So you’re a Christian: a contemporary rendition of Romans 2:17-29

by Kim on May 25, 2011

Do you think you’re a Christian because you bang on about “back to basics” morality, and boast about being “born again”, and bore everyone with your “personal relationship with Jesus”? Do you really think that because you can parrot chapter and verse of the Bible, and presumptuously declare “God says this” and “God says that”, you actually know what God is saying to us here and now? You’re so sure that you’re God’s gift to the world that you go around “saving” atheists and Muslims, and filling young people with a lot of mawkish nonsense, either marketing Jesus as a must-have commodity or selling him as a fire insurance policy, treating the gospel as a carrot or a stick. Yes, you think you’ve got all the answers, some right down to the date of the return of Christ, the holy host of a party in the cumuli. What a bunch of assholes!

And it gets better and better. You condemn stealing – and then trumpet capitalist economies that destitute and oppress millions. You condemn adultery and homosexuality – and then climb in the sack with (the almighty) Buck. You condemn mendacity and murder – and then start wars with lies and wage them with wanton indiscriminateness, even justifying torture in your crusade against evil, fighting terror with terror in corruption of the very values you claim to defend. You drape the cross with a flag, and with hand on heart you say “God bless America!” You hypocritical bastards! With gut-wrenching irony you confirm the scripture: “You turn God into a monster, you bring the name of God into disrepute all over your squalid empire!”

“Harrumph!” you indignantly exclaim. “We are baptised!” Big fucking deal! What difference does it make? Baptism is of value only if you actually obey the teachings of the one in whose name you are baptised. If you follow the Sermon on the Mount more in the breach than the observance, your baptism isn’t worth squat. The name of Jesus becomes the name of Anti-Jesus. You might just as well have been dunked in urine. Conversely, those who aren’t baptised but who visibly embody the Beatitudes – they are truly baptised by the Spirit, not on their skin but in their souls, where it counts. It’s not water that makes people friends of Jesus, it’s the kind of life they live, the kind of life Jesus himself lived, a life of grace and peace, whether or not they know the name you so sanctimoniously proclaim. You say they will go to hell. Who gives a shit what you say? It’s what God says that counts. And God knows his own.

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Richard 05.25.11 at 6:32 pm

Uncontroversial as ever. ;)

2

phillip mutchell 05.25.11 at 7:27 pm

A rather childish rant against what precisely? The complicity and conflict of being in a highly developed technological world, where to shout abuse is always easy because ineffective, but actual workable solutions aren’t sought but the easy task of abusing your brethren for having different views to your own is instead pursued. Shouldn’t Methodists particularly apologise for their part in creating that ideal regimented and disciplined factory worker that was so vital to the initial rise of Industrial success. ‘We shall return to the Methodists, and see why it was their peculiar mission to act as the apologists of child labour.’ (Thompson Making of the English Working Class) Kind of reminds me of Wilberforce arguing against slavery and blithely ignoring the 18 hour days the children in his district were doing. Yes Kim just like the people you’re slagging, it’s only your little clique you seem really concerned with, what’s that about mother, father again? Follow the Sermon on the Mount more in the breach and who isn’t this true of? Really ‘then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto all your commandments’ isn’t the idea that recognising our own guiltiness prevents the kind self-righteous hatred and indifference which I suspect is what you wish to actually rant again. Oh please; expletives really lose any shock value once you work in a factory. It’s whatsoever things are noble & c remember. (Not that I’m not guilty of such)

3

Bob Gilston 05.25.11 at 8:12 pm

I have to admit that I see a big juicy piece of bait hanging on Kim’s line. Who’ll be taking it I ask?

4

Joseph W 05.25.11 at 8:45 pm

I was tempted, for a second :)

5

doug 05.25.11 at 9:27 pm

I’m with Phillip on this one.

6

Kim 05.25.11 at 11:39 pm

I have to admit that I see a big juicy piece of bait hanging on Kim’s line. Who’ll be taking it I ask?

Anyone who is stupid enough to think that I’m stupid enough to think that I can’t count 1, 2 - (Romans) 3.

7

Pam 05.26.11 at 8:17 am

I agree with a lot of what you say, Kim, but ….
“Don’t swear, boy. It shows a lack of vocabulary.”
Alan Bennett.
You are certainly one of the most articulate, erudite people in the blogosphere. And you like poetry, so you’re special! You don’t have to use swear words to get your point across, do you?
If I stub my toe on something, out it comes, but that’s spontaneity!

