Nietzsche and Sartre in the Garden of Eden


Nietzsche and Sartre are walking in the Garden of Eden. God tells them: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.”

But the serpent said to them: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.”

Nietzsche and Sartre end up eating of the fruit because they want to be like gods.

But why did the serpent tell Adam and Eve that they would know what was good and what was evil after eating of the fruit?  After all, didn’t God tell them that eating from a certain tree was evil and that eating from all other plants was good? By all appearances, they already knew what good and bad were.

But before they sinned, they only really knew the good!  They had no experience of what evil or turning away from God was. And the very act of rejecting God’s laws, of rejecting God as lawgiver, puts the person into the seat of being a lawgiver, into godlike status. He who does not serve God serves himself and creates his own personal laws. And a lawgiver presumably knows what good and bad actually are.

Once one turns from God—rejecting His commandments, His inspirations of grace–one has chosen another set of prescriptions for what is right and wrong. One has chosen one’s own prescriptions for right and wrong.

Nietzsche, author of the work Beyond Good and Evil, does not think that he must follow the values that ordinary mortals hold. God is dead to him. Nietzsche is the Superman or Űbermensch who feels he’s entitled to create his own standards for good and evil.

Nietzsche sends out an invitation to others to follow that path.

God does not exist for Sartre either, and therefore, says Sartre, there is no human nature, no ideal template for us to aspire to. We are pure freedom, pure possibility.  He says we are “condemned to be free.” This freedom is not the kind of freedom that has us doing the good in the sense of following the will of God, in the sense that Aquinas would maintain. Sartre’s kind of freedom is a burden because there are no rules, no standards of good and evil. We have to create those as we create our very selves because no God exists to have already done that job for us.

Sartre sends out an invitation to others to follow his path.

In eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve went beyond the boundaries of good and evil given to them by God. Adam and Eve thought that eating the fruit–violating God’s law–was a good thing for them to do. In that act, they created their own notions of what was good and what was evil. And they rejected the nature God had given them, the human nature which was preordained by God to be happy only in doing His will. In rejecting God, they became like gods. For it is the role of a god to designate what is good and what is evil and to create the essence of whatever exists.

But it is not just Adam and Eve and Nietzsche and Sartre who formulate their own moralities, as a god would. It’s not just Nietzsche and Sartre who do not accept divinely ordained constraints on one’s actions and insist on choosing their destinies in complete freedom.  We do it, too, in each and every act of turning from God. When we say no to God, we are telling Him that we see something else as the good. When we say no to God, we reject the essence of our being that He created and substitute our own ideas of what an ideal human being should be.

We have met Nietzsche and Sartre in the Garden—and they are us.


Marianne Bovée


(image: Elizabeth Keyser, Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,


Ash Wednesday Reflection: the Joyful Mysteries

Ash Wednesday is quite in tune with the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary, although at first glance it might not be apparent.

Ash Wednesday is about doing God’s will as we start Lent, a process that will take us through to Good Friday with the crucifixion and then to Easter, with the resurrection of Jesus. Ashes–and thinking about how we will return to dust– can help us think about doing God’s will. But so can the Joyful Mysteries.

The first Joyful Mystery is the Annunciation. The angel announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus. Mary responds, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”  This is a statement of receptivity, a statement of assent to God’s will. There is no resistance. Whatever God wants, God gets. Mary is setting the example for us. If God wants us to fast, we fast. If God wants us to go to Mass more frequently, we go to Mass more frequently. If God wants us to pray more, we pray more.  Whatever sort of inspiration we have to give up for Lent  or to do extra for God for Lent–if we say in our hearts, “Be it done unto me according to thy Word,” we are following the Marian spirit, the example of Mary in her complete compliance to the will of God. And that is what we want during Lent: conformity of our will to that of God.

