December 15th, 2013
06:53 AM ET
Why Christians need Flannery O'Connor
Opinion by Russell D. Moore, special to CNN
(CNN) - On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there's a little book of prayers.
This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren't from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.
But I think Flannery O'Connor's newly published "Prayer Journal" is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.
The book, recently discovered in the writer's papers in Georgia and now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reproduces the handwritten notebook prayers scribbled down by O'Connor during her years as a student at the University of Iowa.
The prayers are jarring because they are so personal and raw, clearly not written to "edify the saints" in a published manuscript. They are, well, just prayers.
Part of the rawness and authenticity of the prayers come with the way O'Connor refuses to sentimentalize her personal relationship with Jesus (thought it's clear she has one). She is here constantly aware of her own fallenness and of the seeming silence of the God to whom she pours out these little notes.
O'Connor notes that her attention is "fugitive" in prayer. She confesses that hell seems more "feasible" in her mind than heaven because, "I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God."
She is constantly second-guessing whether her prayers for success as a writer are egocentric, or a genuine striving to use the gifts God has given her.
Moreover, O'Connor is constantly aware that she is a sinner, and she can't get around that. Perhaps the most widely publicized sentence in the book is her confession that she "proved myself a glutton, for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There's nothing left to say of me."
Even when she's confessing sin, she seems aware of her sinfulness in doing that. She says of sin, "You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited," but, she immediately concludes, "perhaps that is too literary a statement; this mustn't get insincere."
O'Connor's prayers are hardly "inspirational," in the sense that many American Christians want: a model of the "victorious Christian life" where "prayer changes things" and we've got "joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, to stay." That's why we need them.
American evangelicalism, my own tradition, rightly emphasizes the biblical truth that the gospel is good news, that our sins are forgiven in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We rightly emphasize that the believer now has a personal connection to God, accessible in prayer through the priesthood of Jesus himself.
But sometimes we forget how hard that is in this time between the times.
Some of our worship services are so clean and antiseptic, led by grinning preachers and praise bands, talking about how happy Jesus makes us, that we forget that the Spirit prompts us to "groan" at our sin and the suffering all around us (Romans 8:22-23). This is especially true at Christmas, with so many evangelicals forgoing the dark longing of Advent to go straight to the tinsel-decked rejoicing of Christmas.
Some Christians, then, can wonder if something's wrong with them when they feel as though God seems distant, or when, despite all the smiles at church, they still feel guilty for the way their hearts don't seem to match up with their hymns.
But the good news isn't that we are all put together. The good news is that though we're wrecked and fallen and freakish, Jesus loves us anyway and has made peace for us with God and with each other. That's not something we always feel. We see it by faith.
O'Connor, elsewhere in her letters, writes of what it means to agonize over one's sin, to wonder "if your confessions have been adequate and if you are compounding sin on sin." She concludes that this agony "drives some folks nuts and some folks to the Baptists," while noting, "I feel sure that it will drive me nuts and not to the Baptists."
Those of us who were "driven to the Baptists" can benefit from a book of prayers that remind us that the Christian life is exactly what Jesus promised it would be - the carrying of a cross.
We can be reminded in prayers such as these to remind ourselves that between now and resurrection we will never be, in ourselves, anything other than sinners. That's why we need a Christ.
It's only when we grapple with the darkness of a fallen cosmos, only when we're honest about the fact that all our efforts look more like Herod's throne than Bethlehem's stable, that we can sing "Joy to the World." Flannery O'Connor wasn't an evangelical Protestant, but we need her.
We need her, especially perhaps, as we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, for Christmas in a Christ-haunted world.
Russell D. Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns. The views expressed in this column belong to Moore alone.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
What Christians need to do is put down the fantasy novel and start thinking for themselves.
My heart goes out to you. Don't listen to the lies. Set quietly and God will speak to you directly through the Holy Spirit that Jesus sent to reside in us.
"Set quietly..." ?
Are you some kind of hick, or what? We don't "set", we "sit".
