by the world’s dominant narratives.

Which are: the quests for fame, power, riches, sensual delights, and ego fulfillment. Now, all those things being quite attractive, many will question why should we decline to pursue them.

The most convincing answer has to be: to find something better.

In its mission to present this something better, the Christian church historically favors offering the promise of what Woody Guthrie called “pie in the sky when you die .” For many reasons, one being our human preference for short term rather than long term solutions, that promise hardly begins to convince everybody. Many people in this scientific age find it laughable. Many others see no problem in following the world’s narratives, at least until they discover the often miserable consequences.

At that point, they may be open to persuasion should the church effectively present to them the benefits living in connection with the spirit of God offers. Benefits such as: peace of mind; freedom from worry; freedom from guilt; freedom from the poisonous need for ego fulfillment

Though her message was honest, wise, and powerfully delivered, what most excited me was — please keep in mind that I attend an “evangelical” church — her comment that our following the world’s narratives leads to the triumph of such followers of the world’s narratives — such power seekers — as Trump and Assad.

Trump and Assad in the same sentence. Thank you, Dr. Nording

Despair as Comedy

Soren Kierkegaard identifies three varieties of despair. Last week I described the despair of finitude, under the title “Get Real”. So I’ll move on to the “despair of weakness”, which he defines as “the despair of not wanting to be oneself.”

Unlike the despair of finitude, the “weakness” variety doesn’t begin with attraction to the finite but as a result of the choice to avoid the responsibility of living as a unique, self-directed individual. This person feels incapable of being himself.

Those who have learned to feel guilty about everything may easily fall into this despair, motivated by the desire to guard against the risk of more guilt by attempting to do and say what others expect of them. They reason or sense that acting differently from others would cause more recrimination and so more guilt.

This despair “… actually consists of wanting to be someone else.” Only their “someone else” isn’t a real person but the external image of someone they idealize as being above condemnation or criticism.  Someone who need not suffer guilt or consider himself to be the object of disdain.

The person inflicted by the despair of weakness may not relish the rewards of the finite except as they distract from introspection and thereby protect him from the pull of the infinite toward synthesis with the finite.  His motive isn’t attraction but self-defense. He seeks protection from the terrifying temptation to step into the void that lies between his illusions and the reality of who he was created to be.

His illusions and attention to the superficial not only help him avoid connection with the infinite but also with anything more complex than that which he regards as unpleasant. He opts to avoid whatever doesn’t positively affect his present condition or sense of security. In essence, he is so engaged in protecting himself against discomfort or suffering, he can’t think except fleetingly about anything or feel deeply about the concerns of anyone else.

Whereas Kierkegaard finds the person inflicted with the despair of finitude rather pathetic on account of his belief in the value of the ultimately trivial, he sees the person ruled by the despair of weakness as comical, trying in vain to be something imaginary. The poor fellow is the spiritual and emotional equivalent of someone devoted to lip-synching a popular song or thrashing on an air guitar.

Next I’ll turn to the despair of defiance, the variety of despair we novelists find most compelling. Please subscribe, read, and let me know if any of these conditions feel or appear familiar.

Meanwhile, should you care to learn more about the rather bizarre life that has led the author of these posts at least to the edge of either eternity or madness, his story Readiing Brother Lawrence is quite available.