The Hypocrisy of Christianity: Or, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven”

Christianity promotes an extremely demanding ethic in principle. The problem is that it also provides unlimited, unconditional forgiveness for failing to live up to that ethic.

The history of mainstream Christianity is the story of embracing the latter principle until the former is a vestigial organ. The end result is a situation like today, where conservative Christians never see a “necessary evil” they don’t love.

It’s more complicated than pointing out Bible verses. Conservative Christians are not being “hypocritical” by failing to live up to the challenging ethical teachings — hypocrisy *is* the ethic of mainstream Christianity.

Hence the scorn that conservative Christians reserve for those naive fools who think we’re supposed to live according to Jesus’ teachings. If you quote a liberal-sounding Bible verse at them, that just shows you’re not in on the joke.

7 Responses to “The Hypocrisy of Christianity: Or, “I’m not perfect, just forgiven””

  1. Hill Says:

    I’ve spent a large part of my adult life thinking about how this operates on the level of the individual Christian, having grown up in a very conservative Evangelical context. While I think there is certainly a class within the elite that opportunistically deploys these ideas, I think something different is happening at the level of the individual middle to lower class believer. I think it’s impossible to deny that these people take very seriously the idea of “living according to the Word of God” (whatever that may mean), and that the cognitive dissonance is real that results from various passages in the Bible meeting up with the general evangelical response (via their Republican proxies) to the refugee crisis. The issue is that ultimately, one’s behavior ends up being irrelevant to this form of Christianity, thanks to the “once saved, always saved” account of salvation, hence the short circuit to the “not perfect, just forgiven” state. The result of this is that “the least of these” passage ends up being interpreted as somehow only applicable to people who aren’t already and irrevocably saved. It was ultimately the untenability of this position that led me to Catholicism, and why I still maintain that Catholicism is a vastly preferable public religion, whatever one might think about its empirical claims, as it retains ethical leverage over its adherents. One can see this in the recent choices made by John Boehner, a person one would generally include among the hopelessly reprobate, but who was nonetheless moved to tears, and then action, by his encounter with the Pope, to cede the speakership of the House, resulting in real, albeit small, positive political gains. Evangelical Christianity, by contrast, typically just functions as a smoke screen for nihilism.

    So in sum, it is the Evangelical doctrine of salvation that enables the hypocrisy engine of “not perfect, just forgiven,” i.e. living in a permanent state of unrepentant sin, short cutting all of the potentially desirable ethical demands of Christianity. But I think there’s a real sense in which Catholicism (speaking from the West here) avoids this to some extent, resulting in either real ethical force on its adherents or provisional abandonment of the faith.

  2. andycatsimanes223 Says:

    There’s so much more going on in evangelical Christianity than the above post acknowledges. The baby-boomer cohort of “Conservative Christians” certainly exist in large numbers, but they are shuffling off the stage in ever increasing numbers, as, hopefully, are “Liberal Christians.”

  3. Chris E Says:

    I kind of agree with the previous comment; I think the lot of what is being described is a particular response triggered by the raw theology above colliding with American exceptionalism.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    #NotAllChristians! Note that I repeatedly said “mainstream” Christianity!

  5. Chris E Says:

    Yeah, I wasn’t commenting on that so much as it being more of a factor in mainstream “American” Christianity than the case the world over.

  6. Aaron Rathbun Says:

    I think this commentary is missing the target. While you peg “conservative Christians” as having no qualms with various “necessary evils” (due to their “cheap grace” laissez faire attitude toward forgiveness), I would argue that it’s not conservative Christians but rather the pseudo-self-proclaimed “Christian” conservatives (i.e. Republican, rah-rah-America, Jesus loves capitalism, etc.). And it’s not because they’re terribly thoughtful about Christianity and feel like “necessary evil” falls under the category of “anything can be forgiven,” but rather they’re just utterly and completely unreflective about the ethical demands of Christianity whatsoever.

    Christianity does *not* in fact promote this laisez faire posture. St. Paul anticipates it and pre-emptively hits it, “By no means!” It’s classic “third use of the law” stuff, whereby Christians actually are expected to take the call to live a renewed life seriously.

  7. robert allen Says:

    This was prescient, written about a week too soon. The abortion clinic shooting and its treatment initially were telling of a society in which the “means justifies the ends”, or “necessary evil” narratives are becoming banalized, such as with the marketing of “Black Ops Call to Duty” hamburgers and soda pop.


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