8

Pam 05.26.11 at 9:04 am

Ah, wait. I get it.
You’re using profanity to describe how “contemporary” society would use profanity in relation to scripture.
You wouldn’t use it in any other context.
I get it.

9

Kim 05.26.11 at 1:25 pm

Thanks for your comments, Pam, both your kind words and your constructive criticism. I love the Bennett quote (I love Bennett period), but I’m not sure a lack of vocabulary is my problem.

On one level, I swear because that’s the way I’ve always talked, influenced by family, friends, and significant others. Of course I’ve learned to quell my cussing depending on context and company. After all, I’ve managed to be a minister in the UK for over 28 years (though if my manse were bugged I’d have been hauled before an ecclesiastical disciplinary panel years ago!). One of the last intelligent and intelligible things my dad ever wrote before he drifted into dementia was some marginalia in a book on American politics that I’d left on the kitchen table overnight, which he was perusing over breakfast, reading the same page over and over again. The comment was “Bush is an asshole,” which in itself suggested that my father didn’t have all his wits about him, otherwise the noun would have been preceded by some choice (and fitting) blasphemous and copulatory adjectives.

On another level, I swear in a a more purposive manner. Sometimes more or less unconsciously to vent an anger that might otherwise issue in more destructive behaviour (cf. Stan the Man Hauerwas, an excellent practitioner of the expletive, on being a pacifist because otherwise he’d be out killing people). Sometimes quite consciously to piss off the pious. Which profanity may be subdivided. Sometimes it’s sheer mischief, which is very naughty of me. But other times it’s a way of unmasking the hypocrisy of indignant reaction. I mean, if an interlocutor who supports torture is offended by cussing, his moral radar clearly needs serious servicing. Here my tutors have been several outstanding anti-establishment American comedians like Lenny Bruce, Richard Prior, and George Carlin. And sometimes speaking with a foul mouth is my way of protesting against mealy-mouthed polite conversation, not to mention boring vanilla academic prose.

In this particular post, well, I’ll leave it to my critics, pro and con, to judge my deployment of profanity, and you’ll get no argument from me back.

10

doug 05.26.11 at 5:19 pm

Point 8 of Pam’s is giving way too much credit to Kim. We mustn’t even use it even how culture or “contemporary society” would use it.

“Be in the world and not of it.” Just because “contemorary society sins doesn’t mean we need to.

Kim, your calling the pot black on “moral radars needing servicing”.

11

Joseph W 05.26.11 at 8:18 pm

If someone wrote to Kim, “fuck you you’re not a fucking Christian you’re a cunt you”, the comment would be rightly deleted.

But that’s the message that he seems to be dishing out in this post, to believers with different political ideas to his own.

12

Kim 05.26.11 at 10:30 pm

Hey, Joseph, I stop short of using the “c” word. I am disgusted with Richard for not moderating your obscene comment (right, Richard?).

And instead of caricaturing my post, getting hung up on my cussing, and suggesting that it’s only about politics as such, you might try reading the whole “rendition” - and reading it in the context of Paul’s strategic attack on those who boast that they have the nomos but do not keep the nomos, and my trajectory of it as an attack on those who claim to know Jesus but do not follow the teaching of Jesus, in that they suppose that faith is something you have, a religious preference and position, rather than a recognition that the gospel is an explosion that reconfigures the world, that the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of unrealistic demands but a cartography of the craters, and that faith is not a choice or a feeling but a vision and a verb.

And then - I repeat - there is Romans 3, which shuts me the &*$% up in awesome wonder at the new thing God is doing against me but for us all.

13

Richard 05.26.11 at 10:30 pm

Joseph, I have to say that this comment severely tried my patience.

14

Joseph W 05.26.11 at 10:45 pm

Kim, I admire your chutzpah :)

15

Joseph W 05.26.11 at 10:51 pm

Kim, I get your point - just saying you follow God isn’t enough, without showing some kind of moral honesty.

I’m not sure being a capitalist, or someone who opposes pacifism, makes you a morally corrupt individual though.

16

Tony Buglass 05.26.11 at 10:57 pm

Following my comment to Phillip Mutchell on another thread, I can only say that Kim has illustrated perfectly the problem I was trying to indicate: the attention is now on the swearing, not the issues of what Paul might have written to a modern audience.

No, you don’t lack vocabulary, Kim - but you sometimes lack sensitivity in choosing appropriate vocabulary. In my opinion, of course.

