“With My Face Flashing Crimson from the Fires of Hell”

I need to make a list of all the things that annoy me about the religions and cults I’ve been exposed to.

One is this exceedingly narrow definition of what it means to be a righteous person. This is infuriating, because in the eyes of the majority of the Christians around me there’s this fixed idea of goodness which only occasionally (and even then, seemingly on accident) intersects with what I consider goodness. Sexual purity is a big one: Slacktivist had a great post a few days ago about the arbitrary sexual ethic of Evangelicals:

Married? (Yes or No)

If Yes: Sex good.

If No: Sex bad.”

Studies have conclusively shown that different groups of people emphasize different aspects of morality. In my experience, you’re a good Evangelical if you pray a lot, abstain from sex before marriage, try to convert other people to your beliefs, and are trying to “put God back into schools” (whatever that means). Or you could be “zealous,” which is a whole different breed but is generally considered superior. No one ever takes the trouble to define what it means to be zealous, but I think it means you get really emotional at concerts, confess your failings to all & sundry, and are constantly trying to defeat unbelievers in arguments.

This is irritating both because of what it assumes about goodness, and what it leaves out. What many Christians equate with “goodness,” all rational people equate with bigotry, intolerance, and superstition. On the other hand, because of the authoritarian mindset that is central to the appeal of fundamentalism, people who think for themselves, are intelligent, educated, and rational, who are willing to speak out against the oppression of minorities, are routinely marginalized and even considered bad people when in fact they’re actually being righteous.

This is completely backwards. When you say the word righteous to a Christian in this culture, they don’t automatically think of someone who advocates tolerance, for example, towards other religions (because those other religions are the Enemy). You picture someone who obsessively reads his or her Bible (but probably not much else), aspires to be a minister or foreign missionary, and attends at least two to three Christian worship events a week. This, interestingly enough, has become its own form of legalism. People who don’t do those things are, by definition, not good Christians. But actual virtues like boldness, compassion for the oppressed, empathy, kindness, tolerance, are not even identified with goodness in the Evangelical ethical framework. Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? That is what makes someone a good person. (As Bruce Bawer has pointed out in Stealing Jesus, the Evangelical teaching that Satan is trying to deceive people into thinking they only have to be good to obtain salvation actually makes Satan into a force for virtue, and Jesus into someone who cares nothing about it). Some of those virtues, tolerance for example, are even considered signs that a person is not good. Where all rational people, again, consider tolerance a virtue, many Christians consider it a vice.

As I write this, my friend Gary Wallin has just posted on Facebook, “I have a dream that Christianity will one day be associated with deep thinking and humble, thoughtful discussions rather than ignorance and intolerance, shouting down their opponents.” I have that dream, too, and it’s encouraging that some people are beginning to wake up. Not all my fellow Evangelicals are in the dark, and not all of them are living lives of unrighteousness. I’m longing and fighting and praying for a day when Christians in America remember what goodness is. The Christian faith is not shallow. Rightly understood, it does not produce shallow people. I just wish I knew more people who believed and understood that.

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4 thoughts on ““With My Face Flashing Crimson from the Fires of Hell”

  1. Really good post here, Boze. It truly is frustrating. I went to Bible school and saw so much of that hypocrisy that didn’t even allow for the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, faithfulness, etc). That’s the problem when religion is all about rules and looking good on the outside–which isn’t what Jesus intended at all. He was looking at the heart of the matter.
    But I think it’s also unkind to simply judge people who are more conservative or anti-evolution, etc. I’ve talked to many Christians who have strong reason they believe the things they do. Even scientists who have really wrestled through this issue. And yes, you might not agree. But be careful not become the one just pointing the finger and shouting, either. Engaging in conversations are the key to helping understand.

  2. Thanks Teryn : ) Those are all great points. There’s a U2 song that goes, “They say that what you mock / will slowly overtake you / when you become the monster / so the monster will not break you.” We’re always in danger of becoming the very thing we obsessively war against.

  3. Interesting. I definitely agree that the obsession with specific sexual sins is both hypocritical and results in less attention being given to the many other ways we all fall short of God’s holiness. However, it seems like you switched topics several times. You began by asking what it means to be righteous and then moved to a discussion of virtue. You start arguing at tolerance is a virtue and then assert that it is unacceptable to disagree with a group that calls itself “scientists”.

    Biblically, righteousness is not virtue. Virtue is a Greek idea that has to do with satisfying the obligations imposed upon you by the social roles in which you find yourself. Righteousness and justice are intimately connected and have to do with being “right” with someone. If you wrong someone, Justice demands some penalty that, once paid, restores you to a right relationship with that person. Ultimately, righteous means being right with God. And part of being right with God means conforming your behavior to the standards He established. Loving God cannot be divorced from obeying Him. Faith is not faith without works. A tree is judged by its fruit. While God must transform your heart, when He does that transformation expresses itself in your actions. And while those actions definitely include compassion and forgiveness, they also include avoiding all forms of sexual immorality, honoring your parents, respecting those in authority, having no other God beside God, etc. Jesus was concerned about the heart, but not just the heart — you have heard it said do not commit adultery, but I say who cares where you stick it, just don’t lust.

    Christianity is ultimately an intolerant religion. Christ claimed to be the Son of God and the only way to God. He repeatedly condemned the Jewish leaders and his apostles judged the immorality of the Gentiles — I tell you that neither idolaters nor fornicators, etc. shall enter the Kingdom of God. Tolerance as a virtue is a fairly recent phenomena and seems to derive from a misunderstanding of what it means to be humble, especially intellectual humility in the face of an infinitely complex universe.

    By evolution I assume you mean macro-evolution, evolution as the origin of species. And by scientists I assume you mean people who attempt to infer the organizing principles of the universe by devising predictive models and constructing experiments in an effort to disprove those models. If those assumptions are accurate, then scientists can’t say anything about the origin of species. They have no philosophical ground for doing so. A predictive model cannot be applied retrospectively without making some huge ungrounded assumptions, and macro evolution has never been demonstrated in a predictive experiment, even in a lab. I’m not saying evolution is wrong and the earth is 8 thousand years old, I’m just saying that science as it understands itself is not allowed to speak with any authority about what happened yesterday, much less what happened thousands, millions, billions of years ago. When speaking of history, a guy in a white coat has no more authority than a guy in a smoking jacket (or whatever it is that a typical theologian wears), especially if the theologian or prophet or what have you claims to be speaking on behalf of the one being who possibly could have been an eye witness to the events. (Of course that being could have been lying, or misinterpreted, or not intending to be historically or scientifically accurate.) The majority isn’t right just because they write mathematical proofs on a chalkboard.

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