The second Joyful Mystery is the Visitation. Mary has gone out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who, though too old to bear children, nevertheless is now pregnant with John the Baptist, who leaps in Elizabeth’s womb upon seeing Mary. Mary has been told wonderful news by the angel and could just sit around contemplating matters in her heart, keeping it to herself or just sharing it with Joseph. But she doesn’t do that. She does not settle for complacency. She goes out of her way to travel and be in the community. She is oriented toward others. She helps her cousin in her own pregnancy. Mary is a person of service. She serves others in love.  She has said, “Be it done unto me according to thy word,” and this assent to God’s will has not resulted in an introversion but extroverted efforts to go out and serve. We are all called to service, especially in the Lenten season.  In being responsive to God’s will we are all called to be in community. God’s will and our love for others are not separate: God’s will for us to is to love others.

The third Joyful Mystery is the birth of Jesus. The birth of Jesus comes after 1) Mary has submitted her will totally to God and 2) Mary serves others in the love of God.  The soul turns to God and then at once turns to others.  It is not a selfish, inwardly focused love. Love by its nature is not consumed with self; love by its nature is given to others. God the infinite power of the universe, deigned to humble Himself to be born among us as a little baby. Such majesty and power demonstrated such humility.

In gratitude, we need to humble ourselves more frequently during Lent in the sacrament of Penance. When we prostrate ourselves before God spiritually, ignoring our pride, we receive His grace–give birth to his grace–in our hearts. Confession is important because we want to prepare our souls to receive Him properly in the Eucharist.  Infinite love poured Himself out to us in the Incarnation and does so again in the Eucharist. We consume Jesus in the Eucharist, and then we, too, allow ourselves to be consumed by others as we serve them. People take up our time; they consume our time, our energies, especially with our Lenten resolutions. With Love making His home in us, we are able to love others.

The fourth Joyful Mystery is the Presentation. Jesus is presented to the temple as the first born.  As is Jewish custom, Joseph and Mary pay the money amount according to Judaic law to “redeem” Jesus, so that they don’t have to hand him over to become a priest instead. However, in the temple, Simeon tells them Jesus is the savior of the world and that a sword (of grief) will pierce Mary’s heart.  Consequently, Mary has knowingly offered her Son, her wonderful child up to God for His purposes.  Jesus is her everything. But she willingly and without hesitation gives Him up. It is a kind of death, as indicated in the imagery of her heart being pierced.

We, too, are called to be ready at any time to give up our most prized possessions, our most fervent loves, to God.  Are we patient when something we have lost or had stolen is gone? Do we still praise God when family and friends pass away? Do we still sing joyfully to God when our abilities sometimes diminish with old age and infirmities creep in? Lent calls us to spiritually present everything before God as an offering to Him.

Finally, in the fifth Joyful Mystery, Jesus is found in the Temple. He’s twelve years old now, and his parents lose track of him on a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. They find him talking to the elders in the Temple; they find Him doing the will of His Father in the Temple. There was no need to worry; He was doing the will of God. This mystery is connected with the fourth mystery, where Mary gives up her Son in the Temple, knowing He is the Messiah. She has already died to self in her completely relinquishing her son at the Presentation; now in finding Jesus in the Temple she is overjoyed, so happy to get Him back. In leaving everything in God’s hands, in God’s will, she dies to self in the fourth mystery and has a resurrection of spirit in the fifth mystery.

In doing God’s will, in following the example of Jesus’ passion and resurrection, we, too, especially during the Lenten season, are called to die to self: only then can we rise with Him. The love of God in us as we do God’s will–with no attachment to our own–gives us a foretaste of our resurrection in heaven.

In sum, Ash Wednesday starts us off with the first Joyful Mystery, in which we resolve to conform our will to that of God, and in the rest of the Joyful Mysteries Mary encourages us to follow Jesus spiritually from his passion, death and then resurrection at Easter.

