The Dangers of Moralism

Jesus was known to challenge the self-righteous and the moralizers. I realize that the text's authenticity is uncertain, but the exchange with those who came to judge the woman caught in adultery seems authentic to who Jesus was. As the woman's accusers stood up to stone the woman, hoping to get Jesus involved, he said: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her." As the narrator continues with the story, everyone slithered away, embarrassed at their own defects. Then, Jesus released the woman and charged her to sin no more (John 8:1-11).

The reality is that there are many in our midst, both on the right and on the left, who are so certain of the rightness of their cause and of their person that they don't slink away, but assume that it's their right and responsibility to throw that first stone. Much of this is due to a lack of reflectiveness, a lack of self-awareness. And such a perspective easily fires up the ideologue.

What is unfortunate about the McCain-Palin ticket is that both parties hold such a view of themselves -- though I think for different reasons. For Palin, I believe it is a rigid religious identity that fuels her "crusade." She has a "mission from God," and she will complete it. For McCain I do think that the experience of imprisonment and torture has contributed to his own sense of importance. He has been tested like few others, and if you've not been so tested then you have no right to challenge him. Either way, however, to be a moralist means not allowing the other to have dignity or rightness.

It is important that we be righteous -- that is right with God and with one another. It is important that we live ethically/morally in the world. But we must, it would seem, give room for the other to differ with us. To differ from me doesn't make you evil, it just means that you see things differently. It's okay to push the point and hold fast to what you believe, but it's not appropriate to demonize the other. Of course, both religion and politics seem to be the center of such thinking!


Anonymous said…
Bob I 100% agree with you post.. HOWEVER.. why do you target just one side of the political equation? Do you REALLY believe Biden/Obama are not the very things you describe? Obama was the #2 taker of money from Fannie Mae. Your charges on M&P are simply spin.. its like me saying Obama is in bed with the Weatherman terrorist group and Biden is racist based on calling his own running mate "clean" and remarking on all the Indians working in C stores in his district.

Take out the 3rd paragraph.. and I am right there with you in. In fact my sermon Sunday was on the danger of moralism and its requirement to measure against others.

Your post almost screams hypocrisy b/c you are calling one group immoral.. as though another has the metric on what is moral.
steph said…
The difference between your charges, anon, and Pastor Cornwall's is that his are based on truth and yours on myth. McCain does make a big deal of his war experience and Palin does harp on tasks from God
I understand how my post can look hypocritical. My point is that McCain and Palin take a moralistic view of the world, whereas Obama/Biden take a more balanced perspective. That is the point of the Will article quoted in a previous post.

Now, should I preach on this I wouldn't use McCain/Palin as examples!
Anonymous said…
Fair enough.. and I apologize to you Bob that I did not see the Will post and thought this was just a "random" post.

Umm.. Steph, I would argue that Palin line is actually a myth and taken WAY out of context. You may want to check the facts. Both of my statements are NOT MYTHS, both are well accepted and recorded facts.

But my point is not lift up or put one side down.. but to use the word "moral" and politician in the same sentence is pretty much an oxymoron. Think about it.. the goal is to belittle your opponent in order to lift yourself up. Hardly a Christlike model.
Anonymous said…
The self-righteous include ideologues of every strip. whether it be some of my union friends, my neo-conservative friends, my feminist friends, etc. Friends they may be , but when they get on their soap box it is not a pretty sight.

When the ideologue becomes a leader in government (i.e., Dick Cheney) then all else is sacrificed to accomplish the ideological objective. Civil rights are sacrificed to the national security agenda; the integrity of our intelligence agencies is sacrificed to the objective of the new American Empire; international alliances are sacrificed to military hubris. And fear becomes the whip driving the nation to pull the ideological chariot.

It isn't just misguided Christians (Muslims, and Jews) of whom we need to be wary.

steph said…
I am familiar with the Biden quote which "clean" is taken out of context. McCain too is a "taker of money" from financial organisations or their employees. Isn't it the campaigns and not the individuals in both cases thought? And Palin - well I have heard her bring "God's task" into her rhetoric on the war and it is something the rest of the world regards with deep suspicion. This phrase is not misunderstood out of context.

There has also been a marked difference between the McCain campaign and the Obama one. The former is set on belittling their opponents particularly illustrated with Palin's sarcastic jibes at Obama.

The new American empire sounds like McCain (and Palin).
I want to just add that all of us are tempted by ideology and moralism. By criticizing McCain, I don't want to be seen as assuming that Obama or Biden have no warts. Both do! Joe Biden has been in the Senate for 36 years and often says things he later regrets. He brought home the bacon for Delaware, even as Obama has done for Illinois. Obama has at times been blown in the wind of popular sentiment.

So, no candidate is perfect. But what I want to point out about McCain/Palin is a common tendency to be unreflective and seeing things in black and white terms that could prove dangerous.
Anonymous said…
I do not believe that McCain is a neo-conservative though I think Palin is or will eventually become one. She is too black and white oriented not to buy into the allure of the New American Empire, especially with her as empress in waiting. But I think McCain is too sophisticated in foreign affairs to be caught up in that trap.

I believe McCain's foreign policy agenda is more formed by his military background: avoid overcommitment, protect your troops, engage fully when committed; force is a tool of foreign relations, not of first or last choice, just a tool. And I think he is committed to consensus building as a foreign relations methodology rather than to the neo-conservative unilateralist approach. All of which is to the good as far as I am concerned - though as a Christian I would prefer to see force as a tool of last resort.

Obama appears to reflect the same kind of thinking, though with less willingness to resort to force, and less willingness to become fully engaged when he believes some degree of force is called for.

When I think about use of force and degree of commitment I can't help but think on the one hand of Jimmy Carter's failed rescue attempt from Iran or Bill Clinton's ineffectual rocket attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan, and on the other hand GWB's tragic adventurism in Iraq.

I think all decision-makers need a degree of black and whiteness to make hard decisions I just fear when decisions are driven wholly by ideology (or theological orthodoxy) rather than by prudence and pragmatism.

steph said…
He brought home the bacon for Delaware - what does that mean please?
steph said…

Sorry -- I was away most of yesterday and didn't respond to the question.

I was just using the euphemism about the one who brings home the wages (bacon). Joe Biden used earmarks to benefit Deleware. McCain calls that pork -- ie bacon!
steph said…
Thank you. I've only recently learned what 'earmarks' are too. Here they're only marks on the ears of farm stock. I hadn't heard of any other earmark until Palin got picked - and then I heard it all the time!

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