Are Christians Hypocrites?

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cross in handsOn a regular basis, somebody who’s famous and Christian does something scandalous that leads people to question their values. The obvious current example is the story of Josh Duggar, which came to light this past week and is probably the biggest story to hit the news since the events in Baltimore several weeks ago. On the one hand, it’s sad that the media plays up these stories, often doing so in a cynical way and casting a bad light on Christians in general. On the other hand, though, you can’t really blame them; it really is a big story when someone who’s famous for their flawless morality does something shockingly immoral. Besides, there are plenty of people out there in the general public who are glad to hear things that allow them to accuse Christians of hypocrisy. Sex scandals are just the big news stories; Christians do other unchristian things, too. Look at the comments on pretty much any online article dealing with religion, and you’ll see a number of complaints that basically boil down to the accusation that Christians are unkind, unloving, or unforgiving, when kindness, love, and forgiveness are supposed to be the whole point of Christianity. I sometimes think that the reason people are quick to point out high-profile hypocrisy is because non-Christians are so annoyed by the self-righteous attitude that they perceive Christians as having in less high-profile scenarios. This, sad to say, is evidently what most non-Christians in our culture see when they look at Christians.

But are they right? Are Christians, across the board, hypocritical? In the wake of the latest big-news sex scandal, this has been the topic of a lot of internet discussion. Some Christians have tried very hard to insist that the answer is no, or even to defend the actions of Josh Duggar. That’s just silly; even he himself has come forward and said that what he did was “inexcusable”. A lot of the discussion on social media points out that, for all the attention being given to the sinner in this case, not much is being said about the girls who were affected. I’m going to give the media the benefit of the doubt and assume that this hole in the coverage is protecting the privacy of these girls, but these people on the internet are right to point out that an apology doesn’t undo wrongdoing. Now I have nothing against the Duggar family, I would even go as far to say that their show is the closest thing there is to wholesome reality TV, but there’s no denying the fact that Josh Duggar committed a sin that harmed people. Nor is he the only Christian to do so.

The term “Christian values” is often used to refer to a set of values that varies slightly depending upon who’s speaking, but probably includes rules such modest clothes, no sex outside of marriage, no getting drunk, little or no swearing, and (maybe) conservative political ideals. But Christian morals, as set forth in the Bible, are more specific than that. Jesus says that even something as minor as an insult is a sin punishable by damnation. (Matthew 5:22 ESV: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”) Verses such as Matthew 5:48 and Deuteronomy 18:13 demand perfection. And, as other verses like Romans 3:23 (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) and Isaiah 53:6 (“All we like sheep have gone astray”) remind us, no one is perfect.

Therefore, yes, Christianity is a religion full of hypocrites. The only way to avoid that fact is to inaccurately redefine sin in order to incorrectly deny that we are sinners. (Something that some people and even some entire denominations do seem to do, but that’s beside the point) Otherwise, it is inevitably true that Christians do not live up to the high moral standards that Christianity says is necessary. It’s true of Josh Duggar, it’s true of politicians who get involved in scandals, it’s true of people who shoplift or commit any kind of violent act, it’s true of anyone who’s ever told a lie or said something mean, and it’s true of everyone who’s ever driven above the speed limit. And no Christian who has any kind of understanding of sin and the Law can deny it.

CrucifixBut Christianity isn’t just a list of impossible moral rules, or a harsh statement against people who break those rules. The sinfulness and hypocrisy of Christian people isn’t the end of the story. Yes, sometimes Christians are guilty of making it sound as if that’s the whole point, but it isn’t. Jesus did more than preach sermons about what it means to be a good person. Jesus paid for all of our sins through his death on the cross. That’s the actual point of Christianity. It’s what ought to come to people’s minds when they hear the word “Christian”, rather than a vague concept of “Christian values” or a cynical criticism of the lack thereof. I think that both Christians and non-Christians have a tendency to forget that Christianity is fundamentally about Christ.

In short, it’s true that Christians are hypocrites in the strictest sense of the word. It’s true that we’re all sinners by the definition of our own religion. Most of us have not committed the kinds of sins that make headlines, but none of us live the kind of flawless, wholesome, godly lives that Christians are supposed to live. We’re sinners, but we’re forgiven sinners.

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Just another blog post about Kate and William’s baby

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Royal FamilyPrince George Alexander Louis is now two days old, and the internet and media have spent those two days being completely fascinated by him. Look at any news website, and chances are, you’ll find several articles, each repeating the others to a large extent, reporting and commenting on every word that the royal family has said about the baby, declaring how proud Princess Diana would be if she was alive, describing what the baby looks like, and letting us know exactly what Kate was wearing the last time she was seen. (Last I heard, it was a blue polka dot dress reminiscent of what Princess Diana wore shortly after the birth of Prince William.) This baby is currently one of the most popular topics on facebook and twitter and tumblr; every fan of the British royal family wants to say something, even if it’s only a generic congratulatory remark (which the royal family will never personally see) or a comment about how exciting this historical event is.