Marianne Bovée



(image: from Youtube: Catholic Deliverance Power)


“STUNG by a BULLET ANT”–What it Reveals about Us


An entertaining YouTube video called “STUNG by a BULLET ANT” has gone viral: Its popularity is a symptom of a civilization that does not know what to do with pain.

In the video a brave young man–Coyote Peterson from the Brave Wilderness Channel on YouTube–undergoes tests of pain tolerance by seeking out ants that cause progressively more painful stings; these tests of nerve finally culminate in the horrific sting of the bullet ant, an ant which–you’ve guessed it–stings so painfully it feels as if a bullet has struck you. Peterson takes on the role of a scientist (giving us details about the creatures) and an adventurer (who spends days in the jungle looking for the elusive bullet ant which will carry out the sensational sting). Of course, after each sting, he is very gentle with the ants and places them back with their companions in the ant colony.  Peterson offers this explanation in theguardian:

“If I were to just take a bullet ant and let it walk around on my arm or look at it in a glass capsule you’d have more people saying: ‘Ah, that was interesting, but it would have been a lot more interesting if you’d let it sting you’, because that at the end of the day is what people really want to see and we’re aware of that,” he said.

“At the end of the day what we’re really hoping is these extreme episodes bring in the audience that then does find the episodes that are more conservation-based.”

So Peterson pulls people in with self-inflicted violence, so that he can teach people to interact more responsibly with the environment. The violence is a manipulative means to his end and caters to a voyeuristic audience’s thirst for spectacle.

I was both riveted by and revolted by the video, just as one might be when passing a massive car wreck on the freeway. The video has had over 17 million views in YouTube already; Peterson’s earlier videos after two years have had 525 million views. Pain is entertaining.

Interestingly, the pre-Christian culture of the Satere-Mawe tribe has had a custom of having boys undergo stings by multiple bullet ants in order to reach the status of manhood and to earn the designation of warrior.( Scroll down a bit on this link to access a video about it.)

In American society, we seem to have contradictory approaches to pain.

On the one hand, many people respect the ability to tolerate pain. We have Stoic elements in our own society. Complaining about every little thing is frowned upon. Consequently, there are comments on Peterson’s video such as the following: ‘And yet. He still didn’t swear.” And “I like how he teaches us while he’s in severe pain.” And “Wow he never once cussed wow.”

On the other hand, many Americans can’t tolerate even a small headache; they take Tylenol for it. They go to Pain Management clinics. They can’t tolerate boredom: they need to see movies repeatedly and watch sports nonstop for stimulation. They can’t bear the pain of abuse and loneliness  and despair–or boredom–and thus get addicted to drugs (or the Internet or video games) to anesthetize themselves. Academic and professional accomplishments are cut short because self-discipline is too difficult. Many go so far as to kill the unborn either to prevent a life of suffering for the children or to prevent a life of suffering for their mothers. Finally, American culture is heading more and more toward legalizing assisted suicide–and euthanasia–so that people can shorten anyone’s painful life at will. Pain and suffering is verboten. 

I think part of the attraction to Eastern thought, particularly Buddhism, in the United States, is because of its purported cure for suffering: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire; the cure for suffering is the eradication of desire; and the Noble Eightfold Path is the method of erasing desire and, therefore, suffering.

Christianity’s sales pitch does not involve getting rid of suffering. The Cross is the corner stone which is at once the stumbling block–a stumbling block because it is hard to accept a Cross!

But the Cross involves meaningful suffering. It’s meaningful because Jesus’ death on the Cross serves as the paradigm for our suffering. When we intentionally unite our sufferings with Him through an act of will, we offer our sufferings up–sufferings patiently borne–for the good of our souls–as reparation for sin–and as reparation for the sins of others, in this way helping the spiritual state of all the people of the world.

In the Catholic Church, there is even discussion of “victim souls” willing to suffer to any extent God desires to carry out God’s work of reparation and redemption. Some of these victim souls develop the stigmata, i.e., bleeding wounds in the hands, feet, and side, in the  very locations in which Jesus was wounded. The Sunday Visitor sums up the approach to the suffering of victim souls and of Catholics with a more ordinary calling thus: “We can accept the pain and suffering of this life with patience and love for the intentions and benefit of ourselves and others in the Communion of Saints.”

