So here’s my pitch for Christian faith, in the most succinct and accessible form I can think of. It’s a pitch. It argues some things, and postulates others, and you may not agree with all, or any, of these postulates. But it tries to be clear about what it postulates, and what it postulates, I think, makes sense, both rationally and intuitively.
So here goes. Let’s start here: the greatest thinkers and artists of history have recognized, and we ourselves know deep in our hearts, that human beings are incomplete; that there’s something within us that craves for something bigger. Call it meaning, call it happiness, call it self-actualization, call it the top of Maslow’s Pyramid—whatever. There is this something extra that we all crave and that we can’t quite put our finger on, and we’re all stuck in medium, trying to find it.
I think we can agree that religion, a good chunk of philosophy, art, ideology and so forth is dedicated to exploring that void and/or finding ways to fill it. I think we can also agree that plenty of people find ways to fill that void that are destructive, for themselves and/or others—substance abuse, pride, money, power… As DFW put it, in the day-to-day trenches of life, there are no atheists. We all worship something, we all choose something to fill that void.
I would submit that if there were such a thing that could fill that void, and do it in a non-destructive way, it could only be the following: the infinite love of a human person.
Every word in that phrase matters. The infinite love of a human person.
Infinite. We humans crave infinity. The void in our souls is bottomless. We simply never have enough. Anyone who’s had a brush with addiction can tell you this: there isn’t enough booze, or pills, or poker tables, or whatever, in the entire world, to fill an addict’s craving. If money is what we worship, we will simply never have enough—that much is clear. Nor power, nor pride, nor beauty, nor intelligence, nor sex, nor anything else that we worship. If something can exist to fill that void, it needs to be infinite, because our craving is.
Love. I would argue that the only thing that can fill that void is love. It is, after all, the only thing we can worship that isn’t destructive.
To find the answer, a useful question to ask might be: what are people willing to die for? Quite a lot, actually: addiction; pride; money; country; passion (which I would posit is distinct from love); ideology (including some forms of religion)…and love. Which one of these is quite good? Only love. Of all the things that we can use to fill our void, love is the only one that doesn’t destroy us. This probably tells us something useful about us, about what’s good for us, what we crave and what can fill that void. A Catholic might even say that we seem to be “ordered towards” love.
The only thing that comes even close to love as a void-filler is what the Ancient Greeks called ataraxia: happiness as the lack of destructive passions. And if you can achieve ataraxia—good for you! But it seems to me that not everybody can achieve ataraxia. I might even be so bold as to suggest that no one can achieve ataraxia all the time, or perhaps even most of the time. The Stoics believed that ataraxia could be achieved through rigorous self-discipline, and if that works for you great, but it begs the question—what if you don’t have that rigorous self-discipline? What if you can’t have it? What if you’re weak, and alone, and scared? Ataraxia is less void-fulfillment than void-denial, and sometimes the void just cannot be ignored. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against ataraxia. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and it seems to me that if we want to reach ataraxia, the first thing to do would be to find a good void-filler first.
The great thing is that love—real love—is unconditional. It doesn’t require you to be self-sufficient, and to jump through hoops. It loves your flaws, too. Oh, sure, love is demanding—and even a little scary, especially infinite love—but it’s always ready to forgive, otherwise it wouldn’t be love. And love can suffer with you for your flaws, rather than wait for you to control them all.
I would also argue that love is the only void-filler that works because it is the only one that, by its nature, cannot be self-centered. We can base our life on love, or we can base it on something else, but that something else is ultimately something that circles back to ourselves. Pride, money, vanity, lust, even ataraxia—all of these things are about finding ways to satisfy us or, at best, to better us. And it seems that it doesn’t really work. It’s ultimately lonely, and impossible. We can never have enough money to satisfy us, or enough self-discipline to completely deny our passions. Whereas love, by definition, is other-centered. If you base your life on love, you have to find your fulfillment through others. You have to step out of your comfort-zone, and you have to be radically other-centered, instead of radically self-centered, which is what everything else leads to. It seems void-fillers come in only two kinds: self-centered and other-centered. The self-centered ones destroy us, and the only other-centered one is love. Incidentally, it seems that humans are love-seeking animals, but also morality-seeking animals, and that it seems that those two are strangely connected.
