“It’d be in me like a fever”

For an explanation of what Weatherwax Wednesdays are all about, read the introduction post.

This week’s quote is from Carpe Jugulum. In the passage below, Granny is speaking to an Omnian missionary named Oats. (For more about Om, check out the excellent Small Gods).

Granny said, “It’s no good you trying to make me believe in Om, though… People you can believe in, sometimes, but not gods. And I’ll tell you this Mister Oats…”

He sighed. “Yes?”

She turned to face him, suddenly alive. “It’d be as well for you if I didn’t believe,” she said, prodding him with a sharp finger. “This Om… anyone seen him?”

“It is said three thousand people witnessed his manifestation at the Great Temple when he made the Covenant with the prophet Brutha and saved him from death by torture on the iron turtle-”

“But I bet that now they’re arguing about what they actually saw, eh?”

“Well, indeed, yes, there are many opinions-”

“Right. Right. That’s people for you. Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, and who watched ‘em like a father and cared for ‘em like a mother… well, you wouldn’t catch me saying things like ‘There are two sides to every question,’ and ‘We must respect other people’s beliefs.’ You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, cos that’s what it’d be. You say that your people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it. THAT’S religion. Anything else is just… is just bein’ nice. And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice. “Anyway, that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you have to wring your hands and say, ‘Oh deary me, we must debate this.’ That’s my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let things lie. Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.” She added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”

[Oats] thought: my god, if she ever finds a religion, what would come out of those mountains and sweep across the plains?”

One argument against the truth of religious claims, or, at least, the validity of various churches is the behavior of their followers. Most Christians I know, with some notable exceptions, rarely reference their religion, or, if they do, they speak of it as a private matter, a personal spirituality.

In most other areas, people are eager to share information they find to be true or helpful. I, myself, am a fervent evangelist for the casual study of mathematics and will eagerly pitch books like Flatland given even the smallest opening. And, although I think that missing out on mathematics is a pretty awful loss, I don’t equate it with eternal torment with wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Why then don’t many Christians put even the same amount of effort into evangelization as they do into recommending books or music? I can only conclude it is because they don’t truly believe the tenets to which they ostensibly subscribe. Possibly they don’t believe in Hell (universalists being a prime example) or maybe Christianity isn’t any kind of force in their lives, so they don’t see any reason it might be needed by their friends.

Either way, they more closely resemble cultural, secular Jews than true believers. If people want to treat churchgoing as ‘a way of keeping in touch with the neighbors,’ that’s their prerogative, but to call it a religion cheapens the meaning of the word.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03515071085031688536 Cranky

    Funny, I find the same to be a compelling argument against climate change; or at least against the sincerity of the climate change doomsayers.The political process obviously has failed, will fail. If you really think that Greenland not falling into the Atlantic requires 300ppm CO2, that's going to take bombs.Lots of bombs.- Cranky Curmudgeon

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Some environmentalists share your sentiments, Cranky. Eco-terrorism has been around since well before climate change became a hot button issue. Of course, the trouble is that eco-terrorism hasn't pulled us back from the brink yet.Environmentalists may not have access to enough bombs to save the world; they need to figure out how best to use their strength. Though I'd certainly call environmentalists who don't contribute time/money either hypocrites or nihilists.Christians would seem to have more direct influence over the souls of their friends and acquaintances than environmentalists have over regulation. So it's curious to me that few of them seem to feel a pull to exercise it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04644525459910973391 Kevin

    Leah, I'd say there are at least two reasons for the general lack of evangelical fervor among Christians.The first, and most predominant, is a lack of faith, or commitment, or whatever. And you're absolutely right to call this kind of Christian out; Christ himself has some choice words for the type. The second is that moralizing can be really annoying, and can tend to turn people off. It's rarely prudent to launch into a fire-and-brimstone spiel, if you actually want to win people over. As I see it, evangelists who do this are mainly seeking to congratulate themselves on their faith. Someone who actually wants to make converts will be more subtle about it.For catholics, at least, religion is not just a matter of accepting propositions. In the parlance of the times, "it's a lifestyle." To bring someone into a way of life is much more difficult than to convince them of a few facts. Your comparison of religion of mathematics would be sound only if mathematics demanded that its practitioners hold to a particular way of life. With religion, the stakes are much higher: not just for the person's eternal soul, but for their life in this world, as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06204114144456815104 Michael Haycock

