Fundamentalism, Asceticism and Reverse Psychology

One thing I’ve noticed in the Christian circles I keep an eye on, particularly those based online, is the haste with which some more liberal or progressive believers will put down certain conservative (they might say “religious”) churches and their leaders. Now to be clear, if those churches are advocating for something that goes against what Scripture teaches, such as the idea that one group is inferior to another, then I absolutely don’t agree with them. But it does make me wonder if we’re already seeing the emergence of another strand of Christianity that’s more defined by what it stands against than what it stands for. While I’m not the first person to pick up on this – Jefferson Bethke (Jesus>Religion, pp.50-52) and George Verwer (No Turning Back, p.160) have already addressed it, and there might be more I’m not aware of – the idea of a Church that spends most of its waking life condemning each other scares me, so I feel compelled to write about it.

Here’s an example. For a good while, I’ve tried to live the minimalist way. If I find I’ve got stuff I don’t truly love, or that just takes up dead space in my room, off to a second-hand shop it goes. Maybe part of the reason I do this is because I’ve always liked to do things slightly differently to those around me, but either way, my point here isn’t to boast – oh no, not at all.

With things like this, there’s always a temptation to compare ourselves to how much others are giving, or to objectify a particular amount of supposed generosity. The danger with this is we run the risk of making our generosity an idol of sorts, by basing our status on how much we give. Far from reflecting the true aim of charity, this actually undermines the very reason for giving. It’s not supposed to be a competition, or a way to earn our place in heaven. It’s supposed to be from a genuine desire for others to have enough.

Yes, giving is a big part of the Christian lifestyle, but we need to make sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. If you get a high from giving in plenty, or you think it’s a good way to serve, then great. But don’t feel any guilt if you don’t give so much (or can’t – this is without even mentioning the people for whom money is tight, but who will sometimes feel shame for not giving anyway). Fundamentalism is dangerous whichever form it takes. So – back to the point…

It is possible to forget the whole point of Christianity in things like this. A lot of us (myself included) can be quick to condemn and look down upon the “religious” leaders I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but we can’t forget that these too are people made in God’s image, who are just as in need of grace as we are. Don’t get me wrong, every time Donald Trump espouses some Christian value it makes my palm hit my face, but his potential for sin is really no greater than mine – even though it might manifest itself in different ways. As I mentioned in this post, bad things happen when we miss the point. Instead of shooting these folks down for not meeting the standards set by Christ, let’s pray that all of us will understand what God wants from us and be equipped to do it.

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