I had a little bit of an eye-opener just now. Those of you who have blogs, or just websites of any sort actually, probably know the pain I had been feeling as I was going through and deleting all the spam messages posted to this site, as well as banning the IP addresses. I unexpectedly got an interesting quote, supposedly from George Bernard Shaw. These spammers, if they don’t put a message about their product in the body will put some kind of filler in. Examples range from “Get a huge penis!” to “Cool site, dude” to “kjahflkhsarwoihreo.” But this one had a quote.
I don’t know much about Shaw, and I read a lot of ranting and wailing about “humanism” from some of the ultra- (dare I say wacko?) far right people in the Christian education community, and I’ve even thought about humanism, and I wouldn’t say I’ve learned anything. But this quote was an interesting specimen. Here it is. This is a copy and paste job. I don’t know if it’s spelled correctly (milestone instead of millstone?):
The seven deadly sins … Food, clothing, firing, rent, taxes, respectability
and children. Nothing can lift those seven milestones from man’s neck but
money; and the spirit cannot soar until the milestones are lifted.
— George Bernard Shaw
This is obviously an instance in which the messages of Christianity are turned on their head, so to speak, and therefore made into their negative. The message of Christianity is one of selfless love and sacrifice for God and fellow-creations. This statement by Shaw is a humanistic message employing (by my count) three famous Christian concepts or images.
The first and most obvious, of course, is the seven deadly sins. According to some segments of the Church, these are the most grievous. Those in other parts of the Church still recognize these as particularly grievous as well, partly because they all involve a way of life, a wellspring which produces other sins and injustices. They are: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. One could write a meditative piece on these and easily argue that they all actually are manifestations of a self-centered existence. All of Shaw’s “sins” are entities or situations or phenomena that require effort on the part of an individual, with no easily recognizable and gratifying rewards to the personal well-being. Some are simply requirements for existence, others may be the result of unfortunate mistakes.
The answer to all these sins, Shaw says, is money. This is the second reference to Christianity. The Bible is full of statements about money, and Jesus’ statements concerning money are quite revolutionary (cf. Lk. 18.21 for one example). One of the messages about money is that putting it at the center of your existence is wrong. It results in misery and is an idolatry. You could even say that all of Shaw’s “sins” (so-called because they bring discomfort or annoyance upon the human being) are actually a result of having one’s focus on Shaw’s solution. Notice, also, what Paul says about those who have “wandered away from the faith” in pursuit of money. They have “pierced themselves with many pains”:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. —1 Tim. 6.10
The third rebellion against Christian teaching in the statement is the reference (I think) to Jesus’ statements regarding “the millstone.” The quote says “milestone” and I’m not sure if that’s correct, or if some dumb spammer accidentally changed it. One of the versions of Jesus’ statements is found in Mark 9.42:
If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
Interestingly, this statement involves “little ones,” which happen to be one of Shaw’s “deadly sins.” The self-focused existence is so extreme that even (one’s own?) children are seen to be a “sin” or a curse (which is essentially what “sin” apparently means in Shaw’s humanistic parlance).
If we look at how one would live out Shaw’s maxim, we can easily think of the results in society, because the results are showing themselves all around us. Our culture is so self-consumed, that the only concern most people have is their “right” to do this, that, or the other. It’s a sad and scary state.
It’s sad but not surprising. The only answer is response to the call of the gospel of one who is other, one who is outside of our very existence, one who provides a comparison, who contextualizes our very reality.
Have you ever got caught up in your own problems or situation that you have eventually lived your very life according to what you feel you need or want? I can’t remember who wrote this, but it sticks with me, haunts me. This person said that the call of the Gospel is a call to death. (If someone could help me out with that quote, that would be cool.) God loves all of us, but he’s not necessarily in it to make you or me happy. If you read about the lives of the martyrs or the missionaries, even something fictional like Silence by Shusaku Endo, you realize that there is pain involved in living an authentically redeemed life.
Jesus, as well as Paul and other Christians since him didn’t accidentally use the metaphor of dying when speaking of positively responding to the call. There is pain and even mortification involved. Christianity is actually not always a happy way of life. There is joy to be found in living out a relationship with God that is right, but there is a lot of pain. Have you ever considered that perhaps your call to the Gospel may involve never being happy in the ways you once were? never being happy with the things of this life? Consider that statement again: the call of the Gospel is a call to death. That’s powerful and scary.
I guess the challenge I am taking from this piece of spam and the challenge I would give to my reader is to take this opportunity for self-examination. Are you living the life according to Shaw? What are your “deadly sins”? Are they simply things that obstruct your path to happiness and self-gratification? If you have either consciously or unconsciously lived a life in which you expect God to make things easy and happy for you because you said the sinner’s prayer, I challenge you to consider the possibility that maybe God has called you to something much more grave, something even harrowing from George Bernard Shaw’s point of view.
Well, I need to go to sleep. I want to leave you with a passage from Lamentations that has captivated me since I was probably eleven or so. When I read it for the first time, I cried. It is something that is a reality for the follower of God, even if it is skewed by the lamenter’s perception of events. It can also be a powerful antidote to the George Bernard Shaw way of thinking:
I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath;ï¿½he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;ï¿½against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.ï¿½He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones;ï¿½he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;ï¿½he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.ï¿½He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me;ï¿½though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;ï¿½he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.ï¿½He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;ï¿½he led me off my way and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;ï¿½he bent his bow and set me as a mark for his arrow.ï¿½He shot into my vitals the arrows of his quiver;ï¿½I have become the laughingstock of all my people, the object of their taunt-songs all day long.ï¿½He has filled me with bitterness, he has sated me with wormwood.ï¿½He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;ï¿½my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;ï¿½so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”ï¿½The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!ï¿½My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:ï¿½The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;ï¿½they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.ï¿½”The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”ï¿½The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.ï¿½It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.ï¿½It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth,ï¿½to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it,ï¿½to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope),ï¿½to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults.ï¿½For the Lord will not reject forever.ï¿½Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;ï¿½for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.ï¿½When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot,ï¿½when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High,ï¿½when one’s case is subverted – does the Lord not see it?