That's funny, I've never heard god speak. If he wants everyone to believe in him he should make his presence obvious and unequivocal. But that never happens.
Study history and algebra. They are useful.
You are in for a surprise if you imagine that Christians don't or can't think for themselves.
On the subject of religion, that would be a surprise.
Pick a subject: religion, philosophy, physics, history, mathematics. I can show you a Christian that demonstrates critical thinking skills and has contributed to the advancement of knowledge in that field.
You missed my point. I'm aware that there are intelligent, logical xtians in those other fields. I said "on the subject of religion".
On the subject of religion, too.
Not all Christians. But enough that "Tired of lies spewed by Religion" claim in not sufficient.
I didn't make the statement "tired of the lies spewed by religion" so I don't see what that has to do with my original statement.
And no, most xtians don't question what they hear from the pulpit or read in their bibles. They believe because they have been told it's true.
I'm sure that is what you imagine happens to Christians. My experience demonstrates the opposite of what you imagine. But, hey, it is your imagination, not reality we are talking about now.
My experience of over fifty years as a devout xtian and bible scholar is just as valid as yours. And my experience is that most xtians do not question anything they hear or read. They believe because they have been told the bible is true.
But, hey, you can call it my imagination if it makes you feel better about not having any substantive argument, as well as assuming that I don't know anything about xtianity or xtians.
I've heard a few atheists and agnostics (ironically always in the message board of an article written by Christians for Christians) who say such things. None of the atheists or agnostics I know in real life make such comments. Just a few on the internet.
I'm not sure what you're referring to by "who say such things". I made a few statements, to which are you referring?
"most xtians do not question anything they hear or read. They believe because they have been told the bible is true. "
Nope, not a myth. The majority of xtians can barely manage to get their ass in a pew, much less study the bible with any sort of critical eye. It's a lazy man's religion. Believe in Jesus and do whatever you want, just be sure to say "Oops, sorry, my old sin nature made me do it."
That is a human, thing. Not a Christian thing. There are plenty examples of ignorant atheists. But I guess you choose to come here to pick on imperfect Christians. Not the imperfect atheists, agnostics and non-believers. Still, most atheists don't troll articles written by Christians. Most reasonable atheists would speak out against people like you. Search "atheists against atheists" and read about those sick of your behavior. (See I'm doing the same thing you do, how do you like the taste of your own medicine?)
What do you mean by "people like me'?
I think he is saying you are acting like a troll.
According to wikipedia, "In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion."
Perhaps he could point out how I've done anything like that. Or, if you agree with him, maybe you could show me how what I've posted is inflammatory, off topic or extraneous.
Yes Idolaters/catholics need to vomit their sinful Idolatry.
After you do the same, my dear...
Bad clams for lunch?
And so called Christians need to leave the judging to God. Your Bible is more than an accessory to your Sunday suit. Try actually reading it sometime.
"Why Christians need Flannery O'Connor"
Last minute Saturnalia gifts?
I stopped long ago attempting to interpret the word of God especially if I'm not living it because I believe living it means more than words.
I stopped long ago having words which are only words and god's word is the wordiest word of all the words. And living words have more words than god's word, so I don't interpret words of living words.
I don't know what kind of evangelical teachings you got in church, but growing up, I got a lot of "You are not doing this good enough", and not the happy Jesus part enough. It actually produced too much self-reflection that I forgot about the grace and seeped in self-condemnation. Thankfully I was healed of that, but I think some evangelical churchs put so much teachings into about sin and "getting things right" that it takes God out of the equation and makes for a lot of unneeded guilt.
Ave atque vale: 1. Nobody knows for sure what Jesus said, nor even who he was.
2. Even if he did refer to that old story of Noah, it would be like us referring to some old fable of Aesop's by saying "Sour gr.apes" or to a story from Shakespeare by saying "Just like Romeo and Juliet."
I get it that you don't know for sure what Jesus said.
However I do, and I believe His Words. For me, His Word is life, wisdom, light.
