I once heard a well-known pastor say “you can be right and still be wrong.” He went on to explain that when Christians have the right beliefs, but don’t act like Christ in expressing those beliefs and living them out, one might say giving a particular belief intellectual agreement is negated. For example, one may be pro-life or against gay marriage. In and of themselves, ideas are just ideas, but if a Christian who believes a particular idea isn’t going to reflect Christ in proclaiming it – the idea doesn’t matter so much.
It is not Christlike to attack people, simply because one disagrees with them. No matter how wrong or ungodly that person may be because what matters more is how people of faith behave. As Christians, we either imitate the Savior or we don’t and when we don’t, we are usually acting like the Pharisees. So, let’s look at a theological underpinning that causes this.
For much of church history, especially since the Reformation in the 16th Century, much of the focus has been on sin because of a doctrine called “Total Depravity.” 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 negative as one’s theological foundation. It also causes one to feel compelled by God to be constricted and motivated by fear. This makes grace very difficult because legalism doesn’t allow much room for it.
Not being a psychologist, I won’t try to unravel all of the psychological and emotional damage focusing on 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. If one wants to start with Genesis, one should note that Original Blessing preceded the Fall and Original Sin. What does this mean? It means “God looked at all that God had made and saw that it was very good.” The unspoken assumption in most churches is that the Fall changed God’s heart and/or mind. Show me that in Christ’s representation of the Father.
If we start with a negative or low view of God and the self, we leave little room for love. Others, the world, and we ourselves have to earn love (in our own eyes) before we will release it. Some of us go about daily life making decisions/judgments about utterly everything we encounter or even perceive. 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 must. To start with law and a “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 so it can be addressed in a healthy manner. Theologically, it has not been properly-framed and has run wild unrestrained in our understanding of who God is, who we are in God and in our place in the world, as well as what happens beyond the grave.
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 “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” 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, it is necessary for me to call a sin a sin and resist the same kind of temptations in order to protect myself from repeating their mistakes. 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, the “ego” or “sinful nature,” 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 wrathful being. In Christianity, this comes from another 16th Century doctrine and this one is called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement. It says God is so mad at sin that God demands we suffer a death sentence, which God had Jesus suffer in our place because God loves us. There is a certain message of grace in this, but it is usually overshadowed by the first part.
Many times, the person who claims to be a Christian acts like a Pharisee when “fighting a culture war” because their ego has control over their faith and the sanctification of pride is hiding behind being “right.” Being right, then, has to be enforced and proven but it never heals one’s soul. 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 and 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.
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 and are trying to fix it with religion. This is almost always tied to 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.