My regular ABC column is up today, coinciding with Good Friday: 'Infinite debt of a Christian faith'.
I'm looking into the psychology of the crucifixion. In particular, the unpayable debt felt by many Christians. A sample:
"Man owes God all that he is able to give him," wrote Aquinas, "over and above which he can offer something by way of satisfaction."
To be human, in this, is like being a criminal who can never be properly rehabilitated - not until Judgement Day, at least.
If god were real, and was as the Christian theologians described, this might just be endurable - although the Judeo-Christian god's ethical record is dubious at best. But as far as we can tell, there is no god - no debt, no trial, no judgement. Christians are in spiritual arrears, without there being a creditor to pay off.
Some say that the debt to parents can never be repaid, but we can at least listen to their worries, cook them meals, clean their houses or wash their ailing bodies - or pay others to, if we cannot because of distance, illness or parental commitments. We can say 'thank you' in an immediate way. Put simply, human debts - literal and metaphorical - can be paid, if not paid off absolutely.
By contrast, the debt to god is abstract and infinite, and can require a life of continual guilt, submission and restitution. For all the talk of forgiveness in Christian scriptures and sermons, there is no familiar voice to forgive. This is another dimension to the life of waiting I have noted previously: the anxiety of metaphysical stain, and constant longing for purification.(Photo: P. Downey)