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What's So Bad About Moralism

Posted by thethousandmarch on October 3, 2009 at 8:43 PM

Neither Christians, nor Americans have a monopoly on Moralism, but since I am a Christian and an American I will speak from this perspective. I define moralism as an inordinate focus upon behavior – a moralist does not care about motives. A moralist does not care about the spirit of the law, only the letter. A moralist seeks to harass and coerce others into following their own personal set of morals. A moralist believes that their nation is specially favored by God, because of their nations ability to follow God’s moral laws. Therefore, they must seek national conformity to this law. Only outward conformity to these laws is necessary, not actual submission of the heart to God. Thus, the moralist’s primary focus is appearances – as if God will be fooled. In this way the moralist ignores the actual spiritual rebirth and eternal salvation of their neighbor.

This is simply Pharisee-ism. Of course we may have some sympathy for the Pharisees. Israel was indeed chosen by God. Israel was given God’s law, and her infidelity did result in severe punishment. One can understand the Pharisees’ desire to get it right. But, as we know Jesus didn’t seem to see things their way. He called them whitewashed sepulchers – they looked nice on the outside, but stank on the inside. Jesus seemed to be more concerned with the eternal Kingdom of God than the temporal state of Israel. He seemed to be more concerned with people’s restoration and salvation than their current lifestyles. He seemed to be care more about unburdening them than weighing them down with rules they could never keep.

The other problem with moralism is that it perpetuates Adam’s sin – for the moralist seeks (often unwittingly) to attain righteousness apart from God by works through self-will, not by grace so that he my boast how he is indeed is better than all the damn sinners who are destroying his nation. Moralism is self-righteousness. This is why a Christian should avoid moralists from their own and other religions. We may share the same morals, but we do not share the same goals, or values. I do believe we can work with people from other faiths, or even no faith, to accomplish shared goals – but the advancement of the Kingdom of God, and following Jesus (which should be the primary goals of a Christian), are not goals that we share with non-Christians. We must never forget this.

A Christian must respect and value their non-Christian neighbor as a person who bears the image of God. A Christian must always remain humble, knowing they are just as broken as their non-Christian neighbor. We can work together to build a better society, but we must always remember that such a society is part of the temporal earthly kingdom of humankind. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless. This temporal creation we live in is the work of God and has value. We are physical beings, with temporal physical needs. We have important non-spiritual roles to play. It is good for Christians to work for a better society. In fact we have an obligation to be good neighbors and citizens. Such a society will be a blessing to its members, and a society that promotes good living is a good thing. But, it is not the Kingdom of God.

Christians are not superior to non-Christians. Our good works are the result of God’s grace, not the fulfillment of the law and therefore do not warrant the blessings promised by the law. Our sins are forgiven by grace, and so we avoid the curse of the law. Christians do have a special mission in the world, which has nothing to do with coercing others to follow our certain set of ‘superior’ morals, (our morals rarely differ from other religions).

Our mission is proclaiming the goods news of the Kingdom of God – God’s Kingdom has broken into this world and he will overcome the evil and injustice of this world. Jesus has made it possible for all humans to become members of God’s Kingdom and family through the work of his life, death and resurrection. Through Jesus we can be reconciled to God, and this reconciliation is a gift of grace, through faith. Paul tells us (Romans 10: 8-11) that we proclaim: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” This is the fundamental Christian religion, not our moral beliefs. Good behavior is a by-product of a proper relationship with God. Morals are secondary. This does not mean they are unimportant, but we were only instructed to teach disciples of Jesus to obey all that he commanded (Matt 28:19-20). Salvation and obedience is a result of faith and trust. We cannot force anyone to trust, or believe. The Christian religion is fundamentally opposed to forcing others to believe as we do, or live just as we do.

There are many followers of Jesus who have been led into moralism. They are not bad people, they do love God and their neighbor. They are simply misguided. Many of the people doing the misleading are very nice and well-intentioned people. But, their motives and their goals are wrong. So, we must always think critically, and must always consider the worldview, religion, motives, and goals of the people we follow. I’m not mad at Christians who have become moralists. I love the ones I know. I can be one. But, I’m trying to follow Jesus, and I’m trying to help point others to him. I have no desire for them, or anyone to follow me. I want them to follow Jesus.

As I said, I’m not immune to moralism. Some may assume that moralism only afflicts conservatives, or they may assume I’m making the assertion – hardly. There are plenty of liberal and moderate moralists. It’s a very common, if not universal, affliction. I myself tend to get caught up in social justice issues. And at times in my life I have definitely put the kingdom of humankind before the Kingdom of God. It’s very easy to get caught up in trying to make this world into what one perceives as perfect, and trying to force others to live like you do. (Of course there are certain universal moral rules where it is perfectly acceptable to force others to conform, e.g. murder and theft.) It’s very easy to put ones temporal self-interest before God’s will. I do it all the time.

A Christian must also be careful not to fall into the error of the Sadducees, which is secularism (which is not the same as believing the there is a secular realm, which there is). The Sadducees denied the resurrections, and therefore eternal life. As a result they ignored the sacred, and turned everything into a social, political, or economical issue. Even religion became secularized. This happens today when Christians try to change the world, and leave Jesus out. They want everyone to be happy and blessed right now – and you don’t even have to talk about Jesus. I’ve been guilty of these too.

I’ll end with a nice quote from Robert Louis Stevenson, which my uncle put me on to. "If your morals make you dreary, depend on it, they are wrong."

Categories: Grace, The Kingdom of God, Christian Ethics