Home » (Criticisms and Critiques) » Three Related Thoughts. Of Religion. Of Righteousness and Self-righteousness.

Three Related Thoughts. Of Religion. Of Righteousness and Self-righteousness.

1. Jesus Christ was not anti-religious, as some have asserted. Nor is “spirit” opposed to religion. Yet it is the case that many religions are anti-Christian, and that just as many are unspiritual.

2. The word religion having fallen into disrepute in some Christian circles is a great sign—of despair. Contempt for the word is a proactive psychological defense against possible accusations of self-righteousness and pharisaism. This defense is rooted in fear, not a holy fear that might actually guard us from self-righteousness, but an anxiety of appearing self-righteousness to others. In a horrible twist, a fear of appearances—which sets up the human, not God, as the criterion of faith—causes these Christians to reject a powerful word that can signify how strongly bound together are their actual way of life and their inner convictions.

3. You must remember that appearing to be self-righteous and being self-righteous are not the same. For seeming, a human is your judge. For being, God is. But have no fear of humans. You being righteous in truth, if someone accuses you of self-righteousness because of a misinterpreted appearance, you only have to let your conduct silence the accuser. Only by the highest judge’s gracious declaration does a man become righteous, so such a man has no need to answer an accusation of self-righteousness in a human court. If he does, as soon as he does, such a man has despaired, has forgotten that God alone is his righteous judge and his righteousness.


2 thoughts on “Three Related Thoughts. Of Religion. Of Righteousness and Self-righteousness.

  1. Your first and second thoughts – thought provoking, challenging me to ‘ruminate on them.’ Especially the thought that religion is one’s inner convictions being bound together with one’s actual way of life. I will definitely reconsider my perspective on ‘religion’. For a long time I have held the word and what I thought it mean in much contempt.

    Your third thought… a treasure to hold and keep.

    • I am glad you were able to treasure the thought, and to ruminate.

      For that second one especially, I debated whether I should write in first- or third-person. I, too, held the word in contempt and usually scoffed whenever someone would mention “religious” things. And sometimes I still do scoff, by habit. But let me spell out some of my thinking—for further rumination.

      I see that we must avoid legalism, which tempts us to substitute rituals of pride for rituals of devotion. More than that, we must not let ritual worship be the defining mark of faith. For religion’s association to ritual (and rituals of pride), someone might teach us to avoid that word. It is a reasonable teaching. It comes from an understanding of cultural history and the pressures placed upon Christianity and Christians. On the other hand, we must not have a faith so interior that there is no shining forth. We must stand out—not just as “good” or “decent,” but as a people set apart peculiarly for God’s work, as servants of the gospel of Christ, as worshipers of the Eternal One who told us to live each moment as a function of the vows we have made through Jesus Christ.

      I said above that the teaching that might forsake the word religion is sound, usually, and reasonable in its presentation, but unfortunately it does appeal to the fear I mentioned above. Words are full of ambiguity, and that makes us nervous. I hold, however, that ambiguity should be no cause for retreat. If we did retreat from ambiguity, we might want to cut out faith, hope, and love from our vocabularies as well, lest an unbeliever mistake our meaning. But we must continue to use the words, to live in the midst of the ambiguity, while making all things clear through our concrete, definite, unambiguous acts of faith, hope, and love. Etc.

      In recent weeks I have seen, in my conversations and in my reading, an urgent need for a word like religion. I will have to explain this more fully in another post, but it relates to some of the posts I’ve put up about Voegelin’s essay on “The Political Religions.”

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