The Intellectual Vacuity of Edward Feser – Part 3

In this last installment of vitriol (yes, I have been quite acerbic with the man – which I think he needs. He has far too many fawning sycophants drooling over his every word, making him feel far too important) against hellists such as Feser, I want to discuss the psychology of hellism. It is amazing how we can act towards others when we believe that we are ourselves better than they. Condemnation of others seems to be part and parcel of the human psyche. Remember how Jesus spoke of this? He told us to first take the beam out of our own eye before looking to the speck in the eye of the other person.

In dealing with this, David Bentley Hart speaks of hellists as those who have a smug satisfaction in their condemnation of others, thinking that they belong to “the club” to which all the other unworthy wretches not only do not belong, but will be denied for all eternity. It is not without reason that the most generous people with their money are those who have been immersed in poverty for some period of their life.  They understand the pain of needing basic things, and respond accordingly. Likewise, someone who has fallen afoul of moral decency and committed a heinous act tends to be understanding and more forgiving of those who similarly fall and then repent.

Feser and his ilk have no such humility. AquinasI doubt that hellists really see themselves as capable, under the right circumstances, of committing the kinds of immoral acts by which they so easy send others into the eternal flames.  Someone who has been born in the church, nurtured in its bosom, and has never descended into moral depravity (as I have) simply cannot understand the depths of their own sinfulness and the depths of forgiving grace which have been extended by God to the fallen. In short, Feser really doesn’t know his own heart. Neither do his hellist buddies. He thinks he does. I’m telling you, he does not, and I am telling you from personal experience:

I know this personally because I was given a minuscule taste of it after the death of my first wife. I had spent years being driven by Christian fear-mongers who threatened me with eternal fire if I did not believe correctly and did not win souls to Christ. One even went as far as to say that nothing was more important than serving Christ, even one’s own family. In the grip of this brainwashed farce of a religion, I became driven and self-righteous. I was sure I had the correct religion, and since my family didn’t share my views, I was cold and indifferent to them. I gave more time to my church and its activities than to them, desperately working to be sure God loved me and would receive me into His Kingdom rather than toss me into hell. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, I was a judgmental boor, constantly badgering people about “getting right with God” so they could go to heaven. While the message was technically correct, the insensitive way I clubbed people over the head with it was not.

It was only after Karen died that I was brought one night to see what a jerk I had become. At the urging of two friends who were Carmelite nuns, I went back to a monastery I had visited before, wondering if the life of a monk was now God’s plan for the rest of my life. On my last night of a three month stay, I had an interior illumination which shook me to my core. In this illuminated moment, with clarity I remembered my poor wife, sitting alone upstairs, watching TV, without her husband there to be with her. Every night I came home, made dinner, and went downstairs to spend hours on the computer. For the first time I clearly realized how selfish this was. The knowledge of this truth was like waves of fire raining down on my conscience. I cannot begin to adequately describe in words the agony of this knowledge, but fire is a good description. That is exactly what it felt like. There was nowhere to run or hide. All I could do was weep and beg God to forgive me for what I had done. All pretense of being a good Christian was stripped away in the raw, naked truth of how selfish I had been. True Christian, self-giving love would have put aside my desires and would have given my time to Karen.

This experience is what is going to happen to every single person when they stand before the One who is Truth. All pretensions, all false ideas of ourselves which we have so carefully nurtured in our lives will be stripped away and we will see ourselves as Christ sees us. And for many, who like me were self-assured, religious fundamentalists of the worst sort, what they will see will be horrifying.

The foundation of all this religious posturing is shame. There are two kinds of shame:  true shame which comes from doing that which is morally wrong, and false shame, which comes from poor self-image. How we feel about ourselves comes from how we are treated in life by those close to us.  Schoolmates taunting, dysfunctional and uncaring parents, being bullied, performing poorly in activities, all these can make us feel worthless – and ashamed of what we are. This carries over to the religious life as well. There is deep in each of us a sense of shame over what we are before God. Add to that the acts of sin which are in evitable, and certain preaching which speaks of humanity in the manner of Augustine’s “massa damnata,” and you have the perfect storm to create in a soul shame of being.

For some people, perhaps Feser, the answer to this interior sense of shame is to do what I did – become a perfect little religionist, one who strives to keep every jot and tittle of the rules of the church.  Deep inside many of us there is this feeling that God really can’t just openly forgive us for our many failings or for what we are as a being. Therefore, we have to become something else. I know this in a most painful way, for as I mentioned, my whole Christian life, if you could call it that, was about trying to be Mr. Perfect-Little-Christian-So-God-WIll-Accept-Me.

This is a hard life, believe me.  And when someone comes along with a teaching that flings boulders of God’s unconditional love against the fortress you have created in which to protect yourself from these feelings of shame – you go ballistic. That God would freely and unconditionally forgive all mankind and open the gates of the City of God to anyone at any time – either now or after death – is a frightening attack on my defenses. It means that God accepts people as they are with a willingness to change them as they come to see His love more clearly and come to repentance. No longer can I feel superior to others by assuring myself that they will spend eternity in torment while I, because of my proper behavior and keeping of the rules, will not.  This means that I have to present not my good works, my many Rosaries, prayers, keeping of the rules, etc. to God, but my very self – and deep down inside, I really don’t like myself.

This psychology of shame also recreates God in our image. Hellists feel that just like us, God really doesn’t like sinners and just like we would if we could, He throws them into eternal flames where they will get what they deserve – forever! But we have kept the rules, therefore He loves us. This is a monumental failure of self-recognition. Life is filled with people who parrot fine sayings about the love of God, but have no idea of it in practical application to those wretched sinners who haven’t yet come to Christ.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of church teaching which validates this approach to God. We are warned over and over that only if we belong to this denomination or believe in this set of doctrines will be obtain salvation. All outside our cozy little group everyone else is damned. In every church there are groups of fundamentalists who preach the damnatory God and you damn well better believe as we do or He will git ya! These various groups of Christians spend an inordinate amount of time lobbing theological grenades at each other while a dying world is desperately looking for them – and all of us – to manifest the love of Christ. Did not Jesus say we are to love our enemies?  How much more are we to love our fellow believers, even if they might have a wrong belief set or be struggling to overcome some sin?

Naaaaaaaaa….it’s easier to throw rocks at them and consign them to the eternal flames. I am coming to the point in my life where I refuse to do this anymore, not even to Ed Feser, whom I think is terribly wrong in his understanding of who God is and the love that simply will not stop until all are brought home to Him.

The Intellectual Vacuity of Edward Feser – Part 4

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