Thesis 15: To Say Nothing Of Other Things

This post is part of a series of meditations on each of Luther's "95 Theses." You can view all posts in the series here.

15. This fear and horror is sufficient of itself alone (to say nothing of other things) to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
This thesis flows directly from the previous one, and seems to be saying the following: The fear and horror of the process of dying and the prospect of death legitimates the gravity of the knowledge of one's mortality and sin. In Luther's particular social context, it also makes the business of selling indulgences easier, since this fear makes folks ready to purchase respite in purgatory, which one could also compare to despair. 

The idea of Purgatory just fascinates me to no end. A few summers ago, I took it upon myself to read all three parts of Dante's Comedia (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso). According to Dante, the residents of Purgatory move from the lower parts of Mount Purgatory up towards the top, according to the rank of their sin. The worse the sin, the farther one must climb.

When I read this, I realized how much it had in common with another famous myth of in-between states: Sisyphus and his boulder. Sisyphus was doomed to spend all day rolling a boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll back down again, at which point he would have to march back down to the bottom and start over. In Albert Camus' famous book examining this myth, he concludes that, "[I]l faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux."

One must (or "It is necessary") to imagine Sisyphus happy.

For Camus, the modern existential crisis wasn't in question. It was a reality that permeated so much of Western culture. The only valid question was suicide. Were we going to live through this mindless boulder-pushing or end it by taking our own life?

There are times when I find myself in the midst of conversations about church polity and I have a moment of objective clarity. I'm able to stand just outside of the conversation, but close enough to still be listening. Are we rolling the same boulder up the hill, expecting that today will be the day that it stays, knowing good and well that it will certainly roll back down again? We are continually trying to input small changes in a huge system and expecting vastly different outputs.

We have become Sisyphus, and the only way we have managed to survive all the way into 2014 is to feign happiness.

So, this being the case, we must consider the only valid question: Should we commit suicide? In our current context, this question usually takes the form of, "Should we split the United Methodist Church?" Lots of other folks, especially Jeremy Smith over at Hacking Christianity, have handled the complexities of this question more deeply than I, but I think it is one that must be considered.

But we can't consider this question until we admit our Sisyphean tendencies: our adherence to a labyrinthine and unwieldy Book of Discipline, our repeated church trials in an attempt to solve a crisis of the heart, our continued search for increasingly hip and attractional/extractional church models. And as we try and find better handholds in the boulder to push more efficiently, many people leave our mountain altogether.

Have we become Sisyphus? What is the boulder made of, in your opinion?


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