Although Catholicism stresses that our personal suffering is to be borne well for spiritual benefit, we are not at all to be indifferent to the suffering of others. On the contrary: we are to be compassionate toward the pain of others: we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, visit the imprisoned, teach the ignorant, give hope to the despairing, and more . As Mother Theresa says, we are to treat other people in the way we would be treating Jesus himself–with love. Such complete outpouring of our love involves suffering on our part–meaningful suffering.

Suffering is not meaningful when we purposefully inflict pain on ourselves for attention or for thrills in risky, daredevil stunts. Aristotle tells us in the Nicomachean Ethics that the virtuous person deals with pleasure and pain appropriately–and for Aristotle that means rationally.  Reason alone should tell us the stunt with the ants (or similar such deeds) do not suit us as rational human beings. We should aspire to nobler deeds.

The popularity of a manipulative approach to pain tells us something:
It is an indication that our society does not know what to do with pain.

Marianne  Bovée




The Meaning of the Magi: Catholicism is the Truth for Everyone


On the Feast of the Epiphany, before breakfast, I opened the curtains in the kitchen and saw three mourning doves resting on the wires in our backyard. Usually, there are only two resting there, and usually it’s in a warmer season, not in the nine-degree cold of a Wisconsin winter.  Wisconsin doves apparently migrate south for the winter, but other doves, and in particular male doves, are wont to migrate from Canada and remain in Wisconsin during the frosty season.  In an imaginative leap I felt nature was in tune with the acknowledgement of the three Magi who had come from the East, and I was glad we had added the three Magi figures to the nativity set that marked the Christmas season in our  front yard.

I had not been in the habit of reflecting much on the Epiphany over the years.  Christmas and the meaning of the Incarnation had been my focus. However, this year was different, perhaps because we made a conscious effort to add the Magi figures to the nativity set to mark the arrival of the wise men at the appropriate time.  Remember, the Magi were not there on Christmas day itself, when Jesus was born. They came later.

So the importance of the Feast of the Epiphany, fittingly enough, came as an epiphany to me.

The teaching surrounding the Epiphany is plain enough. At first the birth of Jesus was revealed to the Jews. But with the coming of the wise men from the East, who represented all people, even to the far ends of the earth, Jesus, our Savior, was revealed not only to the Jews but to all people.  No one is left out of the Christian plan of salvation.

There are so many angles from which one can approach the significance of the Magi coming to acknowledge the Messiah, the anointed One.

I would like to emphasize this: Not only are all people included in the plan of salvation that Jesus brought into the world in the sense that no one is rejected, no one is left out, but beyond that, the Christian plan of salvation is the plan for all people.  The Magi came to Jesus from the far ends of the earth because Jesus had the truth for everyone.

Now to some that seems a rather presumptuous idea. We live in such a time of relativism, that some Christians will say that Christianity is the truth for us, but not for everyone.  Those Christians will say that some cultures prefer other views—such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Judaism– and that we cannot impose our view on them or even assume we are right and they are wrong, or at least that we are more right than they are.

The Catholic Church has taught that Catholicism has the fullness of the truth—which means that although other views may not be completely wrong, they are not completely right either.

I do believe Catholicism has the fullness of the truth. And I’m not saying that in the sense that someone might, for instance, root for one’s own football team as being the best.  One could rationally think all football teams should have equal respect but then in one’s heart of hearts, so to speak, still favor one’s own team and very much want it to win.

It’s not some sort of personal bias like that which results in my saying that I think Catholicism is right. I’m convinced from an intellectual and aesthetic and moral perspective.

