“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding yourself.”
I suppose you can just as quickly come to the question of the age-old Protestant-Catholic dispute about justification by faith or by works.
Indeed, I used to read about that controversy a lot, and I studied the issue, and suddenly with perfect clarity, the answer seemed obvious to me. We are indeed justified by faith alone, but it is the outward manifestation of good works that announces to both ourselves and the world that there has indeed been an inner conversion. In other words the willingness and desire to do good works bespeaks that the conversion is real.
We, in this country, are mired in a war of religious doctrines and opinions. We are notified by the “Religious Right” that they have rightly understood God’s wishes and are determined to implement “for the good” of the world, whether the world agrees or not. They believe that they have the correct determination of scripture, and the correct extrapolation into today’s complicated and intricate fabric of society of what is “right”, what is “good” and more importantly, what is “evil”.
They preach sacredness of life. They preach sacredness of family. Somewhere in there, they conflate the bible with government and conclude that God desires us to have certain freedoms, though I am hard pressed to envision God as wanting us to have a right to have weaponry on our hip as we enter the supermarket.
They define those points to us as well. Life is actual biological conception. They tell us that life “starts” there. They tell us that under no circumstances can we interfere with that life. We must bring it to birth. Those who are “intellectually honest” if there is such a thing in the religious right, make no exceptions. Life for them is reduced to a zygote with “potentiality”.
If you ask them if they are willing to support medical care for pregnant women, prenatal vitamins, housing, clothing, food allowances, they are not so sure. If you ask them what steps they are willing to take to support that new life, such as day care, and food, enrichment of the environment, well, they are not so sure. If you ask them about quality schools for the disadvantaged child, health care, and cultural enrichment, they begin to wander away. If you ask them about health care, mental health care during adult life, senior health care, housing, food, and so forth, they are shutting you out and down the street. Life has been reduced for them to this moment in time when sperm meets egg.
If you ask them to define family, they surely will. They will tell you that it is a man and a woman and their natural offspring, or perhaps adopted children. Nothing else is family. Religious men and women who live in community are not “family” nor are gay men and women living in monogamous relationships, even when those relationships are decades long and evoke exacting the hoped for caring and support that they would desire in that “traditional” family unit.
They will preach family values while accepting that they themselves and their friends have been married multiple times, given birth out-of-wedlock, engaged in adultery. They will admit to being sinners, yet still accord themselves higher status for preaching a doctrine that others find odious and stifling of true human dignity and that they themselves have not practiced.
Jesus quoted Isaiah 29: 13
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.
You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
Jesus points out that the literal “laws” as given by Moses, fall away in the face of God’s overreaching law of love and community. We are to love each other, care for each other. When we go beyond that to presuppose God’s desires in our modern world, declaring that some are bad and evil for not living up to our “moral laws” too often those moral laws are nothing more than human precepts, human traditions.
We need to stop being preachers and become livers of the faith we claim. We teach by example much more successfully than we do by word. It is the life well lived that is emulated by others, that others look up to as models for themselves. And there is nothing to admire in the person who lives one way, and dodges the issue by proclaiming himself a sinner, thereby absolving himself and giving him the right (so he thinks) to condemn others. If you knew the truth, you would live it. To proclaim it only is not to begin to know it.
Be doers of the Word.