Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Not an Electric Blanket

Back in the mid-1970s, a friend at work introduced me to the writings of Flannery O’Connor. I had heard of her but had never read any of her works. But the friend raved about her writing, and so I picked a paperback entitled “3 by Flannery O’Connor,” containing “Wise Blood,” “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Violent Bear It Away.” I read it, and I was hooked.

From there it was The Complete Stories, The Habit of Being and Mystery and Manners. And that pretty well covered the extent of her writing (she died in 1964). I loved her letters, full of wit and wisdom and priceless one-liners like “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think universities stifle writers; I say, they don’t stifle enough of them.”

And she also said something that has stuck in my head for more than 30 years since I read it: people like to think of faith as a nice electric blanket, when it’s actually the cross.

In the chapter of Mere Christianity entitled “The Invasion,” C.S. Lewis makes the same point, when he talks about the view he calls “Christianity-and-water.” He describes it as the view “which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right – leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.”

Christianity is not a simple religion. It is a religion, Lewis says, "you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”

Try original sin – you mean babies are born sinful? Or redemption – how absurd is it that a man died to save the whole word, and died it by dying in the most vicious and humiliating way possible? And Paul and all those intolerant statements he makes? Seriously!

But that’s what it is. Christianity is about God’s love and about his wrath. If you doubt that, then read the Book of Revelation. Ah, but that wasn’t Jesus, some say, that was John – and he was obviously hallucinating or on drugs. Well, Jesus wasn’t exactly sweet, meek and gentle when he cleared the moneychangers out of the temple and called the Pharisees and priests a brood of vipers.

There are hard things about Christianity that Christians have to accept, even as it makes them nervous, uncomfortable and even aghast. It is not a simple religion. It is not an electric blanket. In fact, it’s downright difficult and not for cowards.

It is taking up the cross.

To see more posts on this chapter of Mere Christianity, please visit Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.


H. Gillham said...

Love all the writers you've been bringing up -- Carson McCullers and now Flannery O'Connor.

Do you believe you have to be from the South to appreciate her?

I don't.

It is about the cross. Period.

Good word here.

Unknown said...

Good thoughts bro'...I's about the cross.

Louise Gallagher said...

Fabulous post Glynn.

And I'm from the north and I really appreciate her!

Cassandra Frear said...

If we are trying to grow, we will feel this. It will not be comfortable, but it will be good. Deeply good.

Unknown said...


It's about the Cross. It's about living Christ daily.

David Rupert said...

We want comfort. We want to be warmed and feel good. And you are right -- its not that easy.

oh, and the Flannery O Conner trio of books that you mentioned was my intro to her to. What a story teller

Anonymous said...

I loved that quote too about Christianity having that twist that real things have. Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say. It may not be easy or what we'd like, but it doesn't make it any less true. Great post, Glynn.

Helen said...

Didn't Flannery O'Conner say "You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you odd." ?

Great point about Christianity not being simple.

Anonymous said...

true, it's not easy.

however, i think that it is made as simple for us as it could be made. and, as sinful humans, we put more "i" and "we" into it and make it much less simple and call it religion.