    Kevin's certainly right about Christ's reaction to those that are, in His words, "lukewarm": not too pleasant, so you're correct in that condemnation. I also agree that the activity Granny speaks of doing would, most likely, have the opposite effect of conversion. For some, maybe religion would begin with that fervor, but for many – I'd dare say the vast majority – it takes root and grows slowly, from some rules and regulations to a deep-held, incommunicable sentiment, something that is rarely fashioned in an instant of converting fire. None are perfect, but we're supposed to be working towards that glorious point where we can serve the Lord's cause with all our heart, might, mind and strength. My Church's founder, Joseph Smith, is prominently quoted as saying, "A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race". That's the objective. Maybe we're not all there… yet.And there is some truth in the statement Granny makes that those who follow a religion should be "sacrificin' your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin' the truth of it, workin' for it, breathin' the soul of it." However, that doesn't mean standing on a street corner with a signboard. There's a time and a place for everything. Indeed, in my faith, it is expected that young men serve two-year missions (I returned from my own under a year ago), the main purpose of which is exactly what is proposed: preaching and teaching, though any sort of conflict and confrontation (also known colloquially as "Bible bashing") is strongly discouraged as being counterproductive and contrary to the spirit of the faith. For us, the mere example of righteous living adherents should show forth is seen as perhaps the most important and effective form of proselytizing. Being nice (but firm and unyielding oneself) is one of God's commandments and living one's life according to the precepts God has given us is seen as that very aforementioned sacrifice, that unashamed declaration of truth for the whole world to see. Part of the challenge of life on Earth is to lead normal lives, to raise a family and to go to work everyday; for us, to abstain from sex before marriage and to not drink alcohol are also on that list. That's acceptable before God as a sacrifice.There also must be a healthy dose of recognized ignorance. We can condemn acts of sin in an absolute sense, for example, but the fault of the sinner and the pardoning thereof can only be worked out by God. That's out of our capacity to know, and thus we tread on thin ice when we make such judgments. It's not a sign of weakness or tepidity if done in the correct spirit; it's loving caution and understanding, acknowledgement of the limits of human knowledge.I hope those thoughts are worth a penny. Or more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07095873709252976052 Dominick Lawton

    So a few thoughts:First of all, I think it's fraudulent for a non-believer to tell religious people that what they call religion "cheapens the meaning of the word". I couldn't sum up the fullness of what religion means if you asked me to (I'm also not a believer), but it strikes me that anyone who's had no kind of religious experience themselves (divine experience, I mean, not just going to a service) has no right to make grand claims about how people who have are demeaning the word.Now then, so far as actual evangelism is concerned. The comparison to 'recommending' books or music seems to me rather strange. Recommending something isn't the same thing as fundamentally convincing someone of its truth. You don't "recommend" a religion; or if you do, that's not evangelism. The points other people have made about the counterproductive nature of becoming "that person who talks about Jesus all the time" for actually converting people are probably right, and I furthermore think that, by virtue of the magnitude of the task of conversion, it may well be beyond the ability of one-on-one conversations between friends to achieve, at least by themselves. I don't think most people come to a religion because they dispassionately decide it's probably correct, or because it seems logically coherent or accurate; I think most people do so because they feel it. And it has to be felt as universal, the way things are, not just the product of a particular friendship. I know people who've changed religious affiliation or gone from non-belief to belief, but I don't know anyone who did so primarily because of evangelism from friends.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Dom, in regard to your final point, many of the PoR converts (including Eve, Helen, and Tristyn to my knowledge) converted largely due to the influence of their new Christian friends. That's not to say it was the result of peer pressure, but that the evangelical influence of other PoR members got them asking new questions and put them in a position to feel new things, which ended up resulting in conversion.To your first point, I don't think, because I'm not religious, I don't get to talk about its definition. When I say that I'm not religious or that atheism is not a religion, that implies knowledge of a definition that may or may not match up to the definition used by any particular religious person. I'm glad to discuss why you think my definition may be inaccurate, but I have as much right as a Christian or the US Government (for tax purposes) to put one forward.Your middle point I'm going to answer in another post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07095873709252976052 Dominick Lawton

