Human value and protecting God

I came across this post on Rational Doubt from a former pastor on how praising God often comes at the expense of denigrating humanity in many Christian circles.

I’d probably sung the song a hundred times, swaying to its gentle melodies with arms uplifted and eyes closed.  It was one of those praise choruses evangelical Christians love to sing, a few words repeated over and over again –

“You alone I long to worship.  You alone are worthy of praise.”

We sang until we were oblivious to our surroundings and open to the Spirit.  Having practiced this form of spiritual reflection often, I was startled when my inner voice said, “That can’t be true.”

[…] Every human life had worth.  Nearly everyone did something worthy of praise.

[…] Of all the religions I’ve studied, Christianity has the poorest opinion of human nature.  Christian theology, rhetoric and music often praises God’s magnificence at human expense.  According to orthodox theology, we are born into sin, doomed from our first breath.  Though Christianity says we were created in God’s image, that image was quickly and irrevocably broken and twisted by sin.

[…] When my children were born, I didn’t look at them and despair[…] While I knew they would make mistakes, I saw this not as a moral failing, but as a necessary process.  What I expected from them was not perfection, but eventual maturity, the ability to live life with wisdom and sensitivity[…] Eventually, I realized my opinion of my children was more praiseworthy than God’s opinion of me.

This was something I grappled with growing up Evangelical. Why do good things happen if humans could do no good? If no one could do good, why do we spend so much time shaming certain acts? If no one could do good, why do we spend time pushing for laws to try to force people into good acts? Why should I trust that my parents, or teachers, or pastors if they’re depraved humans like me?

Setting aside the obvious self-esteem and guilt issues this still gives me, this made Catholicism attractive to me. Catholicism denies the notion of “total depravity” – the generally accepted Catholic theology is that because of original sin our nature is necessarily fallen and that without God’s grace we are depraved beings, but because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we can do good and are capable of holiness (although, anything good in our lives comes from God). For me, this was very attractive because it allowed me to continue to adhere to the orthodox Christian narrative of redemption and salvation while appreciating good human acts as good acts – and most importantly, it allowed me to see some good, however small, in myself for the first time.

My solace began to fade when I was formally received into the Church. As anyone who has been in conservative Catholic circles knows, the whole mortal vs. venial sin distinction yields the same mind fuck scrupulous attitude as Protestant “total depravity” – thinking that you could go to hell if you get hit by a bus if you don’t get to confession stat because you masturbated, isn’t any better for mental health than the Evangelical alternative. The problem with this attitude is that we can never mature. So-called “sins” are often mistakes we need to make to figure out what has positive and negative effects on our life. When we spend our time avoiding these “sins” we lose out on experiencing good and bad, and instead “good” and “bad” become abstract notions in our head that we project in place of experience.

This attitude of all good things come from God often gives Christians an anti-human attitude. Perhaps this is why many Christians treat “other” humans so inhumanely. And perhaps some of them are like me, and feel so horrible about themselves after years of being told they are depraved, that they don’t even realize that projecting that on others is harmful.

Here’s another line from the Rational Doubt post that jumped out at me:

Why did we have to lift up God at our expense?  Why did God’s majesty require our abasement?  Why did God need to be constantly and repeatedly praised?  Was God insecure?

This reminds me of something Stanley Hauerwas said in Hannah’s Child that changed my life:

I fear that much of the Christianity that surrounds us assumes our task is to save appearances by protecting God from Job-like anguish. But if God is the God of Jesus Christ, then God does not need our protection. What God demands is not protection, but truth.

I disagree with Hauerwas that this is particular to modern Western Christianity – I think there’s a good argument that this has been a characteristic of Christianity post-Constantine (I’m not going to get into that here). But, he is spot-on that American Christian culture “assumes [its] task is to save appearances by protecting God.” This is why there’s always some big backlash against any comedian or movie that makes fun of God or Christianity in the slightest bit. This is why there’s a push to wage a war against the supposed “war on Christmas.” This is why school prayer, keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the like culture war battles are such big deals. And….this is might be why the Ten Commandments forbids using the Lord’s name in vain and creating any idols that may get in the way of worshiping God.

If God is almighty, omnipotent, and omniscient, why is he (or in reality, his followers) so threatened by a joke or unbelief? Is God so insecure and immature that he needs to smite anyone who might make fun of him or not give him credit for everything good that happens? The image I get from this idea of God is an insecure former high school quarterback with a small penis who drives a Hummer and waxes poetic about the glory days. If there is a god or gods, I hope that he/she/it/they will be secure enough in his/her/its/themselves that they will be understanding that I used the senses and intellect available to me to find the truth as true as I could find it. And, maybe I made a joke or two at his/her/its/their expense on the way.


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