Thursday, June 10, 2010

They want to be my friend, but think they're ugly.

I was listening to an interview of a Christian recently, and she said this particular line that stuck with me: "Apart from him, I have no good thing to offer." The quote was in the context of making sure that all Christians point to and glorify Jesus, for he liberates all things.

But I wonder if she considered the implication behind that statement, in terms of approaching non-Christians, especially if that statement is to be taken literally. Let's say a Christian wants to be a friend with a non-Christian. What, exactly, is that Christian offering the non-Christian in terms of friendship if the Christian has no good thing to offer aside from Jesus? After all, the non-Christian can easily have a Jesus of his/her own.

Or a Christian deciding to marry another Christian. If they have no good thing to offer apart from Jesus, then what exactly are they giving to each other? It can't be Jesus, because both Christians already have Jesus.

Or a Christian trying to parent his/her child. Again, the same thing: what good thing does the parent have to offer?

I just listen to statements like that and go "Seriously? You think you don't offer any good thing? Just one? You don't offer a sense of compassion, or love?"

In any other context, statements like that would be a huge indication of radically low self-esteem. We'd be horrified if people felt that way about themselves. Yet, in a religious context, it can be uttered without batting an eye.

And that's just in the context of a Christian considering him/herself. Given that this would be a universal idea -- that no one can offer any good thing apart from Jesus -- then, technically speaking, then that means any Christian considering me or any non-Christian would think we'd have nothing good to offer them in any sort of relationship.

21 comments:

Andrew said...

I think most Christians are trained to talk in such hyperbolic extremes... as if God needed his ego stroked. How horrid if my children talked like that: "I'm not worth anything without my Dad".

I think most Christians say it without thinking. I had a friend say almost the exact same thing recently and I responded with my proposition "I would be horrified if my son said that." His mouth fell open and he stammered a few times before stating that maybe he didn't really feel that way.

I think there is a lot of bad, bad instruction and modeling going on out there and we have to stick a spotlight on it.

GentleSkeptic said...

It often seems almost pathological, the desire to externalize everything good and retain only guilt and shame.

Lorena said...

What they mean with that "I offer only Jesus" cliche is that whatever you see in them that is good is Jesus acting through them.

Yeah, it is Jesus that makes them beautiful, smart, likeable and all of that.

My response to that is, how can you be so useless, ugly, and dependent if a perfect all-giving god made you? Does perfect god make broken people? Didn't he give you hands and intelligence to use? Why do you need Jesus'?

To uplift Jesus they put his father down, I suppose.

Grace said...

You know, I'm not sure of the context of this statement. I do think there is a misunderstanding around this.

For instance, when Paul writes, "There is no one good, no not one.." and all our righteousness is as "filthy rags.." What exactly does he mean, and in what context.

As Lorena points out, in other terms, does God make junk? Aren't we fearfully, and wonderfully made, as the psalmist writes? Isn't the creation good, and blessed?

It seems that there is this paradox, then.

I think what the Scripture is saying, and what many Christian people are trying albeit poorly to express, is that in terms of God's perfect love, His holiness, and righteousness, we are broken, and fallen, and fall very, very short.

We can hurt the people that we love the most, even unknowingly. Our motives even when we are doing good are often mixed.

But, this is not the same concept as saying that humans are worthless, and humanly speaking everything we have to offer is simply trash.

OneSmallStep said...

Andrew,

**I think most Christians say it without thinking. **

I agree -- because I'm certain that many Christian parents/spouses/friends wouldn't accept that type of language from a spouse/child/friend. They'd immediately correct them, telling the other person the good qualities s/he has.

OneSmallStep said...

GentleSkeptic,

**the desire to externalize everything good and retain only guilt and shame.**

That, and it's much easier to maintain your numbers if you teach them that the good can't be internalized, because then they must always look to the theological system for good stuff. If they don't, they're just stuck with their guilt and shame.

OneSmallStep said...

Lorena,

**whatever you see in them that is good is Jesus acting through them.**

Which is somewhat creepy, because then I don't like the person at all -- I like Jesus. The intelligence, what makes them likable ... everything that would attract me to that person is actually Jesus. It's like the person themselves doesn't even exist.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

This is a common, *common* feeling among conservative Christians. Look at one of the most popular bumper stickers -- "I'm not perfect, just forgiven." That is so often uttered when people point out that Christians don't behave better than non-Christians, aren't a more moral group of people, and tend not to treat others better than non-Christians. A lot of times, they can even treat people worse. And they use all those failures in the human context to explain why they need Jesus. Because they're essentially horrible on their own.

**this is not the same concept as saying that humans are worthless, and humanly speaking everything we have to offer is simply trash.**

Well ... if something is worthless, then you're essentially saying that it can offer nothing good. And if someone can't offer anything good without Jesus -- and this is a phrase used even humanly speaking -- then yes, that person is essentially worthless on their own.

OneSmallStep said...

Grace,

As a further example, I just came across a comment in another blog of a person who says that they love the Lord, is not worthy to receive salvation, is not worthy of anything at all, is a sinner and nothing without Christ, and they're grateful that God essentially just lets them breathe for one more day.

