Friday, January 8, 2016

Faith and Works

Okay, so the whole faith and works thing really doesn't work for me. This has got to be the biggest holes in the Christian religion (of which there are a LOT).

To me, it seems like a system designed to produce the maximum amount of self-loathing and the minimum amount of security.

Here's the deal. Humans can't earn God's favor. And pride is bad. So you're sort of required to do virtuous stuff, but you can't ever think you get any brownie points for doing it. How do people reconcile the idea that Christians are supposed to be light in a dark world? Doing good stuff is somehow intrinsic to your status as a group member, but in no way enables you to earn your status as a group member. Nor does doing good stuff allow you to level up within the group.

People usually tell me, "No, no, no! We don't earn forgiveness by doing good stuff! It's because we are forgiven that we really want to do good stuff."

Which is a terrible answer. And makes me want to throw things.

Imagine it this way: You're a Christian and people are pressuring you to do shit you don't want. And you ask, Is this really necessary to be a Good Christian? And they just smile and say knowingly, "Now, now, we don't do good works to earn God's favor. It's because we have the Holy Spirit that we are empowered to do good  works!"

And you get a sinking feeling because now they're not just accusing you of being a shitty Christian anymore. They're saying you'd better go check up on your own salvation because based on your behavior (it's not like anyone can see your faith) you're not acting Christian enough. Do you reeeeaaally have the Holy Spirit?????? Are you sure?

Works being some kind of spontaneous superpower Christians have to have is the ultimate manipulation technique. Because they're not just required but intrinsically linked to salvation, you can always call someone's immortal fate into question. And because there's no set list, you can never be sure you're really doing enough. Unlimited playground for assholes to judge and guilt trip.

This morning as I was just walking around, this random thought hit me. The whole faith and works thing is so stupid, how would I defend it if I was trying to? I imagined myself as a cool, paternal character from Madeleine L'Engle, trying to give advice to a young questioning teenager such as Vicky Austin. First I would say, she's absolutely right. That's a sick dilemma. Because it it.

Then it hit me: What if the whole point of faith and works is that you're not supposed to judge other people and call their salvation into question if they don't do what you want?

What if the line between outsider and insider is so nebulous and constantly-shifting is because it's not our freakin' problem?

What if the reason that's there's  no set formula for the Christian life is because God doesn't want us to fail? What if he just wants us to do the best we can each day?

And the whole thing about being spontaneously inspired to do good stuff. What if good stuff just actually is Good? What if kindness and compassion and helping the helpless are intrinsic parts of the human condition? If we like Jesus, shouldn't we care about what he cared about?

My wise, cool Madeleine L'Engle character would say that works are important simply because humans are acting beings. We're not plants that exist simply in a state of being. We define ourselves and others much more by what we do than what we're born to. (Which is kind of a post-enlightenment way of thinking but I'm just going to run with it.)

So next time anyone brings up the whole faith and works thing, I'm still going to roll my eyes. But not in the "You're a sicko who hates humans!" kind of way. In the "You're a sicko who hates humans and you're also waaaaaay over-thinking it" kind of way.