More On the Moral Theology of the Devil

First off, I have it on good authority that my post "The Moral Theology of the Devil" was discussed during the course of a first date.  It is flattering that someone is reading my writing, but I suspect such a relationship is doomed from the start if that is a relevant topic.  Still, good on you, I guess.

Anyway, two additional thoughts along these lines.  The first one is that the Moral Theology of the Devil plays on human resistance to what I believe is the most difficult teaching of Christianity (and, probably, all of Abrahamic monotheism)--God loves everyone equally.  I remember a lecture from Tom O'Meara, a Dominican theologian, who explained that people want to be convinced that they "have more God" then others.  But no one has more God than anyone else.  God is the creator of everyone, and so everyone is equally loved.

If you look at traditional religions, with their panoply of gods and spirits, the entire purpose of religion is to generate the favor of the gods toward the participant (or, stave off the wrath of the gods, which is really the flip side of the same coin).  If you told a Egyptian priest that the gods will favor him the same amount regardless of whether he makes the appropriate sacrifices, then I suspect he would immediately ask "what's the point of making the sacrifices?"  His entire religion becomes purposeless if you remove the notion that someone can be more favored by the divine than others.

Beginning with the Prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, however, the God of Israel shatters this conception.  God's mercy falls on everyone who seeks it, such as Naaman the Assyrian, or the citizens of Nineveh.  Jesus makes this point even more explicit in the Gospels, reaching its apex with the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  The Father loves the prodigal son just as much as he loves the faithful son, regardless of what the prodigal son did or did not do to "deserve" it.



Like the faithful son, though, we resist this message, because we see it on some level as fundamentally "unfair."  We're the one's who do all of this stuff for God--surely we deserve to be loved more than those other folks who don't do these things.  For the Pharisees in Jesus's time, they believed they should be loved more because they followed the Law of Moses better.  For us in our own time, it is something else.  But we can't bear the idea that we are not getting more love from God, because deep down we are like the Egyptian priests who are wondering whether any of this is worth it.

And here, the Devil comes in with a clever trap.  He agrees with us.  "You're completely right that this business of God loving everyone equally is unfair.  But, it's not really like that.  God is going to get Those Folks in the end, whether its in this world or in the next.  All you have to do is make sure you are completely separate from Them.  Don't reach out to Them.  Don't meet Them where they are and try to see it from Their perspective.  Just focus on how much you are right, and how They are abominations in the sight of God."

Thus, as Merton says, we become "unconscious hates of other men."  And the Devil wins.

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Second, I have recently been reading about the life of St. Francis of Assisi, mostly at the inspiration of Pope Francis.  Most people know about Francis on a surface level--he talked to the animals, he composed the Prayer of St. Francis ("Lord, make me an instrument of your peace..."), etc.  But, if you really dig into Francis, he is an incredibly thoughtful and challenging figure. 

There are several examples of the "tough stuff," but one that comes to mind is his views on joy.  St. Francis was known for being joyful, which sounds as inoffensive as you can possibly get.  But, he also says that if you are not joyful in your faith, then you don't really believe in it in the first place. Because, to Francis, the Good News of Jesus is so overwhelming that if you take it seriously you have no choice to be anything but joyful.  Francis routinely criticized the nascent Franciscans for being gloomy, and called them hypocrites for pretending to follow Christ.

It's an excellent litmus test for a proper faith.  Does being a Christian make you happy?  Or does it cause you to freak out over all the people that are not being Christian and not doing what you think they are supposed to be doing? 

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