Is the sun irrelevant because it's old?
Oh, good, so no older creation story should be held as invalid. Or, rather, no story ever should be considered invalid simply because you choose to believe in another.
Are they the words of Jesus, if someone had taught them over 400 years earlier? (as in Buddha)
"I get it that you don't know for sure what Jesus said. However I do, and I believe His Words."
It takes far more faith to believe in the bible than it does to believe there might be a god of some kind.
The half governor of Alaska could learn something about thye real meaning of Christmas
The real meaning? You mean the christian hijacked celebration of the winter solstice?
I'm sorry but CHRISTmas is a christian holiday.
"CHRISTmas is a christian holiday."
It is NOW, after the Church hijacked the ancient winter holiday to appease the newly converted pagans.
It's been done with a whole lot of previously symbolic characters and rituals, for example:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday are named in honor of pagan gods, as are the months of January, March, May and June.
The Roman month Februarius ("of Februa," whence the English February) is named for the Februa/Februatio festival, which occurred on the 13th to 15th days of this Roman month.
Christianity is built upon a LIE ...
................ because ....................
..... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com ...
... and thank goodness because he ...
............. emanates from the .............
Christianity is built upon a LIE ...
................ because ....................
..... http://www.GodIsImaginary.com ...
... and thank goodness because he ...
............. emanates from the .............
a. You can't hijack customs and traditions
b. Not all Christian celebrate Christmas like we do in America
c. Pagans were allowed to keep some of their customs and traditions after they converted to Christianity. African Christians keep some of their African customs and traditions. Chinese Christians keep some of their customs and traditions. It is ok.
LOL... these weren't "customs and traditions" they were RELIGIOUS rituals that the church co-opted for their own after they realized that people weren't going to give them up. So what do you do? You lay a christian veil over them and hope no one will notice. Yule log, mistletoe, evergreen trees, etc. Were all part of the religious observances celebrated around the soltice.
I see absolutely no reason to think she had more insigt into god than anyone else.
She was a talented writer. Einstein was a scientist. Thomas Jefferson was a successful politician. None of them had any way to know more about god than the rest of us. I see idol worship in this article, and way too many quotes in these articles from Einstein and Jefferson.
Religious freaks crave authority figures.
Every chance they get, they'll push a new face or "identity" onto their flock.
Eloquently written opinion piece! Captures the "core" of faith well , to which every believer can relate to.
What Christians NEED is to understand that their religion ONLY applies to themselves and no one else. The rest of this is immaterial unimportant garbage.
Unless the truth of Christianity is universal.....then it pertains to everyone......it may not benefit everyone, appeal to everyone or intrigue everyone, but if it is universally true it does pertain to all.
Which could be true of any religion. Or none of them.
Why would anyone with half a brain believe that?
But it's not universally true.
And liars claiming to b scholars
Prayer is one way we seek to connect to our spiritual being. Prayer, to me, is personal. I know that when in church we say collective prayers, but for me when I pray I am hopefully conveying all of my innermost thoughts that does not need an audience of others.
Just curious, who do you convey your prayers to?....not a baited question, just curious.
They pray to make pretense that somewhere, or something, will pop out of the infinity and console them in their delusion.
Jesus fulfilled 61 major and over 200 prophecies in his lifetime. The mathematical and scientific odds of any man fulfilling just 8 prophecies is almost impossible let alone over 200. That’s science proving Jesus is the Messiah. Turn to him my friend. Every knee shall bow to him in the end but if you use your free will to accept him now, you can receive the gift of eternal life. Don’t wait, not everyone gets time to repent on their death bed!
Would you please list some of the more important of those?
Some fulfilled prophecies:
Born in Bethlehem, called out of Egypt, grew up in Nazareth, rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, sold for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed by a friend, kept silent to his accusers at trial, and many more! Look it up on google or read the New Testament.
Don't you think that the writers of the NT read those old prophecies? Pretty dang easy to write them into their stories, you know. There is not a whit of verified evidence outside of those writings about any of those "facts".
