The Hypocrite’s Guide to Condemning Hypocrisy

 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Luke 20:46-47)

Our Lord often rebuked religious leaders for their hypocrisy and, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us find these passages to be the most engaging (if not entertaining) segments of the Gospel narratives.  This is because, for the most part, we intensely dislike hypocrites.  Few things are as profoundly offensive, hurtful, and damaging than that of a man who lives in a manner which is inconsistent with his ideals.  Perhaps even more unsettling is the man who performs great deeds for impure, self-edifying, reasons; like the Scribes and the Pharisees who put on the show of true devotion but were, as Jesus so eloquently pointed out, simply motivated by vain conceit.

We dislike hypocrisy because we are made in the image and likeness of God, and hence, have an innate desire for what is real.  Not only are our cognitive faculties aimed at discovering truth and our hearts built with a longing for truth; but Truth Himself is in love with us and desires to be in a real relationship with us.  It is because we were made to be in the truth that we all have a natural distain for hypocrisy–for at the heart of hypocrisy is dishonesty and falsehood: unreality and untruth.

Yet, we have grown accustomed to hypocrisy–especially to the sort of empty religious posturing so common among Christian leaders.  We have grown accustomed, for instance, to discovering that the Senator who’s entire career was built on conservative Christian values has been using campaign money to fund his rather distasteful habit of sleeping with male prostitutes.  We are quite used to hearing about the pastor of a mega church who has been absconding with church funds. We grow cynical and begin to suspect that every idealist or religious fundamentalist is merely a phony used car salesman (I deeply apologize if you are reading this and happen to be an honest used car salesman).

As we grow more cynical we also grow more antagonistic towards anyone or anything that smells of hypocrisy.  This is especially true among Christians–at least the ones in my generation.  We want authenticity, we want honesty, we long for leaders and laypeople who are truly devoted to the cause of Christ.  We justifiably long for these things–and Jesus longed for these things too–but, without even realizing it, we become fixated, almost exclusively, on the external world without examining our own hearts.  We are so busy uncovering and condemning the hypocrisy around us that we forget to look for and condemn the hypocrisy in our own lives.

St. Francis De Sales noted that the great majority of religious devotion we observe in the world is simply an empty show:

“When the messengers of Soul sought David, they found only an image in his bed, which, being dressed by Michol in David’s garments, deceived them so that they imagined it to be David himself.  Thus many persons clothe themselves with a garb of external devotion, and the world believes them to be really devout and spiritual, whilst in truth they are mere statues or phantasms of devotion.”

What we often fail to consider is that our own religious devotion might just be a statue or phantasm of devotion.  My challenge  today is for us to stop focusing on the hypocrisy of others and focus, instead, on our own hypocrisy; for us to sincerely examine our own hearts; to take stalk of our motives; to root out any inconsistencies (and I guarantee you will unearth them if you look deep enough).  The fight for authentic Christian faith begins when we examine our hearts and seek to free ourselves, through the power of the Holy Spirit, from self-love.  It begins when we develop a sincere love for God in our own hearts and work through the sin and ugliness in our own lives.  My advice to my generation: stop attacking the mere ‘phantasms’ of religious devotion we see around us and focus on becoming an authentic self-giving lover.  Make true devotion to Christ your own personal goal and not merely another catch phrase or bumper-sticker slogan.


Mystic Mondays: Be Separate, and Therefore Close

John 17:2 shows that all flesh has come under the authority of Jesus Christ and John 17:23 says that the world shall know who the Father is through the oneness of the disciples. Yet, in the same passage in John 17:9, Jesus says that He prays for His followers and not the world. We see a paradox developing where apparently we are to draw away from the world, but in doing so we grow closer to the world. Consider that earlier in the gospel of John, we’re told that God loves the world (John 3:16). But later in one of John’s epistles he tells us not to love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15-17). Paul takes the idea of separation further in 2 Corinthians 6:17, telling us to be separate. James 4:4 says that to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. And yet, despite all these warnings, Jesus tells us to go into all of the world (Matthew 28:16-20), to take care of the poor (Matthew 19:21), and even the example of Jesus was one who was always around the “world” (Luke 7:34). What are we to make of this paradox? We see two seemingly contradictory aspects; be separate from the world and be within the world.

Some Christians desire to eradicate the paradox and argue for minimal involvement with the world, only when it becomes necessary. Their ethic becomes legalistic, they live in Christian bubbles, and they pursue holiness. One can think of the Amish who choose to live in seclusion to the rest of the world. Yet, many other Christians can become a type of Amish. They only have Christian friends. They only read Christian books. They only watch Christian television. They only deal with Christians. That they have made “Christian” an adjective for inanimate objects shows that they have bought into the idea that some objects are inherently evil and only sanctified objects are worthy of Christian notice.

