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France and Ball-of-Fat

Guy de Maupassant is considered by many to be France’s greatest short storyteller. He led a short and unhappy life. Died at 43 of syphilis and dementia in an posh private asylum. His 300 some stories (of which I’ve read quite a few) are often remarkably insightful, usually depressing, and sometimes so blatantly provocative that the Christian reader must desist from reading before he has finished the story. His most famous story, Boule de Suif (Ball-of-Fat) is worth reading. It will give you real insight into the French mind.


Ball-of-Fat (Boule de Suif) is a well-known prostitute that is traveling with a group of bourgeois French to Dieppe. On the way they are stalled by a Prussian commander that will not let them proceed until Ball-of-Fat has gratified him. She refuses on principle. As time goes by the bourgeois French begin to schmooze with the girl, making her feel accepted and respected. All the while they are trying to coax her into pleasing the Prussian so that they can get on with their trip. Finally, the girl yields. The story ends with the liberated citizens once again in the coach where they first met. However, the disgraced Boule de Suif is scorned. They refuse to share their food with her (though they had gladly partaken of her food before they were halted by the Prussian). As the girl cries in loneliness, one passenger (to the irritation of the others) whistles the “Marseillaise,” France’s national anthem.

Was Guy de Maupassant suggesting that France’s pretended care for the lower classes was purely utilitarian, the mantra of a self-absorbed nationalism that vaunts “Equality, Liberty, and Brotherhood” while prostituting the discardable masses for its own short-term goals?

There are millions of Ball-of-Fats. France has made them a part of its national treasury, collected to boost France’s vain-glorious humanism and to be discarded once their usefulness is spent or once their existence begins to threaten the French Fantasy of superiority. For a country whose GNP is only about 4% of the world’s GNP, France is obnoxiously arrogant. Some historians wonder if France’s influence has been due only to its “sheer national-cultural assertiveness.” I think it is good that their pride is hurt. It is part-and-parcel of the French culture to dare anyone anywhere to think less of their country than what they think.

This is one reason, I think, for the slow work of missionaries in the darkened country. Missionaries are exhorted to never, NEVER, offend the French. Their language is sacred. Their country is best. Missionaries must obsequiously grovel before their god, National France. I sometimes wonder what would happen if a Jonahic missionary went to France: “I hate France. I hate you. But I’m going to preach hell-fire-damnation to you losers anyway.” There would be riots for sure. Not Ball-of-Fats, but the bourgeois. There would be deportations. Not North African immigrants, but missionaries.

I hope the Lord doesn’t call me to France. Because I wouldn’t be able to dance anymore. I don’t hate France, by the way. Some of the greatest people I have ever met are French. They are living and serving God in that admittedly beautiful country. My precious parents have been there for years. I am eternally indebted to France for giving us Jean Calvin (although he wasn’t welcome in his own country). I love their cheese. I hate — yes, hate — the evil that so permeates that country that even its nicest people think that no conversation can begin unless you are willing to pay obeisance to their other religion – nationalism.

Nationalism is different than patriotism. Patriotism is love and loyalty to one’s country. Nationalism is a doctrine. The nation’s preeminence must be honored in every conversation and every relationship. It enters even into the church. Most missionaries have very few French people in their congregations. In stead, they have multi-national churches with people from all over the world, many of whom are finding each Lord’s Day a hiding place from the insufferable French condescension that they live with the other six days of the week. One missionary was willing to dance with the French pride so much that he would not allow blacks into his church. Few people would rebuke him for his capitulation to French racism. They actually admitted that it was a good strategy to get to the French. (And, unfortunately, it is.) They forgot Carey, the founder of modern missions, who refused to yield to the caste system of India. They forgot that God resists the proud. And nothing is more proud than saying to blacks that they aren’t welcome in church with white Frenchmen. If revival is to come to France, the French must be saved from France.

That’s why I wonder what would happen if God dumped on France a puked-up preacher who had no intention whatsoever of going there, who could care less for life or limb, was ready to die, and by his preaching would damn every Frenchman to hell unless he repented. A missionary evangelist that was not really that impressed with France or the French, a Jonah, might be just the recipe for France’s salvation.

In the meantime, thank God that many missionaries have been quite successful in reaching the Ball-of-Fats.

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