On Piety as Prophylactic Against Obedience

My friend Rebecca Bratten Weiss makes an astute observation

This might not be a popular notion among Christians, but:

We do not need to “deal with the evil in our own hearts before we deal with the evils in society.”

People need access to food, shelter, medical care, and security even if I keep being petty, envious, and enraged.”

My reply:

Jesus did not tell the rich young man to deal with the evil in his own heart before dealing with the evils in society. He told him to go and sell all he had, give it to the poor, and then follow him. (Unsurprisingly, this is a saying that conservative American MAGA antichrist religion takes enormous pains to minimize, downplay, deny, avoid, and piously reject with precisely the “work on yourself first” stuff that, in fact, does not exist in the gospel.)

Private pietism, like the unborn, is typically used by conservative Christians as a shield against actually doing what Jesus says. As long as you are pretending to focus on “fixing your own sinfulness” you don’t ever have to do anything to help your inconvenient neighbor. You can lie that all those dumb SJWs and libs and do-gooder types are “substituting goody goodyness for the gospel”.

But Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord! Lord!’ and not do what I say?”

I think much of what ails the Catholic communion in the US is that it has bought (especially in its conservative manifestations) into a schism between “orthodoxy” (by which it means GOP conservatism) and obedience (by which is meant “SJW liberal do-gooderism”). It has led millions of conservative Christians into celebrating active evil and deep selfishness while lying to themselves that they are “working on evil in themselves before trying to fix the world”.

The Holy Father tells us to get off our butts and get our hands dirty helping the least of these, the vulnerable, the poor, the weak, the oppressed.

What is notable about the early Church is that it did not wait one second to begin mission. It found that as it got it in gear obeying Jesus, the interior work was done by the Holy Spirit. We are trying to do the Holy Spirit’s interior work and using that as an excuse to not obey Jesus.

The political manifestation of this falsehood is very similar: it is the claim that there is no point at all in pursuing any other social justice aim while abortion is still legal. The notion that every form of human justice must be held hostage to the fantasy of magicking away all abortion is simply a way of defending the cruelty, depredation, lies, theft, and murder of the GOP and the MAGA cult. The result of that rhetoric, like the result of the “work on yourself before obeying Jesus in the outer world” rhetoric, is to never obey Jesus.

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4 Responses

  1. Doing corporal works of mercy, as Weiss suggests, can be a way to battle against the evil in one’s heart. These are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, obeying Jesus is “working on yourself.”

  2. James 2:14–26!

    I found that by reaching out to others, my faith and piety grew on their own. When I stop reaching out to others to work on improving myself, it was always a lost cause and I came out worse for it.

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