Some of these Christians neglect the poor, walk past the suffering on the streets, and look down their noses at sinners. They do this because they recognize that such people are not holy. If only these people would come to Christ, then we could help them! They have become a type of Pharisee (haven’t we all?).

Other Christians will eradicate the paradox in a different way by arguing for unity with the world. They being to reinterpret the Christian message for modern times. They adopt the philosophy and ethics of the world. They view Christianity as something that must change within every culture. It’s not that people are sinners, it’s that “sin” is just an outdated way to look at the world; “sin” is a judgmental term, one that overpowers the idea of grace.

They will often tell us how it’s important to feed the poor and help the widows, but that matters of doctrine can wait or don’t matter (unless, of course, the doctrine is a conservative doctrine; then it matters and should be argued against). They may say that doctrine does matter, but that actions should come first.

Both views are wrong. Both views erase the paradox of the Christian life; one view tries to elevate believing above acting and the other tries to elevate acting above believing. In the process, the whole of the Christian life is fractured.

We believe, but if we believe we will act on that belief. We act within the world, but it is our beliefs that guide us and give us the reason that we should act. Neither is more important than the other. How can we say we believe if we do not act on our belief? How can we tell people how to live if we believe nothing? And so the idea of “faith vs works” or “doctrine vs action” is a false dichotomy as the two are not in tension with each other, but instead are in unison with one another.

This is the paradox of the Christian life, that we are saved by faith, by believing, but that actions must accompany the belief, or how can we say we believe? The Christian life is not just found in books, nor is it found in just serving the poor; it is found in both and needed in both.

Mystic Mondays – The Centrality of Faith (St. Irenaeus of Lyons)

“Mystic Mondays” is a series done here at the Christian Watershed in the hopes of keeping us grounded. While we support the rational defense of the faith, we must ultimately concede that our faith is beyond reason; Christianity contains reason, but reason doesn’t contain Christianity. This is because our foundation is not in a system, but in a Person. 

From On Apostolic Preaching:

St. Irenaeus of Lyons

“Therefore, lest we suffer any such thing, we must keep the rule of faith unswervingly, and perform the commandments of God, believing in God and fearing Him, for He is Lord, and loving Him, for He is Father. Action, then, comes by faith, as ‘if you do not believe,’ Isaias says, ‘you will not understand’; and truth brings about faith, for faith is established upon things truly real, that we may believe what really is, as it is, and believing what really is, as it is, we may always keep our conviction of it firm. Since, then, the conserver of our salvation is faith, it is necessary to take great care of it, that we may have a true comprehension of what is.”

It seems that one of the central debates for Christians today is whether we should believe like Christians or live like Christians. One side is adamant that our beliefs are what save us while the other side argues that our works save us, while beliefs don’t really matter (or at least don’t hold that much importance).

For early Christians the distinction between believing and actions simply didn’t exist. To have “faith” meant that we believed what had been handed down to us and then lived according to those beliefs. As Irenaeus elucidates, action comes from faith and faith is established on things that are real. Our faith is in God, who is real, so then we should act on this belief.

We shouldn’t have a dichotomy between how we live and what we believe. Turning to the highly respected 20th century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, we read,

“And when we exalt orthopraxy, right action, which is demanded clearly enough by Jesus himself…do we have to lose all sense of what the New Testament equally emphatically calls right belief, orthodoxy?” (Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism, 13)

It certainly seems like von Balthasar is simply echoing the sentiments of Irenaeus, both of whom seem to point back to St. James (the Less or the Great, depending on who you believe), who wrote,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It would appear that even James faced this dichotomy where people were more concerned about works or about belief. To James, there is no difference. If you believe then it will show in your works, and your works will aid in your belief. Thus, faith is both a belief based upon reality, or Ultimate Reality, but because this is the case, faith requires us to act.

One can think of God’s Word, who is Truth (John 14:6) coming down and dying for His creation. Certainly He believed that He loved us, certainly Christ has beliefs about Himself. But He acted on those beliefs. The same God who baffles the greatest theologians and makes them less than children in knowledge came down to lift up the broken of this world so they might not only hear about His love, but experience His love. God cannot be divided, so while He is Truth, He is also action; we cannot merely believe in Him as a purely intellectual object to be studied, because when we gain true knowledge of Him we are moved to action.

This is part of the mysticism of Christianity, that it is a belief, it has propositional truths, it is rational, but it extends beyond these things. It has good actions, it is concerned with the poor, it serves the widows and orphans, but all of these actions are based upon its beliefs. Faith, true faith, is a faith based on reality and one that changes the whole of man.

Prayer and Public School

Fox News reported that U.S. District Judge Fred Biery has ruled that participants in Medina Valley High School’s graduation ceremony cannot pray, invoke the name of God, say “amen,” and that the program itself must change certain words on its program that may give off religious connotations. Of course, being Fox News, the entire story isn’t being told. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between the two:

Or we could turn to the local San Antonio news, which directly contradicts the claims that Fox News makes. So what’s a Christian to make of all of this?