Has it occurred to you, Dr., that perhaps those who wrote that tripe decades and centuries after the events wrote them to fullfil those prophesies? Like the improbable census story, which has Mary traveling to Bethlehem. Who in the world would ask every one to travel for a census? Think that could have been done at everyone's home?
Thousands of people were born in Bethlehem. That one was fulfilled over and over ...
I looked a google just for you. There are too many site to read that "prove" your statement is wrong.
Lots of prophecies in the Harry Potter books that happen as predicted later in the same book, too.... guess that makes it all real.
lots of people saw Voltemort after he was resurected, and they saw him die again.
IT MUST BE TRUE!
If Jesus was not who he said he was then why did they crucify him? They felt threatened because they were alive with him and saw his miracles firsthand, they couldn't deny his power! The writers of the Old Testament didn't even realize all the prophecies were fulfilled until after Jesus death. They wrote truth and Jesus did fulfill the prophecies! If it is all made up then why are Christians TODAY still being persecuted?!
If Jesus was not who he said he was then why did they crucify him? They felt threatened because they were alive with him and saw his miracles firsthand, they couldn't deny his power!
- Or perhaps they saw him as a potential political threat. Crucifixion was usually used by the Romans for enemies of the state, and Jesus certainly could have been seen as a troublemaker and rebel.
The writers of the Old Testament didn't even realize all the prophecies were fulfilled until after Jesus death.
–Uh, no, since they all died several hundred years before his birth.
They wrote truth and Jesus did fulfill the prophecies!
- As others have pointed out, it would have been very easy for the gospel writers to incorporate "fulfillment" of prophecies into their texts, and in fact that is what they did. Initially lacking scriptures of their own, they ransacked the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) for passages which they could construe as being prophecies about Jesus, when in fact they were originally nothing of the sort. The so-called "virgin birth" prophecy (actually based on a mistranslation from Hebrew to Greek) had to do with events in the immediate future during the reign of King Ahaz, several hundred years before Christ.
If it is all made up then why are Christians TODAY still being persecuted?!
- Well, that's a non sequitur if I ever heard one.
@ Dr James
If Jesus existed and was executed, we can only speculate as to why, because there is only one book, written by unknown authors decades and centuries after his alleged life that speaks of it.
A better question would be why are there no records of these supposed miracles outside the bible? The Romans were pretty meticulous record keepers, and a person who raised the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons, fed thousands with almost no groceries, walked on water, calmed storms, changed water to wine, came back to life after his execution and then rose bodily up into the sky would certainly have attracted the attention of not only the Roman government, but of the Jewish leadership too. And yet, there isn't a single word corroborating these miraculous occurrences outside of the bible.
"If it is all made up then why are Christians TODAY still being persecuted?!"
When it happens (rare in this country, wouldn't you say?) it's for the same reason ANYONE gets persecuted for their religious beliefs... intolerance. Christians are not special in this regard.
Jmo: The census of which you speak was ordered by the governor. In order to take part in the census, one had to return to one's place of birth. It's just how it was done.
H.S. – "just how it was done". WHAT?!? No census has EVER been done that way. Imagine if we did a census today and you had to go back to the hometown of your great-great-great-great-grandfather – where would you even go? Imagine the amount of disruption this would cause across an entire empire!
Not only does it make no sense from a governmental standpoint (why track where people were from instead of where they were) there's NO evidence outside of the bible that such practices were ever used in the Roman empire. You would think something like a universal census would appear ANYWHERE in the historical record. It doesn't.
Funny how this always seems to go over the head of those who pride themselves as being scientific or logical.
How does one ignore the probabilities here. One cannot... unless one doesn't understand it... and Most don't. Sad.
" One cannot... unless one doesn't understand it.. "
Right. Because snakes can talk, a virgin gets pregnant with a white male and blue eyes in the middle east, Adam and Eve started human kind even though we all know it's impossible to have normal humans born from incest. I suppose belief and delusion are as strong as logic and inteligence.
