Tuesday, August 16, 2005

the look

What Rob and I talked about was mostly culture and Christianity, and cultural Christianity. If I unpacked the entirety of our short conversation, I'd write a book. Honestly, I can't even verbalize everything about this one area of our talk.
The conversation took place in two parts, the first of which was when we happened upon the same exercise at the same time and decided to share the equipment. He commented on my visible ink and asked about the symbol. This was the first part. Then at the end of our workouts, casual questions ensued, and we began talking about culture. Eventually, both our conversations converged, and he was making my recent blogged rant come alive for me. His issue was cultural, bible-belt superficial morality, and hypocrisy. Sure, that is every skeptic’s excuse, right? Hypocrisy. But his diatribe was much deeper than defensiveness. He explained how behavior and appearance had become the only shallow, superficial definition of morality among Christians. The world at large has a much more encompassing view of morality. Granted, theirs often leaves off the very behavior issues that Christians use as their sole definition, but, he noted that theirs was a deeper, personality driven morality than the Christian do and don’t list. Basically, Christians can just abide by some rules, and never actually have to be good people.
I didn’t happen to mention to him that I’d just given a talk in the spring to high schoolers about this very issue, or that I’d recently written a controversial blog about the same subject. But what he was saying was basically the same thing.
Perhaps the most unfortunate observation he made was when he said, ”I am a substance abuse counselor, and I’ve seen more morality in hopped up junkies than I see in Christians in the Bible belt.”
How is it that we’ve mixed up the words, morality, good, righteousness, etc. To where we don’t even understand what we’re talking about anymore. Christians find it difficult to imagine that people who don’t look and act like them could be “good” people, and that superiority complex fuels their own self-rightousness, and causes them to look down on others. In truth, they are looking down on them socially and convincing themselves that it is a spiritual issue. Rob observed that “the look” was as important as the behavior, because behavior varies depending on who is watching, but “the look” is consistent. We make our rules and draw our lines based on culture and only fool ourselves. Here are the rules of our little social niche, let’s call ourselves Christians and as Christians, adopt the social etiquette and standards as the definitive Christian definition.
I was made to think about once when I had the courage to say to a Christian educator that I felt like in our area, a lot of Christian schools were less a haven for Christian morality and bible teaching, than they were a refuge from racial integration and perceived social decline. This educator had said, “of course you’re right, just look at the surge of private Christian schools during the sixties when schools were forced to become interracial.
So we’ve start by socially sheltering ourselves by class, the shelter happens to be Christian, so we end up defining the Christian by the tiny niche that sheltered us from the social world at large. It keeps us safe from them, it keeps us safe from the filth in our hearts that motivated us to separate ourselves in the first place. So we go about living in the shelter, motivated still by egocentric fear and hate, and hide the fear and hate and egocentricity with sweetness and apparently right behavior. We all look at each other and don't notice the façade, or pretend not to, but outsiders see through it in a heartbeat and utterly refuse to give us an ear, let alone any credibility.