If it’s true that the judge ordered individuals to not even say the name of God or invoke any religious symbols in their speech, then he is wrong (though I somehow doubt this is the case and suspect that Fox News is embellishing the story…I know, shocking). After all, while I may not believe in Allah, or accept atheism, or believe in any one of the Hindu gods, if a graduate wants to thank one of those gods, or Allah, or thank himself and say, “because God doesn’t exist,” then so be it. It’s his right to do so and if it offends me, then tough.

When it becomes wrong is when the act of prayer (or the cessation of prayer) is compulsory. If the school were forcing others to participate in the prayer then this would be a direct violation of their rights. But so is preventing students from praying in public, so long as they do not force others to bow their heads or join in.

But aside from all of the legal aspects of the case, from a Christian perspective why would we want prayer to be compulsory at a graduation ceremony or even in schools? Yes, there is power in prayer, but that power comes from the faith behind the prayer. Forcing people to pray to a God they don’t believe in accomplishes nothing except alienation. While it makes us look like a spiritual nation, it doesn’t make us spiritual. Prayer is a product of faith, so why would we force those who lack faith to engage in prayer when this will only ostracize them even more and possibly make them bitter towards Christianity?

In the end, while we should hope for a culture that is closer to God, we should hope that those in our culture voluntarily come to Christ, not through legal pressure. We can’t force a culture to act virtuous or to fall in love with Christ; they must choose these things.

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 10) – Conclusion

A Unified Theodicy answers the logical problem of evil, evidential problem of evil, and existential problem of evil with one word: Love. Humans were created to love God and to love each other, but when we turned away from our purpose (which is sin) we introduced the world to evil. The irony, however, is that evil was allowed because God loved us.

He loved us enough to let us experience His love and return His love, which through our free will. But with free will inevitably comes a species that will choose sin, that will allow evil. But were God to prevent our free will because of His foreknowledge of what would occur then evil would have triumphed over God’s plans. Thus, God created us, refusing to let evil triumph over His love.

He loves us enough to allow specific acts of evil so that we might help display His love to those who suffer from evil. While some evils can be and are gratuitous, they only become so when we fail to respond to them with God’s love.

He loves us enough that when we suffer specific acts of evil, He is there to comfort us even if no rational explanation exists for why the evil occurred. What is more is that He experienced evil Himself on a cross, all on our behalf.

Certainly more can be added to this theory and other parts challenged. The specifics do leave many questions. Yet, I would contend that any future theodicies must take a whole view of the world into order and more importantly they must include the cross. In a theodicy we attempt to offer up an answer for the problem of evil, but we offer no solution. Only God has offered a solution to the problem of evil, something beyond an answer. For it is on the cross that gratuitous, unmerited, freely given, infinite, perfect love is given as God’s solution to evil.

Damascene Cosmology – Does the Christian God have emotions?

For some, the above explanation simply is not enough in explaining that God doesn’t change. It is quite popular to point out that God has emotional responses to humans. Quite often he says that he is angry towards someone while pleased with someone else, indicating that God certainly does have emotions.

If God is emotional, this would be indicative of change within God. It would mean that he can fluctuate in degrees of being angry, happy, sad, pleased, or any other range of emotions. Even though all of his emotional responses are justified, they serve to show that God does indeed change (or so the critic would have us believe).

The semantics of the argument are that if I do good works, God becomes happy with me, or increases in happiness to me. If I do something evil, then God becomes angry at me or is less pleased with me. All of this show God moving in degrees of one emotion to the other, which would indicate that God is mutable.

I do believe that there are two reasons why such a view is misguided. The first reason, which is the weaker of the reasons, is that Christ is still incarnate and still God. The second reason, which I believe to be stronger, is that God is not like man, thus we’re using the wrong standard to explain God’s emotions. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – On the Nature of Immutable Beings

Second Sub-Premise – “If they are immutable, then they are uncreated”

As the first sub-premise says that anything that is created is also mutable (which implies the need for a creator), the second sub-premise provides the opposite, that if something is uncreated, then it is immutable.

The first thing to understand about immutability is that if a being is immutable, it does not require a creator. If an immutable being had a creator then we could posit that at one time the immutable being was created; this would mean that the immutable being was no longer immutable. If something came into existence it went from one state S1 to another S2. That is, the being went from non-existence to existence, which is a change of state for the being. Thus, to be immutable, by definition a being must be without a creator or without a beginning.

This means that whatever is immutable is also eternal. If we accept Aristotle’s explanation that time is motion (that is, the measurement of things) and combine it with Einstein’s theory of relativity, then it would seem that time can speed up or slow down depending upon the motion of matter, meaning that time is the measure of the motion of matter. Continue reading