"Not worthy to receive anything at all" is on the same line as "I'm a worthless person." And as this is a universal doctrine within Christianity, everyone else is also not worthy to receive anything at all. Aka, worthless.

Sarge said...

I think this is just another marketing tool.

The right salesman on the right day can convince the householder whose kitchen is so clean it could double as an operating theater that it is, indeed, filthy and he needs amazing product ScrubbeX, or can establish a need for aluminum siding for someone who lives in a yurt.

You just have to establish that need, in this case a feeling of personal worthlessness. It's easier to start with a child who is dependent upon an outside "authority" for everything (Lorena and I have similar experiences along that line, I believe) and "Put them in their place".

Most people experience self-doubt, and this is a way to capitalise on it.

St. Bernard was onto something when he made his statement that if you gave him the boy in seven years he's return you the man.

Jon said...

I have two thoughts on this - one is, where would Christianity be if Jesus thought that way? Obviously Jesus must have thought we were worth something to go to the extent he did.

The other is about hyperbole. Paul was, of course, using hyperbole in that passage from Romans that Grace quotes. Evangelicals, however, are not routinely taught to understand such rehetorical devices and so they often have a very "flat" readin of the bible.

I really enjoyed the creation spirituality movement when it was in fashion, because they tried to bring the balance in - we and the creation were made good before we fell, and that goodness lives on beside our fallibility.

journeys428 said...

Great post! This false humility in Christianity is pathetic and frustrating. I remember thinking the same thoughts while steeped in Fundamentalism ~ "it's all Jesus." If it really was all Jesus, being good should have been easier for me but I had to work really, really hard at it. :-)

OneSmallStep said...

Sarge,

Exactly. It's like coming up with a cure, only the only way you can make money is by first convincing people that they're sick.

OneSmallStep said...

Jon,

When you ask "if Jesus thought that way," are you referring to the original quote of "Apart from him, I have no good thing to offer"?

**because they tried to bring the balance in - we and the creation were made good before we fell, and that goodness lives on beside our fallibility.**

Except how are you defining "good?" In Evangelical language, "good" is essentially the same as "perfect." In the idea that no one is good enough for God's standards, which is the same as saying no one is perfect enough for God's standards. Good is interchangeable with perfect. Therefore, goodness *can't* live along side our fallibility, because we're imperfect. Which is precisely why they aren't going to use the Romans quote with any sort of hyperbole.

OneSmallStep said...

Journey,

**If it really was all Jesus, being good should have been easier for me but I had to work really, really hard at it. :-)**

I also have a hard time reconciling this idea with how Christianity is presented. If Christians are used as an example of how God is supposed to change them for the better, then God doesn't come across as that powerful.

Xander said...

Since good is a word that is assigning value based on a comparison, you have to look at what is being compared against.

If I say we are all good compared to Hitler, I doubt anyone would argue that fact. I can say I am good because I generally follow modern social rules which define what good is, but there is not guarantee I am good 50 years ago using those moral standards.

Christians are using what we think we know about God as the static moral standard. To us, we are never good in comparison.

Jon said...

OSS, "if Jesus thought that way": I was thinking if Jesus saw us all as completely worthless, why bother coming to save us?

Re "good", in Genesis God "saw that it was good" after each day of creation. I think your average fundmentalist might say that all that good was destroyed at the fall, whereas the creation spirituality people say it was damaged, but survives. They didn't only apply it to people - they were also trying to correct the "anti-material" bias of a lot of Christianity, so promoting environmental protection, enjoyment of nature, enjoyment of our lives here and now.

OneSmallStep said...

Xander,

**Christians are using what we think we know about God as the static moral standard. To us, we are never good in comparison. **

But this is exactly the world that I'm currently dealing with -- how Christians define "good." To them, there are no good people, period. In fact, I've seen more than a few say that all of us are no better than Hitler. We're all equally evil. And thus, in this world, good is interchangeable with perfect. We're not good (even compared to God) because we're not perfect.

OneSmallStep said...

Jon,

But I'm still not certain how they are defining the word "good." God saw that creation was good after each day of creating. But that creation was considered perfect and untainted, and thus 'good.' Good here being perfect/untainted. After the "fall," creation was tainted, and thus not good. In order to say that creation's good was damaged but survives, it's no longer the same word. It requires a modifier. In this case, being that creation is no longer perfect or untainted, the definition of the word "good" has to change.

Xander said...

OSS

Even apart from the God standard, no one is ever really good because there is still a standard there in which someone would be better than you.

I will agree with you that Christians and the self deprecating "I am worthless" attitude does seem a bit annoying, but I tend to ignore it. There are none who are good. For Christians that is true but should serve as a reminder to them that they don’t go to heaven based on their works or acts of kindness. There is nothing humbling by telling everyone that you suck or are worthless. It is rather sad that they don’t know better. Maybe I should start correcting them.

societyvs said...

""Seriously? You think you don't offer any good thing? Just one? You don't offer a sense of compassion, or love?"" (OSS)

If only Christians could become more realists and less idealists (or find a way to balance the two).