Well, He’s not. And neither should you be.
~By Robert Steiner
So says Sister John Sheila Galligan, I.H.M, S.T.D., professor in theology at Immaculata University in Immaculata, PA.
“The young people that I’m meeting are coming from a culture that seems to promote religion and spirituality as ‘niceness’,” said Sr. Galligan. “…The commandment that’s out there today is, ‘Be nice,’ or [in] other language, ‘Be tolerant, never make a judgment,’ et cetera.”
The culture of niceness rejects anything that challenges the autonomy of the individual. It has bastardized the meanings of words such as “love”, “freedom” and “marriage”, confusing people and leaving them ignorant about God, the meaning of life, and the dignity of the human person. In fact, the origin of the word “nice” is the Latin word nescius, which means “ignorant”.
“That kind of culture activity of ‘being nice’ is destructive, and it’s not what Christianity is all about,” said Sr. Galligan. “God is not nice. God is good, and goodness is different from niceness.”
The culture of niceness also eschews the rich intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church.
“We have a tradition that is [almost 2,000] years of the best of philosophical and theological minds, with the contemporary blessings of [Popes] John Paul II and Benedict [XVI], who are also very able to engage young people, old people—the culture,” said Sr. Galligan.
But “instead of looking at the world in light of the Church and its teachings,” she said, “we come from the world and make a judgment on the Church and its teachings.”
Niceness is the fruit of sloth, what Sr. Galligan calls “the most neglected capital sin,” and “the ultimate boredom.” Commonly regarded as laziness, sloth is a “poisoning of the will,” she said, a lack of the will for the good. Niceness is the symptom of a soul poisoned by sloth.
“Niceness [is the attitude], ‘I do not have the will for your good, [so] I’m just going to go with the flow and be pleasing’,” she said.
Sr. Galligan is trying to free her students from the shackles of the “go with the flow” mentality of niceness because “They haven’t been trained to think, to argue” she said. “They’ve only been trained to accept.”
So for all its destructiveness, why have we allowed ourselves to be hypnotized by niceness?
The reason is, said Sr. Galligan, “we don’t want to ever think about the existential questions: ‘Who or what am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?’ And, even more, ‘Whose am I?’”
To ask the existential questions is to open oneself up to the possibility there is an “other” toward whom one must center himself. In a culture of niceness that fosters self-centeredness, the tendency is to avoid pursuing the answers to those questions.
“We’re always into that self-protective mode,” said Sr. Galligan. “…Truth and goodness become a threat, because then I have to acknowledge my humanity, which is wounded and tends toward self.”
Self-centeredness, however, “makes for unhappiness, loneliness,” she said. “I’m enclosed within myself. I’m imprisoned, and I’m made to be looking at you.”
The other-centeredness that is at the heart of true Christian living reveals the answers to the existential questions. To be other-centered is to image Him Who is other-centeredness itself, the Trinitarian God. Only in the penetrating intimacy of other-centeredness can we be truly happy.
But in a futile attempt to find happiness and alleviate their “ultimate boredom”, those who have fallen into the quicksand of sloth pursue empty and fleeting passion, a pursuit Sr. Galligan described as “getting into bizarre things to excite [oneself] for a few minutes.” Yet fulfilling and lasting passion can come only from the other-centered, self-giving life of charity.
So don’t be nice. Instead, burn with love for God and neighbor, as God burns with love for you.
“God is fire,” said Sr. Galligan. “He’s not bland fogginess.”
Thank you, Bob, and also Sr. Galligan! God is at work in you.