Flannery O’Connor had a brilliant but short literary career. She died in 1964 at the age of 39 due to complications from lupus, yet managed to leave behind a legacy of keen insight into the human condition of sin, in ways some considered repulsive. Her best known story, A Good Man is Hard to Find, is a morality tale of stiff adherence to “good.” O’Connor manages to turn upside-down the moral code of the seemingly “good” people in the story while asking the reader to question religious beliefs that seem to be useful and right, but in the end, fall dismally short.
George Weigel, in the Denver Catholic Register, discusses O’Connor Catholic faith and how it can enlighten Holy Week. Saying she was not one for “cheap grace” or the “smiley-face” form of Christianity, Weigel asks the reader to meditate on a letter O’Connor wrote in 1955 to a friend.
…Flannery O’Connor looked straight into the dark mystery of Good Friday and, in four sentences explained why the late modern world often finds it hard to believe:
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.”
O’Connor said, in a 1957 lecture, that we lived in a world of faith, but it was a secular faith, a cheap faith, and that in such a world, redemption does not seem necessary. What do we need to be redeemed from? We’re just fine, thank you. Religion is all nice and good as window dressing, but redemption? Well, that’s hardly necessary for good folks like us. Weigel again:
A world indifferent to its need for redemption is not indifferent to the possibility of redemption; it’s a world hostile to that possibility. Down the centuries, the mockery endured by Christ on the cross may stand as the paradigmatic expression of that hostility.
The Church meets this hostility by doubling down on its conviction that the truths it professes are really true, and in fact reveal the deepest truth of the human condition. Flannery O’Connor again:
“…the virgin birth, the incarnation, the resurrection…are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of those laws….[It] would never have occurred to human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.”
You can’t get much more countercultural than that.