17

doug 05.26.11 at 11:11 pm

Tony, swearing and the issues ARE equally bad and as Christians we cannot condemn sin by sinning. I don’t see it a problem. I believe Kim proved himself wrong by cursing. The same goes for Joseph W. even though he is coorect in pointing out the double standard (aka Kim condmning rightly and correctly what Joseph W said and Joesph W condemning rightly and correctly what Kim said earlier than that)

I can’t stand provocative statements to get a point across. My analogy to this is training a child to wake up each morning by turning on the smoke detector. The problem with that is when a real fire occurs the child might not recognize that a real fire occurs.

I think it is a problem with culture today that to wake people up a provocative, immoral statement has to be used. Maybe we need to train culture to wake up like normal people do. However, maybe we live in a more wacky and crazy society. All cursing is crazy and wacky and all sin is crazy and wacky.

18

Kim 05.26.11 at 11:12 pm

I’m not sure being a capitalist, or someone who opposes pacifism, makes you a morally corrupt individual though.

Agreed. At least no more morally corrupt than than your average socialist or pacifist (Romans 3:9ff.). And, of course, one’s socialism or pacifism won’t save you. But to be a cheerleader for rapacious capitalism, and a champion of wars that don’t even come close to satisfying the criteria of the just-war tradition, not to mention an apologist for torture, clean or dirty, makes you an egregious teacher (and Paul in Romans 2 is attacking a teacher).

19

Joseph W 05.26.11 at 11:23 pm

Yeah but, people are going to honestly disagree over how to apply just-war theory in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

If it isn’t too much bother, perhaps you could post about why it is wrong for believers to consider any of these wars as part of the “just war” tradition?

That would lead to a very interesting and useful debate.

Plus I think you would enjoy writing the post.

20

Bob Gilston 05.26.11 at 11:23 pm

“you might try reading the whole “rendition” - and reading it in the context of Paul’s strategic attack on those who boast that they have the nomos but do not keep the nomos”.

I certainly read the whole rendition and in the context that you suggest Kim. Whilst I’m sure Paul would have been just as direct in today’s world I’m not at all sure he would have used that language.

Like you I was influenced by those around me. There was a time in the past as a mariner the “f” word was part of my every day language. I would be lying if I said it hasn’t passed my lips in more recent times at stressful moments but for once (and not even reluctantly) I agree with Doug. It’s part of today’s culture but we need to try and seperate ourselves from it.

I still think it was good post.

21

Kim 05.26.11 at 11:23 pm

Yes, Tony, one can imagine the good folk at Galatian Road Methodist Church listening to Paul’s letter being read out during worship, quite absorbed in the argument - and then being quite thrown off topic (not to mention being quite put off lunch) when they get to 5:12! ;)

22

Pam 05.27.11 at 12:06 am

Kim, your answer was thoughtful and honest to my comment.
Just as you are the “product” of your upbringing and environment, so am I as are we all. I find profanity confronting whether in a social situation, in the street (horrible!), or on a blog. I don’t think it is the Christian way - and I’m the first to admit my inadequacy as a Christian.

I found Richard’s comment at #13 interesting!

23

PamBG 05.27.11 at 3:19 am

I’m not sure being a capitalist, or someone who opposes pacifism, makes you a morally corrupt individual though.

My point would be: No, it doesn’t make you a morally corrupt individual. But if you don’t at least admit that pacifism is closer to Jesus teaching than waterboarding, you haven’t really understood his message. And if you don’t at least believe that it’s God desire that all people should have enough to eat, then you haven’t really understood his message.

In my personal opinion, Mahatma Gandhi understood Jesus’ teaching a lot more accurately than many evangelical Christians who ignore his teaching and just turn him into someone who had to die in our place to satisfy God.

No, it doesn’t make them morally corrupt individuals. It does make them inaccurate interpreters of Jesus. And a lot of them are pretty certain that Kim and Richard and I and a whole bunch of others are going to hell. They just know it’s bad PR to say it.

24

Tony Buglass 05.27.11 at 9:41 am

“…one can imagine the good folk at Galatian Road Methodist Church listening to Paul’s letter being read out … thrown off topic (not to mention being quite put off lunch) when they get to 5:12!”

Yup. That puts you in good company! Wonder if Paul dictated that bit, said to his scribe “No, let’s put that another way,” and the scribe thought “Hee, hee… let’s leave it in.” 1st C prototype of a frape? There are a few times I’ve written emails or blog posts, deleted them, and written a better version once I’ve got the steam out of the way. Perhaps Galatians should have been the first and unsent draft? On balance, it’s good to hear the authentic voice of the angry apostle. (But I bet some of them at least cringed when they heard that bit…)

25

Bob Gilston 05.27.11 at 10:05 am

Tony, I’d never heard of frape before. I learn something new every time I read Richard’s blog.

