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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is Your Mirror Too Big To See Your Neighbor?

One of the refreshing changes we are noticing at our Flaming Fundamentalist Church is that the young people are discontent with the status quo. This is refreshing not because of their discontentment per se, but because of why they are unhappy. They feel that our Church is not a church because it is not contributing enough to those in the community.

Why isn't Church involved enough with the community? Perhaps, one reason for this weakness is because of one of our church's strength, its personal message of salvation, is also its weaknesses.

Personal salvation is preached in the Gospel. We are told, and rightfully so, that we should repent of our sins and believe in Jesus. We are also correctly told that what we believe about Jesus matters. That is because if we do not believe that Jesus is God incarnate, then we do not believe in a Jesus who could save us from our sins and reconcile us to God. Jesus being God incarnate follows from Jesus being the Son of God (see Athanatius's argument). If Jesus is God incarnate, then Jesus was born of a virgin. And if Jesus was God's son, then Jesus had to rise again from the dead. With God the father, Jesus is son, and the Holy Spirit, we have the Trinity. The Trinity is an essential doctrinal belief.

In addition we need to believe the right things about ourselves in order to be saved. We must believe that we are sinners. But that is not enough. We must understand, from God's law, just how sinful we are. We must believe that we are so dead in sin that we can contribute nothing to our salvation. We must realize that God saves us when we put our trust in Jesus alone.

But we are not yet finished. One result of being saved is that we, with God's help, change how we live. We need to repent of sin. We need to do what God says and do it for the right reasons. We are told that when nonbelievers do good, it does not count because they do what is right for the wrong reasons--they are not trying to glorify God. An unfortunate result of that not only are we encouraged to focus more and more on ourselves, we are to easily discount, and even have disdain for, the good works of others because their lack of faith means their motives were wrong.

As correct as what we are taught is, there is a flaw that brings us back to the complaint made by the young people at my church. The flaw is that though the Church equips us with the right information, it is also telling us to focus more and more on ourselves. There comes a point as the more the Church tells us to have the right beliefs about God, how sinful we are, and how to keep ourselves pure from sin, the more we end up focusing on ourselves. And the more we focus on ourselves, the more difficult to even see one's neighbor let alone love them. In addition, another problem arises. That problem is because technology has made it easier to access those in other parts of the world, the number of those who qualify as our neighbor is increasing exponentially. Because of technology, the world has become our neighbor.

But there are other attributes of the conservative Church that prevent their memebers from being concerned about others than the Gospel of personal salvation. Authoritarianism and apocalyptic messages do their part too. Church authoritarianism tells Christians who to listen to and who to ignore. We are told to listen to qualified like minded people and to turn a deaf ear to all others. And, of course, most of the time these teachers are telling their audience how to refine their personal salvation. Apocalyptic messages inspire a fatalism that piles on more urgency to taking care of one's personal salvation and further relegates the addressing of earthly hardships--especially when those who are suffering are unbelievers.

Finally, the spirit of American individualism adds a significant final touch to the conservative Christians' tendency to be so preoccupied with their own spiritual status that they neglect caring for or even noticing their neighbor. American individualism pushes us towards a preoccupation with ourselves in two ways. First, American individualism pushes us to prove ourselves. Second, American individualism puts a damper on both our concern and our willingness to help those who, we feel, are responsible for themselves.

There is an old saying that describes some Christians as being "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good." The problem with this saying is the premise. The reason why many conservative Christians cannot do any earthly good is not because they are too heavenly minded, it is because they are too preoccupied with themselves and spiritual status to notice or care about those who need them to be a good Samaritan. It is our tendency to spend too much time in front of the mirror that keeps us from seeing and helping others.

Our extreme self-preoccupation and even narcissism puts at risk the credibility of the Gospel we claim to believe and love. Here, we give an unnecessary reason for people to be offended by the Gospel. Our extreme self-preoccupation also deceptively keeps us from following the part of God's law that tell us to love others as we are to love ourselves. That is as we think we are learning how to follow God closely by practicing more and more introspection, we sabotage ourselves from exercising the love God wants us to show. Thus we must find ways to pay the proper attention to the Gospel of personal salvation without spending too much time standing in front of the mirror.

2 comments:

Jack Fisher said...

A nice article, if I do say so. I agree with many of the premise. The message among many biblical literalists today is that they've gotten away from the more communal aspects of Christianity and that's led people to become more self-centered and introspective, thus making them less empathetic and less charitable to others both Christian and non-Christian alike.

Personally, I think the modern day self-esteem movement has a part in this. It began in the 70s just as the Christian Right was taking hold and it has found a way to corrupt religion even more than it already was to begin with. By making people more egotistical and self-absorbed, you take away the important aspect of loving thy neighbor that Christ emphasized so much in his teaching. When you get away from the communal aspect, you're not left with much except a bunch of people obsessing over how they can defend their ego, free themselves from sin, and do it all on their own while completely ignoring their fellow man.

Vigilante said...

Curt if you were preaching locally, I would be re-churching myself.