Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Christianity and Self-Pity

A few weeks back, everyone was quoting a piece by some bitter little British woman about how angry she was over the Christian allegory in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Nothing, she insisted, was worse than Christ's effrontery in going and dying for everyone. Who asked him to do that?

Who indeed...

I think one of the most offensive things about Christianity for those who have chosen to hate it is that there's really no room for self pity in the Christian framework.

The pagan gods of the Greeks and Romans were easy to resent. They didn't die, they dallied endlessly with mortals, and although humans suffered from their caprices as well and enjoying their occasional favors, the gods actually had less claim to nobility, certainly less claim to suffering than men did. Indeed, reading Homer (before Hesiod and later writers began to abstract the gods, turning Zeus into a type for justice) one gets a certain sense that men are (despite their weakness and mortality) above the gods, because they know what it is to suffer and overcome.

This must have had a certain (though rather cold) sort of comfort. While on the one hand begging the gods for favors (and bribing them with sacrifices) one could also rage against them. "You don't know what it is we suffer. You don't know what it is to lose a loved one, to sicken, to starve, to lose a child, to suffer all the innumerable trails of frail humanity."

Christ denies us that self-indulgence, by having drunk deeper from the cup of human suffering than any of us. We cannot cry to the Christian God that He knows not how we suffer. He does, and more, and he was there first.

I think is what offended the British authoress: having humanity's collective thunder stolen by a God was betrayed by one of his close friends, imprisoned, beaten to within an inch of his life, tortured, mocked, and died a death of unimaginable suffering. In his self sacrifice, Christ rendered any attempt at self pity, any attempt to rail that the gods don't understand, any attempt to lash out at Him inherently ridiculous. Anyone who looks at a crucifix knows that he has nothing over God. And for those who don't want God, who would rather see Man as the great tragic yet noble figure of our world, that must be the most upsetting thing of all.

I was thinking of all this while looking back over the past year, as I myself was coming dangerously close to self pity.

It's been a year of trails and blessings. I landed a good job at a good company, ending a year of freelance work and chronic under-pay. However on Good Friday my wife and I lost our unborn child at three months. Yet God blessed us with another child, baby Smaskig who alerts us daily to her health with kicks and surges, and who is due at the end of February. As the year ends, my father is in the last stages of dying of cancer. The costs of time off work and visits to Los Angeles are sitting on the credit cards. After being separated from my wife and daughters for two weeks while spending time with my father, I came back and came down sick with what MrsDarwin had. The doctor helpfully loaded up our credit cards with a pharmacy worth of prescriptions (which happily are working) and my wife's father and five siblings came out for a long planned visit through New Years, and we promptly got half of them sick. (House population 10, sick list 5) So I'm desperately trying to get well in time to return to work on Tuesday, knowing all the while that by that time my father will quite probably be dead, and I'll soon have to take a couple more days off work to fly out for the funeral.

And just as I was getting up a really good head of steam for my self pity, I thought of whom I address my cares and hopes to each morning and evening, and realized I had nothing over Him.

There really is a limit to the self pity that we as Christians can muster. Our whole religion cries out against it, for our savior has taken all these sufferings to Himself and more, upon the one person who can be said truly not to deserve any suffering at all.


Mike L said...


I think your remarks are accurate regarding the travails of ordinary life, such as the ones you described as your own. But I don't think they hold of everybody.

The diabolically possessed, for example, go through unimaginable torture, often for years. Nowadays it's tough for many of them even to be taken seriously as such by the Church. Only some, with their own cooperation, are liberated by exorcism, which is a ministry of the Church. How the rest experience the moment of death is something too dreadful, as well as too remote, to think about. I think Christianity leaves room room for temporary self-pity among such people—but only temporary, of course.

Then there are those who live in severe, chronic pain of other sorts deriving from mental or physical illness. I do not think it inappropriate for them to feel sorry for themselves once in a while. Indeed, the only pertinent sin is despair, which is what self-pity too long nursed can lead to.

Let's think of self-pity more as a temptation to sin than as a sin itself.


Anonymous said...

I was thinking of you today and imagining how stressful the last month has been for you and how it will go on for is amazing how our dear Lord gives us the strength we need at times like prayers for you and your family go on...I can understand how you can fall into a bit of self-pity...I've done it myself a few times in my life, unfortunately...however, you have recognized it and that is more than half the battle...

A blessed New Year!!

Julie D. said...

Amen and well said!

Rick Lugari said...

FYI: MrsD has been tagged with the Weird Habit Meme