Religious distraction

“They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided.”

(John 9:13-16, NRSV)

According to the New Testament, the Pharisees spent a lot of time worried about how people violated the Law. They interrogated people over healings done on the Sabbath. They were upset with Jesus for things he did in supposed violation of the Law.

But they could not see their own folly. Their outward righteous actions blinded them. So much easier to point fingers at others for their supposed violation of the Law. It’s a classic case of “I’m better than you are.”

They were distracted by other people’s behaviors. Or maybe they made sure to be distracted by being the righteousness police and letting everyone know how unrighteous everyone else was. “Holier than thou” is seductive.

American Christianity has had its fair share of this same thing. But even the church here is not unique. Western Christianity has long been focused on this distraction.

The distraction is like a drug. It’s easy. It’s easy to focus on individual morality and actions of others. It’s easy to do because then we are distracted from things that actually matter and have an impact on the most number of people. If we are too busy judging and messing with people’s sexuality, then we don’t have time to deal with poverty, homelessness, racism, greed, violence, ecological destruction, and more.

Focusing on individual morality allows us to scapegoat others and pretend that we are so much better than the morally wrong. We get to be like the Pharisee praying in the temple:

“‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”

(Luke 18:10-12, NRSV)

“Look at me God (and everyone else). I’m not like ‘those’ people.”

How much more difficult it is to offer grace to people. And to admit that we are part of sinful systems that impact so many people and creation. That we are sinful. To admit that we are complicit in these systems and that they hold us hostage. Our confession would be more accurate. And then we’d be called to work to end evil and unjust systems, not worrying about who we can point a finger at and blame.

But hey, distractions are fun. We don’t have to be responsible. We don’t have to actually live into what we claim to believe.

We’re just better than ‘those’ people. Isn’t that nice?

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