Posted by: CeCe | January 19, 2012

Upon hypocrisy, self-righteousness and whitewashed tombs

I posted this as a note on my Facebook, but I thought I’d post it here, too.  I’m starting a new class this week so things are hectic, but I should have an actual *new* post up over the next few days.

As I’m sure all of you are all too aware, I’m often critical of Christians and the way we treat other people.  Some have taken this to mean that I believe all Christians are self-righteous jerks, or that I’m not a believer, and I’m criticizing Christianity.  They couldn’t be more mistaken!  No, I may have some unorthodox beliefs by some standards, particularly on biblical interpretation and how I view judging non-Christians (as in, I don’t, instead figuring that God will deal with them), but I’m very much a believer.  I have my doubts, sure, who doesn’t?  But I don’t think that makes me any less of a Christian.  I also recognize that many Christians live up to the name, more so than I do, but my criticism is not directed at them, as much; instead it’s both a warning and an entreaty for them to speak up louder.

Now, some may wonder why I’m so critical, then, of other Christians, and if I hold myself to the same standards.  The latter is easier to answer, because in a word, the answer is a resounding YES, because even though I fall short consistently in living up to the name I call myself, I hold myself accountable, both to God and to those whom I sin against.  So absolutely, I’m aware of my flaws, I’m aware that I’m a work in progress, and I’m just as critical of myself as I am of anyone else.

As for the former question, as to why I’m so critical, I suppose there are two main reasons.  The first is because I’ve been on the other side, and have been the target of some of the most self-righteous, smarmy, condescending statements conceivable.  I received multiple pat answers, loads of “just have faith” type answers, some said “I’ll pray for you” (with the condescending pat on the head implied), and then of course there were the threats of hell and condemnation.  I remember very clearly how angry I was at being judged, sometimes fairly but often unfairly, and how alienated I felt, not only from God but from Christians and Christianity.  So when I see Christians doing the same that they did to me to others I literally cringe.

The second reason for my criticism of Christians would be how Jesus Himself was towards the über-religious.  He called them a “brood of vipers” in Matthew 23.  In fact, I’m going to go “Bible-thumper” for a second and quote the pertinent verses (13-15, 23-28, 33):

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. …

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  …

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Some important phrases that I think are particularly apt and which describe many (but not most) Christians quite possibly (and probably) including myself:

“You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

-How many people do we scare off from Christianity by our hypocrisy and self-righteousness?  Further, what makes us think that said hypocrisy and self-righteousness will get us to heaven?  Is Jesus not clear that woes will be heaped upon those who act as the Pharisees did?

“You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

-How many of us go out of our way to convert others, but then leave them high and dry, which either causes them to go astray or worse influence others to go astray by sinning against them?  Look at the witch hunts in Africa for a perfect example of this.

“You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

-How many of us give to our church, but forget to help the poor and downtrodden?  How many of us fill a pew on Sundays but have things in our life which should not be there?  How many of us are quick to point a finger at everyone else, but refuse to take a good look at ourselves?

“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

-How many of us are more concerned with wearing our Sunday-best than with clothing ourselves with temperance and humility?

“You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

-This expands on the last part:  How many of us are so concerned with keeping up appearances that we’ve forgotten how to be genuinely kind people who follow God’s commandments because we want to, rather than because we feel compelled to do so in order to appear as a righteous Christian?

And what’s worse, how many of us lord our appearances and our hypocrisies over others?  I have often said when I’ve been witness to these things that it’s a good thing my faith isn’t dependent upon other Christians, because otherwise I certainly wouldn’t be a Christian!  And that’s not only sad, it’s scary.  How many non-Christians look at us and say they want no part in it?  Can we blame them?

But CeCe, you might be thinking, we’re only human, we’re not perfect, and neither are you.  Yes, right you are on both counts, absolutely.  But there are certain things that should come as second nature to us and they DON’T.  Things like compassion, acceptance (or at least tolerance), authenticity, kindness, mercy, and love.  Why don’t they?  Have we become like the Pharisees?  Because as someone who has been on the outside looking in, who has been on the receiving end of Christianese like “love the sinner hate the sin” and condescending “I’ll pray for you” type remarks, I would say YES, we have.

So here’s the deal.  When I see much less hypocrisy and self-righteousness, both from myself and from others, when we can be held up as blameless in the eyes of non-Christians in regard to our conduct and the way we treat others, then and only then will I stop being critical of Christians.  Until that day, I believe firmly that the same woes heaped on the Pharisees in Jesus’ time are on us.  And that means that I can’t be silent, because I can’t afford to be.

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

By the mercy of God alone.

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Responses

  1. CeCe, I heard those verses so many times in church as a kid and read them so many times in our church’s publications. While reading this blog yesterday, the immense irony struck me. Each and ever time those verses were mentioned, they were in reference to every religion and denomination on the planet except ours, with particular emphasis on other Christian denominations.

    Somehow they took those verses to mean that these problems were in ever other religion but theirs.

    If that isn’t missing the point, I don’t know what is.

    • Thank you!

  2. […] Upon hypocrisy, self-righteousness and whitewashed tombs (aseekersmusings.wordpress.com) […]


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