But not everyone is excited. I’ve been surprised at how many facebook statuses (and even a few internet articles) I’ve seen complaining about the hullabaloo and accusing other people of being obsessive and trivial. They’re annoyed to see coverage of the same story everywhere they look, especially when it’s something that will have no impact on their own lives or the lives of their family and friends. Some of them even take the time to post their own opinions online, complaining about the degree of everyone else’s interest.

Royal WeddingIt was the same way when the new prince’s parents got married a little over years ago. The media was obsessed, the general public was fascinated, and an enormous number of people tuned in to watch the royal wedding live on TV, even though, for those of us in North America, it was in the middle of the night. A few of the pictures from the wedding became iconic images in pop culture and the news for the following several months,  and even now, most people can remember  off the top of their heads exactly what the new Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress looked like. But yet there were other people who were tired of hearing about the royal wedding even before it happened, who were either annoyed or amused at anyone who was particularly enthralled with the story, and who wished that the media would let the event pass out of the magazines and newspapers as soon as it was over.

I’m not among those people who pulled an all-nighter to watch the royal wedding live, and I’m not one of those people who has been fanatically keeping track of every detail of Kate’s pregnancy. In fact, I hadn’t remembered offhand even approximately when the royal baby was expected to be born. But I enjoyed seeing after-the-fact online news about the royal wedding, and I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on the news regarding the new prince over the last couple days, and I personally think it’s wonderful that the media is so excited about the life events of Kate and William and their new son.

Most of what we see in the news is about war, crime, death, political controversies, economic problems, devastating natural disasters, and other tragedies and problems. In general, those kinds of things are bigger news than births and marriages and personal accomplishments of individual people. It’s refreshing and reassuring to see that sometimes, it is possible for good news to be major news. It’s important that, in between being sad about the problems of this world and being upset about the controversies in this world, we can also be happy about the highlights of the lives of famous people. Sharing enthusiasm for these kinds of things draws people together in the same way that political campaigns pull people apart. The fact that Kate and William are likable public figures (and that they make a really cute couple) only adds to the appeal of the news stories that involve them.

Also, he's really, really cute.

Also, he’s really, really cute. I mean, seriously, why wouldn’t you want to see this all over the internet?

It’s pretty clear that Prince George is going to permanently remain in the public eye and on our facebook news feeds. Once the excitement of his birth passes, he won’t be as important to the media as he is now, but we’re still going to be hearing about his first steps and his first words and every childhood landmark that he passes. And although I’m probably not going to be actively seeking out that information, I’ll be interested to see it when other people choose to talk about it on the internet.

Eleven Years Later

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Eleven years ago today, it was a beautiful sunny day very much like today. My sister and I had been spending the afternoon playing with dolls in the basement until my father came home unexpectedly early and informed us that there had been a terrorist attack that morning, and that people had died in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. We hadn’t had the television or radio on that day and hadn’t heard about the attacks until then. But for the rest of the afternoon, until the prayer service at church that evening, we watched the news coverage on television, even though they were just showing the same couple video clips over and over and over again. Somewhere in our house, I think we still even have the September 12, 2001 issue of the Omaha World-Herald, although it quickly became tattered from being read so frequently.

I learned a lot that day and on subsequent days. I hadn’t even known the definition of certain words like ‘hijack’ and although I had heard the word ‘terrorist’ before, I hadn’t remembered what it meant. I had never heard of al-Qaeda and knew nothing about Afghanistan besides its location. I hadn’t known anything about the World Trade Center and the word ‘pentagon’ meant nothing to me besides the name of a shape that had either five or six sides; at that time, I couldn’t remember which it was. Even though I had been fascinated by politics since the time of the 2008 presidential election, I had never paid much attention to anything involving foreign policy, and to me, the most significant thing about the government had been the way elections worked. It was something new to read and see news stories about political people doing political things that involved issues more serious than whose name and face we needed to add to our poster of all the American presidents.

The events of September 11 didn’t directly affect me personally. Although I was very frightened and disturbed at the time, and even had a phobia of airplanes for a little while, although I paid a lot more attention to current events from then on, and although it did change the way I thought about politics and patriotism, that was really the extent of September 11’s impact on my life. I didn’t know anyone who died that day. My memories of that day are an insignificant anecdote, which I remember only because I (and people in general) tend to remember major events in terms of minor personal details. I’m sure that my family will always tell the story of how my little sister responded to the news by asking if any windows had been broken. But for many, many people, September 11, 2001 is not an anecdotal memory; it was not an ordinary day where something big happened far away. It was the day when loved ones died, when they directly witnessed a catastrophe, when their world changed in ways that went beyond the political and social ramifications of the attacks.

Those are the reasons that we commemorate September 11. Today is not a political observance, nor is it just a day to remember what that day eleven years ago was like for us personally. The people who died on September 11, 2001 are still dead now, and their families and friends who we prayed for then are still grieving the loss of their loved ones now. They are the reason that we observe the anniversary of those attacks eleven years ago.