I think the plan of sacrificial love that is at the heart of Christianity is indeed the truth that will save us.  When God who is almighty and powerful and magnificent beyond understanding deigns to allow Himself to become a little baby, vulnerable, at the mercy of those around Him, needing the assistance of others, He has made a sacrifice for us in that Incarnation in order to fully communicate with us. A God who is love wants to communicate with His creatures.  As all lovers know, one wants to be with and to communicate with the one who is loved.

When He takes upon Himself the suffering due to sin by dying on the Cross for us—in order to make up for our sins–he is carrying out sacrificial love. Imagine when someone hurts you: in order to forgive that person, one has to absorb the pain of the injury and love the offender despite the offense; it is a sacrifice to do that. Jesus’ dying on the Cross is that sacrifice that allows reconciliation between creature and Creator after sin has taken place. Mother Theresa said, “Love until it hurts.” God loved us so much, he sent His Son to die for us, so that we can be reconciled with Him in forgiveness.

In the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the beautiful idea continues.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross is not repeated but rather accessed and shared in when we offer ourselves, too, in sacrifice, in union with His sacrifice on the Cross, when we partake in the Holy Eucharist, which is bread and wine transformed into His body and blood and then consumed.  In consuming Him, who gives Himself in sacrifice to us in the most intimate way possible, we allow ourselves in turn to be consumed by others in service, in love, in a spiritual sacrifice.

The world needs sacrificial love and can only be saved through sacrificial love. Imagine, to use a mundane example, how it would be in traffic without sacrifice—without each person giving up his or her own desires, his or her own need to proceed on the road. Traffic would end up in chaos.

Many of our lives are in chaos.

What a healing balm it would be for the world to take up the idea of sacrificial love.  Feuds would stop. Families would heal. Wars would cease. Countries would be at peace.

The sacrificial love of Jesus comes as a revelation—is revealed—to all people.  Jesus—the Way, the  Truth and the Life—is not just the truth for some. As the epiphany to the Magi shows, He is the Truth for all.

Marianne  Bovée

Ash Wednesday


Madonna in white in cathedral2from Pieta in Lisbon Cathedral, Portugal.  (Photo by M. Bovee)

Pope Francis wants us to give up indifference for Lent.  I imagine two kinds of indifference. One is an indifference to the suffering of others when one is quite comfortable. If I’m eating chocolate ice cream, for example, I can be quite content with that activity and not think much about the people going hungry in other countries or even only a half an hour car ride away. Similarly, if I am warmly clothed on a cold winter’s day and have a warm bed to sleep in, I might ignore those who don’t have their basic needs met. The list of such examples is endless. This is a very real indifference that I could work hard to overcome.

But there’s another kind of indifference that seems to me even deeper, even harder for me to eradicate.  That is indifference which stems from being sensitive to begin with–and then giving up on it. It is an indifference born out of pain. When someone plays the guitar for the first time, the person’s fingers become sensitive and even painful–until calluses are formed which protect one from the pain. Young people who are exposed to horror films at first recoil in fright, but after a while, with repeated exposure, they are quite numb to the effects. A first betrayal is very excruciating, and any subsequent ones not quite so much.

With the poverty, violence, environmental disasters, not to mention the ordinary, day-to-day pricks and pains of life that we encounter, we may have the temptation and even the very concrete experience of becoming indifferent. It’s a protective mechanism to avoid more pain–a callus formed on the heart.

The challenge then becomes to let oneself feel the pain again, to absorb the pain into one’s heart.

And that’s where the Christian cross comes in. In absorbing the pain, we are uniting ourselves with Jesus on the cross: His pain is our pain and our pain is His pain. Jesus forgave others while hanging on the cross, saying, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” With Jesus’ help, we, too, forgive others who have wronged us and who have wronged those we care about.  His love is the love we are able to show others through it all.

We can feel again, we can give up indifference, with Jesus’ help: He will help us to carry the cross of feeling. In doing so, we feel–all the more deeply–a love for others.

Marianne Bovée