It's allegory. It's not supposed to be seen as literal.
Although, the Testimony of Truth (one of the Gnostic Gospels) describes Adam and Eve's lives after expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Apparently, they had many, many more children (30 boys and 30 girls). The same book also describes the death of Adam.
H.S. "It's allegory. It's not supposed to be seen as literal." – And how would anyone know that if they picked up and read the bible without someone coaching them? And why do so many christian see this as literal?
Oh – and if no Adam/Eve = no original sin. No Original sin = no need for universal saviour... just saying...
Yes, let's instead pride ourselves in being unscientific and illogical.
So Jews, Hindus, Shikes, the ignorant are all doomed to hell?
According to the bible, yes.
Prayer is probably the most personal and private activity in which as individual may engage. To turn a profit from it should be sinful!!! Yet profit of late has pre-empted may old traditions such as not advertising on an obit page!!! I have refused to have an obit simply because of the darn ads!!!
It's funny Christians still claim absolute knowledge a "God" exists, while they allow "his" name to be squandered and advertised for profits. Christians and the religious alike should spend less time fighting with those who are SMARTER than they are, and focus on the many other groups who are ALSO attacking their precious religions. I'm not presuming athiests and anti-theists are smarter, I have "faith" we are.
Whenever I take the time to read drivel like this I go and check my calendar to confirm it's still 2013. Lunacy ldescribed in this article makes me feel like I must be stuck in the 1800's or something. Ughhh
I see you are a slave to your own ego, you are such a sad excuse for a human being.
Do you prefer the articles about school shootings and the knock-out.....take comfort stories like those confirm we are in the enlightened 21st century. Doesn't that make you feel better?
I could not agree more.The more the faithful try to make sense of religion,the more confusing it becomes.It can't be easy trying to justify beliefs based on delusion.Sad really.
Google "Pascal's wager". You have been warned.
1."God is, or He is not"
2.A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
3.According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
4.You must wager. (It's not optional.)
5.Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
6.Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
The base of Pascal's Wager is false, since there is not just a god, or not, but myriad other possibilities.( an infinite number of other possibilites actually)
Google "Why is Pascal's wage invalid" and become less ignorant.
Is faith through fear truly faith? Isn't that just hedging your bets?
The way many of today's alleged "Christians" act, they have much less need of a prayer book and much more need of a book explaining how Jesus was against hate for anyone who doesn't share your exact beliefs. Such hate is immense based alone on comments we see on boards like this.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus chose a Samaritan -a heretic in Jewish opinion of the time- to be the hero of the story to demonstrate he who "is this man's (a beaten Jewish victim's) true neighbor" and a couldn't-be-bothered Jewish clergyman to demonstrate how people of alleged perfect beliefs can be jerks. Every time I see comments that say, "I'm not responsible for them: don't spend my money," on articles about poor people I think about that Levite (Jewish Priest) who couldn't be bothered to help a robbed and beaten Jewish man.
Calling your self a Christian does not mean you are one. Most Christians believe in the false concept of an eternal Hell. They clearly don't understand their Bibles.
Jesus also said He was the only access through which one could reach God.....he did not show hatred perhaps, but He certainly showed anger to those who prevented others from coming to a knowledge of the exclusive truth of the remedy for man's sin.
The whole sacrifice to save sin thing is a steaming load of bull manure. How is it again that your omnipotent "god" being couldn't do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus' death a "sacrifice", when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic "god" that you've made for yourself there.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
This is not so much a prayer book as a Journal. Journaling is a lost art that keeps one mentally honest. It helps you keep memories straight and organize your thoughts. Frankly if more people journalled they would have better writing and speaking skills. They likely will be MORE humble because they would have reflective on themselves, what they believe and what they really have done.
Our leaders today who don't journal are very self-centered and self-centered. Frankly they would be better people if they were just more honest with themselves.
Enough Sired Pablo...
Quit it with the 'double toking' "self-centered" humor...