Why many religious people are Pharisees

As I wrote in another post, https://godislovechristianblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/theology-of-the-self-your-self/ we have a “true self” that is tied to Original Blessing. We also have a “false self,” commonly known as the “ego,” that is tied to doctrine of “the Fall” or “Original Sin.” All of this comes from the Book of Genesis and if church leaders were to employ this as part of the lens through which they view all doctrine, it would leave the church in a much more spiritually-healthy condition.

However, for much of church history, especially since the Reformation in the 16th Century, much of the focus has been on sin. This automatically places so much focus on Original Sin that Original Blessing is forgotten, not to mention guiding our view of The Self. This also means starting with a “no” instead of a “yes,” yielding to constriction and fear, and yielding religious engagement to an ego that is designed to protect us but doesn’t know where the line is that determines where self-protection has been adequately-served and it is time to lighten up. It doesn’t even know how to lighten up; as we will see, “light” is a way of life. It is not something we can do “in the moment” if we haven’t already been doing it.

Richard Rohr addresses some of this in chapter seven of “The Naked Now” http://cac.org/bookstore-2/nn-book.

The theological and doctrinal foundation is the belief that people are bad, the world is bad, God is mad at us and against us – all is going to hell in a handbasket, so Jesus died on the cross to fix a problem. The cross part is a bunny trail I won’t go down here because I addressed that in another post, as well https://godislovechristianblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/asking-hard-rugged-and-naked-questions/.

Not being a psychologist, I won’t try to unravel all of the psychological and emotional damage focusing on Original Sin can cause, but I will make a strong declarative statement: It makes people Pharisees and has nothing to do with following or imitating Christ. Theologically, it’s amiss because it isn’t what God says about us; it wasn’t the first word on us and it doesn’t reflect God’s heart or mind.

If we take a negative or low view of the self, we leave little room for love. Others, the world, and our very selves have to earn love (in our eyes) before we will release it. Some of us go about daily life making decisions/judgments about utterly everything we encounter, perceive or even think. By not starting with “yes” and by not reserving judgment, we crowd out our own room for love and grace. For many of us, religion has taught us to start with law and fit grace in where we can instead of starting with grace and fitting law in where we mustTo start with law and say “no” is to focus on Original Sin, while starting with grace (love) and saying “yes” means focusing on Original Blessing without ignoring the reality of our “fallen” or “egoic” side. This puts the sinful side of human nature in a proper framework. Theologically, it has not been properly-framed and has run wild unrestrained in our understanding of God, who we are in God and in the world, what happens beyond the grave and our understanding of divine revelation (through scripture) regarding all of those things. The ego is designed to protect us, but it can’t stop when it can’t see right – it’s blind and must be guided by the True Self. So, how do we do that?

To love God and to love ourselves is the same; to love ourselves and love others is the same; to love God and love others is the same – love is love. So, if we think we are loving ourselves when we are doing something that hurts another person, we may not be loving ourselves at all, because God is Love. God is One, so Love is One. In God, we are One and it all cycles back into God, Blessing and Oneness. Only the ego is separate or “fallen.” To “love” outside of the Oneness is to have a blind and errant understanding of love.

Have you ever heard a Christian say “love the sinner, hate the sin?” Usually, this ends up being empty words and it traces back to a low view of humanity stemming from a focus on Original Sin.

I will use myself as an example: If I start with a low view and I engage someone who is in sin – not something that I merely deem a sin because it’s against something I perceive to be a law – but this person is doing something really harmful, it is necessary for me to call a sin a sin and resist the same kind of temptations and make the same mistakes to protect myself. However, it isn’t just my religious philosophy that recognizes the sin – my ego also recognizes it and, if I have started with “no,” then I  have crowded out what little room I have in my false self for real love and grace. My ego becomes unrestrained and goes as far as it can to make darn sure I am protected. It reacts instead of responding. It resists and pushes back – It lashes out. It condemns the other person. It is especially-likely to do this if I think God is a condemning, wrathful, blood-thirsty ogre.

Recognizing the harm sinful behavior results in is all that is needed. We can start with “yes” and recognize the person is good long before they are ever bad and the bad side of them is not the real “them” – just as our bad side (ego) is not the underlying “us.” We can see others as lovingly as we see ourselves – if our love for ourselves is from God’s love for us all.

Then, we can see where the line is and see that condemning the other person does not serve our self-protection. We can differentiate between the person and the bad thing they did – as well as who we are and the bad things we do. Then, we can take a redemptive attitude toward others and toward ourselves. If we say “no” and are constricted, we are probably in pain. Rohr has written that pain that is not transformed is likely to be transmitted. Thus, when we are condemning toward others, we think we are protecting ourselves, but we are actually doing ourselves great harm.

Walking in love is determined ahead of time. We are only able to take a redemptive approach in the heat of the moment if we started out saying “yes” to Love and Original Blessing to begin with. That is both the seed of redemption and how we become channels of this wonderful river of God.

There is much more that plays into the making of a Pharisee under the banner of Christ, but this is the beginning. We can see how it comes from a distorted view of God, which is something Rohr has written about with great insight. I posted it here: https://godislovechristianblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/your-image-of-god-creates-you-by-the-rev-richard-rohr/.

There is no room for doctrinairism in Christian discipleship. When we encounter Christians who are rigid and condemning, it may be because their religion is held captive by the ego – at least in the moment when they are caught being rigid and condemning. However, if that is their norm, they are probably people who are in great pain or are still unraveling the formative damage painful experiences in their past has caused. In addition, they probably have a distorted view of God. Not only do they need our compassion, but we need the same compassion. If we react to them out of our ego, the negative cycle spreads and continues. Compassion is a key to redemption – not only for those who are unhealthy, but for the healthy as well, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

We all need each other – not so much because we all have sinned, but because we are all one.


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