Friday, January 21, 2011

Self-affirmation: Enemy of the Christian Gospel

It would not surprise me that if you asked most church-goers what the major current threats to Christianity were, very few would name self-affirmation. In fact, a fair number might argue that the end-goal of the Christian religion was self-affirmation. I believe it is one of the greatest enemies of the Christian Gospel in the western world.

The conversation might go something like this:

J: “Your sense of self-affirmation is wrong. You’ve missed something important here.”

Me: “What do you mean? Doesn’t God want me to be OK with myself?”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’, not ‘Blessed are those who are OK with themselves.’”

Me: “Why not? I go to church. Are you telling me I’m a bad person? I don’t feel like I’m a bad person. I’m OK with that. What’s wrong with feeling OK about myself? It makes me a better person. You should be happy for me. We should both rejoice in it.”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’, not ‘Blessed are those who are content with themselves.’”

Me: “You’re telling me that I’m a bad person aren’t you? You’re telling me that I’m a bad person because I think I'm OK. You just don't like me. Doesn't anything satisfy you? Can't you just accept the fact that I'm OK? I have a right to be OK. OK?”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’, not ‘Blessed are those who assert their rights.’”

Me: “Stop changing the agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for the way God has turned me into a good person. I guess it’s not for everyone, though. That's why I have chosen the winning side.”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled’, not ‘Blessed are those who expand their religious interests in myriad directions, and mix them with a whole bunch of other stuff’”

Me: “Oh, riiiiight. You want me to become a fundamentalist now. Why don’t you just run along and get a life. Hey, if someone wants to get all confrontational about religion, it’s not my fault they’re pathologically stupid. If they want answers, why don’t they just Google it. What do you want me to do about it?”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’, not ‘Blessed are those who have no time for others.’”

Me: “Not a bad branding strategy – I’ll remember that. Maybe if we get enough converts into our Church, we won’t have to live with the fact that our neighbors insist on being different to us. It sure will make life more comfortable, and we could do with a few extra hands doing the chores at Church. It's not a one-way street, though (and you should know); there are plenty of advantages to the whole Church scene. For example, it makes me feel good about myself; as if I'm doing something worthwhile.”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God’, not ‘Blessed are those who are quick to promote and defend their self-interests.’”

Me: “Why are you spoiling it for me? Why are you pestering me with this stuff? Can’t you just leave me alone, so I can work on my sense of self-affirmation? I have enough trouble maintaining my internal sense of peace without you coming along and confronting me. Thank goodness I do religion. If I didn't, I'd probably lose all confidence in myself. Isn't this what you want? If you carry on like this, I’m going to have to block you out.”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God’, not ‘Blessed are those who avoid confrontation.’”

Me: “But I don’t live in a war-zone. I like avoiding confrontation; it means that my sense of self-affirmation wont possibly get challenged. You don’t know what might happen if I actually allowed myself to listen to someone outside of myself, especially someone who was different to me. You're not different, though. Or are you? No, forget I said that. Why let their point of view trouble me? Better to avoid it altogether. Things could go bad if I don’t do my best to fit in. Can we change the subject?”

J: “Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’, not 'blessed are those who keep their heads down, or those who get persecuted for reasons other than being righteous.'”

Me: “You’re talking about heaven again. Like I said, I’m one of the good guys. Good guys go to heaven, don’t they? Can we change the subject, please?”

J: “Are you telling me that you think you’re going to heaven because you’re a good guy?”

Me: “My sense of self-affirmation tells me I’m a good guy. My family tells me I’m a good guy. The TV tells me I’m a good guy. My church tells me I’m a good guy. You tell me, what’s wrong with that?”

J: “Give up the “good guy” thing. It’s not what decides your destiny. I do.”

Me: “Good grief! Don't you get the message? Are you telling me I’m a bad guy? You're just being offensive now. My sense of self-affirmation won’t tolerate it. You’d better take a rain-check, while I go and find something familiar and non-confrontational to restore my internal equilibrium. Then, maybe we’ll talk.”

J: “What would you rather trust; your sense of self-affirmation, or me?”

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