Misguided Martyrs

Heather King, whose memoir Redeemed Matthew Lickona reviewed for IC here, has a new blog at “Shirt of Flame” that’s well worth your time. Last Friday, she reflected on Simone Weil, the French philosopher whom King (affectionately) calls a “Catholic-in-spirit nutcase,” and the motivations behind Weil’s refusal to be baptized in the Church — in King’s words, “to be in solidarity with the souls in hell.”

King identifies with Weil’s martyr impulse, but puts her finger on what makes it ultimately misguided:

For one thing, Church tradition has it that Christ himself descended into hell for three days after his death: he’s already in solidarity with the souls in hell (and so are we, simply by virtue of being human). But to say “I’m not going to technically kill myself, I’m just going to drive along Mulholland in a blackout and hope I die,” or “I’m going to ride my scooter and kill only myself” is to give the living the type of help they don’t need and didn’t ask for . . . . Someone’s going to have to scrape your mangled body off the side of the road. Your mother’s going to have to grieve for you whether you were a suicide or not. To refuse to be baptized so as not to leave one’s brothers and sisters behind is like an alcoholic saying, “I’m going to keep living in the hell of drinking so as not to leave behind the drunks.” But the way to help all drunks, past, present, and future, is not to keep drinking, but to get sober yourself. Which requires a quality that Weil, perhaps fatally, seemed to lack: not the willingness to help others, but the willingness to ask for help herself.

King gets it exactly right: It’s the reverse humility of thinking precisely too little and too much of oneself at the same time — No. 1 in unworthiness, as it were. The difficult thing is in realizing that we are none of us very special, in either our sins or our goodness, and can only do our best to muddle through together, leaving the rest to Christ. That’s what the Church is for.

Read King’s entire post here — and don’t miss her follow-up regarding her “misguided martyr complex” and her mother. Hers is definitely a blog to bookmark.

Margaret Cabaniss


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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