Standing There In My Smarty Pants

Many questions were generated when I wrote that Christians were in the process of going liberal if they gallop after every trend that was likely to show up over at Stuff White People Like.
Or try Unhappy Hipsters. So allow me to address some of those questions now.

This whole point seems to me to be obvious and undeniable, but there are some other things that are equally obvious and equally undeniable, and which need to be placed alongside that first observation. So here some of them are.

First, there are more ways of going unfaithful than by “becoming liberal.” That is a very common one, true enough, but it is not the only one. That means that if one were to succeed, by dint of serious effort, to avoid going liberal, it would take more than that to earn our praise.

Second, we need to recognize the nature of generalizations. They are a God-honoring way of making a point, but they do not make an each-and-every kind of point. Jesus made a good deal of fun at the expense of those Pharisees who were showboating around with their wide phylacteries, and He did this while neglecting to mention the possibility of a humble Pharisee who was in need of a phylactery (because he was performing a wedding, say), and whose phylactery broke at the last minute, and all they had left at the phylactery store were the wide ones. What about that?

If I were to say that men are taller than women, it does not answer my point (provided you understood my point) to produce three women who are taller than me standing there in my smarty pants.

So, to riff off my previous list, this means that someone can listen to NPR without sinning, buy a low-flush toilet without sinning, and so on straight through my list. Well, what good is my list then?

This is how human language works — and we should all be able to get the point unless one of two conditions are pertaining. If we have made the logical mistake of thinking that such generalizations are tantamount to a claim that all triangles have three sides, then we will think that the claim is overstated. Surely, we might muse, somebody might buy fair trade coffee by accident? Why would I say that he is going liberal? Surely a man might stop by Whole Paycheck for a few organic groceries, and do so for reasons that are entirely innocent? You bet. I make no claims attaching guilt to any activity that God has not attached guilt to. God doesn’t care where you buy your celery, or how much you pay for it.
So what’s the deal then? What am I talking about?

We are born casting sidelong glances, and worldliness is a sin that depends upon the sidelong glance. The devil nurtures the sidelong glance like it was his own precious child, which it actually is, and whenever the Holy Spirit comes upon one, He kills it dead.

But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matt. 23:5).

Worldliness is a social phenomenon, and the attractive tug we feel toward it is deeply embedded in us. But in the observation made above, Christ left something unstated. These works are done not only so that men will see them, but so that they will also approve. Not only is this kind of thing a form of humanistic justification, it is a soul-destroying form of justification. You can’t look to Christ while indulging in this kind of sidelong glance.

“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? ” (John 5:44).

So if anyone wants to say that a given individual can perform any particular item in my list of the going-liberal zeitgeist, I am happy to cheerfully grant it. If the tyrants in Congress continue to have their way, I myself will at some point buy one of those eerie light bulbs, and I intend to do so to the glory of God.

But if people want to act like all this silliness is morally neutral, then I don’t think they are paying attention really. If Christians insist on doing their part to save the planet with toilets that don’t really flush, and want to pretend as though the point were actually biblical stewardship, then they are missing the point. And if they want to say that the fact that the worldlings and arbiters of intellectual fashion were all clamoring for us to fall into line in just this way was a coincidence, then I am afraid we are past the point where cultural analysis will be any help at all. We have gotten to the point where our preachers, writers, theologians, and bloggers see the cultural moment with less clarity than is exhibited by David Letterman. In case you were wondering, that’s not a good thing.



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