September 22, 2007

The Polemical Polemicist

One of my regular readers (at least I assume he is; I've seen his name more than once in the comments) made this comment on this post.

You often seem to tack on a "so-called" or a "pseudo-" before the word Christian when discussing those with whom you are in disagreement. This seems to me to be a very tacky and intellectually lazy thing to do and mars your good writing. I think it would be best to leave that sort of polemical tactic to the Right.

The post in question discussed pro-lifers forcing their views about abortion on others, specifically by attempting to ban the practice for all women, no matter their personal belief system or lack thereof. I used those terms deliberately, and I do not apologize for them. Put simply, I believe people who do such things are not Christian, despite any claims to the contrary.

Is this judgmental? Yes. Nowadays, it seems being judgmental is one of the worst sins one can commit. Nevertheless, being judgmental of those who profess to be Christian but who disprove it by their actions has a long and glorious tradition, going all the way back to Christ and his habit of ripping the Pharisees new ones.

A few quotes from Matthew chapter 23 will illustrate this quite nicely, I think.

"Woe to you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders. Hypocrites! For you won't let others enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and won't go in yourselves. And you pretend to be holy, with all your long, public prayers in the streets, while you are evicting widows from their homes. Hypocrites!

"Yes, woe upon you hypocrites. For you go to all lengths to make one convert, and then turn him into twice the son of hell you are yourselves.

"Yes, woe upon you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders--hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things--justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn't leave the more important things undone. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.

"Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders--hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed. Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean.

"Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders! You are like beautiful mausoleums--full of dead men's bones, and of foulness and corruption. You try to look like saintly men, but underneath those pious robes of yours are hearts besmirched with every sort of hypocrisy and sin." (Matthew 23:13-15, 23-28, The Living Bible)

Yeah, I think Jesus disagreed with those people, to put it mildly.

Certainly, my feeble little recriminations are nothing compared to that. But I think if Jesus existed in this time (and escaped being locked up in some government lab by Homeland Security zealots) he would resume calling out hypocrites with equal fervor. Unfortunately, Jesus is not here (or at least not yet); but in his absence, we have a measuring stick we can use with a fair amount of reliability--at least in my opinion--as to whether someone is a true Christian or not.

This, of course, would be his words as recorded in the Gospels, along with the rest of the New Testament, and the entire Bible for that matter.

James expresses this wonderfully.

"And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. So don't fool yourselves. For if a person just listens and doesn't obey, he is like a man looking at his face in a mirror; as soon as he walks away, he can't see himself anymore or remember what he looks like. But if anyone keeps looking steadily into God's law for free men, he will not only remember it but he will do what it says, and God will greatly bless him in everything he does.

Anyone who says he is a Christian but doesn't control his sharp tongue is just fooling himself, and his religion isn't worth much. The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Father's point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lord--not soiled and dirtied by his contacts with the world." (James 1:26-27, The Living Bible)

Look, people, I can read the Bible as well as anyone else. If people like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris can point out the hypocrisy in much of "so-called" (there's that phrase again) Christianity, then I can certainly take that horse and run with it. To put it bluntly, if you don't do what Jesus calls Christians to do, you ain't no frakking Christian.

If saying that is "polemic"--defined by my dictionary as: 1. A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine. 2. A person engaged in or inclined to controversy, argument, or refutation.--then that's the way it is.

I'm in good company, after all.

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Matthew said...

There is certainly nothing wrong with disagreement, and in that regard, yes, you are in good company.

Jesus, as is made clear in the passage you quote, is very blunt in his calling out the Pharisees. But nowhere does he claim that they are not Jews. In fact, he has grounds to criticize them precisely because they are Jews. The same goes for the Church.

Matthew said...

Thanks for the great response, by the way.