Of a human person. Both words matter here. Person, first. Sure, we can love concepts, and ideas, and amorphous abstract things like “Nature” or “The Reich”, but it doesn’t seem particularly healthy to base a life on that, and it doesn’t serm particularly void-filling, either. Frankly, it just seems to me that we need to love people. That’s the healthiest, least destructive kind of love. But more importantly, the great thing about loving a person is that he or she can love you back. There can be one-sided love between a person and a thing, or a concept, or a collective, but for reciprocal love, for two people to love each other, you need, well, two people. Sorry, but the Universe can’t love you. Or rather if it does, I would suggest that it can only do so through, or by, a Person. We’re not Borg. We need a real person to latch on to.
And this person of infinite love, if she had to exist, if she could fill our void, would have to be, I believe, a human person. We can only fully love other people. For an infinite love to fill my void, it has not only to be reciprocal, that is to say, personal, it has to be human, because I’m human. The love I crave that can make me whole would have to be a love I can relate to, a love that understands me and who I am, a love that I can touch, a love that I can taste, a love that is like me, or even a love that is me. In short, it has to come from another human being.
Of course, if you’re still following me, you’ll see that we’ve reached a paradox. If this void-filling love we crave can only come from another human person, but must also be infinite, how can that be? Humans, after all, as we know all too well, are finite. For such a love to be possible, there would have to be a person who is both human and also—somehow, mysteriously—infinite. Or, dare I say it, divine. Both truly human so that his or her love can complete us and truly divine so that his or her love can fill us infinitely. Wouldn’t it be great if that person existed, and all he or she wanted was to love us infinitely. Wouldn’t it be something.
Now obviously you see where I’m going with this (I told you upfront!), but it really seems to me that it holds up. Looking at the void-fillers out there, looking at all the alternatives, meditating on human nature, what we are, what we crave, what fulfills us, taking a step back, it really seems to me that you reach this conclusion, if only by a process of elimination. Our void-filler has to be infinite; it has to be love; it has to be love from another human being. As you read this, you might disagree. You might find obvious flaws in my analysis, or simply highly questionable assumptions embedded in it. That’s fine. It’s my analysis. I simply humbly ask that you keep it in a corner of your mind and perhaps occasionally meditate it, because I really think it holds up.
And so we come to the closing of the pitch. If what we crave is the infinite love of a human person, the only thing out there—the only religion, the only philosophy, the only ideology, whatever—that offers that is Christianity. Only Christianity proposes—and is built on—the idea of the infinite love of a human person, unconditionally offered to any who accepts it. Christianity proclaims that this infinite love of a human person is availanble through Jesus Christ, who is both man and God, and the son of a God of Love. And it happens that know of the historical existence of Jesus Christ, and not only his love-centered teachings, but his Death and Glorious Resurrection establishing him as both man and God. And we can know these events not just through faith and unbroken millenial tradition but also through concordant eyewitness accounts, which is a way we constantly rely on for knowing facts.
If, by a process of elimination, one reaches the conclusion that the only thing (or perhaps just the best thing) that can truly serve human fulfillment is the infinite love of a human person, then one must also, by a process of elimination, reach the conclusion that Christianity must be the path towards this love. What’s more, if you reach the conclusion that the only thing that can truly serve human fulfillment is the infinite love of a human person, it’s easy to also reach the conclusion that if this is so, perhaps we were made this way, and that this would be solid evidence for the truth of whatever religion or system teaches that this is the Way (and the Truth. And the Life).
(I would further add that the Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus established on Earth to proclaim s love and his message, that it has done so in an unbroken fashion for nearly 2000 years, and that it not only proclaims the infinite love of the human person Jesus Christ, but also proclaims that He can be touched and felt and experienced through the concrete reality of his Real Presence in the Eucharist, and through His incarnation in His Church, which is an extension of Him. In other words, unlike most other Christian churches, the Catholic Church promises not just membership in the original Church that Christ built, but also to experience Christ’s love not just abstractly but tangibly, through the Eucharist, the Sacraments, and membership in a Church which is not only a group of people but one of the ways that Christ is present on Earth. And also some kickass music, painting and robes.)
I know, I know. It probably all seems crazy/silly/ridiculous. I ask that you just keep it in mind. Especially next time you find yourself really craving someone’s love. Think of the alternatives.
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