Thursday, February 17, 2011



It occurred to me that one reason that Christians may receive a disproportionate amount of heat is that they are a disproportionate chunk of the US population. If any given US citizen behaves egregiously, there is a roughly 75% demographic chance that they will be Christian. I think this Haiti debacle underscores the greatly increased likelihood for religiously (or at least ideologically) motivated folks to take certain actions that transcend the ‘earthly’ law, based on a perceived higher calling. To be generous, their charity got the better of them.

By exemption through Right Belief, I do not mean accountability for actions. I mean accountability for a very specific action, or lack of action. I’ll try to explain.

According to most Christian doctrines, If one has lived a decent and happiness-generating life, always made amends with those one has harmed, raised and nurtured a strong and loving family, and generally contributed to a just and good community, but does not believe himself a filthy and irredeemable sinner, and really just doesn’t think that someone else’s death absolved, or even could absolve this sinful state, then he will be judged guilty before God and denied entry to heaven. If one has lived a tragic and broken life, perhaps spoiled and selfish, proud and boastful, abusive toward others, maybe even criminal, but has embraced his sinful nature and believes in the redemption of Christ, then he will be absolved before God and permitted entry to heaven. This is explicitly NOT about accountability for actions. In the eyes of God, these individuals, regardless of actions, are, by His requirements, the same. But one accepted the ‘forgiveness’ and one didn’t. The ‘requirement’ you speak of – let’s call it Being Holy – is unattainable through human effort, only through believing in the literal truth of a specific story, thereby acquiring the required Holiness vicariously through the blood of Christ. I agree with you that this is not justice, but I also wouldn’t call it mercy. For the criminal, it IS mercy, but for the healthy and happy community leader? The one with the loving family? It is irrational, ruthless, and cruel.

Justice is a fairly clear concept that connotes something along the lines of ‘punishment fits the crime.’ Mercy is also a fairly clear concept, suggesting absolution when a crime is committed. A moment’s study reveals that these two concepts are in direct conflict. They see the same crime but produce different outcomes. So when you say that God is just, but that he also loves and pardons… well then, He isn’t just anymore; at least not while He’s loving and pardoning. One can be just, or one can be merciful, but one cannot meaningfully be both at the same time – that’s just poetry. And if one is sometimes just and sometimes merciful, then something larger is governing the choice between the two. What God offers is neither justice or mercy: for the Christian, the heaven/hell deal-breaker is an ARBITRARY justice and mercy that has no relation to behaviour or even sin, only to belief, and is known by another name: righteousness. (Vicarious righteousness, to be exact.) Is your name in the Book of Life? You’re in. No? Then too bad about that really good person you were, and that loving family. To declare oneself ’saved’ is to effectively declare oneself exempt from eternal justice, via an automatic mercy pass, simply by virtue of believing it so.

For better or worse, non-believers perceive hypocrisy in this worldview. I’m not judging you a hypocrite, really. Many Christians, perhaps most, really aren’t – most PEOPLE aren’t – at least in the sense of openly behaving hypocritically. In my view, most folks behave pretty admirably, especially when most of their ‘earthly’ needs are met. But Christians, by virtue of declaring themselves exempt from the very system of cosmic justice that they embrace and endorse, tend to get the label more often than non-Believers.

Post a Comment