    Hm, the first point is interesting, though I'd say there's a big difference between the sort of relationships you find as part of a PoR-esque community and an isolated friendship (or a couple isolated friendships). The former makes a good deal more sense to me as being able to effectively evangelize (or at least prod in that direction) than does the latter; not all groups or friendships are alike. (And whoever you're calling out in this post, I imagine it's not the PoR.)As for the definitions question: of course you're allowed to advance, attack, or defend definitions of religion, but I don't think all you were doing was arguing a descriptive point. "Cheapens" is a loaded word. You don't tell someone you think has displayed an inaccurate understanding of something that they've "cheapened" it unless you're trying to tell them they've done something wrong on more than just a technical level, something borderline unethical. Which, considering you're an atheist (and will probably remain one), I think is a bizarre thing to do.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07986833157160434927 David Wagner

    Well I think Dominick and you, Leah, have pretty much sewn this one up. I'll just add that St. Josemaria Escriva always discussed "apostolate" (the most apt Catholic term for what is often called "evangelization") as being based on friendship and confidence, which — this should go without saying, but I'll add it because I think it highlights certain points made in preceding comments — have to be genuine, not artificial or manipulative. So — tho' I'm a convert, sidewalk preachers never interested me, b/c they aren't my friends going into the conversation. and I didn't ask them to talk to me. Casual acquaintances who "talk religion" too early on are, imo, *presuming*, so I assume I'd be presuming if I did it to them.I say this as a layman (i.e., not a priest, monk, etc.), and I think it reflects a proper Catholic lay mentality. Clergy and religious (in the technical sense of the latter them — monks, nuns, friars, etc.) have a different vocation. St. Peter was right to head out into the square on the first Penetecost and start preaching. Even then, tho', only those listened who wanted to.

  • http://bluesilkensky.livejournal.com/ bluesilkensky

    I'm coming to this one rather late, but hopefully you've got some kind of comments notification system and you'll see it.In high school, as a committed Christian, I made a number of very close friends, the majority of whom were atheist, agnostic, or skeptical but inquiring. If they brought up religious debates, I'd always join in. But I always instinctively shied away from flat-out evangelizing to these close friends.I knew what my friends valued in me and in our friendship was that while I held to my own religious beliefs, I wasn't judgmental about theirs. The friendships wouldn't have worked if they hadn't had the sense that I loved and appreciated them wholeheartedly, and neither they nor I could conceive, at 16 or 17, of a way I could evangelize to them that wouldn't leave them feeling judged and found wanting, wouldn't leave them feeling less loved.I think there can be a way to evangelize a religion without coming across as judgmental, but it takes understanding and maturity on the part of both the speaker and the listener to do it, and we weren't there yet. So, given a human-created choice between the command to spread the Word and the command to love my neighbor, I defaulted to the "love" command. I still think it was the right one.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @bluesilkenskyThanks for sharing your experience. I think your reasoning makes a lot of sense, especially at the age of 16! If you don't mind saying, was it frustrating for you not to be able to evangelize effectively? At least a couple religious people I know feel really bad about not being able to find a way to evangelize in the context of friendship, especially because they believe there's a significant chance their friends might be damned if they don't convert.

  • http://bluesilkensky.livejournal.com/ bluesilkensky

    Hi Leah,Oh, glad you got to see this!As to your question, not really. I think I used to worry about it with my grandparents. And I would certainly be upset for and worry about my friends when they felt lost or made bad decisions (which of course is the prerogative of friends everywhere!) But I can't recall feeling that I was trapped because I couldn't evangelize. I think part of that is that they were the first close friends I'd made that weren't childhood friends, and I knew I still was still learning what this friendship thing was all about, in a way.

  • Owlmirror

    I am not convinced that Granny Weatherwax wasn’t slightly bullshitting Oats, here. She’s not above needling people in their weak points so as to gain or keep the upper hand, and Oats’ weak point is most certainly his doubt and indecisiveness. So she says that she would be fiery and passionate about religion, if she believed it.

    Esme’s weakness is that she needs to be seen as being terrifying, or at least as being impressive. But she also has the self-control to not actually terrorize people more than is necessary to get the respect she wants.

    Anyways, getting to the meat of what Esme says, I don’t see a whole lot of passion in Catholic!Leah. Lots of discussion of passion and emotion and similar topics, but no actual fire as such.
    *raises eyebrow*