Who Needs to Be Perfected?
Christianity’s basic premise is that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is is why Catholicism teaches that the Sacraments, based on the death sacrifice and re-birth of the Man-God Jesus, restore our individual glories so that upon transition to the afterlife our souls can be in the presence of the Creator. This is why the Protestant faiths teach that Salvation is obtainable through acceptance of the sinful nature and the sacrifice of the Man-God Jesus and subsequent resurrection.
This is at the core of most Christian teachings, and it leads me to the question yet again of how the believers are more moral than non-believers. Non-Christian Abrahamic religions also have an element of teaching and enforcing moral behavior, but are not as clear as to whether salvation is likely or even possible. Writing this post does not constitute the endorsement of either the Judaistic nor Islamic faiths, but because I have a religious background in Christianity I have more experience in the matter. Also, the preaching of the religious authorities have made clear that this is the basis of the Christian faith and I don’t think that I will be revealing anything unknown about this.
Ann Coulter, one of the denser lights of the Christian Right, once made clear that Jews are lesser spiritually because unlike Christians they have not been perfected through Christ. She was saying that her behavior may be no more exemplary than that of a Jew’s, however she was superior because even though she is an imperfect human she will be able to enter God’s Presence having had the imperfect stains taken away.
COULTER: No, we think — we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.
DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn’t really say that, did you?
COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we’re all sinners —
DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued — when you say something absurd like that, there’s no —
COULTER: What’s absurd?
DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I’m going to go off and try to perfect myself —
COULTER: Well, that’s what the New Testament says.
DEUTSCH: Ann Coulter, author of If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, and if Ann Coulter had any brains, she would not say Jews need to be perfected. I’m offended by that personally. And we’ll have more Big Idea when we come back.
When the program resumed, Coulter tried to acquit herself on the issue but confused it even further:
COULTER: That isn’t hateful at all.
DEUTSCH: But that’s even a scarier thought. OK —
COULTER: No, no, no, no, no. I don’t want you being offended by this. This is what Christians consider themselves, because our testament is the continuation of your testament. You know that. So we think Jews go to heaven. I mean, [Rev. Jerry] Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws. Ours is “Christ died for our sins.” We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all.
The standard argument thrown against atheists is that we have no standard for moral behavior, and thus we are unable to act morally. At least Christians allow that even an offensive scripture has a moral component, and their behavior is shaped accordingly yet there remains only one way to get to Heaven and it is not related to morality but personal acceptance of the Sacrifice.
This is a mixed message and one very confusing for both Christians and Atheists, because it doesn’t provide a final absolute morality that we can share. As atheists, of course, we find the twin prospects of Heaven and Hell and an afterlife to be non-issues and so the matter of behavior is not affected by either the threat or reward of what happens in the afterlife. This should give us a bit more freedom in making moral decisions, on how we choose (if among limited choices) to act.
The idea that I have regarding morality is in measuring the positive or negative affects that our actions have on others, and I place no emphasis on actions’ affect on the disposition of what is proclaimed to be my immortal soul. But for the sake of my own argument, I will accept the premise of an immortal soul. Please be assured that I am not seriously making such a concession. I just want to use that premise to consider what the case would be from the standpoint of disposition.
John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that we would regain access to Heaven following our death. This was made necessary because of original sin. Original Sin comes from the story of Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God at the behest of a trickster servant. In the fundamentalist timeline, this happened 4037 years before Jesus’ sort of sacrifice and resurrection made access to Heaven possible on death. In intervening years, God had made several attempts to get the message to us that we should behave. In one lame attempt he destroyed all but the most just (and all the innocents among the non-humans,) only to discover that even the most just sinned as soon as he could.
As people we have a hard time defining how morals work, because individuals and groups have different needs and different perspectives on how those needs should be met. Of course this causes conflicts and religion is one tool that we use to try to resolve or head off conflicts. It creates moral frameworks, using external authority that must be interpreted and then it provides a punishment-reward system which exceeds the capability of human institutions to enforce. Christians, such as Coulter, says that we still need to follow laws but only one law really matters and the rest are impediments. Salvation through Christ is a shortcut to reduce accountability for immoral behavior, or failure to follow the other laws.
What this means to me, is that there is no reason that Christians need to follow any moral behavior and can do what they want. They know that they have a way to get to Heaven even if they commit egregious behavior. Christianity is a very selfish religion in this regards because the individual’s moral choices are based on whether they get into Heaven but not whether I get into Heaven. Once I have made my choice on Salvation, their hands are washed clean and they get to go whether I do or not.
I think that because of this, Christians have greater individual license to commit immoral acts,being clean of eternal conscience. The Catholic Absolution for sins following confession, and the Acts of Contrition are written to ask forgiveness of God for sins but they are not always tied to expressing contrition to the persons directly harmed. Sin is against God, immoral behavior is against persons or self. And if the self, nor the persons harmed by the action are not made whole in the quest for forgiveness I don’t think that the Act of Contrition has much value for society as a whole.
When Jimmy Swaggart paid a prostitute to watch him masturbate in a motel in Kenner, Lousiana, his reacceptance as a preacher was conditioned on a public appeal in tearful prayer to Jesus. And it made good theater, but he didn’t say what he did to try to make amends to the prostitute for adding to the demeaning aspect of prostitution on her life. I suspect that he just considered her less of a person because of her work.
Most disturbing, though, is the attitude of those who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Jesus. The terrorist believes he or she is acting for God in killing an infidel. Yes, that is the word. If they so fervently believe that it is okay to kill the unrepentant for acts on Earth they also believe that they are the Just Actors in condemning a person’s soul to eternal torment in Hell and don’t offer that person the chance to be “Perfected in Christ.” For this, they are taking the selfish nature of Salvation to the most extreme. They are murdering another’s Eternity.
Who needs to be “perfected?” Not me. I have faults and failings, but it is up to me to try to fix them so I don’t hurt other people. I don’t expect nor need to be perfect. I don’t need to be “perfected.”
So, when Ann Coulter smears a person’s character and makes up lies about them, she thinks she is in the clear because in Eternity it will all be forgotten.