26

Tony Buglass 05.27.11 at 12:34 pm

“frape” is what happens on Facebook when someone gets onto your account and writes silly things in your status.

27

Mendip Nomad 05.27.11 at 2:28 pm

Tony, given the main content of this conversation (as opposed to Kim’s original post) re: unhelpful/profane language, it’s probably appropriate for me to say that I really do dislike that word, far more so than I do the swearing that Kim used (and which I am far too guilty of using myself in daily life). It is, as you may be aware, a contraction of “Facebook rape” - and I have to say seems to me a term that significantly underplays the horror of rape. I can’t remember where but I read an interesting article not that long ago bemoaning the modern tendency to use the word rape in relation to any activity that was slightly invasive and unwanted - I have to say I agree.

That said, I do find the idea of Paul’s scribe choosing to keep the “earthy” language in without Paul knowing a rather amusing and thought-provoking one!

28

Tony Buglass 05.27.11 at 3:18 pm

“…bemoaning the modern tendency to use the word rape in relation to any activity that was slightly invasive and unwanted - I have to say I agree.”

I don’t disagree - I feel more than a little uneasy with the word; however, it is increasingly current, and until a better one comes along it might sometimes be exactly the right word to use.

29

Tony Buglass 05.27.11 at 3:19 pm

Re Paul - you think the ‘thorn in the flesh’ might have been his scribe? ;)

30

Richard 05.27.11 at 7:03 pm

I hope you’re not being scribist, Tony.

31

Tony Buglass 05.27.11 at 7:27 pm

Is scribalism a kind of tribalism?

32

Richard 05.27.11 at 9:16 pm

I didn’t call you a scribalist. I said I hoped you weren’t being scribist. We both know that there’s a world of difference between the two.

33

Tony Buglass 05.27.11 at 11:21 pm

But accusations of scribism may come from those of scribalist tendencies. The result is that intelligent discourse is reduced to scribbling as they scrabble for the high ground. I prefer to scrub out such dangerous tendencies.

34

Pam 05.28.11 at 12:35 am

Re comments # 27 and 28, the words “sexual assault” and “rape” are used to describe forced sexual contact. I have some difficulty processing the phrase “any activity that was slightly invasive and unwanted” - a bit like saying “slightly” beaten up or “slightly” subjected to abuse of any sort. The person on the receiving end of such treatment may not think “slightly” would be just the right word.

35

Rev. Joe Bair 05.28.11 at 1:22 am

I love how people are more concerned (at least if we count the responses) about profane language than the larger profanity of not pursuing justice.

36

Chucky 05.28.11 at 5:02 am

37

Pam 05.28.11 at 9:02 am

Rev Joe,
The end justifies the means?

38

Richard 05.28.11 at 9:48 am

I’m reminded of something evangelist Tony Campolo is reputed to have said: “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

39

Pam 05.28.11 at 10:11 am

Yes, Richard.
I think most people do care, maybe not enough to give up everything, sell their possessions, etc. Maybe they give what money they can, support a child via a monthly payment, etc. And yes some people don’t care that much.
I would still be upset about the language, it’s not necessary to use it to make people sit up and notice. Just keep saying the message in a respectful way. Just my opinion.

40

Tony Buglass 05.28.11 at 10:16 am

Joe - you’re assuming we’re not already involved in that. In this conversation it was a question of what was noteworthy.

41

Joseph W 05.28.11 at 10:22 am

I don’t really have a moral problem with the swearing, I just thought the tone of the piece came across as a bit aggressive.

42

PamBG 05.28.11 at 3:31 pm

As I said on a similar post, I’m not particularly concerned by profane words per se. Although I often conform to convention in order that people shouldn’t be distracted by a particular word, I don’t see what the difference is between, for example, “I don’t give a shit” and “I don’t give a flip”.

I can understand Joseph’s comment about aggressive tone and I also understand why Kim wrote it that way - and, in this case, I sympathize with Kim. It is, of course, perfectly possible to be extremely aggressive and use the politest of words. And it’s also possible to imply all sorts of untrue things about individuals without ever coming out with the accusation. That often bothers me more than a word like “shit” or “fuck”. Frankly, it feels more like bourgeoisie manners than anything to do with God.

43

Joseph W 05.28.11 at 3:46 pm

I think it’s just because it’s the internet, and we see swearing and we automatically think it’s a rant. Kim’s piece might come across better as a spoken polemic, I dunno.

