The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 2. Humanity: No valentines and "the tragedy of non-integration" (sections i-ii "Ache" and iii "Hell")

i. ache
It is the human condition that we ache. Yes, we know our joints and muscles will ache when we age or exercise. But I am speaking of psychic aches.

To be human means that we are born with an ache for companionship, love, and affection. As ultra-social animals our nature aches for communion and affiliation. We are born needing. Aching.

This ache makes us vulnerable. It is a weakness. A source of pain. Thus, to punish people we isolate them. A time-out for a child is to be served alone. We punish in our penal system with solitary confinement. Isolation is painful. It tortures us.

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

But communion isn't compulsory. So we advertise. Date. Woo. We move through life attempting to solicit friendship and companionship. Sometimes we are successful and find a friend. Often we fail and find ourselves eating alone. Again. And the ache intensifies.

Sometimes, if you push back and look at the heart of humankind, you can be overwhelmed by the vast ocean of ache for love and companionship. Perhaps this problem is new, a product of Western culture and the disintegration of smaller, rural communities. But new or not, loneliness is now epidemic. The ache has grown to such proportions that we are continually in pain. Tortured.

Have you ever been truly lonely? If so, you know how this feels.

More than anything, Peanuts is a prolonged meditation on the need for love. The ache is everywhere in Peanuts. As is the pain.

This motif in Peanuts is best captured in Charlie Brown's failure to ever receive any Valentine's Day cards, those tangible symbols of "I love you." I've looked at thousands of Peanuts strips and perhaps the saddest and most tragic strip I've ever found is this one from Valentine's Day, 1956:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

I look at that strip and see so much of the human condition. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson's haunting words:

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me...

iii. hell
If we are born aching for companionship then loneliness is our most despised state. To remove community is like depriving us of air, or holding our hand over a flame. To ache without respite or comfort is a hell.

Charlie Brown's lunch-hour is his hell. Through this recurring motif, Peanuts mediates on hell--the absence of communion--by bringing us back, over and over again, to Charlie Brown's season of isolation. There he sits in hades, gazing across an abyss at Paradise:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

In Peanuts and in life hell is isolation, want of relationality, poverty of affection. The greatest pain of the human heart is unrequited love, a consistent theme in Peanuts, where all loves (Schroeder/Lucy, Charlie Brown/Red Headed Girl, Sally/Linus) go unrequited:

Images from The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics Books

It is difficult to care about "going to hell", as the fundamentalists preach it, when one is lonely or heart-sick or shattered by loss. To feel this is already to be in hell, let God do with us as He will. When heartbroken, it really doesn't matter.

And in this indifference lies a truth. What hurts the most isn't some supernatural hellfire. Pain is loss, rejection, abandonment, and isolation. Peanuts shows the way here. Hell, and Salvation by contrast, is relational in nature. More precisely, hell is the void of love.

It is the ache, with no caress in sight.

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3 thoughts on “The Theology of Peanuts, Chapter 2. Humanity: No valentines and "the tragedy of non-integration" (sections i-ii "Ache" and iii "Hell")”

  1. Excellent post. I've often wondered how the mountain men of the western U.S., as well as many others in our past survived weeks, months, even years without seeing more than a handful of human beings. It certainly compares to the description you speak of here. Along the road I have travelled in the last three years, I have come to believe that the only hell there is exist right here on earth. We create it ourselves, perhaps unintentionally, but it is done all the same. Rejection by others, the loss of a spouse or loved ones, our own enforced isolation can result in the indifference you speak of.

  2. If the absence of communion is hell, then recieving Communion seems to take on a new significance as it relates to the oneness of the body to which we all belong.

  3. Hi Don and Mike,
    I think I've been heavily influenced lately by two books I've just read, Volf's "Exclusion and Embrace" and Heim's "The Depths of the Riches." Both have a heavy notion of "salvation as communion."

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