The God Problem

When St. Paul said in Ephesians 6 that our struggle was not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, he was not kidding. What we might add today is that the principalities and powers have shrewdly made sure that the struggle is precisely over our “flesh and blood,” over the very meaning of physical human life in its coming to be and in its fullness.

How so?

Basically, many like to maintain, on the slimmest evidence, that no human nature exists. We can reconstruct it as we wish. The only trouble is that our reconstructions become more and more monster-like, more and more unlike anything really human. Since these creatures are “our babies,” as it were, we have to define them as good. We have to tell them that what we did to them was the best. What God planned for us was “anti-human.”

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God is hated in the world insofar as He sets limits to our human desires or activities, even if these limits function for our real good. Human nature itself displays a certain order that can be understood, freely accepted or rejected. God does not force us to be what we ought to be, what would make us be best what we are. We have to choose it. If God is responsible for these limits, we can either thank Him for directing us to what is our real happiness or reject Him as interfering with our quest to be what we want to be. Perfection is thus self-defined. It does not come by living the virtues and ruling ourselves.

An iron logic strangely hovers about our existence. We are free to act in almost any way we decide. We are not however free to deny the consequences of our acts. Those consequences are there for us, or in many cases for someone else, to pick up the pieces. Nor are we free to come up with reasons for what we do that do not hold up in argument. For a while, if we choose a way of life that is deviant or disordered, we can blame others for our suffering, say, the Church, parents, the culture, schools, or politics. But after a while, we realize that something more is going on here and external sources are not responsible for all our failings, pain, or confusion. The location is our own souls.

The principalities and powers come in. We find out that the Church, our parents, and such are reflecting not themselves but something in being, something of what is. They are not free to call what is evil good, at least not without a price to their own souls. If they do call evil good, or good evil—and there is pressure on them to do so—they too join the other side.  What happens to us is that we suspect, reluctantly perhaps, that a personality or a grace lies behind the limits. We are not facing something dead but living.

Why is this a “God problem?” We insist on justifying the way we live. We do not just say, “I live this way,” but, “it is good that I live this way.” We make a claim before the world that demands agreement. We try to avoid the implication of this claim by a relativism that makes anything that anyone does to be all right, no matter what it is. We find that we insist that the other admits that what we do is good, not just that it is what we do. On the latter criterion, we are no better than the animals, for they are brought to their good by instinct, not by reason.

In order for us to justify the way we live, we have to get rid of the notion that an order exists in our human being. We have to maintain that the distinction of the sexes was accidental. We have to deal with the consequences of our acts. The nagging specter of God’s order for our own good becomes a burden on our souls. For our own peace of soul we must boldly affirm that God does not exist. This affirmation, we think, makes us free of God. Those who continue to believe in God’s existence are no longer merely deluded people, they are dangerous. We must deal with them.

We must restrict what they call “freedom of religion.” Religion itself is the real problem. Religion is an illusion. We must drive it from the public order. We will not be free till the last vestiges of God are eradicated from our midst. We can no longer “respect” religion or conscience. We want to give our “rights” to do whatever we will to everyone whether he wants them or not. If someone does not want them, that person cannot really belong to our culture or polity.

The God problem is God. He dared to tell us that His idea of our “flesh and blood” was better than the one we are concocting for ourselves. We dare not admit that He was right. Therefore, He is a problem, a reality to be denied existence. Such is what is beneath the surface of the increasingly bitter activities of our polity.

  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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