44

Mendip Nomad 05.28.11 at 3:49 pm

Pam, my statement was not relating to those who were sexually assaulted and raped but those who have lessened the meaning of the word - for example, leaving your Facebook account logged in and having someone write something that is embarrassing or unpleasant may be “slightly invasive” but it is not close to rape. This is exactly the point I was trying to make and why I dislike the phrase “frape” - it describes something so distanced from rape as to make the word rape meaningless. If it seemed that I was belittling the experience of those who have been raped or sexually assaulted I can assure you that was not my intent. Indeed, I am concerned, like others, that the modern trend in using rape in association with non-rape experiences is dangerously belittling the meaning of the word and the experience of those who have been the trauma of rape and sexual assault.

45

PamBG 05.28.11 at 6:18 pm

MN: I understand what you’re saying about “frape” which I wasn’t reLly addressing. I think there is certainly a serious point in that, particularly in the current environment where a number of public figures seem to think it’s possible to be a little bit raped or a little bit sexually violated.

46

Pam 05.29.11 at 3:58 am

Pam BG, I think Mendip “may” have been speaking to me in comment 44. I may have to become “Pamela” to lessen confusion?
And I agree with what Mendip is saying in comment 44.
Pam, re statements in your comment 42, I agree it’s possible to be extremely aggressive with the politest of words, but there is a difference in using profane language. When two human beings share the most intimate act there is, what is that - the ‘f’ word - used as an expletive, for shock value on a blog, in a conversation? NO thanks - I will not use it in any conversation I have either online or in the company of another person.

47

Tony Buglass 05.29.11 at 9:16 am

For me, personally, it comes down to Jas.3:9-12. I just don’t want to use profanity, because for me it sits uneasily with the faith I hold and the God I serve. OK, there may be a discussion to be had about what constitutes profanity - certain words may well be good old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon rather than actual obscenities. However, in most societies there are conventions about what is acceptable language and what isn’t. As we’ve seen in two conversations in the last few days, if the words become more important than the message, they have lost their usefulness. If people are more concerned about the words I use than the person I am or the message I share, then my language has become a problem. So I don’t swear.

48

Pam 05.29.11 at 10:24 am

Tony, I have friends who swear, I swear sometimes in a moment of pain, frustration, etc. But I am saddened that there is a creeping acceptance that using profanity is acceptable in the sense of being deliberately provoking, in a public way. For goodness sake, we have a wonderful language, English, which can convey any message we want.
It’s not my business to say what is acceptable on any blog, but I have the right to voice my opinion and not to respond to anything I find unacceptable.

49

Mendip Nomad 05.29.11 at 2:03 pm

Just to clarify, I was talking to Pam rather than PamBG at #44 :)

50

Nan Evans Bush 05.29.11 at 9:27 pm

Hey, people, why all this outrage about a little bit of swearing when the REAL issue is Richard’s message to whited sepulchres? Are you so easily distracted? Actually, I’m quite horrified by how easily these posts got off track.
To Richard, thank you! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I am American and could not more fervently wish to hear this kind of talk (with or without the words) from clergy here. How is it possible that people are so deafened to the distinctions between their words and their actions, the chasms between the self-righteous Bible-quoting and voting against absolutely anything that might serve the needs of God’s people?
Never mind the offended sensibilities–you have expressed exactly the tone and intensity I absolutely believe is Jesus’ intent. Again, thank you.
Nan Evans Bush (the Evans proudly Welsh, the Bush by marriage and no relation)

51

PamBG 05.29.11 at 10:19 pm

I am American and could not more fervently wish to hear this kind of talk (with or without the words) from clergy here.

Which would most likely get a clergy-person put on warning. Not for the swearing but for the “political” content which “has nothing to do with being a Christian”.

52

Richard 05.29.11 at 10:31 pm

To Nan — glad you liked the post, but I have to fess up. It was by Kim, not me.

53

Tony Buglass 05.30.11 at 10:02 am

“I am American and could not more fervently wish to hear this kind of talk (with or without the words) from clergy here.”

Amos is one of my favourite prophets - he comes across to me as a good left-wing radical. I have preached about him a good few times over the years, to mixed responses. Last time I did it, a nicely-dressed elderly lady who had been sitting at the back actually swore at me after the service: “I didn’t come here to get ***** Marxism thrown at me!”

I still get people telling me ‘you can’t mix religion and politics’ - I just tell them that statement mixes religion and politics, and let them figure it out.

54

Pamela 05.30.11 at 10:29 am

I’m reading a biography of Michael Kirby, retired High Court judge and came across these words tonight - ‘Speech is the index of the mind’.

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